It’s time to wrap up the matter of the “Jesus family tomb.” I conclude that this is a serious case of overreach. The book that in its subtitle claims that it contains “the evidence that could change history” and the sensationalist claim that it propagates are most likely going to be thrown into the trash heap of discarded theories in biblical archeology.
Here Is What We Know about the “Jesus Tomb”
Let’s see if you agree that, soberly assessed, this is what we know of the “Jesus family tomb”:
1. The “Yeshua bar Yehosef” (if this is the correct reading) is almost certainly not the Jesus of the Bible. This man had a son named “Yose,” but there is complete silence in our historical sources that the Jesus of the Bible had a son, named “Yose” or otherwise.
2. The “Mariamenou-Mara,” alleged to be “Yeshua’s bar Yehosef’s” wife, Mary Magdalene, is almost certainly not Mary Magdalene, and may have been related to “Yeshua” (almost certainly not Jesus of the Bible) in any number of ways. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that Mary Magdalene was called “Mariamene” during her lifetime or at the time she was buried. Curiously, this is the only inscription in Greek (not explained by the makers of the “Jesus tomb” special).
3. The “Maria,” alleged to be Jesus’ mother, is one of a very large number of women bearing that name in first-century Palestine. There is no information regarding her family relationship to “Yeshua bar Yehosef” whatsoever.
4. Nothing is known about the person named “Matia” (the ninth-most common name in first-century Palestine).
5. “Yose” was a common abbreviated form of “Yehosef” (the name of “Yeshua’s” father).
6. “Yehuda bar Yeshua” was the son of the “Yeshua bar Yehosef.”
The only demonstrable family relationships are therefore as follows:
All three are exceedingly common names, with Yehosef being the second-most common name in first-century Palestine, Yeshua the sixth-most common, and Yehudah the fourth-most common name.
Beyond this, the fact is that we do not know how “Mariamenou-Mara,” “Maria,” “Yose,” and “Matia” were related to these people.
In this regard it is also very important to remember that even though we only have six persons named in ossuary inscriptions from that tomb, there may have been as many as 35 buried in this family tomb. This surely must have an important bearing on computing statistics but has thus far been largely overlooked.
Add to this the fact that the inscriptions are in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, which may suggest that we have here a multi-generation tomb (noted by Witherington).
One final question: In light of the fact that “Mariamenou” is in the genitive case, and “Mara” was a common abbreviation for “Martha,” is it possible that the woman’s name was “Martha [daughter of] Mariamene [Mary]”?
To conclude, I believe the past week or ten days surrounding the airing of the “Jesus tomb” special have been highly instructive. They have been instructive with regard to the need to sift through evidence carefully before jumping to conclusions. They have shown the need for specialized expertise in biblical studies, archeology, statistics, and so on. They have also revealed massive ignorance with regard to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection and the way in which it is indispensable for the Christian faith.
Surely, as we prepare to celebrate Easter, we owe a debt of gratitude to God and the way in which he has used the makers of the “Jesus tomb” special to deepen our appreciation for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection—the Christian gospel—and the way these events are reliably portrayed in the New Testament. The myth propagated by the makers of the “Jesus family tomb” special cannot hold a candle to the reality of the resurrection of the Jesus of the Bible. Truly, what others meant for personal profit, God meant for our good and his greater glory.
For an excellent discussion of what we know about the six names in the ossuary inscriptions see Richard Bauckham’s “The alleged ‘Jesus family tomb.’” See also Craig Blomberg, “Did They Really Find Jesus’ Bones?” and several blogs by Ben Witherington.