And So the Talpiot Apologetic Takes Shape (Part II)

   Yesterday I noted the response of Dr. Charles Pellegrino to my questions regarding the Talpiot Tomb theory. Today I examine his response.

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.

   This is a classic example of a non-responsive response. That is, Dr. Pellegrino could not have addressed what I said about Bovon, which included reference to Bovon’s correspondence with me, reproduced in my book, before I made mention of it, and a review of his preceding posts shows that he does not, in fact, interact with Bovon’s own assertion that the Mariamne/Mary Magdalene connection is literary and not historical. Instead, he made this claim:

In this debate, however, Bovon has never “backtracked” on his interpretation that “Mariamne,” the sister of the apostle Philip, is, in the Acts of Philip, the Mary Magdalene known from the New Testament and from other early Christian traditions.

   Yet, as I cited Bovon, “…but I place myself on the level of literary traditions and not on the level of history” (From Toronto to Emmaus, p. 67). Then, in a later post, Pellegrino writes,

As I have said, Francois Bovon disagrees, on the basis of legitimate scientific skepticism, with the Mariamne-“Magdalene” of the Talpiot Tomb being the Mary Magdalene known from the Christian Bible. As for the question of a Mary named “Mariamne,” Dr. Bovon has said, of the woman apostle described in the Acts of Philip and even in Church history (Hippolytus, Refutations 5.2): “And this apostle, Mariamne, is attested to in ancient Christianity as a Greek formulation for Mary Magdalene.”

   It does not appear to me that Pellegrino wishes to admit that Bovon’s entire assertion, which is the bedrock of their theory, regarding Mariamne/Mary Magdalene is literary and not historical in nature, and always has been. The failure of Jacobovici and Pellegrino to note this in their work is fatal to their theory, and isn’t overly helpful to their credibility in their use of sources, either. As for the rest of this paragraph, it is hardly relevant; no names are given, no specifics cited.

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.

   Please note, Pellegrino continues to present Bovon’s words as if he is intending them to be placed in the context of history, when Bovon has made it very clear that this is an improper use of his words. Without the Mariamne/Mary Magdalene connection in history the Talpiot Theory crumbles. Bovon did not have to “backtrack” because any fair and scholarly reading of his claims would have informed the careful reader of the difference between seeing literary parallels and making historical claims. The reference to Hippolytus (not Hippolytis) The Refutation of All Heresies Book V, Section 2, is interesting, if only for the way Pellegrino characterizes it. Now, ironically, a quick scan of the TLG and relevant scholarly sources reveals that there are a number of issues that make this source somewhat problematic. The underlying Greek translated in the English was “Mariamne” is actually Mariamme. Here is the common English translation:

These are the heads of very numerous discourses which (the Naassene) asserts James the brother of the Lord handed down to Mariamne. In order, then, that these impious (heretics) may no longer belie Mariamne or James, or the Saviour Himself, let us come to the mystic rites (whence these have derived their figment),—to a consideration, if it seems right, of both the Barbarian and Grecian (mysteries),—and let us see how these (heretics), collecting together the secret and ineffable mysteries of all the Gentiles, are uttering falsehoods against Christ, and are making dupes of those who are not acquainted with these orgies of the Gentiles. For since the foundation of the doctrine with them is the man Adam, and they say that concerning him it has been written, “Who shall declare his generation?” learn how, partly deriving from the Gentiles the undiscoverable and diversified generation of the man, they fictitiously apply it to Christ.

   But note the Greek from the TLG actually reads, “Mariammh” rather than “Mariamnh.” Note the spelling with two ‘m’s.’ Clearly, Hippolytus is not affirming the idea, promoted by those he identifies as heretics, that there was any such “secret knowledge” at all—in fact, that is the point he is refuting in the passage. But, ironically, the term Mariamne (with an ‘n’) does appear in Hippolytus, just not here. When he summarizes the heresies he has refuted, he says of the Naasseni,

These are the heads of doctrine advanced by them, as far as one may briefly comprehend them. They affirm that James, the brother of the Lord, delivered these tenets to Mariamne, by such a statement belying both. (10:5).

   The Greek text of this passage spells the name Mariamnh. Why the Greek here is spelled differently than in the previous portions, I do not know. But in any case, all we have here is a reference to a small group that made a particular claim about the source of some of their teachings, which, when we examine them (their teachings), we see have no meaningful connection to the worldview and religious background of first century Palestine.
   As to the rest of this paragraph from Pellegrino, I simply must ask if, in fact, this is a “quest for truth,” why there is such a skewed utilization of sources, placing huge emphasis upon a text like The Acts of Philip that no reasonable examination of its nature and history can sustain?

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.

   I do not believe Dr. Pellegrino’s knowledge of “rocket science” is overly relevant at this point. I am likewise skeptical as to the claim that Pfann would alter pictures. What “punctuation” is relevant to the reading of the inscription? What evidence does he have of specific tampering? And I am especially concerned at how quickly Pellegrino devolves to simple rhetoric, “stupid” and “not as bright as he,” etc. This is hardly scholarly writing. But as anyone can see from Pfann’s article, the vast majority of his argumentation has been passed over in silence here.
   As to the DNA evidence, is it being suggested that multiple people’s bones in the same ossuary would always be detectable by the kind of microscopic sampling done here? In other words, would it not be more likely that the bones on the bottom would predominate, and perhaps be the only mitochondrial DNA residue left in such a situation? If the bones of a second person never even touched the bottom, how could they leave DNA residue at all?
   In any case, to be sure, Pellegrino, Jacobovici, etc., are not “backing down” in their claims, and given the climate in which we live today, can anyone seriously suggest that we have heard the last of the Talpiot Tomb?