Logic and the Jesus Tomb, Part 2 (of 2)

As I suggested in my first post on this issue, there is a serious need for clear thinking with regard to the Jesus tomb theory and the names in the tomb.  The Jesus tomb theory is only compelling if two items are true: (1) that the Jesus of the tomb’s Jesus ossuary was in fact Jesus of Nazareth, and (2) the names of the people in the tomb are related to the Jesus of this tomb in the same way that people with those names were related to the Jesus of the New Testament. Both these items are inextricably linked. We can only embrace the Jesus tomb theory if its Jesus figure was Jesus of Nazareth, and that in turn can really only be established if the other people in the tomb are the people who knew Jesus of Nazareth. Hence the Jesus figure of the tomb only takes on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth if it can be established if the other people in the tomb were related to the Jesus figure they way the New Testament describes. The inscriptions must match the New Testament record to get Jesus in the tomb, so to speak. If they do not, there is no case.

This means that from the outset the reader must make a basic decision before embracing or rejecting the Jesus tomb theory. You must decide if you are going to make your decision to embrace or reject on the basis of data that actually exist or data that are speculated to have once existed. The former is real; the latter is the domain of the imagination. This decision is fundamental to processing the inscriptions in the Talpiot tomb in terms of what we can really know and what we imagine might be knowable.

The actual data provide us with six ossuaries with inscriptions:

  • Mariamenou [e] Mara (“Mary, who is Martha / lord”); or, more likely, MariameÌ… kai Mara; “Mary and Martha”; (Pfann, 2007–Pfann’s reconstructions have thus far gone unrefuted)
  • Yhwdh br Yshw’ (“Judah/Jude, son of Jesus”)
  • Mtyh (“Matiyahu”; “Matthew”)
  • Yshw’ br Yhwsp (“Jesus, son of Joseph”)
  • Ywsh (“Joseph/Yose”)
  • Mryh (“Mary”)

Notice that only two of the names have what is called a patronym-a descriptive phrase denoting family affiliation or ancestry (e.g., “Jude, son of Jesus”; “Jesus, son of Joseph”). What this means is that, in terms of data that actually exists, the Talpiot tomb tells us only that we have a Jesus who was the son of a Joseph, and a Jude who was the son of a Jesus. We know nothing about the other relationships of the other people in the tomb.

Despite this paucity of information, Jacobovici and his associates know how the mind works. Since millions around the world are familiar with the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Mary Magdalene–whether because of biblical literacy or The DaVinci Code–the creators of the Jesus Family Tomb documentary assumed correctly that when a person hears those names presented together, the mind will immediately cluster them in a manner associated with the New Testament. The mind therefore “defaults” to the supposition that these people are related in the way the New Testament describes, and so the mind is predisposed to equate them with the actual New Testament characters. But that isn’t what the data from the tomb tells us since there are no patronyms that produce that conclusion-it’s just where the mind goes subconsciously.

The actual data of the inscriptions speak to two family relationships. Now here’s what we don’t know, based on the lack of patronyms, not on where our mind wanders:

  • We do not know if all or even most of the people in the Talpiot tomb are related. It is assumed that the Talpiot tomb is a family tomb, but we do not actually know that. It’s probably a fair guess, but it doesn’t lend any clarity to the situation.
  • We do not know who among the named occupants of the tomb were immediate or distant relatives. We have only two sonship patronyms on six ossuaries, but that isn’t as helpful as it has been assumed.
  • We do not know if the people in the ossuaries were adults or children. There is nothing inscribed on any of the ossuaries that tells us anything about the age of the occupants.
  • We do not know if the two Jesus names on the ossuaries are one and the same. That is, we don’t know if Joseph, Jesus, and Jude are grandfather, father, and son. Those relationships are assumed by the defenders of the Jesus Family tomb theory, but they are actually only speculation. These three individuals could be unrelated in terms of immediate family, but still belong in the family tomb because they are more distantly related to the immediate family members in the tomb.
  • Though it is assumed, we do not know that Mary (not the Mariamenou) in the tomb is the mother of Jesus. There is no patronym that conveys this information.  That Mary may have been the sister of the tomb’s Jesus, or an aunt, or a grandmother.
  • We do not know if the Mary (Mariamenou) of the tomb was married to the Jesus of the tomb. This marriage is only speculated since it is assume that the Mary is Mary Magdalene. But even if it was the Magdalene (quite unlikely; Pfann, 2007), such a marriage itself is only speculation–there is no text, in either the canonical gospels or the Nag Hammadi Gnostic gospels (or any other ancient source) that has Jesus and Mary married.
  • We have no way of knowing from the data that actually exists if either Mary was married to the Joseph in the tomb who was the father of Jesus.

The general point to be made by these observations is important. If we have no data with which to match the family relationships that existed between the people who bore these names in the New Testament and the named individuals in the Talpiot tomb, we cannot make an evidenced-based claim that this is the Jesus Family tomb. That conclusion cannot be drawn from the existing data; it must be supplied by means of the imagination.

Tabor might possibly respond that the mitochondrial DNA evidence lends support to his view of the names in the tomb. We read from a different blog post:

There are two “Marys” in this tomb, known by different forms of that name, namely Maria and Mariamene. The mitDNA test indicates the Mariamene in this tomb is not related to Yeshua as mother or sister on the maternal side. That leaves open the likelihood that Maria could well be the mother, especially if we have two of her sons, Yeshua and Yose, in this tomb. It would make sense that she would be buried with her children in this intimate, small, family tomb and that her ossuary would be inscribed Maria.  (Tabor, “Imagining A Hypothetical Jesus Family Tomb,” 2007)

Yes, this would make sense–if the data actually told us that Yeshua and Yose were the sons of Mary–but of course there are neither patronyms nor DNA evidence for that. The absence of patronyms means that this Mary could be the wife, sister, or cousin of Yeshua or Yose.  The fact that the mitDNA test indicates the Mariamene in this tomb is not related to Yeshua as mother or sister on the maternal side does not rule out a host of other possibilities, including sharing the same father.  Yeshua and Mariamne could have had the same father with different mothers or could be paternally related as cousins, aunts-uncle, grandparents, or father-daughter. They could even be close family friends.

The bottom line is that you the reader must decide if you are going to draw conclusions based on evidence that exists or evidence that might be fun or interesting to speculate once existed. I don’t want to be construed as a stick in the mud, though. It’s fun to speculate and develop hypotheses–but that’s what they should be called, and if you’re a scholar, you shouldn’t use language that moves non-scholars toward processing your hypothesis as a reality that’s just lacking more evidence. Frankly, I can think of several adjectives that would characterize that method, but compelling isn’t one of them.