The Talpiot Tomb and the Beatles

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By: Mark Goodacre, Dept of Religion, Duke University

The current discussion of Talpiot Tomb B, the “patio tomb”, has largely centered on the interpretation of the picture on one of the ossuaries.  But Tabor’s and Jacobovici’s argument that this tomb is linked with Jesus and his disciples is related to their earlier claims about Talpiot Tomb A, the “garden tomb”.  The case that this is the Jesus family tomb was made in 2007 in a book, a film and a website.[i]  It was largely based on a claim about statistics — this cluster of names, bearing so close a relationship to the names of members of Jesus’ family, was most unlikely to have occurred by accident.

At the time, I and many others were sceptical of the claim. It appeared to rely on a dubious identification between the name “Mariamēnē” and Mary Magdalene, who was identified as Jesus’ wife, and it failed to take seriously the non-matches in the tomb, especially “Judas son of Jesus”.

In a bid to explain the difficulties, I turned to an analogy that Jacobovici liked to use, an analogy based on the Beatles.[ii]  It worked by saying that if in two thousand years a tomb was discovered in Liverpool that featured the names John, Paul and George, we would not immediately conclude that we had found the tomb of the Beatles. But if we also found so distinctive a name as Ringo, then we would indeed be interested. Jacobovici claimed that the “Ringo” in this tomb is Mariamēnē, whom he interpreted as Mary Magdalene and as Jesus’s wife.

I thought the analogy to be without merit and wrote:

What we actually have is the equivalent of a tomb with the names John, Paul, George, Martin, Alan and Ziggy. We might well say, “Perhaps the ‘Martin’ is George Martin, and so this is a match!” or “Perhaps John Lennon had a son called Ziggy we have not previously heard about” but this would be special pleading and we would rightly reject such claims. A cluster of names is only impressive when it is a cluster that is uncontaminated by non-matches and contradictory evidence.[iii]

My concern was the same then as it is now, that you cannot cherry pick the data that you use in your statistical analysis.  The difficulty is clear when one pays attention to the comments made about “Judas son of Jesus”:

The most controversial ossuary pulled from the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries was undoubtedly the one inscribed “Judah, son of Jesus,” the ossuary of a child. If indeed the tomb uncovered in East Talpiot in 1980 is that of Jesus and his family, and if indeed Jesus of Nazareth had a son, this ossuary contradicts dramatically nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition.[iv]

The difficulty ought to be apparent.  The whole case is based on the idea of an extraordinary correlation between the names in the tomb, but here there is an admission that in fact one of the ossuaries “contradicts dramatically nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition”.  In a case that requires extraordinary correlation, extraordinary contradiction simply will not do.

In their new book The Jesus Discovery,[v] Jacobovici and Tabor return to the question of the name-correlations and again attempt to apply the analogy from the Beatles, though now with some modification.  Here they add that John is the son of an Alfred, and we find out that this is indeed John’s father’s name.  They go on:

Then a fourth grave turns up with the name Ringo. Finally, not two hundred feet away we find a burial monument dedicated to the memory of the Beatles and all they contributed to pop music in their long career together. We believe that this is essentially what we have in the case of our two Talpiot tombs. We in fact have our “Ringo” in the Jesus tomb, as we will see — and what’s more, we believe that we have a “Yoko” as well — and the Patio tomb now provides us with a new context in which we can better understand the resurrection faith of Jesus’ first followers.

The difficulty with this modified version of the analogy is not only the lack of a Ringo or a Yoko in the Talpiot tomb A,[vi] but also the suggestion that the circumstantial evidence provided by Talpiot tomb B amounts to something like “a burial monument dedicated to the memory of the Beatles and all they contributed”.  However one interprets the markings in Talpiot tomb B, there is no explicit link there to Jesus, his followers or early Christianity.

The Beatles analogy helps us to reflect on the nature of the case for the association of the Talpiot tombs with Jesus’ family and disciples.  If a filmmaker were to find a tomb in Liverpool in two thousand years’ time featuring names like John, Paul and George, he would not have found the Beatles.  John died in New York in 1980, he was cremated and no one knows for certain where his ashes are.  Some speculate that Yoko Ono still has them.  They are certainly not in Liverpool.  George died in Los Angeles in 2001, he was cremated and no one knows for certain where his ashes are.  Some say that they were scattered on the River Ganges.  They are certainly not in Liverpool.

The filmmaker of the future might imagine that the right way to find the historical Beatles would be to look for tombs in Liverpool, but he would be wrong. He might imagine that John, Paul, George and Ringo all lived together in the same street, as they did in the film Help!  He might speculate that they all died and were buried together too, along with members of their family.   It would all make for an enjoyable fiction, no doubt, and some might find it reassuring, but it would tell the scholars of the future very little about the historical Beatles.  The study of ancient history is more often about coming to terms with the missing pieces than it is about drawing lines between unrelated phenomena.



[i] Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Evidence Behind the Discovery No One Wanted to Find (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007); The Lost Tomb of Jesus (Discovery Channel, 4 March 2007); The Jesus Family Tombhttp://www.jesusfamilytomb.com, 2007-12.

[ii] The Jesus Family Tomb: “Probability”, http://www.jesusfamilytomb.com/evidence/probability.html

[iii] “The Statistical Case for the Identity of the Jesus Family Tomb”, NT Blog 28 February 2007, http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2007/03/statistical-case-for-identity-of-jesus.html 

[iv] The Jesus Family Tomb: “Judah son of Jesus”, http://www.jesusfamilytomb.com/the_tomb/yehuda_bar_yeshua.html.

[v] James D.Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

[vi] For difficulties on laying too much stress on the alleged uniqueness of “Yose”, see my post on the NT Blog, “Returning to the Talpiot Tomb”, 12 January 2012, http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/returning-to-talpiot-tomb.html

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31 Comments for : The Talpiot Tomb and the Beatles
  1. Excellent, especially the last bit about the problem with historicity.

    • Tomasz Sobczyk
    • March 7, 2012

    "If indeed the tomb uncovered in East Talpiot in 1980 is that of Jesus and his family, and if indeed Jesus of Nazareth had a son, this ossuary contradicts dramatically nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition"

    Who first and when did say that Jesus hadn't family?

  2. Pingback: The Tomb of Jesus or the Beatles? Mark Goodacre on Talpiot A and B « The Musings of Thomas Verenna

    • Kenneth Greifer
    • March 7, 2012

    How old does a tradition have to be to become true without any possibility of being wrong?

    Kenneth Greifer

    • Tim
    • March 7, 2012

    Concerning one of the 6 in-scripted ossuaries discovered at the Talpiot A tomb, Mark Goodacre repeatedly interchanges the name on it between that of Judas and that of Judah, during his commentary. The proper reading is Judah Son Of Jesus, not Judas. He also considers this a "non-match" in lieu of a 2000 year old tradition, because we have never been told via scripture that Jesus might have been married, nor have we ever been told that Jesus had a son. Apparently other parts of the Bible that leave things out or make contradictions do not bother Mark but this particular non-stated possibility does. For those that consider through faith that Jesus was and is God, then one would expect them to also believe that God did not marry during his redemptive journey to earth. It would be reasonable for God not to do that. As we humans have always been easily able to define our God with the right and proper attributes we think He should have. Yet for others who consider the possibility that Jesus was a man and not a God, for him to have married and had children would have been within the bounds of cultural acceptance, both for his position and for his time period.

    One of our Christian branches has always held and still to this day maintains that Mary mother of Jesus was and is a virgin. This would be another 2000 year tradition. And yet the Bible and time period extra Jewish writings tell us that her son Jesus had 4 brothers and 2 sisters. Their names were James, Simon, Jose, Judas (not Judah), Mary and Salome. Various arguments are used to "explain" these siblings away from Mary as their mother. I'm curious what value Mark would give to this, yet another, 2000 year old tradition.

    While searching for 'objectivity' concerning Mark's piece. I noticed that he just happened to leave out a DNA result that's at least worth mentioning. Through mitochondrial testing it was found that Jesus Son Of Joseph and Mariamene were proven not to be related maternally. Which causes one to ponder the facts that members of a tomb enter almost exclusively as blood or marriage related. Also left out of Mark's writing was the post crucifixion close association that the Jesus family had with Jerusalem. The scriptural story of Joseph Of Arimathea concerning Jesus burial. The fact that both Talpiot tombs A & B are thought to be from the (early christian) period and dated between 20CE & 70CE, 1st century. The fact that Jose and as a tomb member and brother of Jesus just happened to have a very uncommon nickname. Or what professional statisticians have to say instead of Christian website spin artists. One might think me to have some sort of 'beef' with Christians and Christianity. I don't! But it does bother me for those taking the name of Christ as their identity, to commit fraud, cloud the truth, be hypocritical, fear the truth, over institutionalize their faith, forsake truth for individual career, value tradition in place of fact, make unfounded accusations, debate what instead should be explored and politicize their faith. I happen to know Christians who don't have these vices. They're in my family and in my community. I may not personally embrace their faith but I do embrace them.

    It seems while some are willing to step out courageously and explore possibilities. Others appear to co-dependently shelter themselves using institutionalized, organized, dubious and spotty criticisms.

    • Gavin Lyall
    • March 7, 2012

    "…nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition" says Jesus was born of a virgin, raised folks from the dead, and ascended bodily into Heaven after harrowing Hell, etc. Christian tradition has never been a measure of historical accuracy. The fact that the Talpiot names match those of the later Jesus stories as well as they do should give any objective observer pause, to say the least.

    • Gavin Lyall
    • March 7, 2012

    D'oh! My pithy comment was trumped by Tim's lengthy, well-reasoned one. Well, I guess the more reasonable voices get a chance of being heard over the apologetic cacophony, the better.

    • Paul Regnier
    • March 7, 2012

    That's a really good response Tim.

    My understanding of Mark's post is that he is NOT saying that Jesus could not possibly, under any circumstances, have had a child. That would be a faith claim, not a historical one. He is simply pointing out that there is not a scrap of evidence he ever did, still less that his son was called Judah. As such, the presence of a names such as 'Judah, son of Jesus" should be treated as non-matches which make the statistical clustering of names in the Talpiot tomb less impressive than might be first thought.

    For me, if Jesus did have a child, we would have found some written evidence of it somewhere. Firstly, the early Christians would have mentioned it. Personally, I don't see why they would have found it embarrassing or felt the need to cover it up – Muhammad, the Buddha, and in Hinduism, Rama and Sita (incarnations of Vishnu and Lakshmi) all had children. Those religions do not try to cover up this knowledge.

    Alternatively – if you think that the church did want to cover up Jesus' children, there's a good chance we would find some ripples of this in the New Testament. For example, many scholars, looking at the place of John the Baptist in the Bible, have argued that Jesus' baptism by John was an established fact that early Christians found somewhat embarrassing and needed to explain away. Similarly, if it was thought that Jesus was married and had a child, wouldn't we some sort of denial of this by early Christians? ("and forsooth, there was a little boy who did hangeth around Jesus and call him 'daddy', but verily he was the Son of Peter, not of Jesus, and haddeth bad eyesight, and sometimes got confused")

    Finally, as far as I am aware, not a single early critic of Christianity (either Jewish or Pagan), makes any suggestion that Jesus had children. E.g. the Talmud calls him a sorcerer, Celsus says he was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier…. if there were rumours that Jesus had children, and if that was the kind of thing that was going to damage Christianity, don't you think somebody would have mentioned it?

    I don't see the parallel with the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity – as you point out, that Jesus had brothers and sisters is clear from the Bible. Some are named, other names are supplied by later Christian (not Jewish, I think) sources, such as the Protevangelium of James. So to argue for Mary's perpetual virginity, you actually have to argue against the Bible (or at least try to reconcile this view with the evidence in the Bible – e.g. these were actually Jesus' half brothers and sisters). This is simply not the case with trying to argue that Jesus probably did not have a son called Judah.

    On the DNA thing, I think Mark has referred to this on his blog, but in any case the lack of mitochondrial match shows that these two individuals did not share the same mother. This is not the same thing as showing that they are married. Assuming that this is a family tomb, there could be other possible explanations: father and daughter, brother and sister in law, paternal cousins, paternal half brother and sister. Or it could be that this isn't a family tomb at all, and the two individuals are unrelated.

    • Steven Carr
    • March 8, 2012

    It should be perfectly obvious to Tabor that the only data which will be accepted as evidence of Jesus is evidence that confirms the Gospel descriptions of Jesus's family in precise detail.

    As the Gospels cannot agree on who the father of Joseph was, this is going to be difficult….

  3. Mark, thanks for your post. As you know, since you have actually read our book (appreciate that), we devote a long chapter to the whole Mary Magdalene question. I have not been a fan of the Jesus was married with kids idea as you know from the Jesus Dynasty. I think I said it was long on sensationalism, sort on evidence, or something like that. So I am with you and for my whole career have generally agreed with my colleagues. However, in the course of my studies the past five years, including this tomb, but also the fascinating MM materials that Schaberg, DeConick, Graham, Meyer, Pagels, and others have written, I have revised my view and I think the "garden" tomb (A) correlates with the evidence of MM's importance in the early tradition and the muting of this influence in the post-70 period in which the gospels were written. I basically ignored that my whole career thinking–it is late, "gnostic" and of no historical value. And yes, I think, as Tim commented above, it became impossible to think of the virgin born divine Son of God having sex or leaving "earthly" progeny behind in the post-70 CE period. I also cover this in the book as you know. BTW, see Birger Pearson's recent piece, as you might recall he has taken a stand for years that the "Jesus was married" idea was unlikely: http://jamestabor.com/2012/02/18/was-mary-magdale

    On the names though, if the reading Mariamene with the "nu" is correct–and of course Pfann, Price, and others read it Mariame kai Mara as you know, then we have a rare diminutive spelling as Rahmani originally thought and as Leah DiSegni also agreed, that is only found in two sources in ancient Greek literature (do a TLG search and see if you come up with something I missed)–namely Hippolytus and the Gospel of Philip. I realize if one Googles this spelling, Mariamene it shows up everywhere but that is because Whiston adopted it in his translation of Josephus, but as you likely know, the Greek of Josephus is consistently Mariame–no nu. It is a rare diminutive form, a term of endearment. As I say in the book, what are the chances that the sharp eyed Rahmani would misread an inscription and happen to misread it in a form that only occurs associated with MM? It seems to me very unlikely. So far as the reading goes one can surely make a case for Pfann's reading but keep in mind there is another ossuary, which we have examined by autopsy, and you have to see it first hand really, it is #108 in Rahmani, where the same form of the so-called reversed "kai" occurs, but it clearly can not be a kai but a nu. Take a look.

    I argue that this form of the name, plus the Yose in Aramaic, with only one other example on an ossuary (CIIP 475; CJO 705) and two more examples in Tal Ilan, is exceedingly rare–but is used for Jesus' brother in Mark (see ms. variants in spelling)–even though modified in Matthew to the common full name Joseph.

    That is what we mean by the Ringo and the Yoko. Just that these forms of the common names are exceedingly rare. On the statistics you may or may not have kept up with the latest work that Lutgen, Kilty & Eliot, and others have done, but is clear that many posting on this site have not, see http://jamestabor.com/2012/01/10/keeping-up-with-

    You are surely right about the historical circumstances and that was not the point of the analogy. Simcha was just trying to make the point that common names in a cluster, with unique names added, changes the stats in terms of likelihood of expectation. So far as the historical circumstances, I have argued in my NEA piece that the names in this tomb are precisely what we would have hypothetically predicted for the post-70 CE period–mother Mary, brother Yose, possibly James, etc. as they died most likely before 70CE. I think the analogy is a good one for making the point about a rare name in a "common" cluster. If you take any family of five with four common names–father, mother, three kids–but just one is unusual, the cluster of that particular set becomes rare. I am quite sure there is no James, Lori, Seth, and Eve family in the entire USA but if you use my real legal birth name–okay, here I reveal it–Jimmy–then the chances are about zero, even with 100 million families. It remains the case that of the 1000 or so tombs in the Jerusalem area from this period that have clusters of family/clan names we have a dozen that are provenanced with the name Jesus in Greek or Aramaic, taking in all forms and spellings. For none of these could one even make the argument that the tomb might belong to the Jesus family, as other names like "father of Simonides" or "son of Dositheos" disqualify them. That does not prove Talpiot is the tomb–alone–but it surely makes it a prime candidate. It might be Yeshua the baker but the symbols in the tomb 200 feet away in my mind tip the scales considerably–though even before the stats alone point in that direction.

    Thanks for your comments Mark. I hope you and I can discuss this face to face in the nearer future. It would be great over some late night beers.

  4. James,

    The problems with those statistics abound. First we're not simply talking about the rarity of these names together; such statistics are useless. Rather you have to account for the other 18+ remains found in the tomb, along with the multiple remains found within the ossuaries (one ossuary is reused over and over). So we're not simply talking about six or even ten names in one generation, we're talking about a plethora of names (a large family, and those unrelated) and whether or not those names on the ossuary represent the names of multiple generations and those who are unnamed. So the statistics actually work only when one considers the names (all of which are common) in a large family, extended family, friends of family which might be entombed there (but may be distantly related) and how often we would expect to find these names among those remains. And frankly we find that they are not as exceptional or rare as the documentary or the recent statistics by those you mention make out to be. We should expect to find these names in such a large assortment of remains and frankly we should probably see duplicates of some names (such as more than one Mary, more than one Jesus, etc…). And we cannot account for the plethora of names we don't have from the tomb. So the statistics simply cannot be run based on what you have; or more precisely, they cannot be run in such a way that produces a supportive conclusion for your case.

    • Edson B
    • March 8, 2012

    Kind of funny how the critics have such a hard time with the screamingly obvious: the cluster of names is in fact unusual and it remains a possibility that a tomb with those names at that period in time could have been the Jesus family.

    Not a 100% certainty, but whatever odds you put on it, it is possible. Yet the tone of the scholarly Heathers guild has to frame it as if it is an idea completely beyond the pale to even mention.

    Yet these same people can seriously discuss without the slightest bit of embarrasment and accept as perfectly rational ideas such as that Jesus was never buried because he was resurrected or that he was born to a virgin or that there is a possibility that he was the second member of the godhead. And even those who aren't christians don't have the same vituperation toward scholars who hold such clearly irrational views as they do for Tabor.

    • Gavin Lyall
    • March 8, 2012

    The idea that any names not found in the highly fictionalized gospels serve to invalidate the identification of the tomb is a logical fallacy. Consider this scenario: archeologist uncover what they have good reason to believe are the remains of Prince Vlad Tepesh (whose "official" tomb is empty), alongside those a certain "Marcia". The fact that no Marcia appears in the novel Dracula in no way implies that the real Prince was not the basis for the fictional Count.

    • Edson B
    • March 8, 2012

    Goodacre:

    You say, "The whole case is based on the idea of an extraordinary correlation between the names in the tomb, but here there is an admission that in fact one of the ossuaries “contradicts dramatically nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition”. In a case that requires extraordinary correlation, extraordinary contradiction simply will not do."

    Your paragraph doesn't make a whole lot of grammatical sense, but I gather the point is that the authors must have some extra special type of evidence because the claim is contrary to orthodox faith.

    But what has the fact that the claim contradicts christian tradition have anything to do with correlation? It sounds like you saying that normal rules of evidence do not apply when questioning tradition. That doesn't seem scholarly to me.

    And throwing out the phrase "2000 years of tradition" kind of gives away your bias. You make it sound as if people over the course of 2000 years all had first-hand knowledge of the evidence surrounding Jesus daily life that is being contradicted by Tabor.

    The only people who have any real evidence in the matter died without leaving us much (if anything) to go on. What we have is a bunch of theological writings written by people who almost certainly didn't know Jesus personally. Those writings really don't tell us much about the personal daily life of Jesus or his thoughts and friendships.

    Again, what's your point?

  5. Many thanks for the comments made here, and especially to James for taking

    the time to answer with patience and clarity.

    To those who appear to want to paint me as some kind of crazy Christian

    apologist, a gentle word of advice: please think about spending a little more time reading, researching and reflecting before you write.

    Two general comments. First, my piece is a playful attempt to reflect on the statistical case by developing an analogy that Simcha likes. It is deliberately playful but with a serious purpose. The rather earnest nature of some of the comments does make one wonder if some readers have appreciated the point.

    Second, the line about "2000 years of Christian tradition" is Simcha's and not mine. I am playing with the line because of its use of the idea of dramatic contradiction. It's a way of drawing attention to the difficulty inherent in the statistical case, which requires impressive correlation. Of course I don't think that Christian orthodoxy has anything to do with it except in so far as we are looking at the earliest evidence of the historical Jesus and his family and comparing / contrasting with the names in Talpiot Tomb A.

    Now more seriously to James's points, with thanks also to Tom for his response. Yes, I've kept up with the latest discussions of the statistical case. I think the Kilty-Elliott article is useful but still stresses the uniqueness of the mame "Joses" too much; I responded on my blog on that in January (http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/returning-to-talpiot-tomb.html). One of the difficulties is the apparent interchangeability of Joseph / Joses in the NT texts. On this occasion you go with the spelling in Mark 6.3 (cf. 15.40, 47, which may not be the same person) rather than the spelling in Matthew's parallel, but there are other occasions when you are contented to go with Matthean redaction as evidence as, for example, in the case of the sign of Jonah tradition.

    I've always been puzzled by the stress placed on Mary Magdalene in the discussion of this tomb. I don't think we would expect to find Mary Magdalene in a tomb with Jesus. I wouldn't rule it out, of course, but it is not something we would expect — and that's the issue with the claims about extraordinary correlation. The spelling is interesting but we don't know that it is specially distinctive, in first century traditions, of a cohort of Jesus. The references to Mariamne in Hippolytus and Acts of Philip are to what I would call the generic gnostic Mary, who has aspects of Mary Mag. and Mary of Bethany and even, to some extent, Jesus' mother. And even there, she is not Jesus' wife. In the one later tradition where Mary Magdalene is Jesus' companion (Gospel of Philip), she is not Mariamne.

    Thanks again for the response, James. Appreciate your taking the time to

    engage critically with us all!

  6. Pingback: Round-Up on the Talpiot Patio Tomb (to fish or not to fish – that is the question) « Exploring Our Matrix

    • Justin
    • March 9, 2012

    The problem seems to be the assumption that the ossuary reads "MAPIAMENOI MARA." Yet, when looking at the inscription itself (sans the overlay from the "Jesus Family Tomb" film), it seems that is more accurately read as "MAPIAMH KAI MAPA" or "MAPIAM H KAI MARA" (Mariam who is also Mara) undersandting the eta as a relative pronoun.

  7. Mark, thanks for your comments. I got the humor and loved it! I have read and pondered your point about Yose (not to be confused with Yosi, a common form or nickname in Mishnaic and post-Mishnaic times). I think you miss our point though. Clearly a rare nickname, like say, Jimbo, for James, might be used by a person named James, but 99% of the James would not be called Jimbo. So the fact that Matthew puts Joseph for Jose simply means that he probably does not know the nickname, so does not use it, but choses to put the generic name for clarity. It does not mean the rare nickname is suddenly common, since one can use the common name. My name happens to be Jimmy–yes, I have to admit it. It is much rarer as a birth name than James–very very rare these days, but I have taken up James thinking that "I would put away childish things." Mark knows the rare nickname and uses it and it is also in the tomb–one of only three (Yod, Vav, Samech, Heh) examples in all of our extant prosopography–not just inscriptions but any references, see Tal Ilan (pp. 150-168)–this includes the Talpiot tomb. Even adding in the six representations in Greek, the nickname represents .003 of Jewish male names, while Joseph and its common forms is 8.6%. I have actually found a fourth Aramaic/Hebrew example on a papyri that is not in Tal Ilan. It does not mean this is Jesus' "lost" brother Joseph (we never hear of him past Mark 6:3), but that this nickname seems to be an exceptionally appropriate name for him given the rare use in Mark.

    I will ignore the personal slander of "Chris," whoever he is, since what he says about how we have conducted our work, our academic credentials (I wonder if Rami Arav and our chair of Anthropology at UNC Charlotte also are included here) as well as ALL of his points, are simply reflective of how he has not kept up with even the most minimal of work on the names, the stats, and so forth. Again, I mention, as a basic primer for anyone who wants to be up to speed on these things, please read these links: http://jamestabor.com/2012/01/10/keeping-up-with-…. This takes one about three years past the state of things in the ASOR issue that Andy and the society has graciously opened up for everyone to read free through JSOR. That issue, plus these latest materials, really should be presupposed in our discussions here. I think the best work on the names has been done by Kilty & Elliot and Lutgen's paper is brilliant in pointing out WHY the various studies vary. In fact he even has a table where one can put in their suppositions and see how it changes the math.

    • Paul Regnier
    • March 9, 2012

    Dr Tabor,

    From reading your very interesting article in the 2006 NER, I have two questions on the Jose nickname that I wonder if you could clarify?:

    Firstly – You say Jose is a rare nickname for Joseph. Is that based purely on the amount of times it is found in a written form or do you have some other reasons or evidence for this view? Alternatively, is it possible that Jose is actually a common nickname for Joseph, but that nicknames by their nature are not written down nearly as often as they are spoken?

    A parallel to illustrate my point would be this: An ex of mine is from Brazil, and I spent a lot of time with her family. As it happens, Jose (i.e. the Portuguese form of Joseph) is a very common name in her family – her father and brother were called Jose, as well several uncles and cousins.

    Within the family, my ex's brother is never called Jose, always some kind of nickname – Ze, Zeca, or Zaquinho – all diminutive forms of Jose. However, if a future historian tried to find some kind of written evidence that this family included a Ze this would prove difficult – i.e. his passport, birth certificate, school records etc, would all show him

    as a Jose. There is nothing remotely unusual about this – thousands of Joses up and down Brazil are more commonly known to friends or family as Ze or Zeca.

    Again, our future historian, studying Brazilian grave inscriptions and other historical records could well conclude that names like Ze and Zeca were very uncommon forms of Jose, but this would be completely untrue – it's simply the case that these forms would be less likely to appear in the kinds of sources the historian had access to (for example, I've written the nickname Zaquinho above but I'm not sure if my spelling is correct – precisely because despite using it hundreds of times I've never needed to write it or even seen it written down before!) As such, were our future historian to find the odd Ze or Zeca on e.g. on a gravestone, while it might be unusual, it would not tell us that there was anything special about that particular Ze or Zeca.

    My second question is – did you consider whether the principle of Occam's Razor should be applied to the list of names on the Talpiot ossuaries? i.e. according to the names on the ossuaries, we know about a Joseph who was the father of a Jesus, and a Jose. If we focus on the names on the ossuaries and ignore the New Testament for a moment, given that (rare or not) Jose can be a substiture for Joseph, isn't the most economical solution that we

    have one Joseph here (who was also known as Jose) rather than two?

  8. Thanks for the useful comments, Paul. Rahmani suggested what you suggest here, that the Joses found in the tomb is the same person as the Joseph who is the father of Jesus.

    I appreciate your comments, James, and I would say that the move to focusing on Joses in Elliott and Kilty's article marks a step forward compared to the focus on Mariamene in Jacobovici's and others' earlier work on the ossuary. (I realize that Joses is stressed there too, but too much weight, by comparison, goes on Mariamene). What gives me pause, though, is the interchangeability of the Joseph / Joses thing not only when one compares Mark with Matthew but also when one looks at the text-critical evidence more broadly. The same variation is found in the reference to Mary of James and Joses / Joseph in Mark's and Matthew's Passion Narratives (Mark 15.40, 47; Matt. 27.56). This may or not be the same person, of course. If Mark does intend it to be a different person, then he is witnessing to broader interchangeability. Moreover there are also variants of Joseph / Joses Barnabas (Acts 4.36). My point is that NT texts do not appear to be as convinced as you are about the uniqueness and special appropriateness of the name Joses.

  9. Yose is a common abbreviation for Joseph – about 40 occurrences are known. See my article "The Names on the Ossuaries" in Charles E. Quarles (ed.) Buried Hope or Risen Savior? The Search for the Jesus Tomb (Nashville: B & H, 2008) 69-112. (This is a useful volume of essays that seems not to have got known to people discussing the matter)

  10. More on Yose: I see now that James Tabor and Kilty-Elliott (I presume because he gave them their data) are supposing that there are two different names: Yose(with final he) and Yosi(with final yod). This is a mistake: the latter should be vocalised Yose (long e) (see Jastrow p. 570). They are just variant spellings, using a different vowel letter (he or yod) but pronounced the same. Both are short forms of Joseph. So whereas Kilty-Elliott count only 9 occurrences of Yoseh, they should really be counting about 40 (depending a bit on whether one counts some rather more variant spellings), which would give a considerably higher frequency. (By the way it is not a nickname. A nickname is something like 'Peter' in the case of Simon Peter. Yose is a short form of a given name.)

  11. I think Mark mostly mangled the prefectly good Beatles analogy. But the last line of his post deserves very serious consideration by all sides in the Talpiot debate. He states: "The study of ancient history is more often about coming to terms with the missing pieces than it is about drawing lines between unrelated phenomena." We are all in danger of torturing the data we have until it fits our favorite theory. Even though I am supportive of the idea that the Talpiot tomb should be associated with the family of the biblical Jesus, I would also say that further serious research is warranted in order to clarify the truth in one direction or the other. Hopefully, some of the rational, heavy hitters out there like Mark can get behind a serious research program on this important question.

  12. Thanks for your helpful comments, Richard. Thanks for your comments, Jerry, on the end of the post. I am not sure, though, what you mean about my having "mangled" the analogy?

    • Gavin Lyall
    • March 11, 2012

    Mark, thanks for clarifying the tone of your article. I didn't mean to accuse you personally of overt apologism (that was more about other commentors; I greatly respect your work, e.g. against the "Q" shibboleth) – just of a nearly universal bias: that the Gospels should be treated as anything like primary historical sources – any more than, say, the Illiad or the Popul Vu. As to Jerry's comment, any analogy suffers when taken too far, which is the usually easiest way to make fun of or dismiss it.

  13. Mark,

    I was trying to be too cute. I just didn't agree with your analysis of the Beatles analogy. Perhaps I missed the humour part.

  14. While reading the article, one point was prominent: many of us miss the difference between ancient Jewish names when they occur in written sources and the same names when they occur in funerary inscriptions.

    As a rule, when a Jew died, and he was fortunate enough to have an inscription after him, his formal birth name was a must in the inscription. This is what a rabbinic source tells us regarding names under funerary circumstances:

    ". . .but if his name is Yosef he is to be named Yosef, if Yokhanan he is to be named Yokhanan. . . so his name will not be wiped out of Israel" (Midr. Tanaim to Deuteronomy, 25; 6).

    This is not to say that inscribing nicknames were (or are) forbidden; on the contrary, a certain tomb near Jericho contained an ossuary on which the excavators found the name Yoezer Goliath. Goliath was a nickname, yet the formal birth name was a must.

    The author makes a good point when he presents the fact that the NT calls Jesus' brother both Joses and Joseph. If so, perhaps the "names-rule" actually didn't rule?

    The point is that the names rule pertains only to funerary inscriptions. Different scribes, in different times, could, and did, use different forms that derived from generic Biblical names. It occurred not only in the NT, but in rabbinic literature as well. A striking example recorded two forms of a generic name, related to the same sage, in a single phrase! Thus:

    ירושלמי תענית, פ"ד ה"ד, סח ע"ב: ". . . אמר רבי אחא דרבי יוסה היא דרבי יוסי אמר. . . "

    y. Ta'an. 4;4, 68b: ". . . said R. Akha this (tradition) is R. Yose's since R. Yosey said . . ."

    How can this be explained? Might it support the "nicknames" claim? It does not, since two lines further:

    ". . . אמר רבי אחא דרבי יוסי היא דרבי יוסי אמר. . ."

    ". . . said R. Akha this (tradition) is R. Yosey's since R. Yosey said . . ."

    Clearly R. Akha is referring to the same single sage; assuming he made a mistake is unreasonable. The explanation is that the actual writers (or scribes) had scribal errors. Another explanation is that different writers or scribes had different accents. The other point to bear in mind is: this source is not dealing with funerary circumstances. Thus, just as the Talmudic scribe or scribes made scribal errors, so did the NT scribes. We may assume that during a Jew's life, different people in different situations called him Yosey or Yoseh; but when this Jew died, and happened to have a funerary inscription, his formal birth name has been incised on his ossuary.

    My ability as a statistician is extremely limited to the basics. The following shows it, as it shows the rareness of the form Yoseh. Generally, the Jewish onomasticon preferred the form יוסי (Yosey) by far and large comparing to the form יוסה (Yoseh). The numbers are indicative; Yosey occurs in the rabbinic literature (including the Babylonian Talmud) 31,629 times, while the form Yoseh occurs in the same sources 1232 times; an impressive ratio of almost 130. No doubt, the form Yosey was favorable (I am well aware of the fact that at least a quarter of the occurrences are parallels; yet it touches both forms).

    Another indicative fact is that the form יוסה occurs only once on ossuary: the Talpiot Tomb Yoseh. This occurrence is not a nickname but a formal birth name; Yoseh is mentioned in the NT as Jesus' brother.

    To conclude: the form Yoseh (יוסה) was the rarest among the derivatives of the Biblical Yosef (יוסף), when we look in the written sources. When it comes to funerary inscriptions, there is only one: the Talpiot Tomb Yoseh. The NT mentions one of Jesus' brothers by this name; it also mentions the same person with the other, more common form – Yoseph. When we take Jewish rules into account, we may firmly state: the Talpiot Tomb Yoseh was named so when he was born. It's the rarest form of the generic Biblical Josef (יוסף), and thus highly significant as one of the Talpiot Tomb names.

  15. Richard, I am using "nickname" to mean a common, even shortened form of a name, thus Jim or Jimmy, or even Jimbo (rare like Yoseh) for James, etc. I think you are incorrect about equating Yoseh as written on the Talpiot tomb A ossuary and the more common form Yosi that appears in later times. Using Tal Ilan the facts seem clear to me:

    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/Aramaic 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.

    Here is a chart showing all the variants based on the exhaustive work of Tal Ilan (Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity) from Palestinian sources over a particulary broad chronological range of 330 BCE to 200CE. It shows all the variations of the name Joseph in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin from ossuary as well as other sources with the forms of Yose separated out at the bottom. The tag F refers to a fictitious name, the rest are presumed to be real individuals:

    http://jesusdynasty.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2

    This nickname Jose/Joses in Greek is found in Mark 6:3 as the nickname for Jesus’ brother Joseph. There are two further references at the end of Mark that I also take to be that same brother (Mark 15:40, 47). Luke removes the names of Jesus brothers from his gospel entirely, while Matthew offers the full name “Joseph” in his parallel to Mark (Matthew 13:55; 27:56). However, it is worth noting that in some manuscripts of Matthew the shortened nickname, Jose/Joses remains, whether as a correction based on Mark or just part of an alternative textual tradition.

    In later texts, from the 2nd and 3rd century CE onward, the name Yoseh/Yose in Hebrew does become quite common. It is found in some synagogue inscriptions in Galilee but particularly in rabbinic sources. A comparison of various manuscripts of the Mishnah shows that the form of the name in Hebrew Yosi (Yod, Vav, Samech, Yod) and Yoseh are equivalent, and were pronounced the same–thus we get the English Yose in most translations of these rabbinic sources. The Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishnah (used by Accordance software), which is the best and most reliable, regularly has the form Yoseh where other versions have Yosi, but the vocalization (Nikud) in the manuscript marks both forms with a double-dot or “e” sound, showing one is an alternative spelling of the other, but the pronunciation is the same. At one time I had incorrectly concluded that while the name Yoseh was rare, the nickname Yosi, as it is pronounced in Israel today, was quite common in 2nd Temple times. This is wrong. Yoseh and Yosi are different spelling of the same name, pronounced the same. The spelling ending in the letter Yod never occurs on a single ossuary and is a product of a later literary spelling that became common in some rabbinic manuscripts. This accounts for Tal Ilan’s tally of 29 examples of Yosi–in Kaufmann all of these become Yoseh–spelled with a Heh at the end rather than a Yod.

    What we can conclude about this nickname Yose, found on the Talpiot ossuary and in Greek for Jesus’ brother Joseph in Mark, is that it was really quite rare in 2nd Temple times, in Hebrew or in Greek. Even when it does become more common in much later 3rd century CE sources, such as the Mishnah, the sages with this nickname are almost always mid-late 2nd century CE and beyond. Two exceptions, of course, are the first of the famous “pairs,” namely Yoseh son of Yoezer and Yoseh son of Yochanan (mAbot 1:4; mChagiga 2:2), who lived in the 2nd century BCE! The rest of the Mishnaic Yosehs, such as Yoseh of Galilee, Yoseh son of HaOtef of Efrat, Yoseh son of Meshulam, and Yoseh son of R. Yehuda, are late 2nd to early 3rd century CE figures. Since we have good inscriptional and manuscript evidence for the rareness of this nickname in the time of Jesus, that is before the Destruction, it would be very bad method to project back into the late 1st century CE a usage that only can be verified as “common” in texts dating from the 3rd century CE.

    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 form of the full name, 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 form for Jesus’ brother Joseph, is surely significant evidence. The occurrence of this form of the name can then be combined with the historical data we know about Jesus’ “missing” brother Joseph–since we have not a single reference to him beyond the Gospels, and he does not take over leadership of the Nazarene community after the death of James in 62 CE, though he was 2nd after James by birth, as I argue in my NEA article. I suggest a different method be used for evaluating the hypothetical prosopography of the Talpiot tomb names. I think it is quite important, rather than suggesting all sorts of “possible” folk that this Yoseh might be, to recognize that the one Yoseh we know anything about in the family of Jesus, and one of the few males in the period who bore this nickname, was none other than Jesus’ 2nd brother Joseph.

    Much of the statistical work on the Talpiot cluster of names has been done using the nickname Yoseh as if it was the equivalent to the much more common name Joseph/Yehosef (8.6% of male names), which it plainly is not. All the rhetoric about “these are the most common names of the period,” begins to have much less force if this is taken into account.

  16. James, I'll reply in more detail later. I'm glad you now accept that the name with a he and the name with a yod are the same name. The rabbis naturally standardise the spelling to the Hebrew form. But if you are going to restrict the numbers to the middle part of Ilan's period, then you must do the same with all the other names. Kilty-Elliott take their statistics for the other names simply from the number of occurrences in Ilan's list (i.e. from 300 BCE to 200 CE), as my own statistics did, but subtract merely 9 for Yoseh from Ilan's (my) total for Yosef. This is not comparing like with like.

  17. Richard,

    The spelling on the ossuary is Yoseh and not Yosi. That is the name chosen for the diseased by the family. Why would we include a different spelling of the name from rabbinic literature? Mark uses a rare from of the Greek as James has indicated. Should Yoseh always be considered Joseph in all calculations? We are not convinced. Should Yoseh now always be consider a form of Yosi in all instances? That name is not what is inscribed on the ossuary. The family decided to inscribe the deceased name as Yoseh, and not Joseph, or Yosi. This must count for something. We all need to stop for a moment and recognize the name used by this family in this tomb. At the risk of repeating an old argument just one more time and boring those who follow this dispute, the documentation demonstrates this name Yoseh to be a rare name. For many it seems the name doesn't exist. Now you are contenting we should add all forms of Yosi to our calculations, a name rarely found outside of rabbinic literature. For a number of critics only Joseph is a legitimate name to be used in any computation concerning the Talpiot tomb. Why? Matthew uses Joseph instead Mark's Joses. For these critics there doesn't appear to be any ambiguity or uncertainty. Documentation is ignored and not read. However, by repeating over and over again Yoseh is Joseph and cannot be used as a separate entity in any calculations, it makes it so. Was Mathew acquainted with Jesus' family? Did he know that Jesus' bother was always called Joseph and not Yoseh? Was he familiar with anyone who knew the family? Is Matthew's Joseph to hold priority over Mark's Joses? As with Joseph,Yosi is not inscribed on the ossuary.

    Mark Elliott

    • ARNOLD
    • July 13, 2012

    You are taking the tradition as a proven fact and trying to fit the "archetype" of tradition with the tradition himself.

    i.e. Nero is known as a tyrant by tradition but archeologist and some collateral script are not in agree.

    Remember that in 70 ad the entire Jewish culture was destroyed, no remnants of Essene belief is remained in Judaism, the Hellenized Jews were outcast from the community in Israel during the revolt.

    The hypothesis that the Talpiot graveyard is at the origin of the Christianity and the message is totally invented and rebuilt by Paul (or the pseudo-Paul) later in time is not to be avoided by scholars (as scientist).

    The rest of discussion is a wishful thinking and faith matter (as like creationist do)

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