Probability and statistics lie at the heart of the startling claim by James Cameron, Simcha Jacobovici, and others that the Talpiot Tomb, discovered twenty-five years ago outside Jerusalem, is the tomb of the New Testament Jesus. Specifically, proponents of this view have put forward a number-1 in 600-as the probability that the Talpiot Tomb could be other than the tomb of Jesus. Thus conversely, it is supposed to be highly probable-with probability 599 in 600-that this is Jesus’ tomb. Thus, one is informed on the Jesus Family Tomb website: “After listening to filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici explain the so-called ‘Jesus equation’, you’ll realize just how unlikely it is that this isn’t, in fact, his tomb.”…

In this paper, we examine both the logic by which Feuerverger came to his improbability of 1 in 600 and then the logic by which Jacobovici et al. concluded that the Talpiot Tomb must in all likelihood be Jesus’ tomb. Although Feuerverger’s approach contains some valid insights, it also commits some fatal oversights. In cleaning up Feuerverger’s math, we find that the improbabilities are not nearly as bad as he makes out. Indeed, we find that a significant number of families in Palestine at the time of Jesus were likely to have the pattern of names found in the Talpiot tomb.

A corrected version of Feuerverger’s model using reasonable estimates of the probabilities for the New Testament names found in the Talpiot tomb shows that there were likely to be as many 154 Jewish families living in Palestine at the time with the pattern of names found in the Talpiot tomb. On the “Jesus Family Tomb” people’s reckoning, this would yield a probability of 153 in 154 that the Talpiot Tomb is not the tomb of Jesus. And even if we go with the “Jesus Family Tomb” people’s smaller probability estimates for the New Testament names found in the Talpiot tomb, a Bayesian analysis that takes into account additional evidence not considered by Feuerverger increases this probability close to one…

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