Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jesus Family Tomb Website: Errors and Inaccuracies

I have spent some time on the Jesus Family Tomb Website over the last week or so while blogging reactions to the documentary that aired this time last week. I've noticed a lot of errors and inaccuracies on the site and I will address some of them here, perhaps in the hope that the site's authors will address some of these errors and inaccuracies. The list is incomplete -- it could be expanded with many more examples -- but I will begin with this representative sample of problems that I have found:
  • Historical Jesus: "It is here [Nazareth], we are told, Jesus grew up. We know nothing more about him until we are told that, at 13, Jesus awed the local rabbis with his wisdom.": Luke 2.42 makes him twelve years old, and it is not "local rabbis" but teachers in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2.46).

  • Theological Jesus: "In fact, the Gospels reveal two genealogies for Jesus, one of his father’s line (the Davidic throne) and one of his mother’s (making him heir to the House of Judah)": both Genealogies (Matt. 1.1-17, Luke 3.23-28) trace Jesus' lineage through Joseph and David and Judah. A similar claim is made on the page on "Matia": Matthew where it is claimed that the idea that Luke's genealogy is Mary's is a "more widely accepted view", which is incorrect. The same claims are made again on The Gospel of Luke page.

  • Maria / Miriam: "Isn’t it at least suggestive that the mother of Jesus has always been called “Maria?” In many surviving apocryphal books, like the Acts of Philip and others, the Virgin Mary was distinguished from Mary Magdalene by this very name": Contrast François Bovon:
    There is evidence that the same person may have received each of the three forms of the name. The mother of Jesus is called Μαριάμ or Μαρία in the New Testament, Μαριάμμη in three passages of the Protevangelium of James . . . . The assignment of names to Mary Magdalene is identical. She is called Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή in Matt. 27.56, Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνή a few verses later in Matt. 27.61; and Μαριάμμη in the Gospel of Mary, Hippolytus Haer. 5.1.7, Origen Cels. 5.62, and, in a Latin form, Priscillian's Apologeticum 1.

    Is there a tendency in the catholica to call Jesus' mother Μαρία and a pattern in nonorthodox communities for referring to Jesus' friend as Μαριάμμη? Probably not. ("Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip," F. Stanley Jones (ed.), Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2003): 75-89: 80).
  • The Historical Mary Magdalene: "The Gospel of Philip is a particularly valuable source of information about Mary Magdalene": the link given on the site is to their page on Acts of Philip, not the Gospel of Philip.

  • The Theological Mariamene: "Astonishingly, Mariamne is the name by which the Magdalene has been known, as found in such non-canonical works as The Acts of Philip. Prominent Harvard scholars Francois Bovon and Karen King point out that not only is Mary Magdalene called “Mariamne” in these texts, Jesus’ mother is called “Maria”—coincidentally the name inscribed on the other “Mary” ossuary": see above (under Maria/Miriam) and note that Bovon in fact thinks that Jesus' mother is not present in the Acts of Philip.

  • "Matia": Matthew: "Furthermore, Matthew, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles, is no relation to Jesus (his father is “Alphaeus”, and his brother is also one of the Twelve)": Matt. 9.9-13 (Call of Matthew) is parallel to Mark 2.13-17 (Call of Levi, Son of Alphaeus) but Matthew is not called "son of Alphaeus", nor is he described as the brother of James, son of Alphaeus who was one of the twelve (Mark 3.18 and par.)

  • Probability: "When a tomb holding ossuaries with the names Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Judah, Yose and Matthew was discovered in 1980 . . .": there is no ossuary with the name "Mary Magdalene". This is seriously misleading. The same page goes on, "So just what is the likelihood that this tomb actually contains the remains of that same Jesus, in addition to his wife, Mary Magdalene, and his son, Judah?" This begs the question.

  • 1st Century Writing: "It is believed that Jesus spoke to Pilate in Greek, and it is indeed likely that Jesus was familiar with Greek since he was trained as a Rabbi. Galilee is believed to have been predominantly Greek-speaking": it is not believed that Jesus spoke to Pilate in Greek; where this is claimed, it is a minority view; so too the idea that "Jesus was familiar with Greek". The statement that "Galilee is believed to have been predominantly Greek-speaking" is an error. Those few who think that Greek was spoken in Galilee argue that it was used alongside Aramaic.

  • Historical Precedents: St Peter: "Peter did in fact carry on Jesus’ teachings. According to the Gospel of Luke, Peter was even able to perform miracles and healings": Presumably, Acts of the Apostles is meant here. The same page refers to "discpiles". It goes on, "However, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was later arrested by King Herod and eventually persecuted by the Romans": the first part of this is correct (Acts 12.1-4) but the latter part is incorrect, though vague. The same page goes on, "Scientists and archeologists later confirmed that this bone box did indeed belong to the same Simon, son of Jonah, whom Christ had renamed Peter": the identification has not been "confirmed".

  • Nazareth: "Some sources say that they could have also been stone masons who worked in the nearby town Sepphoris": there are no sources that say this, though there may be secondary literature that speculates that this is the case. The same page says that after moving to Capernaum, "He returned to Nazareth twice and preached in the synagogue but the townspeople were so outraged by his teachings, they tried to throw him off a cliff." He only returns to Nazareth "twice" if one does not read Luke 4.16-30 as parallel with Mark 6.1-6. The same page goes on, "The people angrily demanded miracles as were done in Capernaum and Bethsaida": Luke 4.23 only mentions Capernaum. The same page goes on, "Needless to say, Jesus did not return to Nazareth": we do not know that.

  • Gospel of Mary: "In December 1945, a collection of Christian Gnostic writings said to be dating as far back as the 2nd century AC were discovered near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt": AD?

  • Gospel of Mary: "Recent controversy has surrounded the role of Mary Magdalene as wife and companion of the historical Jesus. Some scholars believe that remaining by the side of the crucifixion confirms the role of a wife and widow, while others believe that the washing of feet represents an old marriage ritual. Others contest that the Bible never explicitly states that Mary was a prostitute, and that indeed she comes from a royal bloodline that would make for an ideal marriage between Mary and Jesus": I don't know of any scholars who think that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' "wife and companion", or that "the washing of feet represents an old marriage ritual". The latter is not connected with Mary Magdalene in any Gospel (Luke 7.36-50, anonymous; John 12.1-11, Mary of Bethany). It is inaccurate to say "Others contest that the Bible never explicitly states that Mary was a prostitute". It is a fact that she is never called a prostitute. The "royal bloodline" comment here takes us even further into Da Vinci Code territory.

  • Gospel of Thomas: "It has been suggested that the Gospel of Thomas has been suppressed by Christian authorities due to the status allotted to Mary of Magadala (sic) as master. Others believe that the Gospel of Thomas has been suppressed because it reveals the Gospel of Jesus' son, Judah Thomas, whose identity has remained under debate": both statements are false. The Gospel of Thomas was not suppressed "due to the status allotted to Mary of Magadala (sic) as master", not least since the text does not even say that. No one thinks that Thomas was suppressed because "it reveals the Gospel of Jesus' son, Judah Thomas". This is nonsense.

  • The Gospels Nazarene: The Gospel of the Holy Twelve: This page is, I am afraid, nonsense from beginning to end, so I quote it in full:
    The Gospel of the Nazarenes or the Gospel of the Holy Twelve is considered to be the original Gospel or one of the first complete written manuscripts of the original word of Jesus.

    The term "Nazarene" is used by some to refer to early Jewish followers of Christianity in connection with the ancient Essene sect of Judaism which Jesus is often associated with. The original Gospels of Nazarene are said to have been written by St. John, who passed the manuscript along to a trusted friend in 70 AD following his arrest.

    In the nineteenth century, the Gospel of the Holy Twelve was rediscovered by a friar. However, since its exposure to Church Authorities in Rome, it has remained hidden in the Vatican archive, which some say is due to newly discovered content that would discredit the Church and the Council of Nicea.
    There is no reliable historical information contained on this page.

  • The Essene Gospels of Peace: the information on this page concerns something of no ancient historical value whatsoever:
    In 1937, the first English translation of the Gospels of Peace appeared, following a 1928 translation of the ancient manuscript. The Gospels of Peace represent one ancient manuscript discovered in the Secret Archives of the Vatican.

    In these Gospels, Jesus is identified as a part of the Essene or Nazarite community of an ancient Jewish sect, whose early followers of Christianity are often attributed authorship of early writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    As with the previous example, this kind of material has no part to play in any serious discussion of ancient Christian Gospels.

  • The Book of Jonah: It is not clear what this is doing in a list of "New Testament Apocryphal Texts", nor why it is thought to be important to studies of this tomb. I do not know what is meant by the second half of this sentence:
    Writings such as the Book of Jonah have interested biblical scholars and those considering the Jesus tomb, since the inclusion of the text in historical writings has proved inconsistent.
    The rest of the page also looks confused.

  • Ebionites: this page overall needs revisiting, but a couple of particular oddities are:
    It does seem clear, however, that this Judeo-Christian sect did officially break from its supposed predecessors after the second century B.C.E. Religious scholars assert that this was partly a product of Christianity’s growing rupture from Judaism, resulting in the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to separate the two.
    The Roman Catholic Church? See too:
    Indeed, according to the Romans the Ebionites were heretics who rejected Paul, as well as Jesus’ divinity, including his "virgin birth."
    There is clearly some confusion here too.


JD Walters said...

At long last, someone points out something which was the elephant in the room during the Ted Koppel critical panel. In our earliest sources for Mary Magdalene, i.e. the four Gospels, she is NOT called anything like Mariamme or Mariamne. She is called Maria or Mariam, EXACTLY the same word used for Mary the mother of Jesus and the other Gospel Marys. Now in tracking down Mary Magdalene's 'real' name, why should we trust later sources (i.e. Acts of Philip) over our earliest ones?

Geoff Hudson said...

The link to Gospel of Philip may be wrong but the links to Buy the Book and Buy the DVD work fine, and each link appears twice on the page.

The Website seems more concerned with Mammon that Mariamne.

Iohannes Michahel said...

Basically, they are arguing "Because later sources, Origen and the Acts of Philip use variant spellings of "Mariam" related (ex hypothesi in the case of the Acts) to the Magdalene, the 1st century inscription must also refer to the Magdalene."

Hasn't anyone pointed out that "before this, therefore because of this" is an argument fit only for use in Bedlam?

M.W.Grondin said...

This just in: Stephen Pfann identifies the inscription as 'Mariame and Mara', i.e., Mary and Martha. Yet, oddly, he concludes that "... there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary ... to Mary Magdalene or any other person in Biblical, non-Biblical or church tradition." Doesn't know his NT very well, I guess.

yuckabuck said...

Under "1st century writing", you quote the website as saying, "Jesus was familiar with Greek since he was trained as a Rabbi."

What about "trained as a rabbi?" That seems like quite an assertion as well.

Keep up the good work!

Michael Barber said...

This was a great post--thanks.

James Snapp, Jr. said...

The errors at the "Jesus Family Tomb" website are legion, but perhaps one of the most flagrant is found on the "Inscriptions" page -- -- where we find the following statement:

"Ossuary 80/509 disappeared before it could be checked for inscriptions and decorations."

This statement collides with Joe Zias' clear and explicit statements about this ossuary. There is no basis for this statement in Rahmani's catalogue, or in anything that Kloner has said.