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.


Anonymous said...

Too little, too late, better than nothing.

One question..

"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."

Can anybody parse this English and determine what is the "conclusion" that "works".

Or is this the result when you belly-flop to get out of quicksand?

Steven Avery

Eric Rowe said...

I'm glad to see that Dr. Tabor has changed his mind about the Talpiot tomb. He presents 4 options of beliefs that can be held about the tomb on his latest blog post. Options 3 and 4 are:

3. Such an identification is possible, even likely, though not conclusively proven.

4. There is evidence that such an identification is probable or even highly probable.

Whereas he formerly advocated option 4 quite explicitly, saying that the odds of it being Jesus's tomb were 600 to 1, he now says he holds to option 3.

Anonymous said...

I think someone on Ben Witherington's blog commented a while back that as James Tabor gets more and more desperate, he will start to pull out of his hat any number of fantastic new hypotheses to support his theory, including the possibility of an 11th ossuary from Talpiot. I think he has realized that it is very unlikely that the 10th ossuary could be James', because the dimensions in the official reports clearly do not match (which he has still to admit), the 10th ossuary was listed as 'plain' and 'uninscribed', and Wolfgang Krumbein's report on the James ossuary concludes that it had been exposed to sunlight and atmospheric conditions for at least 200 years, but there is absolutely no indication that any of the Talpiot ossuaries had been removed, kept above ground for hundreds of years, and returned to the Tomb, which was carefully re-sealed (not to mention Oded Golan's claim to have bought the James ossuary at least a year or more before Talpiot was excavated). So what's left to do but postulate an 11th ossuary, which doesn't appear in Shimon Gibson's original plan of the tomb? Pure desperation.

Tabor has been keeping this case afloat through the rhetoric of 'civilized discussion' and 'careful investigation', but remarkably little of substance has emerged since the documentary was first aired. Are there new, hard facts that should be taken into consideration, or will we be treated to yet more tortured attempts to preserve some link, however tenuous, between 'Mariamenon' and Mary Magdalene, and the James ossuary to Talpiot? Sigh.

Aren't there more worthwhile things for NT scholars to be worrying about?

Anonymous said...

In response to jd walters:

I believe that you're missing Tabor's main point. That is, if it can be proven that the James ossuary came from Talpiot then it is most likely that Talpiot is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

I also have a theory about the Judah bar Yeshua ossuary: Its possible that Judah could actually have been the son of a brother of Yeshua, conceived through Yibbum. That is Judah bar Yeshua was not literally Yeshua's son. He was named "son of Yeshua" so that Yeshua's lineage would continue.

Anonymous said...


I am well aware of Tabor's main point. I know that since experts have pretty much shot down or at least greatly qualified the statistical, DNA and epigraphical arguments, Tabor thinks that he can save his theory if he can prove that the James ossuary came from Talpiot. Problem is (as I pointed out in my comment), the evidence is not on his side here either. Given the incongruent dimensions, Oded Golan's photo dating from 1976, the fact that the 10th ossuary was listed as plain and uninscribed and Krumbein's report, the chances that the James ossuary came from Talpiot are virtually nill.

Note also that earlier on his blog Tabor claimed that the case for Talpiot can stand independently of whether or not James came from Talpiot. Now he seems to be changing his tune.

And your theory about Yehudah bar Yeshua has not one shred of textual or archeological evidence behind it. Yeshua's first followers and associates (including Ya'akov his brother) were not interested in carrying on his line, and neither was he himself (he lived an ascetic life, and praised those who were eunuchs for the Kingdom of God). They were interested in spreading his message. Though of course, to salvage the Talpiot tomb theory, one could come up with a large number of statements completely untethered to the evidence as POSSIBLE. But that does not advance the theory one whit.

Anonymous said...

In response to jd,

One of the main arguments of the TV program in favor of the James ossuary belonging to the tomb was related to its "patina fingerprint". I believe that this or some other method can scientifically prove/disprove their case in this regard. I hope (but doubt) that some unbiased scientific analysis will be performed to validate this theory.

If the James ossuary doesn't belong to Talpiot, then I agree with you that their case is pretty weak.

With regards to my Yibbum theory, I think that the bar for proving Jesus had a son and a wife is much higher than proving that he had a wife. However, as you mentioned, the latter is still quite challenging.

With Regards,

Eric Rowe said...

Dr. Tabor, one of the assumptions that is necessary for the 600:1 figure to be asserted as a probability of the Talpiot tomb being that of Jesus's family is the assumption that out of the total number of tombs around Jerusalem of the period, one of them is known to have been that of Jesus's family. This assumption is not a prosopographical matter. Nor can such an assumption be granted anywhere near the 100% likelihood that would be required to allow the 600:1 assertion to stand. The ongoing discussion about the use and abuse of statistics in your theory has been devastating to those initial claims. Please stop saying that it's merely a matter of mathematicians avoiding the field of prosopography.

Anonymous said...

JD Walters:

No experts have "shot down" anything with regard to the Talpiot tomb.

The facts of the matter still stand: There was a tomb found with ossuaries containing a bunch of names connected to Jesus' family. Those people may be the Biblical family, may not be. However, it is unlikely that a random group of people had the exact same group of names, no matter how common the names were. If the James ossuary came from that tomb, the evidence that it would be connected to the Biblical Jesus would be that much stronger. If not, the evidence is not as strong, but it is still in the realm of possibility, if not probable.

You use fancy words to hide the fact that what you are arguing is close-minded and anti-intellectual. You have reached a conclusion before knowing the facts. I don't know all the facts, neither do you.

The bottom line is, nobody will ever "know" if Jesus of Nazareth was in the tomb, just as nobody "knows" whether he was resurrected. We're dealing with likelihoods and probabilities. It is possible that Jesus was buried in the tomb. Dismissing it out of hand is ignorant.

Paul F.

Daniel said...

"Dismissing it out of hand is ignorant."

I would suggest that assuming it is correct with no real proof is equally as ignorant. Also, attempting to manufacture proof or skew data and then present this data on television after a large publicity campaign is also ignorant. As a corollary to this, the assumption that no one would know or that the truth would never be found out was possibly the most ignorant action in this entire endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Paul F,

I have been following this story, not only since the documentary was announced, but since James Tabor wrote about the Talpiot tomb a year ago in his book, "The Jesus Dynasty". I have not arrived at my opinions before the facts. You are welcome to check out my blog,, for the past 5 or 6 posts to see how my discussion of the Talpiot evidence has evolved. You may not know all the facts, but I do, at least as far as anyone (including Tabor, unless he is deceitfully withholding information) does. I have carefully read all the information on the "Jesus Family Tomb" website, the Discovery Channel website, I have watched the documentary and the critical panel and have followed the blog discussion across the Web, including those of Ben Witherington, Darrel Bock, Mark Goodacre, Jim West, Randy Ingermanson and last but certainly not least James Tabor's own blog. Again I say, unless someone isn't telling us everything they know, I do know all the facts surrounding this case. I have certainly not dismissed the theory out of hand. After careful evaluation of the evidence, however, I have come to the conclusion that it is very, very unlikely that Talpiot is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

You rightly point out that it is still in the realm of the possible. True. It could be that our historical records are hopelessly wrong, that Jesus was buried here, had a son that nobody else knew about or even speculated about, etc. But the existing evidence does not raise the hypothesis beyond mere logical possibility. Anyone with a little training in science knows that there are infinitely many hypotheses which can consistently account for a given set of data. So mere possibility isn't all that impressive. One must move to the area of PLAUSIBILITY, by appeal to other external evidence, criteria such as simplicity, etc. Unless new evidence comes to light, Talpiot remains a mere possibility.

I'm sorry if my fancy words hurt your brain. Maybe if you haven't done in-depth study of this whole affair but are just intoxicated by the novelty of the idea and dazzled by the pronouncements of the 'experts', you should just stay away from this discussion.

Anonymous said...

In related news: Dr. Tabor recently posted at his blog that the dimensions of the James Ossuary are 57 x 26 x 30 cm. The first of these dimensions -- the length -- is, obviously, not 60.

Since Dr. Tabor has been posting here at NT-Gateway often, perhaps he could provide a simple answer to a simple question here:

Dr. Tabor, do you renounce your claim that the dimensions of the James Ossuary and the dimensions of the tenth ossuary from Talpiot, match "to the centimeter"? (I'm not asking about hypothetical measurements; this is about the measurements that have been recorded.)

Anonymous said...

Daniel, where you take from what I said that I assume that the theory is correct? I don't. I said it is possible, but nobody will ever know with any certainty one way or the other, that it is in the realm of possibility.

JD Walter, why didn't you say you have a blog? And you are a college student? I'm sorry for not immediately bowing to your superior wisdom. Nobody with a blog is ever wrong about anything. Students are well-known for having everything figured out. I'm just some dumb cracker who works in the bond market (I don't live far from Princeton).

You know all the facts? That's funny, since the people studying it don't. The whole point is, let's study it, get more information and make conclusions as we know more.

It is nice of you to impugn the motives of others while not examining the motives of those you choose to believe. Christian scholars like Witherington have spent a lifetime on theology that would be affected (at least in their own minds) if it was determined that Jesus was buried. I have read his site, and other Christian sites, and it is clear many of those scholars don't have an open mind because they "know" Jesus rose from the dead.

Witherington actually believes the Shroud of Turin is some sort of real relic. I'm sorry, I have a hard time seeing such a person as credible.

Paul F.

Anonymous said...

Dr.Goodacre (and hopefully Dr.Tabor)
I have two questions concerning the possible number of people in the Mariam[e]ne Mara ossuary. First, concerning the figure bounced around by Dr.Kloner and others of approx.35 bodies in the tomb, is that based on actual bones found in the tomb or an averaging of other tombs (I believe 1.7 bodies per ossuary, etc.)? Second, in an earlier post by Dr.Tabor on his blog, that seems to have been edited, he mentioned that DNA tests would show more than one body if the sampling were "representative." Was the sampling repsentative enough to rule out more than one body in the ossuary? (i.e. what qunatity and distribution would be necessary to qualify as "representative"?). Thank you, David Beatty

Anonymous said...

Dr.Goodacre (and Dr.Tabor)
My third question has to do with the 11th ossuary hypothesis. Dr.Tabor mentions in a post the possiblity of an 11th ossuary that was taken from the tomb after it was open on Friday (1980), and before Dr.Gibson arrived on Sunday for his analysis. Dr.Gibson, in a recent interview (, implies that the IAA were thorough and quick to get ossuaries out ot tombs (in light of possible robbery) and that ten places could be distinguished were the ossuaries had been. Dr.Gibson's statements seems to run counter to an 11th ossuary proposal. Why could not an 11th or 12th or 13th ossuary be stolen from the tomb in antiquity since we know the tomb had been opened at least once (Dr.Kloner and Rahmani) in antiquity. After being opened at that time, then the soil build up could have happened thus covering the original placement of any extra ossuaries. This would also explain the 150 years of "outdoor" aging of the James ossuary. Some argued that their would not have been a market for ossuaries in antiquity. So why steal one. Could there have been other reasons? I know this is an argument from silence, but if the patina tests hold true after the expanded testing (I beleive up to 100 samples according to Dr.Tabor's blog), it does seem to offer a new hypothesis (not that I agree with it). Thank you,

Anonymous said...

Paul F.,

I did not point you to my blog to show off my 'superior wisdom', but only to demonstrate that I did not come to this discussion with preformed opinions. I have been carefully evaluating all the evidence presented for and against the Talpiot hypothesis since the beginning. My negative conclusion about this theory is NOT based on a prior belief that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. It is based on weaknesses in the case the filmmakers and James Tabor have been making.

I did not say that I necessarily endorse everything Ben Witherington has said either. In fact, I think some of his counter-arguments are rather weak. All I said in my last post was that I have been following the discussion he hosts on his blog to get a variety of different perspectives, and his is only ONE of the blogs I have been following.

Likewise I was careful to point out that I know the facts to the extent that ANYONE ELSE knows, including James Tabor (unless, as I hinted, he is deliberately withholding information). My conclusion so far is based on the facts as far as anyone knows them. I have said repeatedly that if new, hard facts come to light I will consider them.

In any case, for what it's worth I'm sorry if I implied any lack of intelligence on your part. But I think it's fair to say that I'm a bit more qualified than you are (unless you're a New Testament scholar) to judge this case. I speak both ancient and modern Greek, have taken New Testament courses at Princeton University and have read much of the literature on my own. But I have not seen you so far engage critically with the evidence, only to judge the motives of those Christian scholars who have weighed in. Until that happens I won't know how much weight to place in your opinion. So far, I am not impressed.

Anonymous said...

Fourth (and last question), concerning the discussion about one or two hands involved in the MM inscription, could there not have been one hand, but with two different instruments. I know little or nothing about epigraphy (I agree with Dr.Tabor, that my ability to read P46 for Luke-Acts, does not mean I can read epigraphy), but could not the first instrument but something like a chisel requiring a hammer and thus making straight[er] lines and the second instrument be something that etches and thus able to make semi-cursive letters? If possible, then one could have two different styles, but one hand. Thanks! David

Anonymous said...

Two small points:

1) Re: DNA evidence and one or two bodies in the M/M ossuary - even if the sample examined is "representative," one notes that the lab was unable to examine chromosomal DNA from the sample. Only mitochondrial DNA was analyzed. Mitochondrial DNA tests are really not sufficient to establish the claim that only one human's remains were found in the ossuary. If the ossuary contained, for instance, a mother named "Martha" and a daughter named "Mariamne," then only one variety of mitochondrial DNA would show up because the mother and daughter, while two distinct individuals, have the same mitochondrial DNA. As such, Dr Tabor's mention of the DNA results is really not that compelling an argument for the claim that this ossuary belonged to only one woman.

2) Re: the patina tests on the James ossuary - I have to say that the "control" samples which they showed on the documentary looked just as close a "match" to the M/M ossuary as did the James ossuary. In other words, it is not clear to me that this sort of testing really establishes anything at all. I know that the documentary's producers claim that the 30 control samples did not match, but at least the ones that they showed looked no worse a match to my eyes than did the James ossuary patina sample.

Anonymous said...

James D. Tabor, you still don't understand the math. You wrote: "The names could be x, y, and z, it does not matter, as long as one can resonable talk about frequencies in a given time and culture. The 2nd step is then that of the historian/epigrapher/prosopographer, to see if there might be any "fit" between the cluster and anyone we can identify historically--"

The procedure you've just described is an abuse of statistics, as Feuerverger correctly stated in the Scientific American interview.

You can't just calculate the probability of finding one particular set of names, AFTER you've already found that set, and then proceed as if that exact set of names were the only set that would have been interesting. Instead you need to account for every other possible set of names that would have been equally interesting, as ranked by some metric which you can plausibly claim that you could have proposed BEFORE this particular set of names was found, based on the existing literary record of the person you're trying to find.

(In the Scientific American interview, see Feuerverger's response that begins "We're not supposed to just calculate the probability of the specific thing that has been observed.")

Anonymous said...

JD Walters:

I'm sure you are a sincere kid from a nice family and you are trying to figure things out, which is good.

I said what I said, take it for what it is worth, which is exactly nothing. Which, incidentally, is what your opinion is worth as well.

You say I haven't engaged the evidence, but what you mean is that I haven't reached any conclusions. That's my only point, any conclusion at this point would be impossible. Probably, a satisfying conclusion will never be possible, but that's the way life usually is.

You are entitled to believe that being able to speak Greek gives you wisdom, but you would be wrong. I know a lot about collateralized debt obligations, does that mean I can tell you which way bond prices are headed? Nope. Part of growing up is to understand what you don't know and can't know.

Paul f

Anonymous said...

Paul F,

I'm getting tired of this increasingly pointless exchange, since it is becoming obvious that you won't be able to offer informed perspectives on any of the evidence put forward, whether epigraphical, historical, statistical or patina-and-DNA-related.

You think it is an admirable thing on your part that you haven't reached a conclusion either way about this hypothesis. And I would agree. If your own personal evaluation of the evidence leads you to suspend judgment, that's fine. What I reacted so strongly to was your implying that those who HAVE reached such a conclusion, and in fact a negative one, do so only according to their prior beliefs and not based on an objective evaluation of the evidence. This is simply not true. My honest opinion, after carefully evaluating the available evidence, is that a strongly negative conclusion is warranted, whereas even agnosticism about this documentary's claims is too optimistic an assessment. Agnosticism is only warranted when both sides of a dispute seem to present equally compelling arguments or counter-arguments. This is simply not the case here.

I never claimed that knowing Greek gives me wisdom. What it DOES give me, however, is the ability to read our primary sources (i.e. the New Testament and non-canonical materials) and therefore to adjudicate between competing interpretations. For example, the filmmakers claim that 'Mariamne', the name found on one of the Talpiot ossuaries, is actually the name that was given to Mary Magdalene in early Christian tradition. But it takes a knowledge of Greek to be able to evaluate this claim. First of all, the name on the ossuary is not Mariamne, but a genitive form of Mariamenon, which is different though still in the relevant onomastic family (i.e. of Mary/Miryam/Mariam). Second, our earliest sources call her 'Maria' or 'Mariam', the same words used for Mary mother of Jesus and the other Marys in the New Testament. Therefore, the filmmakers' claim does not stand according to our evidence.

If you are confident or at least noncommital about your own agnosticism, that's fine. But don't presume to psycho-analyze the people who are involved in evaluating these claims unless you can offer your own evaluation of the evidence.

Anonymous said...

(This is going to be a bit lengthy.)

Among the online articles that Mark mentioned, I found Stephen Pfann’s brief essay particularly informative. But in a way, Dr. Pfann is only observing, from a different angle, the same thing which Dr. Feuerverger has affirmed about his own statistics:

"The interpretation of the computation should be that it is estimating the probability of there having been another family at the time, living in Jerusalem, whose tomb would be at least as 'surprising', under certain specified assumptions." (Andrey Feuerverger, at )

Let's walk through the assumptions which Dr. Feuerverger has listed, remembering that he has written, "Should even one of these assumptions not be satisfied then the results will not be statistically meaningful."

(1) "We assume that the physical facts of the case are as stated. (Note that the inscriptions on these ossuaries and the fact that they were provenanced properly do not appear to be under dispute.)"

The "Mariamene/Mara" inscription is under dispute. Pfann's proposal that it is actually two inscriptions -- "Mariame" and "kai Mara" looks rather strong. It will require more than a simple re-statement of the opposite view to keep the opposite view tenable.

(2) "We assume that the available onomasticon data is adequately relevant to the study at hand and that, on a time-cross-sectional basis, the assignment of names is, for practical purposes, adequately modelled by assuming independence."

Relevant, yes. Sufficient, no. Pfann's observations have an impact here: "A mere 16 of the 72 personal names account for 75% of the inscribed names (214 in all)." Included in that Top-16 list are the names Salome, Simon, Mary, Joseph, Judas, Lazarus, Martha, Jesus, and James (Jacob) -- all of which are connected to Jesus of Nazareth in one way or another. So while the chance that a group of four ossuaries would have any particular set of four of these names is low, the chance that a group of four ossuaries would have any non-particular set of four of these names -- and thus be comparatively "surprising" -- is higher.

If tomorrow someone found a tomb that contained 24 ossuaries, then wouldn’t we expect to find each of the names I just listed on at least one ossuary in the tomb, if it's legitimate to base the probability of name-occurrences on the percentages in the onomasticon? To an extent, the Talpiot tomb may just show us the sort of names that we would tend to find wherever we find larger-than-normal collections of inscribed ossuaries.

(3) "We assume that 'Marianemou e Mara' is a singularly highly appropriate appellation for Mary Magdalene. Note that this assumption is contentious and furthermore that this assumption drives the outcome of the computations substantially."

As Feureverger says, it's contentious. Especially since Hippolytus and Origen do not explicitly identify "Mariamne" as Mary Magdalene, and because the "Acts of Philip" is a fourth-century tale (with several fabulous miracles) that identifies Mairamne as a sister of Philip (who was from Bethsaida); it does not call her Mary Magdalene.

(4) "We assume that Yose/Yosa is a highly appropriate appellation for the brother of Jesus who is referred to as Joses in Mark 6:3 of the NT."

What would really be a highly appropriate appellation for Jose, son of Joseph would be the ossuary-inscription "Jose, son of Joseph." (Plus, there's a text-critical question here. Vaticanus has IWSHTOS in Mark 6:3. Sinaiticus has IWSHF. Alexandrinus has IWSH, supported by the Byzantine Text. Also, the parallel in Matthew 13:55 has IWSHF. Why should we rely on Mark in Rome, rather than Matthew, on this sort of point?)

(5) "We assume that the Latinized version Marya is an appropriate appellation for Mary of the NT."

This assumption stands. "Marya" would be an appropriate name for Mary, even if one were to insist that it is just a variant-form, not necessarily "Latinized." But it's just one of several forms of the name "Mary," which was an extremely common name.

(6) "It is assumed that Yose/Yosa is not the same person as the father Yosef who is referred to on the ossuary of Yeshua."

Why? L.Y. Rahmani explicitly conveyed his suspicion that the "Yose" and "Marya" in the Talpiot tomb were husband and wife, and that Yehuda-bar-Jesus was their grandson. This assumption seems to rest on another assumption: that a person's personal name was consistently spelled the same way. But that's like saying that a person who, when buried, was known as Joe, would not be remembered a generation later as Joseph.

This assumption is unwarranted, and as far as I can tell it exists only to guide the statistician away from the otherwise nigh-inevitable deduction that the Yose-inscription is negative evidence: if the Yose at Talpiot is the father of the Yeshua at Talpiot, then the Yeshua at Talpiot is not Jesus of Nazareth, because Saint Joseph would, in all probability, have been buried in Galilee when Jesus was a youth.

(7) "We assume that the presence of Matya does not invalidate the find but we assign no evidentiary value to it (other than factoring in its combinatorial role)."

Fair enough.

(8) "We also assume that the Yehuda son of Yeshua ossuary does not invalidate the find but we ignore it in the computations. (This last assumption is contentious, although note that there is more than one possible explanation as to how it might have occured.)"

This seems unwarranted. Suppose someome found a tomb inscribed "George & Martha W." from about the year 1800. We have no indication that George and Martha Washington produced offspring. None of our historical sources suggest that they produced offspring. So -- even if we forget about Mount Vernon -- shouldn't it impact a calculation about the likelihood that we've found the tomb of President George Washington and First Lady Martha Washington, if we find, alongside the "George & Martha W." tomb, a tomb that says, "Thomas, son of George"? Of course it should.

Dr. Feuerverger also mentioned some "additional facts" -- I like to think that perhaps he meant "factors" instead of "facts" -- which he noted as interesting; he did not say that they had a big impact on his calculations. Nor did he say that they had no impact on his calculations. Anyway, here are some of them:

(9) "The computations . . . does not take into account families living outside of the Jerusalem area."

What is "the Jerusalem area"? The walled city? The area inhabited during Passover?

(10) "The high proportion (6 out of 10) of ossuaries bearing inscriptions, evidencing a more than typically literate family."

It's not a given that a high proportion of inscriptions is evidence of an above-average literacy rate among the family-members. If the Talpiot tomb was used for several generations, and housed some 35 corpses at one time or another, then we face a literacy-rate of 6 out of 35. Still relatively high, but we're talking about the level of literacy required to write a relative's name. And that's assuming that no names were inscribed by the ossuary-making mason.

(11) "As well, the use of Hebrew/Aramaic script on 5 ossuaries with Greek on only one of them -- and Greek inscription being thought more appropriate to someone from Magdal who also preached in Greek speaking areas."

Greek was the common tongue of the Roman Empire in the first century. An inscription-writer who did not feel threatened by Hellenism could make such an inscription in the early first century. Similarly, an inscription-writer who had embraced Hellenism could make such an inscription in the mid-late first century (or later). The Greekness of the Greek ossuary-inscription is no reason to connect it to Migdal (or to Mary Magdalene). Greek was everywhere.

(12) "The unusual and highly untypical gable over circle carving on the facade of the tomb which is contentiously being argued as being symbolic of early Christianity."

The gable may be simply a gable. (It's sure not an "inverted pyramid.") The circle appears to be an ordinary symbol, unrelated to Christianity, that may mean "This is a tomb." (If you do a Google "Images" search for "Herod Philip Coin," you will see some coins which appear to feature a building that bears this symbol, or something a lot like it.)

(13) "The apparent absence of 'negatives' in the finding, i.e. of archeological details (other than the ones mentioned here) that would in and of themselves invalidate 'the hypothesis' or that would appear to lessen its likelihood."

I can think of a few negatives: the likelihood that the Jose at Talpiot was married to the Marya at Talpiot, for instance. Not to mention the New Testament's reports that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and ascended bodily to heaven, and that his disciple Peter insisted that Jesus' flesh did not see corruption. Even taking the Gospels and Acts strictly as artifacts, the reports they contain about the actions and statements of Jesus' followers during the year after his death do not seem like the actions and statements of people who were aware that Jesus' body was decomposing in a nearby tomb. Nor do the Gospels and Acts mention a Yehuda-bar-Jesus.

(14) "Claims about mitochondrial DNA evidence."

The DNA evidence only established that DNA from the "Mariamene/Mara" or "Miriame kai Mara" ossuary and DNA from the "Yeshua-bar-Joseph" did not come from individuals with the same mother.

(15) "Contentious claims, backed by claimed spectral patina evidence, that the contentious James ossuary (with its disputed secondary inscription) had originated in the same tombsite."

Inasmuch as Joe Zias has reported that the tenth ossuary was taken from Talpiot and placed in the IAA courtyard, and
inasmuch as the James Ossuary, at its greatest length, is 56 (or, according to Dr. Tabor, 57) cm long, and the length of the tenth Talpiot ossuary was recorded as 60 cm, and
inasmuch as the tenth Talpiot ossuary was described as plain, and the James Ossuary has an inscription on one side and faint circles (with fainter designs within them) on the other side, and
inasmuch as Joseph Gath’s initial report explicitly stated that the tomb contained ten ossuaries, and Shimon Gibson has, as far as I can tell, said nothing to really draw that into question, and
inasmuch as Wolfgang Krumbein has meticulously examined the James Ossuary and concluded that a particular kind of pitting on it indicates that it was not in a cave environment for 200 years (150 years, minimum), and
inasmuch as the "patina-fingerprinting" presentation in the "Lost Tomb" movie appeared to be misleading, for various reasons, and
inasmuch as Oded Golan has produced time-stamped photographs of the James Ossuary, showing its inscription, from 1976 (even though this could be a clever trick using old photo-paper or something; an FBI agent has testified that the photographs appear genuine, or words to that effect),
I think we may dispense with the theory that the James Ossuary is from the Talpiot tomb.
(Could anyone offer some statistics on the odds that all of these considerations will be surmounted?)

So: the invalidation of even one of the assumptions assumed by Dr. Feuerverger renders his present calculations meaningless. And almost all of those assumptions are invalid.

Anonymous said...

JD Walters:

I never once questioned your motives or integrity. I made the obvious and not-original point that those paid by Christian organizations have an obvious bias.

I don't know why it upsets you so that I don't think it possible to conclude a matter when many, many facts are either not known or in dispute. But I do have to admit to being wrong, when I called you a nice kid.

Paul F.

Anonymous said...

Paul F.,

That is NOT what I got upset about. I did not get upset about you coming to the conclusion that we cannot decide on this matter one way or another based on the evidence at hand. I was very clear about this in my last post. What I DID get upset about was your implication (which you just repeated) that Christian scholars who have weighed in on this controversy do so from personal bias and prior beliefs. That is simply not true. Most Christian scholars who have weighed in negatively do so on the basis of a careful examination of the archeological, literary evidence, etc.

I have nothing against you personally. But I do think that you overstepped your competence when making judgments about the psychology of the scholars involved in this dispute.

Jay said...
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Jay said...

James --

Regarding the Point #6 on your very excellent list, I have something to add. There seems to me to be an inconsistent application here on the part of the filmmakers.

Specifically, they assume that Yose is not Yehosef because of different spellings of what is essentially the same name. At the same time, they wish to place the "James" ossuary at Talpiot -- despite the fact that the name of the father of James is spelled "Yosef."

It cannot be both ways. If Yose cannot be Yehosef the father of Yeshua because of different spellings, then Yosef the father of James cannot be Yehosef the father of Yeshua because of different spellings. Precluding Yose as the father necessitates excluding James, not from the tomb per se, but from brotherhood of the Jesus in the tomb.

My feeling is the following. Probabilistically speaking, we should expect the names to correlate. In other words -- we should expect a person to be called the same name across time, especially in a formal context like a burial tomb. Thus, I would agree with their expectation that Yose is not Yehosef. I disagree, however, that this must be the case. And therefore you are right to fault them for assuming the possibility away. There is a non-zero chance that the two are one-and-the-same. Thus, what they should do is multiply the final number by some value that represents the probability that this Yose is not the father. Even if it is assumed 95% likely that Yose is not the father, you would still lower the odds to proportionately.

More importantly, it certainly is not at all logical to assume, in the first instance, that different names preclude similar identities and then, in the second instance, to assume that different names have no probative value on the identities. This is what they do. They essentially say, "No chance that this Yose was the father because the names are different. As for the inscription regarding James, well the stonemason probably just spelled the father's name differently."

This gets to my fundamental critique of the methodology of the argument: there is a wide-ranging bias in the treatment of the data. Data that favors the hypothesis is included, data that disfavors it is excluded.

Without drawing inferences about intentions of the filmmakers (and, especially, without implying that consultants like Tabor had any say in how the data was evaluated/presented) -- I must say that engaging with the film/book feels very much like playing a game of checkers with my 3 year old nephew, who likes to switch the rules of the game when he assesses that he is losing.

Best wishes,
Jay Cost

Anonymous said...

Hi Folks,

Yes Jay, about changing the rules of the game. Very true. Especially vis a vis the math.

I'm still waiting to know what is Andrey's 'conclusion' that 'works' - from one of his rewrites (see above).

And I am surprised that James Tabor still puts up a front that nothing has changed with the math analysis even while the Discovery website makes major fundamental overhauls to the claims. Very curiuos.

The probabilistic fallacy involved in known affectionately as the 'prosecutor's fallacy' (one aspect of 'post-facto-probability'). And I do not think that most who have discussed the math have done a good job of explaining the root fallacy.

They let those relatively ignorant of probability, Simcha and James Tabor, set the rules of the game. Two men who insist that a Professor (Andrey) should only be a bean-counting pawn, rather than a probing probabilistic theoratician. Andrey should not be one who would develop meaningful analysis. Only shill analysis with a totally phoney methodology pawned to the public.

I posted a smidgen on the prosecutor's fallacy today on IIDB

Steven Avery