Archaeologist 'identifies bodies of Christ's disciples'
An amateur archaeologist claimed yesterday to have identified what could be the remains of some of Christ's disciples in a first century burial chamber beneath a block of flats in Jerusalem.
A team led by Simcha Jacobovic, a Canadian documentary director, used a robot to photograph a number of limestone burial caskets, which may provide an unprecedented glimpse into Christianity's earliest days. But the potential significance of the discovery is almost certain to be overshadowed by controversy, with Mr Jacobovic using it to bolster his widely disputed claims to have identified the bones of Jesus and his family nearby.
The caskets, known as ossuaries, were inscribed with what some experts said could be the earliest Christian iconography ever documented.
One of the ossuaries carries an etching of a fish with what appears to be a human head in its mouth, perhaps an image of Jonah. His story was of major significance to early Christians because Jonah spent three days in the belly of the giant fish, just as Christ spent three days in the tomb.
The fish was also seen as a sacred symbol. Not only did fish feature in a number of miracles, while many of the disciples were fishermen, but the Greek for fish -- ichthys -- was held to be an acronym for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour".
Independent archaeologists said no Jewish tomb from antiquity was known to have carried a fish, giving further credibility to the theory that the etching was Christian. An adjacent ossuary was engraved with a Greek inscription that appears to refer to resurrection and could be translated as "Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up".
Some Israeli archaeologists, however, said that some contemporary Jewish communities, including the Pharisees and the Essenes, also believed in the resurrection of the dead.
The tomb would almost certainly date to before AD 70, the year the city was destroyed by a Roman army. If the remains were those of early Christians, they may well have been contemporaries of Christ, perhaps even his disciples, as the community was small.
Further investigation is likely to be tricky, however. Although the chamber was discovered in 1981, excavation has been impossible because of an edict by Jewish religious authorities.
After years of negotiation, Mr Jacobovic, himself an Israeli-born Jew, managed to win approval to lower a robotic arm to photograph the ossuaries. (© Daily Telegraph, London)