Those who have been engaged in Laughter and Scorn Apologetics (similar to the methodology used by young atheists today) regarding the Talpiot Tomb story have done their best to ignore the story and, not a few Roman Catholics (for some odd reason) have decided that I wasted my time replying to the story. But as I predicted, we have only seen the beginning of this topic.
Over on amazon.com an interesting exchange began to take place between a critic and Charles Pellegrino, one of the authors of the book. I was interested to see how strongly Pellegrino defends the central thesis of the book. So I asked a question in the thread:
Dr. Pellegrino, I wonder if you would be kind enough to comment on the fact that your work depends very heavily upon a 4th century Encratite text that Francois Bovon himself admits does not provide us with historical information about Mary Magdalene (his connection between Mariamne and Mary Magdalene is strictly literary, not historical, as he himself wrote to me. I provide his e-mail in _From Toronto to Emmaus_, pp. 66-68). Coupled with the far better readings of the ossuary inscription provided by Pfann and Robinson, does it not follow that the theories presented in the work should be abandoned?
Here is the response I read this morning. Those who have read the book will especially find this response fascinating:
Dr White: I have already addressed the Bovon point above, under Item 2, in my initial post in this review thread, dated 27 April, 2007, and again in the second paragraph of my 28 April post. As you may already know, this tomb is a subject bound to be under investigation for decades to come: Acquaintances in the Catholic Church (and, for the record, a Franciscan and a Jesuit are on my list of the top 20 most brilliant minds I have known) – have reversed their initial condemnation of the Tomb project, and say that there is information here meriting further inquiry; and the Israel Antiquities Authority is organizing a major scientific symposium devoted entirely to the Talpiot Tomb.
Professor Bovon has not backtracked on the identification of Mariamne-as-Magdalene in the Acts of Philip (see also Hippolytis’ Refutations 5:2 – 2nd century text identifying Mariamne as the woman who took charge of Jesus’ “discourses” [secret knowledge] about the time of the death of James the brother of Jesus). As I have said, Dr. Bovon and I are of differing opinions (based on interpretations of the same evidence) about the historical relevance – and let me re-empasize: about the historical relevance – of certain apocryphal texts. What matters, in this discussion, is that Francois Bovon’s opinions are the rational expressions of someone who is trying to probe the truth. Indeed, he makes some valid points and his opinions cannot be ignored, in our search for answers – and, most importantly, in our search for the right questions.
Question: On what scientific basis is it written, “the far better readings of the ossuary inscription provided by Pfann”…?
Stephen Pfann stands in stark contrast to Francois Bovon. His suggestion that the Mariamne inscription was made by two different people, with two different pressures and stroke styles, simply flies 180 degrees in the opposite direction of all forensic archaeological evidence. Fact-based comparisons are not very difficult (stylometrically or otherwise), given two words, inscribed on wet chalkstone in Greek, beginning, each of them, with the same three letters. (This is not rocket science – and as someone who designed nuclear propulsion systems before I went into forensic archaeology and deep-ocean biomedical research, I know rocket science.) Additionally (as can be easily seen by referencing the photos in the color section of the book), both the “stroke” or “eta” immediately preceding the word, “Mara,” and the first stroke of the second “M” following the “eta” were cut in the same srtoke style and direction, with the same amount of hand pressure (consistent with the same exact hand). Pfann, of course, has presented pictures with the vital punctuation (distinguishing two names for one person) brushed out – which is, naturally, the only way available to him, to argue that some of the best epigraphers in the world were unable to read simple Greek, and were according to Pfann too stupid to figure out that the name referred to two separate women buried in the same ossuary. This view also fully contradicts the signal of only one person’s DNA in the biological residue and bone fragments from the bottom of the Mariamne ossuary; but according to Pfann, the top paleo-DNA experts on the planet are not as bright as he, either.
The key observation is that, for one motivation or another (and I suspect Pfann’s recent self-description as a Catholic Evangelist might provide motive insight), Pfann has presented pictures, at a “scientific press conference,” with key elements of the Mariamne inscription redrawn, using “special effects.”
Where I come from, we call that, at best, rewriting the inscription until it says what the protagonist wants it to say – and at worst, fraudulently manipulating the evidence.
Moreover, when Pfann held his international press conference, presenting his pictures of the inscription sans its vital punctuation marks, he simultaneously propped up the credibility of his pictures by presenting himself as a professor representing a major “university.” To most of the world, a name like “Jerusalem’s University of the Holy Land” automatically evokes an image of a campus, with multiple professors, each teaching a specialized course curriculum in one of several specific departments. No reasonable reader could have been expected to know, from face value of the word “university,” without taking the extra step of Googling Pfann and his university, that the Administrative Building was a post office box… that the full curriculum for the last semester included only five courses taught by only a single full-time professor – Pfann… that, though Pfann spoke to the world like an expert on subjects of scientific importance, his university taught no science courses at all(only French, Greek, English, creative writing, and theology). The reasonable reader would have been shocked to know the truth – and the reasonable reader was shocked, when I revealed it. Pfann, too, appears to have been shocked and even angry; but I do not know for sure. The only reply I received came via his wife. It was a sort of “how dare you?” letter, castigating me for mentioning the true dimensions of Pfann’s “University of the Holy Land,” and declaring that size really does not matter.
Only in the hands of a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. or a Philip K. Dick, could much of the above have been made believable as fiction. I’m afraid reality becomes even more farcical; and perhaps even more dangerous as well.
– – C.R.P.
First, as I had said from the start, these men really believe they have “the case” to make against the resurrection of Christ. They have not drawn back from their claims; instead, they are only making the claim more strongly. But, of course, the careful reader recognizes major problems with this response. Tomorrow I will address this reply paragraph by paragraph.