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 By Dr. Christopher A. Rollston, Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Emmanuel Christian Seminary, Tennessee


Recently I have posted on the blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research my readings, and some plausible renderings into English, of the four-line (fourteen letter) Greek inscription from Talpiyot, along with images visually demonstrating that this inscription does not refer to “Yahweh” (i.e., the tetragrammaton), but rather to “bones.”  Thus, this inscription is just the sort of thing that is well attested in Late Second Temple and Early Post-Biblical funerary contexts (here is this article: ).  In addition, I have even more recently posted on my personal blog a summary of the most useful discussions of this inscription since that ASOR post (here: ), including the suggestions by Robert Hull and Richard Bauckham.  I suspect that James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici shall persist in attempting to see the tetragrammaton in this four-line Talpiyot inscription, but the palaeographic evidence is clear: the critical letter present at the beginning of line two is a tau, not an iota.  And the tetragrammaton certainly does not begin with the letter tau (i.e., not in Hebrew, and not in Greek either).  At this juncture, therefore, I wish to focus on the word mara, a word well-attested in the epigraphic corpus of Northwest Semitic, and I am especially interested in its occurrences in the Talpiyot inscriptions.


The Aramaic word mara (written in the Greek script in these Talpiyot tombs, rather than in the Aramaic script) occurs on an ossuary in the Talpiyot tomb discovered in 1980 (a tomb which Tabor and Jacobovici have dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb A”), namely, in the phrase Mariamē  kai Mara (i.e., Mariamē and Mara; see Rahmani 1994, # 701).  Tabor and Jacobovici assume that the inscription on this ossuary should be understood as referring to one person and so they render it “Mariam called Mara” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 28).  They refer to Rahmani’s reading in the editio princeps of this inscription, namely, Mariamēnou Mara, which Rahmani translated “Mariamene, who is (also called) Mara.” Rahmani stated that he believed this name was “in the genitive case” and was “a diminutive of Mariamēne” (Rahmani 1994, 222).  Significantly, Stephen Pfann has published a particularly cogent correction of Rahmani’s reading, noting that there are two words and a very clear kai between them (which Rahmani had unfortunately misread).  Hence, Pfann renders this ossuary inscription as “Mariame and Mara” (Pfann 2006).  Tabor and Jacobovici do not accept Pfann’s corrected reading.  In any case, in terms of additional occurrences of mara, Tabor and Jacobovici note that mara also occurs on an ossuary in a Talpiyot tomb which was discovered in 1981, a tomb they have dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb B” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 67).

Here are the statements by Tabor and Jacobovici regarding the Aramaic word mara: “it is the feminine form of Mar, which in Aramaic means ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 46).  Or again, “Mara is the feminine form of Mar in Aramaic, which means ‘Lord’ or ‘Master,’ as explained in the previous chapter” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 67).  They state that “we are convinced that Mara is an honorific title, not a proper name.”  They also state that “if you add the feminine ending to Mar you get Mara” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 115).  The footnote accompanying that statement is: “The Aramaic name Marta (Martha) is derived from Mar/Mara.  Some argued that Mara is just an alternative form of Martha but as we explain chapter 5, such is not the case” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 221).  Again they state that “Mara, which comes from the Aramaic masculine Mar, is the absolute feminine, whereas Martha (Martha) is the emphatic feminine.  They both come from the same masculine noun and mean the same thing, but Martha evolved into a name and is common” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 227; cf also Tabor 2012, 13-14).  Of course, it should be mentioned that they also contend that the ossuary with the words Mariame kai Mara (which they believe should be read Mariamēnou Mara) should be understood as the ossuary of the Greek New Testament’s “Mary Magdalene” and that the word mara is a title that “can potentially refer to her place of leadership and authority in the emerging Christian movement” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 131; cf. 96).  It is striking, of course, that the word “Magdala” does not occur in these Talpiyot inscriptions, obviously a critical weakness in their argument that the ossuary in the Talpiyot Tomb discovered in 1980 is that of Mary Magdalene.  In any case, as is apparent, these statements from Tabor and Jacobovici strongly assume that mara is a feminine form in these Talpiyot occurrences.  There is no discussion by Tabor and Jacobovici about the fact that mara is also a very fine masculine form of this Aramaic word (especially the determined state, but even in the absolute state).

Here are the basic linguistic data: The word mr’ (Mara’) is an Aramaic masculine, singular noun meaning “sir,” “master,” “lord.”  It is well attested (as a masculine noun) in the Aramaic corpus of Northwest Semitic inscriptions, in both Old Aramaic and also in Imperial Aramaic (sometimes with the spelling mry).  Note that in the case of the Old Aramaic occurrence in Tell Fakhariyeh (e.g., line eight) the Akkadian text of this Akkadian-Aramaic bilingual uses (the Sumerian logogram to indicate that the Akkadian word should be understood as) bēlum, obviously a masculine form, not a feminine.  This word even occurs in Nabataean and Palmyrene (which are later dialects of Aramaic), with the masculine form spelled mr’.  The feminine singular is attested in Imperial Aramaic as mr’t, and the feminine singular determined  form occurs as mr’t’ (Hoftijzer and Jongeling 1995, 682-689).  The masculine form of this word also occurs in the Aramaic of the Hebrew Bible, with the spellings mr’ and mry (see Dan 2:47; 4:16, 21; 5:23; Koehler and Baumgartner 2000, 1921-1922).  Moreover, the masculine occurs in Jewish-Palestinian Aramaic (e.g., Talmud, Midrash) with the spelling mr and mr’, and the feminine form of this Aramaic word occurs in this corpus as martha’ (see Jastrow 1950, 834-835, s.v., Mar IV).  It is often stated that (for some of the Late Second Temple occurrences) the word mara can sometimes be a shortened version of the word martha’, and thus can sometimes refer to a woman (either as a personal name, or as a title meaning ‘lordess’ or the like).  Thus, Tal Ilan states about the name mr’ (also spelled mrh during the Second Temple period) that “this is one of the rare cases of a name serving for both males and females” (Tal Ilan 2002, 392; cf. also 423-424).

The point that I would emphasize is this: although the name mara (to use the Greek spelling) might sometimes be used as a shortened form of the name or title martha’, the fact remains that it is not methodologically permissible to assume that mara is always a feminine (i.e., a shortened form of martha’).  After all, as discussed above, the form mr’ (mara) is most readily understood as an Aramaic masculine (cf. also Rahmani 1994, #561). Thus, any historical construct built on the assumption that mara is definitively feminine must be considered a tenuous case indeed.  For this reason, I find it to be quite problematic that Tabor and Jacobovici assume that the occurrences of mara on these ossuaries must be feminine.   The philological evidence demonstrates decisively that mara can readily be a masculine form and so this certainly merited a discussion byTabor and Jacobovici in these recent publications.

In short, it is plausible to contend that in Talpiyot 1981 (i.e., Talpiyot B), the word mara refers to a man, not a woman.  Also, then, with regard to Talpiyot 1980 (i.e., Talpiytot A), I would suggest that it is entirely plausible to suggest that this is the ossuary of a woman and a man, that is, a woman named mariame and a man known as mara.  Someone might suggest that the woman’s name would not come first in this culture.  However, I would note that order of death could reasonably account for the ordering of the names.  Moreover, we do sometimes find a woman’s name first in literary texts that refer to a woman and a man (e.g., Acts 18:18; 18:26; Romans 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19).  In short, it is philologically and historically plausible to suggest (A) that the persons referred to as mara in these two Talpiyot tombs were men, not women; (B) and it is also philologically and historically plausible to suggest that one was a man and one was a woman; (C) and it is also permissible to suggest that both were women.  But it is imperative that we be candid about the fact that we actually do not know and so it is precarious to assume.


                It may be that Tabor and Jacobovici would perhaps reply that the bone fragments from Rahmani Ossuary #701 were those of a woman.  However, I would note several things in that connection: (A) Evidence from many Late Second Temple Jerusalem tombs demonstrates that multiple people were often buried in the same ossuary, and the names of all people whose bones are placed in ossuaries are often not all written on the ossuary; (B) Furthermore, the bones from the ossuaries of Talpiyot 1980 (“Talpiyot Tomb A”) were not even “available to Amos Kloner [in 1996] for study since they had been transferred to the religious authorities for reburial, in accordance with an agreement that was made between the Israeli government and the religious authorities who objected to the storage of human bones within the Antiquities Authority’s storerooms” (Gibson 2006, 120); (C) Of course, Tabor and Jacobovici were able to find some bone fragments, but the problem is that it is not possible to know if the fragments Tabor and Jacobovici sent for analysis are those of someone whose name is on the ossuary.  (D) Also of relevance are the statements by Tabor and Jacobovici about the preserved bone fragments: in the “Mariamene” ossuary “we found only tine bone chips.”  Or again, “the bone chips we found contained no marrow.”  And yet again, “There was no possibility of nuclear or gDNA with these samples due to their degradation.”  Or again, “It is unfortunate that we were not able to conduct full DNA tests on all of the bones found in all the ossuaries from the Jesus tomb.  Ideally that would have allowed one to construct a kind of provisional ‘family tree,’ at least in terms of the familial genetic relationships between those individuals buried therein.  Since the bones themselves were never examined scientifically and no one is even sure what happened to them, that opportunity is forever lost” (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012, 199-202).”  (E) This leads naturally to this final point.  Determining gender is not normally something that can be done on the basis of mitochondrial DNA; therefore, the bone fragments from the ossuary inscribed Mariame and Mara may very well be the bones of a man, not a woman! (regarding gender and mitochondrial DNA, see the discussion here on Berkeley’s page:   Thus, I would challenge Tabor and Jacobovici to publish all of the mitochondrial DNA tests.  I suspect that we will not find that these laboratory tests state that these bone fragments from this ossuary are those of a woman.

In the final analysis, therefore, I would suggest that the gender of those referred to as mara cannot be assumed.  We simply cannot be sure, and it is not prudent to make assumptions about this, in light of the dearth of the evidence.

Click to Enlarge


Gibson, S.
2006       “Is the Talpiot Tomb Really the Family Tomb of Jesus?”  NEA 69: 118-124.

Hoftijzer, J. and Jongeling, K.
1995       Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions.  Leiden: Brill.

Ilan, Tal.
2002       Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity.  Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Jastrow, M.
1950       A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalami, and the Midrashic Literature.  New York: Pardes Publishing House.

Koehler, L. and Baumgartner, W.
1994-2000            The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.  Leiden: Brill.

Pfann, S. J.
2006       “Mary Magdalene Has Left the Room: A Suggested New Reading of Ossuary CJO 701.” NEA 69: 130-131.

Rahmani, L. Y.
1994.     A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Rollston, C.A.
2006       “Inscribed Ossuaries: Personal Names, Statistics, and Laboratory Tests.”  NEA 69: 125-129.

2012a    “The Four-Line Greek Inscription from a Talpiyot Tomb: Epigraphic Notes and Historical Discussions.”  ASOR Blog March 15, 2012.

2012b    “The four-Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B (1981): Summary and Restatement.”  March 17, 2012.

Tabor, J. D.
2012       “A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiyot, Jerusalem.”  Bible and Interpretation web site, February 28, 2012.

Tabor, J. D. and Jacobovici, S.
2012       The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity.  New York: Simon and Schuster.


[1]  I am grateful to medical student Rebekah Rollston for discussing mitochondrial DNA with me and for providing me with the reference to a useful, accessible discussion of mitochondrial DNA on the website of the University of California, Berkeley. Also, I am thankful to Roy Lirov (MD) for discussing aspects of DNA analysis with me. Moreover, I am also grateful to my research assistant Jared Poznich for discussing this paper with me and proofreading a penultimate version of the manuscript.


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  1. Chris,

    Well Chris, you touched on a lot more than MARA here so just briefly, as a an initial comment:

    I am preparing my response to your reading of the four-line inscription. I had waited since last May to hear your take on these 14 letters and now that we have it in print I welcome your contribution and have much to say, both about the transcription and your translation. I can say here, IAIO or not, l. 2. 1 is not a Tau, though it could be a Zeta, and and there is no epsilon in l.2.3 but a clear iota. The brown line you are seeing as the bottom of an epsilon is clearly not part of the engraving as a look at all the photos in all angles and light make clear. But later on that…

    On the DNA, you are surely correct, as I wrote you privately yesterday when you asked, the mitDNA results say nothing about the sex of the sample and we have never claimed or stated otherwise and had anyone asked would have affirmed the same. I think our assumption was that everyone knew this was the case. What those results do show is the bone fragments tested in the ossuaries inscribed Yeshua bar Yehosef and Mariamene aka Mara were not maternally related, i.e., not brother and sister or mother and son. As you know, many ossuaries, even when emptied of skeletal materials, have significant bone fragments clinging to the inside ossuary surfaces, as if obvious if one strolls through the Bet Shemesh warehouse. Most are not cleaned, unless they go on display. In the case of the Talpiot tomb A, Yeshua and Mariamene were the only two that were not cleaned of the six inscribed, so bone samples were collected. Contrary to some charges, as I also wrote you yesterday, just for the record, since you moved into the DNA topic here a bit, the samples were collected properly and all those involved submitted DNA samples to avoid potential contamination issues–though with paelo-DNA that possibility is slight since the samples are often degraded and easily distinguishable from the full results of a modern person. The scene in Simcha's 2007 film where Pfann and his colleague are collecting samples was included in the film to show how bone fragments are left in most all ossuaries, not representing our initial collection of samples.

    Regarding Pfann's suggested reading, accepted by Price, Peuch, and others, of MARIAME KAI MARA or MARIAM HE KAI MARA , i.e., two individuals, it is true I remain unconvinced. It is possible of course, as I note in the book, but I am not so sure that the sharp eyed Rahmani misread the kappa as you assert and years ago I gave the reasons for my reluctance, based on my consultations with Michael Stone and the venerable Leah Di Segni, see…. Since then I have become more convinced that this unusual diminutive spelling, with the nu, is significant. I might ask you, since you seem quite convinced by Pfann's analysis, if you think the same "kappa" is present in Rahmani 108, where the identical form appears, also read by Rahmani and Di Segni as Mariamnou (genitive diminutive with the nu). So far as I can tell there is no possibility that could be a kappa, and thus an unfinished "kai" at the end of a name, just dangling like the "bridge to nowhere." I recently did an autopsy of that inscription in the basement of the Rockefeller and have good photos if you would like to see them. It is on the underside of the lid and seems to be clearly, in context with Mariame, Mariame and Maria (written three times), a endearing variation of the name, and as Rahmani notes, showing it was current in Jerusalem prior to 70 CE. Definitely a woman and precisely parallel to our inscription. I think these contexts are critical and they relate to your next point…

    Regarding MARA I need to first ask, are you taking the position that MARA in Greek, on our various ossuary inscriptions as likely refers to a man as to a woman? What you cite from Jastrow, et al. is well known of course, but in moving from the Aramaic to Greek, and looking at the actual occurrences of this rare name/title in our inscriptional evidence from the period (CIIP), are you maintaining we might have just as well have a "boy named Sue (sic) MARA" in our various occurrences, or only here in Talpiot A & B. And are you further arguing that this is a name, but never a title, i.e., "master/mistress," again, in our inscriptional evidence from this time and place (i.e., CIIP)? I have studied our precious few examples quite thoroughly, namely: CIIP nos. 97, 200, 262, 477, 517, 563, 543 as well as 453, 116, and 452 (448 I think is likely MARAS with another final letter unclear [T?] so I have not included it here in this cluster. So far as I know there are no more. Those available I have examined directly and photographed. My conclusions, which I can expand elsewhere other than in a blog comment, are that MARA in Greek in this configuration functions most likely as "mistress," a feminine title. That we only have four total in Greek on ALL extant inscriptions of the period and place, with two now in our Talpiot A & B might bear noting.

    I agree with you wholly, we are a long way from Mariam ha Magdalene (whatever the latter means) in our tomb based on Mariamenou/Mara alone, but getting the inscriptions straight is a first step in arguing or not arguing anything further and I am convinced we have a clear example of the rare diminutive name Mariamene in the genitive here and it is significant to the discussion.

  2. For what it's worth, long ago, I went to the Duke papyrology room and showed a good photo (kindly provided by Prof. Tabor) to the two scholars who happened to be there at the time. They read the inscription (as Puech et al.) with KAI.

  3. James,

    Thanks for the note. (1) As for your continued to read the tetragrammaton, that's fine, but it's a tau. The images I posted make that clear. (2)As for the MitDNA, it would have been worth pointing out in your book that MitDNA does not reveal gender. Because people in the humanities often do not know such details, it would have been worth mentioning for the reader's benefit, and so as to put all the cards on the table. As it stands, I think some readers would have, and do, assume that the bone fragments are definitively those of a woman. But the fact of the matter is that they could readily be those of a man. So I mentioned this in this post, because it is relevant, important. And, of course, as I mentioned, because there are often multiple burials in the same ossuary, the recovered fragments cannot necessarily be assumed to be those of the person or people whose names are on an ossuary. (3) As for the kai…Pfann's photos in NEA, and the parallels he cites, are entirely convincing. Along those lines, I very much liked Stephen Goranson's comment above…it makes perfect sense. 4)Regarding Mara, my point is philological, namely, this name is most naturally masculine, although it can be a shortened form. I'm simply stating that it would have been nice to have seen a nice discussion of this in the book…rather than simply assuming it must be feminine. (5) In short, as you did not mention that the bones could be those of a man, and you did not mention that mara is a very fine masculine, that some critical evidence has been left out of your discussion…that's my only point.

    All best wishes,

    Christopher Rollston

  4. Chris we seem to be writing past one another here but maybe that is the limitation of comment forums and I know we are both insanely busy right now with our "normal" work, as we have mentioned in personal correspondence. Just to be clear, are you saying that our few examples of MARA in Greek (other than the Talpiot tomb) are likely and "most naturally masculine," and thus could just as well be masculine, and thus there is no distinction between the Greek MAR and MARA in either context or gender? Consider the masculine plural for MAR, as we have a wonderful bilingual inscription that clarifies this for us in Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek. As for the kai, it is the case that examples from papyri can be seen to support the kappa but lapidary script is often different and in this case we have a parallel, as I mention, of the precise form when it can not be a kappa. You don't comment on that at all, nor does Pfann.There is no point in pitting this expert against that but I think Michael Stone's advice to me to consult with Leah was solid and I don't think her opinion should be so easily dismissed–nor Rahmani's initial published view for that matter (Zias told someone that he had now changed his mind but I don't know if he has spoken on that. When Charlesworth last talked to him in 2008 he said to him, "Of course I am right on that reading but I am not involving myself in such discussions"). Should we assume they are so untrained as to not recognize a common kappa whereas Stephen can catch two papyri guys on the run and end up with something more solid. I think at least this is something we should be discussing rather than dismissing out of hand as you seem to do here. I have to disagree with you about my DNA discussion as I clearly explain for the general reader the differing results one can get from gDNA and mitDNA, but you are right, we did not point out for the reader that (Mariamene) Mara might "most naturally be a man," as I do not believe such is the case, given our Greek examples of MARA from the period and that I agree with Leah and Rahmani's initial reading one name most likely interprets the other, whether understood as Martha or Mistress. BTW, speaking of the DNA results we published there is a bad misprint on p. 201 that the typesetter made and I did not catch: 16172 and 16223 base positions in the standard sequences are reversed! The results for the samples are, however, correct.

    • Eldad Keynan
    • March 21, 2012

    Prof. Rollston is right: generally, the Aramaic word Mara means male lord or master. Yet the fact is that it can also be used to refer to a female, and Prof. Rollston is well aware of this fact. Then he continues to assume the plausibility that the Talpiot Tomb a "MARA" is a man, just like the "MARA" of the Talpiot Tomb b. Thus, Prof. Rollston states: "Also, then, with regard to Talpiyot 1980 (i.e., Talpiytot A), I would suggest that it is entirely plausible to suggest that this is the ossuary of a woman and a man, that is, a woman named mariame and a man known as mara".

    Gibson believes that this ossuary contained the remains of two females; "a mother and daughter or perhaps to sisters . . . If one accepts this reading, then the entire argument . . . about Mariamne being Mary Magdalene, evaporates" (Gibson, NEA 69, p. 123). We may assume that both distinguished scholars, Rollston and Gibson, will not waste too much time on this disagreement they have with each other. After all, whether there were two or even seven interments, males, females, or a multi-sex ossuary, the most important point is different.

    Unfortunately, both firm statements by Rollston and Gibson are weakened by a small problem; small, but not ignorable: no one can firmly state the number of interments in the Talpiot Tomb a ossuaries. The reason is, as Prof. Rollston quotes Gibson, that the bones were not "available to Amos Kloner [in 1996] for study since they had been transferred to the religious authorities for reburial, in accordance with an agreement that was made between the Israeli government and the religious authorities who objected to the storage of human bones within the Antiquities Authority’s storerooms”.

    Too bad indeed; yet we have to ask: who actually removed the bones out of the ossuaries? This question arises since undoubtedly, the bones were available back in late March 1980 – early April 1980. The number of people who could have done the unpleasant job of removing the bones is limited. One doesn't have to be an expert to count two skulls or two pelvis bones. The simple fact is: none of the people who removed the bones can tell us anything about the number of interments in each ossuary. For most, they repeat the average numbers: 1.7 interments in an ossuary. In other words: the inability to actually count the interments is not an obstacle; on the contrary, it is both a solution and advantage!

    As for the so-called "agreement that was made between the Israeli government and the religious authorities who objected to the storage of human bones within the Antiquities Authority’s storerooms"; it seems to be another problem. This agreement was never published; is it formally recorded somewhere? No one can tell us. The state of Israel is flooded with top secrets; yet all of them influence the living, not the dead. Such an agreement has no reason to be top secret. Anyway, we may assume (for the purpose of debate) there was (and still is) such an agreement. Thus we are supposed to believe that it was valid in 1980. Yet one small ossuary has been removed from the Talpiot Tomb b in 1981. What can we understand by this event? That "agreements with the religious authorities" are valid when someone needs them to be valid? Or the much simpler conclusion – that there is no such an agreement, or at least there was no such an agreement back in 1980.

  5. My point was not about the Aramaic Mar'a but the Greek MARA and the few examples we have of this rare form of a Greek name. Are Chris and now Eldad saying MARA in Greek, which we have clear examples of on ossuaries are "most naturally masculine"? And of course, keep in mind, if we go with the reading of Mariamene (aka) Mara, which is arguably valid, and I say probably here, especially given the form of the letter nu in lapidary style at the end of Mariamenou, when it can not be a kappa, elsewhere as I have noted, the names are being paired as the same individual. Further, even if one went with a "kai" in Greek that very "kai" can function as "also known as," as any Greek speaker knows. Since the inscription is written in one hand (contra Pfann) with a clear singular flourish around the two names, it most likely indicates one individual. Since folks might not have looked at a good photo of this in some time I refer you to….

  6. All of the photos of the four-line Greek inscription made available to our consultants are now uploaded on the web site, under photos and images. There are 17 total, including four in negative light. These are completely untouched, unedited, just as they came from the camera. If anyone wants to study them closely I suggest you print them out with a laser color printer, do not enlarge or blow up, as this distorts the pixels. In order to see clearly all the letters one must compare several photos as different angles and light show different features. Taking them all together all the letters become clear, including what we take to be a clear zeta/iota as the first letter of line 2 and a clear iota as the third letter, contra Rollston.

    • Eldad Keynan
    • March 22, 2012

    James, I guess I had to stress this line: "Yet the fact is that it can also be used to refer to a female". I don't share Rollston stand that this Greek Mara is "most naturally masculine". In NEA 69, p. 127-128, Rollston suggests that any kind of familial tie is plausible when we discuss the Talpiot Tomb a. This generalisation leads him to conclude that the interments are not Jesus and his family members, while by the same logic, the interments may well be Jesus and his family! I think the MARA under discussion here falls to the same generalisation, just like the average number of interments in a single ossuary. In both cases, generalisation is misleading.

    We may also look at the Arabic word Mara; generally, it means "woman". But it also means "wife". The Arabic word "Mar't" means "the lady, the lordess off . . .". The Arabic "Martak" means "you wife", and "Marti" means "my wife". Undoubtedly, Arabic, as a semitic language, knows only the feminine meaning of the "Mara".

    In NEA 69, P. 128, Rollston suggests that the Talpiot Tomb a Yoseh (יוסה) might have been the uncle or "cousin of someone in the tomb"; just another generalisation: every kind of family tie is acceptable, as long as the suggestion helps to render the Talpiot Tomb a "insignificant".

    Fortunately, we have the recently published lab report that tightly connects the James ossuary to the Talpiot Tomb a:

    Is there any generalisation that can dismiss this report?

  7. James and Eldad,

    (1) My point regarding mara is (to repeat) this: one cannot *assume* (as you have done in your presentation of the material, as I noted in my citations of your book in my "Mara post") that Mara is always feminine…in reality, this form is quite readily, and most naturally, understood as masculine. A most unfortunate omission in the book is a discussion of that. I firmly believe that when given good data non-specialists will make rational conclusions, but when given partial data they are put at a disadvantage…scholars know that "mara" could be masculine and that it is sometimes feminine (as I have made clear), but the fact remains that non-specialists normally don't know this. And, the fact remains that the standard Aramaic spelling of this masc. noun is mry and mr'. And the determined form of the masculine is mr' (which would show up as "mara" in Greek, of course). And the evidenc for this form as masculine is attested for centuries in Aramaic…from Old Aramaic, Imperial Aramaic, Nabataean Aramaic, Palmyrene Aramaic to Jewish Aramaic of the Second Temple and Post-Biblical Period. And because many of the readers of the book in particular will not know these sorts of data, they should have been presented with it. Argue against it if you wish, but at least it should have been mentioned and discussed. (2) The same applies to the discussion of the MitDNA of the bones of the "Mariame kai Mara" ossuary…academic rigor would suggest that it should have been noted that from MitDNA one cannot determine gender…and those are relevant data…especially since the book and article assume that the bones are those of a woman. In fact, the same applies to the bones of the Yeshua ossuary…the bones fragments analyzed could have been those of a woman, rather than a man (as multiple people were often buried in an ossuary…so it could be that the bones you analyzed from that ossuary were those of a woman. In short, I'm all for *thorough,* *broad,* and *deep* discussions. And I believe ordinary people (that is, non-specialists) deserve to be given the full data. (3) As for Arabic…remember that Aramaic has a post-positive article, and it is an alep. This not the way Arabic forms the emphatic (definite) form…so this has to be factored into *any* discussion of Arabic (and Eldad Keynan does not do so). Also, remember that that are two biforms of spelling this word in NWS (as I mentioned in my original MARA post), namely, mry and mr'. Finally, note that *Old South Arabic* (which is older and so much closer linguistically to these inscriptions) has mr' (check Beeston, SD, 87). (4) As for Yosi (and the rest of the names in Talpiyot 1980 ("Talpiyot A"), yes, Mr. Keynan, as I mentioned in my NEA article in 2006, there is *no* patronymic on the Yosi ossuary and no statement of familial connections (i.e., no "husband of," "wife of," etc. and so I do not wish to *assume* something about that PN….it's not methodologically tenable to do so. (5) As for reading an iota as the first letter of line two…James, it's not about *how many photos* one has…it's about looking at the *best photos,* that is, the photos that light of the letters, letter strokes, stroke segments the best…and I posted two very nice ones in my original palaeographic piece that light up the critical things very well. It's a very nice tau. My thanks to National Geographic and you for these photos. By the way, I note again that your reading that letter as a tau also means that *every other instance of iota* in that inscription (according to your reading) is a straight vertical. So, this is a further difficulty with you and your desire to read the first letter of line two as an iota…as it is morhpologically VERY different from the other letters you read as an iota in this inscription. So, it's a tough palaeographic corner you've backed yourself into.

    All best wishes,

    Christopher Rollston

  8. Is it not true that if there were two persons mitoDNA in the ossuary, this would give confusing results as the small amount of DNA that is replicated over and over again would turn into gibberish from two people but not for one. That I believe is the point of not contaminating the sample with other DNA. The clearness of the replication should indicate but one person in the ossuary. This must be the case many times that only one set of human bones are found in an ossuary since an average of 1.7 is less than two full humans.

  9. The same goes for the Yehoshua bar Yoseph ossuary. One name masculine and a clear analysis of the mitoDNA would indicate male (from the inscription) and only one set of bones in the ossuary.

    One clear analysis for the Mariamenou would indicate only one person in the ossuary. The sex however would be indicative of the inscription, male or female.

  10. So Chris, to cut to the chase (and yes, to repeat for the 3rd time), do you know of any MARA references in Greek that are clearly male–ossuaries, literary, or otherwise inscriptional?

  11. Chris, I never said it was a matter of "more" photos, as you have implied now here and on your blog, as if we were scrambling to come up with more. The photos have not increaseed in number. What has changed is that were given to you are now available to everyone else, plus even more. And yes, we have all seen what you posted but they are not convincing, the bottom footer of the letter is clear, even in those but even more so in the others. And there is absolutely no epsilon. Have you looked at them? Why not try zeta is you can't go with iota? Several of the other epigraphers we have consulted are working on that possibility.

  12. It is actually not true that modern would ever be confused with ancient as the latter is usually so degraded you only get two or three polymorphisms, whereas with modern you get thousands.

  13. All of the DNA results cited by Tabor/Simcha et al are totally meaningless and but an attempt to present a rigorous sci. method whereas there is none and never was in the past with the 2007 film. In their new book they mention that DNA sampling was done on all of those connected with the bone samples so as to eliminate any possible contamination by those whom have come in contact with the ossuaries. Neither I, nor my colleagues, who for years came into contact with the ossuaries stored in three differing locations, different curators, workers etc was ever carried out. I, in fact, if Chris is correct, may be Mara. Furthermore, in one of the ossuaries from the Caiaphas tomb, where Simcha 'found the nails of Jesus' we found one ossuary with a minimum of 8 persons. Remarks such as these by Tabor are on par with the Jesus film where they are doing a ground scan to find the exact location of the tomb while standing atop it, next to one of those pipes inserted into the ground by the rel for halachic reasons. To those unfamiliar with the profession, it may look like science, but for those of us working in the field it's but another cheap attempt to fool the unsuspecting public. The fact that there was a sci adviser from UNC-C supposedly overlooking this raises many further questions. Evidently she too was bound by a non-disclosure agreement. In the sake of transparency, it's about time they release all DNA data as well as releasing the folks in Canada from those non-disclosure agreements. Tabors remarks about DNA are meaningless, we phy anthropologists/archaeologists don't do Biblical studies whereas they attempt to explain DNA as if they may have had a class in the profession, which when checked, out shows they have no experience nor creditably to make such remarks. Remember they reported in the Jesus Nails film that the High Priest was in another ossuary, whereas if they had read the published report they would have seen that the skeleton in that ossuary was an adult female. Simply ignore all their DNA reporting its meaningless and should shed light on many other issues as well.

  14. Joe, so far as I know you never saw the bone fragments that were tested. They were whole bone fragments, stuck to the sides of the ossuary, spit to get inside, then crushed so that the materials tested had never been exposed–unless you or others left some of your bones in these ossuaries

    :-). The truth is we don't know how many individuals were in the Yeshua ossuary as the person who received the ossuaries with the bones in April, 1980 when they were transported to the IAA never studied them or issued a report, nor do we know the locations of the ossuaries in the various niches of the tomb. We did the best with what was available and the two labs we used are the best in Canada and the US respectively.

    So far as the radar ground scan I think you should go look over the building again as everything you say is wrong here. The pipe coming out of the patio does give some general indication of where the tomb is but it is 18 feet above the tomb, which is six feet below the patio and when you are standing on the street outside you are 30 feet above the tomb. There is no way one could walk into that narrow basement corridor and determine where to drill in order to access the tomb. If you look at our map and the photos we have published in my report this is obvious. The area we drilled in was truly a "magic spot" of less than one by one-half meter and you can see how we barely were able to catch southwest corner of the tomb itself and get the probe inside. Without the radar ground scan we could have never determined that spot, as it showed the void of the tomb quite clearly.

    Our operation was carried out with the highest standards contrary to your many confused and inaccurate assertions all over the internet and I am glad to set the record straight here on these issues. Our annual reports are on file with the IAA and were received positively. I won't comment here on the Caiaphus tomb since I have had no involvement with that whatsoever. I do know that Richard Bauckham has just published a lengthy paper in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus Studies 10 (12) 3-31 on the Caiaphus family, the names, including the new Miriam ossuary, that I am just reading and would recommend.

  15. James,

    (1) Regarding "mara," it seems you are suggesting that there were different dialects of Aramaic used on the ossuaries vis a vis the rest of Aramaic. This would be a very difficult position for you (as you're asking for ossuary evidence of this usage…as if that evidence would fall into some sort of a different linguistic category). (2) Again, the point is that since mara is used in Aramaic of all periods for the masculine, it seems most reasonable to suggest that it can mean that on the ossuaries as well. So, you've backed yourself into a very difficult corner linguistically. (3) In any case, because wish for mara as masculine in the corpus of ossuaries, I point you to Rahmani #327 which reads "Yhwsp mrh bar bnyh br yhwdh, that is," Joseph, the master, son of Benaya, son of Yehudah." The text is Aramaic and it is definitely a reference to a male (note the word "br" meaning "son" rather than the word "bt" or "brt" meaning "daughter"). This provenance of this ossuary is not known, but the antiquity of the ossuary and inscription is not normally questioned. Also note the plural masculine construct form of mara in Rahmani, #560, "mry qbr," "the masters of the tomb," and note that the accompanying Greek translation of this refers to these "masters of the tomb" as Matthew and Simon, brothers, sons of Ya'ir, masters of the tomb." In short, these are males as well. Quite nice here, of course, is that the Aramaic original is not simply transliterated in the Greek, but translated. (4)In any case, yes, the linguistic evidence for mara being masculine (most of the time, some of the time, etc.) is overwhelming. Again, my point is that you have *assumed* that it is always feminine (i.e., in your discussions of the term) and this is not something that is philologically tenable.

    All best wishes,

    Christopher Rollston

  16. Chris, what I am asking you is a simple question, and unless I am missing something here you have not addressed it yet: Do you know of any examples of MARA in GREEK on ossuary inscriptions that refer to a man? You "point me to" Rahmani 327 and 560, which you surely know I am familiar with since I sent you my entire list of related inscriptions with notes from CIIP (which I can't post here but I will put up at my blog later today for everyone to see: I also spent a day at Bet Shemesh looking at these and all other examples, both Greek and Aramaic first hand. Of course these are not Greek examples of MARA as a woman but I will point out that one can read Rahmani #327 (see CIIP # 543) as Yehosef Mar HaBar…there is a clear gap and change of space in the line, I can send you a photo, but it even shows clearly in Rahmani, so this reading is more likely for the letter Heh don't you think? Compare Naveh's reading of CIIP 116/Rahmani 8). As for Rahmani #560 (see CIIP # 452), I agree, it is most helpful in showing, even with a Greek translation (kure),, that this term: MAR/MARA is not most naturally a proper noun but most often and more likely a title: Lord/Master or feminine Lordess/Mistress.

  17. James,

    (1) Alas, you're missing the philological point…repeatedly. Obviously, you desperately *want* mara to be femine because you *assume* that it refers to Mary Magdalene (even though Magdala is not there!). (2) But the the point is this: regardless of the script (Aramaic, Greek): mara can readily be understood as masculine, and historically, most attestations of it in the epigraphic and literary corpus are masculine. Nothing you can mention will change these *facts*. It may be that you've not really worked heavily in Aramaic…that would explain your failure to mention this very basic fact about mara…but I don't know if this is the reason for your omission. (3) But (again) the end of this philological and epigraphic matter is this: mara is an Aramaic lexeme and it is normally masculine and I have referred to a great deal of epigraphic evidence, and the standard dictionaries of Aramaic literary texts, demonstrating this. Indeed, no Aramaist would say that mara (regardless of whether it is written in the Aramaic or Greek script) is always feminine. And no Aramaist would have neglected to have mentioned that mara is often (indeed normally) a masculine form (4) I have not said that it cannot ever be a shortened form of martha (and thus feminine). Rather, I've said it is normally masculine. (5) Also, you similarly failed to note that from Mit-DNA one cannot determine gender. That too is quite an omission. (7) Ultimately, you *want* mara to be definitively feminine in these tombs and you *want* the Mit-DNA from the Mariame kai Mara ossuary to be that of a woman. But as scholars, we're obliged to mention *ALL* relevant evidence. But I'm sorry to say that you've presented evidence very selectively.


    Christopher Rollston

    • Eldad Keynan
    • April 1, 2012

    Sorry for the late response, Prof. Rollston. I guess one sentence of yours will present my case batter (quote): "In fact, the same applies to the bones of the Yeshua ossuary…the bones fragments analyzed could have been those of a woman, rather than a man (as multiple people were often buried in an ossuary. . ." It is a fact that ossuaries conatin the remains of more than only one human. But you and others know another simple fact: there is no evidence that ANY of the Talpiot Tomb a contained the remains of more than only one human. So I agree: a non-specialist might believe that one or more of the Talpiot Tomb a ossuaries contained more than one corpse. Data must be given always. This is the same with Mara's gender; you claim that it was generally a male name; yet this statement does not exlude the pissibility that it was also a female name. And it seems also that before we discuss this, we should go back to the most important point, already dealt with above; when one claims: "there were more than one interment in an ossuary", one must prove it. Can you?

  18. Eldad,

    (1) I'm glad that you're ceceding that mara can be a masculine. It's an obvious point that no trained Aramaist would contest. It's quite striking and unfortunate that this important philological fact was not discussed in J. Tabor and S. Jacobovici's book or Tabor's article. (2) Also, I'm glad that you're willing to concede that there is much that is not known about the bones from Talpiyot A and B…the latter have not yet been analyzed (because the tomb has not been properly excavated) and the former were reburied long ago by the religious authorities in Israel..thus, it's best not to build large, dramatic historical constructs when there is a dearth of data (pace Tabor and Jacobovici). (3) I would note the presence of "kai" on the "Mariame kai Mara" ossuary. Normally, this conjunction is used on ossuaries when multiple people are buried in the same ossuary. There are many, many such examples….see Rahmani and CIIP. That is not to say that "kai" cannot be used when a double-name is referenced, but the most common use of "kai" on the ossuaries (or any burial context, for that matter) is when there are multiple people buried therein. (4) As for multiple burials in the same ossuary in Talpiyot A, though, I recommend you read Kloner's summary in Atiqot. (5) As for the practice of multiple burials in a single ossuary in general, I point you to Rahmani, CIIP, etc. for many such examples. (6) Finally, please give my regards to your friends James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici hello for me.


    Christopher Rollston

    • George Grubbs
    • April 2, 2012

    This type of exchange is much improved over the initial knee-jerk accusatory comments forthcoming from so-called "scholars." Glad to see the discourse is now a bit more civilized, and hopefully productive.

    By the way, it's a small thing, but the notation for mitochondrial DNA is more commonly mtDNA (less commonly, mDNA), not "MitDNA" (rarely mit-DNA, Mit-DNA) (if it matters to get it correct).

  19. Readers may wish to know that an article by me, "The Four-Line Greek Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B: A Summary of the Options for Reading and Interpreting it", can be found on Larry Hurtado's Blog:

  20. Pingback: Live Blogging Through ‘The Resurrection Tomb’ « The Musings of Thomas Verenna

    • Eldad Keynan
    • April 21, 2012

    Prof. Rollston; again, I'm sorry for being late. Should I read Klonre's report in Atiqot 29 again, only to have the same questions again? Kloner assumes multi-burial in one or more of the Talpiot A tomb. So? Does he provide any evidence? Of course not. Kloner also concluded that the Talpiot A tomb contained the remains of about 34 humans; this counting is based on average standards. What was the real number? Aren't we entitled to know the accurate number of interments in each spesific tomb? Why "hide" behind the shiled of obscured average?

    Moreover: Kloner is one of the very few people who extracted the bones from the ossuaries. If he didn't, actually, at least we know that he was this excavation supervisor; thus we may correctly assume that he knows, by first or second hand, the answers to this question. Please explain: why would an excavation supervisor assume the number of interments in an ossuary? Might it be that he didn't see the Talpiot A tomb ossuaries? According to Gibson, they handed the ossuaries over to Zias. Are we to assume that Zias extracted the bones and didn't tell Kloner the accurate number? I think, Prof. Rollston, that the number of assumptions is greater on your side than on mine. It's natural, I guess, when the evidence is pointing at a different direction.

    And by the way: thank for advising me to deliver your regards to Tabor and Jacobovici; I will gladly do that, as we are in constant contact. Fortunately, one may choose friends. Unfortunately, some forget it.

    • Souheil Bayoud
    • June 3, 2012

    Anything based on a lie is a lie and the truth always prevails.The Holy blood Holy grail pretend that Jesus escaped death and married Mary Magdalene.Then the Da Vinci code pretend a secret marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the real blood of the grail is inside Mary based on the painting of the last supper by Leonardo Da Vinci.Millions of copies were sold and thousands have traveled to Louvre museum to see that painting.After that some persons pretend finding Jesus tomb and bones and carried DNA tests! and statistics on names! Their discoveries correspond and support the above fake stories.There is two dangerous lies:the real blood and the marriage of Jesus with Mary Magdalene.For the first one the truth is that real and Holy blood of Jesus is on His forehead and not in the womb of Mary Magdalene.This is revealed in the real and true story The Coin Of The Temple by Souheil Bayoud.For the second which is the impossibility of marriage of Jesus with Mary Magdalene the truth will be revealed to those writers,false scholars,filmmakers and archaeologists when they bow on their knees with a godly repentance or when feathers come out of their heads.

    • Wim Liesker
    • July 7, 2013

    The discussion above being of the previous year, I hope I can still contribute to it. Having studied Greek papyri for a number of years, in my opinion the text is not hard to decipher. It says Μάριαμ ἡ καὶ Μάρα, meaning, Miriam also known as Mara. I would say, no doubt about it. Apart from any considerations whether this is meant to refer Maria Magdalena or not. In case the Greek does not show, transliterated: "Mariam hè kai Mara" – the letter between Mariam and kai is a clear eta. In the first century it would have been pronounced "Mariam i ke Mara".

    • Wim Liesker
    • July 7, 2013

    Correction on the above: Miriam should of course read Mariam,

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