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.


Anonymous said...

It seems like 'the last stand' will be fought around the possibility of the James ossuary having come from the Talpiyot tomb. Dr Tabor on his blog has been priming this pump for almost a week. He claims that he knows facts which have not been made public yet, that he has received input from people involved whose time has not yet come to be revealed. Why doesn't he just answer this simple question: Kloner 1996, based on the original notes of Yosef Gat, states the dimensions of the 10th ossuary as 60-26-30 (cm). The official report on the James Ossuary at BAR lists the dimensions of the James Ossuary as 50.5-25-30.5(cm). Yet Dr Tabor claimed in his book that the dimensions of the 10th missing ossuary match those of the James Ossuary "to the centimeter". So the question is, does he have measurements of the 10th ossuary and the James Ossuary different from those cited in the literature, and if so where did he get them from? And if not, how does he justify this claim? I remember that in a response to Jack Poirer's review of his book, when Poirer pressed him on the same point, all he said was that the information in his book, as far as he could tell was accurate. Details, please! Why all this tip-toeing around? Dr Tabor, please produce a set of measurements, justify where they came from, and see if they support your theory.

Anonymous said...

Mark, thanks for this. Just a few quick observations.

1. On the bone fragments tested, the type of tests that were run would show if there were more than one individual in either ossuary, as you would have gotten multiple mitDNA results. I guess nothing is finally certain but all one can do is test what is in an ossuary and report the results.

2. In terms of Discovery and the film as far as I know only Feuerverger was consulted. Simcha's idea was to bring in an expert for the various areas, i.e, DNA, patina, epigraphy, statistics, biblical/historical texts, etc. I on my own, with no official connection to the project, have asked two others to help me with questions and analysis. They are in touch privately with several of those who have proposed alternative models and are evaluating Pfann, Poirier, Bauckham, Cost, etc. and their ideas for me. Several of us are in touch privately and I think with a co-operative relationship rather than a baiting and confrontational one we can collectively come up with something pretty definitive on the Talpiot tomb questions. So far, from what I have seen, some of these alternative proposal are faulty, but that will still have to be sorted out. I have no stake in whether this is or is not the tomb, in fact even being as persuaded as I am it might be has cost me enormously it seems, but I think in time my stand will be understood. I do believe that Jesus died and was buried somewhere, and if this is it, it would be an amazing thing that it was opened in 1980 by dynamite and maybe we can learn things from the tomb (it was only quickly examined and there appear to be inscriptions as far as I could tell when I went in).

3. On the reading for Yeshua I think there is a nice blowup chart of the reading of Cross and I find it very clear. You can download it to study. I also have really clear photos and when you see the ossuary in good light, eye to eye, it seems clear. No idea of Pfann's reading either. I have also read that Kloner was saying we have four or five examples of Yeshua bar Yehosef but I have only seen two, but maybe there are more outside the State collection. If so it would be nice to know.

Contrary to how it might appear if I have not written or discussed all I know it is not to play some silly game, as one of your readers implies, in a kind of disrespectful badgering of me. Certain people have taken certain stands publicly about how and in what ways the excavation was conducted, who was there, who saw what, and until I consult with those involved, and also get advise on what I might say, I continue to study this as I have for three years now. I did answer Zias directly because he spoke falsely about me. If he had not gone to the press with those things I would have remained silent on that as well. I detest that sort of thing in our field and I guess I naively think people are what we would hope they should be as scholars wanting the truth. The dimensions are no big mystery and I would be a fool to say they are the same as the missing ossuary if they were not, but right now I am not going to go into it for the reasons stated above. I guess it comes down to trust and just basic fair play. One thing no one seems to give much weight to is that it was Shimon Gibson who was there the Sunday and Monday of the dig, all day, both days. At the right time his story on things will also be factored in. I think there is going to be a panel in Jerusalem next week and he will be on it. I leave it to him to speak for himself. It is not my place.

James Tabor

Anonymous said...

P.S. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, I am so glad you mentioned Randy Ingermanson's page. What a model of sensibility and good taste. I do not think he is correct on his statistical analysis as far as I can follow it, but I want to consider it further and run it by the people I am working with. I have a take on the historical circumstances that I think really adds to the picture considerably from the work I have done on the Jesus Family.

Anonymous said...

"The dimensions are no big mystery and I would be a fool to say they are the same as the missing ossuary if they were not, but right now I am not going to go into it for the reasons stated above. I guess it comes down to trust and just basic fair play."

I can hardly bring myself to believe what I am reading here. I ask a simple, direct question about sets of three numbers and where they come from, and I get a reply in which Dr Tabor says that he would be a fool to say that the dimensions are the same if they are not? Well, of course he is right, but the question is, is he in fact a fool or not? I do not call him this. I only ask that he give the hard facts.

Trust and fair play is all well and good, but this is not fair play. If there is nothing mysterious about the dimensions of the 10th ossuary and the James ossuary, then surely the elaborate suspense-building is not required.

Are you suggesting that Shimon Gibson has these different measurements for either the 10th ossuary or the James ossuary? If so, I'm sure it would not hurt his reputation in the least if you were to quote his numbers before he takes part in this panel.

Furthermore, Dr Tabor, are you aware of Dr Krumbein's observations on page 8 of his report on the James ossuary, which states that this ossuary was exposed to sunlight and atmospheric conditions different from a cave environment for a period of at least 200 years? How then could this ossuary be from Talpiot? Are we to suppose that there was a break-in, that particular ossuary was stolen, circulated for a few hundred years above ground, then re-buried with the rest so that archeologists could excavate Talpiot in 1980?

Anonymous said...

Carl Bialik ("The Numbers Guy"), "Odds of 'Lost Tomb' Being Jesus' Family Rest on Assumptions," Wall Street Journal, March 9:

Stephen Goranson

Anonymous said...

Mr. Walters,

I suggest you change your tone and lower the heat a bit. You are introducing an atmosphere on this otherwise very sane Blog that is not helpful and is characteristic of other forums. Why would you ask me if I were aware of Krumbein's report? I have said what I have said and I will say more at some point. My purpose is to explore possibilities not denounce and demand, and that I am doing, and in the proper manner with respect for those involved, living and dead. And by the way, I don't know or say the 10th missing ossuary is the James ossuary, I am testing it as a hypothesis.

James Tabor

Anonymous said...

Dr Tabor,

I apologize if my frustration at having my quest for facts met with obfuscation and evasion was a bit too heated. But I have never experienced something like this before. I am in university, and in discussions with friends and professors I am held accountable for numbers when they come up. I claim in Religion precept that a certain percentage of people in the US claim to have had paranormal experiences. Then someone asks, "Where do those statistics come from?" and if I am not prepared to state my sources on the spot my claim is immediately brushed aside. Certainly if in response to that question I would say that "I would be a fool if I claimed that those statistics are true when they are not" and begin to suspect those who asked the question of being demanding and paranoid, I would get some pretty odd looks.

I appreciate that you are only 'testing the hypothesis' that the James ossuary is from Talpiot. I also understand that matching the dimensions of the two ossuaries does not necessarily settle the case one way or another (though you would probably say it adds something to its plausibility, which I would grant). But in your book "The Jesus Dynasty" you made a specific, factual claim, based on two sets of three numbers, namely that the dimensions of the James ossuary and the 10th ossuary match "to the centimeter", and I am investigating whether that claim is true or false. Jack Poirier has previously raised the same question in his review of your book, which came out long before this whole media controversy over Talpiot got going. The ONLY way to silence critics on this point is to give the hard facts, as you know them. It will not do to simply insist that "the information in my book, so far as I know, is accurate". That is what you must demonstrate by giving your own two sets of three numbers. It is not something you can base your defense on. It is merely assertion, if not accompanied by demonstration.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone here see a reason why Shimon Gibson, rather than James Tabor, should explain Dr. Tabor's assertion that the dimensions are "precisely the same, to the centimeter," ("Jesus Dynasty," p. 32)?

What is Gibson supposed to say that would bring some light on the subject? Dr. Tabor has already said (in "Jesus Dynasty") that "Gibson did recall that when he arrived to do his drawings, some days after the excavation began, some but not all the ossuaries were in place. Several had been moved to facilitate the excavation work. He drew them in their original locations as the director of the excavation, Joseph Gath, indicated. Gibson told me that he is not sure if all ten were on site at that time or not."

(This statement in "Jesus Dynasty" (p. 32) seems difficult to reconcile with Tabor's statement above that "It was Shimon Gibson who was there the Sunday and Monday of the dig, all day, both days." I hope it was not too rude of me to point out this . . . discrepancy.)

If Gibson was not even sure that he had seen 10 ossuaries at Talpiot, when he had talked to Tabor, what could Gibson say now that would impact the equation as far as Tabor's claim about the dimensions is concerned?

If the measurements of the James Ossuary provided in the Nov/Dec 2002 BAR are correct, then the length of the James Ossuary at its base is 50 cm, and the length of the James Ossuary at its greatest length is 56 cm. (The six-centimeter difference is due to the ossuary's irregular shape.) But 56 cm is four centimeters shorter than 60 cm.

In the televised discussion with Ted Koppel, Dr. Tabor said, "We measured it; they do" (i.e., we measured the James Ossuary, and the dimensions do match). How can the measurements match when one length-dimension is 56 cm and the other one is 60 cm? I can only imagine two ways:

(A) Dr. Tabor has measured the length of the James Ossuary more accurately than anyone else, and it is 60 cm long.

(B) Gath's notes originally said "50 cm" instead of "60 cm," and either his handwriting was messy or this numeral was inaccurately transmitted into print; this "Typo Theory" would imply that the James Ossuary and the 10th Talpiot ossuary both are 50 cm long.

But either theory is somewhat problematic, if employed as evidence for the idea that the James Ossuary is from the Talpiot tomb. The main problem for "A" is that the BAR article's description was very precise; it would be highly remarkable for a measurement-error of 10 centimeters or 4 centimeters to go uncorrected. And one problem for "B" is that, istm, if Tabor was intending to take this approach, he already had the measurements he needed and there was no need to re-measure the James Ossuary; the only need was to get a firsthand look at Gath's notes.

Another problem is that the tenth Talpiot ossuary was described as plain. And while the inscription on the James Ossuary is not huge, and while the compass-circles on the other side of the James Ossuary are faint, no evidence has been presented to justify the idea that the same people who confirmed that the other blank ossuaries were indeed blank somehow erred in regard to the tenth one.

And another problem is Wolfgang Krumbein's report in which he stated -- describing the James Ossuary -- that "The root or climbing plant marks as well as the severe biopitting on the top and bottom parts of the ossuary indicate that the ossuary was exposed to direct sunlight and atmospheric weathering and other conditions that are not typical of a cave environment, for a period of at least 200 years."

So on one hand, we have Krumbein's statement that some features on the James Ossuary indicate that it was not in a cave environment for at least 200 years. And we have a description of the 10th Talpiot ossuary as "plain, broken." And we have a difference in the length of the 10th Talpiot ossuary as cited by Tabor (60 cm) and the base-length of the James Ossuary (50 cm) and the length of the James Ossuary along its longest edge (56 cm).

At what point does an appeal to wait for future detail-disclosures become an attempt to sell a cat in a sack? And at what point does it become obvious that the protest "Don't ask such direct questions!" is really just another way of saying, "Don't blow on my house of cards"?

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.
Curtisville Christian Church
Tipton, Indiana