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On Yoseh, Yosi, Joseph, and Judas son of Jesus in Talpiot

It may not be the Jesus family tomb, but we judge that the calls for viewing Joseph as the only legitimate name to be used in any calculation concerning the Talpiot tomb are not solidly based. It negates the obvious family preference concerning the name inscribed on the ossuary. It fails to take into account the rare form of Yoseh in the written record. Moreover, it violates the archaeological and sociological context of this burial by denying the family's perceptions and meanings of life and death.

By Kevin Kilty
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Wyoming

Mark Elliott
Department of Religious Studies
University of Wyoming
April 2012

Who is Yosi?

At the risk of repeating a number of arguments just one more time and boring those who follow the dispute regarding the names in the Talpiot tomb, we wish to address a few questions on the names Yoseh, Yosi, and Joseph and a short note on Judas son of Jesus. Returning to the issue of the names in the Talpiot Tomb is tiring, but it appears necessary. We have always maintained that "the key to calculating the probability of the Talpiot tomb belonging to the family of Jesus of Nazareth is the inscribed ossuary located in the tomb containing the name Yoseh."1 In 2826 names in all written sources for the Greco-Roman period there are 3 examples of Yoseh in Hebrew (6 are in Greek). The name in Hebrew is only inscribed on one ossuary located in Talpiot, on Jason's Tomb and in the Murabbaat papyri.2 The nickname cannot be considered "common" regardless if it is a variant of Joseph or any other name. Simply stated, the critics of Talpiot continue to insist that the name Yoseh is not rare when all available records indicate the opposite. "We stated a number of times that if we consider the name Yoseh as meaning more than a variant of Joseph, then the probability that this tomb is the Jesus family tomb is 47%. However, if Yoseh is to be regarded as simply Joseph in all circumstances, then the likelihood that this tomb is ‘The Lost Tomb of Jesus’ is only 3%."3 It has now come to our attention that several scholars believe we should also insert Yosi in our calculations regarding the Talpiot Tomb.

In a recent paper, Jack Poirier asks, "Surely Kilty and Elliott would agree that “Jose”[Yoseh] and “Josi” [Yosi] are the same name!"4 On the ASOR blog, Richard Bauckham wrote, "So whereas Kilty-Elliott count only 9 occurrences of Yoseh, they should really be counting about 40 (depending a bit on whether one counts some rather more variant spellings), which would give a considerably higher frequency."5

Concerning Poirier, we do not agree that Yoseh and Yosi should be considered the same name, at least not in the first century. And Bauckham is correct; if we include Yosi in our calculations, it would dramatically change the probabilities of the Talpiot Tomb. But the evidence is against the use of Yosi in any computation for ascertaining an accurate probability that Talpiot is the Jesus family tomb.

According to Tal Ilan's Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity the Hebrew name Yosi is only found in Mishnaic literature 29 times.6 It interesting to note that the name Yoseh is not referenced at all in the Mishnah, while in later rabbinic times it appears 1209 times.7 Despite the problems with the Mishnah in verifying names, the failure to mention Yoseh in any circumstance seems to affirm the rare usage of the name in the first century. Yet, using the Mishnah for authenticating any name for the first century is a major problem. According to Jacob Neusner, the Mishnah cannot be shown to be reliable document. Neusner warns us that no rabbinic document contains a reliable attribution to a specific individual. We have no way of demonstrating that an authority in the Mishnah "really maintained the views assigned to him--even if not in the actual words attributed to him."8 He further adds that we cannot demonstrate what a rabbi is alleged to have said is in any sense accurate. William Green asserts rabbinic works are anonymous: the literature "has no authors. No document claims to be the writing of an individual rabbi in his own words.... Rabbinic literature is severely edited, anonymous, and collective."9 Moreover, Paul Flesher maintains that the Mishnah portrays an imaginary society and that "no saying by a named authority appears in ipsissima verba or even in the form in which it was transmitted."10

So how do we reconcile the name Yosi in a document that in most cases it is not possible to authenticate what any given sage really said?11 The Mishnah is not the only apparent obstacle in using Yosi in our calculations. The Hebrew name Yosi (Yod, Vav, Samech, Yod) is nowhere attested outside the Mishnah. As far as we know, it is not found on any of the 650+ inscribed ossuaries found in Judea during the Second Temple period.12 It is missing in the entire corpus of the Dead Sea Scrolls. More important, it is not found in the Talpiot Tomb. Obviously, Yoseh did not bury himself; his living relatives buried him. Burials show the interaction among individual family members in a living society, "who used particular burial practices to construct their own social reality."13

The family chose Yoseh as the name to be inscribed on the deceased's ossuary and no other name. This insight demonstrates the relationship between the living and the dead. We find that evidence compelling concerning the name of this individual and are not convinced it can never be used independently or must always be combined with Joseph or Yosi in any computations concerning Talpiot. For a number of critics, only Joseph is a legitimate name to be used in any calculation concerning the tomb, but this would require that we ignore the meaning given by the family members of the Talpiot tomb to the burial of their dead relatives. Consider the solemn aspect of the burial:

The members of the family took part in the funeral and also in the ceremony of secondary burial, gathering the bones in an ossuary after the soft tissues had decomposed. Ritual feasts and speeches about the virtues of the dead were made in a family setting.... Placing the bones in the ossuary was done in accordance with traditional customs, and the members of the family who inscribed the ossuaries with the names of the interred placed additional bones from the same family in the same ossuaries. The tasks of collecting the bones into the ossuaries and inscribing the names created a situation in which more women than men were buried with children and babies; more men had personal ossuaries; more extended male names expressing lineage were indicated in the ossuary inscriptions; and more men were indicated by inscriptions about their public persona....14

The Talpiot Tomb is connected intimately to the private lives of the family. It is unlikely they had the ossuaries inscribed with names other than what the individuals were called during their lifetimes.

On Joseph

Mark Goodacre argues that Matthew uses the name Joseph for Jesus' brother (Matt. 13.55 and Matt. 27.56) and should take priority over Mark's Joses (6:3) for this same brother. In the Gospel of Luke, there is no mention of Jesus' brothers. As far as we know, there is no scholarly objection to Mark's Greek Joses for the Hebrew Yoseh. They are the same names. Goodacre tells us "Matthew clearly regards Joseph as an alternative, preferable way of saying 'Joses'."15 However, we don't agree that Matthew's Joseph should take priority over Mark's Joses. Nearly all of the Gospel of Mark is found in Matthew. Many of the passages were heavily edited, even removed by Matthew who undoubtedly appropriated Mark's work. There are any number of edits Matthew makes to Mark that are obviously suspect or even impossible. Professor Goodacre knows these well, as does every major New Testament scholar. So does Matthew have any insight on the name Joses? What information did Matthew have concerning Jesus' brother? Did he know anyone from Jesus' family? What evidence exists that Joses was ever called Joseph?

Goodacre points to Acts 4.36 where he maintains the same Joseph/Joses variation is found in this verse in Acts as in Matthew. The verse is as follows: "There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’)." This Joseph in Acts is the same spelling as found in Matthew 13.55 and 27.56. More importantly, older manuscripts of Acts do have a form of Joses for this verse, and later the name was changed to Joseph.16 This indicates that a scribe changed Joses to Joseph, whose motives are unknown, at some uncertain time between the 1- 4th centuries CE. Does this mean the name Yoseh in the Talpiot tomb must be considered Joseph also? This scribal change is rather innocuous and could have transpired any time over a 300-year period. This claim lacks the sort of information, such as a date, needed to make any definitive comments on its meaning. It exceeds the limit of a reasonable interpretation to project this puzzling emendation back to first century. It sheds little light on the discussion about the name of Jesus' brother.

Recently, James Tabor has added a new element to this Joses/Joseph conundrum. In some manuscripts of Matthew, a rare form of Jose/Joses exists to indentify Jesus' brother, which supports computations based solely on Yoseh.17 This spelling is so rare that it exists in only two other contexts in Ilan's corpus of names from 300BCE to 200CE. Why is Matthew using a rare Greek form of Joses to identify Jesus’ brother?18 In Matthew 13:55 we have Joses in two 9th century manuscripts whereas in Matthew 27:56 we get the variant Yose for Yosef in two of our earliest and most reliable manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Ephraim as recovered by Tischendorf. We have two alternatives here. A scribe working with the Gospel of Matthew changed Joses to Joseph, at a date undetermined. Otherwise, Matthew simply copied Mark and used this rare form of Joses reflecting the unusual name Yoseh; thus he had no reason to use Joseph. The Joseph in the Matthew manuscripts was not original. It appears that the text of Matthew is not entirely trustworthy in this matter. A mischievous scribe has added to the chaos regarding who is in the Talpiot Tomb. If Tabor is correct concerning the interpretation of these Matthew manuscripts, then it is not implausible that Matthew never knew any other name for Jesus' brother but Yoseh Joses.

But let us return to the Talpiot Tomb. It may not be the Jesus family tomb, but we judge that the calls for only viewing Joseph as the only legitimate name to be used in any calculation concerning the Talpiot tomb are not solidly based. It negates the obvious family preference concerning the name inscribed on the ossuary. It fails to take into account the rare form of Yoseh in the written record. Moreover, it violates the archaeological and sociological context of this burial by denying the family's perceptions and meanings of life and death.

Jesus would never name his son Judas

Mark Goodacre's most insightful argument against the Talpiot Tomb is

...there is simply no evidence that Jesus had a son called Judas. (As a commenter on this blog once facetiously said, "How likely is it that Jesus would have named his son Judas?!"). This might sound like a simple point, but I am afraid that it needs to be taken seriously. The whole case for the identity of the Talpiot Tomb with Jesus' family is based on the idea of an extraordinary positive correlation between clusters of names. It is unacceptable when calculating probabilities to ignore contradictory evidence like this.19

We are concerned with the biblical inferences among those scholars who rely on the silence of Christian tradition as evidence that Jesus could never have married. What is troubling about this observation is that Christian tradition is complicated. It is not just what Christian tradition does not proclaim about Jesus that is the bulwark against the son Judas, but it is what Christian tradition does proclaim that every critical biblical scholar knows to be false. The Gospels and Christian tradition are most certainly not literal truth. No matter how critics parse the issue of Jesus' celibacy, the NT is simply silent on this question. Silence could indicate Jesus had no wife, or one died years before his public ministry. We just don't know, and why should we expect Jesus to describe his celibate life? This argument that Jesus' marriage was impossible because it is missing from the Gospels is questionable and not enough to overturn Talpiot.20

We believe percolating just beneath the surface of this debate is the recognition that an ossuary and a post Calvary body of Jesus would cause enormous difficulties for such treasured theological truths as the resurrection and the veracity of the New Testament. We are not accusing Goodacre of defending doctrines of inspiration and the authenticity of the scriptures. However, when we read that faith oriented scholars argue that Jesus would never name his son Judas because this is the name of his betrayer, or that this is similar to "Churchill naming his son Adolf," then the discussion has now moved to articles of faith and revelation. Though we do regard Jesus as visionary, we are more than doubtful that he would have avoided naming a son Judas because in the future he would be betrayed by a disciple with the same name. This is reminiscent to the biblical literalism found in the Fundamentals and not what one would expect to encounter from 21st-century biblical scholars.21 This cannot be sanctioned by any critical biblical scholar. This heroic rescue attempt of Jesus' celibacy is not creditable and as inspired as it might be: it should be discarded.


1 Kilty and Elliott, “Probability, Statistics, and the Talpiot Tomb.” and Elliott and Kilty, “Inside the Numbers of the Talpiot Tomb.”

2 Ilan,Tal, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, Part 1: Palestine 330BCE-200CE. JCB Mohr, P.P. Box 2040, D-72010 Tubingen, 2002, 150-68.

3 See note 1.

4 Poirier, Jack, “A Response to Kilty and Elliott on the Talpiot Tomb,”

6 Ilan,Tal, 150-68. Also see James Tabor's chart on name frequencies of Joseph, Yoseh, and Yosi in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

7 This statistic was provided to us by Eldad Keynan

8 Neusner, Jacob, Introduction to Rabbinic Literature (Doubleday, 1994), 15-17.

9 Green, William S. "Storytelling and Holy Men," in J. Neusner, ed., Take Judaism, For Example Scholars Press, 1992), 30.

10 Flesher, Paul V.M., Oxen, Women Or Citizens? Slaves in the System of the Mishnah (Scholars Press, 1988), 3.

11 Neusner, 15.

12 Cotton, Hannah M. et al. Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palestinae, Volume I: Jerusalem. Part 1:1-704 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010).

13 Peleg, Y. (2002). “Gender and Ossuaries: Ideology and meaning.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, (325), 65-73.

14 Ibid.


16 Nestle, Eberhard, Erwin Nestle, Barbara Aland, and Kurt Aland. 2004. (Novum Testamentum Graece. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft), 332.

17 Ibid, 37.

19 Goodacre,