The Jesus Equation -- Looking at the Numbers

What sold author Simcha Jacobovichi of the Jesus Tomb on the idea that the tomb and ossuaries discovered at Talpiot 26 years ago were the tomb and ossuary of Jesus and Mary Magdalene were the odds behind that combination of names appearing in a single tomb. The Jesus Tomb website calls it the "Jesus Equation". In a short video, he makes reference to an analogy of engaging in an archaeological dig in Great Britain 2,000 years from now and finding the tombs of three people together identified on their tombstones only as John, Paul and George. Now, John, Paul and George, of course, are very common names in Great Britain, but taken together they have a strong significance -- they are three of the Fab Four.

Of course, if you were the archaeologist who did Mr. Jacobovichi's analogous dig 2,000 years from now, would you conclude based on the names of Paul, George and John alone that the three graves were the graves of the actual Beatles? I expect that you'd recognize that identifying those three graves as the graves of John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney based on such scant evidence would be unwarranted.

But Mr. Jacobovichi goes farther: he posits as part of his analogy finding a fourth grave nearby for Richard Starkey. Of course, Richard Starkey is Ringo Starr's real name. Now, to find the grave of Richard Starkey next to those of Paul, George and John would mean something, wouldn't it? By the same method he argues that since Mariamne has been identified as the real name of Mary Magdalene, this is what pushes the conclusion that the "Yeshua bar Yose" (Jesus, Son of Joseph) ossuary is the ossuary of Jesus Christ. He then proceeds, on another page, to post the numbers that he thinks demonstrate that the probability of these names being brought together is so significantly small that these ossuaries have to be the ossuaries of the Holy Family.

I have a few problems with the analogy and the numbers used to support them. First, as to the analogy, let's add in some more facts. Suppose that we know or have good reason to know where John Lennon is buried. Would we be so ready to assume that the four tombstones represent the Beatles? Probably not. Well, we have a good idea from other sources that Mary Magdalene wasn't buried in Jerusalem. There are competing stories, but the best attested appears to be that she was buried in Constantinople. Other stories place her tomb in France. But what is interesting is that there is no tradition that says she was buried in Jerusalem. Moreover, good authority tells us that Jesus wasn't buried at all since he ascended into heaven, so we have reason to doubt, at the outset, any claim that this is his body in the same way we have reason to believe that the four graves couldn't include John Lennon because he is elsewhere.

Moreover, as I pointed out in an earlier post on the name "Mariamne", it isn't at all certain that Mariamne is the true name of Mary Magdalene. Certainly, a fine professor at Harvard holds that belief, but I think there is strong reason to question that identification. And even if "Mariamne" was Mary Magdalene's real name (which remains questionable), there is no reason to believe that the ossuary of "Mariamene e Mara" is the tomb of the Mariamne described in the Acts of Philip and identified as Mary Magdalene by Professor Bovon. To use Mr. Jacobovichi's analogy, it would be similar to finding with the tombstones of Paul, George and John near a tombstone for a Ricard. The differences in the name may be significant. Also, it may be hard to tell how common the name of "Mariamne" is, even though it is clear from all of the Marys bumping around the New Testament that Mary and variations on that name must be very common. In Dr. Witherington's post on the subject, he states "21% of Jewish women were called Mariamne (Mary)". So, even if "Mariamne" is Mary Magdalene's true name, it is hard to say that fact proves taht this particular "Mariamne" is Mary Magdalene from the New Testament.

But here is where the numbers get confusing: Mr. Jacobovichi's figures estimate that the use of Mariamne in New Testament times would be 1 in 160. Dr. Witherington's numbers (obtained from Richard Bauckham, Professor of New Testament Studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor, St Andrews) would say that it is 1 in 5. Mr. Jacobovichi places the odds of "Jesus, Son of Joseph" at 1 in 190. But it is hard to believe that Mr. Jacobovichi's numbers are accurate since, as Dr. Witherington points out, about 1 in 14 men had the name Joseph and about 1 in 26 of them had the name Jesus. Now, what that means is that for every 26 Josephs, statistically speaking, one would name their child Jesus. Assuming that Jerusalem had a population of 80,000 at the time of Jesus, and assuming that 40,000 of those people were male, then there would have been approximately 2,867 Josephs living in the city (1 out of every 14 assuming 40,000 men). If there were 2,867 Josephs having children, again speaking statistically, 110 of those would name their child Jesus. In other words, there would be at least 110 men named "Yeshua ben Yose" who lived in Jerusalem while Jesus was visiting the city during the Passion Week. Now, let's assume that this burial tomb is more than a snapshot in time, i.e., there is a period of about 70 years from the digging of the tomb until the destruction of Jerusalem that these people could have been placed in these tombs. Over that time, there were almost certainly at least two separate generations that lived in Jerusalem. That means that there were at least 220 men named "Yeshua ben Yose" -- again, speaking statistically.

How many of these were buried with Mariamenes who they were not maternally related to? Well, if one in five women in the city were Marys and assuming the same as above, i.e., that there were two separate generations of 80,000 people over the 70 years from the digging of the tombs until the destruction of Jerusalem, then there would be 16,000 Marys/Mariamenes over that time. Seems pretty likely that a lot of people would be buried with women named Mary/Mariamene with whom they are not maternally related. (Certainly, it appears that there were at least eight other ossuaries in this particular tomb and it's doubtful that they were all related to her maternally except Yeshua ben Yose.)

But wait, there's more. For whatever reason, an ossuary for Matia was also found in the Talpiot tomb. Now, there is no mention of a "Matia" as a relative of Jesus in the Bible. So, what should we do with that? Mr. Jacobovichi decided not to include him in the calculations. "Nevertheless, to allow for any possible criticism regarding the inclusion of Matia (or Matthew) – since this name is not explicitly referenced in the canonical Gospels – Feueverger decided to eliminate him from the equation." Personally, I think that the fact that there was a Matia in the tomb who is nowhere mentioned in the Gospels shouldn't be taken as a non-factor. It seems to me that the inclusion of Matia in the "family tomb" should discount the possibility that it is Jesus' tomb. To go back to Jacobovichi's Beatles analogy, suppose that we found five tomb markers in England 2,000 years from now which markers were labelled simply Paul, George, Richard, John and Bernard. Doesn't the inclusion of Bernard who is nowhere to be found in connection with the Beatles (at least, none I can think of at present) make a case that these tombstones don't belong to the Beatles -- especially if you're arguing that the tomb in which the grave markers were found is supposed to be the "Beatles only" tomb? I think it does.

I haven't even yet mentioned that the tomb includes an ossuary for the son of this Yeshua named Judah. Again, the New Testament says nothing about Jesus having a son. Thus, again, it seems to me that if there is the inclusion of an ossuary for the son of Jesus and we have no reason to beleive that Jesus had a son other than this ossuary, that argues that this isn't the same Jesus as described in the New Testament. Thus, again, I would argue that the appearance of this ossuary for Judah, son of Yeshua, in the tomb should significantly reduce the probability that the Yeshua found in the tomb is the New Testament Jesus Christ. (The Jesus Tomb page on this Judah ossuary is so forced and speculative as to be funny.)

Again, looking at the numbers, I don't see where anyone could conclude that this is necessarily (or even likely) to be the tomb of Jesus of the New Testament. It is what archaeologists have always contended -- an interesting coincidence of names without any strong reason to believe that it is Jesus of the New Testament.

(Edited 8:21 pm to correct some typos and for easier reading.)


Lurchling said…
I had a friend years ago that has a brother and sister, just like I do. His brother and sister happened to have the same names as my brother and sister. My friend also had my first name. Our last names rhymed. I sure hope people dont mix up our families in 2,000 years.
Michael said…
What silly nonsense all this "Jesus tomb" is. It's just another silly publicity stunt to cause a DaVinci Code-esque uproar.

Here is my three step plan for defeating it.

1. Point out that this is incompatible with Islam

2. Find a quote from a Muslim leader calling this insulting to the prophet Jesus and thus insulting Islam

3. Send this quote to major news outlets and college campuses.

By the end of the week this project will be described as Islamophobic hate-speech and will be banned on all college campuses and will never air on television without an air of shame.
JD Walters said…
Let's humor the filmmakers and assume that in this Talpiot tomb, Marya is the mother of Jesus son of Joseph and Yose is his brother. How many people in Israel over the Herodian period could say that they are "Jesus son of Joseph and Mary and with brother Yose"? My guess is that that's still not terribly unlikely, but the probability estimation should not stop at Jesus son of Joseph.
Nicole said…
I think the film made a very interesting point. Too bad they couldn't do a DNA analysis of the actual bones!

It wouldn't bother me at all if we got proof that Jesus was married and had a child, that he died and was not resurrected in the flesh. I don't need to believe that he is the son of God to find meaning in his teachings and in the example he set during his lifetime.
Theodice in Practice said…
Nicole, the very things Jesus claimed to be in his teachings disqualify him from being a great moral teacher.

Either he was the Son of God, a horrible reprobate liar, a madman, or a devil of Hell. His very claim to have been God disqualifies him from being a great human moral teacher. If he was lying, then he isn't moral. If he was mad, he wasn't great and should be written off as such. If he was a demon...well, that's hardly a source for credibility, now is it?

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