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Stephen Pfann’s Statement: the long and the short of it

“This is my statement:

I believe that there is enough evidence from the papers at the conference to form the following conclusions:

on DNA

Mark Spiegelman, the teacher of the film’s DNA expert, denied that the tests could produce trustworthy results. The DNA of the ossuaries was not protected over time from contamination, nor were the samples taken in such a way that they would have been protected them from further contamination. The source of DNA from either ossuary could be from more recent sources, including people and animals. The fact that mitochondrial DNA from two ossuaries does not match means nothing, according to experts on hand.

on Statistics

The mathematician A. Feuerverger has recently produced a paper dealing with probabilities for family groups in antiquity which has been applauded as a major advancement by various mathematicians and statisticians, including the respondent, Prof. C. Fuchs. Using this method, and based upon assumptions provided by the filmmakers, Feuerverger determined that there is a 1:1600 likelihood (previously 1:600), that this was the family tomb of Jesus Christ. However, if the assumed historic figure Mary Magdalene is removed from the list, he then reduces the likelihood to 1:48. Furthermore, if Yoseh proves to be a common name, then Feuerverger holds that there is no case left for this being the tomb of Jesus. Fuchs, a statistician, criticized Feuerverger’s methodology in that it does not account for negative features, including missing names and the extra names that are in this family tomb, which should bring the probability down considerably. He does not believe that this could be the tomb of Jesus from a statistical viewpoint.

on Maria/Mariame/Mariamenou

The epigraphers on hand, J. Price and S. Pfann agreed on the letter by letter reading of the inscription on the so-called Mary Magdalene ossuary, though they did not agree on the presence of two scribal hands (note, however, that Pfann provided evidence from microscopic photos for the two hands). Both Price and Pfann read: MAPIAMH KAI MAPA (or MAPIAM H KAI MAPA). Either way, both agreed that the names are common forms of Mary and that the all-important and unusual form Mariamne (with an “N”) is not to be found in this inscription, as the original catalogue incorrectly reads and the filmmakers insist.

Pfann showed from some microscopic photos of the so-called “Yeshua? bar Yehosef” ossuary, that the name Yeshua? is written with a different tool from that used in the last part of the inscription. It is scrawled in a cursive style over an earlier name that had been partially erased. Both names utilized the “bar Yehosef” part of the inscription. This indicates that this individual of the hardly-readable name Yeshua? was not the first family member to be interred in this ossuary, and certainly not the first to be interred in the tomb (against the storyline of the filmmakers).

Gnostic Gospel expert A. De Conick pointed out that “Mariamne” does not actually begin to be used for Mary Magdalene until the 3rd century CE and even then, not exclusively. The Mariamne of the Acts of Philip, used to support the filmmakers’ claim, is actually a composite of two “Mary” characters from the New Testament: Mary of Bethany (the sister of Martha and Lazarus) and Mary Magdalene. In addition, she is purported to be the sister of Philip, a designation known only from the Gnostic gospels and in tension with the New Testament accounts.

S. Pfann pointed out that the sole first-century historical witnesses to Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus, the New Testament, provides mixed uses of the two names Mariam and Maria for both characters, since every Mary had a formal name “Mariam” and an informal name “Maria” (like Jennifer/Jenny; Kathleen/Kate; Elizabeth/Betty). In the New Testament, Mary the mother of Jesus is designated Mariam 13x and Maria 6x, while Mary Magdalene is called Mariam 4x and Maria 11x. (Note that the scale tips in the opposite direction toward “Maria” for Mary M.) In all cases, the earliest witness Mark uses “Maria” for both women. If anything can be derived from this, it is that if there is indeed a “Lady Mary” in the ossuary, it should refer to the mother of Jesus, rather than to Magdalene (not seriously!).

on Joseph/Jose

Similarly, the formal and informal names Yehoseph and Yoseh (Joseph/Joseh) were merely names that were commonly applied to the same person, depending upon the social context (like James/Jim; Robert/Bob; William/Bill). In the Mishnah and Tosefta, Yehosef is rare and Yoseh (Kaufman ms.) is by far preferred (sages of the Hasmonean period onward). [for more] In the NT the same brother is called IWSE (in Mark) and IWSEF (in Matthew). Although there are a few YWSEH Hebrew inscriptions on the ossuaries (2x) the Greek inscribed ossuaries are all IWSH/IOSE (no Josephs). Guess what? The NT manuscripts are written only in Greek (thus, perhaps IWSE should well be expected there).

If one brings this data into the statistical analysis, then the picture changes completely. Concerning name usage in the first century see “How do you solve a problem like Maria“.

Meanwhile, I don’t believe there is any case, even remotely, that can be convincingly made for this being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

On the one hand, this film has challenged us to consider afresh the methods by which we explore the realia of Second Temple Period History. On the other hand, unfortunately, the true family of this tomb has experienced a kind of “identity theft,” brought upon it in such a way that it is difficult to extricate this family’s story from that of the family of Jesus of Nazareth. In a way, we must now “demythologize” the current story of this tomb in order to allow the actual history of this Judean family to be told through the tantalizing morsels that have been left behind.

Prof. Stephen Pfann

Professor of Second Temple History and Literature

University of the Holy Land, Jerusalem”

Summary form of the statement:

Stephen Pfann’s statement:

January 23, 2008

“This is my appraisal of the various panels combined:

1) There is a high probablity of contamination of the ossuaries with foreign DNA and the fact is that Mitocondrial DNA irrelevant for determining family relations. (Spiegelman and Cox)

2) The probability calculations were based upon highly speculative assumptions that Mary Magdalene was in one ossuary and that IOSE is both a surprising name in the Greek New Testament and among the ossuaries. (Feuerverger and Fuchs)

3) MARIAMH KAI MARA or MARIAM H KAI MARA is the correct reading of which are exteremely common first century names, not MARIAMHNOU (said to be the typical name of Mary Magdalene by the filmmakers). (Price and Pfann)

4) A. De Conick pointed out that “Mariamne” does not actually begin to be used for Mary Magdalene until the 3rd century CE and even then, not exclusively.

5) In the New Testament, Mary the mother of Jesus is designated Mariam 13x and Maria 6x, while Mary Magdalene is called Mariam 4x and Maria 11x. (Note that the scale tips in the opposite direction toward “Maria” for Mary M.) In all cases, the earliest witness Mark uses “Maria” for both women.

6) The Greek New Testament the same brother of Jesus is called IWSH (in Mark) and IWSEF (in Matthew). It is likely that this reflects informal and formal spellings of names applied to the same individual. All catalogued Greek ossuaries have IWSH (or IOSE) and not Joseph.

7) The difficult-to-read name “Yeshua?” is not the first name to be written on the “Yeshua? bar Yehosef “ossuary but was overinscribed over an earlier name that was erased. This indicates that the tomb’s use was not initiated by the death of this “Jesus” as is asserterted to be the reason for the remainder of his family to be interred in the Jerusalem area.

8 ) Two of the six names Mattiah and Judah son of Jesus are never mentioned in the New Testament. There is no suggestion that Jesus was ever married at all (let alone to Mary Magdalene) in any historical source.

9) All of the “surprising” features of the names on the Talpiot tomb’s ossuaries which form the assumptions used in the probabilities calculations are in error or actually not remarkable. The rest is left to speculation.

I don’t believe there is any case, even remotely, that can be convincingly made for this being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

On the one hand, this film has challenged us to consider afresh the methods by which we explore the realia of Second Temple Period History. On the other hand, unfortunately, the true family of this tomb has experienced a kind of “identity theft,” brought upon it in such a way that it is difficult to extricate this family’s story from that of the family of Jesus of Nazareth. In a way, we must now “demythologize” the current story of this tomb in order to allow the actual history of this Judean family to be told through the tantalizing morsels that have been left behind.

Prof. Stephen Pfann

Professor of Second Temple History and Literature

University of the Holy Land, Jerusalem”

Pfann’s epigraphic credentials are here

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