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The Football Field

When trying to determine the probability that the tomb uncovered by archeologists did in fact belong to Jesus and his family, Simcha Jacobovici knew he would need to make sure his methodology was sound if his findings were ever going to be taken seriously. To do this, he employed statistician Andrew Feuerverger, who began by examining the cluster of names appearing in the tomb. Jacobovici's analogy of the "football field" is his rendering of Professor Feuerverger's ultimately staggering results.

Professor Feuerverger began by studying the names' frequency during the first century A.D. and then multiplied the incidence rate of each with that of every other name. In keeping with his conservative analysis, Professor Feuerverger then divided his total by four to account for any unintentional biases in the historical sources he had referenced. Then that number was divided by 1,000, as this is total number of tombs that may have existed during the first century in Jerusalem.

The Results

Frequency of Names:

  • Jesus, Son of Joseph: 1 in 190
  • Mariamne: 1 in 160
  • Matia: 1 in 40
  • Maria: 1 in 4
  • Based on these results, it would appear that the names in and of themselves were not uncommon at the time. However, once those numbers were multiplied by one another, Feueverger noted that the chances of them being found together were an extremely remote 1 in 97,280,000.

    Nevertheless, to allow for any possible criticism regarding the inclusion of Matia (or Matthew) – since this name is not explicitly referenced in the canonical Gospels – Feueverger decided to eliminate him from the equation. The new probability that this was not the family of tomb of Jesus was 1 in 2,400,000. Once the unintentional bias had been accounted for, that number dropped to 1 in 600 (still a low probability from a statistical standpoint).

    However, when one takes into the account the ossuary containing the name “Yose”, the new probability that this is not the tomb of Jesus suddenly becomes exceptionally rare. That is because this name – a rare nickname for the Hebrew name, “Yosef”. Indeed, as Simcha explains, of the more than 30,000 ossuaries discovered in Jerusalem, only one bearing this name has been found.


    Jesus of Nazareth Mary Magdalene: Mariamne Early Christianity
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