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Family Tomb of Jesus

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  • R. Steven Notley
    Shalom Synoptic-Listers 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
    Message 1 of 13 , Feb 27, 2007
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      Shalom Synoptic-Listers

      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
      Nyack College
      New York City





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    • gentile_dave@emc.com
      R. Steven Notley wrote: [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
      Message 2 of 13 , Mar 1, 2007
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        R. Steven Notley wrote:



        [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.]



        And later:



        It is worthwhile to restate that the challenge is to move beyond mere
        speculative possibility to at least probability (if certainty
        remains unattainable).



        Dave:



        The first quote is a perfect example of an application of the Bayesian
        formula, and the second is the general goal of Bayesian probability.



        Thus it occurs to me that this might be an interesting way to try out
        Bayesian statistics in this area. Of course much would have to be based
        on knowledgeable estimates, so I think it would be still be a subjective
        answer (in the sense that different people would get different answers).
        Things like the frequency of Yeshua bar Yosef, and the number of tombs
        from the period, and the chances that the family of Jesus is in one of
        them, etc. would all need estimates.



        Then, since Bayesian statistical results depend on the information
        available, and since different individuals have different information to
        draw on, consensus estimates are likely to lead to a better result than
        individual estimates. Of course that requires an investment of time, and
        I'm not sure how much interest this question has for those here.



        But if nothing else the example shows at least one NT scholar working in
        an almost explicit Bayesian fashion.



        Dave



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