"Q" is for Qumran

Posted by admin on June 13, 2007

The Enumeration of the Caves of Qumran.


  Map of Cave Locations

After the first two “scroll caves” were discovered in 1947 (Cave 1Q) and 1952 (Cave 2Q), a survey of the cliffs in the vicinity of Qumran was conducted during March 1952. Upon completion of the survey, the caves and sites which contained archaeological remains were numbered, from north to south, “Survey Cave GQ1” through “Survey Cave GQ40.” Certain scroll caves that were found in the cliffs (specifically, 1Q, 2Q, 3Q, and 6Q) were also assigned Survey cave numbers (GQ14, GQ19, GQ8 and GQ26, respectively). Subsequent caves in which manuscripts were discovered were numbered in the sequence of their discovery, yielding Scroll caves 1Q through 11Q, the last being discovered in January 1956. These two separate numbering systems were conceived at that time and continue to be used for all Qumran caves of archaeological import identified between 1947 and 1956. However, the two categories of caves and their numbers have often become confused in the literature. In April 1956 two adjacent caves without manuscripts were discovered and excavated to the northeast of cave 3Q (=GQ8) and were called “Cave A” and “Cave B.” In 1963, Southwest of Ein Feshkha, an additional cave with abundant remains, but no manuscripts, was discovered by John Allegro and his team as part of the “Copper Scroll Expedition” and was dubbed “The Christmas Cave,” since King Hussein of Jordan visited the cave on that day. A third system of enumeration has arisen with the cave surveys and excavations of Y. Patrich between 1984 and 1991, for which we will use the numbers “PQ1–PQ24.”



F.F. Bruce and S.J. Pfann, ‘Qumran’, Encyclopedia Judaica (New York: Keter and Macmillan Publishers, 2006).


Unity and Diversity at Qumran I

Posted by admin on June 10, 2007

The Spectre of Cave 1Q: What if Cave 1 had not been discovered first?


The exterior of Cave 1Q facing north (courtesy A. Schick)

In July 2007, a conference will be devoted to the 60th anniversary of the discovery of Cave 1. In 2006, the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Cave 11 went by almost unnoticed.

Cave 1 was the "Scroll Cave" par excellence. It had it all: biblical scrolls, sectarian scrolls, commentaries, hymns, a calendar and rule books. Images of the future battle and pseudepigraphic works appeared in their original languages for the first time.

Cave 1 was the pace setter and it became the cave against which every subsequently discovered cave was to be compared.

But what if Cave 1 had not been undiscovered until now? What if our conception of the doctrine, calendar, worship and eschatology began with caves 2, 3, 11 and Masada? The central rule book would have been the Temple Scroll (3 copies of which were found in Cave 11). The last days and the Messiah would have been defined solely according to the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q Melch). The plan of the future Jerusalem would be a central theme built upon the Temple scroll and the New Jerusalem scroll (2QNJ, 11QNJ,11QT a). The treasures mentioned in the Copper Scroll would have been understood to have been taken from the temple itself. The group's key liturgy would have been the Angelic Liturgy, i.e., the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice (11QShirShabb, Mas ShirShabb). Time and calendar would be dominated by a structure of sevens, where the 364 day liturgical year would have been been structured around a sevenfold pentacontad cycle. The prophetic books would have been dominated by (if not limited to) the book of Ezekiel (3QEzek, 11QEzek, Mas Ezek). And the discovery of caves 4 and 5 would have been understood completely differently than today.


The Facade of Cave 11Q facing west (S. Pfann)

The discovery of caves 4, 5, and 6 provided a link to Cave 1 with its selection of Qumran Community/Yahad sectarian documents. Since all three caves contained copies of the Damascus Document, they also provided a bridge with the manuscripts of the Cairo Geniza. Why didn't we notice that the doctrines and eschatology of the other caves were different? The fact they all provided evidence for a 364-day calendar was considered ample enough common ground to view them as a whole. And the discovery of copies of the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice in caves 4Q, 11Q, and Masada was considered strong enough evidence to regard the caves as having derived from a single source. The compulsion has been to view them as though they were from a single group, sharing one raison d'etre and one doctrine. All diversity was overlooked or forgiven, almost without reservation. We were led to overlook the differences and we all accepted it and built our lectures, our books, our dictionaries and our histories around one group. It was assumed that, with the exception of the Bible, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, one group has authored the various works, continually recopying them, harboring them and remaining their sole proprietors over the course of the centuries.

However, now that specialists have put their hand to the plow, they have looked back. Those who studied religious law, including Schiffman and Baumgarten, raised issues, after having located irreconcilable differences between the Temple Scroll and other DSS. Those who specialized in liturgical prayers found diversity. Those who have worked with the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice now are convinced that it is not a fit for Qumran's Yahad. Even the Cryptic A corpus of texts from Qumran are not unified in their paleographic history.

Most Dead Sea Scroll scholars have spent the past 60 years trying to create a unified picture from the documents from the various caves. Now, in some future postings I hope we can successfully spell out what the diversity among these manuscripts actually means for understanding 2nd Temple Judaism.

The Song of the Sea II: Variants?

Posted by admin on June 08, 2007

The oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Song of the Sea offer very little new material to our translations. This is also true of the Pentateuch in general. There are "orthographic" variants (spelling differences), but there are relatively few translatable variants to be found in the ancient manuscripts of these five books. Even in the case of the oldest manuscript, 4QExodus c, of the ten minor variants listed in its final publication (DJD XII), only one is potentially "translatable". In Exod. 15:18 the plural noun for "hand" is singular "your hand" (agreeing with the Samaritan Pentateuch), as opposed to the plural "your hands" found in the Massoretic text. Hardly noticeable.

There may have been other ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the Pentateuch that contained more noticeable variants but, if so, they have been lost. The clearest witness to such manuscripts it is to be found in ancient translations of the Pentateuch, especially the Septuagint (Greek) version (aka LXX).

It is best to look for these hidden variants by studying and comparing the Greek text itself (especially in the Göttingen edition of the Septuagint) to the Hebrew of the Massoretic text. However, one might be able to do an initial survey of some of these translatable variants by comparing the standard English translations of the Pentateuch with an English translation of the LXX (e.g., Benton). Benton's translation is old, uses some archaic language, and does not necessarily reflect the best manuscripts of the LXX; however, here it is.

"15:1 Then say Moses and the children of Israel this song to God, and spoke, saying,

Let us sing to the Lord, for he is very greatly glorified:

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

2 He was to me a helper and protector for salvation:

this is my God and I will glorify him;

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

3 The Lord bringing wars to nought,

the Lord is his name.

4 He has cast the chariots of Pharao and his host into the sea,

the chosen mounted captains: they were swallowed up in the Red Sea.

5 He covered them with the sea:

they sank to the depth like a stone.

6 Thy right hand, O God, has been glorified in strength;

thy right hand, O God, has broken the enemies.

7 And in the abundance of thy glory thou hast broken the adversaries to pieces:

thou sentest forth thy wrath, it devoured them as stubble.

8 And by the breath of thine anger the water parted asunder;

the waters were congealed as a wall,

the waves were congealed in the midst of the sea.

9 The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoils; I will satisfy my soul,

I will destroy with my sword, my hand shall have dominion.

10 Thou sentest forth thy wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty water.

11 Who is like to thee among the gods, O Lord?

who is like to thee? glorified in holiness,

marvellous in glories, doing wonders.

12 Thou stretchedst forth thy right hand,

the earth swallowed them up.

13 Thou hast guided in thy righteousness this thy people whom thou hast redeemed,

by thy strength thou hast called them into thy holy resting-place.

14 The nations heard and were angry,

pangs have seized on the dwellers among the Phylistines.

15 Then the princes of Edom, and the chiefs of the Moabites hasted;

trembling took hold upon them,

all the inhabitants of Chanaan melted away.

16 Let trembling and fear fall upon them;

by the greatness of thine arm, let them become as stone;

till thy people pass over, O Lord,

till this thy people pass over, O Lord,

till this thy people pass over, whom thou hast purchased.

17 Bring them in and plant them in the mountain of their inheritance,

in thy prepared habitation, which thou, O Lord, hast prepared;

the sanctuary, O Lord, which thine hands have made ready.

18 The Lord reigns for ever and ever and ever."

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The Song of the Sea

Posted by admin on June 06, 2007

The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18)

1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:

“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

2 The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

3 The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

5 The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

6 Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

8 At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

10 You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

11 Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

12 You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

13 In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

14 The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

16 Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O LORD, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

17 You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

18 The LORD will reign forever and ever.

NRSV translation

I once saw this amazing fragment as a limited display for scholars a decade ago at Princeton University (at a Dead Sea Scrolls symposium hosted by Prof. James Charlesworth). It is now on display for the general public for the first time at the Shrine of the Book, on loan from a Lebanese born physician Fuad Ashkar (now of Miami) and Duke University. Although it heralds from the 7th cent. C.E., it is a rare survivor of the late Byzantine to Islamic period, from which we have almost no original textual witnesses to the Bible in the original Hebrew. The oldest piece of literature of the Bible is understood to be a poem from Exodus 15:1-18, known as "The Song of the Sea," and is preserved in its entirety in this new manuscript. This passage was written in archaic Hebrew language including pronouns and syntax that are generally understood by linguistic scholars to come from a period that predates the language used in the rest of the Biblical literature. An earlier manuscript does come from Qumran, 4QExodus c, which preserves partial remains of less than half of the poem (Exodus 15:11-18), but which predates this new manuscript by approximately 7 centuries (originating from the third quarter of the 1st century BCE). Altogether the Ashkar manuscript fragment preserves the text of Exodus 13:19-16:1.

S. Pfann

For the full Associated Press article click here.


A visitor looks at the Song of the Sea partial text, written on a piece of parchment on display at the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Monday, June 4, 2007. A rare Old Testament manuscript some 1,300 years old is finally on display for the first time, after making its way from a secret room in a Cairo synagogue to the hands of an American collector. The manuscript, containing the "Song of the Sea" section of the Old Testament's Book of Exodus and dating to around the 7th century A.D., comes from what scholars call the "silent era" - a span of 600 years between the third and eighth centuries from which almost no Hebrew manuscripts survive. (AP Photo/Maya Hasson)

For the Jerusalem Post article click here.

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Shimon Barzillai (not Bar Jonah)

Posted by admin on June 03, 2007

will update soon

Whose son is Simon?

Posted by admin on June 01, 2007

The following is an updated drawing of the inscription after viewing it at the museum and in updated photographs.

Aramaic became the lingua franca, or dominant language, of the Middle East from the Persian Period (5th cent. BC). Over time, the parent Aramaic script developed independently among the different nations and peoples who utilized it. Each of these developed forms of Aramaic script that are called national scripts. These national Aramaic scripts include Jewish (the square script used today in Hebrew publications), Syriac, Palmyrene, Nabataean, and Hatran, among others. In addition, each of these scripts has lapidary (engraved), formal, semiformal, and cursive forms, depending on the writing material being used. Due to the hazards of preservation, the lapidary forms of the scripts are often the primary writing style to have survived. Stone-cut inscriptions last much longer than texts written on parchment or papyrus, and, with the exception of Jewish Aramaic script, we have only meager examples of the other national scripts written on these more fragile materials. Ossuary inscriptions present a special category, especially when they are inscribed in charcoal, as this one is.

Bellarmino Bagatti originally read this inscription from right to left, as one would normally approach reading a Semitic inscription. He assumed that the national script that he was reading was the normal Jewish Aramaic script (with cursive tendencies), that was the predominant script among the ossuary inscriptions he had read thus far. He could quickly read the first name shin - mem - ayin - waw - nun = SHM‘WN, "Shimon" or "Simon" (although mem and ayin were a little unusual). The next word that would naturally be anticipated was "the son of" normally the Aramaic word beth - resh = BR, "bar", and so it was, (but, again, with an unusual resh).



Pushing on, he had to make sense of some unusual letter forms which, combined, and with a bit of imagination he took to be: yodh - waw - nun - heh, YWNH, "Yonah" or "Jonah" (in which case, as it turns out, not a single letter was read correctly).



The final editor J.T. Milik in 1958 was more cautious. And although he did not reject outright the earlier reading as possible, he did suggest some alternatives for the patronym (i.e., father's name; the third word in the inscription).

"The reading of the patronym, as luck would have it, is not sure. The reading proposed in Liber Annuus III, p. 162 (YWNH) remains possible, but other possibilities for it can equally be proposed, such as ZYNH corresponding to Zena of n. 21. The two cases of a supposed nun are both a little unusual and the heh is rather abnormal, although it has an affinity to 'Palmyrene'. Alternatively, these last two letters can be considered as a single one, that is, a heh with a bifurcated left leg, that would have been inexpertly executed with a piece of charcoal; compare the double feature in the charcoal tracings of fig. 22,7 and 6; photo 80; and Liber Annuus VII, p. 247, fig. 16. In this case it would have to be read ZYH, ZWH, etc." (Dominus Flevit, p. 83.) Milik, not correctly recognizing the form of the final letter, made the curious proposal that the last two letters should be combined and read as a defectively executed heh."

The initial problem in reading this ossuary inscription began when Bagatti assumed that the inscription was written in the Jewish script normally utilized by the local Jewish population. However, Jerusalem of that day was an international city. A survey of the names preserved on the inscribed ossuaries of Dominus Flevit and the holdings of the Israel Antiquities Authority indicates that least 35% of the inscribed burials were of Jewish immigrants from other nations, as is noted by the languages found in the inscriptions. In Milik's reading of the inscription, he noted that at least one letter bore an affinity to the related national "Palmyrene" script.

How should one read this inscription? First of all, because the inscription is written with charcoal on stone, and not carved into the stone with an engraving tool, comparison should be made with letter forms written on parchment or papyrus where shading and more graduated curves are employed. Secondly, it is important to note that many of the letter forms of the first name should not be used for determining the identity of the national script. This is because a comparison of cursive handwriting of many national scripts reveals that a number of the letter forms are quite universal. In particular, the letters yod, waw, bet, resh, ayin and shin are often written as straight or slightly curved lines, without the serifs or hooks that are typical of lapidary or pen-and-ink traditions.

As a methodological principle, one must identify those letter forms which are distinctive in order to assign a national script, and in this case, where charcoal was used, especially those letters where the writer spent the extra effort to add shading to the strokes. At the end of the day, it would have been far better for Bagatti and Milik to have started by reading from the end of the inscription. It is in the last letters of this inscription that the national script can be identified and the reading of the patronym can be ascertained.

Beginning with the last letter, this is apparently the most significant letter for identifying the national script of this ossuary inscription. The precursor of this form of alef can be found in the script known as "Seleucid Aramaic" script (cf. J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography. Jerusalem, Magness Press, (1982), pp. 147-151; "An Aramaic Inscription from El-Mal – A Survival of the 'Seleucid Aramaic' Script", Israel Exploration Journal 25 (1975), pp. 117-123).

At least one other inscription written in this script has been discovered in Jerusalem. The most important witness was found on the sarcophagus of Queen Helene of Adiabene: reading "Sadan the Queen."


Queen Helene of Adiabene's tomb in Jerusalem and the sarcophagus with her inscription.

sadan-inscription-pirenne.jpg sadan-inscription-naveh.jpg

Queen Sadan's (Helene's) inscription according to J. Pirenne and J. Naveh.

The inscription, which was drawn at least twice, reads: "SDN MLKTA." This inscription shares several letters in common with the Simon ossuary from Dominus Flevit (DF 11), including alef, mem, nun, and dalet/resh. In the drawings of both Pirrene and Naveh, the final letter, the alef, is strikingly parallel to the alef in the Dominus Flevit ossuary. The mem does bear some resemblance to that of the Dominus Flevit exemplar, but the left stroke pierces through the top of the right stroke. Dalet in the Syriac family of scripts is normally identical to resh. That being the case, the form of the dalet of the Sadan inscription is quite similar to that of the resh of the Dominus Flevit inscription. The final nun resembles that of DF 11, in that its tail curves or tilts backward under the word, as is typical of the Seleucid family of scripts, including Syriac and Palmyrene. The main difference between the two drawings has to do with the reading of the lamed ("L", the second letter in the second word). The lamed is a diagonal line (potentially ending with a curve leftward - Pirenne).

Other examples from the Seleucid script family also provide valid parallels, as do examples from the Nabatean and Jewish national scripts. In the following table, the three script families: Syriac, Seleucid and Nabatean, are separated by double lines, respectively. The letters from DF 11 are included with the Seleucid script


Bagatti's reading of YONAH in DF 11 was problematic for a number of reasons. If the word were truly YONAH, the short stroke of the yod should be followed by the long stroke of the waw. However, the reverse is actually the case on this ossuary; the longer stroke is first and the shorter stroke is second.

When we compare the letters to the exemplars from the Seleucid family of scripts above, a new reading emerges that is not beset by problems. The first letter of the patronym has a shaded head and form similar to the zayin of other exemplars from this script family. The second letter is clearly a yod, and is too short to be read as a waw. The third letter of the patronym appears closest to the lamed of the Seleucid Aramaic script and does not resemble the nun of the local Jewish Aramaic script nor of any other contemporary script. And the final letter, as noted above, is actually alef.


The cursive Seleucid Aramaic alphabet of this inscription; The new reading of the inscription: "SHIMON BARZILLA[I]".

The patronym, based on Seleucid Aramaic script, should then be read as "ZYLA" and the full inscription as "SHM‘WN BR ZYLA," "Shimon Bar Zilla." Photos indicate some surface erosion exists to the left of the alef, which may allow for another letter, for example a yod, which would yield the reading SHM'WN BR ZYLA[I], that is, "Simon Barzilla(i)". Milik's suggested reading "Shimon bar Zinah" is closest to our reading. However, he neglected to note the Seleucid Aramaic alef and the lamed.

This new reading does, of course, exclude "Simon Bar Jonah" from the options and returns the discussion of the potential location of Simon Peter's bones back to their traditional place, Rome.

Next, we will address the next obvious question: "Who was Simon Bar Zilla/Barzillai?"

The Monogram Tomb

Posted by admin on May 31, 2007

The Monogram Tomb (loci 65-80) received its name from a sign that was found on a fragment of a broken ossuary.


Dominus Flevit, Photo 75; p. 65, Fig. 17:1

Fr. Bagatti calls this symbol "monogramma costantiniano" which draws from the insignia which Constantine followed into battle and victory, after having seen a vision of it in the heavens. This symbol is also known as the "Christogram," since the monogram is composed of the first two letters of the Greek word "XPISTOS" (that is, "Christos" or Christ), the letters CHI RHO (XP). However, the actual origin and significance of this symbol before its adoption by Constantine as a Christian symbol has been questioned. Monograms of this type, usually considered engraver's marks, have been found in such pre-Christian contexts such as the coins of Herod the Great. (The date is to the left of the central image and the engraver's mark is to the right, following the practice of Seleucid coins and the Tyrian shekels which were currently in use at the temple).




The discovery of this sign, along with the inscribed ossuary which was then read "Simon bar Yonah," led Bagatti to believe that this tomb belonged to a Judeo-Christian cemetery. In addition, there were ossuaries in this tomb inscribed (primarily in Hebrew) with the names "Shimon", "Ishmael", "Martha and Mariam/Maria", "Salome and her son", "Philo of Cyrene" (in Greek), "Yehoni the artisan", "Judah the proselyte" (in Greek) and "Shappira" (Sapphira), "Mariam", and "Qimi, Yehonatan".

Besides the "monogramma costantiniano", other symbols were found on the ossuaries, including an "X" (ossuary no. 6), a serpentine line (no. 9), another "X" and a cross (no. 12) among others, which, more often than not, prove to be lid alignment marks. Alignment marks may often be the insignia or monogram of the engraver or stone mason. However, oftentimes these marks may simply be unique creations, intended both to properly link lids to their specific ossuaries within the workshop and, at the same time, to indicate lid direction. Other examples of such marks, including common, crude signs, like the "X," were simply intended to indicate lid direction. (In the case that the direction of the lid was not obvious, lid direction marks were added in order that the hand carved lids would be placed in the intended direction during the second burial interment ceremony. Otherwise the lid could dislodge and fall upon and crush the bones inside the ossuary.)



Lid alignment marks in Dominus Flevit, p. 54, Fig. 16.

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 Dominus Flevit Tombs


Locations of the Dominus Flevit and Talpiot tombs with respect to the traditional tomb of Jesus.



Vista from Dominus Flevit toward the Temple Mount (Dome of the Rock today)


The Dominus Flevit Tomb Complex was discovered and excavated in the early 1950's by Bellarmino Bagatti. The 6 dunam complex, the largest of its type, contained both late Second Temple period tombs of the loculi type, as well as third and fourth century tombs of the arcosolium and pit type.



Dominus Flevit Tomb Complex

The loculi type tombs which covered, in particular, the north and southeast sections of the excavated area, generally consisted of one or two chambers, with a sunken floor, surrounded by loculi cut into the walls. More often than not, there is also a small chamber in each tomb expressly cut for holding ossuaries.


Inscribed and decorated ossuaries from the north and southeast tomb complexes

Seven hard limestone sarcophagi were found among the caves. These were often elaborately decorated with rosettes, wreaths and floral patterns. There was also a total of 122 ossuaries, often with the normal double rosette design, found in the various tombs of this complex. 43 of the ossuaries were inscribed with names.


The southeast tomb complex which includes the Monogram Tomb loci 65-80 (in the lower right)

Bagatti ascribed names to the various tombs according to significant items which were found within. The tomb with the ossuary inscribed "Simon bar ...." was named after another ossuary with the XP monogram (also called "Christogram) inscribed on it in charcoal. In fact most inscribed ossuaries in this tomb were inscribed with charcoal, including the ossuary in question.


The Monogram Tomb

(loci 65-80)

The "Simon bar ..." ossuary was found in a chamber (loc. 79) in the Monogram Tomb which was created to be a repository for ossuaries.



Partial Ossuary with the "Simon Bar . . . ." inscription

Last Friday we returned to the Museum of the Flagellation where this and other important inscribed ossuaries from the tomb complex were on display.


The "Simon Bar . . . ." inscription as it looks today.

Does this read "Simon bar Jonah" as the filmmakers of "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" assert?

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Part 3

Posted by admin on May 28, 2007

The New Testament and its Marys

Formal and Familiar Personal Names

From the previous survey one can infer that Mariam and Maria were often interchangeable, as Dominus Flevit ossuary DF 7 suggests, and that the Marys of the New Testament were comfortably referred to as both MARIA and MARIAM (as the list below indicates). This is common when an individual will be called their formal name (e.g., "Mariam") in one context or by one person, but will be called the familiar name (e.g., "Maria") in another context or by another person.

Although we must not bridge history naïvely by making broad comparisons too casually, there are still some intuitive aspects of social etiquette that appear to be timeless. Although nuances of etiquette and protocol change temporally and regionally, in today's world the general rules concerning formal and familiar address still persist. An individual may struggle to know whether they know a person well enough to address them by their familiar name. They may change their usage from familiar to formal in a more formal setting when they are making introductions. When they are writing, they may use the familiar name in a private letter, but might use the formal name in a contract or when writing a history. Commonly, the social level of the individual forbids them from addressing those from a higher status in the familiar mode or may forbid them from addressing them at all.

Evidently these social rules and sensitivities already applied during the first century with current rules of etiquette, and their various nuances, being applied in writing, in court, in gatherings, in birth and in death. The varying standards of handwriting, of naming and of social structure found in the literature and in the tombs illustrates the complexity of putting these rules into practice, if they are being applied at all.

In the New Testament these rules also apply. In making the following assessment, we must do so realizing that literary and textual issues may come into play that are not not being dealt with here. In each source gospel, the appearances of Mary Magdalene are too few to make sweeping generalizations. However, the following is presented as a general set of observations which might prove to be helpful.

In Mark's gospel, Mark feels quite comfortable to call everyone by their familiar name, whether it is "Maria" the mother of Jesus, "Maria" Magdalene, or "Jose" the brother of Jesus. This may be because the author knew them personally within the context of the Jerusalem church community.

In Matthew's gospel, the writer appears, in general, to be more comfortable using the familiar name for Jesus' mother but both formal and informal names are used for Mary Magdalene (Mariam 2x and Maria 1x). He also calls Jesus' brother by the more formal name "Joseph" (as opposed to the "Jose" found in Mark's Gospel).

Luke uses the formal name "Mariam" for the mother of Jesus almost exclusively in the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. If Luke might have known her, or even interviewed her, as the introduction to the Gospel and Acts may imply, she would have been well advanced in years, conveying a respect he felt was due to her. If she had died by then, the less familiar tone would also seem appropriate. The two times that Mary Magdalene is mentioned the name "Maria" is used, perhaps reflecting a certain familiarity with her.

John's Gospel is unique in that the author circumvents the usage of any form of the name "Mary" for the mother of Jesus at all times. Instead he uses the term "mother of Jesus" or "his mother". Placing issues of the identity of the Gospel writer aside for the moment, if the beloved disciple has been adopted by Mary through Jesus' agency (John 19:25-27) then it would only seem appropriate that the writer would not use either personal name for his mother.

In John's Gospel, Mary Magdalene is only mentioned in the context of the crucifixion and resurrection accounts (John 19:25; 20:1, 11, 16, 18). In the first three occurrences the familiar "Maria" was used. However, the change to the formal "Mariam" in John 20:16 might be significant. It is there that she realizes that she is looking upon the resurrected Jesus for the first time as Jesus himself addresses her as “Mariam.” The passage reads: "She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher)." As if a symbol of her transformation, both in character and in status as the first disciple to see the risen Lord, the formal form "Mariam" continues to be used as "Mary (Mariam) Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'; and she told them that he had said these things to her" (John 20:18).

One Mary was highly acclaimed as the one who bore and gave birth to the the Messiah.

Another Mary was highly acclaimed in that she was the first to see the risen Messiah and the first to do and proclaim his first words after his resurrection.

Many have been given this name and it still remains a common name today.

"Oh, it's a jolly holiday

With Mary

Mary makes your 'eart so light

When the day is gray

And ordinary

Mary makes the sun shine bright!

Oh 'appiness is bloomin'

All around 'er

The daffoldils are smilin'

At the dove

When Mary 'olds your 'and

You feel so grand

Your 'eart starts beatin'

Like a big brass band

Oh, it's a jolly holiday with Mary

No wonder that it's Mary that we love!"

From Mary Poppins, sung by Bert.

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Part 2

Posted by admin on May 28, 2007

The Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries (CJO) lists three ossuaries with the name MRYH inscribed on them (CJO 152, 706, 796). Dominus Flevit lists two ossuaries with the same name (DF Nos. 7 and 34).

CJO 152:




Final mem is used here as the first letter of the name. This is not an isolated error among the inscribed ossuaries. The practice of using a final form at the beginning of a personal name may be similar to the way that, in Greek and Latin minuscule writing, names are often captitalized (as is also the practice in modern European languages). (See also CJO 428 and 502.)

CJO 796: 


Here, the name "Mary" is inscribed three times on the same ossuary, all three times as "MRYH," and all referring to a single individual.




'MARTHA AND MARIA." Again, the name "Mary" is listed three times on the same ossuary, once as "MRYH" and twice as "MRYM" (as noted yesterday in Part 1 of this series).








This ossuary is noteworthy for several reasons. First of all, we can see that the inscription actually reads "MRYH SHM'WN", not "QRYH". The transcription in CJO is in error; there the final mem used as the first letter of MRYH has been misread as qof. Note the similarity with CJO 706 (above), where the initial "M" is the same form as that used here. Secondly, the second name "Shim'on" has actually been deliberately scratched out. The last letter in this name (which is clearly "Shim'on") provides a clear parallel to the final nun on CJO 243, the ossuary of MRYN, discussed yesterday.

CJO 414:


At first glance, the reading "QRYH" is seemingly feasible. However, a closer examination of the inscribed ossuaries indicates that the more likely reading is "MRYH". A comparison of the first letter of the name with the unquestioned mem of "Shim'on" in the previous inscription (CJO 428), establishes the case for "Maria".

CJO 31:



As mentioned in the previous posting (see above), the name here is preferably to be read "MRYH."

A summary census. Thus far in this posting and the previous one, we have surveyed all the occurrences of the names MRYH (Maria) and MRYM (Mariam/Miriam) in two published collections, that of the Israel Antiquities Authority (CJO) and that of Dominus Flevit (DF). We have noted all occurrences of the names listed in the catalogues, reviewed each one, and made corrections, in some cases eliminating an ossuary reading and in others adding a previously unrecognized Mary or Mariam. This is not a complete census of named ossuaries, both published and unpublished, but represents a credible sampling of the existence of these two names, based upon the largest published collections, CJO and Dominus Flevit.

The present count of the names among the inscribed, catalogued ossuaries is MRYH 10x; MRYM 8x. If one takes into account only the census of ossuaries with one identified person per ossuary (CJO 796 and DF 7 each contain only one individual whose name is written 3 times), then the actual count would be MRYH 7x; MRYM 6x; mixed MRYH/MRYM 1x.

Along with the Greek and Latin forms of these names, whether MRYH, MRYM, MRYN, MRYWN, etc., "Mary" was one of the most popular, if not the most popular, name given to a daughter during the Second Temple Period. In this survey of the ossuaries, it is noteworthy that MRYH "Maria" has a slight edge over the use of MRYM "Mariam/Miriam", a preference that is similarly reflected in the literature of the period. And if this survey illustrates anything, it is that the writing of Maria/MRYH in Hebrew was anything but rare.

MARIA (27x) and MARIAM (27x) in the New Testament!

At surface glance, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene were called by both names in the New Testament. However, on closer examination, it emerges that the individual authors preferred to use one name over the other.

For Mary the mother of Jesus:

Matthew prefers MARIA (4x, infancy narrative) to MARIAM (1x, as called by the townspeople of Nazareth).

Luke prefers MARIAM (11x) to MARIA (1x; all occurrences in the infancy narrative).

Acts uses MARIAM for Jesus' mother (1x).

Mark uses MARIA for Mary the mother of Jesus (1x).

John intentionally avoids her name (cf. John 2:1, 3, 5; 19:25-27).

For Mary Magdalene:

Mark uses only MARIA (4x).

Matthew uses MARIAM (2x) and MARIA (1x).

Luke uses MARIA (2x).

John uses MARIA (3x) and MARIAM (2x).

For other Marys:

Matthew uses MARIA 2x for Mary of James and Joseph and 1x for the "other Mary" at the tomb.

Mark uses MARIA 3x for Mary, the mother of James, Joses and Salome. (In fact, Mark uses MARIA exclusively for all Marys.)

Luke uses MARIA 1x for Mary of James. Luke uses MARIAM 2x for Mary of Mary and Martha.

John uses MARIAM 8x and MARIA 1x for Mary of Mary and Martha. John uses MARIA 1x for Mary of Clopas.

Acts uses MARIA 1x for the mother of John Mark.

Paul uses MARIA 1x for a Mary of the Church at Rome.

What does this data tell us? Most importantly that, in stark contrast to the claims of the producers and writers of the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" and the "Jesus Family Tomb", Mary the mother of Jesus is most commonly known as "Mariam" in the New Testament, and Mary Magdalene is most commonly known as "Maria". This would lead one to expect that should their tombs be found and verified one day, they would be inscribed accordingly (i.e., that of Mary the mother of Jesus as "Mariam" and that of Mary Magdalene as "Maria"--the opposite of the ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb). Or perhaps one would even find both forms of the name, as in the case of Dominus Flevit ossuary inscription number 7!

". . . Maria!

Say it loud and there's music playing,

Say it soft and it's almost like praying.

Maria! I'll never stop saying Maria!

The most beautiful sound I ever heard Maria..."

From West Side Story

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"How do you solve a problem like Maria?"

Posted by admin on May 26, 2007

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

How do you find a word that means Maria?

A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her

Many a thing she ought to understand

But how do you make her stay

And listen to all you say

How do you keep a wave upon the sand

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?

How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

(From the Sound of Music)

Much has been made of two women named "Maria/Mariam" in the Talpiot tomb, whose names are preserved on the two ossuaries: CJO 701 (where Rahmani read Greek "Mariamene"), and CJO 706 (where he read Hebrew "Maria"). In each case, the identity of the named individual was put forth as absolutely essential for understanding the relationship between the tomb's contents and the family of Jesus of Nazareth.

1) The central importance of the name Mariamne (understood as "Mary Magdalene") for the producers of the film and book is indicated in the following quotes:

The Jesus Family Tomb book: “the key to the whole story”

Jacobovici writes,

"But other than the Jesus, son of Joseph ossuary, to use Feuerverger's term, the most 'surprising' of all the ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb is the one inscribed '[the ossuary] of Mariamne also known as Mara.' From the beginning, we focused on this particular ossuary because it seemed to be the key to the whole story. Everything depended on this unique artifact." (Page 204)

"Lost Tomb of Jesus" Documentary

"By the end, his [Feuerverger's] model concludes that there’s only one chance in 600 that the Talpiot tomb is NOT the Jesus family tomb, if Mariamne can be linked to Mary Magdalene."

Premiere press conference

Simcha Jacobovici:

"I’ll just add that the reason that the scientists involved went for DNA tests of these two, partially because Mariamne was kind of the linchpin of the cluster, but partially because it seemed that it was most easy to get DNA from this particular – there’s more stuff at the bottom of the ossuaries than in others."

James Cameron:

"...according to certain Christian texts, of the early Christian texts such as the Acts of Phillip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Mariamne is the name of Mary Magdalene. So that’s the missing piece, that’s the Ringo, and that’s what set this whole investigation in motion."

Discovery Channel website: "The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Simcha Interview, Part 4 -The director tells how the critical turning point in the investigation came with the discovery of the 'second' Mary."


"The thing that was used to dismiss the tomb [the presence of Mariamne] was the thing that at the very end of the day would prove that - or make the argument that - this tomb may indeed be the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth."

Jesus Family Tomb website: "Probability"

"The minute that I realized that the second Mary, Mariamne, is Mary Magdalene - that's Mary Magdalene's real name - I said, 'We've got something significant here..."

Ringo illustration:

"....What if they didn't know that Ringo's real name was Richard Starkey, and Ringo was his nickname? In a sense, statistically speaking, Mariamne, the second Mary in our tomb is 'Ringo'.....What if I connect the dots? And that's how the investigation began, because at least at that point, the evidence was compelling enough to go to statisticians, to go to DNA experts, to go to patina experts."

2) The central importance of the name Mariah, understood as "Mary (the mother of Jesus)", for the producers of the film.

Until now, we have not dealt much with the Hebrew name "MARIAH" found on ossuary CJO 706. However, the filmmakers made much of the name's "rarity" among the ossuaries. They explained the name as a Latinized form of the Hebrew name MARIAM, written in Hebrew letters.

Quotes from the film "The Lost Tomb of Jesus":

Narrator: "Maria. Mary. Found in the same family tomb as 'Jesus, son of Joseph'. Could this be the 'Virgin Mary’s' ossuary?"

(Mary's name and face is made to glow from within the ossuary.)

"Throughout history, from the first Greek writings of Mark, the earliest Gospel, the 'Virgin Mary’s' name has come down to us in only one form, 'Maria'. It is a Latinized version of the Hebrew, 'Miriam'.

"After Jesus’ death, Mary continued with his teachings and must have gathered a large following. In those times of religious transition, Roman converts also began to follow Jesus, and so as her popularity grew amongst his followers Mary’s name was Latinized. That’s why the New Testament records her name as 'Maria'. Written in Hebrew, the name 'Maria' is very rare, but it’s exactly what was found on the ossuary in the Talpiot tomb.

"If in 1980 archaeologists had considered - even for a moment - that they had discovered the ossuary of the Virgin Mary, what other family members might they have expected to find next to her?"


So, just how much of a problem is Maria? The production team asserted that the two Mary's are critical pieces of evidence for their hypothesis. In response, a clear and and thorough analysis of the two ossuary inscriptions must be made to evaluate their claims.

1. CJO 701. We have treated the Greek MARIAME KAI MARA inscription in much detail over the past two months. We found that the names Mariamne (CJO 108) and Mariamene (CJO 701), as suggested by Rahmani, do not actually exist on those ossuaries. In both cases the inscriptions had been misread in the Catalogue, and in both cases MARIAME (the most common form of the name Mary among the ossuaries), should be read instead. See the article published on this website.

2. CJO 706. The filmmaker's assert that name Maria is rare. How true is this statement? One has only to read through the CJO and Dominus Flevit publications to establish a database of the use of the name Maria among the ossuaries. Had the filmmakers taken the time to do so, they would have found that the "MARIAH" written in Hebrew is actually quite common among the ossuaries, and is, in fact, preferred to "MIRIAM."

The index to CJO presents 6 ossuaries inscribed with the name "MRYM" (Miriam/Mariam) in Hebrew script: CJO 31, 243, 351, 502, 559, 821. The name is preserved on 1 ossuary at Dominus Flevit (No. 7). The index to CJO presents 3 ossuaries inscribed with the name "MRYH" (Mariah) in Hebrew: CJO 152, 706, 796. Dominus Flevit lists 2 ossuaries with this name (Nos. 7, 34). Therefore, an initial survey indicates the combined totals of CJO and Dominus Flevit as: 7 ossuaries with "MRYM" and 5 ossuaries with "MRYH." However, this figure is incomplete for two reasons. First of all, the inscriptions on Dominus Flevit No. 7 refer to an individual woman who is called both Mariam and Maria. She is known by both forms of the name, which has been inscribed 3 times on the ossuary (twice as Mariam; once as Maria). Secondly, a close reading of all the inscribed ossuaries recorded in the CJO catalogue reveals a number of inaccuracies in the original readings, with the result that the census is actually reversed. Let's survey the names provided by these sources.

MRYH (in Rahmani, The Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the State of Israel Collection):

CJO 31:


This was transcribed MARIAM by Rahmani. However, the final letter of the word on the right is a poorly written cursive he which is found elsewhere among the inscriptions (cf. CJO 353 "Hananiah", CJO 801 "Yeho'ezar"; and Dominus Flevit Fig. 19 for several examples). The distinctive upper stroke of the letter rising above the ceiling line is characteristic of heh in this period, and is not found on the letter mem. Thus, it is far more likely that the inscription should be read "Mariah Yohana" rather than "Mariam Yohana".

CJO 243:


The name should clearly be transcribed MRYN (as in the Latin CJO 497 MARION; and, in Hebrew, papMur 10A and Murabba'at ostracon MRYWN; cf. T. Ilan, p. 295) and not MRYM as trancribed by Rahmani. The last letter is a final nun, not a mem. The circle at the top of the letter is a hollow serif. (Cf. CJO 57 "Yohanan," 293 "Alon," and 428 "Shimeon," for similar final nuns, correctly read.)

CJO 351:



CJO 502: 



CJO 559:



CJO 821:




Thus, of the 6 suggested readings of "MRYM" (Mariam/Miriam), 1 is actually "MRYH" (Maria) and 1 is actually "MRYN" (Marion), leaving us with 4 certain "MRYM"s in the index.

On the other hand, there are actually additional ossuaries in CJO which are inscribed with the name "MARIAM" that were mislabeled by Rahmani! The following ossuaries were mistakenly read "MARIS," instead of the more appropriate "MARYM"

CJO 820:


= MRYM! (That is, "Mariam and Shimeon, children of Shaul")

CJO 822:


= MRYM! (That is, "Awira, son of Mariam")

In both cases, Rahmani has mistakenly read final "mem" as "samech." However, samech in this period is more triangular in shape and does not have an extending line to the left, which is a characeristic of mem at this time (for samech, cf. Yardeni, Textbook of Aramaic, Hebrew and Nabataean Documentary Texts, Vol. B, p. 197; for mem, see p. 193).

In conclusion:

Two Mariam's were removed (one as Mariah and one as Marion); two were added (both previously mistakenly read as Maris). Substituting the corrected reading of these two inscriptions for the two that were already corrected leaves the count at 7. But remember, one of the disqualified ossuaries must be added to the list of MARIA ossuaries, which now total 6.

With still more evidence to come, "MARIAH" will move into a comfortable lead in tomorrow's posting, so stay tuned.