“How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

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.

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