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

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

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

1. The Elusive Etruscan Letter and the Stick Man

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

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

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

And in detail, this specific part of his analysis:

etruscanscreengrab1

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

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

stickfigure

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

I wrote then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FishJoanImageLined

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

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

thirdtimeclaimstickman

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

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

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

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

preliminarystickman

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

A few final notes here:

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

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

    unconnected2

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

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

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

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

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

inscription

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

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

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

A side by side:

SIDEBYSIDE

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

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

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Click to embiggen. Courtesy of Bob Cargill.

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

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Click to embiggen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

taborrecantingstickfigure

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

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

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

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

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

xzibitag036

Pimp My Ossuary edition!

The ‘Jonah Ossuary’, Deception, and Word Play

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

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

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

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

changingtides

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

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

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

He argued this point however:

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

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

First, let us consider the orientation of the fish.

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

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

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

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

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

Unfaithful-detail-00-problem-areas

Steve Caruso highlights manipulation evidence.

Steve notes that the following items were immediately evident:

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

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

tabor_fig20_vs_21_inverted

Bob Cargill highlights the evidence.

Bob notes:

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

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

jamestaborcontradiction1

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

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

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

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

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Original image from the website.

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Close-up and actual enlargement. Notice the overlap.

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original, un-inked image shows absolutely no overlap.

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Side by side.

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

Fish-Where-They-Arent

Courtesy of Steve Caruso.

As Steve noted (as did many of us):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books to Review

And I have a plethora.

Seriously, though, I do have a lot of them.  I am in the midst of reviewing some I have already started on this blog (but haven’t found the time to finish) and I have a handful I just received that I plan to review this month.  Here is the stack I have waiting for me:

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Since I am anxious to start the review process, let me give some first impressions of these books (in the order they are listed in the picture):

Thomas Brodie’s new memoir is interesting.  My first impressions were somewhat skewed in two directions prior to even seeing the book: (1) Richard Carrier’s not-so-positive review and (2) my great respect and admiration for Brodie’s work over the past few decades.   But I’m not at all impressed with Carrier’s review as I feel it takes the genre of Brodie’s work for granted.  Brodie is not writing a ‘mythicist book’, but a memoir about his life, his discoveries, the directions he has taken with his scholarship, and the direction that his scholarship has taken him.  As someone who has read (and enjoyed) the memoir of another Irish Catholic New Testament scholar (John Dominic Crossan’s, A Long Way from Tipperary), Brodie’s book fits perfectly within such a category and shines, in my humble opinion.  The first few chapters I’ve read demonstrate his struggle with the question of Jesus’ historicity through his time in the ministry, living in different parts of the world trying to teach the New Testament critically as a devout Catholic theologian and as a trained historian.  In many ways I’m sympathetic to Brodie’s positions–not because I think Jesus is a fiction, but because I find his reasoning to be justified within the framework of his career as an expert in literary criticism, as someone tested within the field of New Testament.  He could not have reached this conclusion lightly and therefore I am sympathetic, even if I disagree with the strength of his premise (i.e., Jesus never existed).  But I still have more to read and so I will continue to review it as I can find the time.

Mark Goodacre’s work is always a pleasure to read.  It always engages you critically and tends to have a Cartesian quality that challenges those long-held presuppositions of a text about which you never knew you had.  When I first read his Case Against Q, I was instantly persuaded (though, admittedly, I did already have my doubts about Q for some time).  With the Gospel of Thomas, I likewise started from a position of doubt; that is to say, I suspected that the author of Thomas had a familiarity with the synoptics.  Mark Goodacre’s new book does not strengthen my suspicions as much as it forces me to interact intellectually with them.  Thomas and the Gospels takes all my inclinations and lays them out for me to see, with a range of textual criticism and analysis for which Mark Goodacre is known.  He presents each argument, thus far that I’ve seen, with the intent of demonstrating the familiarity he argues for, rather than simply restating his premise over and over as I’ve seen in so many other studies on Thomas.  I anticipate that I will continue to enjoy this volume and the functionally-useful arguments that Goodacre gives throughout.  I can’t wait to continue reading this one!

Candida Moss’s new book The Myth of Persecution looks extremely promising, conceptually.  I hesitate to speak more about it yet because I am participating in a blog tour for this book in March and would much rather share my thoughts on it then.  However, I will say this is on a subject I have blogged about recently.

cpcisChanging Perspectives is a relatively new project under the Copenhagen International Seminar Series.  The goal of this project is to “publish volumes of collected essays and research articles, which have had a significant effect on the methods and scholarly research of its author as well as on the field of Old Testament and its related disciplines in the course of the last 50 years.”  I have received two volumes of the four to review: Thomas Thompson’s volume and Niels Peter Lemche’s volume.  I am confident in saying that both of these volumes are must-owns for anyone who wants to do serious scholarship in the field of Old Testament and literary criticism.  They are exceptionally important.  Some of the articles are known to me through my years of dialog with Thomas, who has on occasion directed me to them prior to the publication of this book.  However, some are new to me and many of which I would have to order through inter-library loan or pay to get my hands on them.  Thankfully, having them in this volume solves all of that as I can easily reference a particular argument, especially over stages of its development, which is very helpful.  I also learned something about NP Lemche that I had not known: he has a history of being a non-minimalist!  Who knew?!  I didn’t.  But now I do!  Thus we see the evolution of his critical mind in action from the 1980’s (where we see a more conservative Lemche) into the present (into the minimalist we all–well, most of us anyway; the smart ones–love).  I cannot recommend these two volumes enough and would quite enjoy reviewing Philip Davies’ forthcoming volume as well as John Van Seters’ volume, so long as Acumen is feeling generous enough.

Paul and Jesus by James Tabor looks to be a thought-provoking book.  I should preface this short introductory review with the fact that James and I do not always see eye-to-eye, but I like him as a person and find him to be a very serious scholar.  And I see both of those attributes reflected in his new tome on Paul.  I also see some not-so-distant (yet still faded) reflections of Hyam Maccoby and Gerd Lüdemann, along with Bultmann in this hypothesis.  The idea that Paul is really the man behind the movement of Christianity, rather than Jesus, is not new in and of itself.  In fact I would agree with this argument, as it seems that Paul’s theological foundation has played a pivotal role in the early Christian movement.  I won’t say much more until I’ve completed the book, but I do believe this title is worth every New Testament scholar’s consideration, as Tabor presents some challenging arguments that must be dealt with in new ways (as the old ways simply do not cut it, as Tabor demonstrates), even if his premise does not convince a whole lot of people (though particularly those in the more conservative wings of scholarship will find his reconstruction of the early Christian movement unpalatable).

Finally, we come to it at last.  But what exactly it is… Well, I am just not sure.   I get the feeling that Douglas Templeton is trying to do something very, shall we say, flamboyant with the literature, make it burst forth from the pages as would a description of a novel as explained by Derrida.  I’m just not sure what is going on and the volume comes across as very pop-culture-meets-anecdotal-meetup-group-esque.  I want to like this book, but it is so weird I just can’t begin to get attached to the discussion (that is, when I find it).  Honestly, I don’t think I have a firm enough grasp on the functionality of the book, if there is such a thing, to appreciate it.  Someone, I’m sure, will love it.  That certain ‘someone’ just isn’t me.

The Jonah Ossuary: The Physics of ‘Work’ and Data Interpretation

When I was in elementary school, the school itself was under heavy construction (it now looks completely different than it did when I attended).  So the fifth and sixth grade classes were held in trailers attached to the brick and mortar school by a wooden ramp.  All of our subjects were taught from these trailers my last two years there; whether it was snowing outside or a humid spring day, it didn’t matter, we were stuck there.  But our teachers did try to make it fun for us.

One day, during my sixth grade science course, our science teacher attempted to demonstrate ‘work’ in physics.  Many of us only understood the colloquial definition, that is to say, homework.  But in physics the concept is different and to explain this to us he told the class to head over to one side of the trailer and push it with all of our might.  He wanted us to push over the trailer.    Some of the more sinister amongst us tried to ram the side of the trailer while the rest of us did what we could, amidst the groans of failure, to tip it.  After minutes of pushing against the wall without success, the teacher asked us to stop and face him.  He stood next to a podium which rested on four wheels and, with the gentlest push, the podium slid across the room.

The instructor folded his arms and smiled and said, in the most dry manner he could manage, “I just did more work than all of you put together.”

I’ll never forget that lesson as well as the frustration we all felt.  And in a lot of ways this lesson has an appropriate correlation to the scenario with the Jonah ossuary.  You see, James Tabor has once again blogged a response to the latest criticisms of his interpretation of the data.  But it seems to me, at least, that James is just like the sixth-grader (albeit, with a PhD) trying with all of his might to push down that wall, using modern art and bizarre arguments which seem weak, stretched, and implausible to his colleagues, only to face down reconstructions and interpretations which do a better job explaining the evidence and require much less effort than his own.

For example, he belabors the point that the first interpretations of the ‘fish/vessel’ iconography suggested a nephesh.  So what?  That doesn’t negate the fact that no one has yet seen a fish who is either (a) not on payroll or in any way related to their documentary or (b) not related to Simcha.  Nor does it negate the fact that a vessel is the more probable interpretation on the ossuary.  It’s a sleight of hand: ‘Don’t look at those scholars making the vessel interpretations, focus instead on these other interpretations which aren’t as convincing!’  Still, a nephesh is more reasonable than a ‘fish’ and is found much more often (a ratio of about 1:150, a rather conservative estimate) than fish iconography (which has a ratio of about 1:600 or so, which is also a conservative estimation).  But this is all irrelevant anyway, since the iconography is still not a fish.  No one sees a fish but those who want to see a fish.  There, I said it.

And I’m not sure why Tabor keeps using modern and post-modern photos of fish-tails in his (rather extremely anachronistic) interpretation of the ‘half fish’ (actually, it is just another vessel as I show here).  Does no one else find it remarkable that no other ‘half-fish’ images from antiquity exist for him to make a suitable comparison?

As Bob Cargill makes note, motive is always on the table in a discussion like this.  And I second that.  When you have a clear predisposition to find a fish, and you find a fish, but no other critical eye in the academy not affiliated with Simcha doesn’t see a fish, then there is definitely reason to question motive.  So, yes, James, you are correct.  It is anything but a fish (though, as we keep explaining over and over, it is most probably an ancient vessel).

P.S. And if someone is wondering, the ratio of finding a vessel or amphorae on an ossuary is a ration of about 1:120 (c.f. Figueras, DJO, Plate 30).  Rare, but not as rare as finding a fish on an ossuary.  To put it in perspective, if we found about 5,000 ossuaries, we would find about 50 ossuaries with vessels depicted on them.  Out of that same 5,000, only eight would contain fish iconography.   Again, these are conservative estimates (because I’m including images that some think might be fish, but not necessarily).  Math+history=fun!

More on the Predisposition to Find Links to Christianity in Talpiot

Thanks to David Meadows for the nudge in this direction.  Following up on Mark Goodacre’s excellent post on Simcha’s predisposition to locate any link whatsoever to Jesus or Christianity, this video has earmarks which might prove to be more nails in the coffin ossuary on this subject.

Now some screen grabs:

Ossuaries 2-4 in Talpiot B

Ossuary 5 (The supposed 'resurrection' ossuary)

Close-up Detail on Ossuary 2

Now listen carefully to the 4-6 minute marks.  Here is the important bit:

“Although we found ourselves in the wrong tomb, perhaps these finely crafted ossuaries so close to the Talpiot tomb are somehow connected to Jesus or his followers.”

Silliness.  But it is evidence that there not only was predisposition to locate evidence linking it to Jesus and Christianity, but also evidence (via Goodacre and Meadows’ various posts on the footage from 2007) which suggests that there was a presupposition to find a fish.

I also wonder if some of these photos on the website were from 2007 and not from this recent investigation.

Bob Cargill Shows the Leaps in Logic of the ‘Fish’ Interpretation on the ‘Jonah’ Ossuary

Another fantastic post you’ll want to check out!  And the chart (you’ll have to go visit Bob’s blog to see it) is outstanding.  Charts make for great tools, particularly when you need to show someone’s logical leaps.  This snippet is particularly important:

I have no problem with Dr. Tabor’s argument that the “sign of Jonah” and the iconography of a “great fish” are symbolic of resurrection. None whatsoever. It has much merit. The problem is, we simply don’t have fish or the “sign of Jonah” in the “Patio Tomb,” not with the iconography, not with the inscription. And with the recent appeals to parallels with tropical fish, I’m afraid all we’re now at the moment where Fonzy “jumps the shark,” only in this case, it’s a tropical fish, thereby signalling the beginning of the end of this entire ordeal.

via the “jonah ossuary” theory has finally “jumped the shark” (only, it’s a tropical fish) « XKV8R: The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill.

Now go read the rest!

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)

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