Can you find Qumran's Cave 1?

Posted by admin on February 28, 2008

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Statistics and common sense

Posted by admin on February 24, 2008

Should we throw out common sense?

During the course of the year I have heard that common sense can be deceiving with respect to probabilities and statistics. In fact, the theological advisor of the film assured many that "statistics are counterintuitive".

The best known epigraphers and archaeologists who have worked on tomb inscriptions were confidently unanimous. They all said that the names on the Talpiot ossuaries were simply too common to link these ossuaries with any known historical figure. The response of one such scholar was "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics".

A year ago, Professor Andrey Feuerverger, a mathematician from the University of Toronto, told the world at a press conference that, based upon the assumptions that were given to him, the probability that the ossuaries of the Talpiot tomb were those of Jesus and his family was a 600 to 1 likelihood.

Now, a year later, the official publication of Prof. Feuerverger's continued research on the topic has been published and is available to the world to see. It is called "Statistical Analysis of an Archaeological Find--A Bayesian View". He now says that, based upon a priori assumptions , the probability should be raised to a "1600 to 1 probability" that the ossuaries of the Talpiot tomb were those of Jesus and his family.

Several statisticians were provided with copies of Feuerverger's paper for review before its publication. The paper and the accompanying reviews are now available together on the web site of the Annals of Applied Statistics. Most of the reviewers, while offering constructive criticisms of the work, applauded the paper's insightful advancements in the application of statistics to archaeological finds. Others were less generous in their final assessment, including Camil Fuchs and Don Bentley. (A decent summary has been provided here by Christopher Heard at the site Higgaion).

One thing keeps passing the non-statisticians by almost without notice. Feuerverger and his reviewers stress that the conclusions of their work are only valid if the a priori assumptions that were provided to them were true. In other words, if the premises of the filmmakers were faulty, if the assumptions were untrue, then the statistical probabilities are also false. Don Bentley puts it quite simply: “we can only accept the conclusion if we are willing to accept the assumptions.”

Let's try some other a priori assumptions:"If the Moon were made of cheese . . . . "

"If the cow can jump over the moon . . . "

"Assuming that money can grow on trees . . ."

Assuming these things are true then the conclusion based upon these premises must be . . . . A) True or B) False.


Now how about these premises (which are actually true):

What if we found a first century tomb with names on ossuaries "Jesus(?) son of Joseph", "Joseh", and two Marys . . .

And . . .

1) add to that: the unrelated names Mara, Mattiah and Judas son of Jesus also appeared in the tomb . . .

2) Also, these names represent less than 1/4 of all of the skeletons that were once in the tomb.

3) Also, add the fact that one of every five women among all ossuaries were named "Mary" (or some form of that name, this is actually true) . . . .

4) And at the same time, almost one in every twenty people (male or female) were named "Jesus"

5) Add to that: nearly one in every ten people (male or female) were named ''Joseph"

6) Also: one in every ten tombs should statistically have another 'Jesus son of Joseph' . . . .

Assuming these things are true, this really means that the tomb Jesus of Nazareth and his family has been discovered. True or False

Unfortunately, most people listening to the statisticians believe that they are giving statistics that have a bearing on real history. However, that is not true at all. On the contrary, if we are listening to them carefully we will find that they are only speaking hypothetically. Their premises, which form the basis for their statistics, are only a priori assumptions. The statistician must reserve his judgment as to the veracity of the assumptions which others have given him. He leaves this for others who are more qualified to judge. These same statisticians admit that if they would be given other assumptions, then they would have deduced totally different statistical probabilities.

Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, after challenging the apparent positive and not the expected dispassionate view toward the a priori assumptions, goes on to conclude:

"Feuerverger was quoted as saying that 'I did permit the number one in 600 to be used in the film. I'm prepared to stand behind that but on the understanding that these numbers were calculated based on assumptions that I was asked to use', a statement far removed from the rigorous demand of a-priori assumptions. (In his webpage, Feuerverger (2007) mentions that the quotations in the interview are 'sufficiently accurate to be considered fair').

"In spite of the fact that in my opinion, the analysis of the "surprisingness" based on the configuration of names failed to yield the stated conclusions, I refrain in this article from passing judgment on the subject matter issue of whether or not this is the tombsite of the NT family.

"Furthermore, notwithstanding the reservations from the analyses applied to the discussed data, I applaud the bold initiative taken in the discussed paper to develop a new approach to tackle a problem characterized by a degree of complexity that precludes the straightforward application of the classical hypothesis framework. The general problem of rendering judgment on whether a multiple characteristics observation represents the pursued specific entity or is just the result from random draws is interesting and intriguing. Cases of disputed paternity and DNA matching come to mind in this context. Unlike the Talpiot case, in those cases a standard for comparison is available. The new approach and concepts of 'surprisingness', 'relevance' and 'rareness' may evolve and prove beneficial in cases in which no such standard exists.

"Classical methods, usually based on Bayesian analysis, are available for those cases, but their application may be difficult in complex situations. If the new approach is to be applied, its performance needs to be compared to existing methods in situations in which it is known whether the null hypothesis (or the analogous null hypothesis) is correct. I think that the features of the approach still need to be investigated theoretically or by simulations under various conditions of complexity. In any case, the assumptions have to be pre-specified to ensure valid results and a valid comparison."

In all fairness, Prof. Feuerverger himself pronounced at the symposium:

“Without Mary Magdalene, the tomb is like any other tomb with an unremarkable common set of names.”

Andrey Feuerverger, Mathematician, University of Toronto


Qumran's Library: see it for yourself.

Posted by admin on February 23, 2008

See the library as it is today and see it virtually as it was 2,000 years ago.

(Quick Time 7.2 or higher is needed to view this window)

These are QuickTime VRs from the forthcoming Educational Suite which is being developed in cooperation with UHL.

Use your cursor to gaze around the room. Use your shift and control keys to zoom in and zoom out. The red spot on the map shows where you are located at the site of Qumran.

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Fair Representation II

Posted by admin on February 23, 2008

A comment has been added to our post "Fair Representation" of yet another participant in the Jerusalem Tomb Symposium who wants to be fairly represented by speaking for himself. (Prof. McDonald earlier signed the Duke University Statement)

"I agree with the comments of Eric Meyers and most others who attended and participated in the meetings in Jerusalem. There was an array of excellent contributions that enlightened all of us on the forensic, geological, archaeological, biblical and DNA evidence related to Jewish burial traditions and the particulars of the Talpiot Tomb. Like others attending, I felt that the evidence presented at the conference could in no way be considered supportive of the film produced earlier by Simcha Jacobovici. In fact, had I been him, I would have been embarrassed at the results that challenged his film overwhelmingly. How he could say at the end of the proceedings that he felt “vindicated” is beyond me and most of those I talked to after the conference was over. Many of us thought that the news media high jacked the logical conclusion of the conference and missed the obvious point that there was no way that the anyone could demonstrate that the Talpiot Tomb was the place where Jesus was buried (secondarily after his body decomposed) or that there was evidence that he was married to Mary and that they sired a son, or even that it was the family tomb of Jesus (which logically would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem). There was no evidence at the conference to prove any of those postulations or theories.

Thanks for letting me make this statement.

–Lee Martin McDonald"

Other Symposium participants may add their own comments as they stand up to speak for themselves. These will be bound into a single publication in the near future.

The Libraries, Archives, Genizas and Hiding Places of the Judean Wilderness in the Context of the Roman World

Of the numerous manuscript collections that have been found in the Judean Desert, not one has been found in its original library or archive room, with the exception of Caves 4Q and 5Q, which likely served as genizot for the community (see below). The contents of the libraries at Kh. Qumran were evacuated, perhaps on sundry occasions, as refugees fled with the manuscripts and hid them in caves for safekeeping. Due to the quality of the scrolls left behind and the manner in which they were deposited, it is safe to assume that the original intention was to leave them hidden until a safer moment presented itself for the owners to return and retrieve the precious manuscripts. In all of the cases where scrolls have been discovered, we can likewise assume that the original owners did not consider it safe or did not survive to return for them, likely due to the calamities and harsh reality of their own times.

This begs the question of just how in-use libraries would have been kept in the Judean Desert or elsewhere in the first century. To answer this question it would be helpful to survey the available information on other sundry but parallel collections of manuscripts that existed in the contemporary Roman world.

In-use libraries versus archives or genizas

At the outset, a distinction should be made between manuscripts found in caves and manuscripts kept in buildings. The scrolls found in the caves in the cliffs do not represent functional, working libraries. Rather, they held the contents of various libraries or archives that had been hidden, most likely to protect them from the threat of theft or destruction. In antiquity, as today, functional or ‘in-use’ libraries were generally stored on shelves in special rooms within a building, as the following survey indicates.

In-use manuscript collections


Public libraries. The most famous were the Brucheion Library (Alexandria), Hadrian’s Library (Athens), the Celsus Library (Ephesus), the library of Attalus I (Pergamon), and Augustus’ library on the Palatine Hill (Rome; which was enlarged by Tiberius and Caligula). Among its numerous holdings, Vespasian’s library in Rome, established in 76 CE, contained many volumes taken as booty from Jerusalem’s main library, including Hebrew Torah scrolls.

Institutional libraries. Galen’s Medical Library at Pergamon’s Asclepion. The hieratic library at Delphi.

Personal libraries. These represent personal collections, which range from a few scrolls to collections, in certain cases, of enormous size. The library of L. Calpurnius Piso (Julius Caesar’s father-in-law) at Herculaneum contained at least 1800 volumes. Certain personal libraries later became institutional (e.g., Galen’s Library) or public. The greatest library of Rome, built by Trajan in 114 CE, was based upon the personal library of a certain Epaphroditus of Cherlones.

Although no functional libraries were found in situ in the Judean wilderness, the actual contents of such libraries ostensibly were found in caves 1Q, 2Q, 3Q, 6Q, 11Q and Masada. Since their contents represent the collections of specific sects or interest groups, these apparently contain the remnants of institutional libraries. Caves 4Q and 5Q apparently hold the worn remains of a much larger and diverse institutional library.


Scroll and book storage

Public and institutional libraries normally stored the scrolls in tall wall niches, as at Celsus’s library in Ephesus, at Nessana in the Negev and apparently at Qumran. Scrolls would be labeled by either a tag fixed to the exposed end or by the title written on the outer sheet of the scroll toward one end.




Niches of Nessana Library (Photo S. Pfann)

Personal libraries were also often kept in wall niches, as in the Library of Lucullus (after 66 BCE) in Rome, Herod’s Library at Masada, but also in more diverse ways such as in wooden boxes at Herculaneum.


Niches of Herod’s Library in the Northern Palace of Masada (Masada III, Ill. 238)



Masada library niches (according to Y. Hirschfeld; Illustration: D. Porotsky)


Qumran loc. 1, niches in wall


Reconstruction of Qumran’s Library (illustration S. Pfann, Jr.)


Bibliography on Ancient Libraries:

Lionel Casson, Libraries of the Ancient World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001).

Y. Hirschfeld, “The Library of King Herod in the Northern Palace of Masada,” Scripta Classica Israelica 23 (2004), 69-80.

Elmer D. Johnson and Michael H. Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1976).

James W. Thompson, Ancient Libraries (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1940).

For a thorough Bibliography on Ancient Libraries click here




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Welcome back, Jim!

Posted by admin on February 21, 2008

From Jim West this afternoon:


as most of you know my blog was hacked and deleted.  i had decided to just drop it and instead i've gotten such a deluge of email that i feel compelled by the pressure to try again.  . . . "

Visit Dr. Jim West at his new address: Dr JimWest

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Dr. Jim West, be resurrected!

Posted by shoshiepfann on February 21, 2008

Typical Jim West:


Dr. Jim West's Web log has been hacked and deleted through an unconscionable action of a party as yet unknown.

To Jim West from View from Jerusalem:

Yikes, what an awful event. We hope your web material is recoverable!

There are some internet spiders out there (including Google?) that have undoubtedly kept a copy of our web sites. So fortunately there is real hope of being resurrected, even if only virtually.

There is some honor in this (although this is such a nuisance and a sense of being invaded by the enemy)!

This makes you the First Martyr of the biblioblogosphere!

If there is anything we can do to help let us know.

If you would like to send a message in the meantime, we would be happy to post it on The View from Jerusalem.

Thanks to your experience, we just backed up our web site and web log an hour ago.

Know that our prayers are with you (and not just virtually).

From the Staff of The View from Jerusalem

Don't Fight, You're Both Right!

Posted by shoshiepfann on February 20, 2008

That also means, "Get along, you're both wrong!"

A new article has been published on the UHL web site which reassesses the sources of the manuscripts found in the Judean Desert Caves and Masada. This reassessment includes taking a new look at the caves in the light of discoveries and scientific work on the caves and site of Qumran that have been recently published.

The long standing "consensus view" concerning the scrolls of Qumran caves has been challenged strongly recently by such scholars as Norman Golb, Lena Cansdale, and the late Yizhar Hirschfeld. They have some legitimate questions for the consensus view that considers the scrolls from the caves as the being the property of Essenes which they further assert lived at Qumran.

Has anyone ever considered that both are right? (If so, both are also at least in part wrong.)

Remembering that DeVaux recognized at least 8 phases of occupation at Qumran, read this recently published reassessment of the question and see what you think.

Reassessing the Qumran Caves



"What good thing can come out of Nazareth?" (updated)

Posted by shoshiepfann on February 16, 2008

Last century's excavations of Nazareth by the Franciscans led to a rather remarkable reconstructed picture of the domiciles and government of this New Testament town. After having uncovered a little more than an acre of rocky surface with little or no evidence for walls, Bagatti and his team probed the numerous holes in the surface to find scores of intact storage caves, cisterns, silos and installations. With nothing more to build upon, the domiciles of this Galilean village appeared to be caves in a rocky hill, which could have housed only a few hundred inhabitants.

Recent excavations and surveys within the immediate surroundings of ancient Nazareth, have uncovered realia left behind by the inhabitants of the original town. These remnants can help us to better understand and define its physical structure and social character.

In an area just 500 meters away from the remains of the ancient town and present Basilica, the staff of the University of the Holy Land surveyed and excavated a farm and stone quarries associated with the town's construction and the livelihood of its inhabitants.


The quarries, dating to the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods, bear witness to the stone-built buildings which were constructed in the nearby town. The dimensions of the stones match those found in other Galilean towns and cities. The stony slopes were quarried, yielding squared stones to build homes in the town and leveled depressions on the ground to hold the terraces.

Quarried rock slope and renewed terraces:


Quarried stones, prepared for removal, still in situ:



The sophisticated complex of irrigated and non-irrigated terrace farms with tailor-made terraces, watchtowers, wine presses and olive presses, bears witness to a successful agrarian economy. Here are the remains of the central tower and terrace walls of area B:


Remains from the first centuries BC and AD were found including pottery, watch towers, agricultural terraces and a wine press. Advanced methods of viticulture and agriculture was practiced at the farm as has been revealed by excavations of the early terrace systems. An ancient terraced road was also found cutting though the farm connecting ancient Nazareth with nearby Sepphoris and Jaffia. Coins from this period were also unearthed in other excavations in the vicinity of the town's spring. Little doubt can now persist that the Nazareth of the Second Temple Period, Jesus and his fellow townspeople, was a bustling Galilean town.

If so, why has the evidence for first century Nazareth been brought into question? First of all, first century pottery and lamps were in fact found by Bagatti during the excavation of the infrastructure of the town, its cisterns, silos and storage caves (with lids still fitted to the openings on the horizontal rock surfaces). In fact, a sizable wall belonging to a public building, dated by him to the first century, was discovered under the Byzantine Church. All of this was published in the original report.

The problem comes when one paints the picture, as has been done, of a town of two hundred and fifty inhabitants who lived in the caves of a rocky hill (bringing into question the feasablity of the synagogue of the Gospel story). Why is the evidences for walled houses and buildings virtually lacking from the earlier excavations if recent excavations have revealed first century quarries which provided cut stones for building the town? The answer lies in the construction of the Byzantine Church. The ruins of Roman period Nazareth were the most available source of stone for building the Byzantine Church. After the stones were robbed out from the ruins, all that was left behind was one of the best preserved set of basement systems found in the Galilee. For the evidence in Nazareth itself see this powerpoint.

The official final publication of these excavations has just appeared recently in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society vol. 25 (2007) pp. 19-79: S. Pfann, R. Voss, Y. Rapuano, "Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report". The summary of the ceramic finds from this rather lengthy article has been provided by Antonio Lombatti here.

For more about the Nazareth Village Project follow the links in the UHL web site beginning here.

More Online Courses this Spring

Posted by admin on February 12, 2008

1083-OL - Historical Geography of the Land of the Bible: Second Temple Period and New Testament

Credits - 3

This course surveys the historical and cultural geography of eight distinct regions of the Holy Land during antiquity. Issues in historical geography, natural history, archaeology, ancient texts, and anthropological models are explored. This course continues the work of the fall semester bringing the student into the Second Temple Period and the New Testament era. The Student Map Manual (R. Cleave) will be utilized, in conjunction with the University of the Holy Land’s unique guidebook.

Instructor: D. Liid, M.A.




1091-OL - The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Societies that Produced Them

Credits - 3

This course will focus on the interrelationship of the scrolls with the literature and the history of the centuries leading up to the First Jewish Revolt. The contents of the scroll collections from the Judean wilderness will be utilized to help reveal the rationale and ideologies of the persons or groups who left them in the caves. Thus, the individual collections of manuscripts will warrant close examination to learn what unites them, and more importantly, to discern distinctions among them. As a result, a clearer picture of Jewish sectarian activity in the Judean wilderness at the close of the Second Temple Period will emerge.

Instructor: S. Pfann, Ph.D.

(For more on our ONLINE and SUMMER COURSES)

Online Courses Starting March 10th

Posted by admin on February 12, 2008

1019-OL - The Anthropology of Pilgrimage

Credits - 3

This is an advanced level graduate course. It is designed to familiarize students online to contemporary anthropological theory with a specific focus upon the study of pilgrimage. In addition to researching Jewish, Christian, and Islamic pilgrimage in ancient, medieval, and contemporary historical contexts, students will be expected to become familiar with the work of contemporary scholars working on pilgrimage such as Victor and Edith Turner, Carol Delaney, John Eade, and Yoram Bilu. Students will examine various notions of sacred space and movement. Emphasis will be placed not only on the experience of pilgrims but on pilgrimage management and the contestation of sacred sites. While pilgrimage to Lourdes, Mecca, and other religious sites around the world will be discussed, prominence will be given to specific sites of pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

Instructor: C. Hutt, Ph.D.



1028-OL - Religion and Public Life

Credits - 3

This is a graduate level survey course. It is designed to familiarize students online with recent developments in religion and political theory. Of particular interest will be the role played by religion in the public square, in Western secular societies as well as in the Near East. Attention will be given to two main forms of secular liberalism - namely, the natural human rights liberalism developed by David Little and the political liberalism of John Rawls. The work of Martha Nussbaum will also be addressed. Challenges to the secular liberal political traditions will be presented, such as is found in the work of Nicholas Wolterstorff and Jeffrey Stout. The class will end with an examination of Roxanne Euben's recently published text on religion and comparative political theory, Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism.

Instructor: C. Hutt, Ph.D.



1056-OL - Topics in Comparative Ethics: Historians and Believers

Credits - 3

This is an advanced online graduate course on the ethics of historical belief. It focuses on the relationship between historians and believers, as well as that between the historians of competing religious traditions. Students will be encouraged to wrestle with the following questions: What does it mean to find or discover the past? To what extent is what counts as the past created or manufactured by narrativists in the present? What makes a belief about the past justified? Amongst the scholars we will turn to when answering these questions are Leopold von Ranke, Hayden White, R.G. Collingwood, Van Harvey, and John Dewey. Particular attention will be paid to problems generated the work of nineteenth century critical historians like David Strauss and Albert Schweitzer on early Christianity.

Instructor: C. Hutt, Ph.D.




(For more on our ONLINE and SUMMER COURSES)  

The Varied Faces, Names and Shades of Color of the Josephs of History. (Just to name a few)


Throughout the history of Israel and the Jewish people there have been many Josephs, starting with Joseph the son of Jacob. Each one was the namesake of the first. However, the name Joseph took on several forms.

Joseph, son of Jacob

Throughout the Hebrew Bible the name "Joseph" is spelled "YWSF" in the original language (with a single exception, below). Apparently, YWSF is short for the name YEHOSEF "(God) will cause increase" .

In Psalm 81:6 the same individual, Joseph the son of Jacob, is called YHWSF in the Hebrew.

"He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a voice I had not known."

In this one place, the name Joseph is awarded the full spelling. In all other places in the Biblical narrative, he is called by the shortened form YWSF.

Apparently an even shorter form of Yehosef was in use at a later period: "Yoseh" (or the later form "Yosey").

In the superior Kaufmann manuscripts of the Mishnah this shortened form YWSH "Yoseh" occurs 357 times and YWSY "Yosey" only 62 times.

In the Eshkol edition of the Mishnah YWSY "Yosey" is found 429 times; (YWSH "Yoseh" does not occur at all.)

In both sources the name YWSF "Yosef" occurs only 11 times en toto (not all the same references, however).

In both sources the form YHWSF "Yehosef", which predominates in the ossuaries, does not occur at all.


Yoseh ben Yoezer and Yoseh ben Yohanan, the first of the Zugot "Pairs" (from c. 174 BCE)

In the Kaufmann manuscript: YWSH BN YW‘ZR "Yoseh ben Yoezer" occurs 6 times (Hagig. 2:2, 6:7; Eduy. 8:4; Sota 9:9; Avot 1:4 [2x])

In the Eshkol manuscript:

YWSY BN YW‘ZR "Yosey ben Yoezer" occurs 5 times (Hagig. 2:2, 6:7; Eduy. 8:4; Sota 9:9; Avot 1:4 [2x])

However, surprisingly the formal form "Yoseph ben Yoezer" also appears in that edition:

IWSF BN YW‘ZR occurs once (at Hagig. 6:7) for the same person.

(For Yose ben Yohanan: predictably, the Kaufmann manuscript has "Yoseh" (4x) and the Eshkol edition has "Yosey" instead (Hagig. 2:2; Sota 9:9; Avot 1:4; 1:5 )

Joseph the Priest or Yoseh the Priest?

In Mikv. 10:1 and Hal. 4:1, both the Kaufmann and Eshkol manuscripts read YWSF HKWHN "Yoseph haKohen".

In the Eshkol edition, the formal form YWSF HKWHN "Yoseph haKohen" is used 3 times (Eduy. 8:2; Avot 2:8 [2x])

However in the same passages, the Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishnah uses the informal form YWSH HKWHN "Yoseh haKohen".

All of these passages are referring to the same priest.

Joseph the brother of Jesus? or Joses the brother of Jesus?

The same phenomenon. Two different versions of the story, Mark's and Matthew's, and the two different forms IWSF/IWSHS used by the two authors.

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

Of Jesus' brother: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matt. 13:55)


We would contend that the given individuals were called by the formal name by some and by the informal name by others. Other scholars say that "Jose" is merely the Galilean way of saying "Joseph" (see Anchor Bible Dictionary: "Joseph: 10". Whatever the case, the bottom line is that both forms were considered to be alternative forms of the other by the ancient sources.

By the way, believe it or not, among the ossuaries the Biblical spelling "YWSF" is by far the rarest of all of the spellings for "Joseph", occuring on only one ossuary CJO 573: PYNHS BR YWSF (written twice for the same person).