The Talpiot Tombs: Background Guide
Updated: April 10, 2012
In 1980 and 1981 during construction of an apartment building in the East Tapiot neighborhood of Jerusalem a
construction crew uncovered two nearby tombs from around the time of Jesus. One tomb revealed bone boxes upon
which were inscribed names thought by some to include the name “Jesus son of Joseph” as well as other names
associated with the family of the biblical Jesus. A storm of controversy erupted in 2007 when the Jesus Family Tomb
book made the claim that this tomb in East Talpiot could be the family tomb of the biblical Jesus. Now, in recent months,
the second tomb was examined with a remote camera by the same team behind the Jesus Family Tomb. In their new
book, the Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity the authors reveal
dramatic symbols and an inscription that may lead to new insights regarding how the early followers of Jesus thought
about the resurrection. How will the world react to these new discoveries and what implication will it have on the world’s
acceptance of the Talpiot Tomb as the burial location of the biblical Jesus?
The purpose of this guide is to provide readers who are new to the subject with basic background information
surrounding the two tombs found in East Talpiot, Jerusalem. The first tomb discovered in 1980 has been called the
Talpiot Tomb, it is the tomb that contained the bone boxes or ossuaries with inscribed names that have been associated
with the family of the biblical Jesus. This tomb has come to be known as the “Garden Tomb” because of its location in
the garden area of a condo complex. The second tomb discovered in 1981 has come to be known as the “Patio Tomb”
because of it location under the patio of one of the condo units. These two tombs reside about 200 feet from each
This guide will include a brief review of the arguments for and against the proposition that the Garden Tomb is the family
tomb of the biblical Jesus (hereafter: the proposition). Readers should consult the “Lines of Argument” section (click
here) of this web-site if they want to develop a fuller understanding of the arguments for or against the proposition.
Readers who want to read even further should consult the Annotated Bibliography section (click here).
Burial Practices in the time of Jesus
For a period of about one hundred years, generally ending around the time of the failed Jewish revolt against the
Romans in 70 CE, many Jews with the means were buried in ossuaries (i.e. bone boxes) inside rock-hewn, multi-
generation family tombs. It is thought that some Jews in the Jerusalem area could not afford this type of burial and thus
often received burial in shallow trench graves.
About one-thousand of these rock-hewn tombs with ossuaries have been uncovered, in the area of Jerusalem yielding
approximately 2000 ossuaries. Unfortunately many of these burial caves and their associated ossuaries have been
destroyed or lost to history. The result is that today there are something less than 600 ossuaries and very few burial
caves that are still available for study.
There are could still be many hundreds or even thousands of undiscovered rock-hewn tombs in this area. Estimates
vary widely, due in part to lack of consensus as to the population size of Jerusalem and how many people could afford
this type of burial.
Burial in rock-hewn tombs followed a typical pattern. The shrouded corpse was laid on a rock shelf within the tomb for
about one year. During this time the flesh would disintegrate, leaving just the bones. The bones were then gathered
and placed in a limestone bone-box called an ossuary (click here), that was stored within the tomb.
These ossuaries were big enough to hold the longest bones in the body and the skull. Also it was common practice that
an ossuary could contain the bones of multiple individuals. The “Jesus, son of Joseph” is typical in size at about 1.7
cubic feet. About 25% of ossuaries carry an inscription which identified the occupant. In some cases, this inscription
would identify the father of the deceased or place of origin, while in some rare cases another relative would be
indentified, such as a brother.
Entrances to tombs were blocked by a large blocking stone. The stone was moveable so that family members could
reenter the tomb in order to tend to the multigenerational burial needs of the family or in some cases the extended
family or clan.
As reported in the New Testament, when Joseph of Arimathea made arrangements for the burial of Jesus it would seem
that he was intent on undertaking the initial steps of the Jewish burial practice described above.
The Talpiot Tombs are Uncovered
In the spring of 1980 an apartment builiding construction crew working in the East Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem,
uncovered a tomb which initially was referred to as the “Talpiot Tomb” but more recently has come to be known as the
“Garden Tomb”. The tomb was reported to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) which undertook a “salvage” recovery
operation under tight time constraints. Ten ossuaries were removed from the tomb and taken to the IAA warehouse for
long-term storage. At the time of this initial operation the tomb was regarded as unremarkable by the IAA.
Following the recovery operation, the tomb was covered and remained so until it was reopened briefly in 2005. The
tomb was reopened in connection with a documentary film released in 2007 that was produced by Simcha Jocobovici
and titled “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”. At the completion of filming, the tomb was covered again, which is how it remains
In the spring of 1981 another nearby tomb (hereafter the “Patio Tomb”) was uncovered by the same construction
project. The tomb was briefly explored by the IAA and then sealed. Only one of eight ossuaries from this tomb was
recovered by the IAA. Again, at the time of this initial operation the tomb was regarded as unremarkable by the IAA.
Garden Tomb Ossuaries
The Garden tomb contained 10 ossuaries, six of which contained identifying inscriptions. The official rendering by the
IAA of these six inscriptions is given below. It is important to note that rendering these inscriptions is complicated by the
intertwining of the Aramaic and Hebrew languages as translated into Greek and eventually into English.
The rendering of these inscriptions is critically important, because supporters of the proposition see in these renderings
several key names associated with the family of the biblical Jesus. On the other hand, detractors point to possible
incorrect readings or associations with New Testament persons for some of these names.
The problem of these readings is given a more detailed treatment in the Line of Argument section titled: “Are some of
the names wrong (click here)
Talpiot Tomb Names
1. Mariamene e Mara (or Mariamene [also known as] Mara)
The rendering of this Greek inscription is hotly debated. For some, this is a name by which Mary Magdalene, and very
few others could be identified. Other renderings have been proposed, including the possibility that it is actually two
distinct names – Mariame and Mara.
2. Judah, son of Jesus/Yehuda bar Yeshua
This rendering is opposed by some because there is no reference to a son named Judah in the New Testament. Others
argue that there actually may be New Testament references to potential son. Still others argue that failure to mention a
son is reasonable, especially given the Roman practice of killing the sons of presumed trouble makers.
There is no known direct link to the name Mathew in the Jesus family tree. However, some supporters of the proposition
note that Mathew is a common name found in families that are perhaps related to the family of Jesus.
4. Jesus, son of Joseph/Yeshua bar Yosef
This inscription is the center of attention as it may refer to the biblical Jesus. The inscription is difficult to read. As a
result there has been some suggestion that the name could be something other than Jesus son of Joseph. The official
reading is reinforced given the presence of another “Yeshua” reference in the tomb.
“Yoseh” is a somewhat rare variant or nickname for Joseph; in English it would be something like Joey. For some
experts this is the name we should expect to see used to identify one of the brothers of Jesus, while others suggest that
this not correct. Also, it is noted by some that this could refer to the Joseph referenced on ossuary #4.
For some this is the most likely form of the name Mary that could be ascribed to Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is a
latinized form of the name Mariam – as in the Latin “Ave Maria”. Others would suggest that it is just as likely she would
be identified by another form of the name Mariam.
The James Ossuary
The report from the initial recovery from the Garden tomb clearly shows that ten ossuaries were recovered and
cataloged. However, there are only nine Talpiot Tomb ossuaries to be found at the IAA storage facility. It is the position
of the IAA that the tenth ossuary was unremarkable and that it probably went into a general storage area and is no
longer locatable. Others who have looked at the sequence of events see a possibility that the ossuary was stolen or
lost, perhaps during the recovery operation.
In 2002, an Israeli antiquities dealer brought forward an ossuary that has the inscription “James son of Joseph brother
of Jesus”. Many experts accept that this inscription is legitimate and quite possibly associated with James the eldest
brother of Jesus. However, the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) initially took the position that the inscription is at least
partly a forgery and therefore of no historical value. Recently the Israeli courts have held the those accused of the
forgery by the IAA are “not guilty”.
Some supporters of the proposition suspect that this so-called “James Ossuary” could in fact be the missing tenth
ossuary described above. Another theory is that the James Ossuary could be an additional ossuary that was stolen
from the tomb before the IAA could assert control over the site and its ossuaries. Yet another theory is the James
Ossuary was actually taken from the Garden tomb many decades earlier. Aside from the remarkable name and the
rough timing coincidence, the primary reason for suspecting that the James Ossuary is from the Talpiot Tomb is that an
elemental spectrum analysis of the patina from the James Ossuary matches closely to the profile of elements found on
other ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb. Other chemical analyses that are awaiting publication apparently reinforce this
This result is rejected by many experts who assert that the James Ossuary simply does not match the description of the
missing tenth ossuary as recorded in the IAA report on the Talpiot Tomb. They also point to suspicious aspects of the
inscription and the ossuary itself. Therefore the state that even if the courts failed to produce a guilty verdict in the
forgery trial we should still regard the inscription on the James Ossuary to be at least a partial forgery.
Other tomb observations
Supporters of the proposition note that there are several observations regarding the Garden tomb that make it special
and that these special observations reinforce the likelihood that this is the family tomb of Jesus. Critics of this argument
see no particular significance in these observations. Four noteworthy examples are described below:
1. The entrance to the tomb contains a symbol composed of a chevron over a circle (click here). Some supporters
of the proposition see this as an early Christian symbol. Other see the possibility that the Knights Templar adopted this
symbol as there own, demonstrating that they had secret knowledge that this was the tomb of Jesus. Critics argue that
similar motifs can be observed elsewhere without any association to Jesus, Christianity or the Knights Templar.
2. A mark that some interpret as a cross can be found at the beginning (i.e. right) of the “Jesus son of Joseph”
inscription. Others see it as a flaw or a mason’s mark.
3. The tomb was entered at some point prior to 1980. Some observers claim that they see several threads from
European history which demonstrate that the tomb was entered by the Knights Templar in the 11th century. Other
European connections to the tomb are proposed. Critics argue that these connections are completely speculative
4. Perhaps most importantly, the Patio Tomb has recently been explored by a robotic camera and it has revealed
symbols and an inscription which link directly to the Garden tomb and provide us with a potentially new understanding of
the early followers of Jesus may have understood the concept of resurrection and therefore the resurrection of Jesus.
The most remarkable find in this tomb is a symbol that can plausibly be identified as the “Sign of Jonah”, a powerful
early Christian symbol.
Summary Arguments for and against the proposition
Summary Argument For the Proposition:
There is broad consensus that following his death on the cross Jesus was initially buried in a rock-hewn tomb at the
behest of Joseph of Arimathea. Furthermore there is substantial agreement that following the Sabbath this tomb was
found empty by Mary Magdalene and others.
Whoever took the body eventually would have reburied it according to prevailing Jewish burial practices and that this
would likely have meant burial in a rock-hewn tomb, of the Talpiot tomb type, in the area of Jerusalem His family tomb
would be located in Jerusalem because his family relocated there and his brother James became a prominent leader of
the Jesus movement in Jerusalem. Even if Jesus were poor, he clearly had supporters who could have afforded to see
to the cost of a rock-hewn tomb.
The primary reason for accepting the Talpiot Tomb as the family tomb of Jesus stems from the cluster of names found
on the ossuaries. This tomb contains the names of Jesus, Joseph (father?), Maria (mother?) and Yose (brother?); all
associated with the family of Jesus. A Mathew is present and his name is found commonly in the Jesus family tree, albeit
not in his direct family.
Judah also appears as the son of Jesus. This is significant because of the fact that Jesus had a brother named Judah
and it was common Jewish practice of naming children after significant relatives, such as brothers. There is also a
possibility that the brother named Judah is not actually a brother of Jesus, but rather is a son as evidenced by this
Furthermore, there is evidence that the tomb also contains a name strongly associated with Mary Magdalene. DNA
evidence suggests that Jesus and this Mariamene are not maternally related, raising the possibility that she was married
to Jesus and the mother of Judah.
The strongest potential evidence of all is that the James Ossuary, with its inscription – James son of Joseph brother of
Jesus - may be a missing ossuary from the Talpiot Tomb.
Another reason to believe that the Talpiot Tomb is the family tomb of Jesus lies in the “special” nature of the tomb as
outlined above, especially considering the discoveries in the Patio tomb.
Summary Argument Against the Proposition:
Supporters of the proposition have placed great weight on the cluster of names found in the tomb. However, critics
argue that they have made several errors in the process:
1. There is strong evidence that the James Ossuary is a forgery and that in any even it can not be the missing tenth
2. The evidence that the Mariamene refers to Mary Magdalene is weak, stemming from a mis-application of late,
mostly irrelevant sources.
3. There is no historical support for the fact that Jesus could have been married and had a son named Judah.
4. The Jesus son of Joseph ossuary is unreadable or has been misread; there may be no Jesus in the tomb. Also,
Jesus would not be identified as “son of Joseph”, but more likely would have been identified as Jesus of Nazareth.
5. Maria is not the most likely name to associate with Mary the mother of Jesus.
6. Yoseh is not a likely name to be associated with one of the brothers of Jesus.
Additional arguments against the proposition are:
1. The tomb is not special. All of the “special” observations can be explained away without introducing the family of
2. Jesus was too poor to be buried in a rock-hewn tomb.
3. Jesus would have been buried in his home province of Galilee, not Jerusalem.
4. If Jesus had been buried in Jerusalem, surely the site would be renowned up to this day. Furthermore, this
knowledge would surely have impacted the direction of Christian teaching regarding the Resurrection.
5. Other tombs have been identified as potential burial locations for Jesus and/or his family.
It is the editorial position of this site that neither of these arguments is conclusive. However, it is clear that enough
evidence has been offered by proponents of the Talpiot Tomb that the possibility that it is the burial site of the biblical
Jesus must be considered to be a real possibility.
It is also true that the information released so far will stir debate on a series of related questions. The discoveries
related to the understanding that the early followers of Jesus had toward the concept of resurrection is an important
case in point.
Therefore, further study and discovery will be required before this debate can be resolved. Unfortunately, so much
confusion and emotion already exists surrounding the debate that it will be extremely difficult to move this discussion
toward a clear conclusion. JTERP, the sponsor of this site, will attempt to make a positive contribution to the process
through education and research. JTERP will also sponsor a “Friends of the Talpiot Tomb” (click here) member
association which will provide a place where interested parties can exchange information and views relative to the
Talpiot tombs and related subject matter.
Readers looking for expanded material on this site can start by reviewing the “Lines of Argument” page (click here) and
then proceed to reading the individual Lines of Argument guides. If you are seeking additional background see the
Annotated Bibliography(click here).
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