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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

One of the claims made on the website about the bone boxes found at Talpiot in 1980 is that one of the ossuaries is inscribed with the name of "“Mariamene e Mara”. From this, it is concluded that this particular ossuary was the ossuary of Mary Magdalene. Why? According to the Jesus Family Tomb website:

From the Acts of Philip, a fourth century work ostensibly written about Mary Magdalene’s brother, Phillip, and recently recovered from a monastery at Mt. Athos in Greece, Professor Fran├žois Bovon (Harvard University) has determined that Magdalene’s name was "Mariamne."

So, the reason that this is supposed to be Mary Magdalene's ossuary is because of the use of the name "Mariamene" which is close to the name of "Mariamne" from the Acts of Philip. Is this a particularly strong claim?

First, I should point out that the claim on the website is overstated. Dr. Bovon hasn't "determined" that the woman named "Mariamne" is Mary Magdalene. The word "determined" connotes that it is the final word on the matter. In fact, the first definition for "determine" is "to settle or decide (a dispute, question, etc.) by an authoritative or conclusive decision." But, as other sources seem to show, Dr. Bovon isn't making a claim of final determination. Rather, he simply "believes" it to be Mary Magdalene (of course, it is an informed belief, but it remains his belief and I have found nowhere that other scholars are largely in agreement with that belief). Certainly, it is an overstatement to claim (as the Jesus Tomb website does here) that "Mary Magdalene is often identified by the name 'Mariamne.'" (emphasis added)

Second, the Acts of Philip is hardly a contemporaneous work with the Gospels or the Epistles. It is apparently the work of an heretical community that lived in the Fourth Century -- at least two hundred fifty years after the events of the New Testament. It includes tales of talking leopards (v. 96: ". . . lo, a great leopard came out of a wood on the hill, and ran and cast himself at their feet and spoke with human voice: I worship you, servants of the divine greatness and apostles of the only-begotten Son of God; command me to speak perfectly"), a talking baby goat (v. 97: ". . . after I had wounded it, it took a human voice and wept like a little child, saying to me: O leopard, put off thy fierce heart and the beast like part of thy nature, and put on mildness . . . "), and a fierce black dragon (v. 102: "They journeyed five days, and one morning after the midnight prayers a sudden wind arose, great and dark (misty), and out of it ran a great smoky (misty) dragon, with a black back, and a belly like coals of brass in sparkles of fire, and a body over 100 cubits long, and a multitude of snakes and their young followed it"). But this is the type of literature that comes from heretical groups, and the group that produced this document was of that type. According to Harvard Magazine:

Among the revelations turned up in this unexpurgated Acts of Philip, especially in the story of a visit to Hell, are glimpses of a heretical community whose members may have written or transmitted the text. Devoted to ascetic practices, the group flourished in Asia Minor during the fourth century A.D. Members were to eat no meat, drink no wine, shun wealth, and abstain from sexual intercourse. Both sexes wore men's clothing made only from plant fibers. Even the sacrament of the Eucharist was modified, with water replacing wine. Sect members believed that this level of purity not only guaranteed salvation after death, but allowed them to "talk with God" in this life.

Within the community, women as well as men served at all levels. One list mentions "presbytides" (female elders, or priestesses) alongside "presbyters" (male elders, or priests). Deaconesses are paired with deacons, as are virgins with eunuchs. (It is unknown whether the latter rank required surgery or merely celibacy.)

Such groups did not escape the notice of the official church. The council of Gangra (circa A.D. 343) declared such ascetic excesses to be anathema, and another fourth-century council, at Laodicea, "forbade the appointment of presbytides," says Bovon.

Now, certainly, Dr. Bovon is a well-respected researcher, and it certainly is possible that the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is Mary Magdalene of the New Testament. As the Harvard Magazine article notes, "the name 'Mariamne' is a variant of 'Mary,' and when the third-century Christian writer Origen mentions the Magdalene, he uses the quite similar name 'Mariamme.'" But notice that Origen, who lived and wrote one hundred years closer to the events, uses the name "Mariamme" when the name used on the ossuary is "Mariamene". Is that close enough to conclude they are talking about the same woman?

What can we learn about woman named "Mariamne" from the Acts of Philip? Well, to start with, this woman was the "sister of Philip." Now, it could be that that language is used in the same way that Christians (and the Bible sometimes) use the terms "brother" and "sister" when referencing any other Christian. But the context seems to suggest that the reason she is called sister of Philip is to single out who she is. Here is the text of verse 94 of the Acts of Philip where the "sister" term is referenced:

94 It came to pass when the Saviour divided the apostles and each went forth according to his lot, that it fell to Philip to go to the country of the Greeks: and he thought it hard, and wept. And Mariamne his sister (it was she that made ready the bread and salt at the breaking of bread, but Martha was she that ministered to the multitudes and laboured much) seeing it, went to Jesus and said: Lord, seest thou not how my brother is vexed?

Now, if the term is being used generally, why doesn't it say later, "but Martha his sister was she that ministered . . ."? It seems apparent to me that the use of the term here is to show that Mariamne is really the actual flesh and blood sister of Philip. Now, this would be new information from the New Testment that doesn't seem to reference Mary Magdalene as being the sister of the Apostle Philip.

What else does the Acts of Philip tell us about this Mariamne? The Encyclopedia Magdalena gives this nice little summary of the activities of Mariamne in the Acts of Philip,


  • she prepared bread and salt for the "breaking of bread"
  • Jesus called her "chosen among women"
  • she should not wear her summer dress (also translated as "women's aspect")
  • she assisted with healings
  • she baptized converts
  • she assisted in the slaying of a dragon
  • when threatened, she turned into a glass box or a cloud of fire
  • she is prophesied to die in the Jordan river

Okay, so she prepared bread and salt and Jesus called her "chosen among women". Those might be consistent with Mary Magdalene even though nothing in the Bible says either of those things about her. But, of course, if one is going to accept that "sister" could have the Christian meaning where every believing woman is a "sister" to every Christian, then the phrase "chosen among women" could simply be a reference to the fact that she is a believer (e.g., Mark 13:20) which would not single her out for any special status whatsoever. Moreover, I don't have a problem with her participating in healings or baptizing converts -- those also seem to be consistent with what any believer was capable of doing during the early years of teh church. But slaying a dragon and turning into glass boxes or clouds of fire? Doesn't that effect the credibility of this book?

What I am driving at is this: the Acts of Philip is a late, exaggerated account of the life of Philip, the Apostle, that were drawn up by a heretical community who wrote about a woman named Mariamne who may or may not be Mary Magdalene. This is a highly tenuous strand to base a claim that a box carved with a similar (not identical) name of "Mariamene" is Mary Magdalene of the New Testament.

25 comments:

The inscription apparently says "Mariamne (Mariamnous?) also known as Martha."

Since we're making assumptions about the occupants of this tomb, why not assume that this is Martha, the sister of Lazarus?

www.wildrye.com

I think that's what the advocates are going for (i.e. Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus.)

Of course, there's the whole "but MaryBeth wasn't the same woman as MaryMag" thing. {g} (Granted, there are some very minor hints in the story that they were, but still...)

First of all it doesn't say Mariamne also known as Martha...it says, Mariamne e Mara which can be translated as Mary known as the Master. Typically Mara is a term used to show respect. Which would follow as Mary Magdalene is more commonly believed to have been a very important person in the life of Jesus and was most likely an Apostle and preached the Word of God. Perhaps you should know what you are talking about before you comment on it. Also, is the hypothesis that is put out there in this documentary and book so hard to even consider? Are people really that small minded? It makes me sad to think that there are people out there so willing to criticize and reject every new piece of information that comes along simply because it doesn't jive with what the church has been telling us our whole lives. Do you recall some of the people the early church persecuted??? Does the name Galileo ring a bell? History has proven that Galileo was correct and that the dogmatic religious authorities who opposed him were wrong. How long will the world refuse to even consider that the Jesus Family Tomb could be authentic? How long will people bury their heads in the sand?

I agree with what Mary H. says. I think you should all learn enough about the subject before you leave comments about it, because basically it doesn't help your argument very much if you just come out looking stupid. Did you even watch the documentary? Mara is a term used for respect still used today in some parts of the world "Mar so and so." How do you get Martha out of that? Do you believe that finding the body of King Tut was really a hoax? Why is it so impossible to think that we could never find the human remains of Jesus or even his family? It looks to me like it would further strenthen Christianity by proving that this man we've been hearing about for 2000 years really did exist.

Mary H and Otis L,

Interesting takes. For the record, I didn't take a position that "e Mara" means "also known as Martha". But, as Mary H. pointed out, the phrase (apparently) can, but not necessarily must be translated as "known as the Master". I don't read this language in which the names were scratched onto the tomb, but I have read (in other places) that the phrase "e Mara" can be translated "also known as Martha." So, you really shouldn't bury your own head in the sand insisting that the "known as the master" phrase is the only accurate translation.

Now to your particular comments:

Mary H.,

Mary Magdalene may be commonly believed to be an important person in the life of Jesus, but if she were commonly believed to be an elephant that doesn't make her an elephant. The question isn't what do people living in this post-"Da Vinci Code" world commonly understand, but what does the evidence show.

The problem with the hypothesis is that it is so problematic as to be mostly conjecture. I admitted that it's possible that this is Mary Magdalene, but my post went to the issue of the problems inherent in reaching that conclusion. Ranting that we are somehow "small minded" isn't a response to my arguments, but a simple ad hominem.

Galileo, if you would take the time to look it up, was punished not for what he said about the universe but for belittling the Pope. His claims which seemed to be contrary to the Bible were used as the justification.

I welcome you to consider that the Jesus Family Tomb is real, but you are the one who needs to look to the arguments against making that identification. Personally, I have read a lot about this, and I think that while it is possible that this really is the tomb of Jesus it is so remotely likely given the various objections that are raised that there is more chance that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus than that this is really his tomb.

Otis L,

Please be specific: what did the commentor not understand? If you are asking if I watched the documentary, you should note that this was written a week ago -- long before the documentary. I received my information from news sources that discussed the find in advance of the documentary.

"Do you believe that finding the body of King Tut was really a hoax?" That is a non sequiter.

It isn't impossible that we would not find the body of Jesus, but I think that it is very unlikely because either (1) Jesus raised from the dead and ascended bodily into heaven (as Christians claim) or (2) he was poor and wouldn't have been buried in a tomb (as non-Christians generally claim). It is very unlikely that this is the tomb for many, many reasons, some of which I have blogged on.

I personally don't think that there's any question that Jesus existed -- it is only a group of people who have the same credibility in the academic community of holocaust deniers who claim otherwise.

BK,

Thanks to you and others who are researching the Jesus family tomb. I have recently started reading material about this and I'm sure I will sound very uneducated. I have a college degree but even that makes me no expert. I am however an expert of Faith and I have been tested repeatedly in my personal and spiritual life. I became a believer of Jesus Christ (God's Son) before I knew theology existed.
A number of miraculous events happened in my teen years that resulted in a changed life. I have been a Christian for 30 years now and have had multiple opportunities to abandon my faith.
Explain to me why folks like Otis and Mary aren't able to convince me otherwise? Something happens in your heart and soul that you can't theorize or debate. I have questioned the validity of the Bible and have found sufficient evidence to back up the claims it has made.
Finding this tomb will not alter the faith of true believers. There are many experts who say this is not the "Holy Familie's" tomb based on the fact that they were poor and lived in Nazareth.
Please bear with my simplistic comments as I suggest that there are people out there who will exploit this so long as it makes them rich and they can stir up a controversy.
We lay people are very interested in this finding but will not be shaken by anything an investigative journalist and a film maker have contrived to make a buck.
Thanks for your patience with me as I realize I am out of my league as far as education is concerned compared to all of you.
God Bless

First of all, Galileo's persecutors were NOT the "early Church." He lived in not-too-distant history, only four hundred years ago. The Church is now 2000 years old, give or take a handful of years.

Secondly, the Israeli scholar who first reported on the tomb when it was found in 1982, and who published his findings, does not agree at all with this documentary-- which incidentally makes egregious mistakes, among them the assumption that that the names on the ossuaries found in that tomb were anything but the usual names taken by the majority of Jews living in first-century Judea. He says many of the scratches on the ossuaries are just scratches, not names.

In the New Testament there are copious Mary's, several Simons, and so on. "Mariamne" was a popular name, and a royal name as well. But that does not mean make the Mariamne buried there automatically the wife or sister or any other close relative of King Herod, though using the documentary's line of logic, we would be forgiven for assuming she was, as there were several Mariamne's in the Herodian dynasty.

And, the well-known ossuary marked "Yaakov bar Yosef brother of Yeshua" found some years ago has been found to be a fraud as far as the "brother of Yeshua" scratches are concerned. Yet the documentary failed to note the enormous controversy over that last phrase on the ossuary.

As for the "Acts of Philip," that is a text that has nothing to do with the New Testament, but is as has been already explained an heretical text dating from hundreds of years after Christ.

Frankly, I found the documentary outrageous, condescending, and insulting to any thinking person, not only to Christians.

Please...many well respected scholars have disagreed with Tabor and his assertion that Mara means master. Most scholars (most notably Richard Bauckham) have asserted that the Mara is more likely identifying a Martha. It may be possible that there may have been more than one set of remains in that ossuary, thus it could read Mariamne (also known as) Martha or Mariamne (and) Martha. Ossuaries oftentimes contained more than one set of remains. Perhaps we saw the testing of Jesus son of Joseph tested with Mara's remains.
This blog writer I think has set his case out pretty well that Mariamne in Acts of Philip is NOT Mary Magdalene. Which really hinders Jacobvici's whole premise.

Anonymous #1, wipe your nose off. There's something on it. I'm sure BK will be glad to help you out.

Dayna Zimmermann said...

As a believer in Jesus Christ I think you cannot deny all the evidence pointing to this site being Christ' family tomb. To those non believers you'd have more chance convincing them it is the tomb of Obiwan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker. They will always find ways to argue that it cannpt be 100% proven. Of course it can't as we weren't there but in the not too distant future I think it will all be made very clear.

Dayna,

Certainly, I don't deny that the tomb appears to have a Mary and Jesus and other similar names. To that extent it is certainly true that there is evidence that it is Christ's family tomb. But evidence when examined closely may show weaknesses that make it extremely unlikely that the evidence proves what the proponents claim. Thus, I can agree that the evidence superficially seems to suggest the people identified in the NT. But my point is that under closer examination, it doesn't hold up at all. Thus, to the extent that you say that I "cannot deny all the evidence pointing to this site being Christ' family tomb", that's exactly what I do by examining the evidence more carefully than the makers of the documentary.

The writer of the book "Jesus tomb.." is an acquaintance of mine, not a personal friend, but a person I have total confidence in. That's always a good place to start when you are being critical of scholastic work. It's interesting we don't hear from the critics when they discovered the ossuary of Caiphas, or questions about other prominent figures of the jesus era. If you are intent on finding truth, you will likely be curious to read with those "ears". If you are out to defend your own position, you will likely not want to hear of opposing viewpoints. I am reading the book for the second time, and find many things I missed on first reading. I await any future DNA that should put to rest some of those protectors of the "faith" who were certain Jesus' physical body had soared into the heavens. DM

The point that all of you seem to be missing is that all the names on the ossuaries. Judas Iscariot is called Iscariot to distinguish him from all the other Judahs of his time - Jehuda ish Keriot,in Hebrew or Judah, the man of Kerioth.

Similarly, the name Joshua or Jesus - Jeshua, in Hebrew, was very common, so, Jesus was called Jesus of Nazareth, a small Galilean town which probably had no more than two or three with the name and possibly only one.

The problem can further be illustrated by the names of the women mentioned in the gospel: Elizabeth, Mary, Herodias, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, Mary, Martha, Mary and possibly one more, depending how you count, also a Mary. So, then, roughly half the women named in the Gospels are named Mary!

Now let's bring it forth to today to bring home the concept home. My name is Donald. Over the years, i have met many with my name, seen others with my name in print and have even met people whose last name is Donald.

But suppose that the name goes into obscurity in the future, or, at least becomes rare and two thousand years from now someone finds a tombstone with the name Donald inscribed on it. What justification would he or she have to assume that it was my tombstone? Just as there were many Joshuas in Roman Palestine, there have been and are many Donalds in piedmont North Carolina, where I currently reside. Any of us would require far more information than we are requiring of these men who made this documentary and rightfully so. It would be ingenuous to require less.

Many syncretistic religions formed gnosticism. Gnosticism was rivaling against Christianity and gnosticism held itself better religion as Christianity was. Word gnosticism comes from Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. Gnosticism had various effects, for instance, some Gnostics taught that divinity can be achieved through unity of the man and woman. This thought led some Gnostics to reach for divinity through sexual intercourse between the man and woman. There existed also some Gnostics, who abstained from sexual intercourse. When we know the fact that Gnostics held Christians as their enemies and that Gnostics held themselves better as Christians and that Gnostics wanted to show in every way that Gnosticism was better as Christianity, so Gnostics made so called gnostic gospels were they twisted, slandered and misrepresented the real gospels. Gnostics went so far in this misrepresent that they wrote “new gospels” by faking the real gospels. In these faked gospels Gnostics wrote that Jesus Christ was an ordinary man who has a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene.

http://koti.phnet.fi/elohim/marymagdalene.html

Actualy Mara means master only in Armaic but the box had it in Greek and the greek meaning is translated martha so unless you want to say part was in greek and part in aramaic you have no case here.

While I do think that this might be the making of a good story I do not beleive this is the tomb of Jesus Christ. Mostly because the Bible says he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven. I do not think this was a spirit but rather an actual account of what happened. At one time he even told the deciples not to touch him because he had not yet ascended into heaven. Also the dating of the tomb would indicate that this tomb was years before Christ. Also why would his whole family be buried there? They were not from there but rather Nazareth. Sorry about my spelling. This is just another thing to raise doubt and cause more contraversy. I just beleive what I beleive and I am sorry if you think that is being small minded. Just beware of false doctorines my friends.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I have a theory. Though I'm guessing the majority of you will not appreciate it. I don't doubt that Jesus existed. Last I knew though, don't we have approximately 750 million religions in the world? Which one's "real"? Were some created just to establish a sense of "right and wrong" among their people? A sense of fear to control their people, if anything? Isn't it possible Jesus was simply a man trying to make a difference? Couldn't his beliefs be worshipped and followed despite the fact he was simply a "man"? Does it really matter if he was "resurrected"? No version of a bible is perfect. People tend to exaggerate man's abilities when they're worshipped or feared. People are flawed by nature. Accept it. No one is ever truly "educated". There are too many lies in the world to know the truth. Research and debate, but respect one another.

Anonymous, I respect your theory, but I don't believe that it is true. Let me tell you why by responding to your questions.

"don't we have approximately 750 million religions in the world? Which one's "real"?"

While I doubt that there are 750 million religions (which incidentally calculates to about one different religion for every four people), I don't doubt that there's a bunch. So what? Simply because people hold different views does not make every view equally viable. We should be deciding which religion is true. As we discuss regularly on this blog (as do hundreds of other bloggers), there are good and valid reasons to believe that Christianity is true.

Were some created just to establish a sense of "right and wrong" among their people? A sense of fear to control their people, if anything?

Actually, I expect that most were created to try to understand our inborn sense that something exists beyond ourselves and to explain why some things are known to be right and others known to be wrong. Now, some people may have abused and twisted them into tools of power, but that doesn't change the likelihood that they were formed more searchingly.

Isn't it possible Jesus was simply a man trying to make a difference? Couldn't his beliefs be worshipped and followed despite the fact he was simply a "man"?

Yes, it is possible that Jesus was simply a man. However, the words and actions of Jesus as recorded in our most reliable sources say that Jesus didn't make those claims about himself. There are many reasons to believe the Gospel accounts, at minimum, have a historical core (even if you don't believe every single account in them).

Does it really matter if he was "resurrected"?

Yes, it makes all the difference in the world. Jesus' resurrection demonstrates that He is who He said He was: God come in the flesh to conquer death.

There are too many lies in the world to know the truth.

Oh? How do you know that is true?

Anonymous, I respect your theory, but I don't believe that it is true. Let me tell you why by responding to your questions.

"don't we have approximately 750 million religions in the world? Which one's "real"?"

While I doubt that there are 750 million religions (which incidentally calculates to about one different religion for every four people), I don't doubt that there's a bunch. So what? Simply because people hold different views does not make every view equally viable. We should be deciding which religion is true. As we discuss regularly on this blog (as do hundreds of other bloggers), there are good and valid reasons to believe that Christianity is true.

Were some created just to establish a sense of "right and wrong" among their people? A sense of fear to control their people, if anything?

Actually, I expect that most were created to try to understand our inborn sense that something exists beyond ourselves and to explain why some things are known to be right and others known to be wrong. Now, some people may have abused and twisted them into tools of power, but that doesn't change the likelihood that they were formed more searchingly.

Isn't it possible Jesus was simply a man trying to make a difference? Couldn't his beliefs be worshipped and followed despite the fact he was simply a "man"?

Yes, it is possible that Jesus was simply a man. However, the words and actions of Jesus as recorded in our most reliable sources say that Jesus didn't make those claims about himself. There are many reasons to believe the Gospel accounts, at minimum, have a historical core (even if you don't believe every single account in them).

Does it really matter if he was "resurrected"?

Yes, it makes all the difference in the world. Jesus' resurrection demonstrates that He is who He said He was: God come in the flesh to conquer death.

There are too many lies in the world to know the truth.

Oh? How do you know that is true?

First, I'd like to clearify. I'm not trying to insult any religion in any way. I'd love to believe full-heartedly in a religion but am currrently having a rough time doing so. I'm just exploring questions I have.

As for the 750 million, I simply googled it, out of curiousity. I'll focus on Christianity. Which one is considered "true"?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_denomination

"Note: This is not a complete list, but aims to provide a comprehensible overview of the diversity among denominations of Christianity. As there are reported to be approximately 38,000 Christian denominations,[1]"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations

If we explore one religion daily, we couldn't get through the entire list of Christian denominations in a life-time. So which do you dismiss? Which do you research? How do you know you've found the right religion if you can't explored all of them?

"Yes, it makes all the difference in the world. Jesus' resurrection demonstrates that He is who He said He was: God come in the flesh to conquer death."

What happens to Christianity if Jesus's remains are discovered?

"Oh? How do you know that is true?"

I'm capable of seeing, hearing, etc. I observe people lie, manipulate, and hurt each other repeatedly. I've seen religious, good-mannered, up-standing citizens become vile & evil people. Then they return to their pews as if nothing happened. I'm not targeting a religion. I'm well aware of others who follow the same path without a God. My point is, it's difficult to keep faith without seeing an indication of truth.

Re: your focus on Christianity. Which what is true? I am not asking to be facetious -- it makes a difference. After all, the vast majority of Christian denominations all hold the same core beliefs. It is only in some details that we differ.

With respect to having to explore them all, I don't think that is necessary. You don't live your life that way in making other decisions. At least, I don't expect that you would look at every single house on the market before determining which house to buy. But C.S. Lewis made the point that there are only a limited number of overall religious views in the broader sense, and you can quickly eliminate many religions on these broader grounds. Thus, if you believe that there is only one God, you can eliminate all of the religions that say that there are many gods or no gods. If you then decide (as Francis Schaffer did) that God must be both a unity and a diversity in one, then you have already limited your choice to Christianity. Then, it is simply choosing which denomination is most in line with your understanding. It really isn't as difficult as you make it out to be.

If Jesus remains are discovered then Paul was right when he said, "If Jesus was not raised from the dead, we are the most to be pitied." But I have no reason to believe that they will be found because I have every reason to believe that Jesus is risen.

Your final paragraph misses my point. If we cannot know what is true (as you seemed to suggest), then you can't know that we cannot know. You are only guessing. You see, I believe we can know the truth. I know the truth about many things. In the same way that I know that I can know the truth about certain events in history, I can know the truth about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Were some created just to establish a sense of "right and wrong" among their people? A sense of fear to control their people, if anything?

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