Is this a joke? Maybe—but, it is too early to tell. Indications exist that this might be a spoof, and given that no details at all are given as to where this “press conference” is going to take place, that might be the case. However, this link suggests the film is real. So it is very hard to say.
We have an article here making rather grandiose archaeological claims. One is immediately struck with the “showiness” of the piece. This isn’t a sober, scholarly work, and they seem to know it, since they do all they can to try to prop up their storyline even in announcing a press conference! “Decades of research” and repeated references to experts makes it clear these folks have an agenda right from the start. A few obvious questions would be, Who are the experts who have so far had access to these alleged caskets? How were they dated? Why were they kept secret and under the control of Jewish authorities for so long? Interestingly, one of the names cited in the article, Professor Amos Kloner, is also associated with the finding of the “James, the brother of Jesus” ossuary a few years ago, and in his report on that finding, made this comment, seemingly only four years ago:
The family of Jesus and James had no burial cave in first century Jerusalem and it is known that about a generation elapsed between the death of Jesus and that of James. It is not known from the details of their lives that the family moved from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is thus not likely that in the space of thirty years the burial of a large family related to Jesus and his brother James developed in Jerusalem, that made it necessary to write the deceased’s name on the ossuary in order to distinguish him from others. According to the above proposal, that such an ossuary would derive from a large group, it is unlikely that the present ossuary of Ya‘acov son of Yosef originates in the burial cave of the above family. The rationalization that early Christians were buried in Jerusalem according to their own rites still lacks proof or evidence. The possibility of a sectarian burial exists, but it doesn’t seem likely that an ossuary would be inscribed in this special way, that normally would belong to a family burial. (reference)
Yet, the article says he announced this finding ten years ago. Something smells a tad bit fishy here, if you ask me. The whole idea of families in caskets sounds so wonderfully Western, but, it isn’t the way of poor folks in first century Israel. What are these alleged caskets made of? They surely could not be made of wood, as they would not have lasted in the moist environment of Jerusalem (see Steven Fine’s “Why Bone Boxes?” BAR 27:05, Sep/Oct 2001). Are these ossuaries (hence, not caskets at all)? Use of ossuaries (as in the photo above) flourished around Jerusalem in the first century. They are in essence “bone boxes,” where the bones of the decomposed body were collected about a year after initial burial on a flat slab. Is that what is being claimed? We are left without sufficient information to even begin to ask the best questions, let alone respond. And it all points to this being, as one commentator on the article says, a “Purim joke.” Maybe. But it would also be perfectly logical to launch an attack like this in film, put it out there before any rebuttal can even be organized, just to have “maximum effect.” That is not the way of sober scholarship, of course, but it is the way of the world.
In any case, here’s my prediction if this is not, in fact, a mere joke. If there is some big press conference and the film has already been produced, this will get lots of airplay because of the allegation that here is more “proof” that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children. “See, we told you!” will be the cry of the wild-eyed Da Vinci Code addicts. Then the scholarly challenges will come, examinations will be made by those without a financial investment to protect, and once the truth is known, the media will be…oddly busy that day/week, etc. But the problem will be that without any substantiation or study, this kind of allegation will be taken as “fact” and repeated ad nauseum for the foreseeable future. Sound like a decent prediction? But, if this is just a joke, well, at least you can now amaze your friends by knowing what an ossuary is!
It seems old stories never die. In point of fact, ten years ago this story surfaced. I have the feeling it was the money connected with The Da Vinci Code that raised this story back to life (pun fully intended). Here are two stories from 1996 giving the background:
HEADLINE: ‘Jesus’ Casket Found In Israel AP-Jesus-Tomb
Deep in the warehouse of the Israel Antiquities Authority, on a dusty crowded shelf, is a box that is empty except for a great question that it holds.
The limestone box, catalogue No. 80.503, once contained human bones and is engraved in barely legible Hebrew: ”Jesus, son of Joseph.” Officials allowed reporters to see it Tuesday, after researchers for the BBC stumbled on the ossuaries last month and speculated they may have been the caskets of Jesus Christ and his family.
The 2- by 1-foot box, called an ossuary, was found along with nine others including two bearing the names Mary and Joseph by Israeli archaeologists in a Jewish burial chamber in Jerusalem in 1980 and then packed away in the warehouse with hundreds of other caskets. The bones that were in the caskets were reburied.
The find ”will electrify the centuries-old debate: did Jesus’ body really rise from the dead on Easter morning?” BBC reporter Joan Bakewell wrote in The Sunday Times of London.
But Israeli archaeologists and Bible scholars said Tuesday that Christians have no reason to worry that one of the pillars of their faith Jesus’ resurrection is about to crumble.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph were among the most common Jewish names in biblical times and that their appearance together in one place had little significance, they said.
Biblical scholar Father Jerome Murphy O’Connor of Jerusalem’s Ecole Biblique said there was no way to prove that the ossuary had contained the bones of Christ.
But, he said, if such proof could be made, ”the consequences for the faith would be disastrous.”
The burial chamber was discovered in March 1980 during a salvage dig in the Armon Hanatziv area in southern Jerusalem before construction of a new neighborhood there.
Archaeologists found 10 ossuaries, bones included, in the underground central chamber and six niches, said archaeologist Zvi Greenhut of the Antiquities Authority.
Greenhut said the combination of the names Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the ossuaries did not prompt archaeologists at the time to probe further. ”The names are common names. There is nothing unique in the appearance of all names together,” Greenhut said.
He said that among the about 1,000 ossuaries from biblical times unearthed in
Jerusalem, six carry the inscription ”Yeshua,” or Jesus. Of those, two are engraved with the words ”Jesus, son of Joseph.”
He said about 25 percent of the women’s caskets bore some form of the name
Mary and that Joseph was the second most common man’s name of the period.
The BBC will screen its story on the ossuaries as part of its ”Heart of
the Matter” religious series on Easter Sunday.
Ray Bruce, director of the independent television company CCTV that produced the program, said a check of a catalogue of ossuaries found that the names appeared only once in that combination.
April 2, 1996
By Ilene Prusher
JERUSALEM (Reuter) – An Israeli antiquities expert Tuesday cast doubt on published claims that boxes which once held the bones of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had been found deep in the soil of Jerusalem.
“Well, it’s a nice news story for Easter,” mused Motti Neiger, spokesman of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “But the archeological evidence shows that chances of these being the actual burials of the holy family are almost nil.”
A BBC reporter discovered boxes apparently inscribed with the names “Jesus,” “Mary” and “Joseph.” A report on the find by the Sunday Times of London lured a flood of correspondents Tuesday to a dusty, airless basement of the Israel Antiquities Authority for a glimpse.
The engraving on one box appears to read “Yeshua Bar Yohosef,” or Jesus son of Joseph.
But the inscription was so barely legible that the Israel Antiquities Authority was never sure who it had when it removed the box from an East Jerusalem plot in 1980.
Archeologists say that one in every four women during the 1st century was named Mary, and at least one other ossuary recovered from the period was labeled Jesus son of Joseph.
“We can’t find any parallels to this combination of names, but there is still not enough evidence to show that this is the family,” said archeologist Zvi Greenhut, as he lifted the lid of the box apparently marked Jesus.
He opened the box to reveal an empty inside encrusted with mud. In keeping with Israeli law, the bones were turned over years ago to rabbis who gave them a Jewish burial.
Moreover, no one seems to know precisely where the bones were buried. The archeologist who excavated them is dead.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in East Jerusalem is traditionally regarded as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Well, this does sound vaguely familiar now. No bones. No way of identifying them. Common names. Throw in the Da Vinci madness and some good speculative improvisation and poofo, a made-for-the-Western mind movie! At least we now know we are talking about ossuaries and not “caskets.” Well, we shall see what develops on Monday.