On "The Family Tomb of Jesus"
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News of the "family tomb of Jesus" balderdash first emerged on Feb. 23 and at that time I figured (as one commentator said) that it might just be a Purim joke. It might have been easier to take seriously had that indeed been the case.

Since then, it's been roundly criticized by scholars all over the spectrum. Given the speed with which this was done, I've decided the best service I can do here is act as a sort of "clearinghouse" for the most relevant and pointed information. I ordered a copy of the book (but didn't watch the TV show) authored by the two leading writers behind this (Jacobovici and Pellegrino) and will be essentially reviewing it here, as I also comment on the arguments.

The Statistical Argument -- do the odds really show that this has to be the family tomb of Jesus?

The DNA Argument -- what did they prove with the DNA concerning "Jesus" and "Mary Magdalene"?

The Patina Argument -- did they show that the James ossuary belonged with the rest?


Foreword by James Cameron: Cameron reveals himself as quite uncritical. He seems to think this tomb discovery is doing Christians a favor by debunking the Christ myth, as it is manifested by pagan copycat theorists [vii]. He notes Osiris, Attis, and Dionysus as god-man who all died at Easter and rose after three days -- which is false in each case.

He also seems to think that lack of things like fingerprints, bones, or portraits of Jesus, or that he did not write anything [viii], actually casts doubt on Jesus' existence (it doesn't -- the same could also be said for Socrates, as well as numerous other major figures of ancient history). He apparently thinks the Gospels don't help because they are not impartial records [ix].

Cameron says that his study of the history of the Titanic, and the conflicting accounts he got, led him to believe that "history is a consensus hallucination." [ix] But there is a vast, vast difference between accounts that might be told by persons under severe physical and emotional distress, about what they remember of a disaster that took place in the darkest night, and the memories of a living person with whom one spent several years, who was observed calmly by many witnesses, and whose teachings were designed for rote memorization.

Cameron seems to gives credence to Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi [x]though he doesn't say a word about their dates; in this he seems to have accepted the Ehrman-Pagels thesis. These Gospels are given no credence because they are very, very late, much later than the canonical Gospels, and indicate a Jesus who never would have emerged in first century Jewish Palestine. We recommend readers try a more sober work, Philip Jenkins' Hidden Gospels.

Cameron was drawn into this matter by Pellegrino and Jacobovici some years ago; they made him sign confidentality agreements [xii] and they presented their case, which he found "compelling".


Chapter 1: Vault of the Ages. Jacobovici takes the pen for the next few chapters, and it turns out to be mostly first-person narrative rather than argument of the case. That's left for Pellegrino later in the book, so we'll reserve comments on such arguments as Jacobovici alludes to under we reach Pellegrino's material.

Jacobovici hints that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and then reburied it in this "lost" tomb [2]. He then goes on to tell the story of the find itself. While it might be interesting to see if Amos Kloner remembers events the same way Jacobovici does, it doesn't seem to be that important.

The only point worthy of note is that Jacobovici claims that one of the ten ossuaries went missing before it was "properly scrutinized" (my emphasis) for markings. [15] One cannot help but wonder whether he is laying ground for further insinuation that the James ossuary really was #10 and all the data about the tenth ossurary found at Talpiot was taken down wrong because it wasn't handled "properly."



Chapter 2: The Investigation Begins. Once again, more narrative here than fact or claim, but I found it of interest that Jacobovici alludes to a prior claim to have found the tomb of Jesus, based also on similarity of names. A reader actually mentioned this one to me, the one who previously wrote us this item on Jacobovici, and what "Beast Rabban" says of the Sukenik case is worth telling here as an example of how Jacobovici doesn't bother to do serious research:

The great Israeli archaeologist Sukenik discovered a similar set of ossuaries, which he dated from the 1st century BC to AD 70, in 1945. These bore the names Simon, Lazarus, Judas, Ananias and Jeshua, one of whom was a son of Joseph, Miriam, Martha, Elisabeth, Salome, Johanna and Sapphira, along with Apphia and Barsabas. These ossuaries were similarly found at Talpioth. There was speculation at the time that Sukenik had discovered the tomb of Christ, and Time magazine ran a feature on it, asking that question. Sukenik instead believed that he had found the remains of an early Christian community. Two of the ossuaries with the name Jesus were marked with Iou and Aloth respectively. Iou was Greek for 'woe' and Sukenik saw 'aloth' as being another term for lamentation. There was also speculation that 'aloth' was derived from the Hebrew root for 'to arise', and therefore meant something like 'Jesus, let him rise'.
However, Aloth is a personal and Iou could either mean 'Jehu' or be an abbreviated form of the name 'Judas', so that the inscriptions Sukenik discovered sixty years ago would be 'Jesus, son of Judas', and Jesus Aloth, or 'Jesus, son of Aloth'. 'Hence, there is nothing among the finds in the Talpioth tombs that can be related to the early Christians of Jerusalem', J.A. Thompson, the Bible and Archaeology (Exeter, The Paternoster Press 1973). See also Illustrations from Biblical Archaeology, D.J. Wiseman (London, the Tyndale Press 1958).

Another example is found at the end of the chapter. He describes how he made the Mary Magdalene/Mariamne connection when his "chief researcher" [44] just "googled" the name "Mariamne" and from whatever came up -- we're not told what, much less given an actual URL -- decided that "according to modern scholarship," Mariamne was the "real name" of Mary Magdalene. [45] It's not made clear here, but later, Bovon [64] is given as the authority; we'll get to that in Pellegrino's section.


Chapter 3: The Lost Tomb. More narrative as Jacobovici tells how he met Oded Golan (owner of the James ossuary) and James Tabor. After this Jacobovici lets Pellegrino take over to present arguments in a more systematic way.


Chapter 4: The Jesus Equation. This is where Pellegrino, in between more narrative, explains the case from the statistical side. So now it will be time to collect the arguments and data for the first time here.

Other than that we would note Pellegrino's error concerning the nature of resurrection -- despite his friend's assurances, no "spiritual resurrection" or ascension will do the job. No such concept existed in Judaism of the day.

One of my early suspicions was that the original "database" used to arrive at the statistics was too small, perhaps only dealing with Jerusalem within a single moment in time. Pellegrino claims [74f] that his calculations account for Jerusalem only, but during the whole century ossuaries were used. Tabor continues to use the same basis.

This is not as bad as I thought, but it is still far from enough: It needs to include ALL Jews from Judaea and Galilee as well, and arguably could include those of the Diaspora. Note this on Darrell Bock's blog:

I spoke with Roland Deines today (of Nottingham). He makes the argument that Israel in this period had around 4 million. Doing the math based on the catalog of Tal Ilan on the names over three centuries, he suggests that we have a Jesus, son of Joseph about 1 out of every 740 ossuaries.

This is much larger than Pellegrino's estimate of 1 out of 79 [75] and would seem to invalidate the calculations as a useful tool for the case.

I would also relate this to the point that Jesus' family would not be buried in Jerusalem, but in Galilee. Tabor has argued that James was established in Jerusalem for quite a while; but that is only one family member out of several -- and if we want to argue that way, then we can argue that any member of any Judean or Galileean or even Diaspora family could be so "established" in Jerusalem -- as a merchant, or a priest, or whatever -- and thus the statistics are invalidated again. Indeed, Tabor fails to explain why father Joseph would remain buried in Galilee if the family had gotten this type of prestige.

In this next section we'll have a look at points related to the ossuaries and their identifications.

  • Ossuary: Mary (mother of Jesus). "Mary" or some form of it was the name of at least a quarter of Jewish women in the time of Jesus. The "Mary" on this ossuary had a Latinized form of the name. Pellegrino argues that since a "Maria" was known from a "House of Christian Inscriptions" in Pompeii, "Maria" "might have been adopted" as the Christian version of Miriam. Mary the mother of Jesus is also called "Maria" in "the Acts of Philip and other surviving apocryphal books." [75] Pellegrino uses this form of the name, not the broader name "Mary," when making his calculations.

    However, as Witherington reports, the inscription is in Aramaic; and if Pellegrino wishes to argue that a "Latizined" form of the name was adopted by Christians, then it is just as arguable that the same form was adopted by many other Jews as well, and the field is open to include ALL Jewish "Marys" and not just those with the obvious new form.

    Indeed, the appeal opens the door to have to include the whole Jewish population of the Roman Empire, and suppose that this family wished to be buried in the Jewish homeland even though they lived prosperously elsewhere in the Empire.

    Witherington adds some relevant notes:

    The Hebrew name Mariam was very popular among Palestinian Jews at this period, though hardly used at all in the diaspora. It was usually rendered in Greek in one of two forms: Maria and Mariamme (or Mariame). It could, of course, be simply written as Mariam in Greek characters (and this is the practice of the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, when referring to Mariam the sister of Moses, called Miriam in English Bibles). But we know only four cases in which this was done with reference to a living person of the early Jewish period. (One of these is Luke 10:39-42, referring to Mary the sister of Martha, though there is a variant reading Maria).
    Much more popular were the forms Maria (the form used everywhere in the New Testament, except Luke 10:39-40, for all the various Maries it refers to) and Mariamme/Mariame (used, for example, by Josephus). Both give the name a more Greek form than the simple transliteration Mariam. Palestinian Jewish women who themselves used a Greek form of their name as well as a Semitic form (a common practice) would be likely to have used Maria or Mariamme. This accounts for the fact that the Greek form Maria is often found on ossuaries transliterated back into Hebrew characters as Mariah. (Odd as this practice might seem , there are examples for other names too.) This is what has happened in the case of the woman called Maria (in Hebrew characters) on one of the ossuaries we are studying.
    It is worth noting that this Greek form of the name Miriam has nothing to do with the Latin name Maria, which also existed. The coincidence is just a coincidence. It was, however, a coincidence that Jews living in a Latin-speaking environment could have exploited, just as Jews in Palestine exploited the coincidental near-identity of the Hebrew name Simeon and the Greek name Simon. The woman called Maria in Romans 16:6, a member of the Christian community in Rome, may have been a Jew called Mariam in Hebrew (an emigrant from Palestine), or a Gentile with the Latin name Maria, or a Jew living in Rome who had the name Maria precisely because it could be understood as both Hebrew and Latin. (emphasis added)

    This last point seems to indicate that Pellegrino is in error in what he says about this "Maria" being a Latinized form, and that therefore, his appeal to the Pompeii inscription is misguided to begin with, and fuddles his odds. "Maria" was the Greek form that would have been used by ALL "Marys" (as is the case in the NT) and so the full quarter of Jewish women must be added into the equation.

  • Ossuary: Mary Magdalene/Mariamne. The ossuary inscription is in Greek, and, Pellegrino says, literally says, "of Mariamne, also called Master." [76] Appeal is made to Bovon, who identified Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip: "In this text, Mary Magdalene was an apostle who preached and baptized and performed healing miracles." [69] She is "explicity equated with the woman the Gospels call Mary Magdalene." [76], and also identified as the sister of Philip and is "described as an apostle or 'master'."

    Pellegrino stresses that she was not the Mary Madgdalene of "Church doctrine," a "fallen woman" (though he does not mention that this "church doctrine" did not emerge until the time of Pope Gregory, very much later than the New Testament period as well as the Acts of Philip). Pellegrino says that the "latest research concerning ancient texts of the New Testament period" supports this connection [69].

    There is no doubt that the identification of "Mariamne" with Mary Magdalene is critical to this case when it comes to keeping the stats on Pellegrino's side. Pellegrino uses it not as a form of Mary (as it is) in his calculations, but in the specifically rare form, Mariamne, to calculate his odds. An analogy has been madce comparing Mary to Ringo of the Beatles in terms of finding an unusual name among common names:

    Unveiling his documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Mr Cameron said the chances of finding that combination of names together was like finding a grave marked Ringo next to others marked John, Paul and George.
    "Mariamene is Mary Magdalene - that's the Ringo, that's what sets this whole film in motion," he said.

    Other ideas that this makes for a marriage and children between Mary Magdalene and Jesus are accessories; one might argue, from Pellegrino's perspective, that she was married to any other male (besides Joseph) in the tomb, not to Jesus, for example, which still allowing for some connection to the family of Jesus that would validate the identification.

    Arguments against this have been:

    • The inscription actually refers to two women, Mariame and Mara, who were buried in the same ossuary. Tabor [76] assured Pellegrino that the reading he offers is the correct one, but some have expressed doubts. Tabor himself links to a case here [PDF document] which argues that the two names are written in different styles. This seems to be under development as an argument and so will not be discussed further at present.
    • The form "Mariamne" was not used to refer to Mary Magdalene until the middle of the second century, and then always by heretics or pagans. Witherington has written:
      In the Gospels Mary Magdalene’s name is always given in the Greek form Maria, which is the New Testament’s standard practice for rendering Mariam into Greek, except for Luke 10:39-42. As we have noted it is standard Greek form of Mariam. However, from probably the mid-second century onwards we find some references to Mary Magdalene (often identified with Mary of Bethany and/or other Gospel Maries) that use the alternative standard Greek form Mariamme (or Mariame). These references are all either in Gnostic works (using ‘Gnostic’ fairly loosely) or in writers referring to Gnostic usage.
      We find the form Mariamme in Celsus, the second-century pagan critic of Christianity, who lists Christian sectarian groups, including some who follow Mary (apo Mariammes). These may wll be the group who used the Gospel of Mary (late 2nd century?), a Greek fragment of which calls Mary Magdalene Mariamme. This form of her name also appears in the Coptic (a translation from Greek) of the Gnostic Work the Sophia of Jesus Christ (CG III,4). The usage may have been more widespread in Gnostic literature, but the fact that we have most Gnostic works only in Coptic makes it hard to tell.)
      This tradition of using the form Mariamme for Mary Magdalene must have been an alternative tradition of rendering her name in Greek. It most likely goes back to a usage within the orbit of Jewish Palestine (since the name Mary in any form was very rare in the diaspora and Gentile Christians would not be familiar with the name Mariamme ordinarily). But so does the usage of Maria in the New Testament Gospels, at least one of which is at least a century earlier than any evidence we have for giving her the name Mariamme. It would be hazardous to suppose that Mariamme was the Greek form of her name used by Mary Magdalene herself or the earliest disciples of Jesus.

      The Greek form itself poses a problem for the theorists, as also noted by Witherington:

      There is a major problem with the analysis of the names on these ossuaries. By this I mean one has to explain why one is in Hebrew, several are in Aramaic, but the supposed Mary Magdalene ossuary is in Greek. This suggests a multi-generation tomb, not a single generation tomb, and indeed a tomb that comes from after A.D. 70 after the Romans had destroyed the temple mount and Jewish Christians fled the city. This tomb is not in old Jerusalem. It is nowhere near the Temple mount, and we already know that the tomb of James was near the Temple Mount. The earliest Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, including the members of Jesus’ family and Mary Magdalene, did not speak Greek. They spoke Aramaic. We have absolutely no historical evidence to suggest Mary Magdalene would have been called by a Greek name before A.D. 70. She grew up in a Jewish fishing village called Migdal, not a Greek city at all.

      And Mark Goodacre, referring to Bauckham, further dissolves the connection:

      The form of the name on the ossuary in question is Mariamenou. This is a Greek genitive case, used to indicate that the ossuary belongs to Mary (it means 'Mary's' or 'belonging to Mary'). The nominative would be Mariamenon. Mariamenon is a diminutive form, used as a form of endearment. The neuter gender is normal in diminutives used for women.
      This diminutive, Mariamenon, would seem to have been formed from the name Mariamene, a name which is attested twice elsewhere (in the Babatha archive and in the Jewish catacombs at Beth She’arim). It is an unusual variant of Mariame. In the Babatha document it is spelt with a long e in the penultimate syllable, but in the Bet She’arim inscription the penultimate syllable has a short e. This latter form could readily be contracted to the form Mariamne, which is found, uniquely, in the Acts of Philip.
      So we have, on the one hand, a woman known by the diminutive Mariamenon, in the ossuary, and, on the other hand, Mary Magdalen, who is always called in the Greek of the New Testament Maria but seems to be called in a much later source Mariamne. Going by the names alone they could be the same woman, but the argument for this is tenuous.
    • The identification based on the Acts of Philip is non-existent.

      The Christian CADRE blog has stated:

      What can we learn about woman named "Mariamne" from the Acts of Philip? Well, to start with, this woman was the "sister of Philip." Now, it could be that that language is used in the same way that Christians (and the Bible sometimes) use the terms "brother" and "sister" when referencing any other Christian. But the context seems to suggest that the reason she is called sister of Philip is to single out who she is. Here is the text of verse 94 of the Acts of Philip where the "sister" term is referenced:
      94 It came to pass when the Saviour divided the apostles and each went forth according to his lot, that it fell to Philip to go to the country of the Greeks: and he thought it hard, and wept. And Mariamne his sister (it was she that made ready the bread and salt at the breaking of bread, but Martha was she that ministered to the multitudes and laboured much) seeing it, went to Jesus and said: Lord, seest thou not how my brother is vexed?
      Now, if the term is being used generally, why doesn't it say later, "but Martha his sister was she that ministered . . ."? It seems apparent to me that the use of the term here is to show that Mariamne is really the actual flesh and blood sister of Philip. Now, this would be new information from the New Testment that doesn't seem to reference Mary Magdalene as being the sister of the Apostle Philip.
      What else does the Acts of Philip tell us about this Mariamne? The Encyclopedia Magdalena gives this nice little summary of the activities of Mariamne in the Acts of Philip,
      • she prepared bread and salt for the "breaking of bread"
      • Jesus called her "chosen among women"
      • she should not wear her summer dress (also translated as "women's aspect")
      • she assisted with healings
      • she baptized converts
      • she assisted in the slaying of a dragon
      • when threatened, she turned into a glass box or a cloud of fire
      • she is prophesied to die in the Jordan river
      Okay, so she prepared bread and salt and Jesus called her "chosen among women". Those might be consistent with Mary Magdalene even though nothing in the Bible says either of those things about her. But, of course, if one is going to accept that "sister" could have the Christian meaning where every believing woman is a "sister" to every Christian, then the phrase "chosen among women" could simply be a reference to the fact that she is a believer (e.g., Mark 13:20) which would not single her out for any special status whatsoever. Moreover, I don't have a problem with her participating in healings or baptizing converts -- those also seem to be consistent with what any believer was capable of doing during the early years of teh church. But slaying a dragon and turning into glass boxes or clouds of fire? Doesn't that effect the credibility of this book?

      Again, Witherington:

      Mary Magdalene is called ‘Maria’ constantly in first century Christian literature, and indeed well into the second century as well. She is never called Mariamene or the like. It is anachronistic and inappropriate to bring in later Gnostic document evidence from the Acts of Philip or the Gospel of Mary, neither of which date before the end of the second century A.D. to make your case when you have perfectly good first century data to help you. In fact, in regard to the former manuscript what we have is a 14th century manuscript which is theorized to go back to the fourth century A.D. It does not identify Mariamene as Mary Magdalene, rather it identifies her as the sister of Philip the apostle. It is the unproven theory of Francis Bovon, without real supporting evidence that Mariamene refers to Mary Magdalene. There are two problems with this: 1) we have both Mary Magdalene, and Philip in the NT, and the two are never connected at all. Indeed they are from different cities it seems clear. In terms of historical methodology you cannot use later Gnostic documents filled with wild fictional accounts, indeed fairy tales, about talking animals (yes we have that in the Acts of Philip) and like and be taken seriously when you want to make historical claims on the basis of such later and non-historically oriented evidence; 2) the accounts in the Acts of Philip have Maramene evangelizing foreign countries, yet on the argument of the film producers of this Discovery Channel special, she stayed in Jerusalem and was buried there with Jesus. In other words, we have no good historical connection between the sister of Philip, and Mary Magdalene. None.

      And Goodacre:

      On Apocryphicity, Tony Chartrand-Burke asked whether Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is indeed Mary Magdalene, raising the possibility that she is Mary of Bethany. I've done a little reading since then and it seems that scholars are divided on the issue of the identity of this character in the Acts of Philip. It is clear that she is Philip's sister, but it also seems that she shares traits commonly associated with Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary of Bethany, as well as Mary Magdalene. Stephen Shoemaker, for example, argues in a couple of publications that "the Gnostic Mary" is a kind of composite Gnostic character with characteristics from these several Marys...
      The import of this is to detract still further from the claims that this particular cluster of names is remarkable. For Jacobovici, it was the turning point for him to discover that Mariamne was Mary Magdalene's "real name". The bad news for him is that it is only her real name if one goes with a fourth century text, the Acts of Philip, that has no chance of containing first century traditions, and which itself is not explicitly talking about the Mary Magdalene we have mentioned in the Gospels. Wherever she appears in first century Christian texts, she is always "Maria", as are the other several Marys in the New Testament. Mariamne is not, I am afraid, the hoped for "Ringo".

      Goodacre notes elsewhere that Bovon himself acknowledged that the "Mariamne" of Philip is a composite of Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene.

    The outworking for Pellegrino's points:

    • The inscription may mean, "of Mariamne, also called Master," but that is still up in the air.
    • The Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is NOT "explicity equated with the woman the Gospels call Mary Magdalene." She is also not described as a "master" or as an "apostle". Pellegrino seems to be parsing grammar a certain way to get that, and then equivocating by equating "apostle" with "master". Note this passage:
      125 They stripped and searched the apostles for charms, and pierced Philip's ankles and thighs and hung him head downward, and Bartholomew they hung naked by the hair. 126 And they smiled on each other, as not being tormented. But Mariamne on being stripped became like an ark of glass full of light and fire and every one ran away.

      Perhaps Pellegrino thinks "the apostles" includes Philip, Bartholomew, AND Mary, but that would be a stretch.

    • The "latest research" does NOT support the equation, but rather the idea that this Mariamne is a composite of more than one New Testament Mary.
  • Ossuaries: Judah, son of Jesus; Matthew. I put these together because both pose the same sort of problem, not being any sort of match for anyone known from Jesus' family. Pellegrino simply cancelled out Judah [76] and for Matthew, produced a rather significant list of speculations: perhaps this Matthew was a first cousin (after all, Mary's grandfather was called Matthew, according to the Biblical geneaology); and maybe the Matthew elected as an apostle in Acts was a family member (though that is nowhere stated as a requirement).

    Pellegrino protests that these two ossuaries neither validate nor invalidate anything, but if he wants to argue that maybe Matthew was a cousin, etc. then he has just opened the door to a host of problems for his thesis. The only "sure connection" of relations among the ossuaries is: Joseph ---> Jesus ---> Judah. No other connection can be made. Then, as Craig Evans has noted:

    In the tomb were ten ossuaries (or bone boxes), six with inscriptions. Some seventeen skeletons were in the ossuaries and another eighteen or so were lying on niches (or shelves) or scattered about on the floor.

    This means there were at least 35 people in this tomb -- and so if Matthew could be a cousin, why not also Mary? And indeed, let's say (outlandishly) that we really do have Mary Magdalene in that tomb: Why could this not be HER family, with a cousin named Joseph, etc.? Once the door is opened to make connections in any convenient way, there is no reason to suppose that "Maria" is specifically Joseph's wife (why not Judah's wife, or the wife of one of the other skeletons in the ossuaries?).

    The theorists need to treat these two ossuaries as negative evidence -- not assume that it has no bearing, or contrive ways it could fit.

    Tabor is no better off, offering the following rationalization against counting the Judah ossuary against an identification with Jesus:

    I think if we look to our ancient sources more carefully, if such a son did indeed exist, we might find things that we have overlooked.

    By this line of vague reasoning, we might "find" whatever we need to find, which is about the only way this tomb thesis will succeed at this point.

  • Remaining ossuaries. There is some discussion from Pellegrino over the ossuary attributed to "Jose" (a short form of Joseph) but since he decided not to add those in his calculations, discussion is not necessary.

Related point: The crosses. Though not strictly part of the statistical argument, and indeed Pellegrino declines to make it part of the argument, it is worth making a point of how Pellegrino uses what he thinks are "cross" marks to support his case. As he notes, Kloner [79] explained crosslike symbols on the ossuaries as mason's marks.

Pellegrino seems to be somewhat lost in dealing with this issue. He says one of the ossuaries without a name had such a mark that was "larger than a mason's mark had any right to be" but he doesn't explain to us how he arrives at a measure for how much "right" a mason's mark can have to be a certain size. Then for a bit he seems to argue that claims that the cross would never have been used as a Christian symbol so early were tautologous; but then does a 180 and refers to Murphy-O'Connor to validate that "the early Jesus movement would not have adopted an instrument of torture as a religious symbol." [80]

This is very much correct; but to get around this, Pellegrino proposes that early followers of Jesus may have used "crosslike symbols" that were not representing the cross on which Jesus was crucified [80]. But his only evidence for this contrived argument is:

  • "In Egypt about 80 CE, people who worshipped Isis and Osiris, Seth and Jesus, and who called themselves Gnostics were prefacing the chapters of their Gospels...with hand-painted crucifixes that had been merged" with the ankh symbol. Pellegrino does not give a source for this claim, but chances are he is dating far too early certain heretical documents for which we have no evidence any earlier than hundreds of years after Jesus.
  • In Herculaneum, in the "House of Justa," there was a small room with an altar and a wooden cross affixed to the wall. This house is called the "Bicentenary House" and it is my recollection -- I can find nothing concrete at present -- that the supposed "cross" was not a cross at all (the wooden part of it had gone; all we are left with is a cavity and nail holes) but was the base for some sort of other hanging, like that of a picture. However, even if valid, this hardly would be enough to establish the use of a cross as a Christian symbol on Jerusalem ossuaries.

Chapter 5: Beyond the Book of Numbers. This is not an argument chapter, but more narrative. Their theorization that Jesus really did have a son named Jose' that was passed off as a younger brother of his so he wouldn't be killed [91] begs a complex of questions.

There's also the first hint of malfeasance with the James ossuary. The lack of correspondence of the James ossuary with the allegedly missing tenth ossuary comes down to two points:

  • The tenth ossuary was blank. The James ossuary, of course (whether you think it genuine or not) is not.
  • The measurements are entirely different.

Jacobovici is reported as making much of the ossuary being recorded with "rounded measurements" [91] -- as though to imply that it was so close that maybe it still is the James ossuary, with rounded numbers. That is a hapless appeal, as Goodacre reports:

John Poirier asks about the issue of the dimensions of the missing ossuary and compares them with the dimensions of the James ossuary:
Another thing that doesn't add up are the dimensions of the ossuaries in question. As I posted on this list on Oct 8, 2006, Tabor's claim that "the dimensions of the missing tenth ossuary [from the Talpiot tomb] are precisely the same, to the centimeter, to those of the James Ossuary" is bogus. *BAR* lists the dimensions of the James ossuary as 50.5 cm x 25 cm x 30.5 cm, while the report on the Talpiot tomb published in *Atiqot* 29 (1996) 15-22, lists the tenth ossuary as measuring 60 cm x 26 cm x 30 cm. Tabor has been aware of this discrepancy at least since Nov 23, 2006 (when I first heard Tabor's complaint about a piece I wrote for *Jerusalem Perspective*, in which I cite this along with several other problems with his theory). He could only continue to hold his theory after that date, therefore, if he has reason to suspect that the published report on one of the two ossuaries is in error.

That's too large of a discrepancy for "rounding" to have any relevance (and it seems likely that the James ossuary is measured "roundly" too...to within a half a centimeter).


Chapter 6: A Mary Named Mariamne. This is yet more narrative, in which it is recorded how Bovon was interviewed concerning the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip. It adds nothing new in terms of argument to the claims of the prior chapter on the subject.


Chapter 7: The Twin. A very short chapter that begins by begging the question that Jesus had a wife and son, and then tries to explain why the evidence does not support this thesis. Thomas is argued to be Jesus' twin brother. This does not even warrant a response since it's just trying to explain away history by creating history.


Chapter 8: The "Jesus Equation" Revisited". An account of how they called on Andrey Feurerverger to check the stats, and how he came up with the same results. Nothing new added here, though it is interesting to compare the words attributed to Feurerverger in the book to those now appearing on his website.

In the book, he seems to be as enthused as Jacobovici: "It really is a possibility...that this particular site is in fact the tomb of the New Testament family. It is a possibility that I think now needs to be taken seriously." [112] He was reportedly "especially impressed" (mathematically) with the Mary Magdalene connection with relation to the Acts of Philip. Now his site says such things as:

The results of any such computations are highly dependent on the assumptions that enter into it. Should even one of these assumptions not be satisfied then the results will not be statistically meaningful. Here are some of the more important ones...
-- We assume that `Marianemou e Mara' is a singularly highly appropriate appellation for Mary Magdalene. Note that this assumption is contentious and furthermore that this assumption drives the outcome of the computations substantially
-- We assume that the Latinized version Marya is an appropriate appellation for Mary of the NT
-- We assume that the presence of Matya does not invalidate the find but we assign no evidentiary value to it (other than factoring in its combinatorial role). We also assume that the Yehuda son of Yeshua ossuary does not invalidate the find but we ignore it in the computations. (This last assumption is contentious, although note that there is more than one possible explanation as to how it might have occured.)
-- We assume that this tombsite observation represents the `best' of many `trials'. It is estimated that there are approximately 4400 inscribed male ossuaries and somewhat fewer than half as many inscribed female ossuaries in existence. The number of `trials' is then taken as being approximately 1100. The computations do not take into account families who could not afford ossuary burials or who did not have sufficient literacy to have their ossuaries inscribed, and does not take into account families living outside of the Jerusalem area.

Emphasis mine on the last. There is more here. But suffice to say, it appears the good doctor was given erroneous data which produced erroneous conclusions. Other than this, interesting points are that the "1 in 600000" number comes of factoring in missing names of Jesus' recorded brothers, as opposed to the prior 2.4 million to 1 number, which did not [114].

We may also note that the "Dark Ages" are mentioned, though historians have now abandoned that prejudicial term.


Chapter 9: The Jesus Standard. Interesting short bit about an ossuary belonging to Alexander, the son of Simon, but its whole purpose is to set up an objection that since scholars accept this person's identity as the same as the Alexander of Mark's Gospel, with far supposedly worse odds than they've calculated for the Jesus tomb, they ought to be fair and accept the Jesus tomb as valid too.


Chapter 10: Whence Came the Nazarenes. The authors discuss the Ebionites and the Knights Templar, suggesting that it was the latter who broke into the tomb at some point and moved some of the skulls, arranging them in such a way as to suggest that they knew it was the tomb of Jesus.


Chapter 11: The Rediscovery. Back to narrative from Jacobovici. The narrative material takes up far more pagination than the evidence material. One wonders why they don't spend more time analyzing patina evidence and proving their case.


Chapter 12: The Voices of Time. Pellegrino returns for more narrative of his own about how the crew went around getting samples to study.


Chapter 13: GATTACA: The DNA Story. DNA story? More like DNA pamphlet. To this day, in June 2009, the official website STILL doesn't report what the DNA "evidence" is; it just gives a primer on DNA. From the start many people found claims about DNA dubious because they figured we didn't have the DNA of Jesus or of Mary; in this, they wrongly assumed what this thesis was going to be arguing, but I fault Jacobovici for that, because he didn't present what they were going to argue from the start.

So what did they argue? Just that the person in the "Jesus, son of Joseph" ossuary was not related by blood to the person in the "Mariamne" ossuary. Obviously this also fits with Mariamne being a close friend of the family, or a wife of one of the other men in the tomb, and so on. In fact, all that was ruled out is that they can't be mother and child (what about father and daughter?) or "maternally, brother and sister" (what about paternally by a different mother, or cousins, or...) [172]. And of course, this fits as well for any number of other Marys/Mariamnes and Jesuses that would have been out there.


Chapter 14: A Crime Lab's Jesus. When this first broke, the patina evidence seemed to me the strongest possible argument this thesis had -- even stronger than the stats argument. The basic idea was that the James ossuary -- whose presence in the tomb would have boosted the stats argument through the roof -- showed the same patina "fingerprint" as those in the tomb, so they argued that they could add it in to the stats.

I won't belabor the point; this one's been refuted by their very own expert, Robert Genna, who said in the television panel discussion (I did not see this, but did confirm it from someone who did see it):

The elemental composition of some of the samples we tested from the ossuaries are consistent with each other. But I would never say they’re a match… No scientist would ever say definitively that one ossuary came from the same tomb as another...We didn’t do enough sampling to see if in fact there were other tombs that had similar elemental compositions...The only samples we can positively say are a ‘match’ from a single source are fingerprints and DNA. (Source: Discovery Channel debate with Ted Koppel which followed the documentary on Sunday night)

Witherington had also noted that the soil type is very common (terra rosa) and that there was no mention of a special sort of soil found on the James ossuary from a place nowhere near the "family tomb".

In the Ch. 5 report above we gave a couple of reasons why the James ossuary was not a match; now let's add a few more reasons from Witherington, showing that Oded Golan had the James ossuary in his possession prior to the discovery of the "family of Jesus tomb":

...Oded Golan's family has testified that he had that ossuary in the 70s...one of his old girl friends also said she saw it back then, and she doesn't even care for the man any more...photographic evidence, apparently corroborated by the FBI at the trial shows that he had it before the Israeli law changed on this subject...I have detailed photos of the James ossuary including photos of the pitted nature of the bottom portion of the face of the box, caused by water damage over a long period of time. This ossuary was not in a dry cave for centuries, definitely not, and this distinguishes it from the ossuaries that came out of the Talpiot tomb so far as I can see.

In light of all of this, James Tabor resorted to a contrivances:

I should clarify here that such a possibility is not linked solely to the matter of the 10th missing ossuary that I raised in my book, The Jesus Dynasty. It was Shimon Gibson who first made the point that the James ossuary could be an 11th ossuary, taken from the tomb when it was left open Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, March 28-31st, 1980.

I think one of Witherington's blog commenters put it well:

Floating the idea that "James" is the 11th ossuary is ad hoc and a sign that this theory is in very grave danger. Supporters of Ptolemy could add epicycle after epicycle to explain the movement of heavenly bodies without recourse to the Copernican theory. It did not make them correct.

Conclusion: Jacobovici mostly just reiterates the case from prior pages, but something he adds undermines his own case, thought he obviously doesn't realize it. He argues that the crosslike symbol found on the ossuaries is -- no, not a Christian cross, but the Hebrew letter tao, as a mark of the righteous. If that's so, then there's no reason why the "family tomb" need be that of Jesus especially as opposed to any other Jewish person.

Jacobovici uses Mark's story of a young man fleeing naked for this: "Clearly, embedded in the text is the hint that Jesus had a son." [208] Why? Because his name is not given, and such a son would need to be kept secret. Which leads to the question of why Mark didn't preserve the secret better by not telling the story at all.


A reader gave us notice of this item from the Jerusalem Post.

Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth, a new study on the fallout from the popular documentary shows.
The dramatic clarifications, compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem in a paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support," come two months after the screening of The Lost Tomb of Christ that attracted widespread public interest, despite the concomitant scholarly ridicule...
The most startling change of opinion featured in the 16-page paper is that of University of Toronto statistician Professor Andrey Feuerverger, who stated those 600 to one odds in the film. Feuerverger now says that these referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together.
Pfann's paper reported that a statement on the Discovery Channel's Web site, which previously read "a statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters...concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family," in keeping with Feuerverger's statement, has been altered and now reads, "a statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters... concludes that the probability factor is in the order of 600 to 1 that an equally 'surprising' cluster of names would arise purely by chance under given assumptions."

(Note that this reflects our own observations above, and Tabor's early qualification which did NOT match what was claimed by the tomb website.)

Another sentence on the same Web site stating that Feuerverger had concluded it was highly probable that the tomb, located in the southeastern residential Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, was the Jesus family tomb - the central point of the film - has also been changed. It now reads: "It is unlikely that an equally surprising cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling."....
....Shimon Gibson, who was part of the team that excavated the tomb two and half decades ago and who appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying he doubted the site was the tomb of Jesus and his family.
"Personally, I'm skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers," Gibson is quoted as saying.
"We need much more evidence before we can say that the Talpiot tomb might be the family tomb of Jesus," he added.
In the film, renowned epigrapher Prof. Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University, is seen reading one of the ossuaries and stating that he has "no real doubt" that it reads "Jesus son of Joseph." But according to Pfann, Cross said in an e-mail that he was skeptical about the film's claims, not because of a misreading of the ossuary, but because of the ubiquity of Biblical names in that period in Jerusalem.
"It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics are unpersuasive. You know the saying: lies, damned lies, and statistics," Cross is quoted as saying.
The paper also notes that DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised DNA testing carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries, and who said in the documentary that "these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife," later said that "the only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing."
Furthermore, Pfann also says that a specialist in ancient apocryphal text, Professor Francois Bovon, who is quoted in the film as saying the enigmatic ossuary inscription "Mariamne" is the same woman known as Mary Magdalene - one of the filmmakers' critical arguments - issued a disclaimer stating that he did not believe that "Mariamne" stood for Mary of Magdalene at all.

-JPH