Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Final Nail in the...Ossuary
03/14/2007 - James WhiteFor the serious minded person, this controversy is over. Finished. Dr. Stephen J. Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem has just posted his paper, "Mary Magdalene is Now Missing: A Corrected Reading of Rahmani Ossuary 701" here. And with this information the case is quite literally closed. Without Mariamne, Jacobovici and his team have nothing whatsoever. Pfann makes a compelling case that the proper reading is "Mariame and Mara (Martha)," and given that Mariame is a normative form, the discussion is truly over, for as I have said repeatedly, the Mariamne identification is the heart of their theory. It was already a done deal in that the Acts of Philip do not, in fact, provide them with what they need in any way, shape, or form, but now that issue is irrelevant as well, in the sense that they can't even get to the Acts of Philip with a compelling counter-reading of the ossuary staring them in the face.
I have been focusing upon The Acts of Philip, the DNA evidence, etc., and all of that is, in fact, important. But the one area I knew I would not be able to address to any depth was that of the inscriptions, and the reason is not difficult to see:
Without the ability to use different angles of light, or at least have multiple very high-resolution scans, people remote from the actual inscriptions are at the mercy of those who have actually examined the inscriptions "up close and personal." Most of the images I have seen have either been moving (in video), or were not high enough resolution scans to allow any kind of close examination, as in the image above. While you can make out the broad strokes, any kind of critique of the reading is difficult to do. I had seen alternative readings. Bauckham had suggested Mariamenou Mara, and this made sense, grammatically, in Greek. There was no question that Mara was a full name, not a title, as suggested by Tabor and the Jacobovici team. But Pfann's very clear reading helps a great deal. Here is the inscription again:
Pfann points out the differences in orthography between Mariame and the following kai Mara, and he is quite right. But since most do not read Greek, here is his colorized tracing of the text:
This should help you to see the terms in perspective. Now, "kai" doesn't look a lot like kai, but Pfann goes into detail on other examples of this connetive being written this way. The fact that kai is a connective (the word "and") means that just as in English, it could be abbreviated or shortened, similar to our own "&."
So what we have is a second hand adding "and Mara," which would indicate that first Mariame's bones were placed in this ossuary then, at a later time, Mara's were added. It is not uncommon to find the remains of multiple people in a single ossuary (amazing how small we are when reduced to our skeletal remains), and as I have noted, Kloner's article averages 1.7 people/ossuary in the Talpiot tomb. So whose remains were tested via mitochondrial DNA analysis? Mariame? Mara? We have no way of knowing, since we don't even know they were the only people in the ossuary. One thing is for certain, it wasn't Mary Magdalene.
Of course, this is not going to slow me down on the book. This information must come out, and, what is more, this entire situation provides us with a glowing example of the kind of apologetic challenge to the faith we can expect in the future. What is more, do you really think those who want to disbelieve will be convinced by this kind of evidence? Did truth stop Dan Brown? Not at all. What is more, do not under estimate the human mind. "Mary...Martha...Mary and Martha! That's Mary and Martha, so, Lazarus must have been in one of the unmarked ossuaries, so, it is the family tomb of Jesus after all!" Stranger things have happened.
In any case, it is fascinating to read the response posted on the Discovery website. First, they finally admit that the film and book do, in fact, directly contradict Christianity:
The film and book suggest that a first-century ossuary found in a south Jerusalem cave in 1980 contained the remains of Jesus, contradicting the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven. Ossuaries are stone boxes used at the time to store the bones of the dead.Then the article reports,
In Israel on Tuesday for a screening of the film, the Toronto-based Jacobovici welcomed Pfann's criticism, saying "every inscription should be re-examined."Democtratizing this knowledge? Or pandering falsehoods for money? That's the question.
But Jacobovici said scholars who researched the ossuary in the past agreed with the film's reading. "Anyone who looks at it can see that the script was written by the same hand," he added.
Jacobovici has faced criticism much tougher than Pfann's academic critique. The film has been termed "archaeo-porn," and Jacobovici has been accused of "pimping the Bible."
Jacobovici attributes most of the criticism to scholars' discomfort with journalists "casting light into their ossuary monopoly."
"What we're doing is democratizing this knowledge, and this is driving some people crazy," he said.