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Early Jewish-Christian Tombs–Earlier Proposals

March 9, 2012

In all the current hullabaloo about the most recent proposed identification of 1st-century Jewish-Christian tombs in the Talpioth area, I haven’t noted any reference to the earlier proposals, which go back as early as the late 19th century.

  • C. Clermont-Ganneau (in Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly, 1874, pp. 7-10; and Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the years 1872-1874, London:  Palestine Exploration Fund, vol. 1, 1899; vol 2 1896) identified a curious cross-marks on a bone-boxes found in a chamber on the “mount of offence” (SE of Jerusalem), along with inscriptions mentioning a “Yeshua” (Jesus) and other names echoed in the NT.
  • In the 1940s several scholars noted inscriptions and marks on bone-boxes from Talpioth, debating whether they come from 1st-cent Jewish-Christians:  cf. E. L. Sukenik, in American Journal of Archaeology 51 (1947), 363-65; C. H. Kraeling, “Christian Burial Urns?” Biblical Archaeologist 9 (1946), 16-20; H. R. Willoughby in Journal of Biblical Literature 68 (1949), 61-65; and others.  Indeed, the Talpioth burials have been debated, and re-debated over many decades.
  • In another burial area in the Jerusalem vicinity, “Dominus Flevit” (on the Mount of Olives), other interesting items were found beginning in 1953.  Publications include Bellarmino Bagatti & J. T. Milik, Gli scavi del “Dominus flevit” (Monte Oliveto-Geruselemme). Part 1, La necropoli dei periodo romano (Jerusalem:  Franciscan Printing Press, 1958); and Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision, History and Archaeology of the Judaeo-Christians (Jerusalem:  Franciscan Printing Press, 1971).
  • For a highly critical assessment of Bagatti’s claims and others as well, see Joan E. Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places:  The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).
  • For a rather more generous (but some would think insufficiently critical) survey of a lot of this data, including numerous photos, see Jack Finegan, The Archeology of the New Testament:  The Life of Jesus and the Beginning of the Early Church (rev. ed., Princeton:  Princeton Univ Press, 1992), 331-74.

As Taylor shows, previous claims don’t hold up well under critical scrutiny.  All the more reason to take the most recent ones with ample grains of salt, ignore the TV programme and news media, and wait for unhurried and mult-vocal scholarly engagement by competent figures to do its work.

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One Comment
  1. Brent Arehart permalink

    I love your comments and insight into matters like these Dr. Hurtado. I’m only an undergraduate student and I just began recently following your blog but I am finding very valuable information each time you post. Please keep up the good work!

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