What are the Criticisms of the ‘Jonah’ Ossuary?

I thought I’d take a step back for a moment and make more clear the issues of the ‘Jonah’ ossuary.  It seems that many have taken my words and the words of others and turned them into something far different than I had intended.  Every once in a while the true argument is lost, awash in a haze of complexity that need not be, and thus needs to be revived.  This is one of those times.

First, and most importantly, I must continue to stress that my argument is not that the scholars arguing for authenticity are ‘crackpots’.  I’ve never, ever, made such a claim.  James Tabor is an excellent scholar and, in every instance I have spoken with him, he is very lucid and erudite–if not downright polite.  He has a grasp of the primary evidence, a sound background in the field, many peer-reviewed publications, and should be respected.  Standing with Tabor are a handful of other excellent scholars who otherwise have very important and interesting things to say.  While I may joke around at times, I would never suggest that James was anything more than a good human being and a hard working scholar.  Those who feel otherwise would do well to keep in mind that there is a strong difference between a credible scholar who makes claims with which the majority of scholars disagree and a person who might be considered a ‘crackpot’.  Crackpots are those who claim that aliens built the pyramids, or that the Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012, or that Jesus is based on astrotheology.  That is crackpottery.  James Tabor is nothing like that.

Second, it must be remembered that we are discussing a real tomb and real ossuaries.  These are not fake artifacts like the lead codices or even ancient fakes like the Shroud of Turin.  To the best of our knowledge, these are legitimate ossuaries which contain(ed) the bones of ancient individuals who believed in a resurrection (since this was the purpose of the ossuary in Second-Temple Jewish burials).  While many scholars believe that the James ossuary inscription is partially inauthentic (though whether the second half is an ancient or modern forgery remains to be seen), the Jonah ossuary was found roughly in situ  (it had been moved around a few times within the tomb, but to our knowledge has never been removed completely from it).  The contention is with the interpretation of the iconography on these ossuaries.

Third, though perhaps most important, we do not have these ossuaries on hand to study.  The ossuaries, to our knowledge, are still in the Talpiot B tomb and have not been exhumed.  Unfortunately this presents many problems.  All we have are photos–photos which are taken at odd angles and which are grainy.  Though one image, which has been circulating the most, is not an image at all but a ‘composite’ that has been completely computer generated, is particularly unhelpful, the rest of the photos supplied by Jacobovici and Tabor are much appreciated.  But the images do not show the whole picture, only pieces.  It is a big puzzle.  And like a puzzle the pieces have to be sorted out and then put back together and only from that final picture–still with large gaps of information missing, mind you–can any interpretation be made.  I do not suspect any treachery here, at least not with James Tabor who has done his utmost over the past few weeks to be as vigilant in discovering the truth as any of us (though we at times talk past each other).

I hope that these issues have been clarified.  I hold no ill will towards Tabor and hope he recognizes that I do not support nor condone those who call him names or promote incivility.

One Response

  1. […] the ossuary, on the ASOR blog. See also Antonio Lambotti’s analysis offered online as a pdf.Tom Verenna emphasized that this is not a case about fake artifacts, and tried to clarify how this d….Also related is the attention given to the imminent decision of the case regarding the James […]

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