Tuesday, May 15, 2007

New article on the Talpiot Tomb

Over on Deinde, Danny Zacharias draws attention to this new article on the Biblical Archaeology Society website:

The Tomb of Jesus? Wrong on Every Count
By Craig Evans and Steven Feldman

It's a useful and clearly written piece and is a good summary of the issues. Moreover, it avoids polemic. I have one or two minor comments. First, a typo: "Mary Magdalene is healed by Jesus in Luke 8:8" should be Luke 8.2. Second, the article speaks of "Bovon’s theory that the Mariamne in the Acts of Philip was meant to be Mary Magdalene" and it argues against the identification by noting that Mariamne, in this text, is sister to Martha. But Bovon's view is more nuanced than it is presented here; I will quote a short section from an earlier post:
Surprisingly, in the light of the Discovery programme's claims, he does not make a sole identification of the Mariamne character in the Acts of Philip with Mary Magdalene. Although he says "The woman, it is my contention, is Mary Magdalene" (80), he also recognises that this literary character also has traits of Mary of Bethany. Most explicitly, note his remark:
"The text presupposes that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are the same person." (82, n.33).
The article also comments that "Bovon has recently stated that he does not think Mariamne is the real name of the historical Mary Magdalene". This is correct; see his short piece, The Tomb of Jesus, over on the SBL Forum. But it needs to be noted that it is not just "recently"; he had already made clear in the original article that he was uninterested in that context in the historical Mary Magdalene (see my earlier post).

A further query. Evans and Feldman say that "Some epigraphers think the Greek inscription on the ossuary actually reads 'Mariamne and Mara.'" This may well be true, though the most widely publicized revised reading was that of Stephen Pfann who reads the inscription as Mariame (no n) and Mara.

There is one fresh argument, or an argument that is fresh to me, which I found interesting:
The filmmakers also misunderstand another of the names found in the Talpiot tomb. The name YWSH should be pronounced “Yosah” (as Professor Tal Ilan in fact does in the documentary), not “Yoseh,” as the documentary consistently does. “Yosah” is not the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek form Joses, the name of Jesus’ brother (as in Mark 6:3 and elsewhere). The Hebrew equivalent is YWSY (and is found on a number of ossuaries in Greek and in Hebrew). The documentary’s discussion of this name is very misleading.
It may be that I have just missed earlier discussions of this point, but I would be interested to hear further discussion.

My only criticism of the article is that it does not directly engage the statistical case which is at the basis of the film-makers' claims, but I suppose one cannot cover every facet of the discussion on every occasion.


Ezekiel Preston said...

Thanks for highlighting Dr. Evans' article. Just a slight comment on the statistical case. A statistician's ability to calculate probabilities is highly dependent on the factors involved in the calculation. Unfortunately, the historical application of Mary Magdalene and other factors involved in the documentary's equation is highly suspect, making the results far from valid.

Stephen Pfann said...

A cautionary note on YWSH/YWSY point. Once we assess the sources, only YWSH can be attributed to the late Second Temple period Judea and the Galilee (and which is basically true for the late Roman period as well). The only evidence for the pronunciation of vowels that comes from that period is from Greek forms of the name. There we only have "Iose/Ioses" and not "Iosah".
Although this published claim is weak, we can, on the other hand, challenge the assertion of the filmmakers that this name is so rare. What comes down to us is in Greek. The Markan passage is unique with respect to providing this shortened Greek name for Jesus’ brother. However, in Greek inscriptions, the shortened form "Iose/Ioses" is more popular than "Iosepos".
(for a more detailed, annotated treatment of this name see: http://www.uhl.ac/blog/)