Friday, April 13, 2012

Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B, by Richard Bauckham

I am delighted  to have the opportunity to blog the following guest post from Prof. Richard Bauckham.  It is also available as a PDF file here.

Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B

Richard Bauckham

The “Resurrection Tomb Mystery” documentary attempts to suggest that Talpiyot Tomb B was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Hardly any evidence for this is actually provided. The only point at which some reason for the identification is given is this:

“The two [Talpiyot] tombs were found on what had been in the first century a rich man’s estate, complete with wine press and ritual bath. And the area is dominated by two hills. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man and his name, in Hebrew, means ‘Two Hills.’”

This comment obviously depends on the usual explanation of Arimathea as representing the Hebrew place name Ramathaim (1 Sam 1:1), and correctly notices that this is a dual form of the word ramah. The latter means ‘height’ but is scarcely used except in place-names, either alone, as Ramah (there are 4 or 5 towns so-called in the Hebrew Bible), or in compounds, such as Ramoth-Gilead. In such cases, it designates a town built on a high place. For the Arimathea/Ramathaim from which Joseph is named, there needs to be a town, not just an estate ‘dominated by two hills’. That there was a town, or even small village, called Ramathaim, so close to Jerusalem but mentioned nowhere else in our sources, seems unlikely.

The most likely identification of Joseph’s place of origin is with the Ramathaim (textual variant: Rathamin) mentioned in 1 Macc 11:34 as the headquarters of a toparchy transferred in 145 BCE from Samaria to Judea. This Ramathaim is clearly not near Jerusalem, but near the borders of Judaea and Samaria. Eusebius’s Onomasticon places it at the village of Remphis (Israel map grid 151159), which is about 30 km north-west of Jerusalem. It should be noticed that the dual form of Ramathaim is an archaic form, which has survived unusually in this place name (otherwise only in 1 Sam 1:1, which may refer to the same place, evidently called Ramah later in the narrative of I Samuel). It is therefore very distinctive (unlike the common Ramah) and we should not multiply Ramathaims unnecessarily.

The makers of the documentary perhaps assume that, since Joseph appears in the Gospel narratives in Jerusalem and has a tomb near the city, Arimathea must be near Jerusalem. But this is a mistake. Like many aristocrats in the ancient world, Joseph had estates in the country (not necessarily at all near Jerusalem) but lived most of the time in the city. This is the most obvious way of explaining why he has a new tomb, not yet occupied, near Jerusalem. His aristocratic family would surely already have a tomb – back in Arimathea. But Joseph has decided that he would like to be buried near the holy city, rather than having his body transported back to Arimathea. We now have a nice parallel in the case of the Caiaphas family, another aristocratic Jerusalem family. They had the now well-known tomb in north Talpiyot, where the high priest Caiaphas himself was interred, together with other family members. But from the ossuary inscription that was made known to the public only last year (the ossuary of Mariam daughter of Yeshua of the Caiaphas family), we now know that there was also a family tomb elsewhere, somewhere in the vicinity of the Elah valley (where the ossuary is said to have been found), plausibly at Khirbet Qeiyafa. This will have been where the family estates were located. (See my article, ‘The Caiaphas Family,’ JSJH 10 [2012] 3-31.)

So the only shred of evidence presented in the documentary for identifying Talpiyot Tomb B as that of Joseph of Arimathea is entirely without value.

9 comments: said...

1. So how could Joseph have taken 'down' the body (Mt.15.46) without ripping it off the nails which would have been well hammered in?

2.Some disciples saw where he was 'laid' (Mk.15.47) which to me does not speak of a tomb burial but an earth grave.

3.What was a rich man doing cutting out a tomb for himself? (Mt.27.60) It doesn't make sense.

James D. Tabor said...

I think the identification of Joseph of Arimathea with the Talpiot tomb "estate" rests on different grounds, the presumptions of which you would question:

1. It is Joseph who in all of our sources has charge of the burial of Jesus. The hasty and temporary burial in a tomb that just happened to be near the place of crucifixion (John 19) would have been followed by a permanent burial--presumably on his own land or in a tomb he provided.

2. Since Talpiot tomb A can be reliably identified with a cluster of names associated with Jesus of Nazareth and his family, and the probabilities of this cluster show it is unlikely to be random, the estate with these three tombs is likely his.

3. Talpiot tomb B, indeed, shows evidence of faith in Jesus' resurrection with the appropriation of a Jonah image and an inscription about heavenly exaltation--both based in language and thought on Jonah 2:2-7.

Unknown said...

Talpiot tomb A cannot be reliably identified with a cluster of names associated with Jesus of Nazareth. For example, the Mary ossuary reads "Mariame kai Mara" or "Mariam he [a relative pronoun] kai Mara," not "Mariamene." Further Mary of Magdala is only identified as Mariamene in the Acts of Phillip at the literary level (paralleled with the portrayals of Mary in works like the Gospel of Mary or the Manichean Psalms) by Bovon, not at the historical level ( I was sad to see the new documentary perpetuate the false portrayal of Bovon's argument.

Plus there is also the questionable nature of the James ossuary along with its questionable connection to the Talpiot Tombs. The recent trial only decided if Obed Golan was a forger, not the authenticity of the ossuary.

The only evidence presented in the documentary (at least that I can remember) of it being an estate is that there are two tombs set off from other known tombs.

Richard Bauckham said...

No, James, you are retreating from what is said in the film and what you and Simcha say very clearly in the book: pp. 126-127, where you argue that the name Arimathea refers to the place where the Talpiyot tomb is located. The other grounds you state in this comment are not independent evidence for connecting this tomb with Joseph of Arimathea. They are just deductions from your other hypotheses.

Geoff -
(1) the skeleton of one crucified man has been found, and he was taken down.
(2) the body was laid on a shelf in the tomb, as bodies usually were. This is clearly what Mark means.
(3) Of course Joseph didn't make the tomb himself. He had it made.

Daniel said...

I noticed yet another fatal gap in logic regarding the theories behind the so-called "cluster" of presumptive "Christian" tombs at Talpiot. If Jesus of Nazareth's bones are in Tomb A and those in charge of interring the occupants of Tomb A and B knew this, why would they carve ANYTHING about a resurrection on an ossuary? To say nothing of a hope in a resurrection brought about by the dead guy's bones in the tomb next door? said...


With regard to the 'taking down' of a crucified man, was he tied to the cross or nailed? I find it difficult to believe that a man nailed could be 'taken down'as such.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

I'm not "Richard," but the discovery of the previously crucified skeleton of a male Jew in 1968 is well-attested and universally accepted. Links to the story of the discovery (the skeleton was found in an ossuary) can be found very easily with an internet search. The man's name was written on the box and was "Johanan," if memory serves. Also, a Roman crucifixion nail was still driven into one of his arm bones. Interestingly, this information about Johanan's skeleton was left out of early editions of J.D. Crossan's "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography," but added to later printings as a footnote.

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

Pardon me, if this is a stupid question, but does this argument deal only with the literary character of JoM in Mark, or is there an argument that such a man actually existed?