Monday, April 07, 2008

Another Round on the Talpiot Tomb

James Tabor continues to champion the assertion that the Talpiot Tomb could be the tomb of Jesus. He comments today on a recently published statistical analysis of the likelihood the tomb could be the real deal:

At long last, just over a year after the initial publicity over the Talpiot “Jesus Family Tomb,” the formal paper of Prof. Andrey Feuerverger of the University of Toronto has appeared in The Annals of Applied Statistics, the academic journal of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (Vol. 2, no. 1, March, 2008). Feuerverger’s paper, titled “Statistical Analysis of an Archaeological Find,” runs just over 50 pages with notes and bibliography. It is introduced by editor Stephen E. Fienberg and followed by another 50 pages of material from ten professional respondents. Feuerverger then offers a dozen page Rejoinder. Fortunately, for those not near a research library the entire issue, devoted to this subject, is available on the Web through Project Euclid.

This article should put to rest the many spurious claims that Feuerverger subsequently recanted his views on the probabilities of the Talpiot Tomb belonging to Jesus of Nazareth and his family, most recently repeated by Thomas Madden on the National Review Web site over Easter. It will also show the complete inaccuracy of the assertion made by a number of scholars following the January Princeton Seminar conference in Jerusalem that “A statistical analysis of the relatively common names engraved on the ossuaries leaves no doubt that the probability of the Talpiot tomb belonging to Jesus’ family is virtually nil if the Mariamene named on one of the ossuaries is not Mary Magdalene.”


Based on the calculations of Elliot and Kilty, whose paper can be downloaded from the Web, and as discussed by Camil Fuchs, who along with Andrey Feuerverger, sat on the panel at the Jerusalem conference dealing with statistics, the name cluster, even leaving Mariamene out entirely, with no assumptions regarding Mary Magdalene, show a probability factor of .48. This result is far from “virtually nil,” in fact it is very close to 1/2, meaning if we had two tombs to examine, one of them would be the Jesus tomb. Both Ingermanson and Fuchs are among the respondents to the published Feuerverger paper.

It now appears, with Feuerverger’s paper in print, that we have finally reached the point where a more responsible and accurate discussion of the Talpiot tomb name frequencies and statistics can take place. We can at least say that anyone who asserts “the names are common,” as a way of dismissing the evidence, is either completely ignorant of what we now know, or uninterested in an informed and truly academic discussion.

I look forward to reading the replies.

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