Again – It’s Not a Fish…and Stop using Doctored Photos!

I just received this image in an email from someone (who I shall not name):

First, the image you’re using is the GCI’d (re: doctored) image.  It’s not the actual photo of the iconography.

Second, you have it oriented incorrectly.  It isn’t oriented sideways (Simcha is really to blame for this since he produced a press kit full of images like this with the iconography oriented incorrectly).  The iconography should be ‘nose’ down.

Third, this is the problem when you use anecdotal evidence (when scholars rely upon laypeople try to analyze the evidence and follow their interpretations).  Here are reasons why this interpretation doesn’t work:

  1.  The whole ‘toothy smile’ bit is anachronistic as it is; fish depicted on ancient carvings on ossuaries or on buildings do not have ‘toothy mouths’.  They nearly alwayshave their mouths open or the head isn’t drawn at all.  See this image from an ossuary (you can see it in Rahmani’s catalog; h/t to Antonio Lombatti for the image):
  2. ‘Fins’ in this fashion aren’t found on fish iconography.  Again, examine the image closely above.
  3. It’s not a fish.  Once you orient it correctly, it is clearly…CLEARLY…a vessel (an amphora or an unguentarium).  Look closely at the sketch on the Jesus Discovery website:
  4. The most common criticism is the ‘ball-bottom’ of the iconography.  But we see more often than not on ossuaries, using the vase-motif (amphorae or an unguentarium), a ball-bottom.  Consider these examples from Rahmani’s catalog (image quality is poor because I took them from my cell phone; apologies in advance for your squinting):

    Now these were all done by professional artists in antiquity.  They are deeply cut and symmetrical.  But not all were done so well.  In the instance of our ‘Jonah’ ossuary, we don’t have the original photos from a good angle and it appears to be done by someone who was not as talented (or was pressed for time; like an afterthought after they had already decorated the rest of the ossuary).  Also, not that all the styles of these vessels are different, but they all have similar dimensions and all similarly have a ‘ball-bottom’ or something similar.  Which means that my suggestion that the artist was using an unguentarium or a glass amphora is a lot closer than ‘fish’ (again see the comparison above).

Now the fact that you saw ‘fish’ is not your fault.  You were misled by a marketing campaign.  But the sensationalism has to take a back seat at some point for actual scholarship to be done.  And the consensus right now is that this is definitely not a fish; it is a vessel.  We know the vase-motif was prominent in ossuary iconography.  We also know that ‘fish’ were not used nearly as often, and the reason for their existence on ossuaries has been linked only to profession (cf. Rahmani), like if someone were a fishmonger–they might have fish on the outside of their ossuary.  But frankly, this just isn’t a fish.  The only way one gets ‘fish’ from the actual image is when you take that image, fabricate a brand new one (the image you used to create the ‘toothy fish’ above) and orient it incorrectly.


What makes this more likely to be an unguentarium or an amphora might also be related to the fact that we have evidence from ossuaries (again, via Rahmani’s catalog) utilizing the vase-motif will, at times, produce amphora on both the front and sides of the ossuary.  According to Simcha, the ossuary in question has ‘another fish tail’ on the side.  But let us examine this more closely:

And the unfortunate part of this image is that it is cut off and we don’t see what is below what we see.   Simcha and others argue that this is the part of the ‘fish tail’ which, as it were, looks very post modern in development.  Who puts half a fish tail on an ossuary?  What a waste of space.

Instead, I will argue this is another amphora or at the very least part of the vase-motif.  Consider this image from Rahmani’s catalog (better quality image supplied by commenter below):

Note that this is the same ossuary, but the amphorae are on the front and sides.  This is common (and we see this in several other ossuaries in Rahmani’s catalog) and should not be overlooked here.


I may have uncovered what appears to be a handle in one of the press kit photos.  Take a closer look and compare to those from Rahmani’s catalog above:

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