The Jesus Discovery made headlines Tuesday when researchers working in Jerusalem announced the discovery of limestone burial boxes, ossuaries, with the earliest known markings of Christianity.
One ossuary was etched with what appears to be a fish with a stick figure in its mouth, which researchers said represents the biblical story of Jonah, who was swallowed by a large fish and spit out three days later. The etching piqued their interest because a fish would not typically be carved on a Jewish ossuary, the researchers said.
The other box is inscribed with a Greek phrase that translates to Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up or The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place.
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, James Tabor, lead researcher and chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said in a statement.
The tomb these ossuaries were discovered in lies 200 feet away from Tabor's 1980 discovery of the Jesus Family Tomb.
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The Jesus Family Tomb contained ossuaries marked with the names Jesus, son of Joseph, Judah, son of Jesus and the names of Jesus' brothers and sisters.
The bible claims Jesus made a bodily resurrection and did not marry nor have children. To explain the discrepancy, Tabor suggested that early Christians believed in a spiritual resurrection, according to MSNBC.
A book and TV special about the findings were released in 2007.
Tabor kept working despite criticism that he was sensationalizing a finding that could not be proven. He found the tomb of the Jesus Discovery soon after, but Israeli authorities would not give them permission to open it. However, in June 2010 an agreement was reached that would allow Tabor to use a robotic arm equipped with a camera to investigate the tomb.
The researcher revealed their findings Tuesday.
Tabor and his partner, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, presented their findings to several archaeologists months prior to Tuesday's announcement but bound them to non-disclosure agreements. Once Tabor announced the discovery himself, the archaeologists were allowed to give their opinions.
In my assessment, there's zero percent chance that their theory is correct, Andrew Vaughn, executive director of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), a group that encourages study of the Middle East, told MSNBC.
Many researchers voiced their criticism on the ASOR blog page.
Nothing in the book 'revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus or early Christianity' as the authors and publisher claim, and we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology, Eric Meyers, a biblical scholar from Duke University, wrote on the page.
Any fish imagery is hardly identifiable let alone that of a fish spewing out a human, he continued. In fact, the image in the book is so poorly reproduced in my copy that one suspects it has been intentionally altered so that no one could see what the image really is.
Christopher Rollston, a professor of Near-Eastern studies at the Emmanuel Christian Seminary, criticized Tabor for misreading the inscriptions, which don't mention Jehovah.
Ultimately, I would suggest that this is a fairly standard, mundane Jerusalem tomb of the Late Second Temple period, he wrote on the ASOR blog. Stringing together a series of 'maybe this' or 'perhaps this' or 'could it be' will sell books, but it will not convince careful historians nor will it change the facts.
Rollston did applaud Tabor for his use of the robotic arm.
The technology that was used to explore this tomb is stunning and auspicious, he wrote. Tabor and Jacobovici are to be congratulated for leading in the development and employment of these robotic and photographic technologies, and it is hoped that these technologies can be refined even more during the coming months and years.
Tabor's book, The Jesus Discovery, is available now, and a Discovery channel special based on his findings will air this spring.