Nuances of certitude

Splitting some rather significant hairs

In the film The Lost Tomb of Jesus Prof. Frank Moore Cross of Harvard University makes the following statement:

“There’s an X here before the name and then the name Yeshua, then the father’s name is perfectly clear, Je-ho-seph, the son of Joseph. I have no real doubt that this is to be read Yeshua and then Yeshua bar Yehoseph, that is Jesus son of Joseph.” (from the official transcripts of the film; for a clip of the statement from the film posted at Pseudoscienze cristiane antiche e medievale, see here).

The final cut and edited version of the film does indeed present Prof. Cross as accepting the reading with some degree of confidence. However, he also stated to the filmmakers that he accepts the reading, but not without difficulties. (In fact the film also provides a statement where he says, pointing to the first name, that this part of the inscription is “quite messy”.)

“This being quite informal and this particular one quite messy.”

His other comments which bore some skepticism were heavily edited or deleted. He now voices his regrets at having made any statement at all for these filmmakers (as does his colleague Prof. Bovon).

One should remember that, in English, the phrase “no real doubt” carries the nuance “no doubt of any serious consequence”. In a personal conversation with me, Prof. Cross said that his doubt, in fact, still remains as to which stroke should be considered the yodh at the beginning of the inscription.

In The Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, Dr. Rahmani provides dots over the yodh and the shin, meaning he has difficulties with the first two letters. This is why he provided a question mark after the translation. He still stands by this today.

As stated in earlier postings, the issue is not whether any given scholar posits the name Yeshua’ or not. Most scholars do accept it as the most likely reading, but have spoken of difficulties in reading the inscription (e.g., Naveh, Puech, Yardeni). These difficulties (including differences in style, tool marks, underlying superfluous lines and crowding of letters) have already been detailed in the View from Jerusalem. At the end of the day, Rahmani’s question mark after “Yeshua’ (?)” still stands.

In my view, these difficulties do not eliminate “Yeshua’ (?)” from the final form of the inscription. However, they do bring into serious question that this name was the original one inscribed on the ossuary. These difficulties would imply that on the central ossuary of this burial cave, the all-important name “Yeshua’ (?)” was actually added later over an earlier name.

This evidence then creates significant problems for the assertions of the filmmakers as to the identity of this particular individual in history.


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