Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Jesus' family tomb" and the James Ossuary

For my blog posts on this topic, hit the Talpiot Tomb label. This morning I would like to mention a couple of interesting observations made recently on Xtalk. Stephen Goranson (who is here at Duke) notes the speculation that the James Ossuary was originally in the Talpiot Tomb, that it is -- in fact -- the missing tenth box. The hint is there on the Jesus Family Tomb website under New Discoveries: James Ossuary, though it falls short of a full claim:
The documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” presents startling new evidence in the ongoing debate concerning the “James Ossuary.” The James ossuary was found around 1980. “The Jesus Family Tomb” was discovered in 1980.

One of the ten ossuaries went missing from “The Jesus Family Tomb.” Its hastily scribbled, rounded-out dimensions generally match the James ossuary.

And the film documents recent tests conducted at the CSI Suffolk Crime lab in New York which demonstrate that the patina (a chemical film encrustation on the box) from the James ossuary matches the patina from the other ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb. (Emphasis original).
Stephen comments:
James Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty (pp. 31-33) previously raised this as a possible identity.

But Amos Kloner, "A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiot," 'Atiqot 29 (1996) page 17 Table 3 plainly lists that (#10) ossuary as having "No Inscription." If it had no inscription in 1980 how can it be an anciently-inscribed "James" ossuary?
Kloner's article is, helpfully, available on-line on the Discovery web site (PDF) along with the relevant pages from Rahmani's Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries and Shimon Gibson's maps.

Also on Xtalk, John Poirier asks about the issue of the dimensions of the missing ossuary and compares them with the dimensions of the James ossuary:
Another thing that doesn't add up are the dimensions of the ossuaries in
question. As I posted on this list on Oct 8, 2006, Tabor's claim that "the
dimensions of the missing tenth ossuary [from the Talpiot tomb] are precisely
the same, to the centimeter, to those of the James Ossuary" is bogus. *BAR*
lists the dimensions of the James ossuary as 50.5 cm x 25 cm x 30.5 cm, while
the report on the Talpiot tomb published in *Atiqot* 29 (1996) 15-22, lists the
tenth ossuary as measuring 60 cm x 26 cm x 30 cm. Tabor has been aware of this
discrepancy at least since Nov 23, 2006 (when I first heard Tabor's complaint
about a piece I wrote for *Jerusalem Perspective*, in which I cite this along
with several other problems with his theory). He could only continue to hold
his theory after that date, therefore, if he has reason to suspect that the
published report on one of the two ossuaries is in error.
It looks like the sentence quoted above, about "hastily scribbled, rounded-out dimensions" which generally match" the James ossuary are a concession to the disparity in measurements between the two.

At this point it looks highly unlikely that the James ossuary is the missing tenth box from the Talpiot tomb, unless the data we possess requires correction.

More later.


Anonymous said...

All this (tomb) is hurting my faith! I have not been so down, if true, my faith is gone. I hope it is not true.

James F. McGrath said...

First let me respond to the previous comment. On the one hand, if this claim is true (and that is a very big IF), it will undermine any sort of Biblical literalism, but that is a perspective that is hardly tenable anyway, and so that might not be a bad thing. But I suspect that at least some Christians would be quick to point out that the question of what happened to the bones of Jesus is not intrinsically connected to the question of the resurrection. After all, how many people who believe in resurrection today really expect God to take our old bones and stick them back together, and surround them with the molecules from our original muscles, and so on. Unless one thinks that the Romans were indeed able to prevent martyrs from being resurrected by burning them and scattering their ashes, then the question of the empty tomb and the question of the resurrection are quite distinct, and are distinct SORTS of questions (one historical, one theological).

Having said this, I now turn to my question about the translation of the words "e mara" after the name Mariamne. This inscription is supposedly in Greek, but mara is clearly Aramaic. What does the "e" correspond to? Does anyone know if it is an eta or an epsilon? I checked Tabor's book but didn't find any more information. Thanks for any additional info/suggestions!

James F. McGrath said...

I actually found the answer at http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/tomb/explore/media/tomb_evidence.pdf where it has the actual inscriptions. It is not clear that the inscription has been correctly understood as yet - they have Mariamne in the genitive, which seems odd. It is literally (on their interpretation) "of Mariamne the (one also called) Mara". Does anyone have any further paleographical insights?

Anonymous said...

Dr Goodacre,

Please do not wait any longer to post on the statistical argument. A couple of people, including political science student Jay Cost who is trained in applied statistics, have replied (see my blog http://toegodspot.blogspot.com) but so far the response to the statistical argument has not been rigorous. We need your input.