“Yoseh, can you see?”: checking the sources (updated)

Throughout the year there has been an emphasis by supporters of the “Jesus Family Tomb” hypothesis as to how very rare the name “Yoseh” was during the Second Temple Period, based on the following assumptions.

1) The name “Yehosef” is seen as the predominant form of the name.

2) It was also assumed and asserted that when the shortened form Yose was used during that time, it was far more likely to be spelled YWSY than YWSH.

3) Thus YWSH/Yoseh was very rare indeed.

However, after having rechecked the sources and having reassessed the frequency of Yoseh during that time, a different picture began to appear.

Any student of ancient Jewish literature realizes that the proper evaluation of one’s sources is absolutely essential to the discipline. Such an evaluation yielded the following observations.

1) Utilizing the best manuscripts of early Jewish sources written in Hebrew or Aramaic, the name applied to living individuals during the Second Temple Period was often YWSH and not YHWSF. (As in the case, for example, of Yoseh b. Yo’ezer and Yoseh ben Yochanan, the first of the zugot from the second century BCE.)

2) According to Ilan (p. 159 note 96) YWSH is correctly listed as the predominant form used in Galilean synagogue inscriptions (10x), over against YWSF (1x) (cf. Naveh’s corpus in On Stone and Mosaic, p. 152).

If this is the case, then why do we find so many individuals named “Joseph” in Second Temple funerary inscriptions?

It is clear that among the Jewish Hebrew ossuary inscriptions, the use of the formal name YHWSF “Yehosef” (17x) by far predominates over the informal, familiar form Y(W)SH “Yoseh” (2x). However, this is to be expected in funerary inscriptions. In any individual’s lifetime he would be called one of the two alternatives depending upon the formal or informal context in which the name was used. On an ossuary or a grave stone during the first century, like today, the formal name “Joseph” was almost certainly more appropriate than the deceased’s informal name “Joey” or “Joe” (which he might have been called while he was still alive). This does not mean that there are some people running about named “Joseph” and a separate group of individuals named “Joey”! Parallel to this are the formal and informal forms of the names Mariam/Maria, Yehoshua’/Yeshua’, Matitiyahu/Mattiah, Yehochanan/Choni, etc. (See “How do you Solve a Problem like Maria“).

The near exclusive use of the informal “IOSES” (Greek for “Yoseh”) among the Greek inscribed ossuaries.

One should be careful to note that among the Greek inscribed ossuaries, the familiar form “Ioses” is used nearly exclusively (5 occurrences over 4 ossuaries). The formal name IWSEPOS is found only once. This is a fact that was not brought to the attention of the audience by the filmmakers.


This is astounding, since the filmmakers also did not point out that the New Testament occurrences of this name IWSHS “Joses”, limited to the Gospel of Mark, are also in Greek. This name is used once in a list of Jesus’ brothers.

“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)

<>It is found twice referring to the brother of “James the less”, the son of Clopus and Mary.

¶ There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, (Mark 15:40) . . . Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:47)

Then why are these same individuals called by the formal name IWSHF “Joseph” in Matthew’s Gospel?

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)

<>Of the sons of Clopas and Mary: among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matt. 27:5)

Whether a historian uses the formal or informal name when referring to an individual may depend upon how familiar the individual was to them or on whether or not the individual was deceased. There is reason to believe that these individuals could be alive 30 years after the crucifixion when Mark wrote his Gospel. However, it is unlikely that that they would still be living 50 years later when Matthew’s gospel was generally understood to be written. (It may also be simply a reflection of their own personal style.)

There are so many holes in the film there is no need to add this one to the list. We can, on the other hand, challenge the assertion that was made by the filmmakers that the name Yoseh was so rare. In fact, what comes down to us is in Greek. The Gospel of Mark passage is unique with respect to providing this shortened Greek name for Jesus’ brother. However, in Greek inscriptions, the shortened form “Iose/Ioses” is more popular than “Iosepos”.


1) In Tal Ilan’s treatment under YWSF, the sole form of “Yose” in the ossuaries is spelled Y(W)SH, on two Jerusalem ossuaries (cf. T. Ilan, Lexicon, p. 152 no. 89 [Ilan rightly corrects this reading]; p.154 no. 118, 133).

2) In the early second century Murabba’at papyri, YWSH, but not YWSY, is found (papMur 46).

3) In most of the Tannaitic manuscripts, YWSY is simply a minority alternative spelling of YWSH, both pronounced the same. YWSH (pointed “Yoseh” in vocalized versions) is by far the predominant form of the word in the superior Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishna.

[Prof. Ilan (p. 157 note 3) infers that YWSH is the Palestinian form of the name since it is found in the Vienna manuscript of the Tosefta in place of YWSY (found in the Erfurt manuscript). Unfortunately, Ilan’s numerous examples of YWSY come primarily from the handy concordances of Kasowski, which have been the standard source for scholars up until only very recently. The manuscripts that formed the basis for Kasowski’s concordances of the Mishna, the Tosefta, the Mechilta, the Sifra and the Jerusalem Talmud, are today considered inferior and are currently being replaced by electronic concordances which rely upon better manuscripts (e.g., Accordance Bible software now provides the Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishnah).]

In conclusion, we really don’t have any compelling evidence for the predominant use of YHWSF, as opposed to YWSH during the Second Temple Period, but rather the occasional use of both depending upon the formality of a situation. Also there is no evidence for the use of YWSY, as opposed to YWSH during the Second Temple Period, but rather, the contrary. In the case of the Talpiot tomb, YWSH should probably be pronounced “Yoseh” following the contemporary Greek pronunciation of that name (which preserves no examples of “Yosah”).

Also of interest: see Preliminary Autopsy of CJO 703 (80.502) and CJO 705 (80.504) Mattiah and Yoseh


Hachlili, R., Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. Brill: Leiden and Boston. 2005.

Rahmani, L.Y. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem. The Israel Antiquities Authority/The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. 1994.

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