The Names in the Talpiot “Jesus Tomb” are Not Common: The Latest on Yoseh
by James Tabor
I have argued in several published articles that the six names inscribed on ossuaries discovered in 1980 in a 1st century tomb in East Talpiot fit closely what we might expect for a family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. You can read a full summary of the case I make in my recent post, “The Case for a Jesus Family Tomb: A Comprehensive Summary of the Evidence,” here.
The most common response to my hypothesis is the assertion that “The names in this tomb are extremely common.” The implication is that this particular “Jesus,” namely “Yeshua son of Yehosef,” is simply one of many of the time, and he, along with his family members: Yoseh, Mariah, Mariamene/Mara, Matyah, and Yehudah could be any one of dozen of families with names like these. Accordingly, we are told, there is no good argument that this particular Jesus was our own Jesus of Nazareth.
The names are common. I could not count the times I have heard this–not only from the media but from trusted and well qualified colleagues who should know better–among them Amos Kloner, Tal Ilan, Eric Meyers, Jodi Magness, Bart Ehrman, Mark Goodacre, Stephen Pfann, Chris Rollston, Jonathan Reed, Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, Richard Bauckham–to name a few–all of whom have written or commented widely on the “Talpiot Jesus tomb” thesis. This refrain, repeated endlessly like a mantra, and picked up by hundreds of bloggers, reporters, and media spokespersons, seems to have “won the day” so to speak.
The problem is that this assertion is demonstrably untrue. It is not untrue because I say it is untrue, but because the evidence simply does not support this assertion. In fact, the growing body of evidence that has emerged as a result of academic discussions of the Talpiot tomb, shows quite the opposite–namely, that the majority of these six names are not only uncommon they are actually rare–with several of them associated uniquely with the family of Jesus of Nazareth. The evidence I refer to has been published and is widely available, especially at the web site The Bible and Interpretation. In fact, my most viewed post over the past year has been this one called “Keeping Up with the Latest on the Talpiot Jesus Tomb,” which gives links to all the latest research. Much of this new material will appear in print in the forthcoming Charlesworth volume, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family, including the cautionary note on the “name frequency” issue by Claude Cohen-Matlofsky, in her summary piece “Onomastics and Statistics in Second Temple Judaism, which you can read here:
As for the names of the Talpiot Tomb A, in light of the chart above: Yeshua` is the least common, Yehudah is the fifth least common, Mathiah is not even listed among the top 8 most common male names. I have treated Yoseh as a rare rendition of the name Yehoseph. Mariam/Mar(i)a is not the first most common female name in early Roman Palestine. Concerning the “cluster of names” as found in the Talpiot Tomb A, I wish the statisticians could revisit it in light of the above.
I can only hope that in the future this refrain, “the names in the tomb are common,” will go the way of all flesh and we can have a properly informed discussion of this issue.
In the meantime I wanted to highlight some of this latest research, beginning with the name Yoseh, which I have argued is a rare form of the name “Joseph,” one of the four brothers of Jesus named in Mark 6:3, see my 2007 post here. Since I wrote that piece we have learned much more.
The latest study by Eldad Keynan of Bar Ilan University is titled “Yoseh/Yosey–Heavyweight Names at Talpiot.” Keynan writes:
Statistical analysis of the Talpiot Tomb Yoseh reveals this name was very rare in the Second Temple Era. Yoseh was so rare in the first century as to make it a virtual singularity. If the name was a common name it would simply be one more name in the cluster of names found on the ossuaries within the Talpiot tomb. However, such is not the case, and Yoseh is therefore a sort of litmus test for determining the authenticity of the Talpiot tomb and crucial for determining the significance of the names contained therein.
You can read Keynan’s complete study posted yesterday at Bible and Interpretation here.