A panel of scholars and researchers met in Jerusalem this week (Jan. 26, 2008) to view the evidence and to present their own research on the ‘Jesus Tomb’ claims made in a documentary by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici last year.

Most rejected the claims as being rather doubtful.

The original scholars who analyzed the Greek inscription on one of the ossuaries from the tomb read it as “Mariamene e Mara,” meaning “Mary the teacher” or “Mary the master.” This lead to the speculation that the ‘Mariamene e Mara’ reference was actually Mary Magdalene and then they sensationalized her possible presence in the tomb as ‘proof’ that ‘Jesus son of Joseph’ married her and that they had a son also buried in the site.

The scholars point out a number of problems with this scenario. First of all, Jesus was never referred to as ‘Son of Joseph’ in the Christian community as far as anyone knows. Second, why would a poor itinerant preacher from Galilee end up buried along with his family in a upper middle class tomb in Jerusalem?

Third, there isn’t any Christian legend about the tomb or the location–quite the opposite. The relics and tombs of many early Christian leaders are venerated and their history can be somewhat be traced. Surely, a family plot of Jesus’ relatives would be remembered and venerated even if the resurrected lord was expected to be elsewhere.

fourth, the names on the ossuaries were all very common in 1st century Jerusalem. Also, the name–‘Jesus son of Joseph’ was scribbled on the ossuary and not prominently written as one might expect.

One scholar, Stephen Pfann, a textual expert and paleographer at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, claims that it doesn’t read “Mariamene” at all.

He says that his research indicates that the name is actually two separate names written by two different hands. The first name, “Mariame,” was inscribed in  formal Greek script. It was common to bury several bodies in a good ossuary. Pfann speculates that later the bones of another woman were added to the box and another scribe added the words “kai Mara,” meaning “and Mara.” Mara is a different form of the name Martha and the name was inscribed using a different cursive script . Therefore, according to Pfann’s research, the ossuary didn’t contain the bones of one person called ‘Mary the master’ but two women -‘Mary and Martha’.           

Even though most of the panel dismissed many of the documentary claims outright, the conference attendees did suggest that the tomb should be reopened and receive a more careful examination by a team of qualified scholars.

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