The Only Ancient Jewish Male Hair Ever Found

Biblical scholar James Tabor examines a rare specimen from the "Tomb of the Shroud"

This article was originally published on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily republished the article with consent of the author. Visit Taborblog today, or scroll down to read a brief bio of James Tabor below.


The braided hair of a Jewish woman was found at Masada but until recently, no example of preserved hair from a Jewish male had ever been found from the late 2nd Temple period. This discovery is one of the many fascinating, but less publicized, finds of the 1st-century “Tomb of the Shroud,” discovered in the summer of 2000 just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. The secrets this tomb continues to yield are many, including recent correlations with the DNA test results from the Talpiot Jesus tomb.

Many of the most interesting archaeological discoveries are accidental. There seems to be an unwritten axiom, those who seek never find, and those who find were not seeking. I have participated in over 20 seasons of excavation at five different sites over the past 25 years and I can’t count the times when suddenly, “out of the blue,” one of our students, volunteers, or a staff member suddenly finds something significant–and totally unexpected! Such was the case with the 15 line ostracon at Qumran in 1996, the engraved 1st-century menorah we found at Sepphoris in 1999 or the mysteriously inscribed stone vessel at Mt Zion in 2009.

In the BAS DVD Biblical Controversies and Enigmas, Dr. James D. Tabor sheds light on longtime Biblical debates, such as the origins of Christianity, what archaeology reveals about the last days of Jesus and what the Bible says about death, the afterlife and resurrection. For beginners and seasoned readers of Biblical Archaeology Review–and everyone in between!

I have to say that until our recent discoveries in the Talpiot “Patio” tomb, the most exciting find in which I have been involved had to be the wholly accidental late-night discovery of the freshly robbed tomb in Akeldama, in the Valley of Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem. It was June 14, 2000. Shimon Gibson and I were hiking just south of the Old City with five of our students, showing them some of the abandoned 1st-century tombs of that area. We had been in Israel for two weeks excavating at the Suba “John the Baptist” cave. We suddenly and unexpectedly came upon a freshly robbed entrance to one of the many 1st-century tombs that are in that area–many of them still sealed. We could see broken ossuaries, scattered bones and displaced soil where the invaders had removed the blocking stone to the tomb and tunneled inside.

The rest is now history. This amazing three-level tomb, cut into bedrock, contained in a lower niche or kokh the partially preserved skeletal remains of a male with a badly deteriorated cloth burial shroud still visible! We could hardly believe our eyes. Joe Zias, whom we told about the discovery the next day, was so sure the cloth had to be a later reburial that he swore that he would “eat his hat”–a plastic cuyler’s hat at that–if our cloth turned out to be ancient.
I had the cloth dated at the University of Arizona C-14 lab. Douglas Donahue, the same scholar who tested the Shroud of Turin, dated our cloth–it came out 1st century CE, and made headlines around the world (see here and here). Although 1st century cloth has been found at Masada and in caves in the Judean Desert, nothing of this sort had ever been found in Jerusalem. Apparently that niche, sealed with a blocking stone, had a geological fissure that kept water from seeping in and rotting the material.
The tomb had any number of interesting features. DNA studies were done on all the individuals represented in the tomb–the first time, so far as we know, that this had even been done in an ancient Jerusalem tomb of this period. Textile analysis was done on the cloth–it turned out to be a layered mixture of linen and wool.[1] Perhaps the most surprising find was that our shrouded individual, a male, had Hanson’s disease–leprosy–the 1st documented case from this region in ancient times (see my post on this here). Gibson, Zissu, and I published our preliminary results later that same year[2] and in 2009, a complete scientific study appeared in the on-line journal PLoS One, available for download here.
One of the more fascinating finds in this tomb, one that has not received much attention, was the preservation of a sample of Jewish male hair. The hair was lice-free, and was trimmed or cut evenly, probably indicating that the family buried in this tomb practiced good hygiene and grooming. The length of the hair was medium to short, averaging 3-4 inches. The color was reddish.
The Tomb of the Shroud continues to offer more surprises. We recently noticed that the mitDNA tests of two of the individuals in this tomb match the polymorphisms of two individuals in the Jesus family tomb–namely skeletal materials taken from both the Yeshua and the Mariamene ossuaries. What the implications of this might be, and whether there is any possible relationship between these two families, remains to be explored. For one particularly tantalizing possibility, see Shimon Gibson’s speculations regarding the James Ossuary being stolen from the Akeldama “tomb of the Shroud.”[3]


1. I should point out that the two types of cloth were not woven together but lined or layered, thus avoiding any halachic violation of shatnetz, the Torah prohibition of mixing wool and linen.
2. “Jerusalem—Ben Hinnom Valley,” with B.Zissu, S.Gibson, Hadashot Arkheologiyot (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2000), Vol.III, pp. 70*-72*, Figs.138-139.
3. Shimon Gibson, “A Lost Cause: A Response from Shimon Gibson on the James Ossuary Inscription” Biblical Archaeology Review 30:6 (2004) 55-58.

Dr. James Tabor is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981, Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with extensive field work in archaeology in Israel and Jordan, including work at Qumran, Sepphoris, Masada, Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan. Over the past decade he has teamed up with with Shimon Gibson to excavate the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, the “Tomb of the Shroud” discovered in 2000, and ongoing work at Mt Zion. Most recently, Tabor, along with Rami Arav, have been involved in the re-exploration of two tombs in East Talpiot; the controversial “Jesus tomb” and a related tomb less than 200 feet away that has ossuary inscriptions Tabor and Arav interpret as Judaeo-Christian. Among his publications are Things Unutterable (1985), A Noble Death (1992) Why Waco: Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America (1995) and The Jesus Dynasty: A New Historical Investigation of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (Simon & Schuster, 2006). His most recent book, co-authored with Simcha Jacobovici, is The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity (Simon & Schuster, 2012). He has a new book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (Simon & Schuster), coming out in November, 2012. You can find links to all of Dr. Tabor’s web pages, books, and projects at

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32 Responses

  1. Slolearner says:

    Who cares???!!!
    Red and Yellow Black and White they are precious in His sight.
    Let leave all the “figuring out” to the Creator and not get caught up in the logistics of life and its HIStory. All science is is the human attempt to explain God’s unexplainable work. If you believe He created the world in 7 days and that He raised Jesus from the dead then you shouldnt find it hard to believe that he made Black Jews w red hair.

  2. Steve Ivins says:

    First century Palestinian Jews were not black. All historical and archaeology research indicates olive or fair skin. It’s ok…don’t fret…God doesn’t discriminate.

  3. Andre says:

    “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

    Jeremiah 13:23

    Clearly, the skin color of Ethiopians did not match that of Israelites. Ethiopian skin is dark like the spots of a leopard are dark. Nobody who is even the slightest bit intellectually honest can argue that the Israelites were Black.

    Sia, the hair shown here is clearly that of a non-Black person (it isn’t kinky) regardless of what shade it is.

  4. Sia says:

    Some black people have red hair and blonde hair too.

  5. Craig says:

    Red hair ancient Isrealities

  6. Craig says:

    Seems to match the red hair jews in Egyptian’s walls

  7. Bob says:

    So Shade, you can’t stand the DNA, & other evidence?
    Be honest. You prefer only evidence that goes with your belief.

  8. shade says:

    You guys just can’t stand the fact that ALL of the Israelites were black.
    Amo 9:7 Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?
    Rom 2:9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
    Mat 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
    Mark 15:21 (NKJV) Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.

    He was from Cyrene, on the North Coast of Africa
    Acts 13:1King James Version (KJV)

    13 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
    Niger means black and is a country in west africa

    Act 21:37 And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?
    Act 21:38 Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?
    Cush is Egyptian, Ethiopians and Canaan.

  9. Son of man says:

    Hello sons and daughters of the one true living God, please pray always that you will be accounted worthy to escape the hour of temptation that is going to come upon the entire world. And pray always that you will also be accounted worthy to stand in the presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

  10. Ben Witherington on the James Ossuary and the Talpiot “Jesus” Tomb | TaborBlog says:

    […] the scientific report here and implications here and here […]

  11. Varghese says:

    The hair looks like a darker shade of brown to me. I think that is representative of most of the world populations. Maybe not including China and Africa. Actually even in China & Africa that hair color can be found sporadically.

  12. RAY OLIVER, ESQ. says:

    Sten-Ake, your comment made me chuckle. I’ll say this. My maternal grandfather had red hair, blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. The house he lived in and all of our ancestors, had been in the same place for generations of the family as far back as the time of Canaan. The family continues to own the mountains overlooking the village where our family maintains a presence. The family land and village is located a short distance from Baalbeck in Northern Lebanon. The deed, which I have in my office, to the family land states that ownership was “…taken by sword.”
    No prior owner of our family land ever existed for millennia. The red hair, blue eyes and ruddy complexion is “traditionally” believed to be descendants of the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians “may” have come from the North, preceding the Sea Peoples who were conceded Canaan by King Ramses III and renamed the Levant/ Canaan to “Palestine” in 1180 BCE. However, we have not solved that riddle yet. BUT, we know from DNA studies that 27 percent of the male population today in Byblos, Lebanon are “direct descendants of the Phoenicians.” By attributing decendancy to the biblical story of Adam, you relegate peoples to a mish-mash of fictional and unsubstantiated existences of characters. Further, DNA studies of modern day Israelis / Hebrews found that up to 2 percent contain the DNA of Sub Sahara peoples. Cohenim (Kohn) DNA, traced back to the Jewish High Priests, is traced only to the 7th Century bce. Cohenim dna is found in the Sephardic Jew and its Mz sub_branches. In Contrast, Ashkenazim Jews are traced back to around the 12th century CE (AD) to the Caucuses / Russia, when an unexplainable mass conversion to Judaism occurred. DNA for Ashkenazim Jews have no connection with the middle east. Therefore, if there is a red hair, blue eyed, ruddy complexioned Hebrew, then it can only be genetically traced to the Ashkanazim Jews from central / southern Europe, approximately 2300 years after the arrival of the Sea Peoples and the Peleset tribe in Canaan and with NO connection to the middle or near east.

  13. Sten-Åke Dahl says:

    The excavated, white city of Dilmun on Bahrein was built by the Adam people with reddish, freakened skin, reddish, curly hair and blue eyes. They enslaved other people and killed offspring that looked different from themselves. ref death of Abel. They were master builders of harbours, canals and dams and cultivated land and developed plantage systems. I think they came from the North Sea region and had survived an immense tsunami there. Thus the reddish hebrews are offspring of Adam people while semitic looking israelis are more mixed with natives.

  14. RAY says:

    James, I read your “peer reviewed” paper on the methods and reliability of your lab DNA testing, before I made my comments above. I do not dispute the probabilities, methods and the reliability of the results evidenced by your paper on Hansens disease and other methods discussed.

    However, it is the archaeological and anthropological interpretations which were made that are beyond “science” and are clearly unsubstantiated assumption/assessments. This includes association with a widely disputed history of the Talpiot tomb, interpretations of a “priestly family” and other speculative statements which you present as facts.

    Further vitiating the credibility of the anthropological interpretations is your association with documentary producer, Simcha Jacobovici. Jacobovici clearly has an economic and personal interest to pursue his claim to fame to an otherwise unimportant Talpiot tomb.
    Having some experience with producers, documentaries and other filmmakers and script writers, I will follow this effort closely and critically…
    Ray Oliver

  15. James Tabor says:

    Ray, you might want to read more carefully. This article never appeared in BAR, it was just picked up by BHD here, as they pick up on many biblically related discoveries. This is a blog post reporting on the discovery for the general public. The full scientific article, as well as our own IAA article in Antiqot has been published and is even on-line, but you would need to take the time to read the post and then access the links.

  16. RAYMOND OLIVER says:

    Corrections: “Levant”

    Ray Oliver, Esq.

  17. RAYMOND OLIVER says:

    …and Rose, you are correct that King Ramses II stopped the first invasion from the north by “The Sea Peoples.” But, it was King RamsesIII that defeated the “invaders from the north…” and conceded all of the land that they had conquered “…up to the mouth of the Nile.” The Peleset tribe, as part of a confederacy of tribes from Central and Southern Europe, Black Sea region & Western, Northern Anatolia, occupied the Levan and named their new land, PALESTINE in 1180 bc. Centuries later, small nomadic non-related tribes loosely associated as Hebrews from Western Syria, Mesopotamia & Sub Sahara Africa “migrated” into Palestine. Athenians & Mycenaeans migrated into Palestine decades after Pelesets. This is established by history recorded at KR III funerary temple at Medinet Habu and pottery dating of Palestinian, Athenian, Mycenaean pottery. *AGAIN: There is NO archaeological artifact or epigraphic recording of a Davidian dynasty period or a Davidian Temple. There is no First Temple period archaeological evidence, other than a story recorded in the Torah.
    King David simply did not exist. Therefore, there could be no king David who fought against the Sea Peoples. The history of invasion of the Sea Peoples is detailed on a victory stele of KR III at Medinet Habu. Also refer to Dr. Sanford Holst’s manuscript, “The Sea Peoples,” at the World History Conference.

  18. RAYMOND OLIVER says:

    Rose, you might want to read the Torah’s admonition against Lepers more closely.

    “If he touches a person or utensil or stops under the same roof with them or is moved by a person or rests on a suitable object they become impure.”

    Unless the Torah and Talmud were written centuries after the date of this Tabor Jewish mummy, or that the Torah was disregarded entirely with the onset of the 1st century BC, then it is not likely that a leper was permitted to remain within the walls of Jerusalem or within “any” community or family.

    In view of Dr. Tabor’s association with Simcha Jacobovici, and unless Dr. Tabor can tell us whether his article was peer reviewed, I give his assessments, observations and statements very little credibility.


  19. Rose Stauros says:

    Being a Jewish priest is not the same as being from a priestly family. Could have just been a sickly bro of a priest.

    the everlasting gadfly

  20. Ray Oliver says:

    There appear to be too many inconsistencies in your analysis of the 1st century Jewish male to be acceptable. You noted that you presume the remains to be of a “priestly family.” You acknowledge that the male had Hanson’s disease-Leprosy and that the hair was neatly trimmed and short…” The fact that leprosy was detected would presumptively eliminate the potential for a Jewish priest who was made impure and removed from the general HBW community because of leprosy.
    CF “The leper must cover his head and tear his clothes, must not cut his hair or wash his clothes, and must not enter a walled city, as it says “And the leper who has the condition, his clothes shall be torn and his hair grown and he shall cover his mouth… outside the camp shall be his dwelling”.6 If he touches a person or utensil or stops under the same roof with them or is moved by a person or rests on a suitable object they become impure. ” I take it that your article was not vetted before publication in BAR? If so, I would be interested in the panel’s observations
    Ray Oliver, Esq.

  21. Daniel Reed says:

    I’m thinking the DNA of those who returned under Ezra would be a particularly pure strain.

    Remember in Ezra 10 all families that were not listed in the genealogies were broken. Men were forced to leave their wives and children and according to Ezra it happened.

    3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.

    Now I don’t pretend to believe all genealogies in the Bible are actual genealogies. Many genealogies when read aloud are passages in Hebrew (the oral tradition) to Hebrew speaking people. (Luke may be guilty of this too, aye?).

    Ezra was trying to restore the line of David that the LORD cast away, when the people let the day and night get out of season (didn’t observe the intercalary months of the Jubile)

    Jeremiah 33:26
    Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them.

    It would be awesome to see how the migration patterns of the different races and nationalities merged.

    Still is that nagging question. Why didn’t Herodotus ever mention Hebrews or Jews? In book 2 he talked about a people who sacrificed once a year to the full moon by killing and eating an animal left at the door post of each family. He called them the people living in the Fens. They were divided into 12 kingdoms and thought swine an abomination. They sacrificed steers on alters in the same manner as described in Leviticus and Numbers. Yet not a peep from Herodotus about Hebrews in modern Jerusalem.


  22. Rose Stauros says:

    James> that a random family in 1st century Jerusalem would be maternally related to Ramses of the 13th century BCE, or alternatively, that any Jews today would show a maternal “match” with this Akeldama family.

    Rose> The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities refuses to release DNA results of any mummies as far as I can tell. What would be some possible reasons for that?

    Its not like there weren’t black Kings in Ancient Israel as well. Hezekiah seems to be a throne name for the Nubian Pharaoh’s Shebitku and Shabaka. As any separate Hezekiah could only have been a governor at best.

    The total Solar eclipse over Meroe Nubia on March 5, 702 BCE would seem to crystallize this.

    It happens at the same year in history as this. . .

    Isaiah 38:8
    Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.

    We need to see all the DNA results from Egypt and get it over with.


  23. Dallas Kennedy says:

    A maternal relationship to Jews living today is likely, although improbable for any one person. A maternal relationship to Ramses is less likely, although not impossible.

  24. James Tabor says:

    The PLOS-One paper gives the mitDNA results so the results are published and public and anyone can do any comparisons they care to–with their own family or others. I would think it unlikely, however, that a random family in 1st century Jerusalem would be maternally related to Ramses of the 13th century BCE, or alternatively, that any Jews today would show a maternal “match” with this Akeldama family.

  25. Rose Stauros says:

    I would still like to see the Mitochondrial DNA found in modern Israel to the Mitochondrial DNA of the Pharaohs (particularly Ramses).

    Remember OJ Simpson was set free because there wasn’t a continuous ‘Chain of custody’ from when the DNA was collected. The Article begins with, “the wholly accidental late-night discovery of the freshly robbed tomb in Akeldama, in the Valley of Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem. It was June 14, 2000.”

    The Research Article says, “The archaeologist’s DNA was characterised for reference to eliminate possible contamination, however neither contamination nor the archaeologist’s DNA was found in any of the results.”

    The tests were conducted in clean rooms with separate filtered air supplies to avoid contamination. Yet we don’t know if the samples were contaminated by the looters before modern archeologists ever entered the tomb.

    The Research Article continues, “However the target region is small and thus errors could be introduced in the identification of relationship amongst a random sample population. This mtDNA analysis has identified two mtDNA profiles that are shared between two individuals and one mtDNA profile that is shared between three individuals, suggesting a number of maternal relationships within the individuals from the Tomb of the Shroud”

    It’s like any calculus function, in that the answer is only as good as the inputs. If you amplify dirty data, you’ll get a dirty result. Personally I believe these folks are all from the same tribe (not sure about Jewish ‘families’ in the 1st century). I would gladly donate 1,000 dollars (US) to this website if it can be shown that these bodies do not share the same Mitochondrial DNA as the red headed Ramses. (they have my email 😉

    Excellent article thanks!


  26. Cynthia Gooch says:

    This whole thing is just so – well – COOL that I can hardly stand it. It must have been absolutely stunning to be there!

    – Cindy in Phoenix, AZ

  27. James D Tabor says:

    Thanks for these good comments. Actually the wool and linen were layered not woven, which is halachically acceptable. We think this was a priestly family. I will update the blog and point this out.

  28. Burt Schall says:

    Interesting that the burial cloth violated the Shatnez (שעטנז) prohibition on cloth containing both wool and linen.

  29. Rose Stauros says:

    We recently noticed that the mitDNA tests of two of the individuals in this tomb match the polymorphisms of two individuals in the Jesus family tomb–namely skeletal materials taken from both the Yeshua and the Mariamene ossuaries.

    Wiki- Microscopic inspection of the roots of Ramesses II’s hair proved that the king’s hair was originally red, which suggests that he came from a family of redheads. This has more than just cosmetic significance: in ancient Egypt people with red hair were associated with the god Seth,

    Ramsses II, didn’t his hieroglyphs appear on the Djed? Didn’t he defeat the Sea People? Didn’t David have red hair (or at least ruddy ;-), didn’t David defeat the Sea People too? David and Djed seem to resonate well with the 20th dynasty.

    I would bet $1,000 to this website that the DNA in that hair would match the polymorphisms in the DNA of Ramsses red hair as well. Careful though as soon as you publish, you will be called a racist. It’s how the world works.


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