Friday, April 20, 2012

Do the lines in the "fish" head spell out Jonah?

Just over a week ago, James Tabor discussed an interesting suggestion made by James Charlesworth that the name "Jonah" might be spelt out in Hebrew letters in the head of what they see as the "fish" in Ossuary 6 in Talpiot Tomb B, the image that others see as some kind of vessel or vase, Name of “Jonah” Encrypted on the Jonah and the Fish Image (see also The Hebrew Name “YONAH” Embedded in the Image of the Fish on the Talpiot Tomb Ossuary).

My worry about the suggestion was that it led to a revision of an already problematic aspect of the case, the idea that the image featured a "stick figure" of Jonah emerging from the fish, a point made by Stephen Goranson and illustrated in my post headed The Changing Body of the Stick Man in Talpiot Tomb B.  But more importantly, the suggestion about the letters spelling out Jonah was received with scepticism -- Christopher Rollston in the Globe and Mail aticle; Jim Davila in Paleojudaica, Antonio Lombatti, Robert Cargill, Robert Cargill againSteve Caruso and Steve Caruso again.

Now James Tabor makes clear that, as far as he is concerned, the Inscription on the “Jonah image” Says YONAH.  He complains about several blog responses and he quotes from troubling posts that I have not seen.  My preference is, of course, to deal with matters of substance and there is something I would like to draw attention to.

One of the difficulties that  some have seen with the new proposal is that one of the alleged letters, the nun, appears to be broken in the middle, and thus does not appear to be a nun at all.   Here, for example, is Robert Cargill's helpful illustration:

Image (bottom) on Ossuary 6. Original image here .Coloured lines courtesy of Robert Cargill.
On the left is a close up of the bottom of the image as it appears on ossuary 6.  On the right is Robert Cargill's representation of the engraved lines.  The alleged nun is here represented by the yellow and green lines in the picture on the right.

The difficulty with this letter is that there is an obvious break between the elements of the alleged nun.  James Tabor maintains, however, that the lines are clear and that they are not random markings.  He does not acknowledge that there is any break at all in the lines that constitute the alleged nun.  In his pictures, the line is represented as continuous.  Take for example the recent illustration on his blog:

Alleged letters spelling out "Jonah" on James Tabor's blog
But how do we test the competing claims?  Is the alleged nun here continuous or broken?  Tabor maintains that the letters are "crystal clear" but I remain sceptical.  One of the main reasons for my scepticism is that the break in the middle of the alleged nun is actually "crystal clear", to borrow Tabor's language.  This is not a nun; it is two random lines.

Indeed, one can test for the clarity of the lines here by returning to the CGI composite image of what is depicted on ossuary 6.  This image aims to represent what the authors of the project used to regard as clear and self-evident and yet it is quite clear that before this new "Jonah" reading had been proposed, they too saw a break in the line that is now held to be a nun.  In other words, before the "Jonah" inscription interpretation, they too could not see the continuous line of a letter "nun".

It's worth taking a close-up look at the image.  The original CGI image is oriented horizontally, but a rotation and a zoom-in helps us to compare this with the images used to illustrate the alleged inscription:

Close-up of CGI composite of the bottom left facade of Talpiot Tomb B
A glance at the image confirms that those involved with the project could not see what is now interpreted as a nun.  The two lines are quite clearly unrelated.  To draw attention to this clear non-nun, I have added a red circle here to show the key area in question:

Close-up of CGI composite of the bottom left facade of Talpiot Tomb B,
drawing attention to the break in the alleged nun.
It is not just sceptics of Tabor's and Jacobovici's claims who are struggling to see the name of Jonah spelt out here.  It is the project authors' own  CGI picture, designed before the new claim, that bears testimony to the difficulty in seeing the letters that they now wish to see.

Update (6.54am): Link to James Tabor's post above fixed (with thanks to James Davila). See now Jim Davila's helpful comments on Paleojudaica, including the following:
If Professor Tabor wants to convince his colleagues that there is an inscription there and that it says "Jonah," he needs to take up the objections one by one and demonstrate that (1) the lines he says he sees on the ossuary, especially those of the "nun," are really there and as he sees them and (2) that each supposed letter shape can be closely paralleled by specific letters in other Herodian informal lapidary inscriptions such as appear on ossuaries.

Update (4.45pm):  See now also Antonio Lombatti, Is YONAH there or not? and Robert Cargill, When is a nun not a nun?.  (See what he did there?!).  See too Steve Caruso, Unfaithful Representation.


James D. Tabor said...

Thanks Mark. I think Prof. Charlesworth is preparing a more extensive article that will deal with the letters and various parallels. I have done my own work over the past week and find them "crystal clear" as I said. The "nun" is not broken. There are some white splotches on the ossuary surface in our close up photos and one of them is at the juncture, which might make it look like the line is broken, but it does intersect. It might have been made with two strokes, which would not be unusual, but it is connected. I will post another photo on my latest blog post right now that I think will make this clear. It is untouched, right from the HiDef camera. Assuming this is correct can you read the word YONAH quite clearly? Don't you find that rather amazing for random lines that mean nothing?

James D. Tabor said...

Trying I messed up my second post above...sorry.

Mark, on the lines of the stick figure I am open and I think there is more than one possibility, but I do think our engraver intended to represent the fish head, the name YONAH, and the man coming out--certainly the head, but I think the body as well. I posted something on this on the ASOR blog. What I am hoping is that rather than pointing our contradictions, which I see more as alternatives, we try together to see what we can make of this, at least those of us who do not see these lines as random and meaningless. For those who do, there is little to say.

robert r. cargill said...

The lines at the bottom are not 'random' - they are obviously deliberately drawn. I just can't conclude that the purpose of the lines was some sort of anthropomorphic/typographic logo of letters (which is what you now appear to be arguing - that it is BOTH a stick-man anthropomorphic image made of poorly executed letters).

So the lines are not random, and nor are they letters (and certainly not the letters you're trying to force them to be). The do appear to be decoration of some sort, but of what sort we don't know (although we do know that in other time periods (and perhaps at this time also), many amphora, kraters, and hydrias had linear geometric designs at their bases).

Maybe this will help.

Sili said...

"Maybe this will help."

Lovely to see that you're still optimistic.

Mark Goodacre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for your comments, James. I'm afraid I don't find the YONAH reading persuasive, even with the new picture. I agree that in this picture the "nun" looks unbroken, which contrasts with all the other pictures so far released. In other respects, though, the image is less friendly to the new YONAH interpretation, e.g. the line above the "yod" is more pronounced and makes the "yod" stand out much less clearly; similarly the "waw" now extends even further. The new front leg of the stick figure (on the "heh") is also now more clearly disconnected from the body. So I think what you gain in this picture with the alleged nun you lose with the other features.

I think there is an analogy here with the cluster of names in Talpiot Tomb A. Apparent matches are celebrated but non-matches are not allowed to compromise the claim. So here, apparent matches with a YONAH outline are celebrated while the non-matches are either ignored or integrated into the stick man. Of course I will look forward to seeing Prof. Charlesworth's article when it is ready.