Friday, March 30, 2007

Today on Talpiot

In The Aramaic Blog, Steve Caruso has an update on the reading of the "Jesus, son of Joseph" inscription on one of the ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb:

The Jesus Son of Joseph Inscription Part 2


The Jesus Son of Joseph Inscription Part 3

These posts are follow-ups to The Jesus Son of Joseph Inscription, mentioned here last week, Talpiot Tomb: Does it say Jesus?. Ed Cook commented on that post, and I added the comments in an update to the main post, and Steve Carruso now responds directly to those comments. As before, Steve has some useful illustrations.

Also this morning, Steve Goranson draws attention to a review of The Jesus Family Tomb by Joseph Fitzmyer, in America: The National Catholic Weekly:

Together at Last?
Joseph Fitzmyer

Fitzmyer focuses mainly on difficulties over the alleged MARIAMHNOU H MARA reading, and draws attention to issues also discussed here, especially in relation to Jacobovici's identification this character with Mary Magdalene on the basis of the Acts of Philip (Mariamne, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany and related posts).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

SBL / Logos Technology Paper Awards deadline fast approaching

Michael Heiser emails to ask that I (and other bloggers) post a reminder about the SBL / Logos Technology Paper Awards. The deadline of 1 May 2007 is fast approaching. Details are available here:

Logos Bible Software and Society of Biblical Literature Technology Paper Awards

The link explains the awards as follows, and provides all the other relevant information:
Logos Bible Software and the Society of Biblical Literature announce two sets of awards for papers that creatively use technology in exploring questions of grammar and syntax in biblical studies: one focusing on the Hebrew Bible, the other on the Greek New Testament. The contests are open to all those engaged in the study of those disciplines, and prizes will be awarded in both areas for student and faculty/professional categories. A total of twelve awards will be given.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In Defence of Wikipedia Response

I have enjoyed the responses to my post In Defence of Wikipedia. Jim West says that he has disdain for Wikipedia, "Disdain because Wiki are “edit-able” by any Tom, Dick, or Harry who may, or may not, know what the devil they are talking about." This confirms my analogy with what many academics were saying about the internet in general a decade ago. The same thing was often said, that any Tom, Dick or Harry can put up their own website. Was the answer to discourage students from using "the internet"? Well, that was exactly the response that many engaged in at the time, but there is now a broad consensus that that was wrong, and that the answer in fact is to point students in the right direction on the internet, and to encourage them to engage critically and to assess the sites they are using in the light of their other reading. The same is becoming true, and will continue to become true with Wikipedia. We can disdain it all we like, but the fact is that it is here to stay, and it is only going to get bigger and better. We may as well get involved if we want to have a stake in the future. And let me throw in another analogy. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can start up a blog. Why should we get involved with the blogosphere when it is clearly so full of dilettantes?

Here's my challenge for Jim, which will help us to test the academic value of Wikipedia. I suggest that he goes to the Wikipedia article on Zwingli, find all the errors and correct them, add any additional important information, and then monitor it over the next twelve months to see whether any Tom, Dick or Harry comes in and spoils his work, and, if so, how straightforward it will be to make further adjustments.

In comments, an anonymous student says that s/he has lost marks by using Wikipedia, something that also confirms my point, which is that academics should encourage their students to engage critically with Wikipedia and not to rely on it indiscriminately. Similarly, Billy V in comments says that "I will not allow wikipedia as a legitimate source; I will however encourage students to go there as an introduction and as a gateway to other material." I am not keen on the term "source" in this kind of context. Wikipedia is a resource, not a source, and as such I encourage students to engage with it critically in the light of their other reading, and especially their reading of primary source material.

Another anonymous commenter (please sign comments) criticizes my use of the term "fear", and I think that's legitimate and, to be honest, I was using it to generate a reaction. But if the Middlebury decision to ban it "was driven by the fact that faculty members were annoyed at student research laziness", then I can think of much better ways of dealing with the latter. The problem here is not Wikipedia but student research skills. Judy Redman's comments essentially agree with the kind of critical engagement model I am suggesting, adding that "The exercise of validating data would be useful."

In Defence of Wikipedia

It is becoming fashionable among academics these days to have a go at Wikipedia. This is inevitable for a variety of reasons. Academics are often behind their students in the use of new technology, and this brings about a reaction of fear. We witnessed the same thing with the advent of the world wide web in the 90s and now that fears about the academic value of internet resources has diminished, a new, narrower target has been found. It is an easy target because its open source basis makes it often apparently "unreliable". The presence of errors, curious slants and incomplete information have confirmed many academics' instinctive disapproval of the resource.

Negative reactions to the use of Wikipedia in the classroom, however, are unnecessary and should be discouraged:

(1) Fear of Wikipedia will eventually catch up on critical academics in the same way that fear of "the internet" caught up with academics who were complaining about it ten years ago. It is still recent history that some academics were forbidding students to access any internet resources in the writing of their papers. I well remember regular disparaging remarks about "the internet" taken as a whole. It is now easy for us to see that it was absurd to discourage students to use the internet and instead the way forward was (and is) to guide and interact with our students in their use of internet resources, not least given the sheer number of academic articles that are available on-line. In due course, broadsides against Wikipedia may look as absurd as broadsides against "the internet" now look.

(2) One of the strengths of Wikipedia is that it is much more up-to-date than its print counterparts. Regularly, almost always, students will find much fresher material in Wikipedia than they will in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It is also, of course, becoming ever more comprehensive.

(3) I like the fact that Wikipedia often acts as a gateway and points beyond itself. Its encouragement to all its writers to source their statements sometimes makes it more rigorous than print counterparts, which find it easier to get away with value judgements and even sleights of hand. The multi-author, multi-reader interaction that is at the heart of the whole idea of Wikipedia also helps a great deal in assuring less jaundiced viewpoints and more balance.

(4) Using Wikipedia is risky. That's often taken as a negative ("How can I rely on information found here?") rather than a positive ("How shall I assess the material I find here?"). Criticisms of Wikipedia often proceed from an inadequate model of the educational process, a kind of text book culture in which people find themselves lazily reliant on a limited number of supposedly reliable text books. The sooner that students realize that their text books too should be questioned, the sooner they will begin to learn effectively. This is especially important in the humanities, and nowhere more so than in teaching Religion, where the last thing one wants is narrow reliance on a limited number of viewpoints. It is surely essential for students to embrace the riskiness and uncertainty of our knowledge base in the area, and to avoid the reactionary and lazy temptation to close down the scope of secondary resources consulted.

(5) It is useful, in my experience, to engage with students' use of new technology and resources and not to find oneself lagging behind them. Ideally, it is good to know more than your students do about resources in your own area. Rather than making broad attacks against Wikipedia, therefore, it is far preferable to familiarize yourself with what Wikipedia has to offer in your own area and then you can recommend the best articles in Wikipedia on your area to your students. This is very straightforward to achieve. You know your own area far better than your students know it and it does not take long to assess key articles which you might want to recommend to them.

(6) Where Wikipedia falls short, think about flagging up the offending article for working on yourself or, still better, encourage your students themselves to work on the offending article and engage with them in their updating of it. They will love being involved in this kind of process and it is difficult to imagine any more useful way of getting your students thinking through the necessary issues connected with writing a good encyclopaedia article on the subject. It is a great shame that so many academics have taken the route of criticizing the existing provision rather than attempting to improve it. Do we just sit around and complain about all the existing books and articles that don't do just what we want to do, or do we try to write new ones?

I am not alone, I am happy to say, in this backlash against the negative take on Wikipedia. Last week (H.T.: Gypsy Scholar), this article appeared in the New Republic:

Wikipedia is good for academia
Source Wars
by Eric Rauchway

The article begins with reference to the decision at the History Department at Middlebury College which last month banned students' citation of Wikipedia. The Stoa Consortium (e.g. Middlebury Wikigate Revisited and Wikipedia editing as a teaching tool) has been weighing in and Cathy Davidson, from the English department here at Duke, wrote an excellent op-ed on the issue in The Chronicle last week, reproduced at Hastac:

We Can't Ignore the Influence of Digital Technologies
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 53, Issue 29, Page B20

May the backlash continue!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Talpiot Tomb Various

There are several additional things that are worth mentioning on the Talpiot tomb story from recent days. Randy Ingermanson has uploaded a clear, detailed investigation of the statistics and the tomb, co-written with Jay Cost. Some will remember his earlier piece, Statistics and the "Jesus Family Tomb". This piece builds on that one and takes it to a whole new level of thought and detail, though with the same conclusion, that the odds are strongly against this being Jesus of Nazareth's tomb. One particularly useful factor in the piece is the assigning of "Jesus factor", "Not Jesus factor" and "neutral factor" to the evidence, the kind of ground work I was attempting to do, in my ham-fisted way, with talk of "matches" and "non matches" and the difficulty of the latter not having been factored in to the documentary's thinking (The Statistical Case for the Identity of the "Jesus Family Tomb"). The new article is found here:

Bayes' Theorem and "The Jesus Family Tomb"

I have been lucky to be able to listen to the experts talking about the statistics in an email discussion initiated by James Tabor and featuring Randy Ingermanson, Jay Costs, Joe D'Mello and others.

Meanwhile, Robert Gundry has a guest post on Bruce Fisk's Crossings:

Robert Gundry on the physicality of Jesus' resurrection in earliest Christian proclamation

The post responds to James Tabor, partly on the Talpiot Tomb but also on The Jesus Dynasty. Speaking of James Tabor, you can now read a helpful summary of his thinking about the tomb on his blog:

The Talpiot Jesus Tomb: An Overview

This overview has brought about a series of responses by Darrell Bock on Bock's Blog, on Historical Context, Statistics, Inscriptions and Tabor's Hypotheticals.

In a March 13 post on Talpiot Tomb Various, I noted Michael Heiser on the ossuaries found at Dominus Flevit:
I want to draw your attention—and the attention of scholars and interested parties who read your blog—to a SECOND site that has all those names. In 1953-1955, Bellarmino Bagatti excavated the site of Dominus Flevit (“The Lord wept”) on the Mount of Olives. The excavation uncovered a necropolis and over 40 inscribed ossuaries – including the names of Mary, Martha, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus. These ossuaries are not, as far as I can tell, in Rahmani’s catalogue. I’m guessing the reason is that they are not the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (see Rahmani’s Preface). The necropolis was apparently used ca. 136 BC to 300 AD. Here is a link that discusses the site. A few scanned pages of Bagatti’s excavation report (written in Italian) can be found here as well.
Now Antonio Lombatti emails:
I teach Medieval History (my field of research is the cult of Christian relics) and, while reading your excellent NT Blog, I came across the quotation of the Dominus Flevit excavations. There you quoted the Bagatti and Milik 1958 book which is, unfortunately, in Italian. Well, I am Italian... I got it and read it carefully. And I found out that on the 34 ossuaries Bagatti and Milik found there were (also) the following names: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Judas, Mathew, Martha and... Mariame.

But, above all, the names Mary and Mariame were inscribed on the same ossuary and were found in the very same loculus. And, last but not least, the inscriptions were in GREEK.
The humour is still coming too. Chris Brady links to a delightful cartoon Tomb of Star Trek and there are plenty of places that crack the inevitable but still funny joke that the one thing that would have convinced them that this was Jesus' tomb would have been the discovery of a bracelet in there reading "WWID?"

It is worth mentioning too that discussion of the Talpiot tomb continues apace on the ANE-2 list, including regular contributions from Joe Zias and James Tabor.

Plumley's Coptic Grammar

Thanks to Paterson Brown for the note that the on-line edition of Plumley's Coptic Grammar has been revised. The major update is that a downloadable MS Word version is now available in addition to the original mimeograph version and the complete hypertext version, which has itself undergone revisions in presentation. Here is the main link:

J. Martin Plumley's Introductory Coptic Grammar

I must admit that I have not used this introductory grammar much myself, preferring the Lambdin introduction. But Lambdin is not that easy to get hold of and it is a little expensive, so this service over at Metalogos is a superb one, all the more so in the light of April DeConick's recent call for compulsory Coptic for all:
No one who studies early Christianity should be allowed to graduate with a Ph.D. without having learned Coptic. There are too many early Christian documents in Coptic for it to be considered just an "additional" language any more.
Update (Wednesday, 7.49): Judy Redman has comments, with links, in a post on Update on Plumley’s Coptic Grammar and other Coptic resources.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Happy Blogiversary Paleojudaica

Happy Blogiversary to Paleojudaica, four years old yesterday. Paleojudaica is why I started blogging three and a half years ago. It's still going strong, and may it have many more blogiversaries in years to come.

SBL Forum: Tomb Latest

I was away during the latter part of last week so haven't blogged for a little. It's good to see on my return that François Bovon has clarified his role in the Lost Tomb of Jesus documentary over on the SBL Site:

The Tomb of Jesus
François Bovon

See my earlier comments on the use made of Bovon in Mariamne, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany; the present article makes clear succinctly that "I do not believe that Mariamne is the real name of Mary of Magdalene" and with respect to the Acts of Philip, "My interest is not historical, but on the level of literary traditions." The one slightly troubling element in the piece is the first point:
First, I have now seen the program and am not convinced of its main thesis. When I was questioned by Simcha Jacobovici and his team the questions were directed toward the Acts of Philip and the role of Mariamne in this text. I was not informed of the whole program and the orientation of the script.
Having done some television myself, including several Discovery Channel documentaries (though usually BBC partnered programmes), I have been lucky never to have had that kind of experience and, to be honest, I am a little taken aback by it. I have always talked with the programme makers at some length before the interview, sometimes over a period of weeks and months and I have always known what the programme involved, even if the final product is often spun in a particular direction that I was not completely happy with. But I suppose that the lesson that this teaches is always to make sure that one knows what one is getting involved with.

The SBL Site has a couple of other fresh articles, Steven Fine, Concerning the Jesus Family Tomb and Jonathan Reed, In Response to Tabor. It has to be said that the SBL Forum has done a great job in producing speedy responses from scholars interested in the issue.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Further Updates to Discovery Tomb Website

On Friday, Joe D'Mello noted changes made on the Discovery Lost Tomb of Jesus website with respect to the statistical case. The site has also added more materials since it first went on-line. First, note the new Related Links page, which features follow-up materials on the internet on the tomb (e.g. Magness's article, Pfann's article, some of Tabor's materials) including this blog. Always nice to be mentioned! Most interesting, though, is a little feature only tangentially linked to the tomb, a beautiful graphic depiction of Israel in Jesus' day, with illustrations and clickable hotspots:

The Land of Jesus

A short blurb explains that information is drawn from Crossan and Reed's Excavating Jesus and the illustrations are drawn by Balage Balogh, "renowned as the finest archaeologist to have worked in Israel". It's a lovely looking sub-site and definitely one to recommend to students.

How to decipher the Yeshua` inscription

Further to my post the other day on Talpiot Tomb: Does is say Jesus?, I am grateful to James Tabor for sending over this PDF, which nicely illustrates Frank Moore Cross's reading of Yeshua` bar Yehosef. This graphical illustration was produced as part of the press pack connected with the Lost Tomb programme:

Jesus Inscription Breakdown (PDF)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Archer and Moloney's Gospel of Judas

This story is extensively reported today, but surprisingly little touched on in the biblioblogosphere. Jeffrey Archer, the notorious British popular novelist-cum-Tory-politician who recently spent time in prison for perjury, has collaborated with Francis Moloney of the Catholic University of America in a new book about Judas:

Archer attempts to rehabilitate Judas
Collaboration with Biblical expert leaves a question: has the Pope read it?
John Hooper in Rome
Wednesday March 21, 2007

One of the fullest articles on it features in Ruth Gledhill's blog over at The Times, with a YouTube interview with Archer, and lots of comments on the article afterwards:

Jesus 'didn't walk on water or turn water into wine'
. . . . I still find it interesting that in cooperation with top theologian and friend-of-the-Pole Professor Francis Moloney, Lord Archer has written a gospel with the endorsement of the RC church that debunks Jesus' 'nature miracles'. In effect, the two authors say, the turning water into wine, the walking on water and the calming of the storm never happened. Of course, as we reported two years ago, the Catholic Church no longer swears by the truth of the Bible in any case. (Update: that last sentence is based on the headline on a story I wrote about The Gift of Scipture document.) . . . .

. . . .Both Father Moloney and Lord Archer told me that they did not include Jesus’ three most famous “nature miracles”, beloved of Sunday School children worldwide, in The Gospel because they “never happened”.
Nor did they include the most famous Judas story of all, where he is reported in the Bible to have betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The betrayal took place, they say, but Judas thought he was acting as a double agent and that he was in fact saving Jesus’ life. No cash changed hands and Judas did not commit suicide afterwareds (sic).

The idea that some of Jesus’ miracles did not happen and were written to shore up Messianic interpretations of the Hebrew Bible has been common in academic circles for decades. But for many of the faithful it will come as almost as much of a shock as the thought of Jeffrey Archer being the propagator of this new “truth”.

Father Moloney, believed by many to be the world’s greatest living Biblical scholar, drew on years of scholarship to make The Gospel According to Judas as close as possible to those passages thought to be genuine in the three synoptic gospels and the Gospel of St John. But he insisted they leave out verses agreed by scholars to have been made up by the original authors of the Bible . . . .
Several commenters pick Ruth Gledhill up on the "no respectable scholar" point. It may also be a little overstated to call Francis Moloney "the world's greatest living Biblical scholar", with no direspect intended to Prof. Moloney.

One curiosity. It is only a year since the Gospel of Judas was published, with its accompanying National Geographic documentary, but it is not referenced in any of the media pieces I have seen about the new Archer novel. I suppose it shows what short memories people have. It is not clear to me whether the current book has any reference to the newly discovered Gospel either.

Talpiot Tomb: Does it Say Jesus?

I've had a few days off from the tomb, so now it's back to business. One of the question marks over the Talpiot tomb ossuaries relates to the inscription alleged to say "Jesus, son of Joseph" (Yeshua` bar Yehosef). Rahmani (704) reads "Yeshua`(?)". Anyone who has taken a look at the inscription will understand the reason for the question mark, and several have expressed their anxiety over how one makes out Yeshua` here. As a non expert on such things, I have been looking around for some explanation of how the Yeshua` is derived, ideally with illustrations. As I have previously mentioned, some help comes from Michael Heiser, The Jesus Ossuary: A Critical Examination. But the piece I have been looking for, a kind of "idiot's guide" in which the letters are separated and the reading explained, is available in the following article:

The Lost Tomb of Jesus
Steve Carruso

The piece provides some nice illustrations, explaining how Yeshua` might be derived, adding a question mark over bar and providing some alternative suggestions for reading the letters in question, though none of them provide any recognisable, coherent names. He also asks the question whether the "cross mark" is in fact an aleph. Carruso is not an epigrapher, so I am not drawing attention to his piece as if to flag it up as expert commentary. Rather, I found it helpful for illustrating for non-experts the difficulties that some of the experts are seeing in interpreting the inscription as Jesus. The following thoughts and questions come to mind:

(1) Is
Yeshua` the only viable suggestion for this combination of letters? Given the lack of plausible alternatives, it seems that Rahmani's suggestion is still the best, albeit one that requires a question mark to be present.

(2) Is there any chance that the so called "cross mark" is in fact an aleph? I recall seeing that this mark actually lines up with another mark on the lid, in which case there is presumably little chance that this is an aleph. It is a mark for aligning the lid properly.

(3) Are there parallels to this way of representing bar?

(4) In general, is it accurate to say that the person inscribing this ossuary has made a bit of a mess of it? Compared with the other ossuaries in this tomb, the inscription here is by far the hardest to read.

(5) In relation to the previous point, here is one of the major concerns about the potential identification of this ossuary with Jesus of Nazareth. How plausible is it that so little effort would have been made over someone of such obvious importance to so many as Jesus of Nazareth?

Update (22.01): Ed Cook comments, helpfully, to the following effect:
I don't think Caruso has divided the letters correctly. He assigns a long vertical shaft to the "shin", but this vertical is actually (in my opinion) the waw, and the letter he identifies as waw is, conversely, the left shaft of the shin. Also the triangle shape that is part of the yodh (these loops or triangles are common in the ossuaries) he assigns to the shin. In short, I do not believe that Caruso's site is a reliable source of paleographic information. The reading "Yeshua" looks likely to me based on the published drawing.

Americanizing the Cricket World Cup

Normal service will be resumed here again soon. In the mean time, regular readers will know that I also write occasional posts on The Americanization of Emily which have nothing to do with the New Testament. My latest is on the Cricket World Cup.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Discovery Website Adjusts Tomb Claims

Joe D'Mello emails me with the following (see previous posts in this thread):

I just checked the Discovery Channel website and noticed that all three changes have been made.
Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics & mathematics at the University of Toronto, has concluded a high statistical probability that the Talpiot tomb is the JESUS FAMILY TOMB.
changed to
Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, has concluded (subject to the stated historical assumptions) that it is unlikely that an equally "surprising” cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling.
Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the odds – on the most conservative basis – are 600 to 1 in favor of this being the JESUS FAMILY TOMB. A statistical probability of 600 to 1 means that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600.
changed to:
Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the probability under random chance of observing a cluster of names as compelling as this one within the given population parameters is 600 to 1, meaning that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600.
"A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family."
changed to
A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is in the order of 600 to 1 that an equally "surprising" cluster of names would arise purely by chance under given assumptions.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Talpiot Tomb Statistics Update

Jack Poirier's article, which I mentioned the other day, on the Statistics behind the "Jesus Family Tomb", is now available at the Jerusalem Perspective Online:

The Statistics Behind "The Tomb"
Jack Poirier

This may be a good occasion to bring together in one place the other major articles on the statistical case:

Statistics and the "Jesus Family Tomb"
Randy Ingermanson

Examining the "Jesus Tomb" Evidence
Jay Cost

The Improper Application of Statistics in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"
Stephen Pfann

Talpiot Tomb: Statistics
Includes several posts by Joe D'Mello

The last of these links is to all the material relevant to the statistical case from this blog, including several guest posts by Joe D'Mello, in interaction with Andrey Feuerverger, whose most recent statement is on his homepage.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mariamene and Martha, Stephen Pfann

I mentioned earlier (Talpiot Tomb Various) Stephen Pfann's new reading of the "Mariamenou Mara" ossuary. He has published his full reading in a very clear, eight page illustrated PDF:

Mary Magdalene is Now Missing:
A Corrected Reading of Rahmani Ossuary 701
By Stephen J. Pfann, Ph.D.

I have to admit that to my untrained eye, the case is pretty convincing that we should, all along, have been reading this as MARIAME KAI MARA (Mariame and Mara). The thing that is particularly helpful in Pfann's piece is his illustrations of parallels to the way KAI is written here. The article is a model of clarity. But I should stress that I am no expert at all in reading inscriptions, so I am looking forward to hearing the learned reactions of other experts to this interesting new proposal.

The only thing that puzzles me a little is the title of the piece, "Mary Magdalene is now missing", in that it might be said that Mary Magdalene was never there in the first place, or at least that the case for her identification, even on the previous reading, was weak, as Pfann goes on to note in p. 2 of the current piece. In so far as the new reading provides us with a Mary and a Martha, we have one additional NT related name in the tomb (Luke 10.38-42; John 11-12). As Pfann points out, these are common names ("Yet Another Mary and Martha?", p. 6), so it is still a long way from Simcha Jacobovici's hoped for "Ringo", but the new reading does not detract from a modified case that could be mounted on the basis of a Mary and a Martha, all the more so in that the Acts of Philip, on which the programme makers are keen, assumes that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are the same person (See Mariamne, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany). I should make clear that I would not want to make such a case, but I point it out for the sake of fairness.

Talpiot Tomb Various

I must admit that I thought interest in the Talpiot tomb would quickly die away, but I was wrong. Recent developments of interest include Michael Heiser's A New Twist in the Jesus Tomb Sideshow, which was circulated to lots of us today. Here's an excerpt:
I want to draw your attention—and the attention of scholars and interested parties who read your blog—to a SECOND site that has all those names. In 1953-1955, Bellarmino Bagatti excavated the site of Dominus Flevit (“The Lord wept”) on the Mount of Olives. The excavation uncovered a necropolis and over 40 inscribed ossuaries – including the names of Mary, Martha, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus. These ossuaries are not, as far as I can tell, in Rahmani’s catalogue. I’m guessing the reason is that they are not the property of the Israel Antiquities Authority (see Rahmani’s Preface). The necropolis was apparently used ca. 136 BC to 300 AD. Here is a link that discusses the site. A few scanned pages of Bagatti’s excavation report (written in Italian) can be found here as well.
Meanwhile, I've just received an updated version of Jack Poirier's article on the statistics and the tomb. It is to appear on Jerusalem Perspective Online but isn't there yet. As Jim West points out, Stephen Pfann has announced a re-reading of the "Mariamenou Mara" inscription -- see Scholar: 'Jesus Tomb' documentary got it wrong on CNN. And the SBL Forum carries responses by James Tabor to Jodi Magness and Christopher Rollston and to Jonathan Reed. On his blog, he promises breaking news.

I have one more thing to do, to complete my list of Errors and Inaccuracies later today. There are quite a lot still to get through. I am grateful to hear today from James Tabor that these have been reported back to those responsible for the site with a view to making corrections and adjustments.

Correction on Discovery Tomb Website

Thanks to Joe D'Mello (see previous posts in the "Jesus Family Tomb" Statistics series) for this update concerning the Discovery Tomb Website:

Discovery Channel has made one correction!

Note that the following paragraph from the 'Tomb Evidence' PDF file:
Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the odds – on the most conservative basis – are 600 to 1 in favor of this being the JESUS FAMILY TOMB. A statistical probability of 600 to 1 means that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600.
has now been changed to
Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the probability under random chance of observing a cluster of names as compelling as this one within the given population parameters is 600 to 1, meaning that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600.
I believe that this is an acknowledgement that the computed 600:1 odds really have no direct bearing to whether or not this is the family tomb of Jesus. It is very disappointing to note that Discovery is using a misleading play on words even in this "corrected" version. Notice that they are using the statistical term "population" (in this case the name combinations on the inscribed ossuaries in the roughly 1,100 family tombs) in a manner that the majority of readers will interpret as the "Jews who were living in the area at the time". There is a big difference! The odds would be much less with that latter interpretation!

While I am clearly happy that a change has been made - at least we are moving in the right direction - there are two other paragraphs (below) that are still not corrected, and I have e-mailed Dr. Feuerverger again inquiring why these were not changed. I hope that this will be the beginning of many changes that Discovery will make to correct inaccurate statements on their sites. Inaccuracies don't make for good and healthy debates!
"Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics & mathematics at the University of toronto, has concluded a high statistical probability that the Talpiot tomb is the JESUS FAMILY TOMB."
"A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family."


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.

Mariamne, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany

One of the key claims made in the recent documentary on the "Jesus Family Tomb" is that the ossuary inscription "Mariamenou Mara" is likely to identify Mary Magdalene. The authority for this identification is the fourth century Acts of Philip and the programme makers appeal to François Bovon (bio on Discovery here) to establish the identification. The Discovery site, for example, says the following:
From the Acts of Philip, a fourth-century work ostensibly written about Mary Magdalene's brother, Phillip (sic), which recently was recovered from a monastery at Mt. Athos in Greece, Professor Franois (sic) Bovon (Harvard University) has determined that Magdalene's real name was "Mariamne"
But does this accurately represent François Bovon's view? In an earlier post, Mariamne and the "Jesus Family Tomb", I wrote the following:
On Apocryphicity, Tony Chartrand-Burke asked whether Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is indeed Mary Magdalene, raising the possibility that she is Mary of Bethany. I've done a little reading since then and it seems that scholars are divided on the issue of the identity of this character in the Acts of Philip. It is clear that she is Philip's sister, but it also seems that she shares traits commonly associated with Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary of Bethany, as well as Mary Magdalene. Stephen Shoemaker, for example, argues in a couple of publications that "the Gnostic Mary" is a kind of composite Gnostic character with characteristics from these several Marys.
But at that point, I had not had the chance to check to see what François Bovon actually says about the identification of Mariamne in the Acts of Philip. Some kind anonymous person put a copy of his "Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip," F. Stanley Jones (ed.), Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2003): 75-89 in my pigeonhole earlier this week (excerpts on Google Books) so now I've had the chance to check to see what Bovon's view is. 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).
Note too that Bovon is clear that he is discussing a literary figure in this text. He makes no claims at all about any alleged historical pedigree of the character in question. He says:
To be clear, I am not interested here in the reconstruction of the historical figure of Mary Magdalene, but in her portrayal in literary texts, particularly the Acts of Philip (80)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

James Charlesworth on the "Jesus Family Tomb": follow-up

It is sometimes said that there are no academics who think that the Talpiot tomb might be identified with Jesus' family tomb. I noted last week that this is incorrect, not only because of James Tabor's involvement (and I should have added Shimon Gibson), but also because James Charlesworth was reported as saying "A very good claim could be made that this was Jesus' clan" and he was present at the original press conference (see James Charlesworth on the "Jesus Family Tomb"). Now, Deinde point out that Prof. Charlesworth has provided an updated statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website (also reproduced by permission on Deinde). In the statement, he distances himself from the notion that the "Yeshua" ossuary belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, but suggests that the tomb might still be that of his extended family. Read the statement here:

Reflections on the so-called "Lost Tomb of Jesus" (PDF)
James Charlesworth

A couple of key sections:
Jesus did not place his own bones in an ossuary. If any one did so, it would have been his followers. They proclaimed him as The Messiah, the Son of God. They would not have put him in a very common ossuary with a sloppy graffiti. My judgment is that this ossuary does not belong to Jesus from Nazareth. Again, the names “Jesus” and “Joseph” are extremely common in the first century. . . .

. . . I have stated that a good case has been made for the possibility that the tomb of Jesus’ “clan” may have been discovered. By “clan” I mean “extended family group”. This possibility needs to be researched and debated in a scholarly symposium. If Jesus’ clan had a tomb, it would postdate 30, which was the date of the crucifixion.
But of course it is important to read the whole statement, about a page long.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Adjustments to Discovery Website Statistics Claims

Regular readers will remember that I have reproduced a couple of posts on the statistical claims of the Discovery documentary on the "Jesus Family Tomb" written by Joe D'Mello, The correct interpretation of Dr. Andrey Feuerverger's 1:600 odds calculation and The "Jesus Family Tomb" Statistics: Further Developments, the latter posted just 25 minutes before the documentary aired last Sunday. I now have an update to those earlier posts from Dr Joe D'Mello, who has continued his conversation with Dr Andrey Feuerverger. The latest post is available here in full as a PDF:

Discovery to Update Website Claims (PDF)

And I excerpt the major part of it here:
Date: Friday, March 9, 2007

I am pleased to state that as a result of several e-mail exchanges I have had with Dr. Andrey Feuerverger over the past few days, and a phone conversation with him this morning which confirmed our informal understanding reached by e-mail yesterday, he has agreed that the following two statements made on Discovery Channel’s website:
1. “A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.” (from

2. Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics & mathematics at the University of Toronto, has concluded a high statistical probability that The Talpiot tomb is the JESUS FAMILY TOMB. In a study, Feuerverger examined the cluster of names in the tomb …… Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the odds – on the most conservative basis – are 600 to 1 in favor of this being the JESUS FAMILY TOMB. A statistical probability of 600 to 1 means that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600.
ARE NOT A CORRECT INTERPRETATION OF HIS STATISTICAL COMPUTATIONS. He has also confirmed for me that, at his urging, Discovery Channel has agreed to “undertake the required updates to their website”. As evidence of this, I have appended at the end of this message the relevant portions of the last few emails I exchanged with Dr. Feuerverger.

Dr. Feuerverger indicates that an accurate interpretation of his results are to be found at his recently updated “Tomb Computation” link on his University of Toronto website. Please note the following excerpts from that website:

A. It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tomb site is that of the New Testament family. Any such conclusion much more rightfully belongs to the purview of biblical historical scholars who are in a much better position to assess the assumptions entering into the computations.

B. The role of statistics here is primarily to attempt to assess the odds of an equally (or more) `compelling' cluster of names arising purely by chance under certain random sampling assumptions and under certain historical assumptions In this respect I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family.

C. The computations do not take into account families who could not afford ossuary burials or who did not have sufficient literacy to have their ossuaries inscribed, and does not take into account families living outside of the Jerusalem area.

I wish to thank Dr. Feuerverger immensely for his efforts to ensure that the viewing public receives the honest and truthful reporting they are entitled to! I also hope and trust that Discovery Channel will follow suit and retract these inaccuracies quickly. As I have stated before, my efforts were never aimed at defending Christianity, because I truly believe that all religions must and will eventually reconcile themselves with science and our God-given reason. It is not Christianity that is at stake here but the honest and enlightened use, application, and interpretation of science and reason. Discovery Channel’s unqualified assertions that the 600:1 odds are specifically associated with the tomb in question being that of the New Testament Jesus family are, in my opinion, untenable and inaccurate in light of the clarifications on Dr. Feuerverger’s website.

What your students are typing in class

Ever wondered what those students with laptops are actually typing in your classes? You know, the earnest looking ones who are typing away as if there's no tomorrow? Here's the answer, from today's Duke Chronicle:

Why are we here?
By: Stacy Chudwin
Believe it or not, I'm actually typing this column while sitting in the back of one of my classes. I won't tell you which class, because that could threaten my participation grade, which I sorely need. This will be our little secret.

Right now I am sketchily hunched over my laptop, peering around to make sure my fellow classmates don't realize what's going on. I fear that they, along with the professor, will discover that I am not actually a digital hipster student of the 21st century taking notes on the computer, but rather someone who just doesn't want to pay attention during her last lecture class before Spring Break.

As I defensively glance around the room, I realize that I am not alone in pulling off this brilliant ruse . . .
Actually, I am happy to say that this was not one of my classes, but if Stacy should wish to enroll for a New Testament class next semester, she would be welcome. I rather admire the the ingenuity. Better than sleeping in class, or staring out of the window.

The "Jesus Family Tomb": Amy-Jill Levine comments

On the Discovery: Lost Tomb of Jesus Discussion Forum, Amy-Jill Levine now responds to several of those who have posed their questions on the forum:

Expert Q&A: Dr Amy-Jill Levine

Perhaps her most interesting answer is the last one:
According to Acts (see above, on Mary), at least part of the family relocated to Jerusalem. We do know -- not only from Acts and from Paul, but also from the first-century historian Josephus -- that James the 'brother of the Lord' (as he is called) was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Thus, it is by no means inconceivable that there would be a family tomb in the environs of Jerusalem. The Church presents itself in Acts as comprised not just of James, but of multiple members, some of whom are wealthy or at least of some means (e.g., Mary the mother of John Mark, who seems to be the patron of a house church in Jerusalem; Ananias and Sapphira, Barnabas....). Again, it would not be surprising to think that the followers of Jesus would have had sufficient funds to set up a burial site for his relatives, such as James. My point is not to argue for, or against, the Talpiot tomb's being connected to the family of Jesus; it is simply to note that the idea of a family tomb for James et al. is not inconceivable.
Contrast the slightly different assessment of Jodi Magness on the SBL Site in Has the Tomb of Jesus been Discovered?. I must admit to finding the claim about an expected Galilean burial one of the weaker arguments against the Discovery film, as I previously commented in response to Ben Witherington III's article:
The problem with the original formulation [of Ben Witherington III] was that there is no claim by the film-makers that Joseph was buried in this tomb. I must admit to being unconvinced also by the reformulation of the point, though. There is nothing intrinsically unlikely about members of Jesus' family being buried near Jerusalem since our sources all place them there the last time that we hear of them, Mary and the brothers in Acts 1, James in Acts 21. We have no evidence of a return to Nazareth. In fact, we don't have much evidence at all for the family's movements. This is not a major point, but as one who is critical of the claims of the film-makers, I think it important that the grounds for one's criticisms are solid (Ben Witherington III on the "Jesus Family Tomb")

The Numbers Guy on the Talpiot Tomb Calculations

There is an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal Online on the "Jesus' Family Tomb" documentary (thanks to Stephen Goranson for pointing it out):

Odds of 'Lost Tomb' Being Jesus' Family Rest on Assumptions
Carl Bialik
. . . "As you pile on more assumptions, you're building a house of cards," says Keith Devlin, a Stanford mathematician and NPR's "Math Guy." (Scientific American also challenged the calculation on its Web site.) . . . .

. . . . "I wouldn't be comfortable coming up with a number like this, because the general audience will not understand that it is very, very subjective," says Ivo Dinov, assistant professor of statistics at the University of California, Los Angeles . . . .

. . . . He still hasn't provided full documentation of his calculation, saying he'd wait until his paper, not yet completed, is accepted by a journal. "There is a mismatch between how the media works and how academia works," Prof. Feuerverger says. "Obviously it would have been a whole lot better if I had completed the paper" before the documentary aired . . . .

. . . . . "When I was doing the calculation, I was naively unaware of the extent to which the filmmakers might be depending on the ultimate result of it," he says. "I did carry out the calculation in every good faith. I hoped it would be interpreted in that light."
The article doesn't tell us much more than we already knew, but it does help to underline the point that I have been making since my post last week on The Statistical Case for the Identity of the "Jesus Family Tomb", viz. that any statistical calculation is only as good as the data fed to the statistician; the numbers are only as good as the assumptions they are based on, and here there are major problems with those assumptions.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Friends and Heroes latest

On Bible Films, Matt Page has the latest on the new animated Bible adventure series to begin airing on the BBC next week (March 12). It has already launched in the USA and TBN Networks broadcast the next episode on Saturday. There is a nice website, including a couple of clips:

Friends and Heroes

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Talpiot Tomb: Assorted Thoughts

In no particular order, I want to tie up some loose ends and air some niggles about the "Jesus Family Tomb" claims.
  • On the question of DNA and the ossuaries, James Tabor notes that "Unfortunately, the only two ossuaries that had not been cleaned/vacuumed out were the Yeshua and the Mariamenon". That explains, then, why those two were chosen. I had queried why one would choose those two when one could have chosen Yeshua and Maria where there was a chance that the claims could be falsified (with a negative result on the mitochondrial DNA test). Of course, it has been pointed out several times also that we don't know that the bone fragments that remain are those of the people in the ossuary in question.

  • It has often been said that four statisticians were consulted, but we have only heard from one, Andrey Feuerverger. Who were the other three statisticians and what did they say?

  • It is sometimes said that the only academic paper to have been written on thistomb is the 1996 paper by Amos Kloner. However, as Rick Brannan pointed out on Ricoblog, Dr. Michael S. Heiser presented a paper on the "Jesus Ossuary" at the 2003 meeting of the Near East Archaeological Society. Last week he uploaded a PDF of it to his website, which also features other material on the Talpiot tomb, including an MP3. The paper is called The Jesus Ossuary: A Critical Examination. It is largely a refutation of someone called Gardner who had claimed that this was connected with Jesus of Nazareth.

  • I've been meaning to mention that Heiser article all week because it was on reading it last week that I realized that it really is not clear what the inscription says. Yeshua is the best guess, it seems, but it is really hastily scribbled. I had come across an excellent blog site in which the letters of the alleged Yeshua inscription were separated and studied for non-experts (like me) but I can't find it now. I still don't understand, though, where Pfann's "Hanun" comes from.

  • Does anyone know yet when the film is to air on Channel 4? Are they going to save it up for Easter day?!

  • Has the Discussion Forum on the Tomb on the Discovery Website stalled? There have been some answers (7) from James Tabor, and James Charlesworth provided a few short answers, but then there has been nothing more for almost a week. The promised discussion with Amy-Jill Levine simply hasn't happened -- there is nothing yet from Prof. Levine.

  • A lot of people have asked if I have seen Randy Ingermanson's page on the Statistical Argument. I have, and think that there is a lot of useful and interesting material there, presented clearly. I hope to get a chance to comment on it in due course.

Review of Biblical Literature latest

Latest from the SBL Review of Biblical Literature under the NT heading, combining the last two email alerts:

Ian Boxall
The Revelation of Saint John
Reviewed by David L. Barr

Brian Han Gregg
The Historical Jesus and the Final Judgment Sayings in Q
Reviewed by Joseph Verheyden

Mark Harding
Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context: A Reader
Reviewed by Jan van der Watt

Michael Patella
Lord of the Cosmos: Mithras, Paul, and the Gospel of Mark
Reviewed by James G. Crossley

Roloff, Jürgen Kreller
Edited by Helmut Kreller and Rainer Oechslen
Jesu Gleichnisse im Matthäusevangelium: Ein Kommentar zu Mt 13,1â?"52
Reviewed by John S. Kloppenborg

Dieter Sänger, ed.
Das Ezechielbuch in der Johannesoffenbarung
Reviewed by John M. Court

Mary Ann Beavis
Jesus and Utopia: Looking for the Kingdom of God in the Roman World
Reviewed by Warren Carter

Wilfried Eckey
Die Briefe des Paulus an die Philipper und an Philemon: Ein Kommentar
Reviewed by Stephan Witetschek

J. K. Elliott
A Synopsis of the Apocryphal Nativity and Infancy Narratives
Reviewed by Nicole Kelley

Raimo Hakola
Identity Matters: John, the Jews and Jewishness
Reviewed by Mary L. Coloe

Martin Hengel
Der unterschätzte Petrus: Zwei Studien
Reviewed by Peter H. Davids

Jan Krans
Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament
Reviewed by J. K. Elliott

John Nolland
The Gospel of Matthew
Reviewed by Edgar Krentz

Alexander Weihs
Jesus und das Schicksal der Propheten: Das Winzergleichnis (Mk 12, 1-12) im Horizont des Markusevangeliums
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Peer review and the tomb

I am not yet convinced by one element in the scholarly reaction to the "Jesus Family Tomb", the claim that the case should have been made through the normal channels of academic peer reviewed journals. The claim has been made on several occasions and I don't need to illustrate. A large part of this scholarly reaction is, I think, understandable. It proceeds from the frustration of having to make a speedy judgement, when a paper calls you for a quick comment, on a case that one has not had the time to begin to digest. Even those who have already written more extensively on the case have often confused the filmmakers' case over the "Yose" tomb, which is that this is Jesus' brother Joses, not Jesus' father Joseph, something that comes from having to rush to comment while the topic is hot, while the wider world is interested. Scholarship is rarely about snap judgements, and it is not easy to provide a quick and easy answer to the claims when approached to do so by the papers. Few took the time last week to familiarise themselves with the basics of the case , but even if one does have the data at one's fingertips, one can hardly begin to get into any kind of detail when approached for a quick comment by the media.

All those things having been said, I think it is unreasonable to expect Jacobovici to have published his case in academic peer-reviewed journals. As he has repeatedly insisted, he is a journalist and a filmmaker and not an academic. It is notoriously difficult for non-professional academics to make it into a peer reviewed journal, all the more so if the case one has might be seen as imaginative or speculative. To turn it around, how often do we academics first publish our results by means of television documentary? If a filmmaker were to complain about our not having gone first to television, we would rightly point out that our access to that medium is limited and that we do not have the requisite expertise and experience to go through that portal. I realize that for some this might be seen to be begging the question. Their complaint is that the case for the identification of the Talpiot tomb needs to be properly set out, fully sourced and carefully argued. I agree that this is ultimately necessary if the claim is going to be properly explored, and James Tabor mentions that he and Shimon Gibson are working on such a piece (see The Jesus Dynasty blog, bottom of that entry). But I wouldn't expect a filmmaker like Jacobovici, without such academic expertise or experience, to be able to prepare such a piece. Under such circumstances, and if one were convinced one had chanced upon something massive, surely one would pursue it using the avenues available to one as a filmmaker.

I remain unpersuaded by the claims made in the film, and there are points where I wish Jacobovici had run his scripts through (at least) some fact-checking academic consultants, but I am not sure that it is right to criticize him for doing something that would have been outside his remit as a filmmaker. After all, if one were to ask the question about whether he has done what he can to get the data out to the public, one would have to say that he has done a good job. The reason that so many academics have been able to weigh in so quickly is that the Discovery website and the Jesus tomb website have featured so much of the necessary data, including even PDFs of earlier works (like Kloner's article, the pages from the Rahmani book), and then interviews and more.

Expository Times latest

Latest issue of The Expository Times is available to subscribers; the link is below, along with articles under the NT heading:

Expository Times
1 March 2007; Vol. 118, No. 6

Papyrus Egerton 2 - the 'Unknown Gospel'
Tobias Nicklas
The Expository Times 2007;118 261-266

The Nature of Preaching and the Gospel of John
Angus Paddison
The Expository Times 2007;118 267-272

Mark: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist
William R. Telford
The Expository Times 2007;118 282-283

Reading the Parable of Vineyard Tenants with Realism
Paul Foster
The Expository Times 2007;118 286

The Last Enemy 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 20:1-18
Joel Marcus
The Expository Times 2007;118 287-288

Exegetical Notes: John 21:1-19
Angus Paddison
The Expository Times 2007;118 292-293

Collection of Non-Canonical Gospel Texts
Paul Foster
The Expository Times 2007;118 296

Book Review: Peter as Paraenesis
David G. Horrell
The Expository Times 2007;118 303-304

Book Review: Josephus on the Afterlife
Stuart Chepey
The Expository Times 2007;118 304

Book Review: A Gender-Conscious Dialogue on Romans
Atsuhiro Asano
The Expository Times 2007;118 305-306

Book Review: Herodian Judaism, Christian Origins, and Modern British New Testament Scholarship
Thomas J. Kraus
The Expository Times 2007;118 306-307

Book Review: Essays on 'Wilderness' in Honour of Frances M. Young
Thomas J. Kraus
The Expository Times 2007;118 308

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

University of St Andrews: Professorship in New Testament

On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila encourages other bibliobloggers to publicize this important job advertisement:
THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS invites applications for a Professorship in New Testament (equivalent to a Full Professorship in North America). We are seeking applicants with a strong international research profile in New Testament. You will contribute to the School’s existing strengths in exegetical, literary and historical scholarship. Specialism within the area of New Testament is open, though a research interest in the interface between biblical studies and Christian theology and/or history of interpretation is highly desirable. You will be committed to excellence in teaching and you will be expected to teach students from undergraduate to doctoral level. You are a team-player who will be fully involved in the School's research, supervisory and administrative roles. Informal enquiries to Dr Jim Davila (Tel. +44-1334-462834; email: Further information about the School of Divinity can be found at: Application forms and further particulars are available from Human Resources, University of St Andrews, College Gate, North Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, (tel: 01334 462571, by fax 01334 462570 or by e-mail The advertisement and further particulars can be viewed at Please quote ref: ME163/07. Closing Date: March 30th 2007. The University is committed to equality of opportunity.
And further, from yesterday:
THE UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS invites applications for a Readership/Professorship in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (roughly equivalent, respectively, to an Associate or Full Professorship in North America). We are seeking applicants with a strong international research profile in OT/HB. You will contribute to the School’s existing strengths in philological and historical scholarship. Specialism within the area of OT/HB is open, though a research interest in the interface between biblical studies and Christian theology and/or history of interpretation is highly desirable. You will be committed to excellence in teaching and you will be expected to teach students from undergraduate to doctoral level in Old Testament and Hebrew. You are a team-player who will be fully involved in the School's research, supervisory and administrative roles. Salary - £41,392-£47,194 pa (Reader) or negotiable (Professor). Informal enquiries to Dr Jim Davila (Tel. +44-1334-462834; email: Further information about the School of Divinity can be found at: Application forms and further particulars are available from Human Resources, University of St Andrews, College Gate, North Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, (tel: 01334 462571, by fax 01334 462570 or by e-mail The advertisement and further particulars can be viewed at Please quote ref: SK162/07 Closing Date: March 30th 2007. The University is committed to equality of opportunity.
Note that the closing date for both jobs is coming soon.