The Mary Magdalene Inscription

In my most recent blog, “Jesus Tomb: Conclusion,” I raised 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]”?

I posed this question to Richard Bauckham, Professor of New Testament Studies at St Andrews University and author of the recent book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Bauckham’s response: “It would be odd for the name in the genitive to come first, whereas it is normal for a name on an ossuary to be in the genitive indicating the ossuary belongs to that person.”

Bauckham added, “But see the attached, by Stephen Pfann, which I find convincing and which offers a better solution to the whole issue of that particular inscription.” Pfann has posted a statement here, on the web site of the University of the Holy Land where he is president.

As it turns out, I was wrong in my suggestion but right in my hunch: the reading of the ossuary inscription by the Discovery Channel team cannot be sustained on closer scrutiny. As Pfann shows convincingly, rather than MARIAM(E)NEMARA (or MARIAMENOUMARA), “Mary, known as master,” the inscription reads, MARIAMEKAIMARA, or, “Mary and Mar[th]a.” As Pfann documents, the first person buried was a MARIAME (Mary), and later a second scribe added “and Mar[th]a” when the bones of a person by that name were added to the ossuary.

Pfann provides a scan from a document from around the same period. Note the similarity between the blue “kai” in the first picture and the red word in the second picture.

What does this do to the contention by Simcha Jacobovici in the Discovery Channel special that we have here the ossuary of Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus? You may remember that this was argued on the basis of an alleged reference to Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip by the name “Mariamne.”

In light of the newly proposed reading by Pfann, which is certainly correct, Simcha’s theory evaporates into the thin air out of which the theory was construed in the first place (see my original post), because as it turns out, there is no “n” in the name MARIAME at all. As Pfann points out, this would have had to be an “N” written backwards, for which there is no support.

Hence the alleged parallel with the Acts of Philip establishing MARIAME’s identity as Mary Magdalene falls by the wayside. Also by the wayside falls the DNA evidence, since now we know there were at least two persons buried in that ossuary, a woman named Mary and a woman named Martha. How do we even know whose bones were subjected to the DNA testing in the first place? The findings prove absolutely nothing.

One final thought on statistics: What are the odds that, if Jesus had a son named Judah as the “Jesus tomb special” claims, we would have absolutely no ancient (or not so ancient) record of this? I’d love to see the makers of the “Jesus tomb special” compute the statistics for that.

To sum up. This latest finding sounds the death knell to Simcha’s theory that the Jesus family tomb contains the remains of Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, and his son Jude. It also casts serious doubt on the competence of the makers of the “Jesus tomb special” and their advisers. Rather than exercise care in reading the ossuary inscription in question, they jumped to conclusions and read the inscription the wrong way. This is all the more damaging as this was by their own admission the central plank in their argument that the tomb in question contained the bones of Jesus and his family. With this, we can safely lay the entire argument to rest.