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):

Unfaithful-detail-00-problem-areas

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:

tabor_fig20_vs_21_inverted

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):

16_fish-in-the-margins

Original image from the website.

16_fishinthemargins_inked_overlap_text

Close-up and actual enlargement. Notice the overlap.

17_singlefish_ossuary5_text

original, un-inked image shows absolutely no overlap.

actual_fish_vs_inked_fish2

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.

4 Responses

  1. […] follows neatly the revelations by Daniel McClellan and Tom Verenna about certain word games and uncited changes. This hasn’t stopped Simcha from still posing as a legitimate (co-)director of an […]

  2. […] Tom Verenna has pointed out, Tabor has been shown to have changed certain items and representations based on criticism, without […]

  3. […] The ‘Jonah Ossuary’, Deception, and Word Play […]

  4. […] The Musings of Thomas Verenna (Tom Verenna) […]

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