Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dr. Jodi Magness on "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"


"The identification of the Talpiot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family is based on a string of problematic and unsubstantiated claims, including adding an otherwise unattested Matthew (Matya) to the family of Jesus; identifying an otherwise unknown son of Jesus named Judah; and identifying the Mariamne named on one of the ossuaries in the tomb as Mary Magdalene by interpreting the word Mara (which follows the name Mariamne) as the Aramaic term for “master” (arguing that Mariamne was a teacher and leader). To account for the fact that Mary/Mariamne’s name is written in Greek, the filmmakers transform the small Jewish town of Migdal/Magdala/Tarichaea on the Sea of Galilee (Mary’s hometown) into “an important trading center” where Greek was spoken. Instead, as in other Jewish towns of this period, generally only the upper classes knew Greek, whereas poorer Jews spoke Aramaic as their everyday language.

Taken individually, each of these points weakens the case for the identification of the Talpiot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family. Collectively these points are devastating, since the statistical analyses presented in the film are based on certain assumptions made about these names."

- read the entire article from the Biblical Archaeology Society


her bio from the article:

Jodi Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in Archaeology and History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has participated in more than 20 excavations in Israel and Greece, and currently directs excavations in the Roman fort at Yotvata, Israel. Her publications include an award-winning book on The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eerdmans 2002) and an article entitled “Ossuaries and the Burials of Jesus and James,” Journal of Biblical Literature 124 (2005)."


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1 comment:

Itamar Bernstein said...

There are indeed some rather wild observations and conclusions in the documentary. On the other hand it omits some substantial evidene supporting the case it pleads.

In my opinion, if pleased before a completely unbiased Jury, that jury could well logically decide that the Talpiot tomb is the real thing. Not beyond reasonable doubt, but on prepoderance of evidence. There's actually no evidence at all negating the conclusion that it looks more like the real thing, than not.

As far as I've seen, detractors make three main arguments: 1. The names are common; 2. The tomb should be in Nazareth; 3. Jesus' family was poor and couldn't afford such a tomb.

As to the "names are common" argument, as this documentary ( and about a year before that, posted on the net) explain, this doesn't take into account statistics regarding the grouping of names.

As to the other con aruments:

1. Talpiot is the right place for Jesus' family tomb- Per Luke, 2:3-4, the family's LEGAL residence was Bethlehem, not Nazareth. The fact that Joseph and the pregnant Mary could not take the census in Nazareth but had to take it in Bethlehem indicates that Bethlehem was their DOMICILIUM under Roman Law. That basically means that they had no intention to reside in Nazareth permanently. Therefore it would have made little sense for them to have a family tomb in Nazareth, that they wouldn't be able to frequently visit at a later stage in their lives. They would have wanted a family tomb close to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, easily accessible also to future generations of the family. The fact is indeed that Mary and her children moved to Jerusalem around 30 AD.

The traditional name of Jesus in Hebrew, as reflected also in the Talmud, is "Yeshua Hanotzri." This appellation stemms from "Netzer" (Shoot or Branch). It alludes clearly to Isaiah 11:1, indicating the Royal birth of Jesus, to substantiate his claim for Jewish messianship. Not to indicate the place he comes from ( to indicate that Jesus supposedly originates from Nazareth, he would have been called "Yeshua Minatzeret." But he wasn't called so.) There's actually no evidence in Jewish sources, such as the Old Testament or the Mishna and Talmud, that a place called "Nazareth" even existed in or before the first century.

I'm not disputing the evidence per the NT, that there was indeed a place called Nazareth. But to the best of my knowledge, there's no mention of Nazareth at all in any ancient writings outside the New Testament. So the place existed, but nobody knew about it. Therefore there was no reason to call Jesus "of Nazareth." Either in life or on an ossuary. He was called "Jesus the Branch" (of David) in Hebrew/Aramaic. It sounds almost the same, and therefore would easily confuse any person whose mother tongue isn't Hebrew/Aramaic. But it shouldn't confuse native Hebrew/Aramaic speakers.

The whole line of argumentation detracting this discovery around the supposed Nazareth origin of Jesus' family is therefore basically moot for all practical purposes.


Talpiot is located about 2.5 miles North of Bethlehem. Jesus' family, of Davidic descent according to the New Testament, could have held the burial cave there even before it moved to Nazareth. Davidic birth was absolutely the most exalted in Judaism, always. The suggestion that any person of Davidic descent could be of the lowest social echelon, that couldn't fund or get funding for a burial cave, doesn't make much sense, if any. There's substantial evidence to the contrary, e.g. 1. Jesus had followers like Joseph of Arimatea and Nicodemus (known as Nakdimon ben Gorion in post biblical Jewish sources-one of the richest Jews in Judea); 2. Josephus A.J.,XX, 9:1. Note the prominence of James brother of Jesus.

I've read also another argument , supposing that there wasn't really an inscription "Yeshua" preceding the "Bar Yehosef." Not true-

2. The inscription on the Jesus ossuary does say "Yeshua bar Yehosef." All letters but one are quite clearly there. The only letter which is somewhat more difficult to discern at first blush is the second letter- "Shin". That's because it's written in a somewhat irregular form (in a regular Shin there are three teeth in the fork, pointing upwards. Here there are two teeth, pointing sideways to the right.) But that particular irregularity appears also on other ossuaries- notably numbers 9 (this one has two "Shin"- one with three teeth pointing to the right, and one with TWO teeth pointing to the right. Exactly like the subject inscription) and 121 in the Rahmani catalogue, which both feature also a "Yeshua." All this is NOT difficult for a Hebrew speaking person to identify- took me all of 4 minutes.

Summing up, if I were to pose the question inversely- If no tomb has been found, how would I have expected the Jesus family tomb to loook like, where would it have been located, what would the names inscribed on osdsuaries in it be, and to what time would it be dated- I would have expected to find the Tlpiot tomb or something very similar to it. But I'm not a person fomally educated in any of the related fields- just someone who self educated himself on this subject, trying to use some simple common sense.