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:

10 Responses

  1. […] Again – It’s Not a Fish…and Stop using Doctored Photos! […]

  2. […] subject on the radio show “Issues, Etc.”. Richard Bauckham has weighed in. Tom Verenna provides some interesting insights as well. Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponDiggRedditEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  3. Hello,
    here’s a clearer image from the Rahmani catalogue

    Hope it helps,

  4. Thank you!

  5. …and the other four, they’re much too beautiful to be subjected to cellphone degradation ;)


  6. lol i missed one:

    348 detail:

    guess that’s all for now :)

  7. Tom, I have to agree with you, the “toothy” smile is pretty out there, but at least the person has tried to take seriously the very carefully executed lines at the bottom of the image, connected to the head–which in our view argues strongly against the amphora parallel. They are too carefully executed and nothing similar, including the close up of the ball with its markings, parallels any amphora.

    On the amphora you know, I hope, that I have these images in my original article at as well as the Claudius “fish,” (no tail, an “eye” on each side of the mouth) which are all discussed. I just wanted to point this out. These are images and ideas we have carefully considered and for all the reasons I have covered in my posts (flared and elongagted tail, stick figure, fins, “head,” etc.) in the end we found the amphora images unconvincing as parallels.

    BTW, as pointed out in your other post, the marking you highlight here as a handle (ossuary 5) is the border of the ossuary, as is plain from from the other photo, not a handle. It was not included on the CGI as it is not part of the image. You can even see the tooth-motif that is part of the internal border design by your second arrow.

  8. The half-image, whatever it is, is not “cut off” from view, if that is what you mean. The space below it is clear–it is simply not drawn, which led us to conclude it was purposeful–a half image. It is not finished in terms of execution (i.e.,. filled in, etc.)–much like the MARA rosette, but it likely is in terms of intention of shape.In other words someone sketched out a “half” of whatever it is. So like the up-side-down tower this would be a top third of a vase, by your view. Our judgment was that it was more likely a fish–as on the front, which to us is clear.

  9. Tom, there is a huge difference between an amphora and a perfume flask of this period (and even the earlier Hellenistic periods you have illustrated). They are not the same in either appearance or function, see Rahamani, Hachlili, and others. As you know the former were associated with monumental tomb monuments and were associated with cremation, so their rare appearances on ossuaries were ornamental, since most Jews of this period and region did not cremate their dead. The latter, which never appear on any ossuary, are found in tombs connected to practical rites of burial, i.e., the scented oils used in preparing the body. No one, so far as our hundreds of decorated ossuaries go, put an image of an unguentarium on an ossuary. I am confused as to which you think our image is? Amphora or perfume bottle. There differences are great and the parallels are rare to none, depending on which you are proposing here.

  10. […] also blogged about Simcha Jacobovici’s fascination with The DaVinci Code.Bob Cargill and Tom Verenna suggest that some photos show signs of doctoring or manipulation that may be influencing the […]

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