Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If they had different moms they must be married (?)

The Discovery Channel documentary website deserves some kind of award for the way it lays out the issues, among them the role of DNA in the investigation of the Talpiot ossuaries.

Turns out a lab up in Ontario (my home province) tested residue from two (and only two) ossuaries: the one inscribed Yeshua bar Yosef and the one inscribed Mariamene Mara. Chris Heard, religion professor at Pepperdine, does a nice job sorting out what these tests can, and cannot, show. Chris points out that:

the only DNA-based claim made by the filmmakers is that the Talpiot tomb’s Mariamne Mara was neither Yeshua bar Yehosef’s sister nor mother.
I'll wait until I see the documentary to decide whether or not they imply more than they claim. I'm betting they do.

Even with this modest claim, however, there are problems, like the apparent assumption that the DNA residue the Canadian scientists retrieved belonged to the person whose name is on the box. As Chris puts it:
Unless the DNA in question can be shown to have come from the person named in the ossuary’s inscription, the DNA evidence is absolutely meaningless for reconstructing the relationship between the parties buried in the tomb.
Chris would be correct, of course, if we were trying to solve a murder case. The jury would have reasonable doubt. Whether the same standard of proof should apply to this case is, I suppose, an interesting question.

Moving on, Chris outlines the logic of their argument as he understands it:
(1) The Talpiot tomb is a family tomb. (2) The only women buried in a family tomb would be (a) women who married into the family or (b) women born into the family who, at the time of their death, had never been married. (3) Since Yeshua and Miriamne were not related, Miriamne must have married into the family.
Oddly enough, the filmmakers apparently assume that
if Miriamne married into the family, she married Yeshua. Four of the six ossuary inscriptions name men. Why should it be assumed that Miriamne was Yeshua’s wife? Why not Yehudah’s wife, or Yose’s wife, or Matia’s wife? And, of course, the possibility would still remain that she was Yeshua’s daughter, or Yehudah’s or Yose’s or Matia’s daughter, and so on down the line. The full range of possibilities has not been explored. Rather, the filmmakers have jumped to a "sexy" conclusion that is not contravened by the available evidence, but neither is it really supported by the evidence.
Interesting stuff. For more, read Chris' full post and check back; I'm guessing he'll have more to say before long.

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