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JERUSALEM — A concrete slab nestled between two modest housing blocks hides what could soon become one of the world’s most important historical sites — what may be the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.
While the claim is decades old, new evidence indicates that this unremarkable spot in East Jerusalem is Jesus Christ’s burial place, according to geologist Arye Shimron.
"The evidence could not be stronger than what I have,” Shimron told NBC News on Tuesday.
“If you find a tomb with the names of the four Beatles in it in Liverpool, then you would say those are the four Beatles, not some other singing group from some other area,” he said.
His certainty centers around an ossuary — a centuries-old box that contains human remains. The one in question is known as the James Ossuary, which carries the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" in ancient Aramaic on the front.
Shimron tested the soil and materials from the James Ossuary against soil and materials found in the East Jerusalem tomb, once lost and now known as Talpiot Tomb. Shimron found the same chemical signature in soil from the tomb and in scrapings from the box with the Jesus inscription, leading him to conclude that the box came from the tomb.
Shimron's findings have not been peer-reviewed, and they are controversial. In 2004, Israeli authorities charged antiquities dealer Oded Golan with forging the "Jesus inscription" on the ossuary, but the dealer was acquitted in 2012.
A 2007 TV documentary titled "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" claimed that the tomb could have been the burial spot for Jesus and his family, based on a statistical analysis of the genealogical relationships between the names listed in the inscriptions.
Israeli journalist Simcha Jacobovici, who has covered the issue extensively, nevertheless said he is convinced the evidence is conclusive.
“There is no question in my mind that all the evidence, archeological ... statistical, and now chemical tells the same story,” he told NBC news. "This is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.”
But critics say: Not so fast.
For one thing, the names James, Joseph and Jesus were common 2,000 years ago, said Nicola Denzey, a professor of religious studies at Brown University. Besides, chemical tests could match up to any number of tombs in the area, she added.
"This does not prove that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, who is at the center of Christian belief,” Denzey said. “It may prove that somebody named Jesus was buried in this tomb and that this person named Jesus had a father whose named Joseph. That's really all that we know.”
Alan Boyle contributed to this report.