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Doubts cast over possible clues about earliest Christian references

Washington, Mon, 05 Mar 2012 ANI

Washington, Mar 5 (ANI): Experts in biblical research have quashed claims about the discovery of the earliest archaeological record of Christians ever, in a suburb of Jerusalem, saying that the findings are "unsurprising".


Biblical scholar and historian James Tabor and documentarian Simcha Jacobovici announced on Tuesday that after five years of work, they believe they've found the most primitive Christian references on record: an early Christian symbol relating the story of Jonah and the whale, and an inscription relating to resurrection on two ossuaries (or stone boxes) used to hold the bones of the deceased 2,000 years ago, Fox News reported.


Apparently, the markings may specify that those buried there were early followers of Jesus. And perhaps not coincidentally, the find is near another tomb that some believe may have been Jesus' final resting place.


The use of ossuaries in tombs was common in and around Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Thousands of such boxes in hundreds of tombs have been uncovered over the years, often by accident during construction projects.


But Tabor, Jacobovici and Rami Arav, an archaeologist and professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, say what's unique about these two ossuaries are their inscriptions and carvings.


On one crudely hand-carved box is what appears to be a large fish spewing forth a person, iconography that suggests the story of Jonah and the whale, a popular Bible story that Christians associate with the resurrection of Christ (just as Jonah was resurrected from the whale).


On a second ossuary bearing ornamental rosette carvings is what they claim is a rare inscription: "Jehovah (God), raise up, raise up."


It's this inscription in ancient Greek that, together with the fish and Jonah symbols, suggests early Christian beliefs and perhaps a belief in Jesus' resurrection.


"It is the only statement of faith found on any ossuary out of some 2,000 [that have been found in the area]," Jacobovici said.


Tabor and Jacobovici are convinced the markings represent the beginnings of Christianity.


"The idea of resurrection is one of the most common beliefs at the time, we have it in many [ancient] Jewish texts," Eric Meyers a professor at Duke University who specializes in early biblical research and archaeological studies, said.


"So there's nothing to be surprised about the inscription."


The word that Tabor and Jacobovici interpret as God is also doubted by Christopher Rollston, a professor and expert in ancient text at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.


Furthermore, Meyers does not see the carving on the other ossuary as that of a fish. He believes it could be a stylized column, common at the time in such carvings.


Some critics have asserted that Tabor and Jacobovici are just trying to sell their book, The Jesus Discovery, and promote a forthcoming documentary. (ANI)


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