Tuesday, March 20, 2007

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.


EMC said...

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.

Chris Weimer said...

Steve Caruso came into the aramaic yahoo group a little while ago asking about his analysis. We discussed it here. I'm certainly not an expert, but his reading didn't look good from an historical sense.

Chris Weimer

Anonymous said...

A question concerning the James ossuary as a possible 11th ossuary: Dr.Tabor mentions in his blog the possiblity of an 11th ossuary; one taken from the tomb after it was opened on Friday (1980), and before Dr. S.Gibson arrived on Sunday for his analysis. Dr.Gibson, in a recent interview (www.vision.org/visionmedia/blog.aspx?id=2492), implies that the IAA were thorough and quick to get ossuaries out of tombs (in light of high street value in antiquities market) and that ten places could be distinguished were the ossuaries had been. Dr.Gibson's statements seem to run counter to an 11th ossuary proposal. Here's another possibility: 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 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 (I believe Dr. Witherington)of the James ossuary. Some have argued that their would not have been a market for ossuaries in antiquity. So why go through the effort to steal one. Could there have been other reason? I know this is an argument from silence, but if the patina tests hold true after the expanded testing (I believe up to 100 samples according to Dr.Tabor's recent blog), it does seem to offer a new hypothesis (not that I agree with it). Thank you,

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

On the "Jesus, son of Joseph" inscription and identifying it with "Jesus of Nazareth":

I think Dr. Tabor has refuted the argument (presented by Magness and several others) that Jesus' family was poor, and therefore a rock-hewn tomb such as the Talpiot tomb could not have been afforded. In his reply to Magness, he wrote:

"Magness argues that whoever took the body would have buried him in a simple trench grave with no marker since the family was too poor to have afforded a rock-hewn tomb. Yet, she seems to allow that at least one follower of influence and means, namely Joseph of Arimathea, did in fact see to the initial burial. Why would one assume that either Joseph, or other followers of means who were devoted to his messianic program, would not be able to provide a permanent tomb? The Jesus movement, now led by James his brother, was headquartered in Jerusalem for the next forty years and their numbers and influence were enough to be noted by Josephus in the Antiquities. The family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, and with whom Jesus was intimately connected, could afford to bury their dead in a rock-hewn tomb. I also find the evidence presented by Mancini, Bagatti and Milik, and Sukenik and Avigad, regarding rock-tomb burials with inscribed ossuaries elsewhere in Talpiot, at Dominus Flevit, and on the Mt. of Offense, as convincingly connected to the early followers of Jesus (Finegan, Archaeology of the N.T., 359-74).

"On more general grounds what Magness overlooks, in my view, is the extraordinary devotion that followers exhibit toward their spiritual/messianic leaders. Mark tells us that the followers of John the Baptizer went to collect his body and that they placed him in a tomb (Mark 6:29). The Syriac "Ascents of James," for example, recounts how devout followers of James buried another murdered leader, known in some traditions as Stephen, in a tomb to which they made an annual pilgrimage close to Jericho (see Van Voorst, Ascents SBLDS 112). I have studied apocalyptic and messianic movements, both ancient and modern, for thirty years now and I have never encountered anything close to the scenario that Magness imagines when it comes to such groups burying a murdered leader. It is an open and debated question in the field of Christian origins as to whether Jesus was poor and without means of any sort, but even if that were granted, to rule out the likelihood that devoted followers of means would have provided him and his family with a place of burial is unwarranted."

I find the argument that followers of a "messianic leader" would want their leader to have a tomb rather than a trench and would have the means to make it happen plausible.

On the other hand, there are two things I don't find plausible.

(1) It seems to be acknowledged by many that the inscription on the Jesus box is more like "graffiti" than a real inscription. Even Tabor (in the introducton to his Jesus Dynasty admits that the inscription "is nearly illegible, with the inscription scratched into the stone as if with a nail or sharp pointed object." If they cared enough to buy him a tomb, one would think they would have had the box inscribed at least as legibly, if not professionally, as the others in the tomb.

(2) If the disciples raised money to buy a tomb, they weren't trying to keep it a secret. As Tabor argues, for several decades there was no proclamation of a resurrected "Messiah." The death and entombed body of "Jesus the Messiah" was rather public knowledge. How is it that there is no record of disciples "in the know" writing in refutation of that heretic and gentile-lover Paul of Tarsus and his unclean "Christian" movement?

Anonymous said...

The idea of no resurrection till late is based on the "ending of Mark" theory combined with Markan primacy and combined with late dating.

When James Snapp (who has an excellent website and paper on the ending of Mark) offerred to review the evidences in discussion with James Tabor the answer was essentially 'no' (after some stumbles by James Tabor) .. simply an appeal to authority and shying away from a discussion of the actual evidences.

Personally I believe that Luke was writing to Theophilus the High Priest (c40 AD) per the paper by Richard H. Anderson. Clearly in that case the resurrection revelation is confirmed in very early writings :-)

Steven Avery

Daniel said...

In response to Benjamin Lewis' post about Tabor's rebuttal regarding Jodi Magness' comments, I agree also agree that Jesus' disciples would have wanted to give their leader a "proper" burial, but that they would have done so in Nazareth or Galilee, not in Jerusalem. I quote a passage from Dr. Tabor's "The Jesus Dynasty" which I find compelling: "Tsfat is located in the low mountainous area north of Capernaeum. Jesus had made the area his headquarters for three years...Might they have chosen this secluded location so that his body could lie undisturbed, far removed from the political dangers still brewing in Jerusalem?" He continues, "The Galilee tradition (for a Jesus tomb) found in Matthew and Luke seems to merit some consideration, whether the rabbinic tradition about a Jesus tomb at Tsfat has any historical validity or not" (Tabor, 240). So, even though they now disagree about the method of burial, there was a time that Tabor and Magness agreed about the geographical area that the burial would have taken place in. It wasn't Jerusalem.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I don't understand EMC's comment.
As far as re-attributing the two very close vertical lines towards the left of the shin he may have a point. Whether the rightmost is part of the "shin" and the leftmost the "vaw" (or part of a "dalet" as Caruso also suggests), or conversely the leftmost part of the "shin" and the rightmost (of these two verticals - I am not referring to the "yod", still more to the right) is a "vaw", written "inside" the "shin", is a matter of choice (I tend to follow Caruso, but EMC does have a point, here).
What I do not understand is how to attribute the "triangle" to the "yod". If the triangle is not part of the "shin", there is no "shin" anymore! Swapping the verticals is one thing, attributing the triangle to some other letter destroys the "shin" entirely!