The Jesus Tomb Debate Continues

Recently a 2500 year old Babylonian Seal which depicted worshippers offering incense to the Sumerian god Sin was discovered in Jerusalem. Dr. Eilat Mazar who led the dig read the inscription on the seal as “Temech” and connected it to the Temech family mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. In her interview with the Jerusalem Post, she noted that, “The seal of the Temech family gives us a direct connection between archeology and the biblical sources and serves as actual evidence of a family mentioned in the Bible.”

This reading was questioned by other scholars who suggested that the words on the seal actually read “Shelomith.” Even if the words read “Temech”, there is nothing to suggest that this was the Temech of the Hebrew Bible. Also, without knowing how common this name was during the time of the destruction of the First Temple, there is no way to find the probability that this person was indeed the biblical one.

Now imagine finding a tomb in Jerusalem in which there is an ossuary which holds the remains of Jesus, son of Joseph. Going by the same logic which was used in the Temech case, one could argue that there is no evidence to say that the ossuary was of Jesus of Bible fame. What if you find that next to the Jesus ossuary, others which read, Joseph, Mary,  Mariamne (possibly Mary Magdalene) and Judah, son of Jesus.

These were all common names, but the probability of all of them appearing together in  a family tomb is rare. Film makers Simcha Jacobovici (of the Exodus Decoded fame) and producer James Cameron made this case in their documentary, The Tomb of Jesus. The documentary upset clerics and the some faithful because it challenged the cornerstone of Christian faith, that Jesus rose bodily into heaven after his crucifixion.

A conference on this topic was held recently in Jerusalem in which archeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA and ancient
languages came together to analyze the evidence. Three days of debates and the conclusion is that there are many camps ranging from,  “no way” to
“very possible”. First there is group which believes this tomb does not belong to Jesus.

Myers, who specializes in archaeology and the history of Second Temple, said there are two main reasons why he rejected the claims put forth by Cameron and Jacobovici. The first dealt with the
statistical analysis presented by Andrey Feuerverger, professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Toronto. Feuerverger had calculated that there was a 1 in 600 chance that the particular cluster of names found on the Talpoit ossuaries would occur in one of the roughly 1,000 tombs discovered so far.

It wasn’t the statistical process he used that flagged the analysis for Myers, but it was the Feuerverger information used to calculate those odds.  Most of that information centered around the reading of the inscriptions on the ossuaries which bore the names used in the analysis. One was interpreted toread “Mariemene e Mara” and in some early Christian texts was believed to refer to Mary Magdalene. But epigraphers at the conference, however, contested the reading as “Mariemene e Mara” – a crucial part of the calculation.[Jesus Tomb Case Closed for Most Scholars ]

Film maker Simcha Jacobovici had an entirely different view

Reached in Jerusalem, director/author Simcha Jacobovici said, “we feel totally vindicated. My work with James Cameron was the catalyst for an international symposium that has finally considered the evidence and is opening the door for further research. It’s time that the world seriously considered that the Jesus family tomb may very well have been located.”[Princeton Conference Vindicates Associated Producers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici on “Lost Tomb of Jesus” ]

And there is the “may be group”

I am with the “possible to likely” group, and it is not always easy totake positions that are in the minority, but my conclusions are based
on my own sense of “best evidence,” and I have published them in Near Eastern Archaeology.I also think there is more to be said about the DNA testing as well as
the statistical studies, some of which was misunderstood, in my view at
least, at the Symposium. I will be writing more on this in coming days.[Results of the Princeton Symposium Regarding the Talpiot “Jesus” Tomb]

The final word is not out. Prof. James Charlesworth of Princeton  has been authorized to re-investigate the Talpiot Tomb site and analysis from various participants are yet to come out. This debate may be closed for some, but is opening for others.

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