Would a Jesus family tomb have been known?
Updated February 25, 2012
Critics of the proposition which states that the Talpiot tomb is the family tomb of Jesus make a simple but potentially
powerful argument. They say that if a tomb containing the mortal remains of Jesus had existed then the course of
religious history as we know it would have changed. This is a specific argument against there being any tomb containing
the bones of Jesus, but it is important to recognize that it is not necessarily an argument against there being a tomb for
important members of the family of Jesus.
Arguments for and against the proposition
The most common argument along these lines for and against the proposition typically unfolds as follows:
1. If Jesus would have been buried in a tomb and had not experienced a bodily resurrection it would have been
known by his followers.
This is true, but everyone may not have learned at the same time, especially if the reburial was done under the
auspices of Joseph of Arimathea. There would have been a reburial and it would have adhered to prevailing Jewish
burial customs. Hence he would have been buried in a manner consistent with the Talpiot tomb. Eventually this would
have been known but perhaps only to key followers and family members.
2. On the contrary, New Testament clearly states that Jesus appeared to his followers in bodily form prior to his
Yes, but there is strong evidence that these stories are added to the New Testament, well after the death of Jesus.
Furthermore, the gospel of Matthew (Mt 28.11) has what some experts see as a hint to an alternate, but true
explanation - that the body of Jesus was taken by his followers (perhaps Joseph of Arimathea).
3. The New Testament makes it very clear that from the outset that the belief in a bodily resurrection of Jesus was
central to the emerging Christian theology. The early followers of Jesus, including Paul and James certainly would have
protested about this belief in a bodily resurrection, if they knew the Talpiot tomb showed otherwise.
It is wrong to assume that Paul held to a belief in a bodily resurrection, it appears that he actually held a belief in
some kind of spiritual resurrection. Therefore, he probably would not have been troubled by a tomb containing the
bones of Jesus. Furthermore, there was a low level of cooperation between Paul and the followers of Jesus in
Jerusalem, including James. He may simply not have been informed about the facts relating to the burial of Jesus.
Still wouldn’t James and others not have made a bigger issue of bodily resurrection, thereby changing this belief
amongst early Christians?
No, threereasons are offered....
First, they may have felt that it was not their issue. They left it to Paul and later to others to bring their message to the
Gentiles. The followers in Jerusalem mostly lived and worked amongst their fellow Jews. But as the Romans crushed
the Jewish rebellions in 70 C.E. and 136 C.E. the Jesus movement centered in Jerusalem essentially disappeared as a
distinct group and lost much of their influence over the course of religious history.
Second, there was a fear factor. It would have been best to hide the identity of a Jesus family tomb from the Roman
authorities. Perhaps as early as 70 C.E., but certainly by 136 C.E. we can assume that the tomb would have been
Most importantly, the recent discoveries at the Patio Tomb, suggest that the early followers of Jesus in Jerusalem did
not believe in a bodily resurrection along the lines developed later in Christianity. They simply may have thought that
having a tomb with the bones of Jesus was perfectly natural. This theme will be developed further in the Line of
Argument titled “Symbols and the Tombs”(click here).
4. The belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus was held so strongly that it was the core belief that sustained many
early Christians as they faced persecution and martyrdom.
We only need to make a brief review of history to see that vast numbers of persons have suffered persecution and
death for ideas and causes in which they passionately believed, but which later proved to have been lost in the passing
of history. Martyrs are not rare. It seems to be part of the human condition.
Additional Arguments for the proposition
Two additional arguments are sometimes offered to counter the assertion that the Talpiot tomb can not be the tomb of
Jesus because it would have been known. These arguments are generally regarded as interesting but speculative.
The simplest argument is that Jesus did not die on the cross. Various scenarios are offered as to how this might have
happened, but they all make use of the fact that there are a few known examples of Jews surviving crucifixion. One line
of thinking is that Jesus may even have “plotted” to ensure that he survived the cross. It is also pointed out that it was a
common Jewish custom to visit a tomb after a few days to see if somehow the person had been revived or if you like
Under this line of argument, Jesus could actually have meet physically with his followers. His death could have occurred
shortly thereafter or perhaps well into the future. But in either case he eventually would have been buried in Jerusalem
with the rest of his family.
A second speculative argument is that whether or not Jesus died on the cross, he was buried in the Talpiot Tomb and
furthermore the Talpiot tomb was known to the Knights Templar. This theme will be developed more fully in another line
of argument titled “European Connections” (click here).
The arguments described above by critics of the Talpiot Tomb have a lot of common sense appeal. It is hard to
imagine today that events so important to us could have been lost to history.
However, it is the editorial position of this site that Jesus received a burial in accordance with Jewish customs and that
his deteriorating body remained on earth and as such was subject to discovery. Furthermore, it is plausible that this
fact would not have been incorporated into the dominant development path of Christian beliefs.
This site takes no position on a) the question of whether or not Jesus actually died while on the cross and b) the
precise sequence of events related to his long-term burial.
See in particular bibliographic references 14 – 16.
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