In March 1980 a construction company was building an apartment house in Jerusalem. They accidentally uncovered yet another burial cave - a Hellenistic tomb. Archaeologists were called in and they conducted the obligatory rescue excavation. They didn’t find anything out of the ordinary and thus the report was published only several years later (1994 and 1996). It took another decade before journalists and media took notice. A few years ago, around Easter time this quarter-century-old archaeological discovery suddenly became a hot media topic. The tomb became a sensation because it contained ossuaries (stone boxes for bones) inscribed with names known from the gospels. One ossuary even carried the name “Jesus son of Joseph”.
Beyond doubt, this was a tomb of Jesus, in which he lay until his body
decomposed and his bones were gathered in this ossuary. But one thing
has to be noted right away - for us Jesus is quite a unique name, and
thus generated so much media attention. Today Jesús is a common personal
name only in Ibero-America (Hispanic America). In New Testament times
Jesus was the fifth, perhaps even the fourth most common Jewish name. It
was a common version of the biblical name Joshua. And it had profound
religious and especially political significance - the name means “The
LORD (is) salvation/liberation.” One can understand why it became so
popular under the brutal circumstances of the Roman imperial occupation.
The second most popular male name of those times was Joseph. This name
was given to babies after a patriarch who survived captivity, conquered
a foreign empire, and delivered his family from destitution. This
political name-giving expanded also to female names. The second most
popular name was Salome - derived from the Hebrew word for peace, and
the third most popular name was even more direct - Shelamizon which
means “Peace from Zion.”
In the New Testament times, in times of Jesus from Nazareth, about every
eleventh man or boy was named Jesus and every seventh was Joseph, while
every fourth or fifth female was Mary. There were thousands of Jesuses!
A discovery of a tomb of Jesus is not anything surprising. Even the
presence of other biblical names in that cave is not particularly
surprising. Jesus was a common name of uncommon hope for deliverance,
justice and peace in the midst of despair. Time was ripe for a quantum
step of new divine deliverance.
Thus finding a tomb of Jesus son of Joseph is not any big surprise. A true
surprise would be to find a tomb of the crucified Jesus, or for that
matter a burial of any crucified person. But that will open a completely
new theme for another article. We plan to talk about it and about the
mystery and powerful symbol of empty tombs in our last Lenten Lecture. I
would like to invite you to all of the lectures.