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Resources for Evaluation of the Claims of Charles Pellegrino Regarding Stephen Pfann/Tomb Issues, With Comments

   In the materials I posted earlier Charles Pellegrino make some pretty harsh accusations against Stephen Pfann. I found the rhetoric used by Dr. Pellegrino most regrettable, and more so, rather misleading. It was certainly far more personal than appropriate. I posted a link to Dr. Pfann’s blog, “The View from Jerusalem,” but I wanted to provide some specific links to the material that replies to or refutes Dr. Pellegrino’s accusations. Specifically:
   Dr. Pellegrino says Dr. Pfann’s reading of the ossuary (which I included in my book, along with Dr. Robinson’s suggestion, both of which have more probability than the reading adopted by the Talpiot Theorists) “simply flies 180 degrees in the opposite direction of all forensic archaeological evidence.” I would call upon Dr. Pellegrino to abandon the use of this kind of argument. It is invalid on its face. “All”? Surely anyone who has read Pfann’s paper is well aware that it is well argued and documented, so, the very statement is impossible on its face (see also here). Steven Cox has likewise examined the inscription using a number of modern scientific tools, and as noted by Dr. Pfann on his blog, the results have been submitted to the IAA (and I note, again the regular dismissal of the IAA by the Talpiot Theorists). The truth of these matters is not helped by this kind of rhetorical claim on Dr. Pellegrino’s part.
   Next, Pellegrino claims the strokes that appear before “MARA” and the “first stroke of the second “M” following the “eta” were “cut with the same stroke style and direction, with the same amount of hand pressure.” Here is Pfann’s response.
   Next, I have examined the images used by Pfann in his paper and compared them against the images found in Pellegrino’s book, and I find nothing of substance to the allegation of someone “brushing out” “vital punctuation.” Dr. Pellegrino will have to be more specific as to exactly what his claims are at this point, how the alleged “punctuation” is relevant to the reading of the inscription, etc. At this point, we only have bald assertion.
   I always get nervous when generic, and exaggerated, terminology is used in contexts like this. Pellegrino attempts to make it look like it is Pfann vs. “some of the best epigraphers in the world.” I assume Pellegrino is not including himself in this group, so, to whom does he refer? Rahmani and Di Segni? Surely Pellegrino recognizes that Rahmani’s work is not meant to be definitive, but, more of a cataloguing effort so that the data would not be lost. Pfann notes in his blog that Profs. Emile Puech and Tal Ilan have come to the same conclusions as he has regarding the reading, and that others, upon reading his paper, have agreed with his conclusions. Now, of course, just as with the Acts of Philip material, we are touching the very heart of the Talpiot Theory. If any other reading were to be allowed, Pellegrino’s entire work would have to be dismissed. So, I would suggest there might well be some “vested interest” here. At the very least, what Pellegrino offers here is not counter-argumentation on the level Pfann offered (why not provide refutation of his citation of other contemporary documents and sources that have similar forms of the word “kai” for example?) but mockery. Dr. Pfann’s article was scholarly in tone and demeanor. Why stoop to using language like, “were unable to read simple Greek” or “were according to Pfann too stupid to figure out”? This is inflammatory rhetoric unworthy of sound scholarship.
   I noted earlier problems with the DNA claims. I included Carney Matheson’s e-mails in my book, and would note that given the nature of mitochondrial DNA, the incomplete examination of the ossuaries, the nature of the “human debris” (i.e., extracting materials from one portion of the ossuary would not necessarily give you a complete picture of how many people had been placed in the bone box), coming to the firm and indisputable conclusion that only one person was in each of the tested ossuaries is not only unwarranted, but might indicate yet more bias in reference to the examination of the data. Remember, the documentation indicates a much higher estimation for the number of persons/ossuary than 1:1, but the Talpiot Theorists need 80/500 and 80/503 to have just one person in them.
   It is just here that I must again request of Dr. Pellegrino that he consider well the value of such statements as, “but according to Pfann, the top paleo-DNA experts on the planet are not as bright as he, either.” I am, sadly, quite accustomed to this kind of invalid argumentation in my own work, and it is normally a sign of a less-than-sound argument that someone would utilize it.
   Likewise, the entire second to last paragraph struck me as little more than rank ad-hominem. I am accustomed myself to the “scholarship is not something you do, it is something you buy” mentality of so many today, so I am particularly sensitive to seeing it being used against others. I would invite Pellegrino to provide me with URL’s or other forms of documentation regarding this “press conference” to which he refers, and, again, scholarly documentation regarding punctuation, “special effects,” and “redrawing.” How, specifically, is the reading of the inscription impacted by these things? How is the reading one sees in the pictures in Pellegrino’s book different from the same material found in Pfann’s paper? To accuse Pfann of “fraudulently manipulating the evidence” is serious indeed, but the bare accusation is not itself evidence. When the Lost Tomb of Jesus film told us that “the church” destroyed manuscripts of the Acts of Philip in the second century, two hundred years before it was written, or when it told us that the Acts of Philip tell us Mary Magdalene would die in Jerusalem (when it actually says Mariamne would die in the Jordan River, which does not flow through Jerusalem), are these errors constituent of “fraudulent manipulation of the evidence” I wonder?
   I am fully confused by Pellegrino’s commentary regarding University of the Holy Land. First, when did size become determinative of quality in education? Secondly, did Dr. Pellegrino actually take the time to look through the website itself? Just a moment or two’s examination revealed far more in the way of course offerings, etc., than Pellegrino indicates. So, why use this approach?
   It is surely my hope that Dr. Pellegrino will adopt a different approach in future discussions, for this kind of ad-hominem laced discussion adds nothing to these very important inquiries.

The Saga Continues

   For those using RSS readers, you might wish to add this one to your list. It is Dr. Pfann’s blog out of Jerusalem, and if you wish to keep up on the developments in the Talpiot saga (contrary to rumors, those promoting the theory did not throw up their hands, surrender, and go home after the Ted Koppel program), this will be of significant use to you.

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?

And So the Talpiot Apologetic Takes Shape (Part I)

   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?
James White
www.aomin.org

   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.