Saturday, March 03, 2007

ELVIS IN LATIN AND SUMERIAN! This from the East Anglian Daily Times:
Blue Suede Shoes: a big hit in Latin!
02 March 2007 | 15:01

STEVEN RUSSELL

RONALD McDonald and Mickey Mouse eat your hearts out - neither of you is the world's most recognisable icon of all time. Author Charlie Connelly knows the truth, after a global odyssey of quirkiness showed Elvis Presley being honoured and celebrated in some strange and wonderful ways.

[...]

But his favourite - the blue whale in this sea of strangeness - is Dr Jukka Ammondt. This Finnish professor of literature and linguistics - a short man with long grey hair and little round glasses - makes no attempt to impersonate Elvis. He simply happens to sing the legend's songs . . . in Latin.

“When you hear of it, you think it's going to be a one-song gag, but I've got a couple of his CDs and they're really good!” enthuses Charlie.

“He also did a three-track EP in ancient Sumerian” - spoken in Southern Mesopotamia, today's southeastern Iraq, between about 4000BC and 2000BC - “though only one was an Elvis song: Blue Suede Shoes.

“When you hear it, it takes a while to recognise it because he's been very adherent to the original Sumerian. Although no-one had ever heard Sumerian music, they studied pictures of instruments from old tablets and what have you and worked out what it would have sounded like.

“This thing grinds along and suddenly you hear Dr Ammondt booming in in this low, guttural voice. It's only when it gets to a certain chord progression that you realise it's Blue Suede Shoes. But I really like it as a piece of music and it stands on its own.

“He did tell me that, obviously, the Sumer didn't have blue suede shoes, so he had to change the lyrics a little. When he translated it into Sumerian he had to say something like 'On my sandals of sky-blue leather please don't stand.' It doesn't scan quite as well as the original . . .

“If you made it up, no-one would believe you.”

[...]
Yeah, that just about sums it up.
THE FESTIVAL OF PURIM begins tonight at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating.

Friday, March 02, 2007

AN ARAMAIC FRAGMENT OF TOBIT has been published in Revue de Qumran. Ed Cook has the story over at Ralph.
RICHARD BAUCKHAM has written a revised statement about the Talpiot tomb, which I am posting here in its entirety:
The alleged ‘Jesus family tomb’

As I understand it (I have not yet seen the film itself) the Discovery Channel programme “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” claims that a tomb discovered in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem in 1980, containing ten ossuaries, is the tomb of Jesus’ family and contains some of the remains of Jesus himself. If my memory serves me correctly the same claim was made in a British television programme, fronted by Joan Bakewell, just a few years ago. However the Discovery Channel programme claims to have new evidence and arguments.

The basic arguments concerning the names on the ossuaries seem to be two (1) The names, including ‘Jesus son of Joseph,’ ‘Judah son of Jesus,’ Yose, Mary and Matthew, are the names of key figures in the New Testament Gospels. Some statistical arguments are alleged to show that the odds are hugely in favour of the view that the names on the ossuaries in fact refer to the figures known from the New Testament. (2) The form of the name Mary (in Greek) is the distinctive Mariamenou. This, it is claimed, is the same form of the name as Mariamne, which is the name of the sister of the apostle Philip in the fourth-century Acts of Philip, presumed to be Mary Magdalene.

I wish to stress at the start that the issues raised by this proposal are complex and difficult. My first reactions to what I was told about it by journalists were too little considered and I had not then had time to track down all the relevant evidence and study it carefully. So I made some mistakes. (I recommend that no one pronounce on this matter without having the relevant pages of Rahmani’s catalogue of ossuaries actually in front of them. My initial lack of access to them misled me at some points, even though I was told quite carefully what they contain. They can now be seen on the Discovery Channel website.) I am fairly confident of what I’m now saying here, but ossuaries and onomastics are technical fields, and I’m open to corrections from the experts. I’ve no doubt that refinements of the argument will result from further discussion of the issues.

I shall divide my discussion into the matter of the names on these ossuaries in general, and a longer consideration of the name alleged to be Mary Magdalene, since this requires quite careful and detailed consideration. (I have refrained from using Hebrew and Greek script, and have tried to make the argument intelligible to people who know no Greek. Unfortunately at the moment I don’t have a functioning transliteration font: hence the overly simply transliteration of the names that I’ve had to use.)

The names in general

The six persons named in the ossuary inscriptions (Rahmani 701-706) are:
(1) Mariamenou-Mara ( the first name is a unique form of the name Mariam, Mary, and will be discussed separately below).
(2) Yehuda bar Yeshua ′ (Judah son of Jesus)
(3) Matia (Matthew)
(4) Yeshua ′ bar Yehosef (Jesus son of Joseph)
(5) Yose (a common abbreviated form of Yehosef)
(6) Maria (a form of Mariam, Mary)
All the inscriptions are in Aramaic except the first, which is Greek.

We should note that the surviving six names are only six of many more who were buried in this family tomb. There may have been as many as 35. The six people whose names we have could have belonged to as many as four different generations. This is a large family tomb, which would certainly have been used for quite some time by the same family. We should not imagine a small family group. Some members of the family of Jesus we know lived in Jerusalem for only three decades (from the death of Jesus to the execution of his brother James in 62). None of our other evidence would suggest that there were so many of them as to require a tomb of this size.

Only three of the six named persons correspond to the names of known members of the family of Jesus: Jesus son of Joseph, Maria (Jesus’ mother or his aunt, the wife of Clopas), Yose (Jesus’ brother was known by this abbreviated form of the name Joseph: Mark 6:3). In a family tomb only members of the family (members by birth or, mostly in the case of women, marriage) would be interred. The fact that one of Jesus’ close disciples was named Matthew has no significance at all for identifying the person in the ossuary labelled Matthew. We shall discuss Mariamenou-Mara below, but it cannot be stressed sufficiently that there is no evidence at all for the conjecture that Jesus married Mary Magdalene (and note that an extra-marital affair, which some postulate, though again without evidence, would not qualify Mary Magdalene to be in the tomb of Jesus’ family). Similarly, there is no evidence at all that Jesus had any children. (If he really had a son named Judah, would he not be mentioned somewhere in the ancient literary evidence? He would have been a useful figure for a Gnostic wishing to claim esoteric teaching of Jesus handed down from someone close to him, but he goes unmentioned in the Gnostic Gospels that do make such claims for other figures and unmentioned also in the church fathers who relay information about Gnostic claims.)

All of the names on these ossuaries were extremely common names among Jews in Palestine at this period. We have a great deal evidence about this (the data is collected in the enormously useful reference book: Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, part 1 [Mohr-Siebeck, 2002], and also analysed in chapter 4 of my recent book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses [Eerdmans, 2006]). We have a data base of about 3000 named persons (2625 men, 328 women, excluding fictional characters). Of the 2625 men, the name Joseph (including Yose, the abbreviated form) was borne by 218 or 8.3%. (It is the second most popular Jewish male name, after Simon/Simeon.) The name Judah was borne by 164 or 6.2%. The name Jesus was borne by 99 or 3.4%. The name Matthew (in several forms) was borne by 62 or 2.4 %. Of the 328 named women (women’s names were much less often recorded than men’s), a staggering 70 or 21.4% were called Mary (Mariam, Maria, Mariame, Mariamme). (My figures differ very slightly from Ilan’s because I differ from a few of her judgments for technical reasons, but the difference is insignificant for present purposes.)

I am not a mathematician and do not know how to get from these figures to calculations of odds. I must leave the assessment of Feuerverger’s case to others. But it seems to me incredible.

The name Mariamenou-Mara

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.

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 use by Mary Magdalene herself or the earliest disciples of Jesus.

The Gnostic use of Mariamme is also reported by Hippolytus in his Refutation of All Heresies (written between 228 and 233). He says that the Naassenes claimed to have a secret teaching that James the brother of Jesus had transmitted to Mary (5.7.1; 10.9.3). What is especially significant is that the manuscript evidence is divided between two forms of the name: Mariamme and Mariamne (note the ‘n’!). It is probably impossible to tell which Hippolytus himself wrote. However, it is easy to see that, in a milieu where the name Mariamme was not otherwise known, the usage could slip from Mariamme to Mariamne.

These variant readings in Hippolytus are the first known occurrences of the form Mariamne (which the Discovery Channel programme claims is the same name as that on one of the ossuaries). Since it occurs in Hippolytus as a variant of Mariamme, and since the latter is wll attested in Jewish usage back to the first century CE, it seems clear that the form Mariamne is not really an independent version of the name Mariam (independent of Mariamme, that is). But a late deformation of the form Mariamme, a deformation made by Geek speakers not familiar with the name. This must also then explain the usage in the apocryphal Acts of Philip (late 4th or early 5th century), where Mariamne is consistently and frequently used for the sister of the apostle Philip, apparently identified with both Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany.

We can now turn to the inscription on the ossuary, which has, in Greek: MARIAMENOUMARA. The two words Mariamenou and Mara are written consecutively with no space between. This makes it rather unlikely that two women are named here. But Rahmani takes a small stroke between the last letter of Mariamenou and the first of Mara to be a Greek letter eta (long e). He takes this to be the relative pronoun he (eta with a rough breathing), reading: ‘Mariamnenou who [is also called] Mara.’ (Note that this is different, it seems, from what the Discovery Channel do when they read the eta with a smooth breathing, meaning ‘or’.) There are parallels (I gather from Rahmani) to this abbreviated way of indicating two names for the same person.

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. But the name Mariamenon is found only here in all our evidence for ancient Jewish names. It is, of course, a specifically Greek formation, not used in Hebrew or Aramaic.

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). Mariamene is an unusual Greek form of Mariam, presumably invented because it has a rather elegant hellenized form. When I first looked at this issue I was rather persuaded that the form Mariamne was a contracted form of Mariamene (which I think is what the Discovery Channel film claims), but I then found that the second and third century evidence (reviewed above) makes it much more plausible that the form Mariamne is a late deformation of Mariamme that occurred only in a context outside Palestine where the name was not known. So the Discovery Channel film’s claim that the name on the ossuary is the same as the name known to have been used for Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip is mistaken.

But we must also consider the rest of this inscription. The Discovery Channel film proposes to read Mara as the Aramaic word ‘the master’ (as in Maranatha). But, since we know that Mara was used as an abbreviated form of Martha, in this context of names on an ossuary it is much more plausible to read it as a name. This woman had two names: Mariamenon and Mara. It could be that the latter in this case was used as an abbreviation of Mariamenou, or it could be that the woman was known by Mariamenon, treated as a Greek name, and the Aramaic name Mara, conforming to the common practice of being known by two names, Greek and Semitic.

If the woman, for whatever reason, is given two different names on the ossuary, it is very unlikely that she would also have been known as Mariamene, even though this is the form of which Mariamenon is the diminutive. One other point can be made about Mariamenon. As a term of endearment it would be likely to have originated in the context of her family. But in that case, we probably need to envisage a family which used Greek as an ordinary language within the family. This does not mean it did not also use Aramaic, which would probably be the case if the names on the other ossuaries are those of family members closely related to Mariamenon. The family could have been bilingual even within its own orbit. Alternatively, the ossuaries in Aramaic could come from a branch of a big family or a generation of the family different from that of Mariamenon, such that their linguistic practice would be different. In any case, it is unlikely that the close family of Jesus would have spoken Greek within the family, and so it is unlikely that Mariamenon belonged to that close family circle.

The conclusion is that the name Mariamenon is unique, the diminutive of the very rare Mariamene. Neither is related to the form Maramne, except in the sense that all derive ultimately from the name Mariam. There is no reason at all to connect the woman in this ossuary with Mary Magdalene, and in fact the name usage is decisively against such a connexion.
UPDATE: Mark Goodacre e-mails:
Richard's memory is accurate about the earlier British documentary on this, fronted by Joan Bakewell; it was a Sunday Times piece on 31 March 1996 and a BBC1 Heart of the Matter programme on 7 April 1996 (Easter day) -- see [here.]
UPDATE (6 March): addenda and corriega to this essay can be found here.
IN THE MAIL:
Averro√ęs, Decisive Treatise and Epistle Dedicatory (Islamic Translation Series; trans. Charles E. Butterworth; Provo: Brigham Young University, 2001)

Avicenna, The Metaphysics of The Healing (Islamic Translation Series; trans. Michael E. Marmura; Provo: Brigham Young University, 2005)

Mulla Sadra, The Elixir of the Gnostics (Islamic Translation Series; trans. William Chittick; Provo: Brigham Young University, 2003)

Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi, The Philosophy of Illumination (Islamic Translation Series; trans. John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai; Provo: Brigham Young University, 1999)
BYU has been producing these wonderful Arabic-English editions of medieval Islamic philosophers for some years. I don't know what kind of reviews they've been getting from specialists, but as an interested nonspecialist who reads Arabic, I've found them very useful and have been building up a collection of them. I got two more around this time last year, of which I've only had time to finish The Niche of Lights, alongside The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, which I'm still creeping through in my spare time. At present I'm reading Mahdi's Arabic edition of The Thousand and One Nights (along with Haddawy's translation as a crib), but I mean to get back to the Arabic philosophers in due course.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

SYRIAC TEXTS ONLINE: A collection of leaves from Syriac manuscripts, complete Syriac books, and one or two complete manuscripts. Looks good, but there are some dead links and so far they've missed this.

(Via Evangelical Textual Criticism.)
SCOTT ADAMS (of Dilbert fame) is fretting about the Jesus ossuary in the Talpiot tomb and about archaeology in general.
BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XV has been posted by Charles Halton at Awilum.com.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO is inspecting the Mughrabi Gate excavation in Jerusalem.
EGYPTIAN BLOGGER Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman has been sentenced to four years in prison for his blogging:
The Blogger-Martyr of Egypt
Friday, Feb. 23, 2007 By AMANY RADWAN/CAIRO (Time Magazine)

A chill has just gone through the collective spine of the bloggers of the Middle East. On Thursday, Egypt sentenced Abdel Kareem Suleiman (a.k.a. "Kareem Amer" online) to four years in prison — three years for blog posts that insulted Islam and one year for similar writings that defamed President Hosni Mubarak. While bloggers have been harrassed and a couple arrested by Mideast governments in the past, this is the first time one has been sentenced to prison. Before Kareem's arrest and conviction, internet writing was considered a safe and open venue for many young men and women in the region, a vehicle to freely express their opinions, doubts and misgivings about thorny issues in their tightly controlled societies.

[...]
Barbaric.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH:
Extremist rabbis call for return of animal sacrifice
POSTED: 8:38 p.m. EST, February 28, 2007

Story Highlights
• Rabbis spark protest with calls to resume animal sacrifice at holy site
• Group plans to buy animals to find one that is ritually right for sacrifice
• Ritual animal sacrifice has been banned at Jerusalem site since A.D. 70.

JERUSALEM (AP) -- A fringe group of extremist rabbis wants to resume the biblical practice of animal sacrifice at an explosive religious site in Jerusalem, members said Wednesday.

The request defied centuries of religious bans and triggered a stiff protest from a Muslim leader.

When the Jewish Temples stood in the Old City of Jerusalem more than 2,000 year ago, animal sacrifice was a centerpiece of the religion. After the destruction of the Temples, sacrifices were banned and rabbinical teachings took their place as the focus of Judaism.

Now a group, called the "Re-established Sanhedrin" after the Temple-era religious high court, has decided to buy some sheep and try to find one that is ritually perfect for sacrifice, with an eye toward resuming the practice at the Jerusalem site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

[...]
JAMES TABOR has thoughts on the Talpiot tomb on his Jesus Dynasty blog. He thinks it may be the tomb of the family of Jesus.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre is skeptical about the statistical claims. (Does Mark ever sleep?)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ARE THE BEATLES stilll bigger than Jesus? Maybe. But maybe not.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

FOR THE JUNK HISTORY FILE:
'Israelites didn't build the pyramids'

Head of Egyptian antiquity council files complaint against high school: 'Ancient Egyptians built pyramids. Why do they teach otherwise?'

Smadar Perry (Ynet News)
Published: 02.27.07, 09:32 / Israel Culture

"It is well known that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids; they regarded these structures as a national project for ancient Egypt," said Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Hawass filed an official complaint to the Egyptian attorney general of Egypt against a Cairo high school for teaching the students that it was the Israelites who built the pyramids.

Hawass, prominent figure in Egyptian culture and around the Arab world, criticized the school curriculum for "insisting that the Jews built the pyramids and highlighting the fact that those who refused to partake in the building were physically tortured."

The longstanding debate over who built the five pyramids of Giza, West of Cairo, was rekindled at the first official visit of an Israeli delegation to Egypt, in 1977.

"We built the pyramids," said the late Prime Minster Menahem Begin at the National Museum in Cairo. He spurred fury among Egyptian historians and archeologists. Subsequently, the Egyptian press was full of protest articles.

[...]
Let us be quite clear: there is no "debate" or "dispute" about this among the people who know anything about Eygptian history. The Israelites did not build the pyramids. If Menachem Begin thought so, he was badly misinformed. It is dismaying that misinformation like this is being taught in a school, and it's a pity that Dr. Hawass has to waste his time countering it.

UPDATE: Carla Sulzbach e-mails:
Israelites building pyramids? Blame Josephus (Ant. II.9.1 (203)!
Yep:
NOW it happened that the Egyptians grew delicate and lazy, as to pains-taking, and gave themselves up to other pleasures, and in particular to the love of gain. They also became very ill-affected towards the Hebrews, as touched with envy at their prosperity; for when they saw how the nation of the Israelites flourished, and were become eminent already in plenty of wealth, which they had acquired by their virtue and natural love of labor, they thought their increase was to their own detriment. And having, in length of time, forgotten the benefits they had received from Joseph, particularly the crown being now come into another family, they became very abusive to the Israelites, and contrived many ways of afflicting them; for they enjoined them to cut a great number of channels for the river, and to build walls for their cities and ramparts, that they might restrain the river, and hinder its waters from stagnating, upon its running over its own banks: they set them also to build pyramids, and by all this wore them out; and forced them to learn all sorts of mechanical arts, and to accustom themselves to hard labor.
My emphasis.
MORE ON THE "JESUS FAMILY TOMB" from the New York Times:
Crypt Held Bodies of Jesus and Family, Film Says

Boxes said to contain residue of the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdelene yesterday at a news conference in New York promoting a documentary.

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: February 27, 2007

A documentary by the Discovery Channel claims to provide evidence that a crypt unearthed 27 years ago in Jerusalem contained the bones of Jesus of Nazareth.

Moreover, it asserts that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that the couple had a son, named Judah, and that all three were buried together.

The claims were met with skepticism by several archaeologists and New Testament scholars, as well as outrage by some Christian leaders. The contention that Jesus was married, had a child and left behind his bones — suggesting he was not bodily resurrected — contradicts core Christian doctrine.

Two limestone boxes said to contain residue from the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene were unveiled yesterday at a news conference at the New York Public Library by the documentary’s producer, James Cameron, who made “Titanic” and “The Terminator.” His collaborators onstage included a journalist, a self-taught antiquities investigator, New Testament scholars, a statistician and an archaeologist. Several of them said they were excited by the findings but uncertain.

[...]
The article has a lot of detail and fills out the highly unconvincing argument being presented in the film. It seems that there may be some DNA left in the tombs. The piece also includes an obligatory journalistic error:
One box is said to be inscribed “Yeshua bar Yosef,” in Aramaic, an ancient dialect of Hebrew that is translated as “Jesus son of Joseph.”
Aramaic and Hebrew are closely related Northwest Semitic languages, but they are languages: one is not a dialect of the other.

UPDATE: My colleague Richard Bauckham has sent me some material on these claims. He is one of the world's foremost experts on the family of Jesus. I have revised this update, deleting earlier notes he sent me and replacing them with a statement that I just received from him which covers the same ground in revised form. He adds in his e-mail, "I have been helped with this by my friend and former colleague John Kane. There are still a couple of points about the name Mariamne that I want to check."

For context, this is from the NYT piece linked to above:
Perhaps the most shaky claims revolve around the inscription on the fifth box, which the filmmakers assert is that of Mary Magdalene. It is the only inscription of the six in Greek, and says “Mariamene e Mara,” which the filmmakers say can be translated as “Mary, known as the master.”
Richard's statement is as follows:[UPDATE (2 March): this statement is now superseded by the corrected and expanded one posted here]:
As I understand it (I have not yet seen the film itself) the Discovery Channel programme “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” claims that a tomb discovered in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem in 1980, containing ten ossuaries, is the tomb of Jesus’ family and contains the remains of Jesus himself. If my memory serves me correctly the same claim was made in a British television programme, fronted by Joan Bakewell, just a few years ago. However the Discovery Channel programme claims to have new evidence and arguments.

The basic arguments concerning the names on the ossuaries seem to be two (1) The names, including ‘Jesus son of Joseph,’ ‘Judah son of Jesus,’ Mary and Matthew, are the names of key figures in the New Testament Gospels. Some statistical arguments are alleged to show that the odds are hugely in favour of the view that the names on the ossuaries in fact refer to the figures known from the New Testament. (2) The form of the name Mary (in Greek) is the distinctive Mariamenou. This, it is claimed, is the same form of the name as Mariamne, which is the name of the sister of the apostle Philip in the fourth-century Acts of Philip, presumed to be Mary Magdalene.

With regard to the first claim, all of these were extremely common names among Jews in Palestine at this period. We have much more evidence about this than was used by the programme makers. We have a data base of about 3000 named persons (2625 men, 328 women). Of the 2625 men, the name Joseph was borne by 218 or 8.3%. (It is the second most popular Jewish male name, after Simon/Simeon.) The name Judah was borne by 164 or 6.2%. The name Jesus was borne by 99 or 3.4%. The name Matthew was borne 62 or 2.4 %. Of the 328 named women (women’s names were much less often recorded than men’s), a staggering 70 or 21.4% were called Mary (Mariam, Maria, Mariame, Mariamme).

It is surely obvious that, considering the enormous popularity of all the names on these ossuaries, the probability that they refer to the same people as those so named in the New Testament, must be very low.

With regard to the second claim, the programme makers have somewhat stretched the evidence.

The most common Greek form of the Hebrew name Mariam (which would have been Mary Magdalene's Hebrew name) was Mariame or Mariamme. A less common Greek form of the name was Maria, which is the form the New Testament uses (for Mary Magdalene and all the other Maries it mentions).

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.

A final point about the Mariamenou inscription. The inscription also has a second name Mara. When Rahmani published this inscription in his catalogue of ossuaries he conjectured that the Greek particle ‘e’ (meaning ‘or’) should be supplied between the two names, making them alternative names for the same woman. The ‘e’ is not actually in the inscription, nor is there space for it between the two names. It is better to suppose that the bones of two women (or perhaps a woman and her child, the diminutive Mariamenon being used for the latter) were placed in the same ossuary (this would not be not unusual). The name Mara is known to have been used as an abbreviation of the name Martha. The programme makers take it to be the Aramaic word for ‘master,’ but this is implausible in the context. Beside the name Mariamenou on an ossuary, one would expect Mara to be a name, and since it is attested as a name this is the obviously correct reading.

Monday, February 26, 2007

SCIENCE PROVES THAT MEETINGS MAKE US DUMBER. I know this isn't about ancient Judaism, but I'm an administrator now and these things have started to matter to me.

(Via the KurzweilAI.net list.)
UNFORTUNATELY, the "Jesus Family Tomb" story is getting a lot of attention. Newsweek has a long article, plus a short video of John Dominic Crossan saying that if Jesus' body was in that tomb it wouldn't affect his faith.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

LIGHT BLOGGING LATELY. Likely to continue that way for a while. Apologies.