Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Have we finally found the Holy Grail?

As I follow the raucous debate on the web and exchange e-mails with colleagues, a list of questions is taking shape. Here's one.

Is Mary Magdalene's name on one of the ossuaries?

It is well known that Mary is a very common name in the period. I count 6 Marys out of 16 named women in the Gospels. And, of course, Magdalene refers to her home town, Magdala, not her last name.

The filmmakers contend that one of the ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb belongs to Mary Magdalene. If they're right, the argument runs, this not only increases the likelihood that the Talpiot tomb in southern Jerusalem has ties to Jesus of Nazareth, but it also supports the idea (popularly advanced in The Da Vinci Code) that the two of them were married. So Dan Brown was right after all. Or was he?.

How solid is this link between Mary Magdalene and the Greek name on the ossuary: Mariamenou e(?) Mara ? According to NT scholar Richard Bauckham, quoted in Jim Davila's blog , not very. Bauckham, relayed by Davila, makes several salient points (emphases added):

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."
Mark Goodacre of Duke University is equally skeptical about the Mariamne-Mary Magdalene connection (emphasis added):
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.
The Documentary is (by all accounts) counting big time on this identification of Mariamne Mara as Mary Magdalene. But this identification is mired in a bog of speculation and an uncritical appeals to a source that is both late in date and unclear in meaning.

UPDATE (3-1-07): The full version of Richard Bauckham's thorough discussion of the names on the ossuaries (Mariamenou-Mara, Yehuda bar Yeshua, Matia, Yeshua bar Yehosef, Yose, Maria) is now available on Chrisendom.

1 comment:

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