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What Jerusalem tomb has to say about early Christians

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 29, 2012 | 3:38 pm

Here we are a full five weeks from Easter, and the maker of the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” documentary is publicizing new findings from a first century tomb in Jerusalem. Doesn’t he know that you’re supposed to time that stuff for Easter?

They will also be published in a book by Simon & Schuster entitled “The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity” and detailed in a fresh documentary to be aired by the Discovery Channel in spring 2012.

Oh, well I guess that explains it. Thanks, Fox News.

So why should we care about this story? Well, it’s possible that the tomb and the ossuary inside it have something to tell us about early Christianity. James Tabor and his team found a four-line Greek inscription on one of the ossuaries that referred to “raising up” of someone and a depiction of a man being swallowed by a large fish.

A statement from UNC Charlotte, where Tabor is a professor:

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. Accordingly, if the markings are Christian as the scholars involved believe, the engravings represent – by several centuries - the earliest archaeological record of Christians ever found. The engravings were most likely made by some of Jesus’ earliest followers, within decades of his death. Together, the inscription and the Jonah image testify to early Christian faith in resurrection. The tomb record thus predates the writing of the gospels.

That’s pretty interesting, and I could see that being used in an argument that Christians were ready to believe that Jesus had raised from the dead and in fact deceived themselves into believing it. Which actually makes this the typical archeological Easter story. I’m just surprised it wasn’t on the cover of Newsweek.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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