Home » Archaeology, Epigraphy » Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B? An Absence of Reasonable Evidence for a Connection

Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B? An Absence of Reasonable Evidence for a Connection

James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici have posited that Talpiyot Tomb B is a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea (i.e., the “Joseph of Arimathea” mentioned in the canonical gospels), and that this tomb also contains the actual ossuary of Joseph of Arimathea himself. Here are some citations of Tabor and Jacobovici’s views: Talpiyot Tombs A and B “are most likely located on the rural estate of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin who according to all four New Testament gospels took official charge of Jesus’ burial” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 2). But he is framed as wealthy and so they believe they have to account for the modest nature of this ossuary, thus, they suggest that there may have been “something about his faith or piety as part of the Jesus movement” that led him to “prefer such a modest bone box” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 89). Then they conclude that “it is not hard or even overly speculative for us to posit that the Talpiyot Tombs are a tiny but amazing glimpse into the life of Joseph of Arimathea” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 128).

The ossuary in Talpiyot Tomb B which they consider to be that of Joseph of Arimathea is one they also refer to as a “humble ossuary” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 89). Along the same lines, they query: “might Joseph of Arimathea have chosen a…modest ossuary for himself and his most immediate family—but one that boldly proclaimed their faith even in the midst of opposition and conflict?” (Tabor and Jacobovici, 90). It should be noted that the reason they refer to this ossuary as “boldly proclaiming their faith” is because the ossuary they believe to be that of “Joseph of Arimathea” is the one with the ornamentation they understand to be “Jonah and the Big Fish.” Of course, most scholars consider this ornamentation to be a nephesh tower or an unguentarium, not “Jonah and the Big Fish.”

In any case, the main point that I would emphasize at this time is this: The known inscriptions in Talpiyot Tomb B are (1) a four line inscription which has no reference to someone named “Joseph,” and certainly no reference to someone named “Joseph of Arimathea,” and (2) an inscription consisting of a single word, namely, “Mara” which they consider to be a reference to a woman, not a man (Tabor and Jacobovici, 127). They suggest that there is “circumstantial evidence,” namely, they suggest that “Arimathea” means “high” and Talpiyot is a “high” place. Of course, I would suggest that just being a “high” place is pretty circumstantial evidence indeed! Moreover, I would note that “Arimathea” is called a polis (Luke 23:51), that is, a “city,” rather than just a “high” place. Thus, I would suggest that most scholars will not consider the evidence to which Tabor and Jacobovici refer to be considered sufficient for their claim.

I would propose that for a historian to make a credible argument that this is the land, tomb, and ossuary of Joseph of Arimathea there must be solid evidence, such as the name “Joseph of Arimathea” inscribed on the ossuary. But, since these words are not there, it is really not convincing to posit that this is the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Tabor and Jacobovici may believe that it is not “hard or overly speculative” to say that this is the land, tomb, and ossuary of Joseph of Arimathea, but I think most epigraphers, prosopographers, and historians would find it to be quite speculative.


James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012

Archaeology, Epigraphy

9 Comments to “Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B? An Absence of Reasonable Evidence for a Connection”

  1. Yes. And unless I’ve missed something (which is indeed possible) where is the evidence that the two tombs are related to one another at all and on the same estate of any one owner?
    Also, unfortunately, calling the Talpiot A tomb the “garden tomb” could have been avoided as it obviously can (and probably will sometimes) be confused with the much earlier proposed “garden tomb.” Or (I don’t know this; maybe I’m wrong) was the name “garden tomb” intentional in an effort to become the main alternative location (partly with borrowed name recognition?) to the Holy Sepulchre tomb?
    (More trivial speculation–I don’t know much about advertizing–was the bold title “The Jesus Discovery” the title before National Geographic dropped the project and let it go to Discovery Channel?)

  2. Thanks for the note, Stephen. Yes, I completely agree with you. There is no necessary connection between these two tombs and so the terminology “Talpiyot Tomb A” and “Talpiyot Tomb B” (which suggests some sort of strong, necessary connection) is intended to prejudice readers to assuming a connection.

    Moreover, as you suggest, Tabor and Jacobovici’s use of the term “Garden Tomb” is intended to do the very same thing. I fear the public will be very confused about this.

    Terminology such as “the Jesus Family Tomb” and the “James Ossuary” are also such that they lead the reader in a particular way. I’ve preferred to call these things the Ya’akove Ossuary (rather than the James Ossuary) and the Yeshua Family Tomb (but even calling it the Yeshua Family Tomb may be assuming too much…as we don’t know who the head of the family was for the so-called Talpiyot Tomb A. Well, thanks so much for your note…I agree entirely with you.

    All best wishes,

    Chris Rollston

  3. Nobody has ever found any evidence that Joseph of Arimathea existed.

    What makes Tabor think he is an exception?

  4. Stephen and Chris, you have to have faith, according to Joanna Wail the name Josef of Arimethia was posted there in English during the filming, next to the door of the patio tomb. If she will be so kind maybe she will provide us with a photo or two.

    Or as someone said, ‘faith is believing in those things you know deep down inside are not true’ sort of like that Jesus on a piece of toast remark yesterday by Verenna. Have faith and the photos may just come to light.

  5. […] out the obvious errors in the connection of the tomb to Joseph of Arimathea.  But I also highly recommend Christopher Rollston’s critique of these claims as well.  And James McGrath has quite a lot to say about the subject as […]

  6. Stephen, see my paper and the notes for the connection of these two–actually three tombs, in the original excavation reports–all part of a single wealth estate with mikveh, wine press, fencing, etc.

    Joe, what you assert here about any sign, in English or Hebew, put up at the tomb, is a bald-faced lie. There is a family in the building with the name Ramati, they have lived there for years, check an old phone book. Your assertion, which I see you repeat again here, that we somehow planted this kind of thing, is slanderous. Nothing of the sort appears in the book or the film. We did find it interesting but hey, strange things happen all the time. It means nothing in terms of evidence. And you clearly have misunderstood Joanna. I was with her when she saw that sign–it was the plaque on the door of the family, in Hebrew–I am the one who showed it to her.

    Any Arimathea connection has not to do Chris with inscriptions found in the tomb, but with the question of who had charge of the burial of Jesus according to all our sources. If Steven is right, and he did not even exist, then clearly the point is mute, but then there are those who say Jesus did not exist, so this could not be his tomb. I don’t think most of us doubt the existence of either, just whether any compelling identification can be made. The Arimathea possibility is not where one begins, but where one might end–if Tomb A has compelling evidence that fits the Jesus family in terms of the six names, as I have argued, and if then Tomb B, 200 feet away, part of the same ancient estate, has expressions of resurrection faith, such as the Jonah image, that are characteristic of the Nazarenes and so far as we know, not of other Jewish tombs of the period.

  7. Sorry, should have said the point is moot…but maybe it is mute too :-)

  8. BTW, Chris, there is one inscription scratched out, remember I showed it to you in D.C. and put it up on slides, it appears to be Greek and I think I can see an aleph and a rho. Do you remember it? When the ossuaries were moved back and forth there were deep scratches on that side. Also there is the B&W photo of third inscription, likely a name, on the end of ossuary 4 (our map). Have you tried your hand on that one. There is an enhanced photo at our web site: thejesusdiscovery.org

  9. James,

    Assuming a connection with Joseph of Arimathea has EVERYTHING to do with inscriptions from the tomb…and because none has been found that says “Joseph of Arimathea” in Talpiyot B, the assumption that this tomb is to be connected with Joseph of Arimathea is *without* ancient evidence.

    Hard-core ancient (especially) epigraphic evidence, for me, is the place to begin…it’s just the way I operate. I’m not the sort of person who is comfortable with stringing together a lot of “IFs.”

    I liked the moot-mute pun, by the way!

    All best wishes,


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