Update on Talpiot B: James Charlesworth’s Report and Responses

I’m a bit behind on posting these items, so my apologies. But I have to admit I’ve basically lost interest in it. I see nothing compelling in Charlesworth’s report, but you can read it for yourself. James Tabor naturally linked to it and has some commentary of his own. Mark Goodacre posted his thoughts here and here.

Another Reason Why Biblical Studies and Archaeology Should Not Be Done Via the Mainstream Popular Media

Ah, the paleobabbling media now gives us proof that it is also clueless with respect to intellectual discourse. Mark Goodacre reports that Nicole Austin, the Associate Producer on The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (The Jesus Discovery in Canada) has accused him of slander.

So, let me see if I understand the power of Ms. Austin’s contention correctly. Mark and other bloggers have expressed deep doubts and reservations about the claims made in this “documentary,” and have made those reservations public, along with their reasons. And … well … I guess that’s all.

How dare they!

Honestly, I didn’t realize that freedom of speech had been outlawed in Canada, or that expressing one’s opinion about an academic matter was slander. Disagreement means slander?  Really?  Hmmmm. Can we disagree with Ms. Austin about any matter and not be a slanderer?  Like her grasp of what academics do?  Maybe the cure (besides requiring those who disagree to just plug their pie-holes) is that Ms. Austin gets to say things to the public and those who disagree don’t. We can just talk amongst ourselves (with the telescreens off, of course). That will work (in a world where TV channels are all run by a ministry of propaganda anyway).

The fact that some journalists seem unaware that disagreement is a significant part of academic discourse is just another reason why they should not be the starting point for this sort of material. Granted, that would mean less publicity and cash for those initiating the process, or for Ms. Austin’s production company. It may result in fewer DVD sales down the road. What a shame. But things will pick up when this all happens again next Easter season.

Richard Bauckham on the Talpiot B Inscription

I just read the the lengthy essay by Richard Bauckham entitled, “The Four Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B: An Interpretation” posted on the ASOR blog today. It’s fascinating, and exactly what I was hoping would follow the Rollston article. Bauckham comes up with some examples of what Rollston was sure did not exist — the letter iota with top and bottom horizontal strokes — and so the reading IAIO seems secure in my mind. This is what ought to happen in interchanges between scholars; one corrects another, and they collectively lay out the strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, for the millions who read only the first headline and its content, framed by whatever archaeo-bungling, headline-seeking journalist who wrote it, articles like this might as well not exist. That headline is now their truth. It’s appalling when that happens, but to deliberately cause it to happen is unconscionable. But I digress.

I would recommend the Bauckham article to all. It’s technical, but worth it even for non-specialists. His conclusion is that the inscription is rare since it couples the divine name, Yahweh, with Zeus. But he allows for another take on it. If Bauckham’s preference (the Zeus reading) is correct, why that coupling may have been done receives considerable attention. Such conceptual linkages were not that unusual. It made me think of how, iconographically, Yahweh is associated with Sol Invictus in certain Jewish synagogues that have zodiac mosaics. Such a linkage need not be seen as an expression of the theological compromise of Yahwism (it certainly wasn’t in a synagogue). What is unusual in the present case is the coupling on an ossuary inscription. Bauckham also concludes that the inscription has nothing to do with Jesus or early Christianity. To date there is nothing in Talpiot B that does. As I noted in a recent reply to James Tabor in the comments, even if the symbol is the sign of Jonah, a Jew could have thought of that story in resurrection terms (and connected it to three days via Hosea 6:2). Frankly, for Jesus’ statement about the sign of Jonah to have any impact (Matt 12:39), it couldn’t have been a Christian symbol at the time of the speaking. He was speaking to JEWS (Matt 12:38) — and so it would have had to mean something to that audience.  But I still don’t see a fish spitting out a man. The “man” seems like a blob to me.

State of the Question for “Jesus Family Tomb” and Talpiot B

I was prodded to write this summary post by Mark Goodacre’s most recent post on Simcha Jacobovici’s apparent obliviousness to the academic criticisms of his work by Mark and others. In a video dated to last year, Jacobovici pretends to be unaware of any mistakes in his work and its presentation.

There are only two explanations for how he “missed” Mark’s list of errors (this weekend will mark four years that they have been online) and those of others: (1) ineptitude; and (2) apathy fueled by self-aggrandizement. I’ll let readers decide which one makes more sense. My money is on the latter.

Mark, of course, good-natured as he is, seems to have assumed that Jacobovici actually cared about the discourse over the past few years and the past few days. I can imagine Mark doing his best to imagine $imcha pouring over the scholarly interaction, fretting here and there about how he could have done  a better job of thinking more carefully about the data. Forget it, Mark. That never happened nor will it. After years of blogging on paleobabble and the constant internet trafficking of antiquity-twaddle (and even more years of doing so by email), I can tell you from hard experience that the last thing people like Jacobovici are interested in is pursing truth objectively. They are interested in the “truth” of the agenda they have constructed. I know this comes across as harsh, but it’s just the way the paleo-babbling grist mill works. I’m more jaded than Mark because I’ve seen dozens of other archaeo-hucksters pretend that their work is so paradigm-shifting and intellectually overwhelming that it cannot be answered by mainstream “in-the-box” scholars. It’s PR BS; just part of keeping people interested enough to keep coming back for the next credit card swipe. And Jacobovici is better at it than most.

Consequently, as a refresher of sorts, I thought I’d put together a summary of where all this is really at — what are the main sticking points?

Aside from Mark Goodacre’s listing of errors on Jacobovici’s website presentation of this tomb, what has all the discussion of which Jacobovici feigns ignorance produced? What’s the current situation?  Here’s a list of the most crucial points:

The “Jesus Family Tomb”

1. The Names in the Tomb

A. Paucity of Patronyms

Most of the names in the tomb lack patronyms. That is, we have no idea of the relationships between the people in the tomb. This applies to “Jesus son of Joseph” and either of the Marys in the tomb. Jacobovici (and Dan Brown, another scholar) wants people to think that Jesus and one of the Marys (the one whose name allegedly reads “Mariamne,” and alleged reference to Mary Magdalene) as being married.But why not brother and sister? Aunt and nephew? Grandmother and grandson? Second cousins twice removed? No patronyms = guesswork. The same goes for any of the other names lacking patronyms. There is ZERO evidence in any ancient text that Jesus was married to anyone. For example, you can click here to watch some exciting screen capture videos of me searching the Gnostic gospels (in vain) for a Jesus’ marriage. You can see Goodacre’s list of errors in regard to the “Mariamne” red herring as well.

B. The Commonality Issue

Most of the names in the tomb are common. The retort to this is that the assemblage of these names in a single tomb is not common.  But how would we know that? Rahmani lists 227 inscribed ossuaries, many of which are from the same tomb, and so few family tombs have actually been discovered. The most reasonable scholarly estimates of the population of first century Jerusalem at no more than 100,000, most of whom were Jews (Samuel Rocca, Herod’s Judaea [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], p. 333). So let’s say 75,000 Jews in first century Jerusalem. Numerically, there would have been many more family tombs than have been discovered, so any estimate of the rarity of any collection of names is based on navigating without instruments. The point: Rarity in terms of the data we have is not the same as rarity in terms of the data that corresponded to a first century Jerusalem reality. Not having the latter gives no warrant to substituting the former and pretending it’s the latter. That’s a little thing I like to call “cheating.”

The statistical likelihood of this being Jesus’ family tomb is also greatly influenced by the name Yoseh. If this name is just a variant of the more common Joseph, the probability that the tomb is truly that of Jesus of Nazareth is 2-3%. If, on the other hand, Yoseh is a rare name, then the probability is 47%. Mark Goodacre has pointed out for years now that Yoseh and Joseph are interchanged in the gospels for the same person:

The difficulty over (1) is that the names Joses and Joseph are clearly regarded as similar or the same in the New Testament. Mark 6.3 calls Jesus’ brother “Joses” while the parallel in Matt. 13.55 calls him “Joseph”.  Matthew clearly regards Joseph as an alternative, preferable way of saying “Joses”.  Likewise, the character who appears in Mark 15.40 and 15.47 is called Joses in Mark and Joseph the Matthean parallel (Matt. 27.56).  Moreover, the fact that this character may be a different character than the brother of Jesus also witnesses against the alleged extraordinary nature of the name. The same Joseph / Joses variation is found in the texts too, and not just here in Matthew but also in Acts 4.36, Joses / Joseph Barnabas.

So, if we go with the data we have for the persons actually in question (Jesus’ family) the name is not rare; it is a variant for “Joseph.”

[UPDATE 3/13/2012: Richard Bauckham was kind enough to add the following note in the comments page regarding this name:

“There is an important point about the name Yoseh which is being missed. People seem to have accepted the claim by Tabor and the others that there are only 9 occurrences. But they get this figure by distinguishing between Yoseh(final he) and what Tabor says is “Yosi” (final yod). These are in fact the same. The latter should be vocalised “Yose” (long e). Yoseh is an Aramaic spelling, Yosey a Hebrew spelling. The combined total occurrences for the two forms is about 40, which means a considerably higher frequency. In this case, Yose is not ‘rare.’ Of course, it is also true, as has been said a number of times in these discussions, that Yose is just a shortened form of Joseph(Yosef or Yehosef), and the same person would often be known by both full and short forms. Matthew has Joseph where Mark has Joses, no doubt because Matthew preferred the formal to the colloquial form. The same could happen on an ossuary inscription or in other places.”]

2. Logical Coherence

A. Yoseh and Judas

The above issue with the name Yoseh is important for another reason. On one hand, Jacobovici would have us be breathlessly astonished with how his evidence coincides with the gospels, while on the other hand, we are to ignore where it simply is not. Goodacre succinctly notes this inconsistency in two regards:

(1) They claim that “Yoseh” is significant because it is rare, a claim that does not take the New Testament evidence seriously.

(2) They do not regard “Judas son of Jesus” as contradictory evidence for the identification with the Jesus family.

Honestly, we are supposed to believe Jesus had a son (by Mary Magdalene) and named him JUDAS!?  Yes; that is what we are asked to believe.

B. Logic Check

I can’t help asking what to me are some obvious questions:

  • This tomb was not hidden underground. Given its famous occupants, how is it that no enemy of the early church, Roman or Jewish, simply didn’t end Christianity by exhuming the bones of Jesus of Nazareth from his own tomb showing the whole thing to be a sham?
  • “Matthew” is a name on one of the ossuaries. So, presuming with Jacobovici that he is the Matthew who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, and that Jesus of course was long dead before he wrote it, how in the world would Matthew get away with that scam? No one local in Jerusalem knew it was a scam? Seriously?

3. The James Ossuary Debate

Most scholars believe the ossuary is genuine, but that the inscription (“James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus/Yeshua”). There are good reasons (here and here and here) to consider either the whole or the second half of the inscription to be faked  (i.e., added by a modern hand). This would make the related issue of whether this ossuary was one of the missing ossuaries in the “Jesus Family tomb” moot. Obviously, if if came from that tomb, then the statistics would have to be reworked (but that would not in term affect the Yoseh issue noted above, or the logical coherence issues). And even if it came from the tomb, the inscription could still be a fake (whole or part). Someone could have taken a blank ossuary from that tomb and added the inscription. The official final report of the Israel Antiquities Authority on this ossuary included these epigraphic experts (with their summative thoughts included):

The Ossuary Inscription Committee

Prof. Amos Kloner (Appendix 6E)
It is clear that the engraving on the bone box dates from a different period than its original installation. The inscription appears new. The writer tried giving the letters an ancient appearance by using samples from contemporaneous inscriptions.

Dr. Tal Ilan (Appendix 6F)
Even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume that the deceased was actually the brother of Jesus. But I am of the opinion that the inscription is a forgery.

Prof. Roni Reich (Appendix 6D and 6D1)
The inscription does not exhibit a combination of configurational or substantial effects that would imply forgery. But I was convinced that the inscription is a forgery when presented with the findings by the Materials Committee.

Dr. Esther Eshel (Appendix 6G)
From my examination of the inscription and the data I received, it appears to me quite clear that the inscription is not authentic, and was added at a much later date (possible in two stages).

Incidentally, the verdict in the antiquities hoaxing trial that involves this ossuary is set to be announced next Wednesday. Regardless of the verdict, it seems the inscription involved fakery judging by the links noted above. The patina issue as it relates to the inscription seems very suspicious.

The Talpiot B Tomb

My thoughts on this are captured in an earlier post. Basically, we have an inscription reading (for the divine name) that lacks precedent in terms of letter formation and a picture that is supposed to be a fish spitting out a man (Jonah), but the man is a blob. No man; no Jonah, and no fish [insert blurry UFO picture joke here]. I’m going with the unguentarium view of the drawing. It makes the most sense.

Thoughts on the New “Talpiot B” Tomb

Just wanted to check in regarding the new Talpiot tomb discovery (referred to most often it seems as Talpiot B). I’m caught up with all the reading available online, beginning with James Tabor’s description of the discovery and sketch-analysis (“A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera: Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem“). It’s the place to start. Here’s what you’ll learn: (a) there is an inscription on one of the ossuaries that Tabor believes to contain the divine name (Yahweh) in Greek, and that contains the word for resurrection; and (b) there is an image of a great fish / whale spitting out a man — i.e., the sign of Jonah, a symbol in the gospels for resurrection.

I have to say I’m disappointed. I was expecting more. The earlier Talpiot tomb (the so-called “Jesus family tomb”) was not only more interesting, but the issues just seemed to require more analysis. I’ve now read Rollston’s response on the inscription, and if it is correct (and Rollston should know; he’s an epigrapher) that the “I” of the presumed divine name can’t be that letter (it would be anomalous in shape), then there is no divine name. It would be nice to have an example of two contrary to Rollston before we allow Tabor’s reading to be valid. And it doesn’t seem to matter, since resurrection wasn’t a distinctly Christian idea. I have to agree with Eric Meyers who doesn’t think there’s anything to fuss about. As for the whale / fish, the blob at the end of it simply doesn’t look *anything* like a man. Just zero resemblance (maybe to Picasso it would be clear). The two other options offered by art historians are that the symbol is either a drawing of a nephesh tomb monument (see Cargill’s response for examples) or an unguentarium, a small receptable for perfumed oils used for anointing the dead for burial (e.g., Mk 14:3; Jn 12:3). I have to agree with Tabor that the nephesh option seems weak. I find the unguentarium option fairly compelling, though, especially for the blob at the top (example 1 and example 2, courtesy of Thomas Verenna).

So, I’m currently at “no fish, no Jonah, and very likely no divine name.” It just feels vacuous. And even if Tabor is correct on all these counts, there is nothing that actually connects this tomb to the other — it’s just a hunch or supposition. I’d sooner go back to the first tomb and have another round of research there than spend any more time on this one. It would be more stimulating.

The most disturbing piece I read on Talpiot B was easily that of Dr. Robin Jensen — Prof. Robin Jensen Refutes Any Claim that She Concurs with the Interpretation in “The Jesus Discovery”. If there’s any piece that all of you should read it’s this one. She describes her trip to Rome to participate in the filming of the National Geographic special on this tomb. It can only be described as a deliberate attempt to manipulate her status as an art historian for the sake of pre-determined conclusions. James Tabor responded to her piece in the comments: “Nothing was twisted. You appear in the film totally out of connection with the Jerusalem tomb, only the catacombs.” I’ll give James the benefit of the doubt there, that he’s being forthright, but his response misses the point. It’s ultimately not about where she appeared (in the final version) in the film. It’s about the fact that Jacobovici tried hard to get her to say something (or sound like she was saying something) she didn’t believe. He was looking for a sound bite, pure and simple (presuming she is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt her either). Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to this, since I have lived this scenario myself with the History Channel. The facade put forth is that truth is the first goal; her anecdote says otherwise.


Keeping Up with the Jacobovicis

The blogosphere is already heating up with responses from scholars to the new “discoveries” of $imcha Jacobovici and James Tabor. Those interested can keep up with the responses of professional scholars via the ASOR blog, which seems poised to become a clearing house of sorts for this topic (ASOR = American Schools of Oriental Research, a scholarly society focusing on archaeology, epigraphy, biblical studies, and the ancient Near East).  Here are some posts already on the site:

Eric Meyers’ review of “The New Jesus Discovery”

  • Eric Meyers is an archaeologist at Duke University

Brief Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B

  • This post is by Christopher Rollston, a specialist in Northwest Semitic epigraphy (inscriptions). Since this latest Jacobovici and Tabor effort goes back to the Jesus Family Tomb, building on that monument to the non sequitur, Rollston revisits the inscriptional material of that tomb.

And other posts by scholars from other blogs:

Robert Cargill

Antonio Lombatti (on the “Jonah and the whale” image in this new tomb)

Jim West



Talpiot Tomb Makes Another Round in the Blogosphere

Thanks go to Mark Goodacre of Duke University for this short post linking us to a recent paper about the alleged Jesus family tomb. As is typical, Mark clearly and succinctly summarizes the two primary points of weakness in the tomb argument — weaknesses that were noted at the beginning and which still kill the identification with Jesus of Nazareth. But perhaps $imcha Jacobovici can still squeeze more profit and notoriety out of it.

Nailing $imcha Jacobovici

A few more posts by scholars still engaged with Simcha Jacobovici. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel.

Here’s one more from Mark Goodacre, who discusses the non-extant textual material that $imcha uses to build his vacuous argument.  And then Todd Bolen reports on the work of Gordon Franz, who’s looked into $imcha’s theory.