The Inscription on the Jonah Ossuary Redux and the Shape-Shifting Fish

A lot more has been said on the issue of the Jonah ossuary this week; in fact it has been an interesting few days.  As James McGrath keeps the round-ups alive (here and here; I won’t belabor it by reposting everything here–go to James’ blog for the details), I’ve been contemplating something that has been bothering me that I had completely missed previously.

Dr. James Tabor has made an effort recently to reenforce his belief that there is an inscription in the vessel ‘fish’.  However it seems that every instance a new image is released by his and Simcha’s team, there are startling differences that cause me to raise an eyebrow.  Mark Goodacre blogged about something quite similar last year, but this needs to be demonstrated more thoroughly taking into account more recent events.

1. The Elusive Etruscan Letter and the Stick Man

During the very beginning of the debate over the iconography on the ossuary (fish or vessel?), I wrote a long post in response to Dr. Tabor’s conclusions that the ossuary portrayed the fish spitting out Jonah.  I am sure it still stands up to scrutiny a year later–but it dawned on me recently that I had quoted some pretty interesting dialogue from Dr. Tabor on the part of the fish in which he now claims there exists an inscription.

Back in the first week of March, 2012, Dr. Tabor posted up this bit:

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‘A perfume flask or a fish?’ (http://jamestabor.com/2012/03/03/a-perfume-flask-or-a-fish/) Accessed online: 9-19-13.

And in detail, this specific part of his analysis:

etruscanscreengrab1

Keep this in the back of your mind. That perceived Etruscan letter is a big deal.

To be clear, at this point Dr. Tabor was still using the CGI generated photo as an original photo of the actual ossuary (which turns out was not the case).  In my response to Dr. Tabor, I made note that the misleading image was photoshopped in some way, but I also highlighted the lines of his image:

stickfigure

Image from ‘Some considerations about the iconography on the ossuary’, (https://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/some-considerations-about-the-iconography-on-the-ossuary/) Accessed online: 9-19-13.

I wrote then:

Note how completely ‘unhuman’ the ‘stickfigure’ looks when you isolate the lines (in red) and see what is really there.  Frankly, I’m finding any resemblance to a ‘stickfigure’ to be completely disingenuous.  Also, take note of all the red squares.  Those are repeated notches which indicate to me that this item was not just digitally modified but parts of it were copied and pasted into the image to fill it out.  The left side of one notch in the middle-upper-left of the image has been cut off (and looks like a smudging effect was applied). So how is it that Dr. Tabor expects us to carefully examine this iconography in any detail when the iconography presented is not an accurate representation of what is on the ossuary?

Remember when Simcha and Dr. Tabor were then arguing that this was a stick figure and the ‘head’ of the fish contained an eye?  How adamant were they (specifically Dr. Tabor) about the stick man being spit out of the fish?

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Note the highlighted bit.  Still there as of 9-20-13.

plain stickfigure
So much so did he believe this that it was ‘so plain’! From ‘The fish and the man’ (http://jamestabor.com/2012/03/06/the-fish-and-the-man/); Accessed online: 9-20-13.

I do find it interesting that Dr. Tabor draws attention to the fact that critics “have suddenly move[d] from the ‘tower’ to the perfume flask.”  But then again, the image that had been originally seen by everyone was not oriented correctly–but then, Dr. Tabor can’t really decide if orientation matters or not (Hint: it probably doesn’t if what you want to see is a fish and a stick figure).  Because Dr. Tabor and Simcha have suddenly gone from a “stick man” in a “fish’s head”, and then they said that it was a mix between a “stick man”, “fish’s head” and an “inscription” reading “Jonah”.  How dare they!  But most importantly, that is one impressive shape-shifting fish-stick-man-name!

But this stick figure is so incredibly clear, Dr. Tabor says.  In fact he went to the trouble of posting up a fan drawing of it:

FishJoanImageLined

Again, at this point it was not made clear that this photo was a CGI generated image; probably because at this point in early March, Dr. Tabor and Simcha were still claiming the CGI image was merely “a blowup”. (Refer to evidence here)  It was not until Bob Cargill caught the tells of CGI and called them on it that they made it clear what this was.

Man, just look how clear this is!  So great of Dr. Tabor to highlight the ‘so plainly’ visible stick figure.  Dr. Tabor even makes a point to state the clarity of the stick man a third time:

thirdtimeclaimstickman

Note that Dr. Tabor does not attempt to clarify the fact that this is NOT a real photo of the iconography; he does not qualify that this is just a CGI image. He states, “the stick figure … so clearly has two legs, two arms, with one down and one up….” (ibid)

After this image was exposed as a computer generated image, not an ‘enhancement’, Dr. Tabor produced this image (probably courtesy of his team):

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Notice what he had inked here and notice what he didn’t have inked at all. The tracing is sloppy and inaccurate. More on this in a moment.

Even in his preliminary report on the subject, he sees a stick figure.

preliminarystickman

The interesting bit is at this point, in early march, no mention of any inscription is found.  Anywhere.  In fact, again, Dr. Tabor doesn’t read anything in Hebrew on this ossuary.  Instead time is given to the Greek inscription on the back of ossuary 5 (not the same ossuary) and that’s it.  Dr. Tabor is thoroughly puzzled by what he initially sees as an Etruscan letter.

A few final notes here:

  1. The original “replica” ossuary and the CGI fabricated image have a connected line well below where it is portrayed as elsewhere or have an unconnected line at the center of the ‘fish head’; this indicates they didn’t see a connection:
    unconnected

    CGI; Green outline and red circle show perfectly that even in their CGI image there is no connection of the “legs”.

    unconnected2

    From “Replica” 1; outline done by Steve Caruso. This replica seems ti highlight the ‘stickman’ with adjoining stick “legs”.

  2. Dr. Tabor especially made note of how “clear” the stick figure was on the ossuary.

But it seems that as time goes on, the fish iconography seems to shift and mold into something that seems remarkably more pliable to Dr. Tabors’ arguments.

2. The Shape-Shifting Fish-na-Man-na-Name-O-Tron!

At the end of March and early April, we see a dynamic shift in argument from the Jesus Discovery team.  A new replica is released (though barely discussed) with very different ‘fish head’ iconography and the startling news that the stick figure was actually serving a double-purpose: he was hiding the inscription YONH (Yonah)!  From Dr. Tabor’s blog:

inscription

How clever! That sneaky little stick figure!  Accessed online: 9-20-13; http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/

And this is the accompanying picture provided by Dr. Tabor:

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Now notice what he inked and what he didn’t. Note how that Etruscan letter became a hey!

A side by side:

SIDEBYSIDE

The difference one month makes, right? That Etruscan character morphed right into that hey. All of a sudden lines start shifting. Pay close attention to the spots that are circled with no lines present.

These photos are interesting because they demonstrate not only a shift in tactics, but a little misleading information.  Bob Cargill and Steve Caruso have done some excellent work demonstrating the glaring inaccuracies and inconsistencies here.

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Click to embiggen. Courtesy of Bob Cargill.

Steve demonstrates the errors here.  The biggest controversy here is the difference between this image and the unedited “raw” image.   Here is what I’ve put together:

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Click to embiggen!

There is just so much happening between these three photos.  So much is lost, so much added, lines are fusing together left and right.  They move and sway and vanish and reappear.  It’s incredible!

This fish is like Martia, the Cameloid shape-shifter from Undiscovered Country!  “Don’t like the stick man? Oh, well, is this a more pleasant form?  Not everyone keeps their genitals in the same place.”

And wouldn’t you know how Dr. Tabor was defending this?  Why, the same way he defended the stick man of course.

On Steve Caruso’s blog post on April 14, last year, Dr. Tabor wrote:

It [the inscription-ed.] is plain as the Aramaic on your face and I think you surely know it.

It is just so plainSo plain.  It is as plain as the Etruscan letter, the stick man, the ‘half-fish’ with handles.  It’s just, so d’uh!  It’s so plain that Dr. Tabor writes just today:

In fact it was obvious enough that Dr. Tabor missed it for months on end.  He missed it during the few months he was investigating the ossuary, he missed it for a few additional months while reviewing photos, while writing his preliminary report.  He made it through just an entire month of blogging, mistaking such a plain and obvious hey as a letter in the Etruscan alphabet.

There are also sketches done of the “Jonah” ossuary by the Jesus Discovery team and it was so plain to see that they included it!  Oh wait, no they didn’t.

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Closeup of this image put out by the Jesus Discovery team. Guess what? No YONH!

And isn’t it interesting that the photos and second “replica” used now (in fact featured on the website) are missing extraneous lines that would otherwise obscure and dilute the inscription?  And isn’t it odd that no one seems to be denying that fact?

Conclusion

So to recap: First it is a fish with a stick man, then it’s a fish with a stick man that is also an inscription.  Stick man is so powerful.

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I feel like I’m watching this. “Pick your own interpretation of the Jonah ossuary!”

What I find most distracting is that Dr. Tabor seems to again be changing tactics!  While initially the inscription was hidden inside the shape shifting stick man, now Dr. Tabor just wants us to forget about the stick man entirely.  He told Mark Goodacre just a few days ago:

taborrecantingstickfigure

“Let’s forget any stick figure”! But Dr. Tabor, it’s so plain! It’s as plain as the Etruscan on your face! Or the serif in the yod? Or the.. well, you get it.

Honestly, maybe it is time for the Jesus Discovery team to abandon the stick man entirely and focus on the inscription.  Clearly that is where Dr. Tabor’s head is at.  So what do we believe?  A stick man?  Not a stick man?  An Etruscan letter?  A hey?  It is interesting that when Dr. Tabor sees something that contradicts his “rock-solid” plain view of a fish and Jonah or a stick man, well, it is just probably a mistake.  He writes:

A closeup view of this area makes it clear that there is certainly no handle remotely resembling that of a vase or amphora but just a couple of stray lines, unconnected to the image, that the engraver might have even made by mistake.

Wait, you mean it shows up in multiple images and resembles items that we have seen on other ossuaries? Oh… oh my…

Well, this is embarrassing…. I just think we should end this on a positive note.  So… take it away Xzibit!

xzibitag036

Pimp My Ossuary edition!

When is a Replica Not a Replica?

replicadef

Following closely on the heels of Professor Puech’s statement that he had been deceived, a statement which must be a major embarrassment for Simcha Jacobovici, Mark Goodacre let out the news that there are, in fact, two separate “Museum Quality” replicas of the so-called ‘Jonah Ossuary’.

Mark writes:

Throughout the discussions of the Talpiot Tomb, right from the first, Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor and others involved with the “Jesus Discovery” project (website here) have talked about and publicized what they call “the museum quality replica” of ossuary 6 from Talpiot tomb B.  But here’s the curious thing.  It’s not one replica.  There are two different replicas. As far as I am aware — and I think I have read everything — they have never admitted that they produced a second replica to replace the first.  (Please correct me if I am wrong).  And when one notices what changes between the two replicas, there is some cause for concern.

And concludes wth some rather troubling questions:

It may be worth adding that the replica shown to Prof. Puech in the video released last week is clearly Replica 2, which has a version of the “YWNH” inscription that we see above, and not the ambiguous representation of Replica 1…  As we have seen above, it is only Replica 2 that has a representation of the “YWNH” inscription that conforms with the interpretation of those involved in the project.  Did the representation of “YWNH” on Replica 2 influence Prof. Puech’s reading?

But this has led me to question the veracity of the claim that these are even able to be defined as ‘replicas’.  After all, I’ve seen replicas on display.  I even own a replica of a Dead Sea Scroll that I purchased at the Discovery Center a few years ago during their Dead Sea Scroll exhibit.  Replicas represent exactly (to the subtle details) the item they are meant to portray.  Replicas at museums are meant to provide the viewer with an duplicate copy of an item so that the viewer feels like s/he is looking at the actual item, even though it isn’t present.

So when is a replica not a replica?

  • (1) When the “replica” does not exactly match what it is meant to portray.
  • (2) When a “replica” can be changed or altered to fit the subjective interpretations of the owners.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with these “Jonah” ossuary “replicas”.  It seems that the first replica was fabricated to make the fish iconography stand out; but when criticism prevailed against it a new one was manufactured that removed some specific iconography and included an inscription that isn’t present in the first.  So how can there be two replicas that contradict each other?  And how can one really know what the ossuary looks like as it has yet to be removed form the tomb?  We’ve already seen the evidence that someone in Simcha’s and James’s team has provided CGI images in place of actual photos in a misleading or unclear manner.  So where does that leave this?

Check out Mark’s post for further details.  I look forward to the hour when James Tabor and Simcha jacobovici remove the claim that these are “replicas”.  They are nothing of the sort.   Who knows if I’ll see that retraction, however; all I may get is name calling. I highly doubt Simcha will want to label me as a ‘Sleeper Agent’ of Christian theology; however time will tell.

The ‘Jonah Ossuary’, Deception, and Word Play

For those who perhaps don’t know or haven’t kept up with recent events this week, James Tabor posted up a blog article highlighting Simcha Jacobovici’s recent award at a ceremony in Cannes.  Initially, James had posted that this was an award won at the Cannes Film Festival.  But this isn’t the case.  In fact, as Daniel McClellan highlighted in a recent blog post, the award was actually won at the Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards.  These are two separate events, the prestigious one (the Cannes International Film Festival) took place in May and Simcha did not win any awards in that festival:

The ceremony awards multiple trophies in each category to film makers who nominate themselves at a modest €250. Their motto is “Establishing the world’s standard for corporate films since 2010.” This year there are a total of 120 awards chosen from 719 submissions. No word on how many submissions there were for the “Science & Knowledge” category, but there was only one trophy awarded in the category last year.

The issue seemed to be that James had deceptively claimed the award was delivered to Simcha from the other, more prestigious festival–one that would ultimately deliver additional credibility to a project that has suffered from a lack of tenability since the very first press release.

Following Daniel’s article, the title of James’ post was changed:

changingtides

The original blog post vs. the modified one. Notice how James corrected the title for clarity (which we thank him for) and corrected the spelling of Prof. Puech’s name.

James, after growing defensive and making some rather odd comments about feeling attacked, has stated that he mistakenly put ‘Festival’ there instead of ‘Gala’ which was the actual ceremony (and it wasn’t a ‘festival’ at all); I was more than willing to let this go and accept James’ statement at face-value.  There was no need to presume he was purposefully being deceptive.  But I did raise the issue that James has made similar moves before–(1) that he had done some rather specious things in the past, (2) claimed he didn’t, (3) and then later recanted (but not always granting credit when due):

I think the issue that Bob is highlighting is that you have a history of changing things on your blogs and in your articles when they are corrected–which I think is admirable–but without giving proper attribution to those scholars or critics who may have suggested those corrections. I recall Mark Goodacre bringing this issue up when you relabeled ossuaries in your Bible and Interpretation article without giving him due attribution. I believe you have adjusted the orientation of the CGI’d image what what I believe to be an amphora (you call it a fish) on your blog as well without giving credit to the fact that Bob Cargill originally called out the fact that the orientation was wrong and misleading.

He argued this point however:

Well your memory fails you Tom. I have no such history.  …And I do indeed gratefully acknowledge Mark’s sharp eye. I also thank Cargill for his suggestion of the relabeling of the CGI. The orientation of the fish was presented correctly in our book (you have a copy), our press conference in NY the day the discovery was announced, and in my initial blog posts on Talpiot. I even wrote posts about why the fish is pointed downwards, which would make no sense if I thought it was horizontal. Remember all that discussion on ASOR about the “upside-down tower” on the very day of the book release. The PDF at bibleinterp.com had it printed wrong, because the vertical would not fit the page, but we corrected that immediately once it was noticed.

But how accurate is this claim?  Has my memory failed me?  Well, no, it hasn’t.  I’m a little shocked with James’ claims above as it can easily be demonstrated that only after James and Simcha were challenged on various items did they make changes.  It can also easily be shown that all of the challenges made had direct impact on the claims that he and SImcha were making about the ossuaries and Talpiot B.  I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if these were intentional deceptions or honest mistakes.

First, let us consider the orientation of the fish.

As Steve Caruso noted last year, the orientation from the very start had been incorrectly displayed in the press releases:

From page 42 of the original press release. Notice that the iconography is sideways with some catacomb art of a fish ejecting Jonah from its mouth; they are clearly meant to be interpretive and intimate that they are meant to represent the same image: Jonah and the fish .

But when additional images came out, critical reviewers noted the rotation of the image was misleading and challenged James and Simcha over it.  So what happened?  Steve again provides the answer:

Second issue of page 42 of the press release, I believe changed by James Tabor; note that the image is not reoriented correctly and the image of the so-called “museum quality replica” (which is actually not a replica–just a good quality interpretation of what Simcha and James argue is on the actual ossurary) is added above it.

What is also clear is that the language used in the press release is misleading.  Notice that James calls the initial side-ways iconography a ‘blowup’ of the image.  If you think that this is just enlarged from an original photograph, you would be wrong.  But that is precisely the impression that is given with the language that is used.  On the second draft, it is again labeled as a “closeup’ the image, But this isn’t the case at all.  In fact Steve Caruso and Bob Cargill both demonstrated beyond all doubt that the image used in the press release was in fact a CGI generated image (or at best a CGI composite image which is not really much different):

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Steve Caruso highlights manipulation evidence.

Steve notes that the following items were immediately evident:

  • Adding an additional line of ornamentation.
  • Reconstructing an entire “fin” of the fish.
  • Removal of borders.
  • Stitching artefacts between frames that were of differing perspective.
  • Cloning artefacts where details of the inscription were copied down in more than one place.

Bob Cargill also noted some rather damnable evidence against the images authenticity as well:

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Bob Cargill highlights the evidence.

Bob notes:

An object covering the right side of the supposed “tail fin” (marked as “Digitally Removed” in the upper right corner of Fig. 20 above) is present in Fig. 20, but suddenly absent in Tabor’s Fig. 21. On p. 83 of the Jesus Discovery book, this object is identified as another ossuary (#5) that is “jammed up against it so closely we were unable to see its full decorated façade.” In Fig. 21 above, Ossuary #5 been digitally removed and the right portion of the “tail fin” has been digitally generated using a Photoshop process called “clone stamping.” This is evidenced by the fact that it appears darker than the rest of the “fin.” Likewise, the dark shadow that appears down the right side of the “tail fin” in Fig. 21 may be explained as the unintended result of the process of cloning and creating that portion of the “fin,” as there is a dark spot present in Fig. 20 at the intersection of the right side of the image and Ossuary #5. The shadow is the result of cloning that dark spot up along right side of the “tail fin.”

Whether this ambiguous language was used to decieve others into thinking it was the original, real image, again, I leave it up to the readers to decide.  But the question is raised: why is the rotation of the fish so important?  James and Simcha have been arguing from the start that this is in fact an image of Jonah and the fish–but all known (and confirmed) images of Jonah and the fish in art in during the first few Christian centuries (in fact about every image ever presented of Jonah and the fish) has the fish at a horizontal angle releasing Jonah from his mouth onto the land.  The fish is never presented vertically.  When the image was shown horizontally, it appeared to make their claims about the iconography that much stronger; when the image was rotated to its correct orientation, vertically, the whole argument melted away.  But James can’t even seem to decide for himself whether rotation matters (courtesy of Dan McClellan for the catch):

jamestaborcontradiction1

Click to embiggen. I’m not sure in what way James feels that the orientation of the iconography is both crucial to his case but also unimportant. More on this below.

I won’t belabor this article with the fact that almost every scholar who has seen the vertical image now thinks it is clearly an amphora vessel and not a fish (since images of vessels were extremely common on ossuaries and it looks like a vessel), but it seemed to have some impact on the question of orientation.  After all, if it doesn’t matter that the image was vertical or horizontal, why is it that the fish was presented in its wrong orientation from the start?  And why would the website for the discovery still contain a sideways oriented image in the logo?

To this day, as of 1:24PM EST, this image is still on their website.

But it doesn’t end with this image.  There is also the ‘fish in the margins’.  Bob Cargill has an exemplary post where he exposes these little ‘fish’ as ovals that have been manipulated with digital ink to give the misleading appearance of ‘fish’.  It is possible that perhaps they were doing the digital ink in a very dark room and added fish tails to these ovals accidentally.  It’s possible.  Although it seems like a pretty convenient thing, portraying fish in the margins, so to keep the ‘theme’ that the main image was a ‘fish’ and would therefore be ‘Jonah and the fish’.  Again, I leave it for the reader to decide (these are all courtesy of Bob Cargill–link above):

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Original image from the website.

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Close-up and actual enlargement. Notice the overlap.

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original, un-inked image shows absolutely no overlap.

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Side by side.

So much so did Simcha and James see ‘fish in the margins’ that they incorporated actual ichthoi fish in their ‘museum quality replica’ (which is precisely why it isn’t a ‘replica’):

Fish-Where-They-Arent

Courtesy of Steve Caruso.

As Steve noted (as did many of us):

Images on The Jesus Discovery website originally showed these “fish in the margins” with digital ink over them to make them “clearer.” However, once criticism mounted, the original image was taken down from the website completely.

Two additional images replaced the original.  One with inked lines (still with added tails in ink) and one without ink, where no tails are visible.

There is more image manipulation as well, but Steve and Bob handle it so well, I won’t go into it here (just follow the links above, along with this and this for further evidence of additional manipulation elsewhere).

But there is the yet the final issue of my claim that James does not always give credit to those who have offered critical perspectives that have forced him to change his work.  One such example is with Mark Goodacre.

Mark wrote a spectacular piece illuminating some mislabeled ossuaries in the film and on the website.  James was gracious enough to accept this, but then changed his article without attributing to Mark the discovery, which Mark mentions in this post (see update labeled ‘Friday’).  To my knowledge James has not updated his preliminary report to reflect that Mark was the one who made the observation (though he did make a note on his personal blog).   He certainly hasn’t given any impression on his recent blog that he had corrected it to reflect a more accurate presentation of Simcha’s award.

So let’s take a look again at James’ claims to me:

  • James has a history of changing things without proper citations or attributions to those who instigated the change.
  • Adjusted orientation on images related to the ossuary.
  • There were some misleading things that happened that James has been called out on previously.

All of this is pretty demonstrable.   I’ll leave you, dear reader, with a final thought on these particular matters.  James writes on his blog:

No photos on the web site have been taken down, altered, manipulated, or otherwise adjusted. When our web person is in the process of arranging or uploading new photos the site remains live so it might appear to a visitor, for a very short time, that this or that has been taken down or added, but everything is up that we put up on February 28th, with more photos now added.

What do you think, reader?  Is this statement accurate?  Has my memory really failed me?  One must wonder why, after making all of those changes and all those adjustments to his original work, James would claim that in fact nothing was changed at all.  It does raise some alarming implications in my mind.  But as I have said throughout this blog, I leave the final word to you.

In all of this I want to be clear that I’ve only ever had high regards for James.  But we all make mistakes–and we have to take responsibility for them.  I’ve made my share of mistakes and I’ve tried to account for them as best as I can.  But when a scholar claims that asking for clarity is ‘out in left field’ and ‘absurd’, I am a little concerned.  This blog highlights periods of time when James has not been clear or forthcoming; the language in his work and on the website he runs is misleading or persuasive (in the wrong way).  We all have to take responsibility for what we write, what we say; James knows this well as I’m sure he demands this of his students.

I suspect James will read this and I hope he follows through with his word that he will listen and try to accommodate criticism as best as he can.  Time will tell.

Did the Ancient Jews Practice Crucifixion?

Last night during one of our class discussions on the historical Jesus, the question came up over crucifixion; someone had made the claim that only the Romans had practiced it.  But is that really the case?  Were the Romans really the only people in antiquity to use crucifixion as a form of punishment?  Well, actually, no.

First, crucifixion was not necessarily standardized.  The Greek word used in the New Testament, for example, to explain Jesus’ death is σταυρός (and cognates, e.g., Mark 16.6; ἐσταυρωμένον) which literally meant a ‘stake’, with which to impale someone.  This process could be done in a variety of ways and according to written tradition, some Roman rulers did experiment with all sorts of manners of crucifying their enemies.  It is important though that the two basic elements generally remain the same: the plank(s) or beam(s) of wood and something with which to impale the flesh (nails, hooks, etc…).  It was certainly a gruesome event.

Yet despite the overwhelmingly negative attitude that the Jewish people had towards crucifixion, it seems to have been something that was practiced by Jews at various times in the history of Judea.  Most notably were the crucifixions under the King of Judea, Alexander Jannaeus, in the1st Century BCE.  Following his victories against opponents (specifically Demetrius) to his rule, he crucified 800 of his enemies.  This practice is memorialized in Josephus and also in the Dead Sea Scrolls (it has also been argued that the crucifixion under Jannaeus of his enemies was looked at favorably by those who wrote the Pesher Nahum–Specifically Y. Yadin, ‘Pesher Nahum (4Q pNahum) Reconsidered’, Israel Exploration Journal , Vol. 21, No. 1 [1971], pp. 1-12).

There was also a Rabbinic punishment of crucifying bodies of those stoned to death for committing blasphemy (i.e., Sanhedrin 6.4n-q); the law specifies that planks of wood be used to hang up the bodies, apparently like slabs of meat–so presumably the body would be impaled to the plank.

Of course, hanging for punishment was not new.  In the Hebrew Bible, those guilty of a crime could be hung from a ‘tree’ (In the LXX, ‘tree’ is from ξύλον; specifically, ‘plank/beam of wood’–also found in Acts 5.30) and was considered acceptable to god, so long as the body was taken down that same day (this is the basis of the law found in the Talmud).  Normally, though, the process would not involve a living person (until Alexander Jannaeus), but in the Hebrew Bible (cf. 2 Sam 18), Absalom is found hanging by a tree alive, and is then pierced to death by three spears through the heart (which would quite literally be considered a crucifixion–fastened to a tree by his hair and he was impaled by spears) before he is beset upon by soldiers who further inflict more damage.

So it seems clear to me that the Jews of the period were not only familiar with the process of crucifixion before the Romans (the Persians also practiced crucifixion long before the Romans), but even practiced it as a form of punishment from time to time.  See further D.J Halperin, ‘Crucifixion, the Nahum Pesher and the Rabbinic Penalty of Crucifixion,’ The Journal of Jewish Studies 32 (1981), 32-46, esp. 44; and J.A. Fitzmyer, ‘Crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, Qumran Literature, and the New Testament’, Catholic Bible Quarterly 40 (1978), 493-513

Students, What Have I to do with Thee?

So we are now finishing up our first week of class and it seems like it is going to be an interesting semester.  In my ‘Jesus’ class, most of the students are very religious.  That’s fine.  But I am concerned about why they have chosen to take a class on the historical Jesus when they clearly only seem to care about the Jesus of their particular faith tradition.  Worse, although students are required to have a background in New Testament (you have to have completed the Intro to New Testament course in order to take the course on Jesus), some don’t appear to have any clue.

The professor asked us all to write out a ‘Gospel’; that is, to give a brief explanation of who Jesus was, why he is or isn’t influential, and why do we think we should or shouldn’t study him.  It was a fantastic exercise that I enjoyed.  But some of the other gospels out there were just..well… terrible.  There is no other way to put it.

One student listed the birthplace of Jesus as Nazareth(!) while another seemed to think that kings sought advice from him.  Yet another believed that Jesus was discussed in the Septuagint!  I shake my head.  One student who seemed to have a greater grasp of the concepts knew of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, but her ideas about the text imply that she hasn’t actually read the gospel.  She must have watched a program about it on History or some other similar channel because she thought that Jesus was fashioning pots out of clay (actually it was sparrows in a stream) and has some silly notion that Jesus just goes around hurting people in it (far from it actually).

So I guess I have concerns.  What exactly did these students learn in Intro to New Testament?  I had a great professor and the class seemed to take away a lot.  So what happened with these students?  Granted, the class is about Jesus so chances are that by the end of the semester these students will have a better understanding of the historical Jesuses (I hope); but why even bother taking the class if you don’t at least have some basic knowledge of the Gospel accounts?

And why do religious individuals just presume that taking a course on the historical Jesus will be like attending a second church?  Nearly 2/3 of the student gospels written were faith statements.  Do they not realize they will have their faith shaken?  And how can one call themselves a religious Christian when they don’t even know where Jesus was born?  I mean that is pretty basic stuff.

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