To make a valid statistical argument, you shouldn't start with the names in the tomb you have already , observe that some of them resemble names from the NT, and then conclude, based on statistics, that this exact combination of names is very unlikely and must be the very same individuals. Instead, you need to start with the whole basket of names that we have for Jesus's family (of which Mary Magdalene is not one). This list includes: Jesus, Joseph Sr., Mary, Zacharias, Elizabeth, John, James, Joseph Jr., and Simon. This is 9 individuals. And if you really want to speculate about non-relatives (like Mary Magdalene) named in the Bible who might under some circumstance have been buried in a tomb with them, the list would only lengthen considerably, because objectivity would demand that Mary #2 not be the only name considered. Then it would have to be calculated statistically, based on the known frequency of names and known number of family tombs that would have existed at the time (not merely those we have found), just how many such tombs would have collocations of each permutation of these names. I must believe that a tomb with 10 ossuaries that only contained 3 out of the initial 9 names--3 very common names--along with one outside the 9, cannot be that unlikely.Also in comments, Matt Page writes:
I'm not sure you are quite right about the statistics, your comments have more to do with the way those statistics are taken and interpreted.Not quite. My comments are more to do with the evidentiary basis for the statistics, i.e. the information that was fed to Feuerverger, which I regard as (a) incomplete (Matia and Judas son of Jesus are not neutral data) and (b) misleading (Mariamne Mara is not a name given to Mary Magdalene, or Mary Anyone Else from the Gospels, nor -- if it were -- is anyone in Jesus' family given that name). So my complaint is not about what they did with the statistics but what they did before they had started with the statistics, i.e. the information fed to the statistician, hence my use of the term "cherry picking". Matt continues:
The probability of a certain cluster occurring (Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Joses, James) within a group of 10 is not affected by other names that may or may not also be present. What the filmmakers are trying to say is that this combination alone is so unlikely that this must be the tomb of THE Jesus. The rest really is trying to explain the unusual data within that given frame.I think this accurately conveys what the film-makers are claiming, but it is flawed, not only because there is no James, but also because clustering becomes increasingly less impressive relative to the size of the sample. So it is clearly more likely to get the names in question occurring in a group of seven named ossuaries than it is in a group of three -- and so on. Michael Turton expresses the problem, also in comments, in the following useful way:
the real question is: what are the odds that a tomb with ten ossuaries is going to contain a half dozen names that might be construed as significant in an NT context? In other words, if they had found Joseph, Joses, James, Andrew, and Peter, it would have been just as suggestive. So would Mary, Barabbas, Cleophas, John, and Saul. Or James, Andrew,.... there must be tens of thousands of such combinations -- especially, as Mark points out, if you get to cherry pick your data set.Meanwhile on Deinde, Danny Zacharias suggests that the film-makers are aware of the problem over "Judah son of Jesus" and so suggest that this is the beloved disciple, with some spurious exegesis to get one there.
James Tabor, the scholar most closely associated with the documentary, has a useful post on the Flawed Statistics & Ossuary Names and news of the Ted Koppel show to air on Sunday after the documentary, and featuring James Tabor as well as Darrell Bock, who also mentions it. A quick word about the tone of James Tabor's posts on The Jesus Dynasty Blog: he is setting a high standard for civil and respectful discourse. It is a pleasure to see the non-polemical tone and others could learn from it.
If you are getting a bit fed up of the whole thing, there is some great humour around. Jon Steward on the Daily Show is a must see -- go to The Daily Show website. Thanks to several people who have drawn attention to this, e.g. Joe Weaks on the Macintosh Biblioblog. Or on Paleojudaica, Jim Davila mentions Scott ("Dilbert") Adams' humour on the same issue. And one of my favourite comments in my blog was the person who remarked, "What is the likelihood that Jesus would have named his son Judas, of all names . . . "!
There are several more things I would like to mention. My email inbox is choc-a-bloc. So please be patient. More later.