“Yoseh” or “Yosah”?

Recently, the BAR website provided an article coauthored by Craig Evens and Steven Feldman which enumerated a number of holes in the “Lost Tomb” hypothesis. It is good to provide surveys of the study every so often. There are so many holes in the hypothesis that it is hard to take inventory of them all. With a few exceptions, the list is basically correct. Here are two suggested modifications:

“Some epigraphers think the Greek inscription on the ossuary actually reads “Mariamne and Mara.”

This must be a mistake. The revised readings for the so-called “Mariamene” ossuary that have been set forth are actually MARIAME KAI MARA “Maryame and Mara” (Pfann, Puech. et al.) and MARIAM H KAI MARA “Mariam who is also (called) Mara” (Tal Ilan et al). The name “Mariamne” has not been suggested as a reading.

“The filmmakers also misunderstand another of the names found in the Talpiot tomb. The name YWSH should be pronounced ‘Yosah’ (as Professor Tal Ilan in fact does in the documentary), not “’Yoseh’, as the documentary consistently does. ‘Yosah’ is not the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek form Joses, the name of Jesus’ brother (as in Mark 6:3 and elsewhere). The Hebrew equivalent is YWSY (and is found on a number of ossuaries in Greek and in Hebrew). The documentary’s discussion of this name is very misleading.”

The quotes of experts presented in the film should not be taken at face value or as being definitive. It is important to recheck the quotes of any expert, especially against their own work.

In Tal Ilan’s treatment under YWSF, the sole form in the ossuaries is spelled Y(W)SH (cf. T. Ilan, Lexicon, p. 152 no. 89 [Ilan rightly corrects this reading], p.154 no. 118, 133). In the early second century Murabba’at papyri, YWSH, but not YWSY, is found (papMur 46). In most of the tannaitic manuscripts, YWSY is simply an 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). According to Ilan (p. 159 note 96) YWSH is the predominant form used in Galileen synagogue inscriptions (10x) over against YWSF (1x) (cf. Naveh’s corpus in On Stone and Mosaic, p. 152).

We really don’t have any compelling evidence for the use of YWSY, as opposed to YWSH during the Second Temple Period (or even for some time later). 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”).

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 of the filmmakers that the name Yoseh is so rare. 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”.


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