The Annals of Applied Statistics

Statistical analysis of an archeological find

Andrey Feuerverger

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In 1980, a burial tomb was unearthed in Jerusalem containing ossuaries (limestone coffins) bearing such inscriptions as Yeshua son of Yehosef, Marya, Yoseh—names which match those of New Testament (NT) figures, but were otherwise in common use. This paper discusses certain statistical aspects of authenticating or repudiating links between this find and the NT family. The available data are laid out, and we examine the distribution of names (onomasticon) of the era. An approach is proposed for measuring the “surprisingness” of the observed outcome relative to a “hypothesis” that the tombsite belonged to the NT family. On the basis of a particular—but far from uncontested—set of assumptions, our measure of “surprisingness” is significantly high.

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Ann. Appl. Stat., Volume 2, Number 1 (2008), 3-54.

First available in Project Euclid: 24 March 2008

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Jesus of Nazareth distribution of names onomasticon data statistical inference conditioning coincidence “relevance” “rareness” and “surprisingness” tail areas historical assumptions a priori hypotheses and post hoc inference


Feuerverger, Andrey. Statistical analysis of an archeological find. Ann. Appl. Stat. 2 (2008), no. 1, 3--54. doi:10.1214/08-AOAS99.

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