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Tabor and Jacobovici’s New Volume: Epigraphic Reflections on it

28 February 2012

On February 28th, James Tabor and Simcha Jacobocici’s new volume was released, arguging that Jesus of Nazareth was married to Mary Magdalene, that they had a son named Yehudah and all of them were ultimately interred in East Talpiyot (Jerusalem), a tomb which they previously dubbed “The Jesus Family Tomb,” and which they now also term “Talpiyot Tomb A.” Along with others, I interacted with these claims several years ago and my article in Near Eastern Archaeology 69 (2006) is posted below, in its entirety, as part of previous post on my blog site.

This new volume by Tabor and Jacobovici, however, also contains much discussion about a different tomb in East Talpiyot, namely, one which they have dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb B.” It is ca. two hundred feet from the tomb they refer to as “Talpiyot Tomb B.” Two inscriptions from Talpiyot Tomb B have garnered substantial attention. The first one is simply “Mara,” a term which is most easily understood as a masculine, but which can be used as a shortened form of “Martha,” and thus as a feminine (Tabor and Jacobovici prefer to consider it a feminine, but I do not believe there is any way to know this with certainty). The second inscription consists of four lines and it is quite difficult. Tabor and Jacobovici consider it to contain the divine name “Yahweh” written in Greek letters and followed by a word for “lift up,” or “resurrect.” Moreover, they consider an ornamental motif on one of the other ossuaries in Talpiyot Tomb B to be a graphic depiction of Jonah being spewed from the mouth of a “dag gadol,” that is, the “big fish mentioned in the book of Jonah. Together, they argue that the totality of the evidence suggests this is a first century Jewish-Christian tomb (and that it may have belonged to a character of the gospels known as Joseph of Arimathea).

The technology Tabor and Jacobovici used to photographic Talpiyot Tomb B is really quite impressive. But, I am very disinclined to accept their interpretations of Talpiyot Tomb A or Tomb B. Indeed, regarding the four-line inscription, I would note that the name Yahweh (written in Greek letters) is simply not present…not on line two of this inscription (where they read it) and not on any of the three remaining lines of this inscription either. Actually, I consider it most likely that this inscription refers to the necessary reverence and care of bones (e.g., I read the last two letters of line one as omicron and sigma and the first two letters of line two as tau and alpha…that is, the word “osta,” an attested plural form of the word for “bones.”). I would also note that the word(s) “of Arimathea” do(es) not occur anywhere in this tomb, nor does the personal name “Joseph.” Moreover, regarding the word they understand to refer to “resurrection” or “lifting up” (hence their statements that this tomb’s inscriptions are Christian and refer to a resurrection), I would simply note that even if the word hupso is present in this inscription, it need not refer to a resurrection (in fact, that meaning of this word is a secondary or tertiary meaning at best). Also, many Second Temple Jews believed in a resurrection, not just Jewish Christians…so even a reference to a “resurrection” would not necessarily make this some sort of a Jewish-Christian tomb. All of these sorts of problems make the basic thrust of their arguments (for Talpiyot Tomb A and Talpiyot Tomb B) quite difficult for me to accept…the evidence is simply not there. Dramatic claims require dramatic evidence and it is simply lacking in this case. Also, I should mention that regarding the ornamentation on one ossuary which they consider to be a graphic depiction of “Jonah and the Whale,” I feel that it is most readily understood as a traditional Jewish nephesh tower, much as Eric Meyers has suggested.

Finally, I should note that I have known about these finds from Talpiyot Tomb B for about nine months, as I served as the epigraphic consultant for National Geographic with regard to this find (ultimately, the show was purchased from National Geographic by the Discovery Channel…an interesting story in and of itself…). I had been required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, but after Jacobovici and Tabor broke the story early this morning, I was free to write….thus, two blog articles of mine were placed on the official blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research early today, the first a brief statement with the salient points and the second a longer, detailed statement totaling about twenty pages in my manuscript. I thought about publishing my views on my own blog here, but it seemed preferable, and most useful, for my sentiments about these finds to be there. At this time, therefore, I simply refer the reader to the ASOR blog, where my detailed comments will be found, along with the comments of additional scholars. I plan to publish my full reading of this inscription in a journal, but in the meantime, I believe my detailed blog post will suffice. Here is the URL for my longer blog post: www.asor.org/?p=1642.

With all best wishes,

Christopher Rollston

Archaeology, Epigraphy

3 Comments to “Tabor and Jacobovici’s New Volume: Epigraphic Reflections on it”

  1. […] question (having also posted twice on his own blog). Yesterday Eric Meyers and Jodi Magness posted. Christopher Rollston today posted a shorter treatment on his blog of his ASOR post from yesterday, and he reposted an earlier article of his on the first Talpiot […]

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