Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tapiot Tomb B: the First Twenty-four hours

I mentioned last night Jacobovici and Tabor's linking of a burial cave to Jesus' disciples.  Lots has been going on today, and the blogs are, as ever, up to speed in supplying links and expert commentary.  If you would like to get up to speed, the case is made by James Tabor in an article published earlier today on Bible and Interpretation:

James Tabor

The article is detailed and features several figures.  Tabor is to be commended for getting a detailed article out featuring all the data at the beginning so that we don't need to reply on media mis-information and misunderstanding. 

The ASOR blog is the next place to go.  It is the repository for critical commentary on the claims.  Today it has published several pieces, by my colleague Eric Meyers, by Jodi Magness, by Robert Cargill (and see also an important post on his XKV8R blog), but most importantly by Christopher Rollston:

Christopher Rollston

Rollston's post develops the point also made in others' responses, that the alleged drawing of a fish is actually more likely to be a nephesh tower or tomb façade.  Tabor had discussed this possibility in his article, but had dismissed it, and he now comments in situ on each of the ASOR blog posts above.  

Rollston also has a helpful analysis of the inscription and he completely rejects Tabor's and Jacobovici's suggested reading.  I am not an epigrapher, but one point made by Rollston appears to be unassailable.  In order to make one of the lines read as a Greek spelling of the Tetragrammaton, it has to be "IAIO", with an initial iota.  But the first letter simply cannot be an iota:
the Greek script(s) of the Late Second Temple period, the morphology of iota is quite consistently a vertical stroke (sometimes with modest curvature), but without distinct top or bottom horizontals.
Rollston suggests that the letter in question may be a tau and that seems plausible on the basis of the actual picture rather than the pencilled-in version.

At this point it is tough to know what the inscription says, but there is nothing here that pins it to Christianity, even if one reads it in the way suggested by Tabor and Jacobovici.  Time will tell whether the picture is better interpreted as a fish or a nephesh tower, but it's straightforward to see the case for the latter.

Even if one does read the tomb the way that Tabor and Jacobovici read it, it is important to underline that the evidence is all circumstantial.  As with the Talpiot Tomb A, the case is based on circumstantial evidence.  With regard to that tomb, I have argued frequently here that the statistical case is not as impressive as they claim that it is.  It is not that the names are common but that the statistical case places undue weight on the alleged unusual nature of some of the names (either Mariamne, Yose or both) without taking seriously contradictory evidence (Judas son of Jesus).

To read what other bloggers have been saying, Tom Verenna has a helpful round-up post.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of reasons for dismay in the media headlines over the last twenty-four hours.  If you did not read carefully on the subject, you would have no idea how tenuous these headlines are -- the Telegraph says Christ's disciples' remains 'discovered' in spite of the fact that there is no mention of "Christ", his "disciples" or their "remains".  Or in the case of the Daily Mail, even the reference to the disciples drops out with 'Divine Jehovah, raise up': Does discovery of coffin lid prove the resting place of Jesus is under Jerusalem tower block? 

Always be wary of newspaper headlines that ask questions.  The answer is almost always "No".

1 comment:

Dan said...

It is the start of Lent, therefore time for another sensationalistic claim about Jesus and the resurrection. Next year it will be another shot at a *new* gospel *just discovered!*