Symbols and the Talpiot Tombs
April 9, 2012
The ossuaries from the Garden tomb in East Talpiot are often the focus of the debate over the meaning of the Talpiot
Tomb. However, symbols and potential symbols associated with the tomb also play an important role. For some
commentators, these symbols point decisively to the fact that the Talpiot Tomb is the family tomb of the biblical Jesus.
Others respond that these symbols are interesting and perhaps even unique, but they have been misinterpreted and do
not point to the biblical Jesus.
For the purpose of this line of argument we will divide this debate into four parts:
1. The symbol at the entrance to the Garden Tomb (click here)
2. The cross-like mark on the Jesus son of Joseph ossuary (click here)
3. The cluster of symbols and inscriptions found in the nearby Patio tomb (click here)
4. Ossuary fragment with the name Yeshua encircled by a symbol that may be a fish (click here)
The symbol at the entrance to the Garden Tomb
The entrance to the Garden tomb contains a symbol composed of a chevron over a circle. Some commentators see this
as an early Christian symbol, with several alternative interpretations being possible. For example, Wikipedia-Talpiot
Tomb, offers the following interpretation:
"Some believe this is a depiction of the Nicanor Gate of the Temple of Jerusalem, which appears on coins from this
period. In the same way that the Nicanor gate marked the end of a pilgrimage, the entrance to the tomb may have
marked the end of a pilgrimage. Some have noted that the chevron and circle look like the Greek letters Lambda and
Omicron, respectively; others contend that the Paleo-Hebrew letters Daleth and Ayin would be more likely referents."
Others also 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. The most often cited evidence for this idea is the visual similarity
between the tomb symbol and the “all seeing eye” symbol (click here) found on the one dollar bill. The line of reasoning
is that this symbol was passed down via the Knights Templar to the Freemasons who used their influence to place this
version of the symbol into US currency.
Critics of these ideas point out that the proponents of these ideas can not come together and form a consensus on
what this symbol means. They also point to numerous examples where similar motifs can be observed without any
association to Jesus, Christianity or the Knights Templar.
The cross-like mark on the Jesus son of Joseph ossuary
A mark that some interpret as a Hebrew Taw can be found at the beginning (see the rightmost portion of the inscription
area) of the “Jesus son of Joseph” inscription. The Taw is thought by some to be a messianic symbol and ultimately
related to the Christian cross. There are several other ossuaries found outside of the Garden tomb that also show
similar marks. It is thought by some that these may be the ossuaries of early Judeo-Christians.
Many ossuaries contain masons marks which are used to align lids to ossuaries that look very much like the mark on the
Jesus Ossuary. This mark and those found on other ossuaries are undoubtedly flaws or mason’s marks.
The cluster of symbols and inscriptions found in the nearby Patio tomb
In 2012 Tabor and Jacobovici published a book called “The Jesus Discovery” . This book describes the contents of
the “Patio Tomb” which was found about 200 feet away from the Garden Tomb. This tomb holds ossuaries that contain
several symbols and inscriptions that suggest to the authors that the family occupying this tomb professed a belief in a
type of non-bodily resurrection that could be characterized as early Christian or Judeo-Christian. They also propose
that these symbols and inscriptions clearly link the Patio Tomb to the Garden Tomb and thereby reinforcing the claim
that the Garden Tomb is the family tomb of the biblical Jesus.
The most prominent of these symbols is the so-called “Sign of Jonah” (click here). The authors interpret this symbol as
representing the great fish spitting up Jonah back onto the land. They state that etched into the head of the "big fish" is
the name Jonah (click here), thereby virtually assuring that there interpretation is correct. In the authors view this
directly links to the New Testament passage (Mathew 12:39-40) spoken by Jesus:
“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet
Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days
and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
The authors also point to other symbols on this ossuary, including a potential large second fish and several small fish
symbols, plus a potential cross, to show that this should be considered an early Judeo-Christian expression of a belief in
a non-bodily resurrection.
Critics assert that these symbols and inscriptions have been misinterpreted and they do not point the resurrection or
the biblical Jesus. Most notably, they argue that the “Sign of Jonah” symbol is not even a fish and the name Jonah is
not present. In their view it is far more likely to be an image of a common vase or tower, sometimes seen depicted on
Ossuary fragment with the name Yeshua encircled by a symbol that may be a fish
The Rahmani catalog of ossuaries includes the description of an ossuary fragment (click here) indexed as #140.
The picture of this fragment clearly shows the name Yeshua encircled by a symbol that some interpret as a fish. The
thought is that Yeshua is not the occupant of the ossuary from which this fragment arises. Rather this is an early Judeo-
Christian symbol honoring the memory of Jesus. The presence of fish symbols in the Patio Tomb makes this
interpretation more likely.
This becomes even more interesting when realizes that there are other ossuaries that contain markings that could also
be interpreted as fish symbols.
This is not a symbol at all, it is just a carelessly drawn decorative circle, just as is the case with similar markings found
on other ossuaries.
It is very difficult for the non-professional to form a definitive opinion about the meaning of each of the marks, symbols
and inscriptions presented above when there is very little scholarly consensus about their meaning.
It seems that the best approach is to attempt to form a big picture view of these findings. It is clear that taken
individually we have to recognize that we can not be certain about the meaning of each individual mark, symbol or
inscription. However, taken as a whole, especially considering the physical proximity of the Garden and Patio tombs
one can safely conclude that an association between the symbols and the biblical Jesus is plausible, even likely when
taking the whole context into account, and that this association merits further deliberation and study.
See in particular bibliographic references 3,42,43,44, 45, 46
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