Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How many Jesus-son-of-Joseph ossuaries are there?

Swirling around the blogosphere today is the report of another cluster of ossuaries with the very same group of Jesus-related (and rather common) names: Mary, Martha, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus. It looks to me, however, that this second cluster is simply a confused reference to the first--to the Talpiot tomb ossuaries themselves. James Tabor pointed out on March 5, in response to Eric Meyers' interview on NPR, that:
the second example Prof. Meyers cited, supposedly from a tomb on the Mt. of Offense, is in fact not from the Mt. of Offense at all, it is the very Talpiot ossuary under discussion. I have pointed this out privately to Tal Ilan, and I noticed it two years ago, and made all the corrections in my copy of the book, but now that all these things are in the public it can be very confusing if anyone wants to do a bit of research, which many want to do.
I'd like clarification on this point. If Tabor is right, then the Tal Ilan catalogue of Jewish names (published in 2002) confuses ossuaries found on the "Mt. of Offense" with the ones in the news from "East Talpiot." Assuming the "Mt. of Offense" is identical with the "Mount of Olives," it looks like posts like this one may require revision and we may be back to one "Jesus family." Or am I confused?

UPDATE (10:00 PM): I think the fog is lifting. In a comment James Tabor posted today on Jim West's site, he commends Jack Finnegan's Archaeology of the New Testament (which I'll track down) for the Dominus Flevit ossuaries as well as the nearby Mt. of Offense tombs. He describes
a vast Jewish/Christian burial “track” running from the Mt. of Olives, past the Mt. of Offense, to Talpiot, east and west.
My understanding has been that the Mount of Olives is a ridge that includes, as one of its southernmost knolls or "summits," the "Mount of Offense," which explains my confusion. In The Jesus Dynasty, p.236, Tabor describes the 40 Dominus Flevit ossuaries (inscribed with names like Lazarus, John, Joseph, Juda, Martha, Miriam, Matthew, Salome, Simeon, Yeshua and . . . wait for it . . . Simon bar Jonah) and then says:
There are similar clusters of names at burial places nearby, but further south, on the Mount of Offense and in Talpiot.
So let's see: the names from the Dominus Flevit necropolis that one might want to associate with Jesus were never confused with those from the Talpiot tomb. Not far away, however, roughly between Dominus Flevit and Talpiot, are the Mt. of Offense tombs which, notwithstanding the Tal Ilan catalogue, do not include ossuaries inscribed with names like Jesus-son-of-Joseph, Jose, Mariamne, etc.

A final note: it isn't as clear to me as it is to Mike Heiser that "the statistical odds touted in such assured terms have taken a sound beating – fifty years ago" (i.e., when the Dominus Flevit necropolis was excavated). A cemetery and a (family?) tomb are not at all the same thing. One would expect (wouldn't one?) that the large Mt. of Olives necropolis would contain bones from unrelated people. By contrast, the cluster of names that has impressed Jacobovici and Tabor all come from the same tomb.


Peter Nathan said...

See the links on NT Gateway about Dominus Flevit and Bagatti's discoveries that are not included in Rahmani's listings

Bruce Fisk said...

Thanks much, Peter. I have seen the NTGateway links. If Ilan's catalogue wrongly ascribed the inscribed names to the "Mt. of Offense" site (presumably Dominus Flevit), then the names' absence from Rahmani's listings would make sense. I can't read enough of the gif of the Bagatti report to know if it clears up the (well, my) confusion.

eklektekuria said...

You may want to take a look at Carl Kraeling's article "Christian Burial Urns?" in the Feburary 1946 issue of Biblical Archaeologist (9:1, 16-20). He mentions the Mount Offence ossuaries discovered by M. Clermont-Ganneau in 1873, and the fact that these contained Hebrew inscriptions of the names Salome, Judah, Simeon son of Jesus, Martha, Eleazar, and Greek inscriptions for Jesus, Nathaniel, Hedea, Kythras, Moschas, and Marias. This caused a sensation at the time because it was a tomb located near Bethany that had the names of Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (as Eleazar) together in one place. Perhaps this should be a cautionary tale for today. The same article also discusses the 1931 discovery by Sukenik of the other "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary, and provides two photos of the ossuary and its yshw` br yhwsp inscription.