The Jesus Tomb Math

William A. Dembski, Ph.D. (Mathematics), Ph.D. (Philosophy), MS (Statistics) Robert J. Marks II, Ph.D. (Electrical Engineering)

This material is a supllement to "Jesus Tomb Math" by William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, a Chapter in Buried Hopes or Risen Saviour (B&H Publishing Group, 2007). [PDF]

Multinomial Sums

The multinomial sum expresses the combinatorics of the names found in the Talpiot Tomb. The equation is:

multinomial sum

Matlab Code

The multinomial sum is implemented using MATLAB code which can be downloaded.

Number of Jesus Families as a Function of Family Size

Cases 1 and 2 are the same except for the size of the Jesus family (10 and 20 respectively). So are Cases 3 and 4 (also 10 and 20 respectively). Letting the family size vary gives the following curves for a population of one million. The program to generate this figure uses FamilySize.m which, in turn, uses repeated queries to Multinomial.m. To generate this figure copy and paste:

clear all;close all;[C12,C34]=FamilySize(10^6,25)

Number of Jesus Families as a Function of Family Size: Another Case

A Scientific American article states, "One in every three women listed in the Lexicon was named Mary, for instance, and, at that time, one in every 20 Jewish men was called Yeshua, or Jesus." (ref) According to this, Mary should be about (105/317) rather that (80/317). Also according to this, the odds for the name Jesus should thus be increased from (103/2509) to (125/2509). This suggests the following statistics.

N = 1,000,000; m1 = m3 = 1; m2 = 2
p1 = 1/2 x 125/2,509 x 231/2,509 = .00189 (Yeshua bar Yehosef)
p2 = 1/2 x 125/317 = .126 (Mariamne and Marya both treated as Mary)
p3 = 1/2 x 34/2,509 = .00678 (Yose)

Using these figures, we obtain the 54 Jesus families assuming a family size of 10, and 226 for size 20. Here is the corresponding plot that can be generated using FamilySize2.m which, in turn, uses repeated queries to MonteCarlo.m. To generate this figure copy and paste:

clear all;close all;[C]=FamilySize2(10^6,25)

Other Factors Not Considered

  1. There has been no consideration given to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ that conflicts with his being buried. (ref)
  2. There is no consideration given to the possibility the Jesus tomb is a forgery. Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics writes:
    "Several years ago, an ossuary was found, independent of Talpiot that bears the inscription, `James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.' The antiquities dealer behind the `James' ossuary is currently on trial in Israel for running a forgery ring. Nevertheless, many scholars believe that the `James' ossuary is legitimate and that it will be vindicated. This is the position of the documentarians, who further claim that the `James' ossuary is the missing tenth ossuary."
  3. How do we weigh in that the site of the tomb is far from Nazareth, the Biblical home of Jesus? According to Scientific American, "[Professor Jodi] Magness, an archaeologist with an interest in early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ... believes that if Jesus's family were wealthy enough to own a burial cave, it would have been in his home town of Nazareth and not in Jerusalem."(ref)
  4. One ossuary in the tomb read "Judah son of Jesus." Proponents have opined this might be Jude, the author of the epistle that bears his name. In the Bible, however, Jude was referred to as Christ's brother. Some proponents claim, with no justification, that Judah was Christ's son and therefore strengthens the case for Christ's tomb. Opponents of the tomb hypothesis claim the presence of the Jude ossuary should, rather, detract from the evidence the tomb was Christ's. (ref)
  5. The following considerations are from an article by Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics. (ref)
    • "Even if we assume that Jesus was buried, it is exceedingly unlikely that he would be buried in or around Jerusalem."
    • "The name on the ossuary, 'Jesus son of Joseph,' was not how followers addressed Jesus. As a matter of fact, this is what Jesus' opponents called him."
    • "There is no historical evidence of any kind that indicates that Jesus had a son named Judah or a close relative named Matthew, [the names on two other ossuaries in the tomb."
    • "Where is his father Joseph? Where are his brothers, James, Simon and Jude? Where are his sisters? Where is his aunt? Of at least 9 people known to have been in Jesus' family, we only have three ossuaries.

Quotes Concerning "The Jesus Tomb"

  1. "I wouldn't be comfortable coming up with a number like this [Feuerverger's final figure], because the general audience will not understand that it is very, very subjective," Ivo Dinov, assistant professor of statistics at the University of California, Los Angeles. (ref)
  2. "As you pile on more assumptions, you're building a house of cards," Keith Devlin, a Stanford mathematician and NPR's "Math Guy."(ref)
  3. "It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics [calculated by Feuerverger] are unpersuasive. You know the saying: lies, damned lies, and statistics," Prof. Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University. (ref)
  4. "[A] specialist in ancient apocryphal text, Professor Francois Bovon, who is quoted in the film as saying the enigmatic ossuary inscription 'Mariamne' is the same woman known as Mary Magdalene - one of the filmmakers' critical arguments - issued a disclaimer stating that he did not believe that 'Mariamne' stood for Mary of Magdalene at all.  ..." (ref)
  5. "[The names found in the tomb] are in every tomb in Jerusalem. You can get all kinds of clever people who know statistics who will tell you that the combination is the unique thing about [these names], and probably they're right - if you want just exactly this combination it's more difficult to find. But my research proves exactly the opposite - these are the most common names that you could expect to find anywhere," Tal Ilan, author of Lexicon of Jewish Names (ref).
  6. "Personally, I'm skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers. .. We need much more evidence before we can say that the Talpiot tomb might be the family tomb of Jesus," Shimon Gibson, part of the team that excavated the tomb two and half decades ago (ref).
  7. After all of this, Dr. Feuerverger now is said to assert  “I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family.“ (ref)

Some References

Carl Bialik, "Odds of 'Lost Tomb' Being Jesus' Family Rest on Assumptions," Wall Street Journal. (ref)

Jay Cost, "Examining the 'Jesus Tomb' Evidence," Real Clear Politics. (ref)

Michael Crichton, "Aliens Cause Global Warming," (ref)Although not specifically concerning the Jesus Tomb, the cocreator of the television hit E.R. and author of Jurasic Park addresses junk science in politics in an address given at Cal Tech.  Many believe the Jesus tomb is junk science.  Jay Cost, for example, says, "What they offer here is not science, but pseudo-science -- polemic dressed in scientific language. Numbers and "tests" are trotted out, but only for the sake of appearance. The hypothesis is never actually in danger because the falsifying evidence is excised before the evaluation begins. In other words, the rules of the game are: heads they win, tails you lose. The game was rigged from the start." (ref)

Andrey Feuerverger, "Dear Statistical Colleagues," Version of March 12, 2007.  (ref)

Summary of Andrey Feuerverger's statistical analysis of the tomb names. (ref)

Mark Goodacre (Associate Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Duke University), "Tomb Statistics: Feuerverger Responds." (ref)

Etgar Lefkovis, "Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack," The Jerusalem Post. (ref)

Christopher Mims, "Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus's Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error? Should You Accept the 600-to-One Odds That the Talpiot Tomb Belonged to Jesus?" Scientific, March 2, 2007. (ref)  

"Q&A With the Statistician Who Calculated the Odds That This Tomb Belonged to Jesus (ref)."

"Says Scholar Whose Work Was Used in the Upcoming Jesus Tomb Documentary: "I think it's completely mishandled. I am angry.'" (ref)

Ben Witherington, "The Smoking Gun - Tenth Talbiot Ossuary Proved to Be Blank." (ref)

The Evolutionary Informatics Lab