Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yeshua bar Yosef

Sometimes in my fabulous blog –- Forgotten Prophets™ Website and Parachurch, which you currently have the privilege to be reading –- I deal with silly and unimportant things such as islamism and injustice. Sometimes I deal with important things, like my abs and how hot I am. But sometimes I deal with things that defy facile characterization. Thus, the Discovery Channel has aired a documentary dealing with the purported discovery of the bones of Jesus -- that is, of the Messiah, the Risen Lord, the Lamb Who Takes Away the Sin of the World, the Lion of Judah, the Alpha and the Omega. Ring any bells? You know, Jesus H. Christ. The guy with all the crosses. The Saviour? You must have heard of him. The Son of God?

In 1980 a tomb dating to the First Century of the Common Era was uncovered in Jerusalem. In it were found ten ossuaries –- stone chests containing human bones. The ancient custom was to lay out a body in a tomb for a year, then to collect the remnant bones and preserve them in the smaller and more convenient, and more hygienic, ossuaries. Such was the plan with the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, had things gone according to expectation. In any event, the tomb in question contained ossuaries inscribed with "Joseph", two with versions of "Mary", one with "Jesus son of Joseph," one with "Judah son of Jesus", and one with "Matthew". The other four were unmarked, and have since disappeared. The "Jesus" box was simple and the writing merely scratched on –- almost shabby.

Well. There it is then. The Jesus Family Tomb. Guess all those fairy tales in the so-called "Book" are just so many fairy tales in a book ... as if there were only one book. Funny how a whole big religion could have been built on such an obvious and easily-disproved lie, such as that a man could raise himself from the dead. Ridiculous. Everyone knows that life does not come from non-life. Except for Evolution of course, which is of course a scientific fact of course. Only an idiot would argue with that. Remember, a "fact" is something the truth of which can be demonstrated. Like Evolution, where complexity and organization just randomly accrue, as is universally seen in every observable system. Duh. Why is that so hard for you to understand? You must be a religious fanatic.

Likewise, a few years ago another tomb is said to have contained an ossuary marked "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The size and patina of this box are similar to those of the 1980 Jesus Family Tomb. What are the odds? Alas, the James box is known from before 1980. Alas, the discovering archaeologists of the Jesus Family Tomb flatly state that the James box was not one of the original ten. Alas, the antiquities dealer who produced the James box is being criminally prosecuted for forgery. All this however need not prevent the James box from being inserted among the Jesus Family Tomb boxes. This at least is the position of the Documentarians.

Well, I’ve been a little bit sarcastic. Allow me to manipulate my features into a serious expression for a moment and suggest that matched patinas can only prove, at best, a similar age under similar conditions. As for similar size, these things do run to form –- as coffins are generally standardized even unto this very day. The "James" ossuary is of dubious provenance, and even if it came from a reputable source, to assert that it went missing from some specific tomb is not even circumstantial evidence. It is mere wishing.

And why Matthew in the tomb? Who’s that? Surely not Levi the tax collector. And if not that, who? Widowed Mary was committed into the care of John, not Matthew. We know of no likely relative of the Joseph family named Matthew. Where are the (half-) brothers of Jesus -- James, Simon and Jude? And everyone knows that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and went to England. DiDn’t DA VenChY prOoVe iT?!?! And why would father Joseph be interred in Jerusalem? His roots were in Nazareth, where he lived and presumably died. Families do have tombs, and those tombs were located in one's own home country. Nazareth, in this case. Yes, this is presumption, but it is also best evidence.

The case hangs on, and falls apart under, a consideration of probabilities. Specifically, how many Josephs had sons named Jesus in first century Judea? Well, hardly any. Probably none, in fact. Jesus, you see, is not a Hebrew name -- it's Greek. But "Jesus" wasn’t the name of Jesus. Jesus’ name was Joshua. More precisely, his name was Yeshua. "The Lord Saves." Nice, isn’t it, when your name is a sentence, and that sentence describes the meaning of your existence. My name is Jack. It means "steal", and "assault", and "masturbation" –- it means so many things. I am a man of many parts. So. How many Joshuas were there in Judea? How many Josephs? How many Judahs and Marys and Matthews? I don’t know. No one does. But everyone knows that these were exceedingly common names. Like Joe and Sam and John –- which are, by the way, all Hebrew names.

In the three or four generations of first century Jerusalem before the Romans went Roman on the Jews, there must have been hundreds of tombs containing Joshuas who were sons of Josephs, scattered with Marys and Judahs. So what are the odds that we should find such a tomb? At least one in some number, since we have found one. The Documentarians claim that the odds are one in six hundred that this combination of names would be found. Let’s ignore the serious-unto-invalidation statistical problems with their reasoning and methodology. Let’s just grant their conclusion. Looks bad for us retro fanatical religionists, doesn’t it. But when we consider how many families there were in Judea, things look brighter. I’m too lazy to crack open my Josephus, but let’s say there were fifty thousand tombs in the region. That would mean that there were something like 83 tombs containing a Joseph and a son Jesus, and some Marys. Now the odds switch, from being a mere one in a whopping six hundred for us, to eighty two in eighty three for us -- that is, if the Nazareth Joseph, Mary and Jesus tomb were in Jerusalem, it would be only one of 83 similarly named tombs.

I know, math. Such a bore. But isn't everything? For my part, all I want to do is smoke and have sex. And I don't do either. Life is so unfulfilling. I'd smoke in the shower, if I smoked. I'd have sex with you, if I had sex. Be glad, be very glad. Cuz I can find out where you live.

This brings us to the real issue. There are two kinds of evidence. Empirical, and historical. Hard science deals with measurable and reproducible phenomena. It is testable, either directly or by secondary methods. Thus, jurisprudence and philosophy and history are excluded from empirical disciplines. These deal with logic and most specifically with testimony. The primary evidence of history is testimony.

In the New Testament we have the testimony of eye witnesses as to the foundational events of Christianity. I was there and this is what I saw -- that sort of thing. Well, witnesses can be wrong. We gauge their accuracy by internal and external consistency. Are there contradictions in one’s own story? Is there agreement with independent witnesses? I will not spend words here on the matter. I simply assert that I have studied this question with undue diligence, and have found no disharmony. 

Yet we hear that the Bible is full of contradictions. Am I a lunatic? Could be. But regardless of that probability, it is certainly true that there are things in the Bible that a superficial reading does not explain. There are things that, given an unsure grasp of logic or of custom or of archeology, will cause confusion. These are not contradictions. (Please, do challenge me on this. I love the details. You’re too much of a sissy though. Sissy. Yeah. Sissy.) A serious study of any case merits more than a superficial examination of the evidence.

So, the archive, the library that we call the New Testament, that collection of eye-witness testimonies, bears witness from a number of perspectives to the singular event of a resurrection from the dead. That troublesome empty tomb. If the body was stolen by fanatical disciples, why would it later be publicly immured in this particular elaborate and ornate tomb? Surely the famous rabbi and healer, whose corpse was slathered with a fortune in ointments, would have rated more than a chicken-scratched cut-rate ossuary? Jesus preached meekness, but he claimed to be a king, and this his followers took him to be. And, incidentally, it was Jesus’ enemies who called him “son of Joseph”. His followers attributed to him a rather more lofty parentage. And Jesus had a son named, uh, Judas?!

The testimony of resurrection is supported by the martyrdom of so many of those witnesses, who might otherwise have ransomed their lives from death by renouncing their fantastical claims. No such recanting is recorded. Affirmations, rather, in the face of torture. Hostile contemporary references in Roman and Jewish works support the death by crucifixion of this Jesus –- cf, Suetonius, Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud. No report claims that the dead body was produced by the highly-motivated authorities, who would thereby put down such troublesome and dangerous and blasphemous rumors. Surely the princes of the Sanhedrin would have done so given any plausible pretext. Surely the Talmud would record such evidence. Yet this public tomb of the Documentarians, with its Joseph and its Marys and the dry bones of its Jesus –- well, there it is, public, to disprove and humiliate the cult of the executed Messiah, if it could.

Does any of this prove the resurrection? Certainly not. Evidence, testimony, logic -- these are not proof. Proof is necessarily correlated with conviction. We do, each of us, have some generally unspoken level of proof that we require, to believe difficult things. Generally it’s an I have to see it with my own eyes sort of thing. Thomas, doubting Thomas is my favorite apostle. But I’m not trying to get anyone to believe anything. I’m just pointing out some really shoddy thinking that presented itself on TV. Shoddy. Like some chicken-scratched name found on some box in some fancy tomb.



akfox said...

You know, I really appreciate your writing...I check this blog at least every day to see if you've posted anything new (I just moved recently, so not so much in the last month). But who has time to comment upon everything? Especially things I don't particularly care about?
You like to work out and only eat poor defenseless plants and want everyone to drive a two seater? Fine, but not really my thing. If I knew you better I might care more about your troubles at your old dojo (or whatever it's called). The commentary on Religion, Philosophy, History and Politics though...pure genius.

Jack H said...

Well, you know, I kid. FP is not so much a discipline as an indulgence, for all that I have a sense of responsibility to it. The personal stuff is just that, personal. But, like God, it is my nature to reveal something of myself. It is inherent in friendships, that we digress, in our conversations. Thus, I vent. It is my right. I happen to think it is uproariously funny, when I get all indignant and bitter about FP and its lack of popularity. You have no idea how I laugh to myself.

We are monkeys and puppies, placed here to amuse God. Let's take pleasure in our antics.

And as for you, forget the two-seater. Henceforth you are required to drive a bicycle. Like to workout ... defenseless plants ... indeed.


Will C. said...

I am offended Jack. This loyal student read this back in 07' and appreciates you and your blog. How can we comment and otherwise mar a great painting. Don't judge your worth by our meager responses.
Always remember, you have been promised a seat in my Cabinet one day when I'm President.

akfox, he verbally banned me from commenting on a topic once cuz I wouldn't give up my LandCruiser. Called me a Gasofascist and told me I was a bad person (j/k) And he still hasn't sent me any shoes. (n/k)

chuck e. boy said...

will c., he forgets that, sometimes, he's a hard act to follow, this jack H.

But for the most part, the comments ARE almost as good as the main articles.

Anonymous said...

There was already a fiction book based on this find before it became public knowledge in 2007. “The Bone Box” by Itamar Bernstein. The question should be - why did this find remain unknown to the general public since 1980?

Jack H said...

One cannot help but form the opinion that "anymoouse" failed to quite track the general direction of this effort. As I recall, in the 70s there was a miniseries based on a book, The Word if I recall, about a new Gospel, by one of the apostles, claiming that Jesus was just a politician or somesuch. Point is, works of fiction have no probative value. This "find" has remained unknown because it is meaningless. Sometimes it works out that way, where crap remains in the toilet.

As for the silent throng that hangs on my every word, and your two envoys, C and W, I forgive your reticence. Your instruments have made good points. Little remains to be said, once Jack H has made his pronouncements.





Itamar Bernstein said...

The Talpiot tomb is anything but meaningless. The chance that it's indeed Jesus' tomb is statistically
and logically overwhelming. The arguments of its detractors have succeeded in relegating this find for the time being, because of the vehemence of their assertions, rather than the logic of their substance.

Itamar Bernstein said...

I've studied this find for years. Here's a more detailed explanation of why I believe this is a very serious discovery.

Critics of this find's magnitude make essentially the following arguments:
1. That the Jesus family would be buried in Nazareth, not Talpiot;
2. That the 'Jesus' ossuary would have been inscribed 'of Nazareth';
3. That the Jesus family couldn't have afforded a tomb like the Talpiot tomb;
4. That the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary is not inscribed "Yeshua" (Jesus) at all;
5. That the names inscribed on these ossuaries were supposedly common;
6. That the "Mariamne" ossuary didn't contain the remains of Mary Magdalene, but of two other women;

I believe the first five of these allegations against the book's premise don't carry much water. The sixth argument actually supports the conclusion that this is the real thing. My comments:

1. Talpiot is the right place for Jesus' family tomb- Per Luke, 2:3-4, the family's LEGAL residence was Bethlehem, not Nazareth. The fact that Joseph and the pregnant Mary could not take the census in Nazareth but had to take it in Bethlehem indicates that Bethlehem was their DOMICILIUM under Roman Law. That basically means that they had no intention to reside in Nazareth permanently. Therefore it would have made little sense for them to have a family tomb in Nazareth, that they wouldn't be able to frequently visit at a later stage in their lives. They would have wanted a family tomb close to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, easily accessible also to future generations of the family. The fact is indeed that Mary and her children moved to Jerusalem around 30 AD.

2. The traditional name of Jesus in Hebrew, as reflected also in the Talmud, is "Yeshu Hanotzri." This appellation stems from "Netzer" (Shoot or Branch). It alludes clearly to Isaiah 11:1, indicating the Royal birth of Jesus, to substantiate his claim for Jewish messiahship. Not to indicate the place he comes from.

There's actually no evidence in Jewish sources, such as the Old Testament or the Mishna and Talmud, that a place called "Nazareth" even existed in or before the first century. I'm not disputing the evidence per the NT, that there was indeed a place called Nazareth. But to the best of my knowledge, there's no mention of Nazareth at all in any ancient writings outside the New Testament. So the place existed, but nobody knew about it. Therefore there was no reason to call Jesus "of Nazareth." Either in life or on an ossuary. He was called "Jesus the Branch" (of David) in Hebrew/Aramaic.

The line of argumentation detracting this discovery around the supposed Nazareth origin of Jesus' family may therefore be based on a very shaky foundation.

3. Talpiot is located about 2.5 miles North of Bethlehem. Jesus' family, of Davidic descent according to the New Testament, could have held the burial cave there even before it moved to Nazareth. Davidic birth was absolutely the most exalted in Judaism, always. The suggestion that any person of Davidic descent could be of the lowest social echelon, that couldn't fund or get funding for a burial cave, doesn't make much sense, if any. There's substantial evidence to the contrary, e.g. 1. Jesus had some very wealthy active supporters like Joseph of Arimatea and Nicodemus (known as Nakdimon ben Gorion in post biblical Jewish sources-one of the richest Jews in Judea;) 2. Josephus, A.J. XX, 9:1. Note the prominence of James, brother of Jesus.

4. The inscription on the Jesus ossuary does say "Yeshua bar Yehosef" ("Jesus son of Joseph")to my eye. All letters but one are quite clearly there. The only letter which is somewhat more difficult to discern at first blush is the second letter- "Shin". That's because it's written in a somewhat irregular form (in a regular Shin there are three teeth in the fork, pointing upwards. Here there are two teeth, pointing sideways to the right.) But that particular irregularity appears also on other ossuaries- notably numbers 9 (this one has two "Shin"- one with three teeth pointing to the right, and one with TWO teeth pointing to the right. Exactly like the subject inscription) and 121 in the Rahmani catalogue, which both feature also a "Yeshua."

Still, the name "Yeshua" on this ossuary is among the most, if not the most, difficult to read names of all ossuaries listed in Rahmani's catalogue of Jewish ossuaries. It is almost written as a person's complex signature on a check. Contrast that with the patronymic following the first name. This is written in a simple straightforward fashion, which is very easy to read. There's no other example in Rahmani's catalogue of a first name that has to be deciphered, and a patronymic that's so plain and clear. Is this merely a coincidence?

5. The net is now abuzz with the following argument against the important significance of the find:
"The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, "Mariame,'' was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words "kai Mara,'' meaning "and Mara.'' Mara is a different form of the name Martha.
According to Pfann's reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of "Mary the teacher,'' but rather of two women, "Mary and Martha.'"

Here's my answer to that:
If the Mariamne ossuary indeed housed the bones of Mary and Martha, these are two sisters of NT fame. One of them could have been married to "Jesus son of Joseph." -Whether or not she was Mary Magdalene (Maybe the Mary who anointed Jesus' feet and then dried them with her hair- very intimate scene.) The other sister would than also automatically belong in the family. It still fits. Actually it increases the statistical odds that this is the real thing quite substantially.
This is a very intriguing possibility indeed, fitting perfectly with John 12:3. Intimate contact with a man, as described in this NT passage, was allowed only to a woman who was an immediate blood relative of that man, his wife (...or a working woman.) That's all. Therefore Mary of Bethany was quite possibly by elimination Jesus' wife or in the process of becoming his wife. In that context, Margaret Starbird already theorized that similar anointing with spikenard oil was part of pre marriage ritual of a Davidic king, per certain passages in the Song of Songs. Note also that intercourse by itself was sufficient under Jewish Law in certain circumstances to constitute valid marriage. That practice, termed Bi'ah marriage, was abolished in the 6th century, but it was lawful in Jesus' time.

Mary of Bethany could have become pregnant by Jesus while he stayed at her house, shortly before his crucifixion. In that case it's quite possible that she bore Jesus' son posthumously and named him "Judah." And in that case both she and her sister Martha would have become part of Jesus' family, which earned them a place in the Talpiot family tomb..

Reminds me of the reaction to this find of a BBC reporter in 1996- It seems like all balls in the national lottery coming one by one.

I have no knowledge of Greek, so I can only discuss the two propositions. Assuming that the ossuary does say "Mary and Martha", here's what I think the names are:
* 1."Jesus son of Joseph"("Yeshua bar Yehosef" in Hebrew/Aramaic script;)
* 2. "Mary" ("Marya" in Hebrew/Aramaic script);
* 3. "Joseph" ("Yose" in Hebrew/Aramaic script. Precise nickname of Jesus' second brother- cf. Mark 6:3);
* 4. "Mary and Martha" ("Mariame kai Mara" in Greek)-they must have been sisters because Jewish law didn't allow burial together of two unrelated women;
* 5. "Matthew" ("Matya" in Hebrew/Aramaic script)- Name of Jesus' first cousin, son of his father's brother Alphaeus/Clophas. As James Tabor suggests in a different context, Matya could also well have been Jesus' half brother, considering a certain specific rule of the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) This rule was applied in Jesus time- see Matthew 22:24-28;
* 6. "Judah son of Jesus"("Yehuda bar Yeshua" in Hebrew/Aramaic script.)
* Therefore out of eight names actually inscribed on these ossuaries (including the "Joseph" father of Jesus on the first ossuary) four names undoubtedly relate to Jesus' immediate family, and three other names relate to the same with a somewhat lower probability. In any event, they all relate to Jesus' extended family. Note that first century Jewish family tombs were usually a clan thing.
* The eighth name is "Yehuda bar Yeshua"- must have been the son of Jesus and one of the sisters Mary or Martha. More likely Mary, as explained above.

6. While the full versions of all these names were indeed common in Jesus' time, the derivatives, nicknames and contractions were not. Thus "Yeshua" for Jesus was less common than "YeHOshua;" ditto "YeHOsef" instead of "Yosef" for Joseph; "Marya" for Mary was extremely rare in Hebrew/Aramaic script; "Yose" for Joseph is unique. Therefore out of these eight names, two are irregularities, one is a particularity, and one a singularity.

BOTTOM LINE- Ask yourself inversely a hypothetical question- If the Talpiot tomb hadn't yet been found, how would Jesus' family tomb have looked , which ossuaries would it have contained, to when would it have been dated and where would it have been located. Even if, like me, you're not formally educated specifically in any field directly related to this subject, anyone with general education and common sense who's curious enough could educate himself to form a perfectly valid opinion. The critics of this find are also less than perfectly qualified for the task- they are either Israeli archeologists with no real knowledge of the New Testament and other Christian sources, or Christian scholars with no thorough knowledge of Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish Law. And none of them apparently has expertise in statistics, or they wouldn't advance the shallow argument that "the names were common." It's the cluster of names that's uncommon.

I would have thought of a tomb just like the tomb we're discussing. It fits perfectly with what I'd have expected Jesus' family tomb to be. Right place, right period, right names. In addition, there is substantial evidence for this conclusion- having to do with symbology- that I expanded upon in "The Bone Box."

If you wish to discuss the details further, I'd be happy to oblige.