Logic and the Jesus Tomb Discussion, Part 1

As I and others have noted before, the real weight of the Jesus tomb debate hinges on primarily two points of data: (1) Whether a name that refers to Mary Magdalene is on one of the ossuaries, and (2) Whether the inscribed name “Yoseh” corresponds to the Yose of the New Testament. I’ve already posted the epigraphic work that undermines the former (see the May 6 posting regarding Stephen Pfann’s work). It’s time to simplify things, though, by applying some good old-fashioned logic to the material.

Warning: If you are a humanities scholar, especially in biblical studies, you may not want to read on. Okay, that’s a bit sarcastic, but I’m jaded. I actually do believe that every person who gets a graduate degree in biblical studies and archaeology should be forced to take a course in logic before they get the degree. If you think I’m kidding about the need for this, spend some time studying logic and reading about how to form logical arguments (and even better, dissect arguments for logical coherence) and then start reading journal articles (on just about anything controversial) in biblical studies. It won’t take long for you to come over to my side on this one. It’s pretty disgraceful, actually.

Anyway, I have to pick an example from James Tabor again–but it’s only because I can’t really find anyone else in the biblical studies arena who defends the Talpiot tomb as being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Granted, some are non-committal, but who else is defending it? If you know of anyone else, please let me know so I can take a look.

Tabor argues strongly that the ossuary bearing the name Yoseh (composed of the Hebrew letters, yod-waw-samech-heh; Joseph) belongs to Jesus’ brother by that same name in the gospels. For Tabor, this correlation would support his idea of a Jesus dynasty because it would place Jesus’ oldest brother-the male in direct dynastic descent behind Jesus-in a tomb with Jesus and other important members of his family.

Tabor’s main line of evidence for an identification of the Yose in the tomb and the Yose of the gospels is that the name is very rare. Tabor writes on his Jesus Dynasty blog:

In the time of Jesus, that is, in 2nd Temple times, before the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, this nickname Yoseh is extremely rare in either Hebrew or Greek. As far as Hebrew goes, it is found only here, in the Talpiot tomb, on an ossuary, and one other time in a slightly different, but equivalent spelling (Yod, Samech, Hey), on an ossuary from Mt. Scopus. It is also found once on a tomb inscription from the period (Jason’s Tomb), and once in a papyrus from Wadi Muraba’at (pre-135 CE). In Greek, its equivalent forms (Ιωσε/Ιωση/Ιωσης), which are usually translated Yose/Jose or Joses/Joses in English, occur on only five ossuaries. In contrast, the full name Joseph/Yehosef is found on 32 ossuaries and many dozens of literary references in the period. . . . This nickname Jose/Joses in Greek is found in Mark 6:3 as the nickname for Jesus’ brother Joseph. (Tabor, 2007)

In the same blog post Tabor admits,

Of course this alone does not prove that the Yoseh in the Talpiot tomb is the brother of Jesus. But the data does indeed argue that as a rare nickname, known only on a handful of ossuaries and from two inscriptions of the period, found in a tomb with a “Jesus son of Joseph,” Yoseh is quite striking. And that Mark knows this as the unique and rare nickname of Jesus’ brother Joseph, is surely significant evidence. (Tabor, 2007)

One could rightly ask, “significant evidence for what?” This is characteristic of Tabor’s writing style. He produces data, is honest enough to admit the limitations of the data, but then proceeds to give the reader the feeling that, despite the fact that the evidence does not and cannot prove idea X, the reader still ought to find idea X pretty compelling. This is little more than assuming what one is trying to prove [logic point], and Tabor does this with regularity, as many reviewers of the Jesus Dynasty have pointed out. (Peerbolte, 2007; Witherington, 2006; Evans, 2006).

Tabor’s argument that the rarity of the name Yose actually proves nothing. That a name is rare doesn’t mean it’s exclusive [logic point], and if not exclusive, there is no necessary connection between it and the Yose of the gospels [logic point]. Tabor of course admits there are other occurrences of the name besides the Talpiot tomb, but that doesn’t stop him from steering the reader toward a more positive assessment of Tabor’s idea than the evidence can sustain. Tabor’s argument is further hampered-and I would say undone-by two considerations: (1) We have no proof that the Yose of the tomb is actually related to any of the other people named on the tomb’s ossuaries [logic point]; and (2) even if Yose is related to the other people in the tomb, we have no idea HOW he was related since Yose’s ossuary lacks any patronym, or statement of kinship relation [logic point].

But there’s more . . .

2 thoughts on “Logic and the Jesus Tomb Discussion, Part 1

  1. Pingback: New Jesus Tomb Video | PaleoBabble

  2. “Tabor argues strongly that the ossuary bearing the name Yoseh (composed of the Hebrew letters, yod-waw-samech-heh; Joseph) belongs to Jesus’ brother by that same name in the gospels.”

    One more problem with this argument is that there is no Yoseh in the New Testament among the brothers of the Lord but only a Joseph in one gospel and a Joses in another, clearly the same person.

    One might argue that Joses is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew form Yoseh as the Gospels are written in Greek but that’s not the same thing as claiming that an usual form found on the ossuary is the one used for one of the brothers.

    Also, that one gospel’s Joses is called Joseph in another indicates that he would necessarily have been called Joses or Yoseh on an ossuary and that a Joseph might very well have been called by another form in an inscription.

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