Washington: Archaeologists have stumbled upon
a coffin bearing engravings inside a first-century Christian
tomb in Jerusalem which they believe could prove that the site
is the final resting place of Jesus.
The burial chamber located below a modern condominium
building has been dated to before AD 70, so if its engravings
are indeed early Christian, they were most likely made by some
of Jesus` earliest followers, the excavators said.
Using a remote-controlled camera connected to a robotic
arm, the excavators found that one of the limestone boxes,
also known as ossuaries, bears an inscription in Greek that
refers to "Divine Jehovah", raising someone up.
A second ossuary has an image that appears to be a large
fish with a stick figure in its mouth. The excavators believe
the image represents the story of Jonah, the biblical prophet
who was swallowed by a fish or whale and then released.
A computer-enhanced image of the fish engraving thought
to represent the story of the prophet Jonah. Together both the
inscription and the image of the fish represent the Christian
belief in resurrection from death, LiveScience reported.
While images of the Jonah story became common on more
recent Christian tombs, they do not appear in first-century
art, and iconographic images like this on ossuaries are
extremely rare, the researchers said.
"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," James Tabor,
a professor of religious studies at the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte and one of the excavators, said.
The researchers, who published their findings online in
`The Bible and Interpretation`, however, acknowledged that the
discovery and their interpretation may become controversial.
This tomb was originally uncovered in 1981, but the
excavators were forced to leave by Orthodox Jewish groups who
oppose the excavation of Jewish tombs. The tomb was then
resealed and buried beneath the condominium complex in the
neighbourhood of East Talpiot.
Almost two decades later, Tabor and colleagues got a
license to go back into the tomb; however, because of the
condos on top of it and the threat of protests from Orthodox
Jewish groups, they took an unconventional route into the
They inserted a robotic arm, developed for this project,
carrying high-definition cameras, through holes drilled in the
basement floor of the building. The cameras photographed the
ossuaries inside from all sides.
This tomb is located adjacent to another one, uncovered
in 1980, that contained ossuaries with names some have
associated with Jesus and his family. That tomb was thoroughly
excavated at the time.