Clarification for BAR

Written by Michael Moore

February 26, 2017

Dear Hershel,

In your July/August “First Person, ‘The Tomb of Jesus’–My Take,” you speak of the reading ‘Yeshua bar Yehosef’ as being “clear to almost all expert observers.” You then follow this by “(pace Stephen Pfann, of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem).” First of all, “clear” is not the term I would use. While, in fact, the experts almost unanimously consider the “bar Yehosef” part of the inscription to be clear, they likewise almost unanimously consider the “Yeshua” part of the inscription to be “messy” (Cross, from the film), or “difficult to read, as the incisions are clumsily carved and badly scratched” (Rahmani). In fact, the original reading made by Dr. Rahmani was “Yeshua’ (?), son of Joseph” with a question mark following the name “Yeshua’.”

In the Jerusalem Post Article “Giving Jesus the Silent Treatment” (Mar. 1, 2007), David Horowitz quotes Prof. Joseph Naveh, Dr. Emile Puech and Dr. Ada Yardeni:

Horowitz records Prof. Naveh’s response to the inscription: “The ‘Joseph’ is unmistakable,” he said. “The ‘son of’ is okay. And you can certainly read it as ‘Jesus’,” he said. “Just not definitely. There are lots of additional lines here that don’t belong'”

Another prominent expert interviewed by Horowitz, whom Jacobovici did not consult, was Prof. Emile Puech, across town in the tranquil offices of the French Biblical and Archeological School in east Jerusalem. His response to the inscription was much the same as Naveh’s: “It’s very crude lettering,’ said the bearded, French-born Father Puech. ‘The ‘Joseph’ is clear. The ‘son of’ is no problem. The ‘Jesus?’ It’s certainly possible to read it that way.”

And a third leading authority interviewed by Horowitz, Ada Yardeni, also essentially came down on Jacobovici’s side. “‘Son of Joseph,’ for sure,” she said after an inspection. “The first name? Well, there are lots of markings here, but, yes, it could well be Jesus.”

Mr. Horowitz came to me first to question me concerning an AP article which seemed to say that I read “Chanun” and not “Jesus.” I did not actually say that. I did say that the name taken to be Yeshua’ was cut more deeply with a different tool and a more cursive form of the Jewish script than the rest of the inscription. I also suggested that the additional “lines” or “markings” were likely the remnants of an earlier inscription in which the name was effaced and over-inscribed by “Yeshua (?)”. The earlier name was not clear. Although I did suggest some possibilities (e.g., “Hanun,” “Yadun,” etc.), Horowitz was much more interested in my article on the frequency of the names of the tomb in the contemporary setting, and finished his article highlighting those findings. (See the article and blog at

As with other scholars, I had originally accepted the reading of Rahmani based upon preliminary observations. However, after I examined a high resolution photograph of the inscription in January, it became apparent that the additional “scratches” which appear among the strokes of the proposed name “Yeshua” were not accidental. It appeared at that time that the scratches were made by a similar, dull-tipped tool to that used for the last two words of the inscription. This tool left incisions/grooves which are shallow and wide, quite possibly representing the remnants of an earlier inscribed name. The key strokes which make up “Yeshua(?)” were made by a narrower and sharper tip, were apparently secondary, and thus overwrote the earlier name. It was hoped that with further examination of the actual inscription the actual sequence of the strokes could be ascertained.

In January, when I notified the producers of my new observations concerning the inscription, they included neither my initial nor subsequent observations in the film, and instead presented me as assisting Steven Cox, the forensic expert (who is part of our UHL archaeological staff).


Since then the University of the Holy Land staff applied to the IAA to examine the inscription and to take digital images of the incisions under high magnification. Our UHL staff has now examined the inscription on three occasions under a binocular microscope and under ultraviolet light, making high resolution images of the inscribed lines. Dried mud is deeply impacted into many of the strokes and remains an impediment to clearly examining all parts of the inscription, to determine the full sequence of the inscribed lines. However, it still appears to several pairs of discerning eyes that the the strokes represent the work of at least two separate tools and that strokes of the name “Yeshua(?)” appear to be secondary to those of the rest of the inscription.

Careful investigation is currently being made into the best way to clean the dried mud from the inscription without disturbing the original patina.

It was my good fortune that I could research and notify the producers of my revised readings of this ossuary before the film had finished production. It was only after the film was released that I realized that two of the other ossuaries had also been misread and misinterpreted. For which see:

(The revised transcriptions of these inscriptions are now supported by such epigraphers as Puech, Naveh, Yardeni and Martini.)

The production of this film highlights the problems accompanying snap-judgment scholarship. Initial observations which are caught on film must be considered as preliminary. Further research is normally necessary to make a final word.

Unfortunately, other scholars did not have the opportunity to research and update their preliminary observations before the film’s release. Why did so many scholars who were interviewed for the film, subsequent to the film’s release, revise or retract their statements? Several factors affect the way the statements of scholars appear on film.

  1. First of all, when the interviewer asks a question, the scholar often does not have any idea as to the direction that the discussion is headed. They often do not anticipate what hidden story line or premise their statement is going to be used to support.
  2. The interview is often presented in the form of a request for an expert’s authoritative and conclusive opinion. However the expert has often not been able to digest the results of his own initial observations (e.g., to check his results further with his peers and additional data) in order to provide a more exact or guarded statement. Initial observations are just that. Final conclusions can be achieved with the passage of time and more time in the lab and in the library.
  3. Finally, further editing of the interviews by the filmmakers gives them the “last word,” often one in which editing and re-contextualization of the statements of the scholars will all too often create a misleading impression.

For the transcripts and sources of these publicly available statements see :

“Cracks in the Foundation: The Jesus Family Tomb Story

The Experts Weigh In and Bow Out, Disclaimers from the Film’s Own Experts (ON THE RECORD)”

I do appreciate your personal interest in this subject.


Stephen Pfann

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