On the last night of the Talpiot Tomb Symposium, the statement by Joseph Gath’s widow Ruth had the archaeological community mystified. She provided the assembled scholars and media with the dramatic story of a conversation with her husband where he expressed his fears that he had excavated the actual tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
Earlier in the conference, the participants were shown recently revealed receipts for the ossuaries from Mr. Gat, who recorded that only 4 inscriptions in the tomb had been deciphered. With word out among the participants and the media that he had died in the early 1980’s, how could he have been able to arrive at that conclusion before Joseph Naveh had the opportunity to decipher the very difficult “Yeshua? bar Yehosef” inscription?
It was thought that perhaps we heard the widow wrong or perhaps her memory was not as clear as it should be.
On Friday, The Jerusalem Post corrected its first, early ’80’s dating of Gat’s death to the early 90’s:
“He said Gat, who died in the early 1990s (and not soon after the 1980 dig, as erroneously reported in Thursday’s Post)…”
In fact, Amos Kloner clarified to me yesterday, Joseph Gat died on June 14, 1993, only a year before Rahmani’s catalogue was published.
Well then, that changes things. Joseph Gat actually died several years after the “Yeshua? bar Yehosef” inscription had been deciphered by Naveh. This means that he could have heard of the decipherment of the names within the Department and arrived at his own conclusions, voicing his apprehensions to his wife, without revealing them to others.
Apologies may indeed be due to Mrs. Gat, with all due respect! (Even bloggers can rush to press. I have changed this part of my posting “One more nail in the Ossuary” accordingly).
Does this tip the balances toward confirming the Lost Tomb hypothesis of the filmmakers? Not at all.
The observation that Joseph Gat had believed that the tomb was that of Jesus of Nazareth only goes to illustrate that speculation concerning the tomb was already alive and well during the early 90’s, well before Ray Bruce proposed this in the BBC special of ’96. This new piece of history is but a distraction from the current issue since, with the exception perhaps of Joseph Naveh’s tentative decipherment of the “Yeshua? bar Yehosef” inscription, other essential scientific data, available to us today, were unavailable at that time.
Our job as human beings is to treat Ruth Gat’s memories with respect. As scholars our work is to continue to scrutinize the data that is available and to evaluate it carefully, being mindful of our limitations.