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This letter is in response to: Mary Magdalene is Now Missing: A Corrected Reading of Rahmani Ossuary 701 by Stephen J. Pfann.

When Stephen Pfann announced his "corrected reading" of the Talpiot inscription (IAA 80.500) as published by L. H. Rahmani (#701) just four days ago, insisting the veteran epigrapher had missed a word (kai/and), and misread the name Mariamne, I must admit it gave me pause. I am no epigrapher but I had studied the inscription carefully over the course of two years and nothing that Pfann was proposing rang true to me. It looked to me like a clear and lovely inscription of one hand, with the "stroke" or eta before Mara indicating a double name or signum of one woman. I also had a tremendous respect for Rahmani having worked through his Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries quite carefully over the years. I posted my reservations on my Blog.

I contacted Dr. Di Segni for her views and she graciously said she would take a look. Here is what I heard back from her. She contextualized her view with a statement of how highly she regards Rahmani and expressed surprise that anyone proposing to "correct" him would not ask him, his "eye" being as good today as it ever was. Dr. Di Segni recalls that she was consulted by Rahmani when he prepared the Greek inscriptions and she writes: "I well remember that, while here and there I had some suggestions about interpretation of a particular form (for instance, Mariamenon being an hypochoristic form of Mariam), I could not but confirm all his readings. I have not changed my mind now."

Di Segni's conclusion then and today: She reads the inscription as a double name, Mariamenou/Mara, both being personal names, or signum, indicated in this inscription by a single "stroke" (signifying ho kai or he kai so-and-so), thus one woman with a double name. This is much like saying "aka" or "also known as." Di Segni is not of the view that Mara is an epithet, "Mistress Mariamenon": if so, it would precede the name of the lady. She notes that this use of the double name or signum became common only in the late first century, so this would be a rather early occurrence, if one accepts the reasonable surmise that secondary burial in ossuaries in Jerusalem ended with the destruction of the city in 70 C.E.

James D. Tabor, University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

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Citation: James D. Tabor, " Tabor Response to Pfann," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited March 2007]. Online:


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