Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Crunching the Jesus tomb numbers, once again

Add Jack Poirier to the list of those ready to challenge the "Jesus tomb" number crunchers. Poirier's piece, published at Jerusalem Perspective Online, takes its place along side Randy Ingermanson's and Jay Cost's as another (ostensibly independent) attempt to assess the statistical probability that the Talpiot tomb belonged to Jesus' family. Poirier seems to know what he's doing (though I'm no judge in such matters) and his essay is worth a read. A few soundbites:
Multiplying the odds of one being named “Jesus” by the odds of one being named “Joseph,” one finds that the odds of a given male patronymic being “Jesus son of Joseph” is about .38%. Since there are two patronymic ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb, the odds of one reading “Jesus son of Joseph” is about 0.75%.
. . . it is necessary to address the “after the fact” nature of many of the statistical studies made in connection with this tomb. That is, what obtains in this tomb’s sampling is sometimes being treated as the only combination of names that could foster the suspicion that this is the tomb of Jesus’ family, when in fact a number of other combinations of names could do so just as impressively. . . . the same arguments that have been made in connection with the appearance of “Yose” would then have been made in connection with “Judah,” “Simeon,” or “James.” A more meaningful approach would calculate the odds of finding one patronymic relation known to obtain within Jesus’ family, together with one other male family name and one known female family name, within a sampling of ossuary inscriptions featuring two patronymic male inscriptions, two non-patronymic male inscriptions, and two female inscriptions.

. . . we need to determine the odds of finding “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Mary,” and the name of any one of Jesus’ brothers. Now the odds of finding one of Jesus’ brothers’ names on one of the three remaining male ossuaries can be calculated [note] to yield a probability of 63.26%, or odds of one in 1.6. Multiplying that figure by the above-determined figures for finding “Jesus son of Joseph” and “Mary,” we arrive at a probability for the full package of 0.21% (that is, 63.26% x 0.75% x 44.10%), or, more precisely, of odds of one in 475.1. Considering that there are some 1,000 tombs similar to “the Tomb,” it should hardly be surprising that one should yield this cluster of names. On average (and holding the number of inscribed ossuaries to be typical), we might actually expect to find two or more.
Though some of Poirier's charges are not new, both his logic and his results are distinctive. He likens Jacobovici's argument to watching someone pick several wild cards after being dealt a hand of cards and then brag about his royal flush.

At the end of the day there are surely countless wrong ways to run the numbers (Jacobovici's evidently among them). Poirier's model, alongside several others, suggests there may be several right ways as well.

UPDATE (9:52 a.m.): Mark Goodacre's latest post is a useful catalog of contributions to the Talpiot tomb statistics debate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog. I abhor your using math like garlic to fend off a vampire. I think you have a 'bright' mind that seems to have been darkened by a thought contrary to your religion's position on who should be cast as god in this passion play. In this case, god is not in the details.