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.


Benjamin S. Lewis said...

I agree, Mark. I wrote yesterday on BW's blog that I half expected such an argument to be forthcoming from Tabor. It would be a tough one to make since it would have to be based primarily on a record that documents a talking leopard and that it would have to overcome the geographical difficulties of the now solitary Mary coming from both Magdala and Bethany. Not to mention a brand new ad hoc argument to explain why it was written in Greek. On the other hand, the following statements from Tabor today suggest that he may very well attempt to make it or some other argument equally difficult to make:

Or alternatively, IF we have two names, the proverbial “Mary and Martha,” then every N.T. reader knows these were two of the most intimate sisters in Jesus’ life–indeed, some have suggested that “Mary,” who sat as his feet and was commended by him in Luke, did in fact become his companion. This is the home that Jesus stayed in the last week of his life. This family was the closest to him of any he had in Jerusalem. So ironically, “Mary & Martha” just pushes things all the more toward a “Jesus family tomb.” My own view is that the ossuary of the N.T. “Mary and Martha” has already been found on the Mt. of Olives, where they live. I write of this in my book, The Jesus Dynasty, p. 236.

Among Tabor’s three categories of intellectual disposition on the tomb evidence, the above statements suggest he is in category that’s pretty sold on this being the “Jesus Family Tomb.”

Accordingly, even if Tabor is wrong about one of his pivotal arguments (that these are the bones of the Honourable Lady Lord Mary) – he doesn’t think he is, but that’s of no real consequence (“It’s just a flesh wouind!”) – and it turns out instead that they are the bones of a certain Mary and Martha, then, happily enough, there just so happens to be a Mary and Martha in Jesus’ life. It clearly follows that since this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, these must be the bones of these two sisters, Mary and Martha of Bethany. Of course there’s the small hurdle of his book putting him on record that Mary and Martha’s bones are elsewhere, but the facts in that book are sufficiently flexible, and in the name of truth, he’s already abandoned views expressed in that book for the ultimate good of getting Jesus’ bones in that tomb. After all, his bones are out there somewhere, and this tomb is the tomb is as good as any and better than most.

If I have mischaracterized Tabor’s “intellectual disposition” here, then why does he even suggest that “Mary & Martha just pushes things all the more toward a Jesus family tomb” if he doesn’t believe that those are the bones of Mary and Martha of Bethany? How can Tabor assert that the Mary & Martha inscription on the Talpiot ossuary in question supports anything about the Jesus family tomb if the bones of Mary and Martha are in the Mt. of Olives tomb, as Tabor believes?? Are all his beliefs so elastic that he is willing to discard any one of them just to get Jesus’ bones in the Talpiot tomb? Ironically enough, he tells us (for all we know, with a straight face), “Some have suggested that Mary [of Bethany] … did in fact become his companion.” Now for the time being, of course, Tabor has Jesus firmly bound in holy wedlock to Mary Magdalene. But if it should turn out that maintaining this position does not bear favorably on his Jesus Tomb theory, then it is perfectly reasonable, according to Tabor’s “First Principle,” to conclude that Jesus was married to Mary of Bethany. And what’s more, the ossuary previously belonging to Mary Magdalene now belongs to Mary and Martha of Bethany. All of these have now somehow become probable. Otherwise, how does the Mary & Martha inscription magically “push things all the more toward a Jesus family tomb”?

What is Tabor’s “First Principle”? It is no “big mystery.” From his association with the irresponsible claims in the documentary and his writings in the last two weeks, it seems plain for all to see: Any historical probability (e.g., Jesus of Nazareth was not married, Jesus of Nazareth did not have a son, a Jesus the Messiah ossuary would have a real inscription instead of graffiti, the ossuaries would have toponymic markers, the secret of Jesus’ bones would be exposed, etc.) or any of his own previously held beliefs (e.g., the identity of Jesus’ father or the identity of his wife or identity of the bones in the Mariamene/Mara box) is less probable than his belief that the Talpiot tomb held the bones of Jesus of Nazareth.

I am not advancing an ad homimem argument here against Tabor’s Jesus Tomb theory. His arguments stand or fall on their own merit. I am merely attempting to understand and explain why he has persistently shown himself willing to embrace so enthusiastically (at times dogmatically and at times even desperately) arguments with so little merit. And of course I’m attempting to put him in one of the three categories he so smugly posted on his Jesus Dynasty web site, but has recently removed.

I realize, that as a colleague of Tabor, it would not be appropriate for Mark to agree with my characterization of his "intellectual disposition," I invite him or anyone else to point out any error in my facts or my logic. I am willing to stand corrected.

Judy Redman said...

FWIW, Mark, the way I understand "Mary Magdalene is now missing" is that she is now missing from the list of people in the tomb that was being used as evidence that this is Jesus' family tomb, rather than missing from the tomb itself.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Pfann has posted a slightly expanded version of his interesting paper, with added comments contrasting the proposed two hands and writing implement[s] and a larger illustration of the first name; still a few minor typos remain in the bibliography: read Nahal Hever; Yardeni. By the way, are new, better [better than in Kloner, Rahmani...] inscription photos available? D. Bock bible.org reported on Tal Ilan reading "Mariam he kai Mara"--to anyone who knows: is "he" here intended to be read as h=eta, last letter of the first name? Hi, Jim Tabor, if you're reading: your blog formerly read that you'd heard through the grapevine that Emile Puech read two names; now it reads that one or two read two names--any news there? Jerusalem Post today reports Simcha Jacobovici as saying "Anyone who looks at it can see that the script was written by the same hand." Does this mean he has dropped the I-am-a-reporter only not a paleographer/etc. stance? Any comment yet from F. Bovon? The mentions, e.g., of Jack Finegan, Dominus Flevit, Pompeii Christians(?), etc. brings up a rather large bibliography on what does or does not indicates early Christian and/or Jewish Christian material culture evidence including Bagatti and his students, Joan E. Taylor, and my 1990 dissertation (which is partly out of date), among others.

Stephen Goranson

Stephen C. Carlson said...

To my untrained eye too, it looks like Pfann is convincing as to the reading KAI, and Rahmani was wrong (these things happen).

I suppose a positive result of all this sensationalism about the ossuaries is that they have gotten more attention and mistakes can be corrected.

Anonymous said...

If Tabor has written that "Mary & Martha" would make his argument stronger, then he has proved that he still doesn't understand the math.

His entire case is fundamentally mathematical, because his evidence is entirely circumstantial. His failure to understand the math means that he has failed to understand his own argument.

If you choose a pair of women randomly, what is the probability that their names will be Mary and Martha? If each woman has a 70/328 chance of having the name Mary, and a 20/328 chance of having the name Martha, then the pair has a 175/6724 chance of having the names Mary and Martha. This is slightly more than 1/35. Remember that the original calculation claimed a probability of only 1/160 for the name Mariamene!

Joe Weaks said...

When I had first looked at the MM ossuary, to my untrained eye it certainly looked to me like a different hand for the second name. Pfann's article just spells out what seems obvious to me. Comparing the Rho's and the Alpha's, well they are clearly scribed differently among the two names.
That makes it highly plausible another woman was added, and implausible that it is a title of the same person.

Peter Nathan said...

Re Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala together with the Acts of Philip. Firstly the apparent purpose of the Acts of Philip were homeletical and not historical. See "An inquiry into the relationship between community and text: the apocryphal Acts of Philip 1 and the encratites of Asia Minor" Richard N. Slater,in The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, ed. F. Bovon etal. So the use of the Acts of Philip to establish any form of historical reality is pushing the envelope too far.
Secondly, the point has also been made that the sister of Philip, ie. Mariamne or Mariamme, appears to be a composite person encompassing all the Marys' in the NT including the mother of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mark for a fine blog.

I want to mention an aspect of the probability calculation that is often overlooked, even in the various alternative calcs that are given.

Essentially, the Feuerverger calculations are only of the supposed rarity of the cluster or as James Tabor said on ANE ..

> James Tabor
> "Feueverger ... numbers had nothing to do with the identification with the Jesus tomb"

Two different types of probability calculations are mixed-and-matched for those who as James Tabor said..

James Tabor
> "People don’t realize how unique sets of even common names are when it comes to simple probabilities".

A calculation of unique clusters is mixed up with a supposed or presumed or intimated calculation of a 'Jesus Family Tomb'.

I began to try to unravel this on ANE however they ended for now the JFT threads. So I have continued posting on the skeptic forum IIDB which has been relatively good on this question.

Especially if probability interests you please take a look. My post, the response by James and my further post can be found here at these links ..

Did you see the Discovery Channel Jesus Tomb, all 3 hours?

Personally I believe that the mixing of oil-and-water calculations, an improper probability methodology (whether done by agenda or ignorance or a combination of both) is the major integrity and scholastic issue of the JFT presentation. The well of honest study was poisoned by a methodology of manipulation. To be blunt, I did not mind the Hollywood extraganza stuff and the various errors in explanation were all secondary - compared to cooking the books.

Steven Avery

Anonymous said...

And this URL will work :-)


One of the major issues is the difficulty of 'post facto probability' where you are trying to figure out both the significance and probability of an event after it occurred. This is quite a different realm conceptually than your normal coin-flip type of calculations, the issues are far more nuanced.

Please note how improbable is my word verification for this entry 26 to the 6th, about 1 in 200,000,000 by a quick mental calculation Isn't that amazing. What does it indicate that such a rare event occurred ? :-)

Steven Avery