Everyone’s heard about this Jesus Tomb thing. It’s very interesting. It is my duty as a human being with any sort of a brain to check out something that has bearing on what is to me the core incident that I have centered my life on. The Christian faith has trained me differently than it has others. Precisely because the Bible taught me that truth matters, I can’t simplistically cordon off by itself a category known as ‘religious truth’ (a separate category from reality). There is such a thing as ‘religious truth’, but it is something that is embedded in reality, not hovering above it. (That is the way the God of the Bible works.) It means I — and any credibly-thinking person, believer or not — must take the claim seriously, and treat it with a rigorous going-over.
That’s hard for me to do. Not because of faith, but because I know too much already about one of the two main people involved, Simcha Jacobovici. He is, to say the least, very fishy. He was the one who made the documentary that put the so-called James ossuary into the public spotlight a few years ago. It has been scientifically demonstrated that while it was a real ancient bone box, the inscription on it had been recently altered or added to, probably by a known counterfeiter. But he still tries to make people believe it’s real. That wasn’t the only time he shaded truth. He and James Cameron made the film (or is it a ‘flim’?) Exodus Decoded, which theorized that mariners from Crete were instrumental in the happenings in Exodus. They also posited a bizarre time line and geography of what happened, and explained the plagues as the eventual result of seismic happenings across the Mediterranean. (There’s a site that gives a good, if obsessive, point-by-point on it.) Why didn’t he add space aliens, or Sasquatch? With that kind of a track record, his involvement should do big-time damage to the credibility of any theory. When combined with the director of Titanic, there is the distinct fragrance of P.T. Barnum in the air.
But that by itself means nothing; liars are occasionally capable of telling the truth, or at least stumbling upon it. The question is, has Jacobovici done so here? One of the items I’ve seen in the press and publicity strikes me as especially weak : the supposed connection of the Mariamne box to Mary Magdalene. Talk about a stretch! Mariam(e)ne is a well-attested long-form Greek version of Miriam (Mary), used by Josephus for all sorts of Miriams. So far as my old Greek class notes tell me, there are two early sources where Mariamne was used as a name for New Testament figures : the gnostic Acts of Philip and the Gospel of Mary, both written at least 5 generations later. And the use in Philip was for Philip’s preacher-sister, not Mary Magdalene. The second word in the inscription is Mara, said to mean ‘master’. But its position in the inscription is where the other boxes have the name of a person. My old notes say Mara was used by Hellenistic Jews as a short form of Martha. However, it also may be a Hellenist’s rendering of the Jewish name/word Mara(h) (‘bitter’; found in Ruth 1:20). That could be a reference to the bitterness of Mariamne after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abandonment. In any event, in all the sources (including the gnostic ones), Mary Magdalene is named not by parentage but by town : Migdal. There is no mention of Migdal in the inscription. And, she was an Aramaic-speaking Jew from a small Jewish fishing village — so why the Greek name forms on the inscription? Especially if she was the wife of a Jew that had a Jewish (not Roman or Greek) name, as the theory says?
If Cameron bases the identification of Jesus on linking the Mariamne bone box to Mary Magdalene, it is built on a foundation of sand.