Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Talpiot Tomb: "The names are common"

In a recent blog post, The Names in the Talpiot “Jesus Tomb” are Not Common: The Latest on Yoseh, James Tabor says that some critics have responded to his case with retort, "The names are common":
The most common response to my hypothesis is the assertion that “The names in this tomb are extremely common.” The implication is that this particular “Jesus,” namely “Yeshua son of Yehosef,” is simply one of many of the time, and he, along with his family members: Yoseh, Mariah, Mariamene/Mara, Matyah, and Yehudah could be any one of dozen of families with names like these. Accordingly, we are told,  there is no good argument that this particular Jesus was our own Jesus of Nazareth.
Tabor goes on:
The names are common. I could not count the times I have heard this–not only from the media but from trusted and well qualified colleagues who should know better–among them Amos Kloner, Tal Ilan, Eric Meyers, Jodi Magness, Bart Ehrman, Mark Goodacre, Stephen Pfann, Chris Rollston, Jonathan Reed, Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, Richard Bauckham–to name a few–all of whom have written or commented widely on the “Talpiot Jesus tomb” thesis. This refrain, repeated endlessly like a mantra, and picked up by hundreds of bloggers, reporters, and media spokespersons, seems to have “won the day” so to speak.
And he adds, "The problem is that this assertion is demonstrably untrue" (emphasis original).  The others mentioned in this paragraph can of course speak for themselves, but I have never used the argument "The names are common"; still less have I repeated it "endlessly like a mantra".

In fact my point is a completely different one, that a case like the one made by Tabor and Jacobovici requires remarkable correlation.  But what we have is a case contaminated by non-matches and contradictory evidence.  I have attempted to explain the point in a variety of ways, including utilizing the Beatles analogy they themselves like to use (The Talpiot Tomb and the Beatles).

Tabor links to a new article by Eldad Kenyon on Bible and Interpretation  that illustrates my point about correlation.  Kenyon begins the article as follows:
Among the Talpiot Tomb A (henceforth - TT) names, one name draws wide scholarly attention: the Aramaic\Hebrew יוסה (Yoseh), which the synoptic gospels tell us is the name of one of the brothers of Jesus. It is for that reason that Yoseh, a Jewish name of the Second Temple Era, has taken on a pivotal role in the debate over the TT. 
But "the synoptic gospels" do not tell us this.  Mark 6.3 speaks of Joses, Matt. 13.55 of Joseph (see further my blog post on the topic).  Now of course we may want to stress that Mark, as the earlier work, is preferable here.  But if we do stress that point, then we must also stress the Marcan forms of other names allegedly paralleled the tomb.  This means jettisoning the always problematic idea that "Mariamēnē" (Hippolytus, Acts of Philip) is a peculiarly appropriate way of referring to Mary Magdalene; instead, we must insist on Mark's "Maria".

The argument is not that "the names are common".  It is that we cannot cherry-pick the data and ignore contradictory evidence if we wish to insist on impressive correlations.

19 comments:

Robert Cargill said...

Mark, well said. Cherry picking evidence (and ignoring contaminating/contradictory evidence) is poor form whether in fundamentalist religious apologetics or archaeology.

James D. Tabor said...

Mark, I must apologize if I grouped you incorrectly with the "names are common" group. I somehow thought you had made that point back in 2006-2007 when this issue first arose. Your argument here is one you and I have touched upon back and forth together on different forums. I think it deserves a better response than comments on this or that blog or internet site. I strongly disagree with your main point here, I think you are mistaken, and I want to respond in kind and will do so soon on my own blog. Thanks as ever for your input.

James D. Tabor said...

Bob, although I am not aware you have made the argument Mark makes here you apparently agree. Respectfully, you are mistaken in this case. So-called "cherry picking" as you define it here, would of course be a weak method for anyone to adopt. I have thoroughly clarified my method in dealing with the names in the Talpiot tomb and there are at least a dozen posts by others, including Bible & Interpretation editor Elliot and his colleague Kilty, dealing with this subject. No one is cherry picking anything. What we are doing is carefully and meticulously gathering the data (Tal Ilan, Cotton, et al.) on ALL known names in the period and correlating things with what records we have. If you have done that and have a different interpretation of the evidence you should present it but your comment here is off point I think.

Richard Fellows said...

Good points, Mark.

It is certainly true that most NT specialist are poor statisticians and that many repeat lines like "the name is common" without checking the facts. I have seen this often. An example is the case of Erastus. Half the commentators say the name is common and the other half say (correctly) that it is rare.

One important question here is how interchangeable were the names Joses and Joseph. Was every Joses also known as Joseph, or were some known only as Joses, and if so, how many? This is part of a larger question about hypocoristic names in general. For example, was every Epaphras also known as Epahroditus? I know of no study on this.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, James, for your comment, which is appreciated. Yes, I've never made the "names are common" argument. My earliest post on the stats, on Feb 28 2007, already makes the point I have subsequently often made, that the problem is with the correlations. John, Paul, George, Martin, Alan and Ziggy made their first appearance back then (http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2007/03/statistical-case-for-identity-of-jesus.html), and I've returned them for reunion concerts a few times since :)

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Richard, for your helpful comments. On Joses / Joseph, we know that at least some first century Christians thought these were variants of the same name, e.g. Matthew + also some variation in the textual tradition of Mark.

Interesting about Erastus.

Mark Goodacre said...

On "cherry-picking", I think that this is what is often taking place. For example, there is an insistence on the Marcan evidence where it is thought to help (Joses) but there is an insistence on much later evidence where it does not help(Mariamne).

david meadows said...

All studies of the ancient world involving statistics in relation to name, life expectancy, etc. which are taken from inscriptions have to be taken with a large grain of salt at all times. There really is no way for us to know whether the 'sample' we are dealing with is representative or not and it's risky to make major arguments based on such evidence.

Geoff Hudson said...

"we know that at least some first century Christians thought these were variants of the same name, e.g. Matthew"

Mark you are no more justified for saying this than I am for saying that Epaphras was Epaphroditus, Nero's secretary, a "faithful servant" of Nero.

Stephen Goranson said...

James, let me quote the first sentence of your post (link above): "I have argued in several published articles that the six names inscribed on ossuaries discovered in 1980 in a 1st century tomb in East Talpiot fit closely what we might expect for a family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth." That "we" does not include me. For one thing, I do not expect that there was a Jesus family tomb in Jerusalem with ossuaries.

Richard Bauckham said...

Earlier in the summer I wrote a 14,000 word study of the name Joseph (Yehosef, Yosef, Yose) in the 2nd Temple period (not yet published). Obviously I cannot even summarize it here. But let me say that there is good evidence that the same person could be called both Yehosef (the usual full form of the name in this period) and Yehose/Yose. The best examples are an ossuary (CIIP 352) (this shows unequivocally that the same person was known by both forms in his lifetime and that both forms were considered appropriate for ossuary inscription) and Rabbi Yose the Priest, one of the 5 disciples of R. Yohanan b. Zakkai. Moreover, the phenomenon is parallel to the cases of other names for which the full and short forms were interchangeable. Thus anyone who appears in our evidence under either the full or the short form of the name could well have been known also by the other. So the short form Yose is to be assessed as part of the general evidence for the popularity of the name Joseph, which was the 2nd most popular name in late 2nd Temple Palestinian Jewish use (only just behind Simon/Simeon). (Incidentally we have quite sufficient names from this period to make such statistics very reliable.)
I also examined the textual evidence for these names in the Gospels, and I think the reading Ἰωση is probably the best in Mark 6:3; 15:40, 47; AND Matt 27:56, though Ἰωσηφ must be original in Matt 13:55.
Unfortunately I'm too busy with urgent things at present to take this discussion further now.

Richard Bauckham said...

Having looked briefly at Eldad Keynan's new article, I need also to make this point: that the Kaufman MS of the Mishna, generally regarded as the best, almost always reads יוסה rather than יוסי. The manuscript evidence for the Tosefta, while complex, also suggests that יוסה is probably often the best reading. The point is simply that יוסה is the Aramaic spelling and יוסי the Hebrew. The scribes knew that they were pronounced the same and tended to prefer the Hebrew spelling, but it looks as though the Palestinian rabbinic literature originally used mostly יוסה.

Jerry Lutgen said...

I think one of the reasons that this idea gets debated so often is because it is really a two part question and folks get mixed up about which part they are talking about. In the first part one has to make a long list of historical assumptions, like "would one expect to find the name Yose in a hyptothetical tomb of Jesus" and "is the name Yose rare in this time period and place". Once your assumptions are specified you can then start asking statistical questions. Here you have to careful about which question you are asking. The way Tabor has framed his question in this blog he is NOT asking whether the Talpiot Tomb is the tomb of Jesus. He is asking a much simpler question: "is the COMBINATION of names that I assume to be in the Talpiot Tomb common". The simple statistical answer to that question is that the combination of names he has specified are not common. It requires another, arguably less straightfoward, step in order to attempt a statistical response to the question, "Is the Talpiot Tomb the tomb of Jesus". BTW, it is not a very big deal to say the combination of names in the Talpiot Tomb is uncommon. In any era and place it does not take a very long list of names in combination to have an uncommon event. A good amount of our modern problems with privacy invasions and identity theft are based on this fact.

Richard Bauckham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Bauckham said...

I'm no statistician but, if all the names as such are common (which is the case), then presumably one could ask two questions: (1) whether the combination actually is common in the evidence we have (of families with several family members) and (2) whether the combination would have been common in the population. In the case of (1), the evidence is limited, because we have far more names of individuals with no relatives or with only one relative than we have of family groups. But if we think of (2), then the more common each of the names was individually, then the more common the combination must have been.

Richard Bauckham said...

By the way, on Richard's question, "was every Epaphras also known as Epahroditus? " we do need more study of this. But Palestinian Jewish practice of name usage is in many ways distinctive (compared with diaspora Jewish as well as with non-Jewish Greek and Roman) and has to be studied in its own right. I've no idea about Epaphras and Epaphroditus, but I'm pretty sure the answer for Jewish Palestine is: every Joseph could have been known as Yose, and every Yose almost certainly would have been known as Joseph on legal documents. An interesting example of usage is king Alexander Jannaeus (as Josephus calls him), also known as king Jonathan. Jannaeus is Yannai (as the rabbis call him), short for Yehonatan. This example shows that short forms were not only used within a limited circle of family and friends. Short forms should not be confused with nicknames, a different though parallel phenomenon.

Richard Bauckham said...

On the statistical point, it's also worth remembering that the very common names - such as Simon, Joseph, Judas, Mariam, Salome - were a lot more common than the most common names in contemporary British or US usage. So to Jerry's point, 'In any era and place it does not take a very long list of names in combination to have an uncommon event,' one has to say that this varies according to era and place, though the point has a very general validity.

eldadk said...

No doubt, there is no Yoseh in the NT; that is: the GREEK NT, and all the NT versions that followed the Greek version. I have no problem to repeat again: the GREEK NT Joses is the Greek form of the Hebrew\Aramaic Yoseh. One might always dismiss this simple fact by assuming that the initial NT parts were written in Greek, of course.

Jerry Lutgen said...

Richard,just to be clear, the combination of names as specified by Tabor as being from the Talpiot Tomb is uncommon by any statistical test I can devise. I have written a short paper on this subject which you can see at: talpiottomb.com/common_names.doc

You will see that there are actually several possible "lesser" combinations of names that one could assume came from the Talpiot Tomb that would still pass this test.

Of course, as rightly pointed out by this blog and comments what you decides about Joses/Joseph matters a lot. Still it is not the only thing that matters. Read the paper to see why.