I arrived back yesterday morning from Israel at 5:00 a.m. (in a NY
snow storm) and was greeted with the hubbub over the purported Tomb
of Jesus' Family. Over the last 24 hours in my jetlagged state I
have had the opportunity to review the inscriptional material. It
was already published by L.Y. Rahmani in A Catalogue of Jewish
Ossuraries (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 1994) 222-224.
I have collated what I see as some of the fundamental problems with
the claims. As usual, the problem is that these folks do not control
the languages at the center of their claims.
Here are a few reflections, questions regarding the hubbub:
1. After looking at Rahmani's inscriptions, I think ossuary No. 704
does indeed read Yeshua bar Yosef (contra Stephen Pfann). However,
the collocation of these names certainly does not necessitate that
this is Jesus' ossuary. Indeed, even within Rahmani's own catalogue
there is another example of a Yeshua bar Yosef (cf. No. 9.1). The
limited pool of names means that the combination of Yeshua and Yosef
would have surfaced countless times.
2. While it is true that Yoseh (ossuary No. 705) is a diminutive
form of Yosef, I can not think of a single occasion where the NT
Joseph is referred to by this form either in the NT or later
Christian writings. Contrast the lack of the shortened form of
Yosef's name (i.e. YOSEH) with the diminutive form of Mary's name
(from MIRIAM) that does occur in the NT (i.e. MARIA). MARYA (the
Hebrew equivalent to the Greek NT name) appears on ossuary No. 706.
Rahmani even suggests that the similarity in the style of the
inscription of Yoseh and Marya's names suggests that they may have
been the parents of Yeshua and the grandparents of Yehuda son of
Yeshua. While speculative, it may be true. But to attempt to
identify this Yoseh as the NT Joseph (as done by Jacobovici et al)
lacks the needed connecting evidence that the NT Joseph was ever
called by the diminutive form YOSEH.
3. To my mind the most critical piece of the argument lies with
ossuary No. 701 which belonged to a woman and inscribed "Of Mariamne
[that is] Mara". [As Cameron notes, she is the "Ringo" of the names
in the tomb. In his analogy if you found a tomb with John, Paul and
George, you could speculate but not be certain it was the Beatles.
If you found also (the more rare name) Ringo, then the probability
would become almost certainty.]
There are two obstacles to identifying this woman as Mary Magdalene.
First, the NT routinely calls her MARIA or MARIAM, and never the form
MARIAMNE. The promoters attempt to sidestep this problem by citing a
4th century Gnostic text, the Acts of the Philip, in which we do have
a travel companion of Philip named Mariamne. There has been some
suggestion by Francois Bovon that she is to be identified with Mary
Magdalene, but my cursory glance at the the Acts of Philip indicates
she is to be identified with the Mary sister of Martha (from Bethany)
and not Mary from Magdala. Here is a snippet from the Acts of Philip
94: "It was she [Mariamne] that made ready the bread and salt at
the breaking of bread, but Martha was she that ministered to the
multitudes and laboured much."
Moreover, the inscription states that this Mariamne was also called
MARAH. In a real laugher which could only be conjured up in Zeit
Geist of our day, they have read MARAH as "Master" (i.e. the feminine
form of the Aramaic MAR). Thus, they are trying to reclaim (a la
Dan Brown) Mary's rightful place as head of the early Christian
movement which was taken from her by the chauvinist leadership of
Christianity. The charges of chauvinism in early Christianity
notwithstanding, the suggestion that Mary Magdalene was known as "the
Master" (MARAH) can not be supported by the appearance of MARAH with
her name on the ossuary. The feminine form of MAR (master) is
MARTHAH not MARAH. Instead, as Rahmani indicates the appearance
here of MARAH is the diminutive form of the proper name Martha (cf.
also Nos. 468.2 and 868). So, this Mariamne was also called by the
diminutive form of Martha (or MARAH). Once again, we lack a single
reference in the NT or any later Christian writing I know that Mary
Magdalene was ever called Martha (or MARAH).
So, it may be true that this Mariamne and Yeshua were married and
that they had a son named Judah, but I can find no compelling link
between these names and the NT figures.
It is worthwhile to restate that the challenge is to move beyond mere
speculative possibility to at least probability (if certainty
remains unattainable). I do not think the evidence that we have been
provided moves us beyond mere (and questionable) possibility.
As a final added note, I would point out that a similar clustering of
these names surfaces among the dynastic family of Hasmoneans. Of
course, I am not suggesting that this tomb belonged to a family
descended from the Maccabees. Only to draw attention to the limited
and popular pool of names at the time and that the collocation of
these names need not indicate that they are NT figures.
Shalom from snowy NY!
R. Steven Notley
Professor of Biblical Studies
Department of Biblical and Theological Studies
New York City
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