Aaron Adair on Ralph Ellis and Jesus as King Arthur

In an excellent discussion of some of Mr. Ellis’ bizarre claims, Aaron Adair writes:

In his King Jesus (p. 120), Ellis is trying to connect a bunch of names together etymologically and then connect that to stars and star worship. He wants to related the Egyptian word for star with not only a 3rd century Syrian queen, but also to god names like Ishtar (whom I mentioned before), Astarte, Ashtroreth, and “Zoroastra” (not a misspelling on my part, and one that Ellis uses two in his book plus in the index). He also claims these all derive from ester (אסתר) or aster (αστηρ), again having the meaning of ‘star’. There is so much wrong in just this one paragraph, I need to space it out.

First, his use of the word ‘star’ in Egyptian seems off. According to Hieroglyphs.net, here is the word for star (sba, and not saba)…

This is the paragraph in question:


It’s ‘Zoroaster‘, chief.

About which he continues:

But Ellis isn’t done failing yet. He also claims that all these names are derived from ester, better known probably as the Jewish beauty Esther from the Bible. Her name is more likely derived from or a cognate to the goddess Ishtar mentioned above rather than the other way around. But even this connection is not certain; I would guess in favor of the Ishtar/Esther connection because another figure in the Book of Esther, Mordecai, is almost certainly related to Marduk (Marduka), a major Babylonian deity as was Ishtar, so the parallelism is suggestive. But the real problem is that ester is not the Hebrew word for ‘star’; what would be kokab (כוכב), which in Aramaic becomes kokhba, hence the name of the famous 2nd century Jewish rebel leader bar Kokhba (Son of the Star), a figure Ellis even mentions in this same paragraph. So, quite literally, his lack of knowledge about these words are calling him out in the very paragraph he used them (though he has some weird spelling I haven’t seen before [bar Kokhbar]).

via Jesus was King Arthur, and a Pharaoh, and King of Edessa–The “Scholarship” of Ralph Ellis | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars.

There is much I do not quote from him, so go read what he has to say.  You’ll enjoy it, trust me.  That bar Kokhba spelling is really odd, though; talk about a blunder (and in his indices he lists it as ‘bar Kokhbar’ as well, so this isn’t a typo–he actually spells it with an ‘r’)!  Maybe he is thinking of Admiral Akbar?


It’s a trap!

Some People Need to Fact-Check Better

I’ve said this over and over again; around this time of year, some internet meme will develop about Jesus or Easter or the resurrection and produce some lame fabrication full of untruths and atheists and skeptics  will spread it around social media without doing a shred of fact-checking.  This year, it is this atrocity:


This image contains many inaccuracies.  Do not rely upon a simple internet search, which yields additional misinformation (indeed, it seems that the creator of this meme is merely copying, almost verbatim, from these websites which are just as clueless).

  • Easter was not ‘originally the celebration of Ishtar’; Easter has always been associated with the equinox, with the dawning of spring; it signifies a change–not in fertility and sex–of seasons and the hope of new beginnings.
  • Despite the images intimations, the name ‘Easter’ did not originate from ‘Ishtar’.  This is a subtle, yet effectively deceptive tactic to get you to think there are similarities between the two due to the similar sounds in English. But comparing two words from different language groups is about as useful as comparing a word in German to a word in Korean for the same reason.
  • The word ‘Easter’ most probably originated from an Anglo-Saxon word Eostre, the name of a goddess of spring and of dawn.
  • The background of the hares are not associated with fertility (which seems to be an association based upon popular belief–not evidence), but may have been associated also with Eostre.
  • Ishtar is also considered a goddess of war; the problem with memes like this is they neglect important information.  In this manner, Ishtar has zero relevance to the Easter tradition–not in name, not in her communal functions.  Certainly this would not have been a good choice for Christians from late antiquity who were arguing for abstinence and celibacy, even in marriages!

The real irony here is that Ishtar is actually somewhat relevant to the Christian tradition of Easter for a completely different reason (i.e., Jesus’s resurrection).  Indeed, the narrative known as the ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World’ is an excellent superficial (key word) comparison of the death and resurrection of a Jesus from antiquity–one that would have been somewhat familiar to Jews living in the region of ANE:

The pure Ereckigala seated herself upon her throne, The Anunnaki, the seven judges, pronounced judgment before her. They fastened her eyes upon her, the eyes of death. At their word, the word that tortures the spirit. The sick “woman” was turned into a corpse. The corpse was hung from a stake.  After three days and three nights had passed, her minister Nincubur…fills the heavens with complaints for her…. Before Enki he weeps: “O Father Enki, let not thy daughter be put to death in the nether world….” Father Enki answers Ninshubur: “What has happened to my daughter!  I am troubled, what has happened to Inanna…! What has happened to the hierodule of heaven! …Surely Inanna will arise.”  …Inanna arose.  Inanna ascends from the nether world. (Trans. Samuel N. Kramer, ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World,’ in James B. Prichard, ed., ANET, pp. 52-57)

Some important questions need to be asked:

1.Who would have had access to these myths?
2.Who would have been able to read them?
3.Who would have understood them?

It is easy for someone to claim that Inanna is the precursor to the resurrection narrative of Jesus, but such claims are unfounded.  Without any evidence, these are simply correlations–but correlations aren’t causations.  Proving links between two texts can be an almost impossible task (though conspiracy theorists seem to do it anyway).  Even strong cases are sometimes proved irrelevant simply because one text could not have been accessible to the authors of the other text.  So similarities alone do not prove a link. The only thing that can be said is that the motif of a dying and rising deity had existed prior to the figure of Jesus and would have been known by at least some Jewish communities (Inanna cursed Tammuz to the underworld, of whom the author of Ezekiel 8.14 speaks).

So enough of these crazy conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated memes.  There is no basis for these sorts of claims.

Edit: Of course I think everyone needs to fact-check; But so far only atheists have been bold enough to post this image on social media without doing any additional fact-checking. And then when I would challenge these atheists, they would do only a meager Google search and post up whatever results fit the image without checking those results against legitimate sources (like the ODoCC).  So yes, I’m calling them out. You can’t sit there and arrogantly claim enlightened status if you’re just going to forward along dumb memes without making sure they’re accurate first. That is just not right.  You berate Christians for taking things at face value, after all.  Take heed.

Ralph Ellis, Jesus, and his Myth of the King Jesus of Edessa

(This is Part II of the discussion.  For background and Part I, see here)

Mr. Ellis, thanks for responding to my article criticizing your online content and free online chapter of your new edition of your self-published book. I appreciate you supplying me and my readers with more of your superficial “links” between the lay construct you’ve created, an ‘Izas Manu’, and the figure of Jesus. I’ve decided to break down your comment in a post of its own. Frankly, your ignorant misconceptions and amateurish mistakes don’t impress me, but they may mislead people who don’t know any better; one can hardly call this ‘scholarly’ and I’d like to demonstrate exactly why your conclusions are terrible.

You write (and I’m limiting it to this selection because the rest of your conclusions follow from these basic premises):

The historical Izas was called King Izas Manu(el) VI of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews).

The historical Izas-Manu’s father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a revolutionary who fought the Jerusalem authorities and the Romans.

First of all, your primary argument–that Jesus is actually Izas Manu (a creation whom you equate with three different people)–is patently ridiculous. You are basically suggesting that at least four historical kings (Izates bar Monobaz, Abgar V the Black, Abgar Ma’nu VI, and Abgar bar Manu VIII the Great) from two distinct provinces with separate kings (Edessa in the province of Osroene vs. Arbela in the province of Adiabene) are one and the same person and place respectively. You seem to completely ignore the fact that both of these places exist miles apart (roughly 360 miles/579 km apart, actually). The Tigris river flows between them. The modern town of Edessa (Şanlıurfa) is in Turkey while Arbela (Arbil) is in Iraq. Additionally, these individuals are not one and the same. Abgar bar Manu lived about 200 years after Abgar V and over 120 years after Abgar VI. Your attempt to squeeze these individuals into one figure is beyond questionable. This bizarre conflation dooms your whole argument. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Here is where your fabricated ‘Izas Manu’ falls apart. You see, Queen Helena was the mother of Izates bar Monobaz–not Abgar VI (again, we’re talking about two different locations separated by 300 miles) and not Abgar bar Manu (two-hundred years separate the two). Let’s break this down together, historical king by historical king, so you can see just how deluded are your conclusions:

  • Helena was not ‘Queen of the Jews’ (also use ‘de facto’ properly next time). She was a Queen and she converted into Judaism. Her son, Izates, converted soon after, but neither of them were Jews by birth, but Persians who became Jewish. So your claim that he was ‘King of the Jews’ is not just wrong, it is absurd. The ‘king’ at this time was Herod Antipas, and that was only in the North, in the region of Galilee–Pontius Pilate ran the southern region of Judea, including Jerusalem; and even Herod wasn’t really a ‘king’, but more of a de facto (see how it is used there?) king–anyone with a basic grasp of the political dynamics of the period could tell you that.
  • Now, Abgar V (note: that says V as in 5, not VI as in 6) reigned in Edessa for a while, but was not crucified. He was a contemporary of when Jesus was supposed to have lived (between the turn of the first century to the middle of the first century, dying around 50-ish) and a very late fictional, pseudepigraphic tradition claims that he called Jesus to him for a conversation after hearing of his deeds and miracles. Also the father of Abgar V was not ‘Abgarus’. Additionally, Moses of Chorene tells a tale of Abgar V going to war with Herod, but this story is late (c. 5th century) and is a fiction (Josephus would have mentioned it, having not been a fan of Herod himself). Additionally, Abgar V does not go to war with Rome.
  • Abgar Ma’nu VI could not be the individual you claim when you state that “The historical Izas was crucified…[and] taken down [from the cross] by Josephus Flavius” since Josephus was living in Rome, as a court historian, probably on the Palatine Hill–far, far away from Edessa (and Palestine, for that matter). In 70-71, when Abgar Ma’nu VI became king, Josephus was on his way to Rome. And in 90-91 when Abgar VI’s rule ended, Josephus was sitting comfortably (probably–chairs back then and all) in his house, paid for by the empire, in Rome, writing his histories and autobiography. He died ten years later. So, no, Abgar VI could not have been crucified and taken down by Josephus–by the way, ‘Flavian’ is the name Josephus adopted after the Jewish War in 70, after he had been granted full citizenship by Titus. Abgar had not yet started his reign when this occurred.
  • Abgar VII is important as he is the one who went to war with Rome, but he did so in the second century, long after Josephus had died and some 40 years after the first Jewish War. This is not the Abgar you’re looking for.
  • Finally, the one Abgar who is alleged to have been killed because of his beliefs, Abgar VIII the Great, was not even a contemporary of Josephus or Jesus. As I said, he lived in the third century and was the first from the Abgar dynasty to become a Christian (and he is remembered as such). His mother was not Helena, he was not the son of Abgarus, he was not crucified and taken down by Josephus, and he never launched a war against Jerusalem.

Now none of this is idle speculation on my part. We have tons of early source material and contemporary attestation, including a discussion from Josephus on Izates and Helena (who died c. 100 CE) and the sarcophagus of Helena herself (with an inscription calling her Sadan–probably a Persian name–dated to the first century CE).

abgar x

The coin image on the cover of Mr. Ellis’ book.

Interestingly, you make a fatal error on the cover of your book, illustrating further your incompetence and your lack of understanding of the distinctions between these individuals. The coin you so boldly declare to be “the coin image of Jesus” is not Abgar the V (the first century Abgar), nor is it Abgar Ma’nu VI (whose VI you use for your Izas creation), nor is it Abgar the Great (Abgar the VIII who is said to have converted to Christianity in the third century)–all of these are the ones who you are conflating, but alas, it is none of them. No, this coin you present on your cover is none other than Abgar the X. Finally! We found an Abgar you don’t intentionally conflate with the rest! This Abgar the X came to the throne following the assassination of Gordian the III; this all occurs decades after the death of Abgar the Great. Your mistake is confusing the two–probably after doing a Google image search for ‘Abgar’ without realizing that there had been more than one (something an amateur might do, but not someone trained in the field by those pesky academic institutions you find so limiting). Let me draw it out for you with pictures:

Abgar X coins

This is the coin minted under Abgar X (242 – 243 CE). On the left is Gordian III and on the right is Abgar X.


Abgar VIII the Great is on the right holding a scepter, Septimius Severus on the left (197 – 212).

The differences may be subtle to those like you who are untrained (or who lack sense). Abgar VIII holds a scepter in his coin, also there is no star present. Septimius Serverus has a full beard. Your coin from your cover, along with the Abgar X coin, both depict Abgar X without a scepter, star behind his shoulder. Notice also the style of clothing Abgar X is portrayed wearing? A necklace or collar followed by a row of buttons clearly distinguishes this Abgar from the other. Likewise, Gordian III is depicted without facial hair. Additionally, a star is present in front of Gordian III on this coin. So the coin you currently have on your cover does not, in any way, present Abgar VIII (who you probably want–though who can know with this twisted cacophony of kings you’ve molded together into the one you’ve fabricated). Here is a closeup of your coin and an Abgar X coin:

abgar compare

Notice it is an attempt at the exact same design as the Abgar X coin. Stars are there, but no scepter–a dead giveaway.

But you should know all this, shouldn’t you? With your supposed 25+ years of study? Especially since I found the website where you snagged that image of the Abgar X coin:

abgar coin taken from

Also, I’m fairly certain this is a modern reproduction of a real Abgar X coin (i.e., it’s a fake). So not only did you snag the wrong Abgar, but you also used a fake coin. Good job, Mr. Ellis.

And if you bothered to read (or do any research whatsoever), you’d see even the listing for this coin suggests that it is Abgar X, not Abgar the VIII (though maybe you didn’t know the difference until you read this post). Just in case you want to claim that isn’t the same coin, here is a side-by-side comparison:

abgar compare 2

Even the ‘wear’ on the coin is identical. The placing of certain letters with the star, the criss-crossing pattern on the crown, etc… this is the coin.

This is what happens when you fabricate something by meshing multiple historical figures together. ‘Izas Manu’ never existed in history, Mr. Ellis. He is a figment of your imagination. You simply cannot take four separate individuals, over the span of hundreds of years, and lump them together into one without someone calling your bluff.

What have you really done here? Let me quote you again, this time breaking down the different figures in your claims:

The historical Izas (Izates II) was called King Izas (Izates II) Manu(el) (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII) VI of Edessa (not Izates II).

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews) (not any from the Abgar dynasty).

The historical Izas (Izates II)-Manu’s (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII)father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa. (No one. Ever.)

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a revolutionary (no one) who fought the Jerusalem authorities (Abgar V) and the Romans (Abgar the VII).

Do you see what I’m saying? Of course you do. You have to know this already. There is absolutely no way you can really be this clueless; no one with a brain would dare believe that taking a whole group of people and lumping them into one fictional persona is an innocent endeavor. No one would call that travesty a ‘scholarly book’. It has to be a gimmick; something fraudulent is happening here with what you’re doing. And I’ll gladly expose it for the world to see. It has to be a stunt to sell books and con people out of their hard earned cash or, simply put, you have to be certifiably crazy.

I’ll put it to the reader in an analogy. This is akin to me saying that there was a real guy named Herod Caligula(rus) and then stated that Herod Caligula(rus) went on a vicious rampage in Jerusalem and called upon Jupiter Maximus ten plagues to wipe out the first born sons of Israel, only later to repent after getting drunk off blood-wine and taking his place as King of the Roman Empire.

See how crazy that is? That is exactly how crazy Mr. Ellis’ claims are and, as such, they can be dismissed.

Hector Avalos: ‘The New Holocaust Denialists: The Need for a Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship’

How did I miss this?  Hector Avalos’ recent publication over at Bible and Interpretation:

There is a new movement of holocaust denialists, and the prime architects of this movement are biblical scholars. I am speaking not of the Jewish Holocaust under the Nazi regime, but of the Canaanite holocaust reported in biblical texts.

These Canaanite holocaust denialists argue that the Canaanite holocaust did not really happen. And if it did happen, then it was justified and not analogous to the Nazi holocaust.

via The Bible and Interpretation – The New Holocaust Denialists: The Need for a Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship.

Go give it a read and check the comments (particularly Thomas L. Thompson’s comment).

Christopher Rollston: The Marginalization of Women in Ancient and Modern Times

I strongly believe this article should be read by everyone.  Chris Rollston knows what he is talking about.  Here is a snippet:

Augusta National Golf Club finally accepts its first women members, and so a Leviathan of gender discrimination at long last makes a move in the right direction. Conversely, Todd Akin falsely states that a woman’s body has biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy in cases of something he refers to as “legitimate rape.” One step forward, two steps back in our battle for women’s rights. Sadly though, the marginalization of women has been going on for a long time. Some 2,000 years ago, a Hebrew sage named Ben Sira wrote “the birth of a daughter is a loss” and “better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good.” Modern readers rightly label such words misogynistic. But they’re part of the historical record and Ben Sira wasn’t alone.

via Christopher Rollston: The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About.

Religion and Politics in the Blogosphere and Beyond

This is the blog post you deserve, but not the one you need right now.

Lately there is a lot of commotion in the community concerning a plethora of subjects.  First, some Tea-Party-Backed-Republicans are making some rather obnoxious claims about rape and abortion which are beyond ignorant.  These claims stem from their particular religious convictions and clearly even god is mad at them because he is sending a hurricane named after the son of Abraham (who incidentally was blind and a deceiver and was fond of digging holes for himself) to soak the region where they plan to have their convention.

Also, it seems that some evangelical Christians have become the victims of a ponzi scheme, like this one, where a man took them for over $2 million.  This isn’t new and for some reason Christian evangelicals seem to be the most susceptible towards these sorts of schemes.

In related news but not necessarily to that of Biblical Studies, Sioux tribes are trying to raise money to buy back land that is a part of their creation story.  Before you ask, no, there is no expedition to locate the shell of Turtle like there is for Noah’s Ark.  However, someone on eBay thinks that the Hebrew word chai is a “Vintage Navajo Moose” as reported by John Byron.

Chris Rollston shared this amusing video today comparing archaeology and paleontology.

A(nother) Roman lead curse tablet has been found.  These are the real deal, unlike those fakes peddled by the Elkington and others.  Speaking of curses, Cracked.com has a great roundup of some of the odder curses in the Bible.

Also, donkey’s with fricken WiFi attached to their backs!

Thomas L. Thompson: Is This Not the Carpenter’s Son? A Reply to Bart Ehrman

Thomas Thompson has written a response to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? over at Bible and Interpretation.  Below I have included three snippets:

Bart Ehrman has recently dismissed what he calls mythicist scholarship, my Messiah Myth from 2005 among them, as anti-religious motivated denials of a historical Jesus and has attributed to my book arguments and principles which I had never presented, certainly not that Jesus had never existed…. Rather than dealing with the historicity of the figure of Jesus, my book had argued a considerably different issue, which, however, might well raise problems for many American New Testament scholars who historicize what was better understood as allegorical.


Ehrman pompously ignores my considerable analytical discussion, which was rooted in a wide-ranging, comparative literary classification and analysis of the Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. Apparently to him, the more than 40 years I have devoted to research in my study of the primary fields of Old Testament exegesis, ancient Near Eastern literature and ancient history—not least in regards to questions of historicity—leaves me unqualified and lacking the essential competence to address such questions because they also come to include a comparison of such an analysis with these same stereotypical literary tropes as they occur in the Gospels.


Ehrman has asserted that the present state of New Testament scholarship is such that an established scholar should present his Life of Jesus, without considering whether this figure, in fact, lived as a historical person. The assumptions implied reflect a serious problem regarding the historical quality of scholarship in biblical studies—not least that which presents itself as self-evidently historical-critical. I wrote my monograph of 2005 in an effort to explore the continuity of a limited number of themes which were rooted in ancient Near Eastern royal ideology—an issue which is not only marginally related to questions of historicity, but one which also has much to say about the perception of history and historical method among modern scholars. I am, accordingly, very pleased that Thomas Verenna and I can offer this response to Ehrman’s unconscionable attack on critical scholarship in so timely a manner. It is a small book, and its ambitions are few: hardly more than to point out that our warrant for assuming the existence of a historical Jesus has important limits. In the course of that statement, I hope that readers will find some very interesting, new avenues of research being explored.

(via)  You’ll want to read the whole thing.  For my more detailed refutation, see my article, published there as well, entitled ‘Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship‘.

Giorgio Tsoukalos on the Preston and Steve Show

As a former resident of Philadelphia, WMMR is my all time favorite radio station, and the Preston and Steve Show is my favorite morning radio show.  I listen to it every morning on my way to work and, while I sometimes may disagree with what they say, often I find they are fair and rational and funny–very, very funny.  But when I heard this morning that Giorgio Tsoukalos was going to be on the program, I was curious because (a) he is either a charlatan or an idiot and (b) his hypotheses are ridiculous and I don’t think respectable radio shows like the Preston and Steve Show should be giving this guy any legitimacy.  More on this below.

So I tuned in during work hours (with permission) so I could listen to the interview.  And lo and behold, Preston and Steve (and everyone else on the program) were giving this guy all sorts of validation.  As someone who is working towards becoming a historian, as someone who spends countless hours fact-checking and researching and learning ancient languages to better understand the social and cultural evolution and development of these civilizations, Giorgio Tsoukalos is an affront to it all.  And people actually buy into his trash.  They buy his filth and eat it up like it were some gourmet meal.

I took some notes and I’d like to share them with you, my readers, below, and then I’d like to say a few more things about this interview.

1. Nazca Lines

Tsoukalos brought up the Nazca lines.  And while he is talking about this he is saying things like ‘well who did they make these images for?’ and ‘they didn’t have balloons to go up there and see these things’ and other nonsense like that.  The stench of this man’s bullscat is sickening.  First, just because we don’t know how something happened doesn’t mean we can just leap to the conclusion ‘therefore aliens’. This is not how historians and archaeologists find answers.  Making this incredible leap it is how we substitute fiction and myth for answers.   It is no different than when a fundamentalist Christian will say ‘we don’t know, therefore god did it.’  It is intellectually lazy because it basically suggests that we should just stop looking for answers and blindly accept the ‘aliens guided the process’ argument based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

What is worse, however, is that we do know something about the Nazca lines and who made them: they were made by people.  Humans who have the ability to conceptualize, plan, and execute an idea.  What Tsoukalos is actually saying is that they don’t believe humans could have conceptualized such a feat and put it to action without some exterior force guiding them.  But again this is silly.

We know that ancient civilizations–even primitive ones–were full of smart people who were both mathematically inclined (i.e., they started to develop an aptitude for advanced math, which of course was part of their evolutionary processes, both culturally and physically, which made them more apt at engineering these great feats).  And we know that they used a large manual labor force to build.  The Nazca lines took years to make with a large labor force and quite likely the engineers behind the process used grid layouts to create them (much like how crop circles are made today).  There is no need to fabricate an alien authority or overlord, when humans are more than capable of developing and using these tools themselves, probably for religious purposes (based on the archaeological and anthropological findings in the area, it seems like this area was a religious  mecca for the Nazca).  This is discussed in more detail below.

2. Cultural Explosion:

Another falsity that Tsoukalos brings up is that there was this supposed cultural explosion around the world.  But he is grossly misinformed (or he is just lying).  Despite what he says, cultures around the world were not ‘jump started’; real archaeologists and historians see a gradual progression of development. Culture did not just spring forth from the ground ex nihilo, but had humble beginnings and took thousands of years.

Again, Tsoukalos is just inventing things here or he doesn’t actually know the facts.  Not only did there exist a gradual progression of development but this development happened at different times, in different ways, through a series of different evolutionary processes.  Let’s just take one example (of the many I could provide), the pyramids.

He has been quoted as saying that the alien astronauts ‘gave us the nudge’ we needed to build them.  But in fact this is just more speculation.  Anyone with a background in Egyptian engineering can show a direct linear progression from what were essentially burial mounds to more complex structures, all the way to the pyramids.

Starting from the top left to the bottom right, the progression of the pyramid was a slow one, taking hundreds of years. Originally, just a simple burial mound was the custom. But as the culture grew and civilization expanded, they built mastabas over them. These mastabas became more complex and grew taller, with step-pyramids and finally the bent pyramid, ending with the pyramid design we are familiar with today.

Again, the slightest bit of research is all it takes to discount his entire theory!  In fact the construction of the great pyramids used the engineering features that worked in earlier pyramid types (like the function of building a wide base at the bottom to a narrow base on top, or using the ‘step’ pattern from the ‘stepped-pyramid’ design to construct the bent-pyramids and great pyramids).  See below:

You can see the ‘stepped’ features in this Bent-Pyramid design, under the smoothed finish.

Again, the same construction features, except with that final ‘pyramid’ shape.

The unfortunate thing about Tsoukalos’ perspective is it essentially presupposes that humans are incapable of cultural evolution which flies in the face of all known human history, which rests entirely upon the development of culture and social groups.  It presupposes that we needed another being (instead of ‘Ra’, Tsoukalos uses ‘alien’, but one might as well use ‘leprechaun’ or ‘fairy’ or ‘snarfwidget’ because they are all speculative, intellectually lazy examples of people just inventing an outside intelligence to take credit for human evolutionary processes).

But then he and his ilk take it to the next level by suggesting that, since pyramids exist on different continents, built by different people, then there must have been some ancient alien presence guiding it all.  But they don’t take into account the various differences in cultural stages throughout every continent.  They presume that since the end result is ‘pyramids’ they all were built around the same time, which is simply false.

Take into account the largest pyramid in the world, the Great Pyramid of Cholula.  Initial construction began in the 3rd century BCE (about 2200 years ago), and was built over the course of hundreds of years, with various phases of construction occurring throughout, finally completed in the 9th century CE (1200 years ago).   This is a relatively late pyramid, despite its magnitude, when compared to the Great Pyramid of Giza which was constructed over 4500 years ago, which is over 2300 years before construction began in Cholula!   And subsequently the majority of other ‘pyramid-types’ from around the world came later and later.  The only exception are the ziggurats of many ancient Near Eastern civilizations, some of which were built as early as the fourth millennium BCE.

But Tsoukalos, et al, will not tell you about the problem of dating; they want you to falsely believe that the pyramids were comfortably built by civilizations across the globe all around the same time.  This is the trouble with these sorts of crazy hypotheses.  They suggest the exact opposite of what is archaeologically known about these structures.

Tsoukalos likes to use the word ‘primitive’; we were just too ‘primitive’ to do anything right.  They insist that we were so unsophisticated and backwards that we couldn’t possibly have built these amazing structures ourselves.  However the record suggests the opposite is true. Indeed, one has to wonder where Tsoukalos learned the English language.  ‘Primitive’ has a lot of definitions, but all of them are fairly technical and specific.  At the point when we started building pyramids, during the 3rd millennium BCE, the Bronze Age, man was far from primitive.  ‘Primitive’ humans may be those humans who lived during the stone age or before.  But at the time of the 3rd millennium BCE, man had already developed a strong cultural structure for themselves.  Written language, beer, agriculture, metalwork, advanced conceptual thinking and story telling, laws, mathematics (base 60), astronomy, and so on.  And perhaps most important, we did not just suddenly ‘appear’ like this.  Man didn’t one day gain these skills sui generis, that is to say, humanity hadn’t just started to gain culture, it was entrenched in it.   That we gained this sophistication over a long period of time and built these structures after a steady, but noticeable, cultural progression is nothing new to anyone who has done the slightest bit of research.

This is most obvious when looking at archaeological discoveries.  We didn’t go from the stone age to the iron age over the course of a few generations–it took thousands of years, mainly with the innovation of new ore smelting techniques (going from the Copper Age, to the Bronze Age, to the Iron Age).  And within these ages are various sub-phases of cultural development.  For example the ancient Near Eastern bronze Age spans as thus: Early Bronze Age I – Late Bronze Age IIB took 2100 years and the progression, while slow, was noticeable enough to determine which stage of cultural evolution occurred at which point and belonged to which designation within said age.  And throughout the world, these stages happened at different times, at different rates, all of which depended upon a variety of factors (there is no such thing as a ‘universal bronze age/iron age’).

This absolutely destroys the case for ancient astronaut theory as laid out by Tsoukalos.  If there had been an alien hand guiding us, you would see something completely different.  The archaeological record would show a universal change at the same time rather than a series of slow progressions over time in various locations.  One would expect exactly what these people are claiming; one would expect to find pyramids being built at the same time, in the exact same manner, in the exact same way, functioning exactly the same way.  But we don’t.  The pyramids in South America don’t at all resemble the pyramids in Egypt; nor do they serve the same function (i.e., Mesoamerican pyramids functioned as step-pyramids with a temple at the top, whereas Egyptian pyramids were burial structures for royalty).  Why?  Because they were not constructed by aliens nor were they built by humans with the guided hand of aliens.  They were constructed by various types of peoples, from all over the world, at different times, for different reasons, to serve different purposes.

3. Ancient Astronaut ‘Reasoning’

During the interview, Tsoukalos states that he is giving us ‘his facts’.  It may be that Tsoukalos is giving us his approximation of facts, within his own delusional worldview, but in reality he doesn’t have ‘facts’.  What Tsoukalos has is a series of speculative claims based upon pseudo-correlations between poor understandings of the past.  His case is so terrible that he has no factual grounding to stand on.  It is just all fiction.

Worse, he doesn’t seem to realize this or he is intentionally being dishonest.  The way Tsoukalos forms his conclusions is quite similar to other pseudoscholarship, like the absurd Hold Blood, Holy Grail people, or the Zeitgeist mythers who draw crazy correlations with limited (or without any) supporting data and then propose these bizarre special-case scenarios and claim, after they are done, that what they have is a ‘fact’.  Bob Price breaks this down beautifully while engaging all the flaws and fallacies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, in his The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth is Stranger than Fiction (New York: Prometheus, 2005), 23-4:

Despite their indefatigable research, motivated no doubt by true scholarly zeal, these authors seem unacquainted with inductive historical method.  They proceed instead, as they themselves recount the evolution of their hypothesis, more in a novelistic fashion, just like their recent disciple Dan Brown.  That is, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln constantly connect the dots of data provided by medieval chronicles and such, linking them with the cheap Scotch tape of one speculation after another: “What if A were really B?”  “What if B were really C?”  “It is not impossible that…”  “If so-and-so were the case, this would certainly explain this and that.”  These are the flashes of imaginative inspiration that allow fiction writers like Dan Brown to trace out intriguing plots.  It is essentially a creative enterprise, not one of historical reconstruction.

Indeed, Price hits the nail on the head (even if you don’t agree with everything else he says).  The same should be said for Tsoukalos and his ilk on the History Channel who produce shows like Ancient Aliens.  Tsoukalos’ points seem cogent and reasonable if you have absolutely no background knowledge of the past, if you do no followup research, if you let him guide you along his fictional narrative.  And it is a narrative, don’t let his flashy hair distract you from this.  Case in point:

His whole position is based on ‘possibility’ but ‘possibility’ is a lose term to use when you have no supporting data, and your position instead contradicts every other known fact or data point out there.  Then such a thing is not possible.  Then you’re just wrong.

Tsoukalos and others like him also seem to suffer from extreme cases of pareidolia where they see images that resemble, artificially, modern objects or modern concepts and then presume, from that point, that these must be depictions of modern technology in antiquity.  And they argue, much in the way Price demonstrates above, that since modern technology couldn’t exist in antiquity, these must be depictions of alien technology that the ancient ‘primitives’ simply didn’t grasp.  See the problem with such an argument?

Here are some more ‘arguments’ from Tsoukalos:

Anyone who suggests that ‘we were building pyramids’ at the time that Sumeria was ‘being created’ (even if he meant ‘was being settled’, this would still be wrong since the region of Sumer was settled at least 1300 years prior to the first pyramids) should not be talking about history.

4. Conclusions: Caveat Emptor

I have always felt as though the Preston and Steve Show did their best to weed out the trash from the lot.  Of course I know that ratings come first, and yes Ancient Aliens is a ratings-grabber because, like most bunk controversial hypotheses, they sell.  But I was incredibly disappointed today in the overall thrust of the show.  I was expecting some hard-hitting questions.  I wanted to hear someone go, ‘Ok, come on!  You cannot be serious!  Aliens?!’  Instead I heard a lot of parroted agreements from the team.

Sensibility died a little today.  And the tragedy here is that real historians, who work in museums, or educate our students in academic institutions, or who spend time in far away countries (or even this one) doing digs to discover the truth, are completely ignored by the Preston and Steve show.  Did they bother inviting on a credible scholar of ancient Near Eastern history (like anyone at ASOR?! ) to participate in the conversation?  It isn’t like there aren’t a handful of excellent universities in the area (Rutgers, UPenn, Temple, Ursinus, etc…); they could have invited any number of experts on the show with which to discuss this issue.  Did they invite Bob Cargill onto the program?  Cargill, for those who don’t know, is a scholar who not only opposes ‘Ancient Astronaut theory’ but also appeared in the first season of Ancient Aliens but was cut out of following seasons because, I can only assume, he made more sense than Tsoukalos who produces the show.

I will still listen to Preston and Steve, that won’t stop over this.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But I wish they would do something to make amends for this error.  They should bring on someone to set the record straight.  Thousands of listeners tuned in to listen to Tsoukalos spout his bullscat and many probably will believe what he said without question, because in our society most people don’t bother fact-checking their sources (which is why there are still people out there who think The Onion is a real news source–seriously).  Tsoukalos had a free pass to spread his fiction to those listeners and I believe that Preston and Steve have a duty, an ethical obligation, to rectify this.

And to those who are yet unconvinced of my opinions on ‘Ancient Astronaut Theory’, I issue this caveat emptor: believe what you want, it is a free country.  But history is not a boring subject you fell asleep in during High School.  History the the chronicle of all of society’s memories.  It is a compendium of humanity–what it means to be ‘human’.  As a historian, one is tasked with maintaining these memories–just as your brain is tasked with keeping your memories intact, undamaged, available for use–for your future survival.  History may not repeat itself, but people who fail to heed the past are doomed to repeat it.  What Tsoukalos is doing, what he is suggesting you do, is replace that humanity.  To remove what it means to be human and substitute it with ‘Alien’.  His version of the past will destroy the substance of humanity, and in its place will be little green men.  Think I’m being overzealous here?   Maybe.  But let the buyer beware.

Further Resources:

The Qeiyafa Discovery and King David: The Da Vinci Connection

Perhaps you have not heard but there has been some new buzz in the field over some shrines that were discovered.  Here is a snippet of the recent press release:

Jerusalem, May 8, 2012—Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, announced today the discovery of objects that for the first time shed light on how a cult was organized in Judah at the time of King David. During recent archaeological excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, Garfinkel and colleagues uncovered rich assemblages of pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects. These include three large rooms that served as cultic shrines, which in their architecture and finds correspond to the biblical description of a cult at the time of King David.

via The Hebrew University Press Release on the Qeiyafa Discovery « Zwinglius Redivivus.

Now a couple of things.  First, the link between these shrines and cultic artifacts and a Davidic kingdom or even a historical David are tenuous at best.  Have we found an inscription mentioning David on these artifacts?  Do we have any reference to a Davidic context other than the very tentative link between the C14 dating and the period commonly associated with David?   Then why are certain individuals making exaggerated claims about these artifacts?

Something else that struck me.  Consider this shrine here:

The iconography on this shrine looks similar to the sort found on Asherah shrines:

These may not match perfectly (which would not be crucial) but they do share similar (also common) motifs (lions at the doorstep and birds perched on the roof, for example).  And I see no reason why someone would jump the gun and make some sort of reference to David based upon these rather common-looking shrines which are found throughout the region.

See also this shrine here (via) with the dove on the top (symbols commonly associated with Asherah on these sorts of model shrines) and take note of the pillars (especially):

And I do not find the argument compelling that the context in which these were discovered paint some sort of Davidic or Yahwahistic function.  To me, these look like nothing but stressed connections.

I would also note that the media is reporting the claim (allegedly from Garfinkel) that these are the first ever shrines discovered from the time of David which is just absurd.

This discovery is extraordinary as it is the first time that shrines from the time of early biblical kings were uncovered. Because these shrines pre-date the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by 30 to 40 years, they provide the first physical evidence of a cult in the time of King David, with significant implications for the fields of archaeology, history, biblical and religion studies. (via)

Of course whoever did the research for this claim probably didn’t know how common these shrines are.  Like this model shrine from Tel Rekhesh (dated to Iron I):

And the bizarre claim that these ‘provide the first physical evidence of a cult in the time of King David’ is full of problems.  First, when one places ‘the time of King David’ is debated.  And if we’re placing it during Iron I, one has to wonder what it meant by ‘first physical evidence of a cult’ during this period.  Is there seriously someone suggesting that there is no evidence for cults existing in the region during Iron I?  I certainly hope not!

Then this claim:

The biblical tradition presents the people of Israel as conducting a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East by being monotheistic and an-iconic (banning human or animal figures). However, it is not clear when these practices were formulated, if indeed during the time of the monarchy (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras.

But this seems to go against the whole find!  After all, shrines like these were common throughout the region (as I’ve stated above) and they hold no special significance to ‘Israelites’ (whatever that term means).  These sorts of shrines were used by Canaanites and those who settled in the hill country of Palestine.  We know that the early settlers believed in multiple gods and goddesses and that includes those who also worshiped Yahweh (again, we have references both biblically and archaeologically to shrines like this which were used to worship the ‘wife’ of Yahweh, Asherah).

And what is this talk of a ‘united monarchy’ for which there is no evidence?  And why is it presumed throughout the many articles arguing for the significance of this common find?  It is very troubling indeed.

I’m glad other scholars are showing their concern for the exaggerated finds:

Model shrines of the type presented Tuesday have been found at many other sites belonging to other local cultures, and their similarity to Temple architecture as described in the Bible has already been noted, said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, who leads a dig at the ruins of the nearby Philistine city of Gath. And the existence of lions and birds on the clay model undermine the claim that no figures of people or animals have been found at Qeiyafa, he said. (via)

UPDATE: See George Athas’s comments on the discovery here: http://withmeagrepowers.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/ark-of-god-found-at-khirbet-qeiyafa/

Some Considerations About the Iconography on the Ossuary

There has been a lot of various interpretations of the ‘fish’ on the new ossuary in Talpiyot B.  Absalom’s tomb was the primary response initially; this was due to the misrepresentation of the image (in photos the alignment of the image was sideways to make it appear as though the object were swimming) by various media outlets and by those involved in the find.  However Tabor, in response to these criticisms, made the community aware that the orientation of the image was down (that is, the circular object which Tabor, et al, claim to be Jonah being spit out of the mouth of the fish is facing toward the bottom of the ossuary).  Another interpretation of this image was that it was a nephesh monument but again the orientation of the object was not clearly known at the time these interpretations were given.  In a conversation with Mark Goodacre, I had suggested to him that the object, oriented upside-down, reminded me of pottery.  And it seems I was not the only one who had this interpretation (keep in mind that there is no interpretation from the vagary of expert interpretations which has thus concluded ‘fish’–that is to say, none outside of Tabor’s interpretation which has been under heavy criticism).  Currently the discussion has shifted to what type of pottery at which we’re looking (amphora or krater).

But I still feel that there are some important details which must be considered when making our interpretations of the iconography on the ossuary.   First we must remember that we do not have the ossuary itself.  At best we have a “museum quality replica” but I am not sure that we can have a replica of something we can’t accurately depict yet.  Sure, we have some pictures, but these are not entirely trustworthy.  At present there is a general discussion happening in the comments section of Bob Cargill’s ASOR article on the iconography which has focused on digital manipulation.  While it is clear that there has been some digital work done on the image, the question seems to be about the extent of the digital manipulation.   Bob is an expert on the subject (he headed up UCLA’s Center of Digital Humanities and his work has focused on using digital technology in the field of archaeology) and is more than capable of exposing any digitally doctored image, so if he sees the manipulation at play and can demonstrate it adequately, then we must wonder to what extent this museum replica that Jacobovici and Tabor produced is a precise reproduction of the ossuary.

There are still more troubling factors.  The multiple photos of the iconography are not showing the same thing, as Bob Cargill has made clear in his response to Tabor on the ASOR blog.  This may be the result of photo doctoring, but the fact is that part of the iconography is obscured (see this image):

As you can see, the ‘fin’ is obscured partially in this photo.  Whatever is obscuring the image is not there in other images.  Unless someone moved whatever is obscuring it before snapping another photo (it looks like another ossuary), then it was digitally removed from the image and someone ‘filled-in’ the rest of the ‘tail fin’ before it was given to media sources:

The most striking thing about this isn’t just that there is no longer a mass on the upper left corner of the screen obscuring the object but that there is no indication that there ever was something there.  For example, if we presume that the object was removed by the robot with the camera (like by a claw or something) we would expect to see coloration differences, different types of microbial forms, there would be some evidence of an object which has sat on top of this ossuary for hundreds, if not some thousands, of years.  Yet there is nothing there to suggest to us that this has been the case.  That upper corner looks identical to the rest of the ossuary.  This suggests to me that the image has been digitally altered. So there is no way, at present, we can be certain of the dims of the iconography; there is just no trustworthy image we know of that hasn’t been altered to been skewed by angle or hasn’t had someone digitally add in dimensions using digital media.  This also means that the replica used at the press conference is simply unreliable.

Then there is the troubling question: what is it?  Well, speculations about ‘fish’ aside, it looked to me, from the time the orientation was known, that the image is of pottery.  At the beginning, it was suggested that it had been an amphora, but amphora have very specific handles (usually, not always) that this iconography lacked.  The handles one typically finds on amphorae are hooped from the middle of the vessel to the brim at the top:

Though there are exceptions to this; some amphorae have handles akin to those on the ossuary iconography (see the ‘fins’ on the sides):

It is also interesting that there is a ‘ball’ at the bottom of this (this is a Hellenistic glass amphora); this is specifically interesting because Tabor and Jacobovici have claimed ad nauseum that the ‘ball’ at the bottom on their iconography must be a ‘head’ wrapped in seaweed (yep!) and there is no other easier explanation.  But amphorae are not the only types of ancient pottery that sometimes contain a ball bottom like this.  Many unguentarium have this ‘ball bottom’ feature:

Note the shape of this as well; like the glass amphora above, this design contains the ‘fins’, the ‘ball’ at the bottom, and the fish-like shape.  This is why I believe that the ‘fish’ on the ossuary are more than likely an example of this sort of pottery.  As Joan Taylor points out, these ungenutarium serve a specific funeral and ritual purpose and are commonly found in tombs.

Oddly, however, even though this is likely, Tabor continues to point to ‘fish’ and, even more strange still, he continues to suggest that the ball at the bottom of the fish (or, rather, what is coming out of its closed mouth) is Jonah.  And he feels this is the most likely and easiest explanation.  He gives some reasons why he believes that the fish is more likely than the pottery:

1. The “tail” of our image is sharply pointed and quite elongated on the left side. In fact, when we first got a glimpse of the partial image we thought it was the prow of a boat! In contrast, the mouths of amphora and perfume bottles are round and quite symmetrical.

But this is irrelevant, since we don’t know the exact shape of the tail of the ‘fish’.  The fact is the images we have are digitally changed, and often in extreme and tragic ways (see Bob Cargill’s comments here and judge for yourself).  The tail seems to be shaped by digital means and clearly, as demonstrated above, the tail is partially obscured in whatever image we have left. And we can’t rely upon any of our ‘images’ since frankly we can’t trust them.  And that is criminal.  Truly criminal.  Alas, like with the lead codices, we can only go by the photos since we do not have the physical ossuary to examine.  And unless Tabor wants to release unaltered photos that can be examined by experts–and I mean experts not on any payroll associated with this discovery–then the photos must be dismissed as admissible evidence.

2. The clear stick figure in our image with the enlarged “ball” or head at the bottom seems to be in contrast to the typical flattened or knob like ends of some perfume bottles.

One must wonder if Tabor has ever seen glass amphorae or unguentarium?  If not, there are some on site at the Metropolitan Museum he should consider evaluating.

The arms of the figure are positioned in a classic eastern pose (oaanes), in contrast to what we find in the west–the orans position of supplication with both arms raised. This is a major point and we are presently preparing a special paper dealing with the motifs associated with the various sea-man figures of the eastern Mediterrean world in this period.

Here are the facts: the stick figure appears more or less to be wishful thinking.  Let us examine more closely this ‘figure’:

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 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?

The “head” itself has a very distinctive pattern on it which we have taken to be the artists attempt to represent seaweed “wrapped about my head” as mentioned in the text of Jonah (2:5). The “eye” of the fish is also etched on the lower right side, with a curved line. We are not yet certain what the Etruscan “F-like” marking is to the left of the figure’s body as it is now oriented but our guess is it has to do with an eastern mythical hero motif and several suggestions have been made by two of our ancient art historians.

This is simply nothing more than a case of pareidolia.  Tabor is seeing Jesus in a burnt piece of toast and calling it the ‘find of a lifetime’.

3. The patterned body of the “fish” with its scale/tile like patterns, which led some to conclude it was the brickwork of a tower, we understand to be akin to the armor of the mythical fish Leviathan (aka Behemoth, Rahab, etc.)–which in modern Hebrew still means “whale.” In Jewish tradition this unique sea creature represents “death” and the righteous are to eat its flesh in the last days, thus “swallowing up death” forever (Isaiah 27:1; 25:8; Baba Bathra 74b). When this happens the “dew of light” will shine on the world of the death and those in the land of shades will live or be resurrected (Isaiah 26:19).

Again, Tabor is seeing what he needs to see in order to force ‘fish’ into this pottery motif. These are not ‘scales’ at all but resemble more the patterns associated with what one would find on ancient pottery.  Here is an example of ‘scales’ on pottery (or, more specifically, the patterns one might find on amphorae in antiquity):

Again, consider looking more closely at these doctored images:

Looks to me to be patterns one might see on a piece of pottery.  It certainly doesn’t resemble anything I’ve seen of fish scales.  James talks about the oaanes poses but based on his observations that the pose is similar, he doesn’t seem to recall what the representations look like:

Anyone with even a mediocre degree of observation could see that the two are not even close.  And while we’re on the subject, has anyone noticed that the ‘head’ of the images that Tabor provides have been altered in size?  Consider this for reference:

The green lines represent the ‘closeup’ of the image to show the ‘stickfigure’ located on the right.  The red lines are the far-away shot of the whole image on the left. One is flatter than the other.  How anyone could deny some level of image modification and tampering is beyond me.

4. The downward orientation of our fish image, which some have taken as an objection to it being a fish, is to the contrary just what one would expect, as we understand Jonah is being spat out on land in this depiction. To have the nose of the fish oriented upward (heavenward), or to right or left, would be to spit him into the waters of “chaos,” which he is now to escape, by being vomited on dry land. The head of our “Jonah” figure is actually touching the border of the bottom of the ossuary, which seems to represent that land.

Tabor may not be aware of these image modifications, and if that is the case at the very least we could say Tabor has quite the imagination–he would have to in order to present a rationalization like this.  Again, one must ask if Tabor really believes that this is a better explanation than that for pottery.  First, I have never seen any example of a fish spitting out a human before–even in images of Jonah and the fish, the orientation is never down and the mouth is never closed:

And frankly why would it be?  It makes no sense for an artist to draw an image which goes against the known motif of all the images of the fish which would have been commonplace for Christian or Jew in antiquity.  Why would one change the orientation to ‘down’ and make the iconography so counter to what one expects to see?  Now consider more carefully the pottery iconography:

Without accurate representations of the iconography, there is no way to know how the lip (or ‘tail fin’) actually looks.  But even if this is precisely how the image looks, the pottery iconography simply makes more sense.  It explains the orientation (in this case ‘down’ would be ‘up’ and would not require additional explanation), it explains the patterns (pottery patterns rather than the most bizarre form of ‘scales’ ever seen), and the ‘fins’ (top of pottery and handles rather than ‘fins’) and base (part of many glass pottery motifs rather than ‘sea-weed covered Jonah head’).

I have nothing but respect for James Tabor; I think that when he is not working with Jacobovici, he is lucid and erudite and an exceptional scholar.  But every time he backs one of these sensational stories, I do have my concerns.  I can’t fathom–not now, perhaps never–how someone can look at all this data and say ‘Yes, that is definitely Jonah and the Whale’.  It mystifies me.  It should concern Tabor; if nothing else the evidence of the manipulation of the photos should concern Tabor!  It certainly concerns me.

UPDATE 3/5/2012:

Bob Cargill has posted a very thorough article on the digital manipulation of the images and why it matters.  here is a snippet:

Unfortunately, the visual evidence detailed above compels us to conclude that Fig. 21 from pg. 42 of Dr. James Tabor’s original Feb 28, 2012 Bible and Interpretation article entitled, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” has experienced a high degree of digital manipulation. Given the changes to the “tail fin” of the supposed “fish,” and given the deliberate rotation of the image’s orientation causing it to more resemble the natural orientation of a fish without offering a compass point or any indication on the image whatsoever that the image has been rotated, it can be argued that the motivation behind making these digital alterations to the image was the desire to create, or at least “enhance” the illusion of a “great fish” swimming freely in the ocean, while vomiting forth a human head.

Read on here: http://robertcargill.com/2012/03/05/if-the-evidence-doesnt-fit-photoshop-it/

His most damaging point, in my opinion, is the revision of pg. 42 of Tabor’s Bible and Interpretation article:

Make specific note of how the orientation of the fish sideways in the original version has an image from the Roman catacombs depicting Jonah and the Whale sideways as if to suggest a similar motif.  In the context of the new version, having that image makes no sense (see my argument above).  The motif is usually always sideways up oriented up, never down.

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