Is this where Jesus was buried? Robot searches Jerusalem tomb and finds human bone boxes and inscription on ancient coffin lid that says 'Divine Jehovah, raise up'
Adds weight to sensational theory that Jesus was buried with Mary Magdelene and had family with her
By Daniel Miller and Ted Thornhill
UPDATED: 15:40 GMT, 11 April 2012
Using a robotic arm equipped with a camera, archaeologists have found human bone boxes and an inscription that reads 'Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up' in a 1st Century Christian burial chamber beneath a tower block in Jerusalem.
They believe that this is proof the site is the final resting place of Jesus. However, other scholars remain highly sceptical of the find.
The inscription is on a limestone box known as an ossuarie - with another such box carrying a drawing of a fish with a stick figure in its mouth which is believed to refer to the story of Jonah and the Whale - one of the very first biblical stories.
Discovery: A fish is carved upon the lid of the 1st century burial tomb which archaeologists believe proves they have located the resting place of Jesus
Development: The tower block built above the tomb complex after its discovery in the 1980s
The find is 200ft away from an earlier discovery known as the Jesus Family Tomb, which caused a huge amount of controversy after it was uncovered in the 1980s.
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Archaeologists then claimed it contained ossuaries inscribed with names associated with Jesus's family.
That discovery sprouted amazing theories including one that maintained Jesus had been buried there alongside Mary Magdalene who he had married and raised a family with.
However many leading theologians and archaeologists rubbished such claims as being completely unfounded.
The Jesus Family Tomb was only examined briefly before protests by Orthodox Jews, concerned about the disturbance of a grave site, ended the excavation.
It was then sealed up, and a tower block built over it.
However James Tabor, a scriptural scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici were determined to continue the research.
The pair obtained permission from the Israeli government in 2010 to use the robotic arm to drill holes allowing them to explore the surrounding area.
This led to the discovery of a separate chamber which they named the 'Patio Tomb', as it sits almost directly below the patio of the building.
It was inside the Patio Tomb that they found the inscriptions.
The pair claim the inscriptions discovered inside the patio tomb greatly increase the likelihood that the 'Jesus Family Tomb' is indeed, the resting place of Jesus.
Lettering: The four line inscription in Greek has been translated as 'Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up'
Magic moment: The team uses a remote control camera attached to this robotic arm to probe into the burial chamber
They argue believe both tombs are part of the same complex which may have been the property of Joseph of Arimathea, who, according to the gospels, buried Jesus.
One of the limestone ossuaries carries a Greek inscription calling on God to 'rise up' or 'raise up' someone.
Another shows the image of a fish with a stick figure in its mouth which Tabor has suggested could represent the prophet Jonah.
Mr Tabor said: 'This inscription has something to do with resurrection of the dead, either of the deceased in the ossuary, or perhaps, given the Jonah image nearby, an expression of faith in Jesus' resurrection.
Belief: Dr James Tabor is certain the inscription has something to do with resurrection of the dead
In the earliest gospel materials the 'sign of Jonah,' as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted as a symbol of his resurrection.
Jonah images in later 'early' Christian art, such as images found in the Roman catacombs, are the most common motif found on tombs as a symbol of Christian resurrection hope.
In contrast, the story of Jonah is not depicted in any first century Jewish art and iconographic images on ossuaries are extremely rare, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals.
The tomb in question is dated prior to 70 CE, when ossuary use in Jerusalem ceased due to the Roman destruction of the city.
If the markings are Christian, the engravings represent the earliest archaeological record of Christians ever found.
So the engravings were most likely made by some of Jesus' earliest followers, within decades of his death, predating the writing of the gospels.
'If anyone had claimed to find either a statement about resurrection or a Jonah image in a Jewish tomb of this period I would have said impossible -- until now,' Tabor said. 'Our team was in a kind of ecstatic disbelief, but the evidence was clearly before our eyes, causing us to revise our prior assumptions.'
The publication of the academic article is concurrent with the publication of a book by Simon & Schuster entitled 'The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity.' A documentary on the discovery will be aired by the Discovery Channel in spring 2012.
The findings and their interpretation are likely to be controversial, since most scholars are skeptical of any Christian archaeological remains from so early a period.
Adding to the controversy is the tomb's close proximity to a second tomb, discovered in 1980. This tomb, dubbed by some 'The Jesus Family Tomb,' contained inscribed ossuaries that some scholars associate with Jesus and his family, including one that reads 'Jesus, son of Joseph.'
Coffin: One of the bone boxes or ossuaries uncovered after the discovery of the nearby Jesus Tomb in the early 1980s
Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici examines a section of a nearby tomb in 2007
'Context is everything in archaeology,' Tabor pointed out. 'These two tombs, less than 200 feet apart, were part of an ancient estate, likely related to a rich family of the time.
'We chose to investigate this tomb because of its proximity to the so-called 'Jesus tomb,' not knowing if it would yield anything unusual.'
He added in an interview to ABC News: 'We have one tomb that has the bones of Jesus and 200 feet away, people celebrating his resurrection. They're able to put this together in a way that maybe people today haven't considered.'
HOW JESUS WAS LAID TO REST
The bible tells how on the evening of the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pontius Pilate for Jesus' body.
Mosaic Law states that a person hanged on a tree must not be allowed to remain there at night, but should be buried before sundown.
Joseph wrapped Jesus' body in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb.
The book of John tells how Joseph was assisted in the burial process by Nicodemus, who brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes and included these spices in the burial cloth as per Jewish customs.
Among the approximately 2000 ossuaries that have been recovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, only 650 have any inscriptions on them, and none have inscriptions comparable to the team's finds.
Less than a dozen ossuaries from the period have epitaphs but, according to Tabor, these inscribed messages usually have to do with warnings not to disturb the bones of the dead. In contrast, the four-line Greek inscription contains some kind of statement of resurrection faith.
Tabor noted that the epitaph's complete and final translation is uncertain. The first three lines are clear, but the last line, consisting of three Greek letters, is less sure, yielding several possible translations: 'O Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up,' or 'The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place,' or 'The Divine Jehovah raises up from.'
'This inscription has something to do with resurrection of the dead, either of the deceased in the ossuary, or perhaps, given the Jonah image nearby, an expression of faith in Jesus' resurrection,' Tabor said.
The ossuary with the image that Tabor and his team understand to be representing Jonah also has other interesting engravings. These also may be connected to resurrection, Tabor notes. On one side is the tail of a fish disappearing off the edge of the box, as if it is diving into the water.
There are small fish images around its border on the front facing, and on the other side is the image of a cross-like gate or entrance—which Tabor interprets as the notion of entering the 'bars' of death, which are mentioned in the Jonah story in the Bible.
Other scholars, however, have poured cold water over Tabor's claims.
Mark Goodacre, an associate professor of religious studies at Duke University, told ABC News that the fish engraving is actually no such thing.
He said: 'When is a fish not a fish? When it has handles, matching handles. It's a vessel. It's a vase. It's a vase that looks like many of the ones that you'll find in the early Roman period.'
He added that there is no firm evidence relating to Jesus in either tomb.
JERUSALEM -- Is the purported burial box of Jesus' brother James fake or authentic?
Seven years of trial, testimony from dozens of experts and a 475-page verdict Wednesday failed to come up with an answer.
A Jerusalem judge, citing reasonable doubt, acquitted Israeli collector Oded Golan, who was charged with forging the inscription on the box once hailed as the first physical link to Christ.
Golan said the ruling put an end to what he portrayed as a 10-year smear campaign against him. Hershel Shanks, editor of the Washington-based Biblical Archaeology Review, said he was delighted, insisting the burial box, or ossuary, is authentic and a "prized artifact to the world of Christianity."
The Israel Antiquities Authority, which believes Golan's most high-profile items are forged, said the case shows the limits of science in proving forgeries, but it also prompted museums and universities around the world to be more suspicious of finds of uncertain origin.
In his ruling, Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court said Wednesday that he heard so many specialists with conflicting claims that he could not determine whether the ossuary was forged.
"This topic is likely to continue to be the subject of research in the scientific and archaeological worlds, and time will tell," Farkash wrote
The case of the burial box is likely to be irrelevant to believers.
Stephen Pfann, an archaeologist and president of the Christian Holy Land University, said Christians don't need objects to prop up their faith. "In a way, there will always be that necessity of faith to be involved in a person's convictions, whether or not we find artifacts associated with the story," he said.
Much of the trial focused on the patina over the inscriptions of the ossuary and a second find, a stone tablet purportedly carrying instructions by King Yoash of the 9th century B.C. on maintenance at the Jewish Temple. The patina is a thin layer of grime that can attest to the age of engravings.
At one point, the prosecutor brought a camp stove, chalk, beaker and other ingredients to show how easy it is to make fake patina, said journalist Matthew Kalman, a frequent trial observer. The defense then used the same technique to show that fake patina doesn't stick to stone.
"It began to look like a high school chemistry class," said Kalman, editor of The Jerusalem Report magazine.
The saga began in 2002 when Golan sent the ossuary with the Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" to Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. Shanks was among its early enthusiasts, publishing the first report on it in 2002.
Golan has said he's owned the ossuary since the late 1970s and never paid much attention until a visiting French expert suggested the inscription might refer to the brother of Jesus.
After the Toronto exhibit, he started facing questions at home.
At first, the antiquities authority investigated whether he had transferred the box abroad with the proper license. It also questioned where the Yoash tablet, inscribed with 15 lines in Hebrew, came from. Eventually, IAA experts concluded both were forgeries, and police began to investigate.
Golan was indicted in late 2004, along with four other defendants, charged with forging and trading in dozens of stolen items. His trial began in 2005.
Witnesses in the trial – more than 100 hearings transcribed in 12,000 pages – described a dark underside to the Holy Land antiquities trade, including grave robbing and shadowy exchanges of fistfuls of cash on West Bank roads.
Shanks said finds should not be automatically dismissed because of uncertain origin.
"You have much looted material coming out of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)," he said. "It has died down now but was once great. These finds can be important. Are you going to rescue them, or are you going to say you aren't going to learn from them because they were looted?"
Archaeologist and biblical historian Eric Meyers of Duke University said questions about where Golan obtained the ossuary make it all the more important to regulate the antiquities trade in Israel.
"Israel is unique in the Middle East for allowing antiquities dealers to operate under official government licensing," he said. "This is a dirty business ... and the Israeli police and antiquities authority have trouble dealing with all this chicanery."
During the trial, the Israel Museum re-examined its collection to remove forged items, and museums and universities have grown more suspicious of undocumented finds, said Shai Bartura, an IAA official.
"People just do not want to take chances," he said. "If it's not absolutely legitimate, if it doesn't have an archaeological context, then most serious facilities of display or research simply will not touch it."
Golan was convicted Wednesday on four other charges, including trading unlicensed antiquities, possessing stolen artifacts and selling artifacts without a license. The court will consider Golan's sentencing in April.
Robert Deutsch, an inscriptions expert, was acquitted Wednesday of all charges. He was accused of forgery, but not in connection with the ossuary and the tablet.
In earlier proceedings, one defendant reached a plea bargain, while charges against the remaining two were dropped.