Bob Cargill Destroys the Jonah/Fish Argument

Absolutely definitive evidence of photo manipulation in order to support a conclusion. The whole ‘fish’ interpretation is completely blown away by this article. Outstanding work, once more, from Bob Cargill!

Unfortunately, if we take into account the visual evidence that has been omitted, and we acknowledge the digital manipulations that have been committed to the images, we are left with the following conclusions:

1) The “fish swimming in the margins” are the result of digital “inking” and are not fish after all, but simple unclosed, oval shapes used as decorations in the border.
2) The “half fish” on the side panel of the ossuary has clearly visible handles, and is therefore not a fish, but actually some kind of representation of a vessel.
3) The “Jonah fish,” which possesses oval loop handles similar to the “half fish” inscribed vessel (but which were not represented by the authors), is therefore not a fish, but actually an attempt at a representation of some other kind of vessel.

Because, once again, fish don’t have handles.

Thus the entire theory appears to be one big digitally manipulated fish tale (and not a fish’s tail).

(VIA)

A Possible Handle on Image 5 of the Amphora?

The other day while writing my post up using Rahmani’s catalog, I noticed something in image 5 from the Jesus Discovery website.  I went ahead and highlighted the image:

It is faint, but it looks like it belongs to the rest if the iconography.  Now compare that to my posted images courtesy of Rahmani and the amphora motif is ever more clear.

Now this makes me wonder…I wonder why this is not on the ‘museum quality replica’?  And why is this not a part of the ‘composite’ CGI image passed along to media sources?  Many questions remain unanswered.

UPDATE:

Mark Goodacre posts an excellent article on the side ‘falf-fish’ iconography, suggesting that there are handles clearly depicted on it as well.  Check it out.  I believe he is correct.

UPDATE 2:

After looking at other photos, it is clear the long red line is part of the border of the image.  However, there is a distinct handle on both sides of the ‘tail’, one of which is clear in the image above.  I will update this article once I have additional information since, I believe, one of my colleagues will be blogging about this subject relatively soon.

UPDATE 3:

Bab Cargill not only exposes the handle in his recent post on the subject but he eviscerates the argument that we are looking at fish–anywhere–on this ossuary.  Well done, Bob!

Again – It’s Not a Fish…and Stop using Doctored Photos!

I just received this image in an email from someone (who I shall not name):

First, the image you’re using is the GCI’d (re: doctored) image.  It’s not the actual photo of the iconography.

Second, you have it oriented incorrectly.  It isn’t oriented sideways (Simcha is really to blame for this since he produced a press kit full of images like this with the iconography oriented incorrectly).  The iconography should be ‘nose’ down.

Third, this is the problem when you use anecdotal evidence (when scholars rely upon laypeople try to analyze the evidence and follow their interpretations).  Here are reasons why this interpretation doesn’t work:

  1.  The whole ‘toothy smile’ bit is anachronistic as it is; fish depicted on ancient carvings on ossuaries or on buildings do not have ‘toothy mouths’.  They nearly alwayshave their mouths open or the head isn’t drawn at all.  See this image from an ossuary (you can see it in Rahmani’s catalog; h/t to Antonio Lombatti for the image):
  2. ‘Fins’ in this fashion aren’t found on fish iconography.  Again, examine the image closely above.
  3. It’s not a fish.  Once you orient it correctly, it is clearly…CLEARLY…a vessel (an amphora or an unguentarium).  Look closely at the sketch on the Jesus Discovery website:
  4. The most common criticism is the ‘ball-bottom’ of the iconography.  But we see more often than not on ossuaries, using the vase-motif (amphorae or an unguentarium), a ball-bottom.  Consider these examples from Rahmani’s catalog (image quality is poor because I took them from my cell phone; apologies in advance for your squinting):



    Now these were all done by professional artists in antiquity.  They are deeply cut and symmetrical.  But not all were done so well.  In the instance of our ‘Jonah’ ossuary, we don’t have the original photos from a good angle and it appears to be done by someone who was not as talented (or was pressed for time; like an afterthought after they had already decorated the rest of the ossuary).  Also, not that all the styles of these vessels are different, but they all have similar dimensions and all similarly have a ‘ball-bottom’ or something similar.  Which means that my suggestion that the artist was using an unguentarium or a glass amphora is a lot closer than ‘fish’ (again see the comparison above).

Now the fact that you saw ‘fish’ is not your fault.  You were misled by a marketing campaign.  But the sensationalism has to take a back seat at some point for actual scholarship to be done.  And the consensus right now is that this is definitely not a fish; it is a vessel.  We know the vase-motif was prominent in ossuary iconography.  We also know that ‘fish’ were not used nearly as often, and the reason for their existence on ossuaries has been linked only to profession (cf. Rahmani), like if someone were a fishmonger–they might have fish on the outside of their ossuary.  But frankly, this just isn’t a fish.  The only way one gets ‘fish’ from the actual image is when you take that image, fabricate a brand new one (the image you used to create the ‘toothy fish’ above) and orient it incorrectly.

UPDATE AND ADDENDUM:

What makes this more likely to be an unguentarium or an amphora might also be related to the fact that we have evidence from ossuaries (again, via Rahmani’s catalog) utilizing the vase-motif will, at times, produce amphora on both the front and sides of the ossuary.  According to Simcha, the ossuary in question has ‘another fish tail’ on the side.  But let us examine this more closely:

And the unfortunate part of this image is that it is cut off and we don’t see what is below what we see.   Simcha and others argue that this is the part of the ‘fish tail’ which, as it were, looks very post modern in development.  Who puts half a fish tail on an ossuary?  What a waste of space.

Instead, I will argue this is another amphora or at the very least part of the vase-motif.  Consider this image from Rahmani’s catalog (better quality image supplied by commenter below):

Note that this is the same ossuary, but the amphorae are on the front and sides.  This is common (and we see this in several other ossuaries in Rahmani’s catalog) and should not be overlooked here.

UPDATE 2:

I may have uncovered what appears to be a handle in one of the press kit photos.  Take a closer look and compare to those from Rahmani’s catalog above:

Anecdotal Evidence Isn’t Really Evidence

It appears that Simcha, or those with him, really wants this completely CGI’d image of an actual amphora/unguentarium ossuary iconography–wrongly oriented even in their header below–to be a fish:

The iconography in this image is oriented incorrectly, making it appear as though the amphora is a swimming fish.

I mean they really, really want this to be a fish.  Some members of the ‘Christian fish cohort’ (descriptors fail me today) have gone so far as to produce anecdotal statements like ‘almost all nonexperts agree this is a fish!’  Well, okay, maybe it has something to do with how the image is oriented, as Bob Cargill rightly points out using images like this:

But maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe it is just the sort of person you ask.  After all, nonexperts are not able to critically analyze or compare ossuary iconography.  Not everyone owns a copy of Rahmani’s catalog, nor of Figueras’s excellent volume on ossuary iconography, and while they could go to the library to research these images I doubt many will or even have the background to give them context once they do locate the motifs.  So really what a nonexpert ‘sees’ in the iconography is really dependent upon their own bias, their own contexts–like a Rorschach test.  You can give the test to ten people and ten people will tell you ten different interpretations.  Also, it doesn’t help that nonexperts are going to base their judgement of an image upon what they’ve read from media sources like the BBC–if they are that critically minded–or Fox News or CNN or even their local paper (inevitably, since chances are they don’t have access to the thousands of monographs, journals, and peer-reviewed articles on the subject).  So I’m not at all impressed by the anecdotal notion that ‘its a fish because nonexperts agree it is’; it depends on the nonexperts you ask.

As an experiment, I took a copy of the image with me to my monthly freethought group–about a dozen or so members attended with varied ages and different backgrounds–and posed the picture to them.  None of them had read about the ‘new discovery’ so when I shoped them the image in the orientation above (sideways), I got all sorts of conclusions.  They ranged from a woman’s womb to exotic animals but nobody said ‘fish.’  When I oriented the image correctly (‘nose’ down), everyone said it was an ancient vessel of some sort.  And these are nonexperts, none with any background in the field of archaeology or Biblical Studies.  I was shocked that they had figuired it out so quickly.  And I mean everyone said vessel.  Not a single interpretation of ‘fish’ was given.  So does this mean that my anecdotal evidence undermines the ‘Christian fish cohort’s’ anecdotal evidence?

This is why this iconography needs to be examined by people with experience and an understanding of the social-cultural constructs (this includes prevailing motifs in literature and iconography) of the time from whence this ossuary came.   But more important than this is the vital truth here: all unpaid or unassociated scholars (those who have the understanding of these motifs and constructs) who have looked at the iconography agree that it is not a fish.  That says something.  Some in the ‘Christian fish cohort’ argue that this implies a universal bias against the ‘cohort’ but that is simply insulting.  Every scholar wishes for the opportunity to write on a new amazing discovery, to publish something unique and interesting about a new find that changes the way we view the past.  That the academic community, so full of this mentality, isn’t rushing forth to snatch up this discovery in open arms says a lot about the quality of the arguments made by those proposing specious origins (i.e., that it belongs to an early follower of Jesus).

The Tomb of Jesus or the Beatles? Mark Goodacre on Talpiot A and B

Fantastic article and very clever.  Check it out on ASOR.  Here is a snippet:

The current discussion of Talpiot Tomb B, the “patio tomb”, has largely centered on the interpretation of the picture on one of the ossuaries.  But Tabor’s and Jacobovici’s argument that this tomb is linked with Jesus and his disciples is related to their earlier claims about Talpiot Tomb A, the “garden tomb”.  The case that this is the Jesus family tomb was made in 2007 in a book, a film and a website.[i]  It was largely based on a claim about statistics — this cluster of names, bearing so close a relationship to the names of members of Jesus’ family, was most unlikely to have occurred by accident.

At the time, I and many others were sceptical of the claim. It appeared to rely on a dubious identification between the name “Mariamēnē” and Mary Magdalene, who was identified as Jesus’ wife, and it failed to take seriously the non-matches in the tomb, especially “Judas son of Jesus”.

In a bid to explain the difficulties, I turned to an analogy that Jacobovici liked to use, an analogy based on the Beatles.[ii]

Read on here.

New Roundup on the ‘Jesus Discovery’ (AKA the ‘Jonah and the Whale’ ossuary)

Since my last roundup, much has transpired.

It seems that there were some predispositions towards finding ‘Jonah and the Whale’ on an ossuary.  Both Mark Goodacre and David Meadows (via Goodacre) found evidence of this and have posted some compelling information.  If this is the case, one should not be so surprised by the ‘discovery’ of precisely what Simcha and his team were looking for.

Most absurd is Simcha’s claim that “NOBODY has been able to poke a hole into our reasoning or our facts or our methodology or our reporting.”  How about Mark Goodacre for starters (and as he points out, these mistakes still remain on the website today)?  And while we’re at it, Antonio Lombatti reports that Oded Golan was dishonest (*gasps and collapses under the weight of the shock*) about Rahmani’s impression of the James ossuary inscription.  Jim West points out the obvious errors in the connection of the tomb to Joseph of Arimathea.  But I also highly recommend Christopher Rollston’s critique of these claims as well.  And James McGrath has quite a lot to say about the subject as well.

But the problems of both tombs don’t start or stop here.  Bob Cargill and I spent a lot of time analyzing the photos and it is pretty clear that there are cases of digital manipulation.  We both agree that it is likely part of the ancient ‘vase-motif’.  In this regard we also both agree with Antonio Lombatti that the type of vase represented in the image doesn’t matter quite as much (though I certainly feel as though it is an unguentarium).

In other news, but related, the date has (finally) been scheduled for a verdict in the case of Oded Golan (whether or not he is dealing in illegal antiquities trade and his connection to the James ossuary).

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.

Roundup of Biblioblogger Comments on the New Jacobovici Claims

I have collected below a list of snippets from various academics and bibliobloggers on the subject of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici’s ‘discovery’.

ASOR

First and foremost, everyone should check out the scholarly articles on the subject at the ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) blog.

Eric Meyers writes in his review of the new book on the “discovery”:

The book is truly much ado about nothing and is a sensationalist presentation of data that are familiar to anyone with knowledge of first-century Jerusalem. Nothing in the book “revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus or early Christianity” as the authors and publisher claim, and we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology.

Christopher Rollston also reviews the the find:

Ultimately, therefore, I would suggest that these are fairly standard, mundane Jerusalem tombs of the Late Second Temple period.  The contents are interesting, but there is nothing that is particularly sensational or unique in these tombs.  I wish that it were different.  After all, it would be quite fascinating to find a tomb that could be said to be “Christian” and to hail from the very century that Christianity arose.

Also check out Rollston’s thorough refutation here.  This is a snippet:

Here are the basic claims of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici: “Talpiyot Tomb B contained several ossuaries, or bone boxes, two of which were carved with an iconic image and a Greek inscription.  Taken together, the image and the inscription constitute the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.”  They go on and state that these ossuaries “also provide the first evidence in Jerusalem of the people who would later be called ‘Christians.’  In fact, it is possible, maybe even likely, that whoever was buried in this tomb knew Jesus and heard him preach.”

In addition, Tabor and Jacobovici claim that because “Talpiyot Tomb B” is within around two hundred feet of “Talpiyot Tomb A” (the tomb Tabor and Jacobovici have also dubbed the ‘Jesus Family Tomb’), “the new discovery [i.e., Talpiyot Tomb B] increases the likelihood that the ‘Jesus Family Tomb’ is, indeed, the real tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.”  Tabor and Jacobovici also believe that “Jesus of Nazareth was married and had a son named Judah,” something which they have been proposing for several years now.  Tabor and Jacobovici also assume that “both tombs appear to have been part of the property of a wealthy individual possibly Joseph of Arimathea, the man who, according to the gospels, buried Jesus.”

At this juncture, I shall turn to a fairly detailed discussion of both tombs and the contents thereof.  Anticipating my conclusions, I am confident that most scholars will not consider the grand claims of Tabor and Jacobovici to be cogent.  The reason is quite elementary: the conclusions they draw do not follow from the extant evidence.

Jodi Magness fires this volley:

As a professional archaeologist, it pains me to see archaeology hijacked in the service of non-scientific interests, whether they are religious, financial, or other. The comparison to Indiana Jones mentioned in the media reports is unfortunate, as those films misrepresented archaeology as much as they popularized it. Archaeologists are scientists; whatever we find is not our personal property but belongs to (and usually must remain in) the host country. Archaeologists seek to understand the past by studying human material remains (that is, whatever humans manufactured and left behind) through the process of excavation and publication. For this reason, professional archaeologists do not search for objects or treasures such as Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy Grail. Usually these sorts of expeditions are led by amateurs (nonspecialists) or academics who are not archaeologists. Archaeology is a scientific process.

Bob Cargill offers a refreshing take on the ‘fish’ iconography:

The initial thought that came to my mind was the so-called Tomb of Absalom (that we coincidentally discussed today in my “Jerusalem from the Bronze to Digital Age” class at Iowa). The shape of the figure resembles the shape of the Tomb of Absalom in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, which is dated to the 1st C. CE. I suggest that the “round” figure at the top of the ossuary image may be an attempted representation of a lotus flower, not unlike that which Kloner and Zissu state is carved into the top of the Absalom monument. (Kloner A. and Zissu B., 2003. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and The Israel Exploration Society. Jerusalem (in Hebrew), pp. 141-43.) The round figure could certainly be interpreted as an attempt at the petals of a flower.

The Tomb of Absalom may not be the exact inspiration for the image on the ossuary, but it is in line with what Drs. Rahmani, Rollston, and Meyers argue above. And it certainly seems more likely than a “fish” spitting out a “human head.”

And Robin Jensen does not like having her words twisted:

Once I knew how my judgments were going to be used, I persistently tried to get my “handlers” to understand the much later Christian art from Rome is of an entirely different style and content than anything from first-century Palestine. There simply is no significant correlation between them. Because of this, my expertise was totally irrelevant. I know very little about ossuary art and could not possibly verify anything related to their authenticity or their iconography.

Therefore, I absolutely refute any claim that I concur with the interpretation of any first-century ossuary iconography as depicting Jonah. Nor do I believe that “first-century visual evidence of Christian belief in the resurrection” has been discovered to date.

Steven Fine offers his apt take on the ‘discovery’:

The interpretation presented by Professor Tabor is not grounded in the evidence, nor in even the most basic rules of art-historical analysis. The image has nothing to do with Jonah, Jesus, or Judea in the first century. Elsewhere I have referred to this genre of media-driven discoveries as the “DaVinci Codification” of our culture—the presentation of odd and associative thinking previously reserved for novels as “truth” to the general public (http://sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=655). The “Jonah Fish” is just the next installment in the Jesus-archaeology franchise—timed, as always, to proceed a major Christian feast.

I, for one, am wearied by the almost yearly “teaching moment” presented by these types of “discoveries.” I am hopeful, however, that—this time—a forceful and quick display of unanimous dissent by the leading members of the academic community will be taken seriously by the media and the public at large.

Bibliobloggers:

Jim West opines:

It’s just more marketing by the Discovery Channel team of ‘biblical archaeologists’ and here, most pertinently, we all need to remember- neither Tabor nor Jacobovici are archaeologists.  They’re marketers and promoters of their own ideas.  That’s all.

If you want to buy the book (that’s the aim of all the publicity- to get you to buy the book), go ahead.  But I recommend you wait a few weeks.  It’ll end up in the dollar bin soon enough, along with its predecessor.

Also see Jim West’s excellent suggestion that we direct media attention towards ASOR.

Bob Cargill aptly writes:

Fascinating how these stories all hit the wires the same day – Feb 28, 2012 – precisely the same day that Jacobovici’s new book gets released?? And, is it coincidence that said media marketing campaign gets kicked off during the Lenten season just before Easter?

This is nothing more than a coordinated press release to sell a book and promote a forthcoming documentary. There is no new discovery here; this has been known for years.

REMEMBER: don’t watch what Simcha says – you know he’s going to try and sell the public on his latest speculation. Rather, watch what the scholars say – or better yet, watch what the scholars don’t say, and you’ll have your answer.

Antonio Lombatti notes on the iconography itself:

The image found by Jacobovici et al. is not unique at all. Similar representaions have been found on Jewish ossuaries (see Rahmani and Figueras). The one over here was taken randomly from Rahmani’s volume. I’m not convinced that the fish shown in The Jesus Discovery book is a whale eating Jonah. It might be, but I’m skeptic. Much more interesting is the fish-like graffito found on ossuary n. 402 (Figueras) on which there’s also the name ישוע (Jesus).

He more recently discussed the probability that the ‘fish’ isn’t a fish at all, but an amphora.

Rollston Epigraphy (Christopher Rollston’s blog) links to an article Rollston wrote some years ago on the statistics of the so-called family tomb:

This (2006) article is methodological in nature and attempted to put the tomb which Tabor and Jacobovici dubbed (in 2006/07) the “Jesus Family Tomb” in its broader context, hence, I first discussed the nature of prosopographic analysis (i.e., attempts to discern familial relationships between ancient peoples, and then the attempt to connect those with people known from ancient literary sources) and then I turned in earnest to the Talpiyot Tomb.

Paleobabble had this to say:

The man who brought us the error-plagued Jesus family tomb, then the nails from the cross, now claims that he has found a tomb which held the remains of at least some of the disciples of Jesus. Granted, the article at the link is just a preliminary news leak to garner interest for an upcoming press conference where the world will get to see what $imcha has discovered.  Still, this announcement isn’t encouraging. Here’s what we learn that supports the new discovery, at least in part:

  • This cave is nearby the alleged Jesus family tomb (I read in another article that the site is considered pre-70 AD; by whom I don’t know).
  • There is a Jonah and the whale symbol in it (a “Christian symbol” the article notes)
  • An inscription with the word “God” in Greek, the Tetragrammaton (the four-consonant sacred name of God: YHWH), and the word “arise” or “resurrected” in Hebrew
  • Apparently the Tetragrammaton is on an ossuary, something that (according to the article) has never been found on an ossuary. That would suggest a Christian, not a Jewish, burial

My first question was whether the site bears any name of a disciple. If not, why conclude it is connected with them?

Fr Stephen Smuts also has an excellent roundup of the news articles (including a new press release from James Tabor) on the subject and some comments.

Joel Watts offers his take on the subject and links to other bloggers.

Mark Goodacre also posted up some comments:

It is difficult to comment until we know a bit more but no doubt that will be forthcoming.  If there is to be a large website on this find, though, I hope that it will be better researched than the error-riddled Jesus Family Tomb Website (Jesus’ Family Tomb Website: Errors and Inaccuracies, 2007, still on the web five years later).  I’ll be on the look-out.

And in case you missed it, James Tabor published a paper on Bible and Interpretation as well on the subject.

David Meadows over at rogueclassicism suggests the transcription done by Tabor, et al, might be completely wrong:

So as I see it, the inscription is a basic transliterated Latin-Greek commemorative inscription to one Gaius Iunius. But what about that mysterious last line? What I see is ΑΓΒ and one of Tabor’s photos seems to show this very nicely — arguably it’s the clearest line of all of them, but also the most puzzling. Tabor gives all sorts of possibilities, ranging from Greek, to backwards Aramaic, to Hebrew transliteration (he eventually settles on a Hebrew imperative which runs parallel to the hypso suggestion). Perhaps it has merit, but it seems to introduce a rather complicated linguistic scheme unnecessarily. If we are dealing with a simple transliterated Latin-style funerary inscription, we’d expect the inscription to end with some reference to the deceased’s age (annos vixit x). Might we suggest that ΑΓΒ is an abbreviation for A(nnos) 3  B(ixit)?  Or if that Gamma is actually a Pi, A(nnos) 80 B(ixit)?

In other words, from a (rogue)classicist perspective, this pre-destruction-of-the-temple-collection-of-ossuaries is interesting not because of some purported early Christian connection, which is tenuous at best and requires an awful lot of argument to make it sound convincing. Nay rather, this collection of ossuaries is interesting because one of the niches includes the remains (possibly) of an obviously-Roman-named Julia and (apparently) of a Gaius Junius, whose ossuary commemorates him Roman-style with Greek letters.

Richard Carrier also writes on the inscription (which I echo elsewhere) and offers this:

The lesson to learn here is never to trust the media, much less the rumor mill, when claims of an amazing new find like this crop up. Wait for the evidence to actually be presented, for many independent experts to actually analyze it. Then see what survives. Usually, nothing.

Archaeologist Gordon Franz writes on this:

One thing that struck me on the ossuary is the orientation of the “fish.” On all the blogs and news articles I have read, the picture of the “fish” is facing the wrong way. Sometimes it is horizontal, either facing left or right, and made to look like a swimming fish. Or the “fish” has the round ball (“Jonah”, according to Simcha) facing upwards, thus making the “fish” look like a funerary monument. Usually pictures of Absalom’s Pillar are shown to bolster the case for this view. The fact of the matter is that the “fish” is facing down! Please see the picture on page 86, fig. 26 of the book. It is clear enough, but a line drawing of the panel on the ossuary should have been included. So, one must understand the correct orientation of the picture in order to appreciate the discussion of the issue.

My initial impression is that the “fish” looks like an ornamental glass vessel, perhaps a pitcher or flask of some sort. The Ennion vessel found by Prof. Avigad in the Jewish Quarter comes to mind (see page 108 in Discovering Jerusalem). Perhaps some glass expert might suggest a better parallel from this period than the Ennion vessel, but this is worthy of consideration.

2012 is Shaping Up to be the Year of Fakes, Frauds, and Sensationalism

First, we had the picture of the Markan manuscript fragment that has widely been debunked as a fake.

Now we have a ‘new’ 1500-year-old Bible with what appears to be gold lettering that just seems all sorts of odd.

And just today, wouldn’t you know, a month and some days away from Easter, a new announcement was made by Simcha and Co.   Oh yes, another ossuary.  This time with a a carving of Jonah the Whale…so it must be related to Jesus and Christians! *ugh*

Now let’s see them tie all their findings together in their Dan Brown-like fashion: the crucifixion nails, the Caiaphas ossuary, the so-called ‘Jesus family tomb’ ossuaries, the tomb itself, and so on.  What is next?  The Ark of the Covenant?

More Thoughts on the Markan Manuscript Fragment

This picture has been making headlines around the Biblioblogosphere and academic community boards on Yahoo.com:

James McGrath brings up the fact that this picture was first circulated on D.M. Murdock’s message boards.  Interestingly, however, the fragment has (surprisingly) been transcribed correctly by her (though her eisegesis of the text is terrible and her correlations are nothing short of parallelomania). Still, the picture has no provenance and there is no provided moniker which is shocking (especially if such a find is legitimate; the first thing that should have happened was for the institution to issue a moniker for it and designate a group of experts to investigate it).

Here is a side by side I made of the uncial script next to the fragment (all graphics below were made by me unless otherwise specified):

And here is the overlay:

The text is of Mark 5.15-18 for those who were unaware.

A couple of thoughts:

  • First the fragment looks crisp and the text sharp.  This has been pointed out by Jim West and others, though I’ve seen the DSS’s and they look crisp and the text looks sharp (though admittedly they are still more faded than this).  Compare this fragment with the Isaiah Scroll and you’ll see a very clear difference.   Compare also to this uncial Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5072.
  • Against the authenticity of the fragment, anyone who has seen a scroll or manuscript will note that this fragment is missing scribal lines (like the lines on lined paper found in notebooks everywhere).  They appear in the two examples I gave earlier (closeup is below).  Not every papyrus has the lines this clear, but even if the lines were not present, one can clearly see that the script on the fragment changes in size and varies in placement (it is not in a straight line which is what one expects and the rows are not evenly spaced).

  • Another problem, as others have already brought to the attention of the community, is the differences in the letters; they are extremely inconsistent.  There are three different versions of alpha in the fragment alone which suggests a hand that is unfamiliar with the language.
  • There are some reasons why I would stress caution before immediately jumping on ‘fake’:
    • I would imagine that even forgers would do a better job than this; especially expert forgers who have been doing this sort of thing for years in markets where they expect to find experts (heck I could do a better job than this), so that might suggest that this is an authentic piece.  Or it might just prove that the forger was an amateur or simply didn’t care about his accuracy and just wanted to make a quick buck off a gullible tourist who wouldn’t know the difference.
    •  What really makes me pause is how the Greek of this lines up.  A forger, I suspect, would just copy off existing Greek manuscripts of Mark (from any of the codices–like the Sinaiticus or the Vaticanus–online which are easy to come by; just find it, print out a sheet, and copy onto papyrus) but these are not lined up according to the columns on any of the codices I’ve looked over.  This might mean that, if it is a forgery, then the forger could have used a Greek uncial manuscript that is not known (at least not to me, though might exist somewhere).  The letters aren’t  random, they do match up with Mark 5.  Though again this could just be a sloppy forgery and the forger could have just taken a few letters a line for a few lines to fill in the blank fragment (or a full sheet which they then cut up and distributed as fragments).
  • Finally, there are no fray marks (which has been pointed out elsewhere).  No signs of disintegration or degradation.  I’ve seen a lot of modern papyri (you can get them for a good price on eBay these days); there is no dirt on this fragment and you can clearly see that the edges appear cut rather than having been pulled apart by wear or by time.   I’ve stated before on other blogs and in comments that the piece looks ‘fresh’.

All that said, I have to say it looks fake.  The fact that the papyrus of this fragment is so clean leads me to believe that the papyrus leaf this fragment came from is modern (and you can pick up papyrus with Egyptian iconography or Greek script on them from eBay these days for relatively no cost, add text to the blank parts, cut it up, and sell it for a nice profit).  I’m still going to remain cautious about offering any definitive statement (though others have already made clear their opinions on the matter), but I lean towards forgery on this one.   Time will tell.

Further reading:

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