Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Returning once again to the names in the Talpiot Tomb

In an essay in Bible and Interpretation, On Yoseh, Yosi, Joseph, and Judas son of Jesus in Talpiot, Kevin Kilty and Mark Elliott respond to critics of the statistical case for the identification of the Talpiot Tomb with the family of Jesus of Nazareth.  They respond in particular to comments made in criticism by John Poirier, Richard Bauckham and me.  I will respond here to the points they make on my blog post.

First, a minor comment on a shorthand that they use.  They speak of critics of Simcha Jacobovici's theory as "critics of Talpiot"; and they speak of my "argument against the Talpiot tomb".  However, I am not a critic of the tomb.  On the contrary, I am fascinated by it.  I am a critic of the theory that connects this particular tomb with Jesus of Nazareth and his family on the basis of a alleged name correlations.

But the issue at hand relates to two of the names found in the Talpiot Tomb, what is now known as Talpiot Tomb A in order to contrast with Talpiot Tomb B next door.  Talpiot Tomb A has the names in it, "the Jesus family tomb", and Talpiot Tomb B is the one recently explored by means of the robotic arm and which Jacobovici and Tabor think is the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and the early disciples of Jesus.

The two names that Kilty and Elliott discuss are Yoseh (Joses) and Judas son of Jesus.  The statistical case benefits from the treatment of Yoseh as a rare name and from not regarding Judas son of Jesus as contradictory evidence, points that I pressed in a blog post earlier this year entitled Returning to the Talpiot Tomb.  I noted that:
The difficulty . . . is that the names Joses and Joseph are clearly regarded as similar or the same in the New Testament. Mark 6.3 calls Jesus' brother "Joses" while the parallel in Matt. 13.55 calls him "Joseph".  Matthew clearly regards Joseph as an alternative, preferable way of saying "Joses".  Likewise, the character who appears in Mark 15.40 and 15.47 is called Joses in Mark and Joseph the Matthean parallel (Matt. 27.56).  Moreover, the fact that this character may be a different character than the brother of Jesus also witnesses against the alleged extraordinary nature of the name. The same Joseph / Joses variation is found in the texts too, and not just here in Matthew but also in Acts 4.36, Joses / Joseph Barnabas.
Kilty and Elliott's response misunderstands or misreads the point.  They characterize my argument in this way:
Mark Goodacre argues that Matthew uses the name Joseph for Jesus' brother (Matt. 13.55 and Matt. 27.56) and should take priority over Mark's Joses (6:3) for this same brother.
I do not argue that the name Joseph "should take priority".  I argue that the names Joseph and Joses are interchangeable in the NT, both synoptically and text-critically.  They write that "we don't agree that Matthew's Joseph should take priority over Mark's Joses".  Nor do I.

Kilty and Elliott go on:
So does Matthew have any insight on the name Joses? What information did Matthew have concerning Jesus' brother? Did he know anyone from Jesus' family? What evidence exists that Joses was ever called Joseph?
Arguing for Matthew's ignorance of Jesus' family is, however, a risky strategy.  If we were to marginalize Matthew's witness, then we would marginalize also the information that he provides that is absent in Mark, that Jesus' father was named Joseph (Matt. 1.16, 18, 19, 20, 24; 2.13, 14, 19, 21), something that is key to the Talpiot tomb statistical argument.

The discussion of the variant in Acts 4.36 is similar.  I am attempting to point to the fact that it is not only the evangelists who regarded Joseph and Joses as interchangeable, but also certain scribes.  It is not the case that I am calling for "viewing Joseph as the only legitimate name to be used in any calculation concerning the Talpiot tomb"; I am pointing to the importance of including the interchangeability in the calculations.

Moreover, I do not think it unreasonable to suggest taking the evidence from the first century Gospel of Matthew seriously when Simcha Jacobovici asks us to take seriously the fourth century Acts of Philip.  To their credit, Kilty and Elliott steer clear of this.

Now, I had also repeated something I had often said before and recently said again, that one of the difficulties with the identification between the Talpiot Tomb and the family of Jesus of Nazareth is the name Judas son of Jesus.  In order to make the case, they require extraordinary correlation but what we have here is an extraordinary contradiction.

It is no answer to this point to enter into general discussions about Jesus' celibacy or to say that Jesus may have been married in spite of the silence of our sources.  The point is, let us remember, that the case is based on allegations of amazing correlation.  There is no other basis for the case.  So contradictory evidence simply has to be taken seriously.

I don't know of a fresh way of saying this, so I will simply restate the point by means of the analogy that Simcha Jacobovici and others so like, the Beatles analogy.  When our future researchers find a tomb in Liverpool that includes "Ziggy, son of John", we do not say, "Aha!  John Lennon must have had a son called Ziggy that we have never previously heard about!"  No, we say, "Oh, it does not look like it is the tomb of the Beatles, after all.  Those sources that said that he was cremated in New York must be right after all."

There is some nonsense at the end of Kilty's and Elliott's essay about "biblical literalism" that I will ignore except to point out that the comment that I repeated about the unlikelihood of Jesus naming his son Judas was so obviously facetious that I am amazed that anyone would take it seriously.


Jason A. Staples said...

The thing about the "Judas son of Jesus" datum is that there's no good explanation for why the earliest Christians would have concealed that Jesus had been married or had a son. And if he'd had a son who outlived him, the silence about the presence of such a figure in Paul and the other first-century sources we have would be rather puzzling.

AKMA said...

'It's an amazing correlation — so long as you disregard any contradictory evidence!'

Sili said...

It's pretty rich to hear people, who argue that the Bible is to be taken literally on all aspects of the names of Jesu family, accuse others of literalism.

Perhaps they should start by showing that there were actually anyone who could leave remains in the first place.

To stretch the analogy: before they declare this to be the tomb of Micky, Michael, Peter and Davy, they should show that The Monkees were not a constructed boyband.

Or even better, Murdoc, Noodle, Russel and Tusspot.

Geoff Hudson said...

There is little or no hope for them.

Eliyahu said...

@Jason A. Staples,
You are missing that there are no 1st century sources and the earliest Church built it's foundation on celibacy of it's pope, that is why they would conceal the Jewish Ribi Yehoshua's marriage.

If you don't rely on the Torah requirement that it is a commandment to try and have children then it certainly "...is no answer to this point..." Have you missed your fellow scholars research that the man was a Jew and not a Christian? Jewish tomb, right?

Mark Goodacre said...

It does not matter how hard one tries to make this a question about marriage and celibacy in the abstract but it doesn't wash. The specific point remains the same: that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim about statistical correlation requires actual correlation and not imagined ones about a son we have never heard of before. People can keep on trying to make this a generalized point about marriage and celibacy and I will continue to draw attention to the requirements of an argument about extraordinary statistical correlation.

Jason A. Staples said...

@Eliyahu Peter, who Catholics consider to have been the first Pope, was married.

Regardless, in order to make the claim that Jesus had a wife and children, you have to make a claim that the early Christians (despite their diversity) were involved in an organized cover-up of those facts, which we are only now able to recover after twenty centuries.

As Mark has demonstrated, to make this argument you have to depend on the very sources that you are simultaneously accusing of participating in the cover-up. So the extraordinary claims about the names in Talpiot Tomb A simultaneously select names of Jesus' family from the canonical gospels while ignoring anything that doesn't help the case.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Simcha et al. also rely heavily on Matthew for the Jonah connection to Jesus and the resurrection (Matt 12:40, not in Luke).

Mark Goodacre said...

Right, yes, good point. I've tried to make that point in the past -- they will use Matthean redactional passages where it suits the case being made. Indeed at first they did not acknowledge that the sign of Jonah as a resurrection sign only occurs in Matthew.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

It's a good point I got from you, and I thought it needed repeating in this context.

Eliyahu said...

Why do you say extraordinary claim? What was the norm for a 1st century Jewish man? To be married or not? Wasn't it based upon a precept from Bereshit hundreds of years before? For crying out loud it is still a norm today. Why is it extraordinary to assume the norm? Why is it assumed from no data in the NT that Ribi Yehoshua was not married? What is your source that he wasn't married? You have no primary sources to assume he wasn't married! But the norm of a Jewish man being married is extraordinary?

In logic, you assume the norm and need proof to reject the norm.

Those that say the names are consistent are not saying they are certain they are from the family of Yeshua bar Yoseph the 1st century Torah observant Jewish man.

It just incredibly fits the norm.

Watch and see if there is enough bone fragments left for DNA paternity.

A logical analysis of the facts can be found here:


Paul Regnier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Regnier said...


The extraordinary claim is not that Jesus was married - that Jesus was married is historically possible, there's just no evidence whatever to suggest that he was. The extraordinary claim refered to is that this particular Jesus, buried in the Talpiot tomb, who has a father called Joseph *and a son called Judas* is the same person as Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus *might* have had a son called Judas of course (though it's odd that no Christian writer ever thought to mention it). However, if you are right that the norm at the time would have been for Jewish men to have married and started a family, then you must follow through with the implications of this: there must have been dozens, and quite possibly several hundreds, of first century Jews named Jesus who had fathers called Joseph who equally *might* have had a son called Judas. Why should we think that the Talpiot tomb belongs to Jesus of Nazareth rather than some other Jesus?

There is simply no evidence that Jesus was married, or had children, or more specifically that he had a son named Judas. As mentioned above, you can't draw attention to matches with the NT record and ignore non-matches. Focusing on a piece of data that does fit a theory and ignoring the pieces of evidence that do not fit has a name - it's called the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.

Brian Springer said...

And to add to what has been said before, Judaism at the time allowed celibacy for devotional reasons. It may have been the norm for men to married but it wasn't required that they do and it is perfectly acceptable to think that Jesus as the marginal and eschatological prophet believed that his celibacy was justified because he was doing God a greater service by devoting himself entirely to him. As for the possibility of Jesus marrying before he met John the Baptist, it is a possibility and I won't discount it but I wish to ask those knowledgeable, at what age did men typically marry? I know that in some surrounding cultures men usually married later in life, usually after they had some means for raising a family.

J. Phillip Arnold, Ph.D. said...

The statistical probability of the names in Talpiot being the same names as in the Jesus family decreases greatly if we use only our earliest sources for the names of Jesus family--Paul's letters. He writes by name of no Mary, no Joseph, no Martha, no other brother than James. The only names that we have evidence in Paul that he identifies as belonging to the Jesus Family are James and Jesus.

The traditional names of Jesus family, such as Mary and Joseph, come from the gospels written years later. A critical view of these later sources could argue that in order to portray Jesus as a new Moses or Deliverer, traditional Jewish names such as Joseph and Mary were created for his family origins, as well as "messianic genealogies" replete with specific names in that tradition. Also, Anna and Simeon come to mind as examples of such possible creativity on Luke's part.

In this way, the collection of names at Talpiot would actually indicate that a reservoir of traditional names circulated widely in the culture that would be available to the gospel writers as they sought to locate Jesus among the heroic families of Israel. Such cultural sources as Talpiot begat the nomenclature drawn on by the gospel writers.

If we don't know the actual names of Jesus family members, except for James, no statistical study to determine the likelihood of the Talpiot dead being members of the Jesus Family would have merit.

Phil Arnold

Daniel said...

I am stunned that this year, two people took the information and disinformation put out in 2007 and cobbled it together into an article. The fact that they come to an erroneous conclusion is not surprising. Why? Because the information itself is so faulty. If I went to a junkyard and managed to get a wrecked car with only three wheels running again, who would be surprised if I had another wreck coming out of the junkyard?

Regardless, good of you to read the article and comment on it, Dr. Goodacre. The efforts of you and others in the academic community have managed to keep at least a shred of dignity for the academy in the face of these repeated challenges.