Resealing the Ossuary Lid: The Straight and the Narrow (according to additional diagnostic features)

Forensic handwriting analysts look for distinct diagnostic features to identify or distinguish various individuals, including slant, size, overall form and shape of letters; the consistency of space and slope between adjacent letters and words on a line; the apparent fluidity of writing, and the pressure of the pen.

A number of these diagnostic features have already been dealt with in previous posts. The following image can help to clarify the distinctive features related to line formation.

The Linearity of the Inscription

The baseline of MAPIAMH is horizontal and virtually straight (with the exception of the bottoms of the second A and M, each of which appears to be avoiding a blemish on the ossuary’s surface).

The line of letters of KAI MAPA was initiated noticeably above the baseline of MAPIAMH and its letters form a shallow U-shaped or garland-shaped line (or chain). The garland shape is even more prominently featured in the draped underscore which was added to combine both stages of the inscription.


Metrics of the Inscription

SPACE between words: MAPIAMH and KAI: 10 mm, but between KAI and MAPA: 5.5 mm. The wide space between MAPIAMH and KAI indicates that these two words are well separated with no such space provided before the H eta, (providing further evidence, besides the change in script, that the inscription is not to be read MAPIAM H KAI MARA “Mariam who is also called Mara”.

SPACE between letters of MAPIAMH = 6, 4, 11, 14, 9, 3.5 mm; KAI = 4 and 0 mm; MARA = 0, 2.5, 3.5 mm. Although both the beginning (MAPIAMH) and the end of the inscription have the same number of letters (KAI MAPA), the end (KAI MAPA) is only 3/4 the length of the beginning name (MAPIAMH).

STROKES: Maximum width of stroke of the letters in MAPAIMH = 2.0 mm (both M’s, P, I, H); KAI = 2.5 mm ( I ); MAPA = 2.2 mm (2nd A). The looped underscore is 2.5 mm wide and therefore matches the width of the letters in KAI MAPA. Either two different tools were used to inscribe CJO Ossuary 701, or else the hand that made the second part of the inscription pressed much harder.

In summary, at least twenty-five features–epigraphic, syntactic and forma–have been set forth which argue against the suggestion that the inscription is speaking of only one person. In particular, it is no longer prudent to speculate that this ossuary belongs to Mary Magdalene, nor, to the best of our knowledge, to any other known individual from ancient history.

I was sent the following cartoon of the DNA and statistics experts, evidently modified slightly, (Thanks to Tabtoons):


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

Andrey Feuerverger, Mathematician, University of Toronto

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