Monday, March 05, 2007


You can tell things are coming unraveled when every Biblical archaeologist, save possibly one, interviewed either in the Discovery Channel special or in the hour long debate thereafter repudiates or is unpersuaded by the findings of the show. Both William Dever and Jonathan Reed were not merely dubious about the findings of the show. Reed actually called it archaeo-porn, the worst sort of misuse of archaeological evidence to support a tendentious theory that is so speculative it requires linking one weak hypothesis to another to another to reach a conclusion.

In addition, both Amos Kloner and Joe Zias, two of the original archaeologists involved in the project, have openly on television and in the public forum repudiated the findings of the show in strong terms. I have had a strongly worded email from Joe Zias in the last 24 hours saying that the data was deliberately manipulated at various points. I will come back to that point in a moment.

Since Charles Pellgrino, the co-author of the The Jesus Family Tomb book, is not a Biblical archaeologist at all, but rather a forensic one, and apparently has never dug a Biblical site, he certainly cannot count as an expert in this field either. This leaves only Shimon Gibson, which, if I am understanding things right (I am happy to be corrected on this), was only a young artist, a sketch artist for the original excavation of the Talpiot tomb. He says he is skeptical of the results, but then he says he is skeptical by nature. In other words, the show could not find the sort of experts in Biblical archaeology which would have lent real credence to their theory.
This stands in contrast to when Andre LeMaire was prepared to put his good reputation on the line to say that the James ossuary is genuine (and this word just in. He still thinks that, and the recent evidence presented in the trial in Jerusalem of genuine patina from the word 'Jesus' on the James box inscription provides further evidence for this conclusion).

Back to what Zias and I were discussing. It has to do with the James ossuary. First of all, the makers of this film and book were told that the tenth ossuary found in the Talpiot tomb was not missing. It was a blank, having neither ornamentation nor inscription, and so it was not catalogued with the other nine. However, on the show, mystery is concocted when the list of the nine catalogued ossuaries is presented and it is concluded one is missing, which is false.

Blank ossuaries are a dime a dozen. You can buy one in the market in Jerusalem for a very reasonable price. There never was a mystery about the 10th ossuary. One was concocted for this show. It is also the case that the makers of this film were told clearly that the tenth ossuary had no inscription and in addition did not match up with the dimensions of the James ossuary, which is the focus of the book Hershel Shanks and I wrote for Harper entitled The Brother of Jesus. More information about it can be found in that book.

There are further problems as well in connection with the James ossuary. The claim is made in the debate follow up show that Oded Golan said that somewhere around 1980 he bought the James ossuary. This is false. Golan has consistently maintained that he bought this ossuary before the Israeli law changed in 1978. In fact he claims to have bought it in the mid-70s and at the trial that continues in Jerusalem a 1970s era picture of him with the inscribed James ossuary was produced. The reason that the date is important is because after 1978 all such important artifacts found in Israel belong to the state of Israel. They cannot belong to a private collector like Oded Golan. For the reader wanting to see proof positive of this, see p. 84 of the Brother of Jesus book. The other reason that is important is it means the James ossuary could not possibly have come from the Talpiot tomb at all since it was not opened until 1980. The next feeble attempt to save the show's theory will perhaps be to claim there were other ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb that went missing from some break in. Not no. 10, but rather no 11 perhaps? Of course this will be a complete argument from silence. We do not know there were more than 10 ossuaries in that tomb ever.

Other sorts of problems that crop up from the show itself include:

1) The DNA lab in Thunder Bay was not told that they were testing alleged samples from Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Why is this important? For the very good reason that the lab no doubt wishes to keep its good name, and not be associated with sensationalistic projects of dubious merit. Had they been told in advance, then at least they could have decided whether they wanted to be involved in the project. This is not how a free and open historical inquiry into a subject proceeds. It is not shrouded in secrecy until unveiled at a press conference in order to make big news, garner big ratings, and sell lots of books.

2) Ted Koppel's own correspondence with the DNA lab, and with the statistician reported in the follow up debate finds those folks doing their best to distance themselves from the conclusions of the show, and insisting that it is only a remote possibility.

3) At one juncture we are told that the name Mariamenon is found in Hippolytus a second century church historian. Two problems with this. Firstly so far as I can see, that name never occurs in the works of Hippolytus (and the name Mariamene is not the same name, see the previous post with Richard Bauckham's analysis of the names). Secondly, Hippolytus died in about A.D. 236. He comes to us from the end of the second century A.D. He could never have known any eywitnesses or even second-third generation followers of Jesus. Even if he did mention the name in question (the one on the ossuary found at Talpiot), he provides no early second century evidence for this name, much less for the theory that this name is one way of referring to Mary Magdalene. In fact the Acts of Philip, at best a fourth century document is the basis of the theory of Prof. Bovon that Mariamenon= Mary Magdalene, but nowhere in that document are the two equated. The woman referred to in that document is an evangelist in Greek who is the sister of Philip (whether Philip the apostle or the later Philip the evangelist found in Acts 8, we could debate). In other words, we have no hard evidence at all that equates Mary Magdalene with this particular name, or even with the later figure found in the Acts of Philip. There is then certainly no first or second century evidence that Mary Magdalene was every called by the name on the Talpiot ossuary, or would have been labeled this on a first century A.D. ossuary. And why again would her inscription be in Greek, and all the other ones in the tomb in Aramaic or Hebrew? We are not told.

4) Towards the end of the program itself, we discover that the intrepid amateur archaeologists, namely the film maker and his cohorts failed to even ask the IAA for permission to find and reopen the sealed Talpiot tomb. But this was an IAA controlled archaeological site now adjacent to an apartment complex. And when the IAA did find out about the snooping around in a tomb without permission, they came and put a stop to it. But the most interesting thing found when the filmmaker was in the tomb was a very large Greek inscription inside the tomb. What does this suggest? It suggests to me this is not the tomb of the Aramaic speaking family of Jesus of course!

5) Strong objection was taken in the debate program to the dramatizations in the show because they present the theory of the filmmakers as if they were facts. There are not, for example any dramatizations of other theories. What's the problem with this? Well as one professor from Virginia Seminary rightly pointed out, drama is powerful. It's a form of preaching and persuasion. If this really were an open ended historical inquiry and not an argument for a particular point of view, not a docu-drama, this sort of filming technique would not have been used.

6) No mention at all is made of the fact that though we only have a few hundred ossuaries with inscribed names, there is in fact another ossuary with the inscription 'Jesus son of Joseph'. Apparently this was not a rare combination of names at all, and in any case, as I have said Jesus of Nazareth is never called 'son of Joseph' by his family, or by his disciples. Notice how Luke pours cold water on that theory in Luke 3.21-- "Now Jesus himself was about 30 when he began his ministry, he was the son, so it was supposed/thought, of Joseph." Supposed by whom? Clearly not by Luke or the family whom Luke has just shown knew about the virginal conception of Jesus. Even the cousins knew about this miracle when Mary told Elizabeth. There can be no good reason Luke would put it this way if he knew the earliest followers of Jesus or members of his family had thought that Jesus was son of Joseph.

7) The unique theory presented in the show is that John 19 presents a conversation between Jesus on the cross and his wife Mary Magdalene, with their son being the Beloved Disciple! The problem of course with this is that Jesus is addressing his own mother, Mary. John 19.26 is quite clear--- Jesus saw his mother standing there, and spoke to her about the Beloved Disciple, who is certainly not his son. In John 13 and following the Beloved Disciple is portrayed as one of the adult disciples in the upper room. Not as a child. Here is but one more example of how normal interpretations of the Biblical evidence are ignored and rejected in favor of rewriting the text to support the theory, and much later non-eyewitness Gnostic evidence from the Acts of Philip is made crucial to the case, even when that evidence itself does not likely support the case at all!

8) An important further corollary was pointed out as well. This special is an example of film-making, not good investigative journalism. Consider for example the difference between how this project was pursued and say the efforts of Robert Graysmith, recently blogged about here, who took years and years of investigating without pay to be able to demonstrate who the Zodiac killer was. He did not present his evidence in book form until he was sure. Until he chased down all leads. Until he convinced at least some of the police he had been bugging for years to consider this or that piece of evidence and solve the case. This docu-drama falls far short of what would be called good investigative journalism.

To paraphrase a famous phrase "This is how a bad theory ends, this is how a bad theory ends, not with a bang, but a whimper."


Mike L. said...

I enjoyed the film the lost tomb of jesus. It was well made and fair (even if it's hypothosis turns out to be false one day). However, the Koppel analysis after the film was horrible. Why does he have problems with adding dramatization to the film? Isn't this a common practice in any history/discovery channel documentary?

Reverend Ref + said...

The show was interesting, but rather less than convincing. I enjoyed like some people enjoy Harlequin, sort of harmless fun. Just wish it hadn't been on so darn late.

Thanks for deconstructing it. If any of my readers want to read more, I'll send them your way.

Seven Star Hand said...

Hello again Ben and all,

After finally watching the Jesus Tomb documentary and the hour of critical look "debates" following it, I am left with the sad conclusion that a large percentage of Christians will always oppose the truth, regardless of how it is presented. It has been amazing to watch people who regularly oppose critical thought and science hypocritically assert that critical thought and science supports so-called "biblical evidence" in their efforts to debunk this archeological find and associated theories. Though I too have problems with the way this documentary and religion in general have been sold, for profit, I also think this information deserves a much closer examination and consideration than a simple knee jerk defense of New Testament claims. Do Christians really think that the Creator of all knowledge and wisdom wants them to blindly oppose all newly discovered truths?

When finally confronted with the truth about the Messiah, these people will be completely unable to recognize the true Messiah (me) from long-term lies and will fight tooth and nail to cling to the Roman deceptions and strong delusions of the New Testament. Christianity has always been an enemy of science, truth, and justice and recent events strongly reinforce this observation.

Read More ...

Here is Wisdom !!

Pastor David said...

Dr. Witherington,

I thank God for Biblical scholars like yourself who can expose false interpretations of the truth and at the same time equip the body of Christ to "contend for the faith."


Phil said...

I would have prefered that Koppel spent more time with the experts and less time with Tabor and Jacobovici.

The film itself was so extremely biased an un-journalistic that I would have really like to see more refutation of points that were presented as fact. For instance, the film implies that the Acts of Phillip carries the same historical weight and authority as the Gospels. It also implied that Mariamne was clearly known to be Mary Magdalene.

I was grateful that Koppel raised doubt about the conclusions of the patina analysis. That was probably the most compelling aspect of the Jacobovici film. It was interesting to watch the way Jacobovici waffled on this point, using semantics to assert that he hadn't exagerated but still trying to bolster his case by insisting "match" was a legal term used with fingerprints.

Almost all of Jacobovici's arguments were hollow. For instance his assertion that he made every effort to present both sides of the argument. However, watching his film, I was struck by the way that he always presented conflicting assertions in a kind of strawman fashion, presenting his own conclusions as a more logical point of view.

If the dramatizations were to have had any journalistic merit then they should have shown the points of view of some archaeological experts and not simply Jacobovici's speculative conclusions.

Ed Brenegar said...

Apart from the sensationalistic aspect, I don't understand what they hoped to gain by promoting something so blatantly fraudulent. If they were simply stupid people, then I can understand that they were way over their heads, but Cameron is not stupid. So, what is the point here? What are they trying to prove?

Luke Dockery said...

Dr. Witherington,

I appreciate your continuing coverage on this issue.

1) Under your point #3, you question why the Mariamne tomb was inscribed in Greek.

I do think they briefly tried to explain this in the documentary by saying that Migdala was an important trading center where Greek and Aramaic would both be common. From that statement, they then leapt to the conclusion that it would be likely for Mary Magdalene's family to inscribe her ossuary in Greek.

It was certainly a tenuous connection, but I do think they superficially addressed it.

2) I thought it was interesting in the after-show when Tabor and Jacobovichi were emphatic that the statistical probabilities were just based on the rarity of the "Mariamne" name and had nothing to do with "Mary Magdalene".

Of course, if that was true, then there's no justification for that name even being in the tomb, and it should be removed from the calculations.

The ratio then drops from 600-1 to 3.8 to 1.

Randy Ingermanson said...

I am a physicist so I looked at the patina chemical analyses in the book carefully to see if they actually make a good match. The book showed the profiles for the Jesus and Mariamenou ossuaries from the tomb and also for the James ossuary. There are some discrepancies:

1) The James ossuary has a small copper peak that is completely missing in both the Jesus and Maremenou ossuaries.

2) The silicon peak in the James ossuary is substantially lower than the silicon peak in the Jesus and Mariamenou ossuaries.

3) The aluminum peak in the James ossuary appears to be quite a bit smaller than the aluminum peak in the Jesus and Mariamenou ossuaries.

All of this undercuts one of the apparently sexiest pieces of evidence that the book/documentary presented--the chemical fingerprint.

There are also, of course, extraordinary problems with the statistical analysis presented in the book/documentary. These have been well-noted on this blog, but I have not seen an attempt by anyone to estimate the true probability that the Jesus of the tomb is Jesus of Nazareth. I have made some reasonable assumptions and have computed an estimate. (Please note, this is an ESTIMATE that depends on a number of assumptions.)

Years ago, I wrote a book analyzing the alleged "Bible codes." The Bible coders were claiming marvelous coincidences and extremely low probabilities. I developed techniques for analyzing such claims.

I have applied these same techniques to the claims for the alleged Jesus family tomb. I estimate that at least 11 men in Jerusalem could have fit the profile of the Jesus of the tomb. But one must argue very strongly that Jesus of Nazareth was not one of these 11, because the historical evidence is strongly against the possibility that he had a son. (It's not easy to hide a wife and son when you have no reason to. The "reasons" suggested by Jacobovici are weak.)

This allows you then to estimate the odds that the Jesus of the tomb is the Jesus of Nazareth.

If, for example, you believe that the odds of Jesus having had a son are less than "1 in a 1000", then you would estimate the odds that the Jesus of the tomb is Jesus of Nazareth at "less than 1 in 11000".

Obviously, there is a historical judgment that needs to be made here that will strongly affect the final result. But my key observation is that the observed collection of inscribed names on the ossuaries is not rare.

The arcaheologists have all said this in a general way, without doing the calculations. I have done the calculations.

The expected number of men in Jerusalem who fit this profile can be estimated as "at least 11".

Anonymous said...

The only thing which I hadn't known from the Internet resources was that Jacobovichi tries to make a connection between the supposed 'Judeo-Christian' tomb site at Dominus Flevit and the Talpiot tomb by discovering an ossuary there which had a symbol similar to the one on the Talpiot tomb entrance. He claims that this gives context to the archeological find at Talpiot: we've got a whole network of early Christian burial sites, people! Another stunning piece of speculation untethered to evidence.

I greatly enjoyed the critical panel after the show, but I was surprised that no one brought up the fact that in our earliest sources for Mary Magdalene, the four canonical Gospels, she is referred to by the same name as Jesus' mother, Maria or Mariam. Also, it was interesting to see James Tabor try to explain why Amos Kloner's report says that the 10th ossuary was plain and without inscription: the cataloging was done so hastily that they missed the inscription the first time around. I'm not buying it. They found the inscriptions on all the other inscribed ossuaries, why would they have missed this one? And where are the original excavation notes by Joseph Gath, and do they have different facts from that in Amos Kloner's report?

seven star hand, get off this blogspace. I wonder if you realize that in your absurd messianic claims you are fulfilling a prophecy from Matthew 24 about false Christs and false prophets arising to deceive the very elect. Jesus told us, "If they say to you, here is Christ, or, there he is, believe them not nor follow after them".

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks to you Randy for this analysis. I was troubled by that seen in regard to the aptina match, because in fact if you looked when they did the overlay there were various things that didn't match, and some places where there was a much higher spike on one than the other, even to a lay man's eyes like mine.

As for Migdal, it is simply false that it was amajor cosmopolitan commericial center. It was a tiny Jewish fishing village--- give me a break! No one who has been there and compare it to Bethsaida just up the road could ever come to that conclusion about Migdal. Their explanation is one based on ignorance apparently.

Jay said...
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Hacksaw Duck said...

My question (and I'm sure this has already been asked) is this: What evidence would a faithful evangelical accept that would falsify the particulars of his own belief. What would support an opposite conclusion? Apologetics asserts that objective evidence leads the way to orthodox Christian conclusions. If that's the case and Christian faith is upheld by easily perceived evidence, there must be SOME hypothetical evidence that (if true) would point away from the faith. What might those things be? What findings would refute orthodox belief? Anything?

I'm convinced that nothing, no matter how compelling, could ever penetrate the mile-thick wall of bias encircling the evangelical world. Even a vision in the heavens observable by everyone on earth wouldn't qualify ("It's a lying wonder!")

The only conceivable response from orthodox evangelicals to any unfriendly evidence is, "How do we refute this new attack against the faith of our fathers?" Such scrambling to come up with swift counter-claims is unbecoming of such a venerable tradition.

Maybe the Talpiot tomb isn't at all what some purport it to be. But it certainly has uncovered the dearth of objectivity among certain sectors of Christendom.

Jay said...

Dear all,

I am not one to post my work on another blog, but I wanted to post the following, which is the article I wrote on the Jesus Family Tomb documentary, since the discussion at this blog was so very helpful to me.

It can be found here.


Jay said...

I had a few thoughts on the documentary that I thought I would share:

1. I thought it was really quite boring. This surprised me. Having read all the stuff on line, having read Tabor's blog, and having read the book -- I thought I would be thoroughly infuriated, and -- by extension -- captivated. But I was not.

2. I would guess that most people, even those not qualified to judge the claims, were probably unconvinced. I think the reason is the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary itself. It just so obviously could not have belonged to Jesus. There is no way his weeping, bereaved followers would have buried him in that lousy box. That is where an in-law whom the family did not like would get buried. "Oh, Mary's wife Jesus died? Boo-hoo. Put him in the spare box."

This, I think, is an important factor. In cinematic terms, the Jesus ossuary is the "shark." You don't want to show the shark too early, which of course they did. You also don't want to make it obvious that the shark is mechanical. Otherwise, you are going to get laughs. I think that is what they got here.

3. I was surprised by how aggressive Koppel was on the panel afterwards. I think Simcha was, too -- and I think he acquited himself very poorly. He even pimped his book at the end, which is just plain tacky.

4. My wife and I also noted the fact that the "James" and "Mariamne" patinas do not match. Importantly, all the documentarians seem to have done is eye-balled the patina "pings." It appears they did not statistical hypothesis test, like ANOVA, to actually evaluate whether the eye-balling was pointing to something valid. Even then, it is only with a sample of exclusively similar soils could ANOVA (or analysis of variance) actually indicate they are from the same place.

5. I was struck by Tabor arguing that the whole "James" case is circumstantial. That, I think, is a costly admission. What about all of the circumstantial evidence that goes against placing James there?

6. I was surprised to see Tabor at the crime lab receiving the DNA results. I was also surprised that he stayed around for the "theological implications" section of the discussion. I thought that he was more tangential.

7. I would have liked to have seen a discussion about the ethics of airing a potentially earth-shattering claim in this way. I had, at several points this week, mentioned my ethical concerns to Tabor -- and he seemed to dismissed them as the empty rhetoric of a Christian evangelical. However, the concern is based upon the work of Philip Kitcher -- Science, Truth and Democracy. Kitcher argues that scientific truths should be weighed against their social consequences. For instance, a supposed scientific claim that might show that a relatively powerless demographic group in our sociey are not naturally intelligent as another group should not be publicizied, even if true, because it would endanger an already endangered group. Closer to home, this is why almost all of us oppose genetic screening of fetuses. It could lead to eugenics.

This claim seems to me to possibly fit into this category: even if true, it is best that society not know. Maybe, maybe not. But it seems to me that this is the kind of debate that those who offer the claim should have with themselves: what are the potential social effects?

It is eminently clear, is it not, that these men did not have this conversation. That they were blithely ignorant of the potential social impact. That, to the extent that they were aware, they used it to promote the book.

This is what infuriates me the most. The utter social irresponsibility that was evidenced here. I would have liked to have seen Koppel put Simcha on the spot for that.

Daniel said...

One thing struck me again and again while watching Koppel's forum after the documentary: the clash of two worlds, fantasy vs. reality. Simcah J. and Tabor could only rant and rave as their sloppy manipulation of the facts were brought out into the light of day and exposed. Tabor's mis-identification of Hippolytus as 2nd rather than 3rd century was a true Freudian slip: it revealed how he is accustomed to MAKING history fit into his pre-conceived notions. Simcha J.'s behavior was totally unprofessional and he made himself look like an uneducated, rude hick, unable to engage in serious scholarly debate.

One thing from the documentary itself: wouldn't Simcah J. and his team be up for charges from the Israeli government since they BROKE INTO the "Jesus Tomb" without any permission from the IAA? This illegal entry is on tape, what would it take for the Israeli gov't. to investigate this?

Dr. Witherington, in closing let me say that I have more respect for you than ever for choosing not to respond to James Tabor's vicious and childish personal attacks against you which he has posted on his "Jesus Dynasty" blog. The man is a wounded, cornered rat, lashing out at any target and he chose you because you are the best known Christian scholar who has dared to criticize him. I have never been so ashamed of being an alumnus of UNC-Charlotte and I have already contacted the alumni office about this whole sordid affair. "Shameful" is the only word I can think of to describe Tabor's involvement in, and continued defense of, this mess.

José Solano said...

I found the Tomb of Jesus’Family simply a somewhat entertaining movie myth. It’s approach is rather similar to that of my play The Da Vinci Code meets The Gospel of Judas, except that this movie myth seeks to convince people that its wild speculations are factual while my play is purely comedic parody.

The twisted myth dramatization with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ “son” at the cross was, I must say, a shameless distortion of the texts that refer to this event. As a father of four children I cannot imagine myself saying to my wife under any circumstances, “Mother, behold your son.” She knows perfectly well who her children are. It is because a new kinship relationship is being formed that this statement makes sense. And of course, the passages are perfectly clear that Jesus was talking to his mother and the beloved disciple cannot possibly be Jesus’ son. It is simply ludicrous that they should contrive this scenario.

I found the Ted Koppel interviews unfortunately weak. Though he tried, Koppel was unable to effectively restrain the commandeering outbursts of Jacobovici who managed to usurp other people’s talking time repeatedly. It was particularly amazing when he actually pushed down the arm of Tabor, his sidekick, to stop him from commenting.

The theologians Koppel brought in were particularly unprepared to refute the films claims. They looked as if they were extemporaneously developing responses without any plan to focus on the serious flaws of the movie. The professor from the Virginia Seminary was the most articulate. The Catholic and Protestant theologians drifted off into discussions of what the Resurrection was like and faith issues that simply do nothing to refute what is purported to be the hard evidence of the movie myth’s claims.

Were these theologians allowed to preview the movie at least a day or two prior to the movie’s release? If so, why didn’t they carefully prepare to address specific issues? They should have focused on the validity of the New Testaments texts as the earliest sources of these accounts and totally discredit 3rd and 4th century stories. They should have noted that the movie myth clearly implies a conspiratorial effort by Jesus’ family and disciples to perpetrate a great hoax on humanity and they could have then turned the table on the producers of the film as the hoaxers.

I am reminded of the saying, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by for force.” Though the absurdities of the movie myth may in time bring about its self-destruction, a carefully prepared refutation (the force) by the theologians could have expedited its demise.

Jay said...

Albert --

That was a reference to Matthew 28:11-16. I should have inserted the adjective "Christian" -- as in, "the earliest Christian testimony."


Hacksaw Duck said...
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Hacksaw Duck said...

Daniel, do you really want these guys thrown in jail? Is that what Jesus would do? Aren't you content with the knowledge that God will someday thrown them into the infernal pit?

And also, I wouldn't throw too many stones over the issue of "pre-conceived notions." You guys are hardly paragons of unbiased investigation yourselves.

Jason Morrison said...


I do not think the theologians drifted from the merits of the film. There comments were shaped by the questions asked them by Koppel.

They were talking about the resurrection because this was precisely the type of questions that were being asked to them by Koppel.

It seemed to me that Dever and the other guest were brought in to weigh more pointedly on the specific claims being made in the film while the three theologians were brought in to address the implications of the film for the Christian faith if in fact the Tomb did contain Jesus' bones.

Ken Carl said...

I was rather surprised at how unaware Mr. Tabor was about the true impact of his claims on Christianity. I saw the discussion after the special and he stated that most Christians don't even believe in a bodily resurrection. I was glad to see that one of the "theologians" that were there corrected him on that point but it just goes to show that he is either very irresponsible or simply ignorant about the possible impact of his claims. Although, after reading some of his material and seeing his credentials, it is obvious that he is simply a heretic. Tabor is the chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for crying out loud! I would like to know how these nut jobs get such high positions in Universities. It seems that the crazier you are, the better the job you get!

Blake said...


I'm assuming you missed where William Dever stated he wasn't a Believer and, thus, 'had no dog in this fight'. What say you of his skepticism on this whole ordeal? Furthermore, if it were only Evangelical scholars refuting these claims, would you not expect more scientists to be backing Cameron, Simcha, and Tabor? The scientists, and 'experts', used in the film were distancing themselves from the filmmaker's hypotheses. This doesn't seem to be a blind refutation of the facts by Christians, as you claim.

Moving along, I have to say that the show had me audibly laughing at times. It seemed so cheesy the way Simcha would act as if they had just uncovered a long buried mystery by locating the ossuaries in the storage warehouse. I also couldn't help but laugh when they were in the actual tomb and Simcha said 'This is where they laid the body of Jesus!'...I mean, was anybody taking him seriously at this point?

I found the post-show forum to be very revealing into the character of Tabor and Jacobvici. While Tabor just looked overwhelmed, and seemed to stammer through his weak explanations, Simcha came off as a blustering, arrogant, and defensive man. I thought it was very interesting that BOTH Simcha and Tabor stated that the two Mary's in the tomb could be RELATIVES to the Jesus present in the tomb. I didn't hear them amend their 'statistical' evidence in which they assumed Mary to be the mother of the Jesus in the tomb. Of course, thanks to Jay, we're all aware of the statistical flaws used in the film. I just found it interesting they were contradicting their own claims.

The final laugh was when Jacobvici pushed Tabor's hand back down onto the chair after stating 'I know what they want to talk about. But I want to talk about what I want to talk about'. That, of course, received a healthy round of laughter from the forum. If Tabor wasn't embarrassed before, then this should have done it. I also thought Bock did a very good job staying on point to the questions asked of him as well as pointing out the errors both Simcha and, mostly, Tabor were making. Father O'Connell seemed like he didn't know why he was there. I didn't follow his arguments AT ALL. In fact, I was thinking 'please be quiet'. He said in the beginning that Jesus NOT rising from the dead, physically, and Jesus having a son with Mary M. was not problematic to his Faith....OK, well it is to mine. But later he stated that the core of Christian belief is that Jesus DID physically rise from the dead. Well, which is it Father? Sorry, don't mean to pick on him but it stood out to me.

Professor Witherington,

Thank you very much for your diligent research into these matters. You have been extremely helpful and informative and I pray God's blessings into your life.

Ben Witherington said...


This tomb has been investigated to death. The only thing more of substance that could be done is more DNA tests on the other ossuaries and on the James ossuary. If none matched with the James one would be more certain that it didn't come from Talpiot, which the rest of the evidence suggests any.

Steve J. you have every right to ask what would count as evidence against the Christian faith, since it is a faith which is grounded in history, and not just some philosophy. The answer to that is not hard to come by. If, for example, it could be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the bones of Jesus had been found, and all the reports of having seen Jesus after his death were fraudulent, that would certainly count as evidence against the Christian faith. If it could be shown that Jesus never existed that would count as evidence against it. If it could be shown beyond a reasonable doubt, as the Koran says, Jesus didn't die on the cross, that would count as evidence against it. If we found first century documents written by eyewitnesses that contradicted the claims in the Gospels in substantive ways, that would have to count against it. Say if there was someone who had been a follower of Jesus who bailed out and told all about what he saw as a hoax, that must count as evidence against.

Historians must take seriously the earliest, most credible, and eyewitness evidence. This is just good historiography. The documentary presents us with no evidence of any of this sort, and so deserves to be label 'incredible' rather than 'credible' even from just a purely historical basis. The rise of the Christian movement after the horrific death of Jesus on the cross cannot be explained by such feeble theories as those presented in this show and book.


Benjamin S. Lewis said...

I am posting the substance of an email a colleague of mine sent to Mark Goodacre that raises issues that seem to be central to the Jesus Tomb case. Tabor sat there last night essentially claiming that Amos Kolner was incompetent and that Tabor held documentation suggesting that the measurements of the supposedly missing 10th Talpiot ossuary were the same as the James ossuary. See point 2) below. I don't know if either of Greg's points are valid, but they seem to be central to the discussion and are definitely worth following up on:

"1) Jose: They made a big deal about how rare the name Jose was, (if I remember right) claiming that the Gospel references to Jesus' brother pretty much exhausted its occurrence in our inventory. How about Mark 15: 40, 46? Doesn't appear to be all that rare. This seems to be a BIG factual blunder on their part.

2. Alleged Ossuary Measurements: Tabor is either lying or mistaken on the measurements of the James ossuary. He claimed he has copies of Joseph Gath’s original documents (from which Kolner made his report), and he confidently asserted that the measurements of the “missing” ossuary were the same as the James ossuary. See for an earlier discussion (date unknown) of this issue by Tabor (ASIDE: He isn’t sure whether the James ossuary was pilfered from the Shroud Tomb or the Talpiot tomb, but he’s determined that it came from one of Jesus’ tombs).

Tabor specifically states ( that the measurements of the “missing” ossuary were “60 by 26 by 30 centimeters” (23.622 X 10.23 x 11.8 inches). He goes on to state that “I noticed that the dimensions of the missing tenth ossuary are precisely the same, to the centimeter, to those of the James Ossuary.”

However, I have found two sources on the James ossuary which seem to refute his claims:


35 centimeters high (13.7 inches)50 centimeters long (19.6 inches)

“20 inches in length; the shape is a trapezoid: 10 inches in width at one end and 12 inches at the other”

The two James ossuary measurement accounts I found (one of them on an official IAA report by Dr. Rochelle I. Altman that can be found all over the web) do not agree with the measurements of the 10th Talpiot ossuary in the account of James Tabor. I am curious as to which body orifice Tabor excavated his James ossuary measurements.

Greg Johnston"

I hope someone will follow up on these issues and get them into the public debate if they are as valid as they seem to me.

Benjamin Lewis

Matt said...

Why doesn't Discovery do a followup with all of this information? This certainly makes more sense of the data than anything that WAS seen on TV. You would think Discovery would be committed to the truth and give as much airtime to this information as it is certainly more compelling than what they did air.

RKK said...

ON the "mysterious" chevron and circle, please see:

R. Kirk Kilpatrick, Ph.D.

Blake said...


I tend to disagree with you on this point.

The facts of this 'docu-drama' were so skewed to support the filmmakers' hypotheses, that I feel it was definitely necessary for people to speak out strongly against it. Unfortunately, there are many people who call themselves Christians who are not aware of the ACTUAL facts surrounding this case. The same can be said for un-believers.

Touting these claims as a 600:1 shot of being wrong is absurdly misrepresentive of the facts. There is no reason to sit idly by while people spread what are, essentially, lies. I do agree that a certain level of composure must be maintained, but it seems to me that is exactly what has happened here.

There should be no shame in quickly denouncing these fraudulent claims.

Peleg said...

Is this particular shoddily researched Discovery Show indicative of their other shows??

Mark Mathewson, Ph.D. said...


Do you find anything odd about Tabor seemingly so behind Simcha's conclusions given what he (Tabor) wrote in 'The Jesus Dynasty'? Several points puzzle me.

1. Tabor claims there is "reasonable ciricumstantial evidence" that the James ossuary was from the Tomb of the Shroud he discovered in 2000 (p. 20). He wonders whether this Tomb of the Shroud is the Jesus family tomb. However, in the Discovery special he seems completely behind Simcha's conclusion that the Talpiot tomb is probably the Jesus tomb.

2. Tabor argues that all of Jesus' brothers were among the twelve disciples (p. 164-65). This leads him to suggest the possibility that Jesus' brother Joseph (whom Simacha is quite certain is Jose) was also known as Matthew. Tabor then reminds us of the Talpiot ossuary with "Matthew" inscribed. This is a bit confusing. Is the "Jose" ossuary Jesus' brother Joseph or is the "Matthew" ossuary Jesus' brother? Which ossuary does Tabor think likely held Jesus' brother Joseph's reminas?

3. Tabor argues that the "beloved disciples" is James (p. 206-07 and elsewhere). Yet, on the special there is no hint of this view of his. Rather, the special claims it was likely Jesus' son Judah. Again, it is strange that Tabor puts himself in a position of supporting the claims of the special when his conclusions in his book are very different in some of these areas.

4. Tabor spends a fair amount of space suggesting that Jesus may actually be burried in Tsfat, Galilee (p. 237-40). Interestingly he bases this on a 16th century tradition while quickly dismissing elswhere the 3rd and 5th century traditions which have Jesus' tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Garden Tomb. Anyway, one gets the impression from the special that he agrees with Simcha that Talpiot is the tomb. Now he certainly doesn't commit himself to either view in the book, but if he has evidence that Jesus was buried elsewhere (i.e., Galilee), then why not raise it? (I know it would call into question the Talpiot theory, but I thought Simcha wanted scholars to discuss this).

5. Finally, one more obscure reference in Tabor's book puzzles me. In discussing the possibility that Jesus was buried south of Jerusalem (in the Talpiot region?), Tabor suggests perhaps Mary and Martha may have made a tomb available for Jesus (p. 235-36). Tabor discusses the amount of 1st century tombs in the region of the Mount of Olives including the Flevit sanctuary which has many biblical names including Mary, Martha, Lazarus, etc. Tabor then writes,

"The names are common but this particular grouping, near the village where mary and Martha lived, with their brother Lazarus, and perhaps near the place where Jesus was crucified, seems significant. Mary and Martha are together in a single ossuary, possibly indicating they are sisters."

Now, it is not clear what Tabor means by "this particular grouping." Does he mean the Talpiot grouping? Is his reference to Mary and Marth being in the same ossuary a reference to the "Mariamnou Mara" ossuary which Simcha claims is the ossuary of Mary Magdalene? One would think from watching the special that Tabor agrees with Simcha, but if this reference in his book suggests it is two people in the ossuary (Mary and Martha) and thus "Mara" meaning "Martha" not "Master," why is Tabor silent about this in the documentary?

Maybe Tabor is just completely convinced of all Simcha's conclusions.

Would love to hear your thoughts, Ben (or any one else who cares to weigh in).

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

Mark (Matthewson):

Tabor seems committed to the case that best supports (at the moment) his apriori conviction that Jesus bones are in some tomb somewhere in Israel (see As he wrote in his Jesus Dynasty blog today, "The Talpiot tomb, is, after all, by definition, “a Jesus family tomb.” The question is, which Jesus? And Jesus of Nazareth did die, and was buried, and his flesh did decompose and his bones were left." He assumes that the resurrection did not happen and is setting out to prove it, and he doesn't really seem to care which tomb it takes to do so.

It is ironic that he spends a lot of space at his blog whining about the defensive (apologetic) posture of Christian scholars as opposed to the spirit of honest inquiry he has supposedly adopted. I would suggest that we would not be so "defensive" on the issues if he were'n't so offensive. For a guy that comes off so calm and all-knowing, he sure is clueless (or pretends to be) as to what is at stake for the vast majority of evangelical Christians, scholars included, and how offensive his supposedly scholarly quest is to us. I find a lot of what he writes somewhat more than somewhat disingenous.

And I'm still wondering where he gets his measurement data for the James ossuary.

Benjamin Lewis

Ken Carl said...

Mark M.

It seems to me that someone needs to ask not only what Tabor believes but what are his motives? There is no question that Tabor is not an orthodox Christian, ie bodily resurrection is not important to him. He stated that clearly last night. So, why is he interested at all in the subject? I can think of three very obvious reasons.

1)Fame. He may wish to make a name for himself or be known as a great discoverer of some earth shattering truth. I doubt that the particular facts are all that important to him as long as they are significantly breathtaking. Also, he is expected, due to his position at a university, to be published and this kind of drivel is easy to get published.

2) Money. This kind of stuff sells a lot of books! This will be a gravy train for everyone who is attached to it. Need I say more?

3) Agenda. Our culture today has given great attention and praise to those who wish to discredit or demean Christianity. Tabor obviously leans way left. The guy has a PH D in Religion. He knows full well the impact of his statements. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some underlying desire to bring Christianity down.

We have payed very close attention to the particular details and assertions in this documentary but nobody has asked what the motivating forces are behind the desire to make such statements. Is it a coincidence that Simcha J. is a Jew? Why would a Jew want to find the bones of Jesus....Hmmmmm.

I wonder if we are not giving too much credibility to these people by exerting so much energy refuting them. Would we do the same if Charles Manson or Anton Lavey made the same claims? Of course not! Why? Because they are not credible. From everything that I have seen so far, I do not believe that these people are any more credible. Maybe we need to stop beating around the bush!

Ben Witherington said...

On the one hand, it can be the mark of a good honest scholar that he is able to change his mind in the face of compelling evidence. But this does not seem to be the case with Tabor and Simcha. After all, Tabor is the scholar here, not Simcha, and one wouldn't expect the influence to go primarily in the direction of Simcha to Tabor. But it is troubling to me at least that Tabor so readily and quickly abandons one theory for another on so many points. I do not understand that, unless as you say, the archetypal theory has to be supported at all costs--- namely that Jesus' and his dynasty's tomb (and the bones) must be out there somewhere.

One thing that I found very remarkable on the debate show is Tabor's contention that Paul refers to a non-material or 'spiritual' body in 1 Cor. 15. This however is false. A Greek adjective with an -ikon ending like 'pnuematikon' or 'psuchikon; does not describe the material out of which the body is mande. 'pneumatikon soma' no more means 'spiritual body' (which a Pharisee would see as an oxymoron anyway) than 'psuchikon soma' means a body made out of soul. On the contrary the former means a body empowered by the Holy Spirit and the latter means a body empowered by the natural life breath God gave to humans. The issue is the engine or power that drives and enlivens the body, not the material stuff of which the body is made.


Jay said...
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Jay said...

My intuition about Professor Tabor is just that he thinks that Simcha et al. might be on to something. I have not seen him actually endorse the theory, and I do not expect him to. Thus, I do not see any inconsistency between this and his book. I think his feeling is: this could be true.

This is based upon my read of his blog, which has largely focused upon (a) the plausibility of the theory and (b) those who, in his mind, refuse to admit the plausibility.

Spiritually, I am in agreement with Tabor. It could be true. However, I think most people are on board there. The "scientific ethos" has filtered its way pretty deep into the American psyche, despite whatever he might think of the close-mindedness of American "evangelicals." I think most of us, when we first saw the headline or whatever, wondered, "I wonder what it is that they have?"

My problem with his position, as it has been expounded on his blog this week, is threefold:

(i) He seems to take those, like Dr. Witherington, who argue that this is highly unlikely as actually arguing that it is impossible. Thus, his response -- why won't you admit the possibility? -- is a non-sequitur. We are not discussing possibilities; of course it is possible that the existing historical record contains systematic and grievous errors (e.g. missing a "Judah son of Jesus") that therefore make this Jesus of Nazareth's tomb. We are just arguing that it is exceedingly, amazingly unlikely. There is a difference, an important difference. One rejects a hypothesis because it is not likely true, not because it is definitely false. Those who have rejected Jacobovici's hypothesis have done so for the former reason -- and Tabor cannot criticize us for the latter reason.

(ii) He has taken people who were skeptical from moment one, who criticized the conclusion from moment one, as being people who would never have accept the conclusion, who were hopelessly biased. This is specious -- above all because, to be honest, the documentarians pretty much showed their whole hand on Monday, and then definitely on Tuesday. I knew their statistic argument was bunko the moment they explained it last Sunday; I just happen to know enough about statistics to make that judgment. Tabor's attitude was, "Wait until the evidence comes out!" But the evidence basically has been out for a week. Those of us who did not wait were still evaluating everything there was to evaluate.

Of course, as of now -- absolutely everything -- has been made plain. They have made available everything they were going to make available. Thus, it is now entirely inappropriate to claim that those who reject the conclusion are those who would never accept it. I think that is what he has done as of today on his blog. This sets up: those who agree are open-minded, those who don't are close-minded.

(iii) He does not seem to appreciate just how provocative and unseemly this whole thing has been. From the Monday press conference to last night. I do not mean the thesis itself. I mean the way it was presented. That was provocative and unseemly. The intention was obviously to provoke -- as a way to maximize ratings, etc. Now, this might not have been Jacobovici, Cameron, Pellegrino or his intentions. But nevertheless -- somebody involved in the presentation of this chose to present it in this way to provoke people, namely the 75% or so of America that thinks Jesus rose from the dead. (Personal note -- I think that the way in which this was promoted was profoundly unethical. You do not toy with the great hope of 2.1 billion to get a 0.7 on Discovery and to move 50,000 units in the first week). And, unsurprisingly, people were provoked. And their response to this provocation has offended Tabor. I would be sympathetic to the offense he has taken were it not for the fact that one of his associates -- be it Jacobovici, Cameron, their PR guy, whoever -- designed the provocation as a way to maximize ratings/sales. He should find the guy who OK'd the press conference and all the rest and blame THAT guy for the criticism he has received.

It was his post on his blog today that really aggravated me, and induced me to offer up a more public response, which can be found here.

Jay said...
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Jay said...

I'll add a fourth critique

(iv) Tabor has improperly conflated a rush to judgment with a rush to evaluation.

A rush to judgment is when you draw a false conclusion before all of the facts come in.

A rush to evaluation is when you feel a need to draw a correct conclusion as quickly as possible.

The latter is what Christians worldwide did. Why would they do that? It is because Jacobovici et al. were questioning a major psychological pillar in their lives. You do not wait around a week when such a pillar is questioned. You answer as quickly as you possibly can.

There are, I am sure, people who did the latter and the former. They rushed to evaluate and tossed together a poor response simply so that they could sleep at night. But there are others -- most notably Dr. Witherington -- who very clearly did not. He rushed to evaluate, but he did not rush to judgment. In other words -- he offered a valid response quickly.

Dr. Tabor has conflated these two -- and thus dimissed Dr. Witherington's valid critique as being a "rush to judgment." This is not the case.

The question: was it possible to rush to evaluate without rushing to judgment? Yes! As it turns out, it was. The documentarians, as I said, laid their whole hand bare last Monday. We knew the basic planks of their argument then, and we knew every aspect of it on Tuesday when their book "dropped."

This is another way in which I have found Tabor frustrating this week. There is a rhetorical strategy that is nested here, intentional or unintentional. Christians were going to respond to this quickly. They were not going to sit around and wait for a week while Jacobovici et al. went on Larry King Live to tell the world that the faith is dead. By conflating the rush to judgment with the rush to evaluation, you make a rhetorical end-around your opponents during your PR week. Anybody who would take to the airwaves to disagree in week 1 would be somebody who rushed to evaluate. By calling them somebody who rushed to judgment, you delegitimize them.

This is especially specious in light of the fact that, again, they pretty much showed their hand early last week. I stayed up late last Monday night working through their statistics, for crying out loud! Was my conclusion a rush to judgment? No! It was a rush to evaluate -- as in, I was not going to sleep until I worked out what they did and whether it was valid. Why? Yes -- I admit it. The resurrection is a cornerstone of my life. Jacobovici et al. on Monday questioned a cornerstone of my life, and I was not going to wait around and resolve the questions they raise slowly. I intended to resolve them correctly, but also quickly: hence, I have been on about 10 or so hours of sleep this whole week (and have, as a consequence, developed a major head cold. Thanks, Simcha!)

There is a major difference between rushing to evaluate and rushing to judge. Tabor does not seem to recognize it.

José Solano said...

Hi James Morrison,
You are primarily right that the “comments were shaped by the questions asked by Koppel.” Nevertheless, as I recall the theologians had opportunities to respond to open questions about what they thought of the show and they didn’t seem well prepared. As any good politician or debater knows you can also leap from steering questions to what you think really needs to be said.

I agree with Blake that “Father O’Connel seemed like he didn’t know why he was there.” Expressing articles of faith in this arena simply gets the opposition to yawn or just smile condescendingly. Everyone really knows that Christianity almost universally believes that Jesus resurrected bodily from the grave. A mere repetition of one’s confession of faith does little to address the flaws of the show. It’s the objective evidence providing foundations for our faith that is needed and this we have through the earliest accounts of what happened. As Dr. Witherington staes, “Historians must take seriously the earliest, most credible, and eyewitness evidence.” This falls within the legitimate purview of the theologian who studies these texts. It is this that the theologians should have pitted against the wild speculations and fantasies of the show. This is then reinforced by providing the proper archeological and scientific evidence that the other scholars contribute.

I’m very curious to know if the theologians had timely opportunity to preview the show. We know that Jacobovici has been working out this story for years.

I believe that when you have an opportunity to comment on national TV, being seen through much of the world with Ted Koppel on such an important subject, you should be fully prepared and perhaps even prep with a team of experts to determine what you wish to address.

We are at least fortunate that this blog has provided a solid forum through which to bring out the facts. Hopefully the general media concerned with this issue is being directed to this site.

1 Thesis said...

Dear Dr. Witherington, this is Charlie Kiser, son of two of the students in your class, and i'm very interested to hear what u have to say on this!!! i'll tell you this though, it was a great piece of fiction

Publisher said...


Hello again. I have come to a similar conclusion with one additional detail. If the James ossuary isn't a fake, then the 1976 photo of it must also be real. If that's the case, then it couldn't be in the 1980 Talpiot tomb.

I've emailed my request to Dr. Tabor to retract this as part of his hypothesis. See my post on for details on the photo.

RKK said...

Dr. Witherington,

I've added something to my earlier observation regarding the temple and the chevron/circle since you visited my site. Please take a look at your convenience.


Dr. K
Associate Professor of OT & Hebrew

Donald Sensing said...

Not only is Jesus never called son of Joseph, at the beginning of Mk. 6 he is specifically called son of Mary when he went to his hometown synagogue and began to teach there, where, “many who heard him were astounded. They said, “… Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary … ?”

Farley said...

A question for those of you who watched the program. In the segment with a 'dramatization' of Jesus' alledged son, I thought I heard the narrator say something before going to a commercial. It sounded like:

'the boy's identity must be kept secret to protect the dynasty to come'

I believe this is the gist of it. Did I hear it correctly? If so, what would logically make a person say,

"I'm dying on a cross as a fraud. My family knows I'm a fraud. I'm poor. The locals hate me. Oh, yeah, hey Mary, protect the boy, okay? It's for the future dynasty. Got that? Yes, I said for the future dynasty."

I must confess that the program had me concerned until hearing talk of a 'dynasty'. Then, the realization set in...maybe the rest of the 'evidence' isn't as strong as they present it to be.

Donald Sensing said...

The show's whole premise is a conspiracy theory.

The entire thesis of the Talpiot tomb containing the ossuaries of Jesus, his claimed wife Mary Magdalene and their claimed son, Judah, is at bottom a conspiracy theory.

The proposal completely depends on Jesus having been an anti-Roman agitator or wannabe-revolutionary leader. But where is the historical evidence of that? In my M.Div. program at Vanderbilt ('99)I read or scanned through a large number of books that serious scholars had written, claiming that Jesus was a wisdom teacher, a sage, an apocalyptic prophet, a Jewish reformer, and so on. But I don't remember even one claim that he was attempting to agitate against Rome and claim the ancient throne of David for himself.

Yet that is exactly what the show says Jesus was trying to do.

No matter what the DNA tests show, no matter what the names on the ossuaries, if the claim that Jesus was an anti-Roman agitator cannot be sustained - and I don't see how it can - then the entire edifice of the "family tomb" proposal falls into ruins, for that is the only reason the show gives for claiming a secret marriage of Jesus and Mary M. and the secrecy of the existence of their son, Judah.

Mark said...

Dr. Witherington, Jay and others:

Thank you for your excellent contributions toward bringing the truth of this topic to light.

You have helped equip me to live out the counsel given in 1Peter 3:15 -- "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...."

Thanks again. God bless.

DimBulb said...

I don't know if this problem has been addressed yet. We are asked to believe that we have the tomb and bone box of Mary Magdalene who is given the title "Mary the Master." All indications from the early Church and even the gnostic literature is that Mary's prominence was based on the fact that Jesus was the Christ. So why is the alleged Mary Magdalene given a title and the alleged Christ is not? This is, it seems to me, a rather important point, yet I have not seen it addressed or even mentioned by either critics or supporters. What is your take on this issue, doctor?

Jay said...
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Jay said...

I thought the same thing, too, dimbulb!

Generally, comparing the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary to the rest of the ossuaries -- one cannot help but think: did the family even like Jesus? An unadorned ossuary with only the sloppiest of inscriptions? That makes no sense.

The general problem they have is that, outside the names, none of this fits any reasonable inference from the historical record, does it not? Does any of it fit any inference made from the historical record, reasonable or unreasonable?

This creates an ironic setup, I think. You must admit that the record contains grievous and sysetmatic errors to accept this hypothesis. However -- in so doing, you throw into extreme suspicion the very data that supplies us with the names that create the match! Simply stated: the second evangelist missed a son and a wife. How do we trust him on Jos'e?

And, as you say, why would Mary, who was a messenger of Jesus, be called "master" in the tomb? Why would she have a greater title than Jesus?

Karen said...

Go to & click on BUMPER STICKERS

Unknown said...

To Brian:

A more apt analogy:

Imagine you knew of:
David son of Michael & Mary
No wife
No children
Siblings named Michael, James, and John
From Buffalo

And you found a tomb of:
David son of Michael & Mary
Wife named Jennifer
Son named Christopher
Siblings named Michael and Robert
In New York City

Would you conclude that they were the same David?

In fact, the statistics show that if there were 100,000 Jewish men in first century Palestine, about 67 of them were "Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary." Jesus was only 1 of these 67. In other words, it's far more likely that the Talpiot tomb is that of a different Jesus.

As many others have pointed out, the statistical evidence presented in "The Lost Tomb" is not compelling.

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

"I do not understand that, unless as you say, the archetypal theory has to be supported at all costs--- namely that Jesus' and his dynasty's tomb (and the bones) must be out there somewhere."

Here are my suspicions:

In much the same way that we are bound by our faith system to take an apologetic stand in the discussion, Tabor is bound by his faith system to debunk the resurrection: He is constrained by what Francis Schaffer used to call "an implicit faith (presupposition) in the the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system." He rejects the historical arguments (Apostollic and Gospel testimony) for the resurrection because he doesn't believe resurrection is possible. And he doesn't believe the resurrection is possible because he doesn't believe that miracles are possible. Miracles in general and resurrections specifically suggest the system isn't closed.

This "implicit faith" in a closed system is not a reasoned position. As C.S. Lewis rightly points out (Miracles: A Preliminary Study), any argument against the possibility of events like the resurrection is circular. But no amount of historical, eyewitnesse testimony to the resurrection will not be persuasive to those who have decided apriori that resurrection is not possible. Hence, Tabor's goofy rewriting of the history in his Jesus Dynasty. Not unlike Hugh Schonfield's Passover Plot. Hence his blind commitment to the dogma that Jesus' bones must be out there somewhere.

And of course he thinks that HE is the enlightened one, the voice of reason in the discussion. But he is just as bound by his own faith system as we are. He's just less aware of it.

Or so his writings seem to indicate. If I'm wrong, my case isn't any more speculative than the stuff he comes up with.

Benjamin Lewis

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

"All indications from the early Church and even the gnostic literature is that Mary's prominence was based on the fact that Jesus was the Christ."

I was struck by the images in the film of the Apostle Mary teaching the crowds in her first missionary journey. But I couldn't help but wonder what she was teaching them. Well-digging? Hygiene? Women's Studies? The only apostollic kerygma on record was their witness to the crucifixion and resurrection. Repentence and forgiveness of sins. That sort of thing. But of course, the Apostle Lord Mary knew better. So what was teaching the heathen masses? The audio in the dramatiization wasn't good enough for me to make it out.

Jay said...
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Jay said...

Actually, Philip, I think you might be being too charitable to the documentarians in your analogy!

We know of:
Michael, Son of Linda, Stepson of James.
Sibling of Thomas, Aaron, Jim, Henry and Denise.
No children.
Resident of New York City.

We find:
Michael, son of James.
Related to Linda, Lyn, Jim, Robert
Father of Aaron.
Resident of Philadelphia.

Of the 13 names between the two men, there are no more than 3 matches and no less than 1 match. That is a success rate of no more than 23.07%.

What is more, 2 of the 3 matches -- "James" and "Jim" -- are closely related to one another. So, they only match on 2 unique names, or 15.38%.

Randy Ingermanson said...

SteveJ asked about what could falsify faith. It's a good question but is hard to answer.

It's probably easier to answer the question, "What could make this set of inscriptions plausible from a statistical point of view?"

I would say that the evidence would be FAR more compelling from a statistical point of view if the known relationships within the Jesus family were a better match with the relationships spelled out on the ossuaries.

For example, if the James ossuary could have been proven to belong to the tomb, that would have been a major triumph for Simcha, et. al. Then you would have three men in a particular relationship, Jesus, James, and Joseph. It would have increased the probability estimate that this is the true family of Jesus by a factor of 50. That would still not be enough, but it would be quite a boon to the hypothesis.

Another thing that would have helped the case enormously is if there had been no "Judah son of Jesus" ossuary. That doesn't fit the historical data, so it reduces the probability of Simcha's hypothesis by a large factor. (You have to make a judgment of the probability of a heretofore unknown son existing, despite the roaring silence of the texts. Then you essentially have to reduce your probability estimate of Simcha's hypothesis by that factor.)

Simcha's case would have been massively stronger from a statistical point of view if there had been four ossuaries reading as follows:
1) Jesus son of Mary
2) James son of Joseph brother of Jesus
3) Judah son of Joseph
4) Yose son of Joseph

Then, even without the two Mary ossuaries, you'd have a naive statistical estimate that would say "The odds are 16 to 1 that this is the tomb of the family of Jesus." I call this the "naive estimate" because there is an extra factor that would play here: The "Jesus son of Mary" would need to carry extra weight because of the rarity of an appellation including the mother. That could easily add in another factor of 100.

Then if you could throw in an ossuary that says "Maria of Magdala" you'd really have something.

The problem for Simcha's hypothesis is simply that the inscriptions mostly AREN'T specific, and both of the ones that ARE specific weigh against the hypothesis. It was a nice try to attempt to bring in the James ossuary, which is very specific, but I would judge that attempt a failure.

It does take rather a lot of evidence to get a high probability for Simcha's hypothesis. But that's the way the numbers play out.

Molly Maguire said...

I do not pretend to be a scientist. Just an interested person with a question. Is it reasonable to expect that Mary's name would be written in Latin? Was Latin commonly used by the Jews of that time or am I right in thinking that it was the language of the Romans? I know this is pretty simplistic but I hope someone responds.

Anonymous said...

In Greece today (I lived there for 10 years) we have an expression for someone who's staggering around like a madman, with the potential to harm both himself and others: "mazepste ton" (restrain him)! James Tabor on his blog is now claiming that he knows "facts which he has not yet made public" about the James ossuary and the Talpiot tomb, and that in time people will come to see that the 'sinking' of the Talpiot tomb story was premature. Well, first of all if he does know facts that were not disclosed so far then he is guilty of academic dishonesty in the worst sense of the word, and he is only contributing to the sensationalism surrounding the movie. And second, it is hard to see what else he might know that would contradict the information we have about the James ossuary and the 10th ossuary, specifically that the latter was plain, unadorned and did not match the dimensions of the former. What is he playing at here?

Donald Sensing said...

More on Jesus’ presumed political pretensions. It’s worth noting that John 19:19-30 relates:

---19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, “The King of the Jews,’ but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” ---

Here Pilate specifically rejects the idea that Jesus himself claimed the throne of David.

yuckabuck said...


Dr. Tabor has posted again. Here's the gist:

-Joe Zias is an out and out liar regarding the 10th ossuary.
-Tabor distanced himself from the movie, though he of course says the basic thesis is still credible.
-He has more information coming that he has not yet made public, though he has fortunately given up on the disclaimer that everyone should withhold judgement until the case is made.
-He is preparing a formal paper with his take on the matter. (Finally. At least, let's give him credit for being the only one trying to get the horse back in front of the cart.)
-It is implied that Amos Kloner may not be entirely truthful about the cataloguing of ossuaries.

If I gave a press conference saying that I had proof that something had happened to the world's milk supply, and that everyone drinking it will die in a month, but that everyone should withhold judgement on my theory until my book and movie come out a week later, I would be reasonably pilloried! Why can't these people see that?

yuckabuck said...

Re: Joe Zias

I don't think Zias is lying. He obviously has taken time to review his memories, and now feels more certain about some things. Tabor's posts are beginning to smell of desperation.

My favorite comment on the affair was relayed on the NT Gateway site- "Would Jesus really name his son Judas?"

normdoering said...

Ben Witherington wrote:
"...the James ossuary. ... makers of this film and book were told that the tenth ossuary found in the Talpiot tomb was not missing. It was a blank, ... However, on the show, mystery is concocted when the list of the nine catalogued ossuaries is presented and it is concluded one is missing, which is false.... There never was a mystery about the 10th ossuary. One was concocted for this show."

So, they were lying. I got the feeling they were lying about something but in my review:
TV review: "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"

However, I thought it would be the DNA and why only two were tested.

But even with that lie excused there is still something interesting there, the names, that symbol on the tomb... - a possibility however remote.

normdoering said...

"Would Jesus really name his son Judas?"

Would Judas be so bad before Jesus was betrayed and died? Jesus might have had his son before he began his ministry.

You're not lining up the timing of events there. And what about the gospel of Judas? There are conflicting accounts in the rejected gospels.

Hacksaw Duck said...
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Hacksaw Duck said...

I understand the argument that, in the ancient Jewish mind, "resurrection" meant the raising up of the physical body. But I can't help wonder what Paul meant when he wrote, "So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit." How did Jesus become a spirit?

Also in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the people involved all seem to have bodies. There are references to eyes, a thumb, a tongue. Did Jesus believe that these people (whose remains were still entombed) had received bodies while in an intermediate state? If so, then why can't Christians believe that a person whose bones are left behind on earth can still be in another corporeal form elsewhere?

yuckabuck said...

What is it with this blog and attacking people for things they didn't say?

normdoering said to me, "You're not lining up the timing of events there." regarding Jesus naming his son Judas. I didn't say it was good evidence against Tabor's theory, just that it was my "favorite." It made me laugh. It was funny. It made my wife laugh, too. Humor, you know?

(Just like I didn't say Joe Zias was a liar earlier today, I was only reporting what Tabor said, and then was corrected for that too. I had only wanted to flag Dr. Witherington regarding a huge developement in the story that impacted on emails Dr. Witherington had posted on this site.)

I think people have moved into "debunk mode," where they have an uncontrollable urge to parse every comment and debunk small details. (The cause probably stems from how the flow of arguments from the Simcha, Tabor camp has slowed to a trickle, so the comment gallery is hungry for fresh meat.)

Notice how Dr. Witherington has slowed his blogging pace regarding the tomb to coincide with the slower pace of arguments in favor of Tabor's theory coming out.
Hmmm... perhaps we can learn something from this?

Ike said...

To me, one of the most compelling arguments against the "Jacobovici theory" is its inability to account for the origins of Christianity.

Something in the film talked about how, after he was "moved," he could have then appeared to his followers (forgive me if I am slightly misrepresenting), as if the film is saying, "ok Christians, there are your appearances, happy?". In such a case, the disciples would be more likely to call for medical aid than proclaim the reality of the living Lord. Moreover, if they saw such a thing, they wouldn't consider Jesus "risen", but rather a "survivor" of the ordeal.

This seems to mean that your big dog has to be the hallucination hypothesis. And, well, you have to have a whole 'lotta people seeing things, at different times no less.

I was utterly astounded as I listened to Tabor talk about 1 Cor. 15 ff., his contention of course addressed forcefully by Bock. I honestly laughed aloud when he said "I'll go with Paul on this one" as if that closed the book on the issue.

tin921 said...

does anyone knows what that jesus family tomb would cost in today's equivalent? i read arguments that it's a upper-middle class tomb that jesus' family couldn't afford, so i just want to have a better idea?


Janet Cone said...

In reading about this controversy two things have really struck me:

Firstly, neither the analysis or the interpretation of the DNA evidence would hold up in court. Forensically the ossuaries would be regarded as being contaminated, there is no guarantee that the mDNA belongs to the person named, a second individual whose bones were interred in the same ossuary or an archeologist who handled the ossuary 30 years ago.

As to the interpretation, even if the mDNA belonged to the individuals named it certainly does not necessarily mean that they were husband and wife. "Yeshua" could be "Mariemene"'s nephew, half brother, cousin, father, uncle or in law. The argument for them being husband and wife is so flimsy I do not know why I even have to point it out.

Why was none of the other ossuaries sampled for mDNA? The documentary make a lot of astounding statements about the relationships of the people in the tomb, for example that Jesus's and Mary Magdalene's son was also buried in the tomb. As a scientist my curiosity is piqued by those relationships and the possible tests that could be done. A positive mDNA between Mariemene and Yehuda combined with a positive Y chromosome match between Yeshua and his supposed son would have really strengthened the documentary far more than the non-result of the Yeshua/Mariemene comparison.

But those comparsions weren't done, why? Were they afraid of falsifying their hypothesis?

The documentary makers trumpeting of the DNA results compared with what was actually done pushes this documentary into the realm of pseudoscience.

The second thing that struck is that Tabor argues:

"Mariemene e Mara means 'of Mariemenu, the Master,'" he says. "This is a title. It means 'This is the ossuary of Mariemene, known as the Mara.'" His opinion—which is consistent with Feuerverger's assumptions but clashes with those of many of his peers—is that this is a completely unique name, supporting his hypothesis that this is the grave of the Mary Magdalene. (from

Later on he says this: "if you know anything about messianic movements, the followers provide for their leader—they don't just throw him in a ditch when he dies. … Think of any Jewish sect—they take care of their rabbi."

So Jesus and Mary Magdalene get married and eventually die. His followers do a quick whip around to ensure that their beloved teacher doesn't get buried in a shallow grave. And having gone through all that effort to make sure he is buried with the honour befitting his position they inscribe on his wife's ossuary Mary the Master while on his they just put his name with nothing to differentiate him from any of the other Yeshuas, Son of Josephs living at the same time...

My gut feeling is that if this is the tomb of Mary Magdalene it is not the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

He is elsewhere.

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

nAnybody interested in Joe Zias's take on the film? I haven't figured out how to embed links, so you'll just have to copy/paste into your address line:

ricb said...


BBC quotes Zias as stating concerning the Talpiot tomb "what's interesting are the names here and the combination of names. We are talking about three generations, it's very very interesting, very interesting." Wow! This is Zias in '96 in the BBC documentary he loves to quote. What happened? Is it Prozac time? Zias goes on to say about Mary Magdalene and Jesus "If they were married then presumably they would've had children and this is the type of stuff which is not coming out of traditional Christianity as we know it today." Joe, this is publicity mongering. Did they or didn't they have a baby? Could this all be a hoax? Back to Joe "The fact that these things were discovered by archaeologists without a doubt there's no problem whatsoever here in terms of a hoax or a forgery." Will the real Joe Zias please stand up? Or at least leave the blogging world.


Jay said...

I don’t want to overwhelm you all with math, but I thought you might appreciate this.

Judging from Dr. Tabor’s blog, he still strongly thinks that the James ossuary will be matched to Talpiot. This, presumably, will drive the numbers heavily in Simcha’s favor and – he seems to think – vindicate their argument.

So, let us cede them the James ossuary and see how many other candidates for this tomb are as good a candidate as Jesus.

Let us assume that this Jesus had 3 brothers, which I would guess is roughly an average for the time. If so, 3% of all people named “Jesus son of Joseph” will have a brother named James. This means that in the Herodian Period, there would be about 30 people named Jesus with a father named Joseph and a brother named James.

Kloner’s initial estimate was that the tomb held 35 family members. We have accounted for two of them. That leaves 33 more people in this family. We know that Jesus of Nazareth’s family matches two of the ossuaries. The critical question: how many other people named “Jesus, son of Joseph, brother of James” would also have at least 2 family members who match the ossuaries among 33 total family members?

The reason that this is important is that we do not know who is not in an ossuary. Thus, anybody with a Matthew, a Judah son of Jesus, a Jesus son of Joseph, a Mary, a Mary and a Joseph among 35 family members would be a perfect match for this tomb as far as we know.

The documentarians want us to limit the size of the family to 6, but this is tendentious. According to Kloner, the family's size is 35. Thus, the population of potential families for this tomb is computed by finding the number of families that have these 6 names among 35 members. The population of families that are as much a contender as Jesus is computed by finding the number of families that have 2 names among 35 members.

Again, my estimate is 30 people named Jesus with a dad named Joseph and a bro named James. How many of the 30 match just as well as Jesus?

The answer: almost everybody!

For instance, 88% of all families would have 2 or more women named Mary among 33 family members. All of these families would be at least a good a match as Jesus' family.

When you factor in all the 2-way combinations (Mary/Judah, Mary/Joseph, Mary/Matthew, Matthew/Joseph, Matthew/Judah, Judah/Joseph) – you will approach all 30 remaining candidates.

In other words, even if we cede them James – there are still 30 other people who are as good a fit as Jesus. There are 30 people named Jesus with a brother named James, a father named Joseph, and two other matches in that tomb.

The critical difference is the size of the family. Most online critics are assuming a family of 6, which actually favors the documentarians because it reduces the overall candidate pool. It is also contrary to Kloner’s estimate, which was 35. Any family of 35 with these 6 names would be a perfect match for this tomb. One need not be a family of 6 with the 6 names.

This is important to bear in mind if ever the James ossuary is positively linked to the Talpiot tomb, perhaps by mDNA evidence: it proves nothing about Jesus. At best, it places him at 1 in 30 – and that is before we factor in the misses (Judah, Mary and Matthew) and the fact that he generally does not fit in the tomb. (It also assumes that the “Joseph” and the “Mary” tombs are actually matches. I have been reading around the biblioblogosphere that this cannot be taken for granted. I think Craig Evans disputes that, for instance.)

This also makes their “mobilization of bias” and “you just won’t put Jesus on the table, you blind evangelicals!” comments ironic – for it is clear, is it not?, that they were biased toward putting Jesus in this tomb. They “cooked the books” to put a 2nd Mary in his family. They connected dots that were not there to put the "James" ossuary in the tomb. On top of that, they put together tendentious statistics to make a claim that is just plain inaccurate. Above all, they were looking for a family of 6 rather than a family of 35! It is amazing to me that they would have the nerve to claim that we are biased after all the nonsense that they have offered!

Just thought you would be interested to know that.

Also, their inference about mDNA is invalidated by Kloner’s article. Did they even read the footnotes? The footnotes state that there are expected to be 1.7 people per ossuary. How do we know that the mDNA sample taken from the “Jesus” ossuary and the second “Mary” ossuary were indeed “Jesus” and “Mary?” For all we know, they could have been mDNA samples from Vladimir and Sven!

At this point, I feel sorry for Tabor. I do not know how he got himself identified with this group. I suspect that ultimately he was implicated because he does not know statistics and probability theory. He thought there was something here that is just not here.

Let that be a lesson to us all: make sure your kids take a statistics course when they go to college. There is no other math as useful as statistics.

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

"At this point, I feel sorry for Tabor. I do not know how he got himself identified with this group. I suspect that ultimately he was implicated because he does not know statistics and probability theory."

Nice analysis, Jay.

However, I'm not sure why everyone feels that Tabor somehow got naively sucked into this enterprise. From the things he has written recently at Jesus Dynasty and especially on the site below, I suspect Tabor to be the ringleader of this group. I wouldn't be surprised if the entire venture was his brainchild.

We Demand A Neutral Scientific Exhibit said...

Yes indeed, the venture is surely Tabor's brainchild, and Tabor, along with Joe Zias, is also at the center of the now debunked "Essene toilet" campaign recently waged in newspapers all over the world. As for Zias, he deserves credit for distancing himself from this Jesus nonsense (perhaps he dropped out of it when he realized that this time no one would buy it); but he himself has been involved in an entire, ongoing scheme of scholarly misconduct. Not only has he come forward with misleading and erroneous interpretations of ancient apocalyptic texts and spurious DNA evidence in the Essene toilet case, but he was also the one who came out with the Qumran DNA claims of around a dozen years ago, widely publicized and then quietly dropped when the results of the tests -- until this day never released -- didn't confirm what they were supposed to confirm. In other words, Zias was involved in what amounts to an outrageous cover-up; he continues, along with Tabor, to be involved in wishy-washy research; he is associated with an organization (namely, the IAA) that is continually hoodwinking the public with a distorted picture of the current state of scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls (in fact for all we know he could even be the one responsible for that ongoing campaign of misinformation within that organization); and no one should be lauding him or attempting to excuse his conduct. This entire matter is analyzed at length at and in the article by Golb referred to there.

Ben Witherington said...

Joe Zias' interviews on the BBC were of course soundbytes and he was talking about possible scenarios that should be considered. In the intervening eleven years he has not changed his mind about considering all possibilities so far as I can see. He is simply less and less persuaded that there is any 'live' possibility that this tomb could be related to Jesus' family. Because he has become increasingly convicted about this point of course, he has reacted strongly to these new claims. But he has certainly not flip-flopped. He never endorsed such a theory so far as I can see. He is a good scholar who does not rule out evidence on a whim or in advance!


We Demand A Neutral Scientific Exhibit said...

Jim Davila's blog (March 6, 2007) quotes James Tabor as asserting to him in an email: "I have never excavated even one tomb, and I am not even an archaeologist and have never claimed to be such."

Compare that assertion with the following statement, in an article by none other than James Tabor himself, excerpted on the same blog a year ago (February 13, 2006):

"Archaeology is the material evidence of our human past. As an archaeologist, I have long observed and experienced the thrill that ancient discoveries cause in all of us. The look on the faces of my students as we uncover ancient ruins from the time of Jesus, or explore one of the caves where the scrolls were found, is unmistakable."

It is difficult to see how the words "as an archaeologist", can be construed as anything other than a "claim to be an archaeologist."

Tabor's personal profile states that he received his Ph.D. from the "University of Chicago", without specifying that the degree was awarded to him by the Divinity School of that institution.

Hopefully, with the Jesus-crypt fraud exposed, people will now begin to wake up to the fact that they are being scammed by the various "discoveries" aimed at establishing that an organic link exists between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran -- "discoveries" also featuring shoddy DNA claims and made by the same group of phonies.

Zias has toyed with and misrepresented the facts on numerous occasions, coming up with loony claims that are simply not confirmed by the available evidence. This pattern of conduct does not meet the standard of a "good scholar".

Daniel said...

Jay and Ken Karl,
James Tabor's recent postings on his blog answer your questions as to "why" the "Jesus Tomb" special was done in the first place. Tabor crowing about the ratings for the "Jesus Tomb" special being so "unprecedented" really gives us all yet another insight into his motivations. Now it is clear that none of this was done for the benefit of scholarship or the Academy. Everything was faked, slanted and invented to be sensationalistic and to drive up ratings. Congratulations, Tabor, you have defeated the evil Christian boycott of your seminal work. Good luck defeating the backlash from your former colleagues in the Academy. By the way, what can he do for an encore? We've already had gay Jesus (Secret Gospel of Mark), Married Jesus (Da Vinci Code, et. al.), Jesus' body left on the cross to rot (Martin Hengel, John Dominic Crossan), Jesus the substitute messiah (Eisenman) and now the "Tomb of Jesus." Only thing I can think of is a UFO angle. Maybe that DNA from the ossuaries doesn't match up to KNOWN human DNA sequences! Someone call Von Daniken! I'm sure he has lots of free time now...

Jay said...
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Steven Meigs said...

I have far too many comments on aspects of this "investigation," but I spare you. I want to echo the historical sensibility of what Prof. Witherington said above: "The rise of the Christian movement after the horrific death of Jesus on the cross cannot be explained by such feeble theories as those presented in this show and book." Precisely. This particular Yeshua family and the news of their lives and deaths and burials at their Talpiot family site could hardly have been suppressed (let alone ignored) in their own time if it were the same Yeshua the Nazareans confirmed resurrected and ascended.

This is not only an argument from the absence of any record of such a first-century controversy but, as Ben notes, the phenomenal growth of the Jesus movement, historically unprecedented, that certainly argues against the existence of any concrete first-century evidence locating the remains of Yeshua of Nazareth. Even the non-falsifiable claims of the believers' personal experiences of the resurrected One would not have fared so well if the many arguments against his resurrection were accompanied by concrete evidence such as this.

How could this kind of concrete local evidence have been hidden in its own time? Where could Jesus have lived, fathered a family, died, been buried with his family, and this be so hidden as to not be noticed? Assuming such a life could not be hidden, how could it matter neither to those who called Yeshua their resurrected Lord nor to those who desperately would have liked to prove otherwise?

While I am aware that Ben has on occasion expressed concern with the methodology of Luke Johnson (re his appeal to church tradition in critique of the Jesus Seminar), I am confident we precisely agree with him that:
“Great and convoluted effort is required to detect any hint of a Jesus movement lacking belief in the resurrection...”1

This touches on a familiar debate (that also has accompanied the current Talpiot tomb dialogue) as to whether such resurrection need be in some sense physical. This issue should not be engaged according to our particular religious sensibilities today (which is exactly what I have been hearing) but according to those of the followers and opponents of Yeshua in the first century who acknowledged some sort of resurrection hope.

Chief among those who taught about the resurrection were the Pharisees. Some eventually became followers of Yeshua, while many opposed the movement strenuously. The apostle Paul, often credited with being the founder of Christianity as a worldwide religion, identifies himself as a Pharisee and as one who has inherited his resurrection beliefs from this tradition. As Witherington observes: “It is very difficult to doubt that for a Pharisaic Jewish Christian like Paul the sequence ‘died, was buried, and raised’ implied not only a truly dead and buried Jesus, but also an empty tomb and a risen Lord. The Pharisaic understanding of resurrection was nothing if it was not materialistic...”2

The issue of whether or not Yeshua was resurrected and the nature of that resurrection is crucial, not only in terms of the effect on each believer's faith today, but in terms of how it squares historically. And this is indeed a historical issue: we have more than enough solid evidence regarding the history of the early church to find it inconceivable that Jesus continued to live among his followers as a family man. It is completely unattested in any first century documents on the one hand, and on the other, the multitude of early documentation we do possess regarding Christian belief and experience explicitly precludes this possibility.

May I conclude with a scholarly smirk? If early Christianity's resurrection story was all an elaborate, perfectly engineered scam, and Jesus in fact continued to live a full life, observable by his followers and his opponents, then we must conclude that the incompetence of his contemporary opponents to cite this information in any documented form that could survive them constitutes an unprecedented anomaly. The phenomenon of the miraculous rise of the early church would pale before such a wonder.

Steven Meigs

1. Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2000), 6.
2. Ben Witherington III, “Response: Resurrection Redux.” in Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?: A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan, ed. Paul Copan (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 133.

Anonymous said...
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Jay said...

I thought some of you might find this interesting.

"As of this writing Feuerverger's paper has been submitted to a leading American statistical journal and is being peer-reviewed." -- The Jesus Tomb, Jacobovici and Pellegrino. Page 114.

"A detailed paper is being prepared and hopefully will undergo timely peer review; if successful in the refereeing process it will be made available." -- Andrey Feuerverger, Message to Inquirers, 3/7/07.

Feuerverger has told me in personal communication that the information on his website is accurate.

I have informed Harper Collins of this discrepancy, which I think is not trivial. The statement of Pellegrino and Jacobovici adds a "scholarly gloss" to their so-called "Jesus Equation" that, as we can see, does not yet exist. Feuerverger is still working on the paper, after all.

I will let you know what I discover.

ricb said...

Irony of ironies. Witherington writes a book with Hershel Shanks about the James, brother of Jesus ossuary. He fights for the ossuary's authenticity even though it's not provenanced and he seeks to debunk 6 provenanced ossuaries.

To his defense he calls Joe Zias. Joe seems to have an uncanny ability to remember ossuaries once they become famous. In fact, and Witherington and Shanks have dismissed Zias, he "remembers" the James ossuary sitting in a store in old Jerusalem, without an inscription. I wonder if he also remembers specific Buzz Lightyear toys sitting on shelves at FAO Schwartz.

Now Joe "recalls" that he was the one who "worked with Kloner" on the original discovery at Talpiot. This is not what he told Dr. Gibson. This is not what he told Prof. Tabor. This is not what he said on the BBC doc in 1996. This is not what Kloner says in his report.

But Witherington now considers Joe "a fine archaeologist". Sorry Ben, Joe has never been an archaeologist. He has an MA in Anthroplogy and he was the bone man at the Rockefeller center for years before he left the IAA.

Incidentally, you might recall a few years ago "the face of Jesus" controversy. A BBC/Discovery program took a cast of a skull from a first century man in Jerusalem and reconstructed it in the UK. The program declared that this is closer to the face of Jesus than any modern man because the poor fellow lived during Jesus' time. The man who gave the BBC the skull - what did he say last week in Newsweek "pimping the Bible" - was none other than our friend Joe and he didn't do it for free. Holy J....didn't that break every Rabbinic law?

Here are the facts: The tomb is a fact. The ossuaries are real. The inscriptions are attested to by none other than Frank Moore Cross. So far, the only statistician that has weighed in has come out in favour of the significance of the cluster. With all due respect to the hot air, I would rather believe a Prof. of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Toronto with a speciality in probability than all the bone guys, archaeologists, New Testament experts and theological pundits.

With respect to the names themselves, you can huff and you can puff but the fact is that there has been only one - read my lips - only one ossuary ever found in situ that says "Jesus, son of Joseph". Only one - yes one - that says "Yose" (in Hebrew) as in the Gospel of Mark for the brother of Jesus. Less than a dozen that say "Maria" in Hebrew letters. And only one that says "Mariamne e Mara".

With respect to this last one, I know that some people say that this means "Mary also known as Martha". Maybe it can be read "Mary the best cook in town." But the fact is that it can also be read "Mariamne the master" or "of the Lord".

Isn't it interesting that church father Hippolytus says that "James brother of the Lord" handed down the tradition of the Lord to "Mariamne"? Doesn't this fit with a reading "Mariamne of the Lord"? Isn't it interesting that Mary Magdalene was known as Mariamne?

And then there's the DNA. Maybe it doesn't "prove" everything but it is suggestive, and you have to look at everything together: the tomb, the ossuaries, the Acts of Philip, Hippolytus, the DNA, the statistics... they seem to be telling the same story.

Maybe those Discovery guys aren't right but isn't the above suggestive enough to merit a civilized dialogue? Are peoples' faith and brains so weak that they have to attack the makers of the film and the writers of the book personally? What an unholy alliance between so called scholars and anti-Semites such as David Duke. And so much of this attack from people who haven't seen the film and haven't read the book in the name of defending the religion of turning the other cheek.


ricb said...

Dear Okiepug,

I just read through Dr. Tabor's post and having scanned all the false statements about him I find it amazingly rude and indicative of just what he says that you would blast him in this way. My guess is that 90% of the folk reading these comments would find you totallly off base, including Ben who likes Dr. Tabor very much. If you have ever been falsely accused and slandered in this way would you like this? What is that line, do unto others as...Dr. Tabor's posts on his Blog and any other Blog I have seen him are the model of courteous discourse, even with those who slander him. I find it not at all strange that he would let it fly, given the way people like you are so obviously full of venom and hatred. One does not need to be a Christian, just a decent human being, to treat others with respect.


Jay said...

Dr. Tabor --

I am very sympathetic to your reaction to some of the comments here. Personally, I have been as charitable to your motivations as I possibly can be. As I have said several times, I think your motivations are perfectly pure.

This being said, Dr. Tabor -- and this is something I have said several times -- you cannot be surprised by this reaction, can you? I know that you are not a believing Christian in the sense that I am. But, I am sure you are aware of how important the faith is to those of us who do believe. And, I hasten to add, that amounts to about 2.1 billion human persons on this planet.

And, it is simply true that Simcha Jacobovici, James Cameron and Charles Pellegrino have chosen to criticize that belief. This, in itself, is fine. We live in a liberal society and we are all prepared to have our core beliefs criticized. We all pledged allegiance to the flag and what it means in grade school. We still do. We all believe that robust debate and discussion is a good thing.

However, and I cannot emphasize this enough: the chosen method of criticism was a highly insensitive and disrespectful one. This was done in a way to shock Christians into watching -- out of fear that their core life beliefs might be errant. The whole presentation was done to maximize ratings, ad revenue and book sales. And it was disrespectful, sir. It simply was.

As I have said in the past, I do not think that you had anything to do with the choice of presentation. Nevertheless, you must recognize that your associates (again, be it Pellegrino, Cameron, Jacobovici, or whoever invented the marketing campaign idea that was ultimately pursued) have inflamed a community by criticizing their core beliefs in a very disrespectful and insensitive manner.

Is it any shock that those in that community are now inflamed?

We on this side of the debate have liberal responsibilities. We have to accept the legitimacy of those who disagree. We have to welcome their disagreement. We have to agree to basic rules and procedures of debate. But those on your side of the aisle have a responsibility, too, sir. They have a responsibility to respect that which is important to us, and not criticize those beliefs in the way that they have chosen to.

Again, I am not identifying you, or any person in particular, as the one who chose this line of presentation. I am, though, saying that somebody chose this presentation. And, further, I am inferring that this person chose this disrespectful manner so as to boost ad revenues and book sales.

Again, this does not excuse any individual who has cast aspersions upon your character, motivations, etc. But, surely, sir -- you must have realized that this was coming.

With this being said, I think that you need to turn your attention to those in the camp of this documentary. Who chose to promote such a documentary with complete disregard to Christian sensibilities? Or, what is worse, chose to promote such a documentary knowing that it would inflame Christian sensibilities?

I would hope that you would chastise those people as heartily as you have chastised those who are reacting to their actions. They have been at least as insensitive and disrespectful of those on this thread who have angered you.

Anonymous said...


Your factual errors are so many that I wonder whether you really thought about what you were writing in your comments. Let me go through them quickly:

"So far, the only statistician that has weighed in has come out in favour of the significance of the cluster."

Apparently you have not read the numerous posts of Jay Cost, trained in applied stastistics, Scott Gilbreath, also a trained statistician, Joe D'Mello and others (see for a round-up). The fact is, numerous trained statisticians have weighed in since the announcement of the Tomb story and the airing of the documentary, and they have all rejected the statistical analysis of Andrey Feueverger, or at least qualify it greatly. It may interest you to know that he himself has greatly qualified his claims. He no longer thinks that statistical analysis can estimate the probability that Talpiyot is the Jesus family tomb, as these calculations rest on too many contentious assumptions.

"...there has been only one - read my lips - only one ossuary ever found in situ that says "Jesus, son of Joseph"."

I have read your lips, and you are dead wrong. There is one other ossuary with the inscription "Jesus, son of Joseph", discovered many years ago by Eliezer Sukenik.

You are right that only one ossuary inscribed 'Yose' has been found, but the contraction itself was very common (see R. Bauckham, "Jude and the Relatives of Jesus", pp.5-6). Similarly for Mariamne.

And if you can't read koine Greek, you should really just be quiet about how the Mariamne ossuary is to be read. It actually reads "Mariamenou (i) Mara". First of all notice that the nominative of the first name is Mariamenon, NOT Mariamne as everyone keeps calling her. The Greek genitive is used to denote ownership, so Mariamenou means "of Mariamenon". There is actually no clearly visible article connecting Mariamenon and Mara, but scholars agree that the most plausible inference would be "Mariamenou (h kai) Mara", which would mean "Of Mariamenon, also known as Mara". Mara is the Aramaic for master but this inscription is in Greek, using a Hellenized variant of Mariam or Mariamme, making it highly unlikely that this person had a Greek name with an Aramaic title which was usually only given to men anyway. It certainly CANNOT be read as "Of Mariamenon of the Lord". The context clearly implies that Mara is either the person's title (which I have argued above is unlikely) or another name for the same person. The latter makes more sense in context. This ossuary belonged to Mariamenon, also known as Mara.

"Isn't it interesting that Mary Magdalene was known as Mariamne?"

NOT in our earliest sources about her. I'm frankly surprised that nobody has commented on this yet. In the Gospel of Mark, our earliest source for Jesus and his followers, she is consistently called 'Maria h Magdalene', the SAME word used also for Jesus' mother and the other Marys that surface in that Gospel. Why should we trust a much later reference in preference to our earliest ones?

The various pieces of the filmmakers' puzzle do indeed seem to be telling the same story: a story of selective reading of the evidence, ignorance of context and conjecture piled upon conjecture erected on unsubstantiated speculation. As for James Tabor's continuing defense of the Talpiyot tomb story, the best he can do is show that the data are minimally consistent with the theory, that is, that with enough interpretation, optimism and speculation none of the counter-evidence can decisively PROVE that this was not Jesus' tomb. But as any scientist knows, consistency (or what James Tabor likes to call "it fits overall") is not a very impressive achievement. One must advance to PLAUSIBILITY by appeal to external evidence and other criteria. This the filmmakers and Tabor simply cannot do.

Anonymous said...

Mr Tabor, if you come back to this thread, rest assured that I for one couldn't care less about what other people say about you, and you can have your credibility and dignity. But restoring and defending your honor does not advance the case for the Talpiyot tomb one whit. Rather than focus on how other people have wronged you, let the facts speak for themselves. I've been following your blog ever since you started posting and so far the ratio of psychological examination of your opponents (i.e. the hysterical Evangelical blogspace) to impassive examination of the hard archeological and textual facts has been alarmingly high. And claiming to know facts that have not yet been made public, and statements about people involved which will be released "in good time", does not really advance your credibility. Frankly I find it disingenuous in the extreme. If you do have hard facts about the case that contradict Yosef Gat's notes, Amos Kloner's report, etc. please share them.

The question I would most likely to see you answer is, do you have different measurements for the 10th ossuary than those reported in Kloner 1996? If so, what are they and what do you base them on? Do you have different measurements for the James Ossuary? If so, who made those measurements and why would they be different than those already listed on BAR?

Jay said...
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Jay said...
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Jay said...

What follows is, I think, an interesting statistical insight regarding Talpiot. I encourage you to read through my little post here.

The documentarians make a big hullabaloo about the fact that Jesus of Nazareth has 4 matches out of 6 names. I think that the criticisms that have been leveled against the "Mariamne" ossuary have pushed this back to 3 matches out of 6.

However, what almost nobody has mentioned is that, according to Amos Kloner's initial numbers, there were 35 people expected to have been buried in this tomb. This is important because any family with these 6 names among 35 would be a perfect match for the tomb!

Think of it this way. The tomb is a population of 35 people. The named ossuaries sample from this population. If we want to find the number of families that match this tomb, and thus the number of families who could be in here, we have to find the number of families that could possibly be sampled in this way. In other words, families with 6 members with these names among 35 people could be in Talpiot.

The ultimate difficulty is that there is no probability distribution that you can find in a statistics book that will give you the answer. You have to simulate a set of families, given the probabilities of names that we can all agree upon from the ossuary record. And from that universe of simlated families, see how many fit the tomb. This is exactly what I have done. This is, I believe, similar -- if not identical -- to what is known as a "Monte Carlo" simulation. You set your universal probabilities (e.g. 10.7% of all people named "Mary") and you let each individual family vary around those. It is just a simple algorithm in Microsoft Excel.

I simulated 339 families using the probabilities for Matthew, Judah, Mary, and Joseph that have been circulating around. This represents approximatley 1/3rd of the total number of families from the time period with a "Jesus son of Joseph" in the family. Note that I looked for "Judah's" rather than "Judah son of Joseph." I also treated each incident of "Mary" independently and the "Jesus son of Joseph" and the "Joseph" names independently. The first assumption raises the number of "hits" per family, but the latter assumption lowers them by at least as much.

We "hold" for "Jesus son of Joseph." That leaves 34 family members and 5 ossuares. How many families could fit?

Hold on to your you-know-what's!

49.8% of all families with a "Jesus son of Joseph" will be expected to match all six ossuaries.

40.3% of all families with a "Jesus son of Joseph" will be expected to match five of six ossuaries.

9.1% of all families with a "Jesus son of Joseph" will be expected to match four of six ossuaries.

1.2% of all families with a "Jesus son of Joseph" will be expected to match three of six ossuaries.

None of my simulated families did "worse" than 3/6.

What does this mean? It means that, even when we assume that this ossuary contains four names that are traceable to Jesus of Nazareth, a full 90.1% of all people named "Jesus son of Joseph" will be a better candidate than Jesus!

When we take away "Mariamene" from the documentarians, we can say that 98.8% of all people named "Jesus son of Joseph" are a better fit for this ossuary than Jesus.

Thus, of the 1,000 or so people named "Jesus son of Joseph" from the time period, 996 of them are better candidates than Jesus, who falls into the 9th percentile! All 1,000 of them are expected to be as good as Jesus.

If this tomb were a final exam, Jesus would get a 9%, F. His parents would be called in. He'd have to repeat the grade. It would not be a pretty scene. If you thought Mary was harsh on him in Luke ain't seen nothing yet!

This is an important point should the "James" ossuary ever be linked to the Talpiot tomb. This would give Jesus of Nazareth four of seven "pings" (to use Pellegrino's phrase) with the tomb. Even in that instance, about 90% of all people named "Jesus son of Joseph" with a brother named "James" will be better matches. And, I should add, the number of people named Jesus son of Joseph with a brother named James would number about 30 or so people.

In other words, before we can even begin to speculate whether this might be Jesus, the documentarians must go 6/6 on the ossuaries. And, even then, they will still only narrow it down to about 504 families. That would put the odds of this being Jesus at 0.2%.

With 3/6 matches, the odds that this is Jesus are, and I am just estimating here: zero point zero percent.

Your move, Titanic.

José Solano said...

I’d just like to briefly follow up on what Jay has stated but I confess that I lack his tenderness and decorum. I offer Dr. Tabor and the show producers a strong analogy.

Supposing a team prepares a program to demonstrate that someone’s mother was a whore and then to prove it goes on national TV with sort of big-foot shaky and fuzzy photos showing some woman prostituting herself. And the son of this mother always revered her as a loving, decent, even saintly person. What sort of reaction would you expect from her son?

Or, what would you expect the reaction to be from Moslems if you denigrated with a similar show all that they hold holy? Would the producers of this show dare do such a thing as they pursue some “objective” truth?

The show that was put on about Jesus, flawed in so many ways, really says that all the people that loved Him and gave the earliest testimonies of His life were either liars or deluded and that Jesus and His family were all along engaged in a conspiracy to thoroughly deceive humanity. What kind of reaction should the producers of this show expect?

Just to mention one episode out of many that well illustrates the charlatan approach of the production, look at the contrived scene at the cross showing Mary Magdalene holding Jesus’ teenage “son.” They take this scene from the Gospel of John but then go on to deliberately distort what John says about it. The passage states in no uncertain terms, “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing by, he said to his mother, ‘Mother behold your son.’ . . . And from that hour that disciple took her to his home.” (John 19:26-27) Jesus is talking to His mother not to Mary Magdalene! Of course the producers know this but are clearly desperate to push their tale and confuse the masses who will not read the passage.

Now that’s disrespect Ricb, and they deserve every denunciation that they receive. Indeed, the public has been much too genteel.

We Demand A Neutral Scientific Exhibit said...

We sincerely apologize to Professor Tabor to the extent that we were mistaken as to which University of Chicago department awarded him his Ph.D. (although he still does not say which department it was -- History?).

On the other hand, we are not convinced by Professor Tabor's justification of his description, in his article published in the Charlotte Observer, of himself "as an archaeologist". You can't have your cake and eat it too, proudly, even bombastically, announcing to the public that you're an archaeologist and then telling your colleagues that you never "claimed" you were an archaeologist.

Ginro said...

I'd just like to correct some assumptions around the place, as it's something I have read around the Internet, not just the comment here. It concerns the 'Face of Jesus' reconstruction several years ago, and the fact that certain people are making it out to be highly significant that a skull from the Talpiot tomb was used to recreate that face.
Well, this is the danger of not checking facts first and preferring to rely on a CNN news report or simply repeating what somebody else said.
The actual details are these:
Retired University of Manchester (my Alma Mater) professor (the face reconstruction expert)specifically requested three (yes, not one skull, but three of them) as near perfect skull specimens from around the Jerusalem area which dated from the 1st Century in order to, using computer technology, create an average 1st Century male Semitic skull upon which he could base his face reconstruction. Richard Neave has always affirmed that his facial reconstruction was nothing more than that of an average man from that time and place. Perfectly simple, no hidden agenda, no conspiracy.

Cove Creek Center Parents' Page said...

I'll make this brief. As a practicing Jew I find this documentary fascinating and credible. Nowhere in it do I see any hint of a departure from what Judaism, the religion of Yeshuah (Jesus) teaches. Since Christianity evolved the way it did, as a stepchild of Yeshuah's religion, I am not surprised at the reaction of many Christians that can not wrap their minds around a concept so simple and persuasive as that which considers the fact that Yeshuah was who he was and not who Paul and the Catholic Church invented. My heart goes out to those of you who for so many years have nearly accosted me in their futile efforts to "save my soul." You are now presented with what looks like convincing evidence that Yeshuah actually lived (there was none before this except through faith)and that he lived with the folks the New Testament says he lived with. OH! The problem with accepting that is that you might have to accept the rest of the story as well. He was a nice Jewish boy who grew up to be a powerful prophet like Moshe & David. I love to read his teachings because they are so Jewish. He did not “become God” until well after his death. I actually believe that Yeshuah rose from the dead, that is not inconsistent with Jewish scripture. What better proof that he was very special if he lived to marry & have kids. Anything is possible, except that he is God. It’s just not there in my Bible. The Catholic Church owned the manuscripts for over a thousand years and is well documented that they were changed and revised as they were copied. There are no original or even very early autographs to compare to. Go ahead and attack Tabor and others who are seeking truth at the cost of Religion instead of seeking religion at the cost of truth. He is not the looser.

Daniel said...

I find it fascinating that Tabor has the nerve to come to this blog in the wee hours of the morning and attempt to harangue the posters here for what they have written about him. The comments on this page are, after all, a thread leading from Dr. Witherington's main blog. Few of us are associated with Dr. Witherington in any direct way and none of us can claim we speak for him. This is the antithesis of Tabor's personal attacks against Dr. Witherington which Tabor posted on his "Jesus Dynasty" main page in an apparent attempt to discredit Dr. Witherington's helpful advice regarding the millstone ossuary around Tabor's neck known as the "Tomb of Jesus."

I also find it interesting that now there are posters we have never seen here before, namely "ricb" (aka "Naustin") and "cove creek" who are trying to defend Tabor and his methodolgy, research, publishing history, fashion sense, etc. No doubt these are Tabor's flunkies answering an email from their Great Leader to come here and defend his honor, much in the same way I've been told that Tabor solicited reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble's websites for his "Jesus Dynasty" book. Well guys, have fun because this blog represents a very small number of the Nielsen rating of 2.1 who hung around to see Tabor pilloried after the "Jesus Tomb" special. Perhaps you should take up a collection and place a full page ad in the New York Times to be certain that everyone knows what a great researcher Tabor really is. Plus, you could put his picture in this ad and that would no doubt make him very, very happy.

Anonymous said...

Here's another interesting wrinkle in the possibility of linking the James ossuary with Talpiot. In September 2005 Wolfgang Krumbein, whom Dr Tabor quotes approvingly for insisting on the authenticity of the James ossuary, published a report (accessible at concerning his examination of the James ossuary and certain other artifacts. Here is one observation he made about the James ossuary: "Further 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." (p.8)

Stop for a moment and let that sink in: it was exposed to direct sunlight and atmospheric weathering for a period of at least 200 years. The Talpiot tomb was excavated in 1980, although there were signs that it had been breached and entered before that. Are we to believe that at some point the tomb was breached, the James ossuary was removed, kept out in the open for several hundred years and then returned to Talpiot which was then re-sealed only to be re-opened in 1980? In my view this pretty much precludes once and for all the possibility that the James ossuary came from Talpiot. The James ossuary has seen some serious action throughout history. The ossuaries in Talpiot, so far as we know, have been lying in there undisturbed even by looters for hundreds of years.

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

J.D. Walters wrote:
"And claiming to know facts that have not yet been made public, and statements about people involved which will be released "in good time", does not really advance your credibility. Frankly I find it disingenuous in the extreme. If you do have hard facts about the case that contradict Yosef Gat's notes, Amos Kloner's report, etc. please share them."

This is the most to-the-point comment made in a long time.

Back when Jack Poirier reviewed his Jesus Dynasty book, Tabor replied to criticism of his matching ossuary claims as follows:

"Poirier mentions a number of other points regarding the ossuary in an effort to imply that my discussion is flawed and uninformed — that I have the dimensions wrong, that the missing Talpiyot ossuary is described as "plain," so it could not have been inscribed, and that I ignore the worn rosettes on the reverse side of the ossuary. Unfortunately, Poirier, in taking me to task, seems to have not kept up with some of the most basic parameters of the discussion, whether the Krumbein report, the re-measuring of the James ossuary, or the details of when and how the missing 10th ossuary was catalogued and described and by whom. I have examined all the ossuaries I discuss, have copies of the original excavation notes of the late Joseph Gath, the excavator, and I have consulted extensively with Dr. Gibson, who was part of the original team. As far as I know what I present in my "Introduction" is accurate and if I find that I am mistaken I will gladly revise it in future editions."

Poirier's reply was similar to J.D.'s:

"I would be in Tabor's debt if he would resolve more explicitly the disparity between the published Talpiyot report's description of the missing ossuary and Golan's ossuary. (If the missing Talpiyot ossuary is really the so-called James ossuary, as Tabor suggests, then the fact that the Atiqot article on the Talpiyot dig describes the missing ossuary as "plain" would support the scenario that the inscription on the James ossuary was created more recently than 1980. [I have never been convinced that part of the inscription is older than the rest.])"

On his Jesus Dynasty blog, Tabor pointed out that his conclusions about connection between the supposedly missing ossuary from the Talpiyot tomb and the James ossuary were were not recent but were the product of several years of research. So why didn't he include all of this in the documentary? He makes snide remarks to Poirier about not keeping up with the "parameters of the discussion," so why hasn't Tabor just come out with his theory linking the two ossuaries and ALL of the evidence he has to support it? He had the perfect opportunity to do so either in the intro to his book (where he chronicles the details of his discoverying the possible link) or in the film. In the intro to his book where he claimed that the measurements matched "to the centimeter," he must have been basing his claim on this "re-measuring of the James ossuary." What re-measuring? I've read several measurement reports from several sources in both inches and centimeters, and none of them match those which Tabor accepts as the measurements of the "missing" ossuary. In his reply to Poirier or in his reply to Koppel or in any number of similar opportunities, why hasn't he come out with these "new" measurements and undisclosed details regarding the how and who of the cataloging of the "missing" ossuary? I'm not calling him a liar, but I agree that all of this seems disingenuous.

And by the way, has anyone heard from Joe Zias since Tabor called him a liar?

We Demand A Neutral Scientific Exhibit said...

We have now done some further research on James Tabor, and we have discovered the exact facts about his Ph.D. The title of his dissertation was "Things Unalterable: Paul's Ascent to Paradise". The degree was awarded to him not in "ancient history/Christian origins" as he puts it, but in New Testament and Christian Literature. This department is housed in the University of Chicago's Divinity School building, but it does give academic degrees and its teaching staff are culled from different departments of the University. Once again, then, we are faced with an attempt by Tabor to imply things about his background and qualifications that are simply not true. He is not an archaeologist but he has "done" archaeology; he is not an ancient historian but, apparently, he has "done" ancient history. Why on earth can't he simply give an accurate, up-front account of his background? And people buy this rubbish!

Cove Creek Center Parents' Page said...

Help me understand this, the first amendment works for you but Tabor has to confine himself to his own blog? That you would propose this seems to me an act of desperation.

Brent Thomas said...

Dr. Witherington,
Thank you so much for your hard work on this issue.
I stumbled on this quote today:
Mark Twain once observed, “ A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.”
Thank you for helping us get our "boots on".

JesusOverIsrael said...


this was a great review, but i thought you collaborated originally with jacobovici on the james ossuary?

JesusOverIsrael said...

you all might find this email exchange with Professor Tabor very interesting. he does not strike me as very honest about a number of things, first and foremost his claim that an ABC book review lied about his book.

michael korn wrote:

Professor Tabor,

i realize you are busy (counting your money, no doubt), but if you have any sense of intellectual and moral integrity, you will answer the following questions.

i am a bit confused. after reading about your involvement with simcha jacabovici's latest documentary, whose entire argument rests on the inscription of Yeshua bar Yehosef being Jesus of the Bible, you then carry the argument even further saying the Joseph was not, in fact, Jesus' father after all.

so i perceive a two pronged attack here:

1. jacobovici uses the talpiot ossuaries to assert that Jesus was married, relying on the evidence of the inscription Yeshua bar Yehosef

2. you assert (based on what evidence i dont know) that bar Yehosef is not in fact a reliable indicator but that his real father is unknown and perhaps the Talmudic Panthera.

3. why would the church fathers repeat the idea of Panthera since the Talmud promulgates it as pure malicious slander? or did the Talmud take the idea from the Church Fathers?

Thank you for taking of your precious time to relate to a mere humble peon of the masses.

Michael Philip Korn

"James D. Tabor" wrote:
Michael, I apologize but I can't respond to questions of this type
right now...just no time. If you want to read my book my basic views
are laid out. I think, from what you write and what you ask we are
quite different in our views, presuppositions, and approaches. I am a
historian of religions, specialty Christian Origins and ancient
Judaism...see my Bio for more.

Take care, Shalom,

James Tabor

michael korn wrote:
i asked about tabor because i am an israeli and it strikes me as a very israeli name!

just read all this:

very interesting. the messianic movement has been struggling with paul for a long time.

are you familiar with this thesis? you might find it interesting:

i recall that i read something on the net by you concerning biblical timelines? can you remind what it was?


"James D. Tabor" wrote:
Michael, I try to give a thorough explanation and also consider other possibilities, father as Joseph, etc. and of course the view of some, that I don't hold, that Jesus had no human father. The key here is that in our earliest references to Pantera is is not slander, it is a name, and Origin, Epiphanius, and others acknowledge it. The literature on this is vast. I don't know what else to tell you other than I can refer to sources beyond Dalman if you want to learn. There has been over 100 years of further research.

As for what we teach, I am chair of a large dept. in a state university. We cover many traditions and the approaches used are historical and scientific but each professor teaches out of his or her expertise. We have academic freedom.

No I am not Israeli and if you research the name Tabor you will learn it is all over the place, from England, all through Europe, etc. but why would you ask such a thing...

Sorry to cut this short but e-mail is not the place for this and I don't understand the tone or meaning of your queries anyway. Religion at UNC Charlotte is handled as it is at any major university.

James Tabor

On Mar 8, 2007, at 7:11 PM, michael korn wrote:


i am flattered that you responded and so quickly.

as for the panthera claim as reported here:

[Tabor's] book challenges many of the beliefs that Christians hold dear, maintaining that Jesus is neither the son of God nor the son of Joseph but most likely the child of a Roman soldier named Pantera.

i have not read the book, but i would like to assume that ABC news is conveying information accurately. do you then deny the veracity of this quotation? if so i apologize, but it then only hardens my aversion to the mainstream media.

when you mention the panthera idea as a possibility, do you cite the Talmud as the source?

does the fact that the dalman idea originated in the 1800s necessarily invalidate it? i mean, your book and movie were unveiled in 2007, and you certainly dont think that weakens their arguments. i really dont understand the relevance of your objection here.

as an aside, why would an historian be the head of religious studies at UNCH? why arent you in a department of history, classical studies, or middle eastern culture, or something like that?

and finally, does UNC teach speculations that Moses was an Egyptian prince, that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were puny if not outright fabrications, as some israeli historians maintain? (just in the name of fairness.)

your surname is israeli. are you of israeli ancestry?

Menachem (Michael) Korn

"James D. Tabor" wrote:
If you want to know what I think or say read the chapter in my book on that subject. I never make such a claim and of course I am familiar with the parthenos pun idea, it is in every book on the subject but it is late, an idea invented in the 1800s. What I do is historically survey all the evidence and in the end I say we don't know who was Jesus' father. I am an historian, not a theologian and I teach at a state university where we do not favor any religion but cover them all historically.

Thanks for writing,

James Tabor

On Mar 8, 2007, at 5:59 PM, michael korn wrote:

Department of Religious Studies
UNC Charlotte
Charlotte, NC 28223
704-687-2783 (office)
704-687-3002 (fax)

Prof. Tabor,

your claim, as reported here:

that Jesus was sired by a roman soldier named panthera, is lifted straight from the talmud. do you admit that as your source? and if you are a Christian (which I dont believe for a minute), why do you choose to believe it?

have you considered the claim of dalman that panthera is an inversion of the septuagint word for virgin, parthena, and is meant as an ironic jab at the New Testament claims about Jesus' virgin birth (see red bolded section below)?

4. We come now to the fourth and last name, that of Pandera. The belief that Pandera was the lover of Stada (Mary) had been the subject of a much earlier speculation. That is to say, about the year A. D. 178 the heathen Celsus, whose words Origen preserved for us in his Refutation (I 28), had recieved the following account from a Jew: "Mary was turned out by her husband, a carpenter by profession, after she had been convicted of unfaithfulness. Cast off by her spouse, and wandering about in disgrace, she then gave birth in obscurity to Jesus, by a certain soldier, Panthera."
We can connect this Jewish narrative in Celsus with the accounts of Jesus in the Talmud, for it was doubltess current among the Jews of Talmudic times. What marks this narrative (in contrast with almost all other Talmudic accounts of Jesus) is that it contains nothing of itself which would be historically impossible. A thing might very well take place in precisely this manner. What further distinguishes it from the other accounts are several more or less close correspondences with the gospel history. We call to mind the "carpenter", the "turning out" of Mary (evidenty a perversion of the fact mentioned in Matthew 1:19), and the "obscurity" in which Jesus was born. Such correspondences point to a time when Jews had not yet lost every thread of the actual history of Jesus.
But on the other hand, it is evident that a contrary imagination has been at work on the true facts. (For example, while both sides, Christian and Jew, admit that Jesus worked miracles, his power according to the latter was only through the power of sorcery, and not of Divine agency.) And if the Jews developed an opinion that Jesus was born out of wedlock, this is primarily only their explanation of the fact that, inconceivable by any human intellect, Jesus was born through a new act of creation by God, rather than in the normal manner. Their intellect then had simply no choice but to reduce a history which surpassed comprehension to the limits of natural possibility. But when the Jews at the time of Celsus wished to state more about Jesus than is indicated in the gospels, if they wished to add the circumstances of Mary at the time of the birth, and add to that the name of her supposed lover, then they were forced to resort to their imaginations, and what then followed is no longer a history, but uncontrolled invention.
The most striking points here are the condition of the lover. Which of these two items--the name, or his profession as a soldier--established itself first in the tradition? A "soldier", that is to say, a Roman soldier, was the basest person possible. In the Talmud no people have a name so hated as the Romans, who destroyed the Holy City and took from Israel the remnant of independence. But the accursed instrument of the Romans for the subjugation of the Jews was the Roman army, and again the most despicable individual in this army was plainly a common soldier. If Jesus was considered a contemporary of Akiva, and so of the period of the revolt under Bar Kochba and of the destruction on the part of Rome, then the assertion that he was born of a Roman father could come easily to hand. This 'discovery' contained then such an amount of biting scorn, and of insult scarcely to be surpassed, that such a choice could hardly be resisted.
What then does Pandera signify? Pandera, or as it is written, Panthera, or Pantere, answers exactly to the Greek 'panther'. But what was intended to be expressed by this designation, "son of the panther"? We answer, "Son of the panther" meant 'Son of sensuality". Yet how was the panther a symbol of sensuality? Among the Greeks the sins of the flesh were associated with the cult of Dionysius. Now the panther among and before all other beasts was sacred to Dionysius. He was the beast belonging to Bacchic worship. The worshippers slept on panther skins. It is the panther which appears mainly on coins exhibiting Bacchus. There was a special form of this coin, in which Bacchus stands before a panther and gives him wine to drink. Taking this into consideration, we have no difficulty in understanding why, if the Jews when they read of the coming Greeks in Daniel 7:6, thought also of the sensuality which belonged to this cult. And so by the expression "son of the panther" they meant to convey that Jesus was born of unchastity in the form in which it appears among the Greeks; in other words, he was born of the greatest unchastity.
But now there is the question, how did Jesus come to be given a nickname drawn from a culture so distant from his own? We answer, that it is possible to recognize in "panthera" a mutilated form of "parthenos", which is Greek for "virgin". Thus this form would have arisen out of "ben parthena" ("son of the virgin", using an Aramaic ending), which by then would have been current among the Christians; and such a parody was too pointed and obvious not to be adapted.
The origin of the "soldier" we must place in the time of Hadrian and Celsus. For as has already been noted above, the "soldier" owes his existence to the terrible bitterness towards the Romans aroused by that war; on the other hand the whole story evidently appertains to a time in which the Jews had ceased to converse with the Christians, and in which, giving free rein to caprice and to a spiteful imagination, they merely built upon the remains of tradition. All this tallies with the generation which is concurrent with Rabbi Akiva, and is molded by him. (And to this same time, according to our earlier deduction, is owed the designation Ben Stada (Satda).

what kind of New Testament scholar are you? one committed to destroying the credibility of that work?

Mourning for You,
Michael Korn

Anonymous said...

Okiepug said...
"I just read in the BBC report on the Talpiot tomb that when it was found, a 6 inch piece of pottery was found with Jesus' name on it and a fish symbol on it. Is this true? If so, this seems damaging. Can someone help me verify?"

I haven't seen the BBC report, but a little web sleuthing suggests that this "6 inch piece of pottery" claim arose from a report in the London Sunday Times dated March 31, 1996 (i.e., during the previous wave of publicity about the Talpiot tomb), titled "The Tomb that Dare Not Speak It's Name". I found the report archived at:

In it we find:

"Chris had learnt that two "Jesus, son of Joseph" ossuaries from the 1st century AD - what Israeli archeologists call the 2nd Temple Period - were stored in the warehouse of the Israel Archeological Authority, an old factory on a side street in Romemma, a rundown suburb of Jerusalem....

The first Jesus ossuary was little more than a broken shard, with a mark supposedly of a fish and an inscription. Chris knew a 6in diameter piece of pottery makes an uninspiring picture. He persisted in seeking out the second ossuary."

So, this "6 inch piece of pottery with a mark supposedly of a fish and an inscription" was in fact _not_ found in the Talpiot tomb, but rather is a separate ossuary from a different tomb. It appears however that it is now mistakenly being conflated with the Talpiot find.

By the way, if Jay is still around, I notice that James Tabor has put up a more detail statistical analysis in his Jesus Dynasty blog. Anyone whose followed Jay's own analyses will see the glaring errors in Tabor's presentation. Perhaps, though, Jay will have time to address this new analysis directly.

JesusOverIsrael said...


Prof Tabor,

i wrote that way simply because you attempted to beg off time to answer my questions, which are highly pertinent. so if anyone is being rude, it is you. and this says nothing of the fact that you propound ideas that threaten the faith of billions of people around the world, a brazen act that you surely should be willing to substantiate.

i have posted our correspondence on Ben Witherington's blog here:

in case you should be willing to deign to enlighten us all from your lofty perch in the ivory tower of academia (yes, apparently even state colleges can be termed ivory tower, from which people pontificate with nary a care for the destructive impact of their ideas on the teeming hordes who live at ground level all around them and across our planet.

in case you accuse me of being an ignorant extremist, i am well aware of the sinister behaviour of many academics. i have close relatives in advanced science whose work impacts the nuclear and bio-weapons industries. they both deny that DU munitions are in any way harmful to the soldiers who employ them and the civilians who are targeted by them.

Michael Korn

ps i find it ironic that people will jump to unwarranted conclusions about the Divinity of Christ based on some flimsy statistical evidence, while the same crowd of university egg heads almost to a man denies the overwhelming evidence of government corruption and coverup about the 9-11 attacks. you grasp at gnats to kill a sacred cow (Jesus), and you ignore the camel of iniquity surrounding the official version of 9-11. this simply proves how utterly irrelevant you and most academics are to the good will of the masses of humanity. you are cruel egotists promoting twisted and perverse ideas for the sake of money. may you and all your same minded colleagues choke on your filthy mammon. i am confident in your case it wont be long. and remember Jesus' words to the rich and famous: Woe to you who are rich, for you have had your reward.

pps the Ccs are to friends who are into alternative news, Christian ministry, and other edifying causes. you can read about them here:

"James D. Tabor" wrote:
Dear Michael,

I find it totally incomprehensible as to why you would address me in this way, with this tone and attitude. You seem to reflect in all your dealings a rudeness and accusatory attitude. If you want to carry on a normal and civil exchange I will try to make time for you. Until you learn some manners I am not taking my time for this. You are far from humble but appear to be one of the more arrogant and rude people I have encountered of late. I don't know the people to whom you CC: this but perhaps they can give you some insight into why your message is improper. It is too bad as I would be more than pleased to answer your questions as time allow if you were not of this personality. I am sure others who know you are quite aware of what I am saying.

James Tabor

P.S. The most up to date and definitive study on the subject is just out, Peter Schaefer, Jesus in the Talmud.

JesusOverIsrael said...

he cited the report's source totally clearly. can't you read?:

I haven't seen the BBC report, but a little web sleuthing suggests that this "6 inch piece of pottery" claim arose from a report in the London Sunday Times dated March 31, 1996 (i.e., during the previous wave of publicity about the Talpiot tomb), titled "The Tomb that Dare Not Speak It's Name". I found the report archived at:

JesusOverIsrael said...

i should clarify, that since the pottery shard came from a different ossuary, and that ossuary was located in a different location in the warehouse from the talpiot ten, this proves that it was from an entirely different tomb, excavated at a different time.

that's how i see it...

Jay said...

Dear All --

I have looked at Tabor's latest statistical work that concerns the number of families with a father named "Joseph," a brother "James" and a brother "Jesus". It is hard to get an estimate on this number because it heavily depends not only how many children were in the average family, but also the distribution of families around that average. Right now, I am thinking that the distribution is a leptokurtic version of the poisson distribution.

Nevertheless, Tabor's online analysis is problematic for the enumeration of families with these names and in this order. The most glaring problem is that the assumption is for a family of just 2 children. We would expect many more such families. Another problem is that his statistician introduced factors of 2 and 3 to reduce further the likelihood of this ratio. But these combinatorial factors seem unnecessary.

Andrey Lemaire offered a simple estimate of 20 such families in the BAR. It is quite intuitive. Randy Ingermanson has been working on an expanded estimate, which is still a work in progress. I'll publish results, with his permission, when they are finalized.

Basic point, though: I think that the issue of the likelihood of James is much more complex than Dr. Tabor does. I also think that the complexity increases the number of "successes."

I'll also add that his expanded sections appear to be the same as the substance of a very gracious email he sent to me yesterday in regard to my queries. I'll offer a quick response here, though I know he is not visiting anymore.

The size of the tomb does indeed matter and it matters because of the way in which Simcha et al. have made their argument. One would go about identifying the family in Talpiot in the following manner.

1. All families in Jerusalem --> 2. Families in Jerusalem who have these names in the family. --> 3. Families in Jerusalem who have these names in the family and would have these names inscribed on the ossuary. --> 4. Other factors. --> 5. Talpiot family.

In an important sense, then, the size and composition of the family in the tomb is indeed important. A necessary condition for owning the tomb is to have the names that sync with the ossuary.

Tabor argues that it is not relevant because we do not know the names of the others. This is true, but it is only tangential to my main point: we can use the information on names that we have to draw estimate these compostions. Just as we can estimate the likelihood of any given person having any of these names, so also can we estimate the likelihood of any given family have these names. And, we know for sure that the family was at least 7 persons larger than the named ossuaries. We can identify the number of families expected to have these 6 names in 13 trials -- and they become those who pass from (1) to (2). If we increase the size of the family to Kloner's estimate of 35, we will find that more families pass from (1) to (2).

Why is this important? In itself, it is not all that vital. I am working with Randy Ingermanson at the moment to formulate a precise probability that this tomb is Jesus of Nazareth's. It will not be this number, which is simply the number of families that fulfill this minimum necessary condition (which again is -- you have to have the names!). This number, even though it is not the final number, still has a good deal of value because of what Simcha et al. argue, at least what I take it that they argue. They argue that the move from (1) to (2) eliminates all but one family. And thus, there need be no discussion / evaluation / consideration of who in Jesus of Nazareth's family would find their way onto an inscription. Look again at the set of steps. Simcha moves from (1) to (2) and finds only 1 family remaining because the names are so unique. He knows that, at step (5), there is 1 family remaining. Thus, Jesus of Nazareth's family must survive (3) and (4). Thus, he never begins a serious discussion of the context of the tomb.

Maybe an example will make this clear.

If you have a family of 6 whose members are:
Jesus son of Joseph
Judah son of Jesus

And then you have a family of 12 whose members are
Jesus son of JOseph
Wild Bill
Judah Son of Jesus

BOTH of these families are possible candidates for the tomb! Now, one family might be a better candidate than another. The point is that we then need to discuss which family is a better candidate than the other. All things being equal, the second family is not as good a candidate. It only syncs with the names on the tomb at a 50% rate. The first family syncs at a 100% rate. Nevertheless, there is still a chance that this latter is the Talpiot family. And, as we add families who sync at a lower rate, we nevertheless decrease the likelihood that Talpiot belongs to our maximally efficient family.

Thus, the size and composition of the larger family matters a great deal.

And, again, the point is the following. Simcha finds that only 1 family will get 6 hits (or, rather, 4 hits). But the impressiveness of the number of hits is deeply dependent upon the number of times you step up to the plate. Suppose a baseball tournament with a series of rounds. For the first round, you have to get six hits. If you enter the tournament, you next question will be: OK, how many swings? If you get only 6 swings of the bat, virtually nobody will make it to the second round. But if you get between 13 and 35, lots of people will make it to the second round. Now, the person who goes 6 for their first 6 is the presumptive favorite, but there are still other rounds to play.

Anyway, I agree with Feuerverger that, however we do our computations, the "power" of our number depends upon whether we consider "Mariamne" and "Jos'e" to be unique matches to Jesus of Nazareth's family. I have not seen compelling evidence on either count. They seem to me to be grasping at straws to incorporate "Mariamne" as a unique name. And "Jos'e" might not even correlate with the "Joseph" mentioned in Mark 6 (not to mention Matthew 13). And, anyway, "Jos'e" is a diminuitive form. And, what nobody has discussed to my satisfaction is the fact that we should be dealing with conditional probabilities. That is, the chances of finding a "Jos'e" once we have found a "Jesus son of Joseph" are MUCH higher, even if, by itself "Jos'e" is a unique name.

In other words, the math is not going to save their hypothesis when we do the math with an eye to the actal evidence. Once you start taking "Mariamne" as not a unique hit for Mary Magdalene, the whole thing falls apart.

So, I am not going to spend too much time responding to this's and that's. Though I am interested in assigning a final probability value. Randy Ingermanson and I are working on it at the moment.

We will also be working on a probability value for when we include James ossuary -- simply for the sake of discussion.

If you guys have not read Randy Ingermanson's analysis of the statistics, I strongly suggest you do so. He makes a lot of great points on his website, but I think the greatest one is: whether or not you get the right answer depends in large measure upon whether or not you have asked the right question. This is to illustrate the fact that Simcha did not ask the right question. Randy and I are right now working on asking the right question, so as to increase the chance that we give the right answer.

Here is Randy's statistical analysis:

Jay said...

I just would like to take a quick second to defend James Tabor. I disagree with him on the theory that Simcha offered. I also disagree with the way he has occassionally characterized people with a broad brush. In particular, I do not think he realizes just how righetously outraged Christians were at the presentation-for-profit that occurred. However, there are a few points worth noting.

(1) What has angered people here is not the claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead. After all, people have made that claim for millennia. As Christians, we are used to it. What has angered people here is the sensationalistic, disrespectful, and insensitive manner in which the claim has been made. And here is the key point: James D. Tabor had nothing to do with that presentation. Consider that -- of all of the money that is flowing from the public to the documentarians, Professor Tabor has received not one dime.

That, to me, is amazing. I know if I was involved, I'd ask for a cut somewhere down the line.

I think people need to be careful to disentangle the parties involved in the documentary. We are not angered by the assertion of a theory, or the rallying of what we find to be insufficient evidence in support of the theory. We are angry at the way the theory has been promoted. James Tabor had nothing to do with that.

(2) This is not Tabor's theory. He is involved simply because he thinks it is valid. Again: I have strong disagreements with him on that point. But how can somebody be criticized for accepting a theory?

(3) This point hits closest to home. Those of you who have never attended the University of Chicago should not draw any inferences about what his degree means and what it does not mean. The reason is that the U of C is the most thoroughly integrated university in the country, possibly the world. The U of C believes that everything is interdisciplinary. Indeed, just from the sound of his degree -- it sounds like it is interdisciplinary. Does that mean he is qualified to say what he says in regards to the Jesus Tomb documentary? I do not know. I do know enough about the U of C to say that -- whenever I hear a degree like his -- I know that the guy's toe has been in a lot of waters. Those of you who are not familiar with the U of C system should not draw inferences from either his degree or the title of his dissertation.

(4) I have disagreed strongly with some of his responses to respondents. For a while, I was a bit offended. But I think it is time to give the guy a break. All he has done is embrace a theory. He has not taken a dime for that embrace. He had nothing to do with how that theory was promoted. And I am sure that his email inbox is full of some real bile. As somebody who writes public commentary, and therefore as somebody who has received that kind of stuff, I know for a fact that it really affects you...the first time. I get the strong sense that he is awash in emails from skeptics, and that he feels an impulse to respond to every one of them. I have been there. And it is not a pretty place. And, for that matter, the 50th person I heard from did not get a nice response from me regardless of whether they deserved it or not. When you read 49 emails that say, "You are stupid (and, in his case, "YOu are stupid and going to Hell!")," you get a wee bit cranky. I have had to apologize to emailers several times for being unnecessarily testy with them.

The second time I got hate mail, I just chuckled and deleted it. Nowadays, I do not even publish my email address when I write columns.

But this is, I am sure, Tabor's first time. So cut him some slack.

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

"And "Jos'e" might not even correlate with the "Joseph" mentioned in Mark 6 (not to mention Matthew 13). And, anyway, "Jos'e" is a diminuitive form. And, what nobody has discussed to my satisfaction is the fact that we should be dealing with conditional probabilities. That is, the chances of finding a "Jos'e" once we have found a "Jesus son of Joseph" are MUCH higher, even if, by itself "Jos'e" is a unique name."

All good points. And something else that needs to be factored in somewhere somehow:

If it is important to this family to identify father/son relationships as the "son of Joseph" and "son of Jesus" inscriptions suggest (likewise the "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" on the James ossuary if Tabor is able to get it back in the Talpiyot tomb), then one would expect Jose, the son of Joseph to have the same inscription. This is especially true since it is somewhat more likely for Jose and James to be identified as "son of Joseph" than Jesus.

There's a bunch of bones from a bunch of people in that cave and just because a some of them belong to Jose doesn't mean that they belong to the brother of "Jesus, son of Joseph."

If it should be countered that those with bone boxes are more likely to be in Jesus' nuclear family, then that makes Matthew problematic as well as Mariamene/Mara and little Judas. The contrived crap about Mary having Matthews in her family tree won't wash. If Matthew is more remote in his relation to Jesus, then there's an equally good chance that Jose is equally remote, especially since there is no "son of Joseph" on his box.

And as long as we're talking about what inscriptions one might expect for members of Jesus' family, let's not forget the apparent fact (according to both Magnus and Zias) that all of these folks really ought to have "of Nazareth" on their boxes instead of family relationships. If, that is, they are in fact from Nazareth.

I would think all of this ought to be factored into any probability argument.

Jay said...

Benjamin --

I think that this is an excellent comment. The documentarians seem to me to be "hiding" behind their statistics. Not intentionally, I mean. I have maintained, and still do, that while the promotion was unseemly, they just got carried away with their idea and none of them at any point say, "Hey...could we be wrong?"

What I mean is that the number was so high that they felt as though they had to do no historical explicating. As you say, why no corollary inscription on "Jos'e." Indeed, if the James ossuary comes from Talpiot, and it says "Brother of Jesus," why not Jos'e's as well. I know that if I was related to a prophet, I'd want that on my tomb.

There are a whole host of other historical conundrums that this tomb creates that they simply avoid by citing the "600 to 1 shot" number, which I think is pretty unacceptable.


Benjamin S. Lewis said...

"I know that if I was related to a prophet, I'd want that on my tomb."

I take your point, but I think the Jesus Tomb gang would argue that Jesus was not viewed as a prophet. He was just some dumb schmuck with Messianic delusions. I haven't read Tabor's book so I don't know how he works it all out.

Have you seen this one? I just found it and thought it informative and reassuring:

Jay said...

I recognize that this thread is drawing its final breaths. Nevertheless, I cannot help but share the following bit of information.

"Joseph" on the Jesus ossuary is spelled "Yehosef." This is according to both Kloner and Rachmani. According to Andrey Lemaire, "Joseph" on the James ossuary is spelled "Yosef."

Now, my training is in statistics and political science. It is not in 1st century Jewish family practices. So, I am only going from common sense here. Common sense tells me the following: (a) different ways of spelling a given name are common practices; that is, from person to person, you will see different renderings of what is essentially the same name; (b) a given person will likely prefer one spelling over another, which is not to say that he will be intolerant to other spellings; that is, a given person will have a "standard" spelling but will allow from some deviations from the standard; (c) the likelihood of deviation is very low in certain situations, e.g. legal documents and (it seems to me) final resting places; while a person would tolerate being called "Joey" or "Joe" in private life, his preference would be the standard name on his tomb; relatedly, insofar as he is mentioned on other tombs, he will preferred to be called the standard name, and it is likely that his family would respect his wishes.

Simply stated, you will never see a family burial plot with a father Joseph, a son Jesus and a brother James that reads thus:
"Jesus, son of Joe."
"James, son of Joseph."

There will be coordination.

Now, this common sense intuition is applicable only insofar as first century Israelites felt roughly the same way. Insofar as they did not, the thrust of this logic fades.

We Demand A Neutral Scientific Exhibit said...

Sorry Jay, but this entire "Lost Tomb" thing is clearly a hoax. The name "Jesus" is not even legible on the ossuary, as any serious semitics scholar will immediately tell you if you show him the tracing. The original transcriber himself (see the Israeli Catalogue of Ossuaries) put a question-mark after his reading, and two dots over the word indicating that he was making a conjecture. Jacobovici carefully omitted this fundamental point from his statement to the Jerusalem Post, and Tabor is simply playing along with the scam for motivations that will remain a mystery. For details, see

Daniel said...

I just want to follow up on a few posts left over the few days about Tabor's degree and his relationship with Jacobovici. First, you a slight mistake was made with the title of Tabor's dissertation, it's "Things Unutterable..." and refers to the Apostle Paul's account of (someone's) journey to the "third heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12. Regarding Tabor and Jacobovici's relationship and why it seems strange/ inexplicable that Tabor continues to defend the indefensible, please check out Tabor's "Jesus Dynasty" posts at If you click on "more posts" and find the January 18, 2007 post you will see that he refers to a movie about the Jesus Dynasty. This movie is being produced/ directed, etc. by none other than Simcah Jacobovici. So, Tabor is not tilting at windmills for the sake of any real convictions other than the conviction that he wants to be...BACK ON TV! Probably the 2008 Lenten season when Tabor's book on Paul is released. As I've said before, something to look forward to!

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

As Christians, I think we need to be careful about the rebuttal arguments we advance. Although the "Jesus" was nearly illegible, the "son of Jesus" inscription on little Judah's bone box increases the likelihood that the son of Joseph was named Jesus. On the other hand, it seems to me that one of Tabor's responses contains a fallacy or two:

"Several of my colleagues, including Mark Goodacre on his Blog, have asked whether one would need to ‘discount’ the statistical numbers for names in the Talpiot tomb that do not seem in any way to fit the family of Jesus, namely Matthew and Jude son of Jesus. The two are different cases in that Jude is said to be the son of Jesus, while Matthew we know nothing about, but the answer is no, in that this is not a statistical matter but one for the historian. In other words, the statistician could do that, if the historian said there is something about that name we could give a negative factor to-i.e, Jesus could not possibly have had a child so let's substract some probability value. But that closes the possibility that if by other means we can say with probability that Jesus had a son, we could learn then from this archaeological find that he did" (emphasis mine).

This argument has elements of both non sequitur and petition principii (circular reasoning). First, it is true that if one can prove “by other means” (apart from this tomb) the probability that Jesus of Nazareth probably had a son, then the presence of a son in the tomb would increase the probability that the tomb is that of Jesus of Nazareth. However, you could not then “learn” from the tomb itself that Jesus actually did have a son with any more certainty than the mere probability you established from “other means.”

This is a subtle but clear case of petition principii (circular reasoning). And I have caught myself (in my more pessimistic moments) engaging in this fallacy regarding this tomb. I suspect Tabor and the tomb gang fall victim to it as well. In my case, my reasoning went something like this:

First, I ask, “What supports the proposition that the Mary in the tomb is the mother of the Jesus in that tomb and the Jose in the tomb is the brother of the Jesus of the tomb?” There is no inscription evidence. There is any number of possible relationships that these two could have with the Jesus of the tomb. But I have caught myself reasoning something like this: Jesus of Nazareth had a father named Joseph, a mother named Mary, and a brother named Jose. The presence of the “son of Joseph” inscription and the presence of both a Mary and a Jose in the tomb increases the probability that (2) the Mary in the tomb was the mother of the Jesus in the tomb and (2) the Jose in the tomb was the brother of the Jesus in the tomb. Of course, such thinking is crap because it tacitly assumes the proposition that this really is the Jesus family tomb, the very proposition for which the presence of “Mary the mother of Jesus” and “Jose the brother of Jesus” is being used as evidence. You can’t use the proposition you’re trying to prove to support premises in the arguments used to prove that proposition.

Similarly, you cannot use this archaeological find to “learn” with any more certainty that Jesus of Nazareth had a son if you can only establish that probability by “other means” unless you assume that this is certainly the Jesus family tomb. This is the circular reasoning in Tabor’s argument. He thinks we will be able to learn something about Jesus having a son from this tomb that you can’t learn “from other means.” Nope.

It is also a non sequitur. Non sequitur is a general term to identify conclusion that "does not follow" from the premises or what went before. Fallacies that defy other categorization can simply be indentified as non sequitur.

I have already conceded that if you can prove that Jesus of Nazareth probably had a son, then the presence of a “son of Jesus” in this tomb would increase the probability that this was the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. However, the argument advanced by Goodacre was (1) it can determined by historical (“other”) means that Jesus probably had no son, and (2) this improbability ought to be factored into the statistical in a negative way given the presence of little Judas. Tabor replies that this would somehow “close the possibility” that we could learn “by other means” the probability that Jesus probably had a son.

No it doesn’t. It “closes” no such possibility. Tabor’s assertion just does not follow from what Goodacre was arguing. Goodacre was arguing that the probability that Jesus of Nazareth had no son ought to be factored into the statistics. That has nothing to do with (1) whether a probability that he had a son can be established or with (2) what can be learned from that probability. Tabor’s reply just doesn’t follow from anything Goodacre wrote.

I'm not trying to be pedantic here, but merely to point out that Tabor's fallacies are those common to man. I suspect that Tabor believes so strongly that the evidence supports this tomb as being that of Jesus of Nazareth that he subtly turns around and uses this conclusion to interpret that evidence. At least he does so in this instance. I suspect he does so in others, perhaps even in the case of the "Mary evidence" or the “Jose evidence.” I know I have, and I don’t really believe that it is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

Having rethought what I just wrote, I need to qualify the extent that Tabor's argument is circular. I overstated my case. It would be circular if he uses the probability of the Jesus tomb to "learn" with certainty that Jesus had a son. If that was not what he was saying, then there is no circularity in this instance.

My point is that he has not come close to saying anything relevant to the issue Goodacre raised: The high probability that Jesus did not have a son should factor quite heavily into the statistical argument.

I still suspect that his perception of the strength of his evidence is unconsciously colored by the strength of his belief that he has found the tomb of Jesus. The evidence must be good because it supports what I believe about the Talpiot tomb based on that evidence (which is circular). Otherwise, how could they have possibly advanced the original statistical probabilities based on the half-baked case they presented in the film?

Daniel said...

Since this thread is pretty much dead and ken carl probably won't be back to answer your questions, let me. The answer is "no." The question that answer begs, however, is "where have you been for the past two weeks?" The issue is not about adhering to Christian standards, but adhering to Academic standards. No one here faulted Tabor because he made a claim that Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross and was buried in a family tomb along with his wife and child. He was faulted because his attempts to back this claim up with physical proof (a.) fell apart under the most cursory scrutiny and (b.) was done on a television special instead of a journal, book or any other form of peer review. Peer review is for the protection of the scholar more than anything else. Don't come here thinking you are bringing light to poor, deluded and ignorant Christians. Not all of us are Christians and those that are, from what I've seen, do not fall into any of your preconceived categories.

Unknown said...

Jordan Potter wrote that James Tabor is trying to refute the resurrection because of his old Worldwide Church of God (WCG) belief in a purely spiritual resurrection. That, however, cannot be true because the WCG never believed in a purely spiritual resurrection. It is obvious that the resurrected Jesus had a body, one that Mary Magdalene could clutch and Thomas could poke his fingers into! Beyond that, Jesus ate with His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee during the forty days He was with them post-resurrection. WCG taught that believers will be resurrected as Jesus was, citing I John 3:2.