The "Lost Tomb of Jesus" and Textual Criticism
This coming Sunday evening, The Discovery Channel will broadcast a
movie called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." The main idea of the movie is
that a tomb discovered in 1980 in southern Jerusalem (at a place
called Talpiot) is the actual tomb of the family of Jesus (THE
Jesus), and that ossuaries found in the tomb contained the bones of
Jesus' corpse, as well as the bones of Mary Magdalene, Mary the
mother of Jesus, and Jesus' son (!) Judah.
I've written a refutation/review of the movie's main points; it is
available online in two parts at
There is a small overlap between textual criticism and the topic of
the Talpiot tomb: the promoters of the movie try to make a case that
Mary Magdalene was known as "Mariamne." That's not the case;
"Mariamne" is not a New Testament name. The only references I've
been able to find to "Mariamne" in patristic sources are in Origen
(where he mentions that Celsus has heard of a group claiming Mariamne
as a guide), a fleeting reference in Hippolytus, and the fourth-
century "Acts of Philip," where "Mariamne" is the name of a sister of
Philip. The presence of the name "Mariamne" does not significantly
help the case that the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of Jesus of
Nazareth. False assertions to the contrary contaminate a lot of the
argumentation used by the movie's promoters, including some
statistics. (Of course, writing this on Saturday, I haven't seen the
movie, but the argumentation is already online at the movie's website
and at the Discovery Channel's site.)
Anyway, here's that overlap: it seems possible that someone is going
to claim that the term "Magdalene" means "the queen," or "the great
teacher," or something other than "from Magdala," in an attempt to
associate Mary Magdalene with the Greek ossuary-inscription
"Mariamene e Mara." (In the inscription itself, the "e" is more like
a vertical stroke.)
Although L.Y. Rahmani interpreted that inscription as a double-name
-- "Mariamne, a.k.a. Mara" ("Mara" being a contracted form of
"Martha") -- Dr. James Tabor (one of the scholars involved in the
"Lost Tomb of Jesus" project) interprets it to mean "Mariamne the
Master." If "Mariamne" is seen as another name for "Mary," and "e
Mara" is seen as the equivalent of "Magdalene" (i.e., so that both
mean "the teacher" or something like that), then both names can be
interpreted to have the same meaning, and to refer to the same person.
There's a little data-nugget in some copies of Mark that tends to
work against that idea. In Mark 8:10, where most copies refer to
"Dalmanoutha," some witnesses (including the Gothic Version and the
Sinaitic Syriac) have "Magdala" or "Mageda," replacing the obscure
name "Dalmanoutha." Augustine wrote (in Harm. 2:51), "Most codices,
even of Mark's Gospel, give no other reading than that of Magedan."
This evidence shows that Magdala was a geographical location, and
thus, that "Magdalene" is an ordinary geography-based surname, with
no connection to the inscription "Mariamne e Mara."
Also, promoters of the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" argue that the ossuary-
inscription "Joseph" (it's in Aramaic) uses a diminutive form of the
word, and that this implies that it is the body of Jesus' brother
However, in Matthew 13:55, the Nestle-Aland text uses "IWSEF" to name
this brother of Jesus, adopting the text of Aleph2 B C N Theta 892
mae, etc. Only 700* and a smattering of other witnesses support
IWSE, while K L W, etc., support IWSHS.
In Mark 6:3, the Nestle-Aland text uses "IWSHTOS" to name this
brother of Jesus, adopting the text of B D L Delta Theta 565 700,
etc., instead of the IWSHF found in Aleph or the IHSH in A C W and
the Byzantine Text.
(The Nestle-Aland text also has IWSEF at Mt. 27:56, and IWSHTOS at
Mk. 15:40 and 15:47.)
So, is there really a parallel between the Aramaic ossuary-
inscription and the Greek name(s) for a particular brother of Jesus
in the Gospels?
Perhaps the promoters of "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" are trying to steer
viewers away from the idea that the Joseph whose bones were placed in
an ossuary at Talpiot was the husband of the woman whose bones were
placed in an ossuary at Talpiot with the inscription "Mary," in order
to avoid having to deal with the point that if Saint Joseph was
buried in Galilee, this could not be his ossuary in Talpiot, and if
it is not Saint Joseph at Talpiot, then the wife of the Joseph at
Talpiot is not Mary the mother of Jesus.
(L.Y. Rahmani expressed his suspicion that the "Joseph" ossuary
contained the remains of the husband of the individual in the "Mary"
ossuary. The scholars involved in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" will be
polite enough and honest enough to point that out in the movie, I
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.
Curtisville Christian Church