The “Jesus family tomb”

The Discovery Channel claims,

A 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah.

Discovery will explore the claim in a documentary to be aired on March 4.

Talpiot tombThis news is bound to thrill the gullible and the sceptical alike.

The gullible are the millions of uneducated folk who believe that Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, reveals the truth: Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children by her.

The sceptical are those who have eagerly anticipated the discovery of Jesus’ body one of these days. I’m sure they will regard the tomb as material evidence debunking Jesus’ resurrection.

(An aside: Liberal scholars long ago abandoned the notion of a bodily resurrection. They distinguish between Paul’s statements and the Gospel accounts, which were written later. Paul never mentions an empty tomb and never explicitly says that the resurrection appearances involved a revivified body.

ossuaryThe makers of the documentary maintain, “the discovery of the tomb does not undermine the key Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected three days after his death.”)

The tomb in question contained nine ossuaries — stone boxes containing human remains. Some of the ossuaries have names inscribed on them. The following table is adapted from James Tabor, a scholar associated with the discovery:

actual inscription familiar rendering
 1.   Yeshua bar Yehosef   Jesus son of Joseph 
 2.   Maria   Mary (Jesus’ mother?) 
 3.   Mariemene   Mary (Magdalene?)
 4.   Yose   Joses (Jesus’ brother?) 
 5.   Matya   Matthew (the apostle?) 
 6.   Yehuda bar Yeshua   Judah son of Jesus 
 7, 8, 9.   no names   N/A 

Many scholars have scoffed at the discovery:

“Simcha [Jacobovici, who directed the documentary] has no credibility whatsoever,” says Joe Zias, who was the curator for anthropology and archeology at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997 and personally numbered the Talpiot ossuaries.

“He’s pimping off the Bible … He got this guy [James] Cameron, who made ‘Titanic’ or something like that—what does this guy know about archeology? … Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession.”

The key battleground is statistical: how likely is it that several names associated with Jesus would appear together in a shared tomb?

All of the names are extremely common. (Remember that Jews tended to name their children after outstanding figures in Jewish history, providing a limited pool of names — particularly for girls.) Richard Bauckham refers to a data base of 3,000 Jews (mostly men) living in Palestine during that era, and whose names are known to us.

  • Joseph (or Yose, the abbreviated form) was borne by 218 or 8.3% of the men.
  • Judah, by 164 or 6.2%.
  • Jesus, by 99 or 3.4%.
  • Matthew (in several forms), by 62 or 2.4 %.
  • Of the 328 women, 70 (21.4%) were named Mary (Mariam, Maria, Mariame, Mariamme).

That the individual names are commonplace is agreed by all parties. The question is, how likely is it that this combination of names associated with Jesus would appear? James Tabor makes the case:

My statistical consultant gave me a very simple analogy: Imagine a football stadium filled with 50,000 people—men, women, and children. This is an average estimate of the population of ancient Jerusalem in the time of Jesus.

If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 2,796 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 351 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a mother named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only 173. If we then ask only those of this group with a brother named Joseph only 23 are left.

And finally, only of these the ones with a brother named James, there’s less than a 3/4 chance that even 1 person remains standing.

There’s a problem with the last sentence, which I have set apart as a separate paragraph: here Tabor brings in the evidence of a tenth ossuary, which I have not included in the above table. Tabor assumes that the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus (a controversial relic in its own right) came from the same tomb.

We don’t know where the James ossuary was interred: it was purchased on the open market. But the evidence suggests it was not taken from the “Jesus family tomb”. The “Jesus family tomb” is located in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem. According to Ben Witherington, an evangelical scholar:

The James ossuary, according to the report of the antiquities dealer … came from Silwan, not Talpiot, and had dirt in it that matched up with the soil in that particular spot in Jerusalem. … The ossuaries that came out of Talpiot came out of a rock cave from a different place, and without such soil in it.

Now let’s return to James Tabor’s informal statistical analysis. If we eliminate the last sentence, we have 23 residents of Jerusalem who fit the criteria: Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, with a brother named Joseph. Hardly a slam-dunk case!

Briefly, some parting comments —

• Jesus’ family tomb should not be located in Jerusalem. The Gospels make it clear that the family lived in Nazareth in Galilee.

• How does the appearance of “Matthew” (Matya) strengthen the case? Matthew was a follower of Jesus: we shouldn’t expect to find him buried in the tomb of Jesus’ family, just because he is mentioned in the Gospels.

• There is no evidence that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, let alone that he had children by her. Unless we assume that the fantastic reconstruction of Dan Brown is true, there is no reason that we should find Mary Magdalene in the “Jesus family tomb”.

• Jesus of Nazareth was celibate. That one of the inscriptions refers to “Judah, son of Jesus” is evidence against the theory.

• Finally, I note that the documentary makers saw particular significance in the name Mariemene. James Cameron comments, “Mariamene is Mary Magdalene – that’s the [distinctive name], that’s what sets this whole film in motion.” But Richard Bauckham, who specializes in the study of biblical names, disagrees:

The name Mariamenon is unique, the diminutive of the very rare Mariamene. Neither is related to the form Maramne.

OK, that’s scholarly talk. The point is this. The documentary makers are trying to connect the name in the inscription to a specific variant of “Mary”. The variant, “Maramne”, is used of Mary Magdalene in the gnostic gospels. Richard Bauckham maintains there’s no connection between the two. There is no reason to leap to the conclusion that Mariemene is Mary Magdalene.


65 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. addofio
    Mar 01, 2007 @ 23:04:36

    My impression is that anyone’s conclusions about Jesus based on historical facts are similar to a Rorshach (sp?) inkblot test. People see what they want to see in the (extremely sketchy) evidence. Crossan, for instance, argues in “The Historical Jesus” that Jesus may not have been buried at all, because of his class (only wealthier people were entombed, the poor were tossed into lime pits); others have argued that the gospel Jesus never existed at all. Yet others maintain that the evidence for Jesus’ existence is more reliable than the evidence for the existence of Julius Ceasar. Do these arguments impact the number of believing Christians? Not noticeably. People pretty much seem to believe, or not believe, whatever they like regardless.


  2. Stephen
    Mar 02, 2007 @ 08:44:31

    I agree that people project onto Jesus whatever they want to see. But I don’t think it’s for want of evidence; I think the psychological factors in play are much more complex than that.

    For example, familiarity breeds contempt. People would much rather hear something new and titillating about Jesus than the same old story that has been passed down through the centuries.

    There is also an understandable reaction against dogma. Some Christians maintain that they possess the absolute truth. Other people react by swinging to the opposite extreme: they raise the evidentiary bar so high that no one can convince them that Jesus even existed.

    Let’s take Socrates as a point of comparison. Few people would argue that Socrates never existed, or that we know nothing about him. And yet Socrates is similar to Jesus: the biographical information that has come down to us is second hand and the sources do not agree in their depiction of him. Philosophers are aware that Socrates has been mediated to us through Plato, in particular. But, to my knowledge, they accept that we know at least the general outline of Socrates’ life.

    Getting back to Jesus — there is an overlay of supernatural claims in the Gospels, in addition to what we might consider relatively straightforward biographical data. And that immediately introduces another psychological factor: modern Westerners are predisposed to reject any miraculous claim.

    I don’t think every claim in the Gospels is equally plausible. On the other hand, I don’t agree with those who rule out anything remotely miraculous on a priori grounds. This is an area where one’s presuppositions do matter: where people see only what their minds are open to.

    The Gospels fit within the genre of bioi — the first century equivalent of biographical writing. (See my excerpt from a book by James Dunn here.)

    I think it’s informative to compare the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) with the Fourth Gospel (John) and the non-canonical gospels (Thomas, Philip, Mary Magdalene, and many others).

    On the one hand, we can see a clear tendency to inflate the story. The prologues of Matthew and Luke supply a virgin birth, without support anywhere else in the New Testament; John depicts Jesus emphatically claiming preexistence (”Before Abraham was, I AM”); the apocryphal Gospels have Jesus performing miracles as a kid, and supply a description of the moment of Jesus’ resurrection. In all these instances the Evangelists set out to make the story “better” as the decades scrolled by.

    The flip side of the above observation is that the synoptic Gospels are relatively conservative: particularly so in their handling of Jesus’ words.

    Even problematic sayings are retained. For example, Jesus saying about celibacy: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Mt. 19:12). This saying is found only in Matthew’s Gospel, but there are relevant parallels elsewhere (e.g., Mark 9:43-47, which almost certainly has sexual sins in mind).

    In general, Jews did not practice celibacy. They believed in marriage and lots of children (as orthodox Jews still do today). This is a saying that would not have endeared Jesus to his society. It has also proven very problematic for subsequent generations of Christians — e.g., some literally castrated themselves out of “obedience” to the principle.

    (An aside: one wonders what the “family values” crowd make of this verse!)

    The point is, it isn’t likely that the saying was invented by a devout follower of Jesus. The fact that the saying is recorded in the Gospels suggests that Jesus really said it, and that the words made a deep impression on people. And this single saying begins to bring Jesus into focus:

    (1) as to his manner of speech, Jesus was sometimes deliberately shocking to convey his point compellingly; (2) his ethic centered on his expectation that the kingdom of God was coming (made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven); and (3) Jesus himself was celibate. He was probably responding to critics who mocked him because he didn’t have a wife.

    As for the miracles, this much is clear: Jesus was remembered as a person who performed healings. You can claim, on a priori grounds, that the healings never happened; or you can argue that they resulted from psychosomatic (not spiritual) forces. But it won’t do to just label them “unhistorical”. Everyone knew Jesus was a healer, and people crowded to him in hope of witnessing or receiving a healing — that’s a historical memory.

    It is another clear, historical memory that Jesus addressed God as “Abba” in prayer. “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “Father”, and that Aramaic word is retained twice in the Greek New Testament. This mode of address to God was a distinctive trait of Jesus that was vividly remembered (and reenacted) in the early Churches.

    (For us, referring to God as “Father” is a commonplace, but that is precisely because of our Christian heritage. Scholars who have studied the literature, particularly Jeremias, report that the use of “Father” for God was not commonplace among first century Jews — in fact, it was virtually unheard of.)

    The general outline of Jesus’ life is clear, no matter what gullible or sceptical people may think. He was celibate, despite Dan Brown’s fertile imagination. More significantly, Jesus was “charismatic”, in the pentecostal sense of the word: he experienced an extraordinary degree of intimacy with his “Abba” Father; he was utterly dedicated to the cause of the Kingdom of God; and he travelled about the Holy Land, in the power of the Holy Spirit, healing the sick.

    Yes, there’s lots of room for disagreement within that general outline. But the general outline is solid and reliable. To anyone who is genuinely interested in the subject, I recommend E.P. Sanders’ book on the historical Jesus. Not that I agree with every word, but it’s a cautious piece of scholarship. Also, Sanders makes his methodology explicit up front, which is the responsible way to proceed.

    As for Crossan, he is on the lunatic fringe of New Testament scholarship. He relies heavily on his own reconstruction of non-canonical gospels, which carries no conviction among other scholars. Dale Allison’s book on Jesus as Millenarian Prophet (also highly recommended) demonstrates in some detail that Crossan’s conclusions are arbitrary.


  3. whig
    Mar 02, 2007 @ 23:37:43

    Stephen, you make many interesting points, but you seem to make heavy emphasis of the theory that Jesus was celibate. Why does this seem like a certainty, and why such an important one to you?


  4. whig
    Mar 02, 2007 @ 23:39:58

    Another important thing I would ask you to consider is how language has been corrupted and lost to translation error in many cases, sometimes intentionally. Celibacy is not the same thing as chastity, either.


  5. Stephen
    Mar 03, 2007 @ 10:05:01

    • Whig:
    Let me begin my reply by posing a question: how important is the “historical” Jesus?

    There are different opinions on the subject. Rudolph Bultmann, the most influential New Testament scholar of the 20th century, maintained that the historical Jesus is completely irrelevant to Christianity. The only thing that matters is “the Christ of faith” — Paul’s mythological tale of a dying and rising God.

    My inclination is in the opposite direction. I think Christianity must be grounded in the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth.

    The scholarly world swung in that direction after the second world war. Why? Because the Nazis used Christianity to justify the Holocaust.

    When the war ended, and the full horror of Nazi atrocities became known, scholars decided that the historical Jesus might be important after all! After all, the historical Jesus was a Jew: as such, he cannot be co-opted to legitimize antisemitism.

    The point is this: the historical Jesus sets limits on the speculation people can indulge themselves in. Dan Brown’s depiction of Jesus as a married father hardly ranks with the Nazi sacrilege. But it’s a similar failure to allow the historical record to restrain irresponsible speculation.

    According to New Testament scholars, only one of the non-canonical Gospels has any claim to historicity. The Gospel of Thomas consists entirely of sayings of Jesus. Arguably, the sayings have been given a Gnostic spin; nonetheless Thomas may provide independent attestation to Jesus’ words.

    This is a contentious issue among New Testament scholars. What is not contentious is that the other non-canonical Gospels are worthless as historical sources: late, tendentious, fantastic.

    Jesus’ celibacy isn’t important to me, really. I don’t believe in his deity, and I don’t think there’s any virtue in celibacy. (Rather the reverse: I think a fully human life involves sexual contact!) If I believed in Jesus’ deity, it would probably trouble me to think that he made babies. What would their status be? — demi-gods?

    The only reason I care about Jesus’ celibacy is because I think the historical Jesus matters. And we have only two choices: either the synoptic Gospels are bioi, accurate at least in their broad strokes — or we know nothing whatsoever about the historical Jesus.

    In my view, there is no cause for radical scepticism. Even Bultmann, who was a very sceptical scholar, believed we knew the basic facts about Jesus. He just didn’t think those facts mattered for faith!

    Here’s one small hedge on my bets. It is possible — though highly speculative — that Jesus was married in his youth. He didn’t begin his ministry until age thirty. It is just possible that Jesus had a family but subsequently abandoned them for the sake of the kingdom of God.

    That scenario could be read into Jesus’ saying about making oneself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom. And it’s worth noting that the Buddha had a family that he abandoned when he set out on his quest for enlightenment.

    I don’t think Jesus did the same thing, but we can’t completely rule it out as a historical impossibility. What does seem clear from the record is that Jesus lived a celibate life for the short duration of his public ministry, and then he was summarily executed.

    There is no space in the synoptic record for Jesus to marry a female disciple like Mary Magdalene. He was utterly single-minded (note the pun) in his pursuit of the kingdom.


  6. R. Kirk Kilpatrick
    Mar 03, 2007 @ 11:44:22

    I enjoyed your entry here. If you would like some more information, please see:



  7. Stephen
    Mar 03, 2007 @ 20:57:06

    Thanks, Dr. Kilpatrick. I didn’t know that there has been a series of claims of this sort over the past hundred years or so, centering on the Talpiot district.


  8. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 00:26:42

    Stephen, I think I should rephrase: Do you understand that a man can be both married and celibate?


  9. Stephen
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 10:13:53

    OK, sure, a married man could renounce sex without divorcing his wife. And now I have some idea where you’re headed. I wonder whether you’re familiar with the Acts of Thecla?

    What authority tells you that Jesus was married but celibate?


  10. juggling mother
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 13:35:49

    Without caring in the slightest whether we find/have found Jesus tomb (although I think it HIGHLY unlikely we ever will, just due to statistical probablity), I would point out that in the historical culture that Jesus lived in, it is extremely unlikely he made to to 30 years old unmarried & childless. If that had been so, I expect a great deal more would have been made of it as it would have been something that made him stad out from the numerous other prophets of the time.

    As far as I am aware (and I am happy to be corrected as I am not a scholar of such thigs) I don’t think the gospels specifically say that he was bar-mitzvah’d at 13 years old, but there is pretty much no doubt that he would have been. Some things would have been so part of the norm as to be unenecessary to write about at the time.


  11. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 13:56:03

    Stephen, one more time. Celibacy is not chastity. Do you understand that a man can have sexual relations with his wife and be celibate?


  12. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 13:57:43

    I’m sorry, I think you do understand. I’m too quick on my trigger today, please excuse me, and I’ll think of something more thoughtful to say before I respond next.


  13. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 13:58:25

    My only authority is my own, as having an understanding of myself.


  14. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:02:50

    My wife and I choose to defer having children into the indefinite future, because we cannot provide financially for them at this time without sacrificing our important missions. There is no vow of chastity.


  15. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:05:34

    What it means for Jesus to have been celibate, as I understand it, he could have a wife and she was Mary, and he could have other female companions, with whom he did not have sexual relations.


  16. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:06:09

    And other male companions, for that matter.


  17. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:07:13

    This is the important understanding — Jesus did not have sex with his apostles — except for Mary.


  18. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:08:19

    This is remarkable because they loved him and he loved them all.


  19. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:15:38

    And please also remember we are not talking about what words mean today but what they meant 2,000 years ago, and they were different words. So you have to think in context, and realize that marriage is a concept that was being invented as it is still being invented today.


  20. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:17:37

    There is plenty of evidence that some of the other apostles were jealous of Mary, and it is incomprehensible to me that you will say he was not married to her.


  21. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:20:14

    If his body were to die, his consciousness would instantly have snapped into Mary’s, and he was resurrected on the third day.


  22. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:23:01

    We mirror, we learn, we transform ourselves into that which we join ourselves to, and we become a new substance. Marriage is a sacrament.


  23. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 14:35:22

    I had not previously been aware of the story of Paul and Thecla. I’m not sure if it has relevance, but you may inform me if otherwise.


  24. Stephen
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 19:02:36

    • Juggling Mother:
    In the historical culture that Jesus lived in, it is extremely unlikely he made to to 30 years old unmarried & childless. If that had been so, I expect a great deal more would have been made of it as it would have been something that made him stand out.

    Most scholars believe the Qumran (Dead Sea scrolls) community practiced celibacy. It would certainly constitute an unusual expression of dedication to God within Judaism, but not without precedent. This is one of the pertinent details that Dan Brown’s theory gets wrong.

    And I’m suggesting that it was made much of at the time. What survives of the debate is written from the perspective of Jesus’ followers. As a result, we get the explanation of why Jesus valued celibacy, though we don’t hear what his critics said to elicit a rationalization.

    • Whig:
    You’re reversing the words “chaste” and “celibate”, which has caused me some confusion. One can be sexually active and yet chaste (disciplined in one’s sexuality). But to be celibate means, no sex.

    You can’t say, on your personal authority, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. You weren’t there. Moreover, it was 2,000 years ago, in the middle east: a culture radically different from ours.

    Your intuitions about how it might have worked are liable to mislead you. That’s why the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was so significant: it provides an objective window into a religious community with similar background and goals.

    You say that the other disciples were jealous of Mary. According to the canonical Gospels, Mary was of no special significance. So I ask you again: what authority are you relying on?


  25. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 20:48:40

    Stephen, you are correct that I was reversing chastity and celibacy. I recognized the difference between them, but got my left and right reversed if you like.

    Fragment from Thomas:

    114. Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.”

    Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”


  26. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 20:49:58

    Which is what I said before, “If his body were to die, his consciousness would instantly have snapped into Mary’s, and he was resurrected on the third day.”


  27. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 20:51:11

    There are ways of understanding shared consciousness, but they are hard to express.


  28. whig
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 21:04:43

    I sense words won’t convey what I’d like. Have I given you the recipe for good bread, and are you interested in discovering what was done 2,000 years ago?


  29. mikemagee
    Mar 04, 2007 @ 22:18:00

    This whole nonsense of the Jesus Family Tomb could not have arisen unless the Christians felt obliged to believe that Jesus had a close family. Looked at in a fair and balanced way, he did not. he was a member of a brotherhood, the Essenes. Little in the story need be changed if this is true, and a great deal that seems mysterious can then be answered. But will the Christian suddenly stop just believing and instead look at the evidence properly. No chance!


  30. Stephen
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 07:51:08

    • Whig:
    As I mentioned earlier, the Gospel of Thomas is the only non-canonical Gospel which scholars take seriously as an alternative source of information about Jesus. This doesn’t mean every saying is equally likely to be historical, however. I believe the standard view is, there were at least two recensions of Thomas: an earlier, Greek version and a later, Coptic version (the one that is extant).

    In any event, let’s consider the saying you’ve quoted. It says that women must become male to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Jesus of the synoptic Gospels has a higher view of women than this: they can enter the kingdom of heaven as women.

    But it’s possible that is too harsh an interpretation of Thomas. There was a movement early in Christian history which called for the traditional sex roles to be banished.

    This is why I mentioned the Acts of Thecla. It tells the story of a woman (Thecla) who renounced sex at the urging of St. Paul. She was then free to live like a man: travelling without the covering of a male head of household, teaching and even baptizing converts. Very heady stuff for a second or third century woman! Thecla was an enormously popular figure in the early Church.

    However, the prerequisite of Thecla acting like a man was her celibacy. Thus this emancipatory movement in early Christianity provides no support for the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had babies, but contradicts it.

    I don’t think the movement actually traces back to Jesus. But it was one trajectory of historical development that emerged from the teaching of Jesus: with his high regard for women coupled with his commendation of celibacy, as a high calling for those capable of it — as he himself was.

    • Mike M.
    Scholars leave open the possibility that John the Baptist emerged from the Qumran community. They haven’t found evidence of a direct connection between Jesus and the Essenes, but John influenced Jesus, so there may have been an indirect connection.

    John was ascetic, just as the Qumran covenanters were. (All Essenes did not share this trait.)

    Jesus is difficult to categorize. He was not an ascetic in certain ways (notably food and wine, where he directly contrasts himself and John). But he was an ascetic in other respects — celibacy and poverty.

    You’re right, I don’t see that making a connection between Jesus and the Essenes necessarily unravels anything in our traditional understanding of him.


  31. whig
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 19:44:53

    Stephen, I think you may put too much in literal interpretation, and again there is no problem with Mary (and possibly Thecla) being chaste now that we’ve got the meanings of those terms properly defined. There is no need for celibacy and there is nothing which tells me that Jesus was in favor of prohibiting procreation.


  32. whig
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 19:45:59

    In other words, Mary was married and so was as a man to other men, she would have no sexual relations with them.


  33. whig
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 19:47:54

    The objection to Mary is she was alleged to have been a prostitute, hence not chaste. But by making her a man, by taking her as a wife, Jesus restored her to fullness, in the sense that the other apostles could not think of her as a sexual relator towards them.


  34. whig
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 19:54:37

    How could Jesus say anything about adultery, if he were not married?


  35. Stephen
    Mar 05, 2007 @ 23:00:37

    I think you may put too much in literal interpretation.

    What you call overly-literal interpretation is, in fact, what it means to do history.

    I’ve haven’t offered you an arbitrary or dogmatic opinion. I’ve offered you a considered opinion, grounded in a range of sources: canonical Christian, non-canonical Christian, and non-Christian (the Dead Sea Scrolls).

    This is how history is done. Careful consideration of all relevant source material provides a control against wild speculation.

    Otherwise people will just believe any old thing that pops into their heads, as if all opinions are equally valid.


  36. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 01:46:34

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, just not their own facts. All real perspectives are valid, some are better than others.

    You have a real perspective and I respect it. Historical study is good for what it reveals, but is insufficient for my purpose of applying the understanding and helping to bring about the transformation which Jesus represents.

    I have knowledge of some things that does not come from books, but from experience. I cannot cite to experience, but I can tell you how to find it for yourself.


  37. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 01:51:40

    I ask you again, because it’s important. Why would historical Jesus have had any opinion of adultery if he were unmarried?


  38. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 01:55:22

    He was not one just to recite the ten commandments.


  39. Bill
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 14:05:20

    I hate to just jump in, but the answer to “Why would historical Jesus have had any opinion of adultery if he were unmarried?” is the same as Why a priest would have opinions on marriage. One does not need to experience a thing to be able to comprehend and thus have an opinion on it. This would mean an male OB GYN should have no opinion on womens health because he is not a woman.


  40. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 15:41:18

    Bill, an OB/GYN can study anatomy, but how would Jesus have studied marriage? And he wasn’t a priest, he was a rabbi. Rabbis are married.


  41. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 15:45:32

    I will say this: There is nothing in the scripture of which I am aware regarding Jesus having opinions of child rearing.


  42. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 15:55:40

    I know that I would not want marriage counseling from someone who is unmarried, if I needed it, and priests are better known for molesting children these days. This bears repetition. Jesus was not a priest.


  43. Jim
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 16:25:11


    Intuitively I agree that Jesus was probably celebate, but I also am having trouble following your argument. Does it state anywhere in the historical record that he was celebate, or are you merely interpreting the record of him speaking positively about celebacy?


  44. Bill
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 16:54:21

    I never claimed Jesus to be a Priest. I am aware that Jesus was a rabbi (an Authoritative teacher) ,i>John 3:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Also the argument that Priests are known as child molesters is a straw-man as it does not relate to the argument I could have easily said why a pastor would have opinions on premarital sex. Besides statistically speaking you are more likely to be molested by your parents than a priest, that is a quantitative fact. Of course if you are a relativist then even that is debatable, but then all arguments are un-winnable, and then all arguments become a waste of time. Unless an opinion has some basis in logic or fact it is just an opinion, and has a negligible value.

    There are many unmarried marriage counsellors whether you would take advice from them is irrelevant to whether they are qualified to counsel. The value of personal experience over academic knowledge is questionable.

    My point is one does not need to experience something to be able to have an opinion on it. In my opinion falling off a 16 story building is painful I don’t need to jump to understand this do I?


  45. Stephen
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 18:03:31

    • Jim:
    The evidence is partly negative: i.e., there are no references to Jesus’ wife. We know the names of the apostles, and others who believed in him or supported his ministry financially, and various other people he ministered to or was criticized by. But there is no mention of a wife, which is a curious omission. It demands an explanation.

    Also, Jesus didn’t lead the sort of life that would have been conducive to raising a family, since he constantly travelled about. As he put it, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20). That doesn’t sound like a description of someone with a house and a wife waiting for him someplace.

    And then there is his commendation of celibacy:
    The disciples said to him, If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry. But he said to them, Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For … there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it (Mt. 19:10-12).
    Note the tone of the final sentence, where Jesus actively encourages his followers to be celibate if they’re able to live that way. Shall we suppose that he encouraged others to make that sacrifice, but was unwilling to make it himself?

    In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Mt. 22:30 // Mark 12:25 // Luke 20:34-36).
    This saying has implications beyond Jesus’ argument with the Sadduccees over the resurrection of the dead. The primordial time (before Adam’s sin) and the time after God sets everything right again — these are the times when creation is ordered according to God’s ideals. Thus the text implies that celibacy is the ideal, and marriage is an inferior concession to the necessities of this world.

    Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all (Luke 17:27).
    This saying confirms the impression of the above two texts: marriage is relatively unimportant. The point is that Noah’s neighbours were busy going about the everyday business of this world and neglecting something of supreme importance, God’s impending judgement.

    Similarly, marriage is insignificant when you believe the kingdom of God is at hand. The first saying (about eunuchs) says it explicitly. The next two sayings imply as much.

    Personally, I find this teaching difficult. I have a positive view of sex and marriage: it troubles me that Jesus spoke of them as an accommodation to human weakness (Mt. 19) or the necessity of procreation (Luke 20). But my feelings are beside the point. Integrity demands that we follow the evidence where it leads, and don’t pretend it leads where we would prefer it to.


  46. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 21:52:52

    Stephen, your argument rests on a thin textual foundation. Rabbis are required to be married. If Jesus was not married, he was not a rabbi.


  47. whig
    Mar 06, 2007 @ 22:05:40

    There is plentiful evidence in the gnostic scriptures that Jesus had a wife. If you pre-select the Roman-approved texts that support your position, then of course they will say nothing of things they wished to conceal.


  48. Stephen
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 07:17:44

    My argument rests on a thin textual foundation? That’s funny, Whig! I asked you twice for the authority on which your position is based, and you pointed me to a single text in Thomas, which does not say that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

    My argument is consistent with all the information we have about Jesus and about first century Palestinian society. More on that a little later this morning — although I’ve already said plenty for anyone who understands how to think historically.


  49. Jim
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 14:27:24

    Thanks for your detailed answer, Stephen. I appreciate the time and effort!

    I’ve heard the argument about rabbis being required to be married and I don’t think it holds much water. Am I wrong in thinking that “rabbi” merely means “teacher” and is not a title that is necessarily restricted to the leadership of a Jewish temple? In any case let’s assume for a moment that Jesus was claiming to be an official Rabbi of the sort that needs a wife. The other Jewish leaders already had many a bone to pick with him and in fact, his supposed “blasphemies” led to his death. I’d think his being unmarried would be a relatively minor transgression.


  50. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 15:41:40

    You asked me to show that there was jealousy of Mary. I showed that.


  51. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 15:45:33

    From the gospel of Mary:

    1) When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her.

    2) But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, Say what you wish to say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.

    3) Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things.

    4) He questioned them about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?

    5) Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?

    6) Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered.

    7) Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.

    8) But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.

    9) That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.

    10) And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.


  52. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 15:49:57

    Jim, Jesus was a rabbi and he had a minyan — his apostles. The requirement of marriage does not pertain only to the temple.


  53. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 15:51:35

    He broke the Sabbath laws, quite notoriously. No mention of him being a false rabbi.


  54. Stephen
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 16:09:27

    • Jim:
    Am I wrong in thinking that “rabbi” merely means “teacher” and is not a title that is necessarily restricted to the leadership of a Jewish temple?

    I doubt that “Rabbi” is applied to Jesus in any formal sense. Elsewhere in the NT, we’re told that Jesus was unschooled. As applied to him, Rabbi presumably just means “esteemed Teacher”.

    It is an open debate whether Rabbis existed, in the formal sense, in the first century.

    Whenever people refer to Talmudic references, an alert reader will bear in mind that the Talmud was written a few hundred years after the NT. The “rabbinic” literature reflects new realities, not least the destruction of the Temple in CE 70, and the final disbursement of the Jewish nation c. 130 CE. The formal rabbinate may not have existed prior to the reorganization of Judaism at Jamnia after the Temple was destroyed.

    In any event, Jesus operated on his own Spirit-empowered authority, not under the auspices of any guild.

    Your question uses “temple” where you probably meant “synagogue”. There was only one Temple prior to CE 70, and no Temple afterward.

    Synagogues were ruled by Elders, not Rabbis. Again, I suspect that “Rabbi” was used only in an informal sense in the first century, to refer to someone with outstanding mastery of scripture / tradition.

    I’m not sure what the relationship was between Elders and Rabbis after CE 70 — I would have to study up on that. Getting history right is no easy task — even a scholar (which I am not) can easily get the details muddled if s/he speaks from memory.


  55. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 16:42:07

    You doubt they meant “rabbi” seriously?

    Okay, then.


  56. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 16:45:30

    You make textual allusions to”celibacy” to support the idea that Jesus didn’t encourage Christians having children, but you deny the plain word “rabbi” having any real meaning. Selective, you are.


  57. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 16:46:53

    This is the law of Jesus, hear me. Do not commit adultery.


  58. Stephen
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 17:30:14

    • Whig:
    I am not selective: you are. I have taken a range of literature into account; you want to privilege the non-canonical Gospels over all other sources.

    The other difference between us is that I think historically whereas you don’t. Hence I think it’s relevant that the Talmudic literature was written a few hundred years later, but you gloss over that fact.

    Rabbi means “Teacher”. Whether it was used as an official title depends on whether such an institution existed at the time. And that is a historical question.

    Re the Gospel of Mary — here are Bart Ehrman’s thoughts. (Ehrman is a liberal scholar and an agnostic — not a fundamentalist Christian.)

    The Gospel of Mary is preserved in two Greek fragments of the third century and a fuller, but still incomplete, Coptic manuscript of the fifth. The book itself was composed sometime during the (late?) second century.

    … Mary’s special relationship with Jesus is seen above all in the circumstance that he reveals to her alone, in a vision, an explanation of the nature of things hidden from the apostles. …

    It appears that the vision involved a conversation she had with Jesus, who described how the human soul could ascend past the four ruling powers of the world in order to find its eternal rest. The description of the fate of the soul is related to salvation narratives found in other Gnostic texts.

    (from Ehrman’s introduction to the Gospel of Mary in Lost Scriptures)

    I have already explained that the Acts of Thecla testifies to a particular trajectory of Christianity in the second century and beyond. The Gospel of Mary is also part of that later development.

    The kicker here is the obviously Gnostic orientation of the Gospel of Mary. Certain scholars have made a concerted effort to prove that gnosticism predated Christianity — and they have failed.

    Gnosticism is an essentially syncretistic religion which mixed elements of Christianity with speculative notions derived from other sources. To my knowledge, no scholar argues that the Gospel of Mary is earlier than the date Ehrman assigns to it: (late?) second century.

    Please note, I am not rejecting the text: I am simply assigning it to its proper historical context, a hundred and fifty years after Jesus’ crucifixion.

    It tells us something about early church history: that a cult grew up around Mary Magdalene long after she, too, was dead. But the book tells us nothing about the historical Jesus.

    Also, it does not say that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, any more than the Gospel of Thomas does. You are reading things into the text that are not there. But I’m sure you will again accuse me of over-literalism and a selective use of the source material.


  59. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 19:18:13

    I don’t need to accuse you of what you accuse yourself. Mary is a later gospel than some because she continued the ministry of Jesus for some time thereafter. Unless you want to accuse her of being a liar, you must take her perspective into account and give it at least as much weight as any other. It does not matter precisely when it was reduced to writing, as none of the gospels are truly contemporary. What matters is whether it is consistent and then you must decide how to synthesize these perspectives. Discard a scripture at peril.


  60. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 19:20:00

    Your own telling is inconsistent and false, because Christians did not adopt celibacy, except for the priests who were not part of the early church.


  61. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 19:26:52

    God always commands extra duties of the priests, going back to Leviticus.


  62. whig
    Mar 07, 2007 @ 19:29:46

    Mainly to prevent them from propagating themselves.


  63. Bill
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 00:08:09

    I thought it was only assumed that the author of the Gospel of Mary was Mary Magdalene. The text only refers to her as Mary.

    Karen L. King, Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University Divinity School, believes it has value but labels it “a piece of theological fiction.”

    Not saying we can’t learn something from it but I agree with Stephen the book tells us nothing about the historical Jesus. From an historical point of view all the gospels lack validity because they are not primary sources (from the words of people that saw or experienced the event) only some weight can be given to the devotion to the truth the authors may have felt, but the further from the events the further from the truth is often true.

    The dates of the Gospels are generally accepted as follows;

    * Mark: c. 50s to early 60s, or late 60s
    * Matthew: c. 50 to 70s
    * Luke: c. 59 to 63, or 70s to 80s
    * John: c. 85 to near 100, or 50s to 70

    Even the producers of the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” date the Gospel of Mary to the late second century.

    A good example of how even a few decades can alter history is the current rise of Holocaust denial accounts.


  64. kitty
    Mar 22, 2007 @ 16:53:13


    Why are you so hung up on Jesus’ comments on adultery? He’s not acting as a marriage counselor. It’s a social comment. Jesus asscociated with prostitutes and outcasts and advocated for those who couldn’t support themselves, such as widows and children. One of the reasons that women became prostitutes is because their husbands divorced them, sometimes for paltry reasons, like the husband finding someone else younger or perhaps the wife got sick. Jesus saw the direct negative effects of marital infidelity and preached that the Kingdom of God would not allow such situations.

    Today somone might be an elementary school teacher and unmarried, but heavily disapprove of divorce because he/she can see the negative effects of divorce on the children in the classroom. Are you saying this unmarried teacher could not hold such a position?


  65. whig
    Mar 22, 2007 @ 17:13:32

    Kitty, Stephen does not want me to respond here. I only reply to tell you so.


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