Saturday, March 03, 2007

"Mary the Master"

The biblioblogosphere has been jumping on the Jesus Tomb documentary with both feet; I haven't seen such a bonanza of crackpot-theory refutation since The DaVinci Code. So there's not much left for me to do. Enjoy Jodi Magness's take on the subject, or Mark Goodacre's, or Ben Witherington's, or Richard Bauckham's at Paleojudaica. Shooting fish in a barrel is fun.

I'll limit myself to a few observations on one point. The sole Greek text among the ossuaries reads Μαριαμηνου Μαρα. (The particle η, said to be present between the two words, is not.) The "Jesus Tomb" scholars would like to understand this as "Mariamene (= Mary Magdalene) the Master." They are taking the word Μαρα to be a transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning "lord, master." However,

1. It is hard to understand why the Aramaic word would be used instead of a Greek one in the Greek ossuary.

2. It's not clear exactly what form of the Aramaic word they are referring to. Μαρα could = מרה ‎, that is, the emphatic state of the masculine form of ‏‎maré. However, this form is only attested centuries later; the usual emphatic masculine form at this period would be ‏מריא‎. It's also not clear why a female would have a title in the masculine gender.

3. The word Μαρα could also = מרה, ‏מראה‎, the feminine absolute form of the word. However, the absolute form would have to mean "a lady" or "a mistress," not "the Master" or "Master." The emphatic form of the feminine would be ‏מרתא‎ = Μάρθα, "the Mistress," "the Lady" (also the proper name Martha).

Therefore the Jesus Tomb scholars seem to be wrong again. "Mara" is pretty obviously either a nickname for Mariamene, or refers to another woman whose bones were also interred in the ossuary.


Danny Zacharias said...
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Benjamin S. Lewis said...

Tabor has finally weighed in on this issue. Is he in substantal agreement with your point 3.?

EMC said...

Tabor seems to agree that the form must be feminine absolute; but his further claim that this is a title ("honorable lady") both here and in other ossuaries, is gratuitous. I would like to see examples of this usage (which seems unlikely to me) in other Aramaic texts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Cook:

Regarding the "Mariamene" ossuary's inscription: Stephen Pfann recently offered a correction of Rahmani, stating that the inscription is actually two inscriptions, the first of which reads "Mariame" and the second of which reads "kai Mara."

His analysis is online; there's a link somewhere at NT-Gateway. His case looks very convincing, and when Rahmani's reading is placed alongside Pfann's analysis, Rahmani's reading seems strained.

Recognizing the "kai" is key (and in this regard, Pfann has an advantage that Rahmani probably did not have). If you'd like to view some other instances of the sort of lettering used in the "kai" that Dr. Pfann describes, you can check out some of the papyri at Duke University's collection:
P. Duk. Inv. 778 (Amulet),
P. Duk. Inv. 765 (Biblical commentary), and
P.Duk. inv. 529 R, (private letter)
all have "kai" written in ways resembling what Pfann sees in the ossuary-inscription.

(Links to images:
P. Duk. inv. 778
P. Duk. inv. 765
P. Duk. inv. 529 R

While these examples of "kai" are written on papyrus, rather than inscribed in limestone, that does not materially impact the clarity of the script when compared to other examples of "kai." Plus, it seems obvious that the inscriber of the "kai Mara" inscription was writing in a curvy, semi-cursive script; the "Coptic Mu" in "Mara" is distinct from the mu's in "Mariame," and the long flourish-line under the inscription shows that the inscribing-tool was hard enough, and the stone was soft enough, to allow the inscriber to write fluidly.

Btw, I welcome you to visit my flaw-by-flaw review of "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" at .