26th February 2007
Dr. James Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was one of the scholars involved with the discovery and the documentary. Now that the publication ban has lifted on the material, he will be posting his thoughts on his blog, The Jesus Dynasty.
Here is a quote from his opening post on the Talpiot Tomb:
For the past few days I have read many news reports and Blogs on various aspects of the Talpiot tomb as aspects of this story have â€œleaked outâ€? and lots of inaccuate and erroneous information has spread rather crazily on the internet. Because of a non-disclosure agreement that protected all of us working on this research I have not written in any detail beyond what I cover in the Introduction to The Jesus Dynasty. Following the press conference tomorrow that all changes. Now with all the facts officially released I will do my best to share with readers of this Blog what appears to be our present state of knowledge about this tomb. I will also be participating with a number of scholars in a Discussion Forum at the Discovery Web site.
In a second post, Tabor gives some of his initial thoughts on the whole discovery. His first two points are worthy of repetition:
1. I do not find it inherently unlikely or improbable that the family tomb of Jesus might be found in the Jerusalem area. Here the point I want to make is that most academics and professionals would scoff at the very possibility of such an idea as sensational and ridiculous nonsense. It is much like someone claiming to have found the â€œark of the covenantâ€? or any other Indiana Jones type nonsense. I think that sort of knee-jerk scoffing is unprofessional and we should hear out the evidence. I do indeed hold the view that Jesusâ€™ body was taken from its temporary tomb and moved to a permanent place of burial, very possibly in Jerusalem, and likely kept private and within the inner circles of the family. Accordingly, it is unscientific to dismiss out of hand such a possibility with smirking and scoffing. I also respectfully disagree with those who have made the point that the Jesus family would have been too poor to have been buried in such a manner, with rock hewn tomb and ossuaries. I have been in this tomb. It is small and very modest, quite plain, as are most of the ossuaries. My own understanding of the Nazarene movement as it began to thrive in the 40s through 60s CE is that one would expect, rather than doubt, that the inner family would receive such an honored and traditional burial. Also, the records we have indicate that the inner family lived in Jerusalem after 30 CE.
2. Although the names are â€œcommonâ€? (9%, 2%, 14%, 25% depending on which name) as many have pointed out, it does indeed seem to be the case that the statistical grouping of these particular names in this particular tomb is far from common, in fact it is so rare that the conclusion that this particular â€œJesus son of Josephâ€? is indeed, most likely, the figure we know as Jesus of Nazareth becomes highly probable. Statisticians often point out that â€œcommon senseâ€? when it comes to probability theory, is often quite misleading. What we have to ask is what are the probabilities of these six names occurring together in a 1st century Jewish family tomb, namely: Mary, a second Mary, Jesus son of Joseph, Jude son of Jesus, Joseph, and Matthew. Experts I am working with tell me that assuming a family size of six, the probability of these six names in these relationships occurring together in one family is: 1/253,403.Therefore, out of 253,403 families (a population of 1,520,418), this particular combination of names would occur only once. Obviously the population of late 2nd Temple Jerusalem was nothing of that sort, but perhaps only 25,000 (Jeremias) to 50,000. Further, two of the names, particularly, Mariamene and Jose, appear to be rare forms of names we know associated with Mary Magdalene and with Jesusâ€™ brother Joseph, which further indicates a significant statistical uniqueness, and a correlation with what we know of the Jesus family. A third name, Maria, is that form known to us in the New Testament for Jesusâ€™ mother Miriam, and perhaps his sister Mary as well. It is a relatively rare form of the name.
My statistical consultant gave me a very simple analogy: Imagine a football stadium filled with 50,000 peopleâ€”men, women, and children. This is an average estimate of the population of ancient Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 2,796 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 351 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a mother named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only 173. If we then ask only those of this group with a brother named Joseph only 23 are left. And finally, only of these the ones with a brother named James, thereâ€™s less than a 3/4 chance that even 1 person remains standing.
I encourage you to take a gander at it. For now, I have to go teach!