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!

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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)

What are the Criticisms of the ‘Jonah’ Ossuary?

I thought I’d take a step back for a moment and make more clear the issues of the ‘Jonah’ ossuary.  It seems that many have taken my words and the words of others and turned them into something far different than I had intended.  Every once in a while the true argument is lost, awash in a haze of complexity that need not be, and thus needs to be revived.  This is one of those times.

First, and most importantly, I must continue to stress that my argument is not that the scholars arguing for authenticity are ‘crackpots’.  I’ve never, ever, made such a claim.  James Tabor is an excellent scholar and, in every instance I have spoken with him, he is very lucid and erudite–if not downright polite.  He has a grasp of the primary evidence, a sound background in the field, many peer-reviewed publications, and should be respected.  Standing with Tabor are a handful of other excellent scholars who otherwise have very important and interesting things to say.  While I may joke around at times, I would never suggest that James was anything more than a good human being and a hard working scholar.  Those who feel otherwise would do well to keep in mind that there is a strong difference between a credible scholar who makes claims with which the majority of scholars disagree and a person who might be considered a ‘crackpot’.  Crackpots are those who claim that aliens built the pyramids, or that the Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012, or that Jesus is based on astrotheology.  That is crackpottery.  James Tabor is nothing like that.

Second, it must be remembered that we are discussing a real tomb and real ossuaries.  These are not fake artifacts like the lead codices or even ancient fakes like the Shroud of Turin.  To the best of our knowledge, these are legitimate ossuaries which contain(ed) the bones of ancient individuals who believed in a resurrection (since this was the purpose of the ossuary in Second-Temple Jewish burials).  While many scholars believe that the James ossuary inscription is partially inauthentic (though whether the second half is an ancient or modern forgery remains to be seen), the Jonah ossuary was found roughly in situ  (it had been moved around a few times within the tomb, but to our knowledge has never been removed completely from it).  The contention is with the interpretation of the iconography on these ossuaries.

Third, though perhaps most important, we do not have these ossuaries on hand to study.  The ossuaries, to our knowledge, are still in the Talpiot B tomb and have not been exhumed.  Unfortunately this presents many problems.  All we have are photos–photos which are taken at odd angles and which are grainy.  Though one image, which has been circulating the most, is not an image at all but a ‘composite’ that has been completely computer generated, is particularly unhelpful, the rest of the photos supplied by Jacobovici and Tabor are much appreciated.  But the images do not show the whole picture, only pieces.  It is a big puzzle.  And like a puzzle the pieces have to be sorted out and then put back together and only from that final picture–still with large gaps of information missing, mind you–can any interpretation be made.  I do not suspect any treachery here, at least not with James Tabor who has done his utmost over the past few weeks to be as vigilant in discovering the truth as any of us (though we at times talk past each other).

I hope that these issues have been clarified.  I hold no ill will towards Tabor and hope he recognizes that I do not support nor condone those who call him names or promote incivility.

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:

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