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:

etruscanscreengrab

‘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?

jesusdiscstickman

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):

1

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:

3

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:

553009_10202049267901616_2144798336_n

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.

1236809_10151621946246338_1161603819_n

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.

145972_1317841461

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!

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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)

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!

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