Monday, April 16, 2012

How the "half-fish" became a vase and why it matters

Over on the ASOR blog several days ago, "Jonah" Ossuary discussed in print in 1981, Eric Meyers and Chris Rollston brought to our attention Zvi Ilan's report, in DAVAR in May 1981,  on the discovery of what is now called Talpiot Tomb B.  The report was revealing because it mentioned the sighting of a vase or vessel on one of the ossuaries and it mentioned nothing of a "fish".

The article has spawned many comments, including several from Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor themselves.  Jacobovici writes:
As for what the article says; it refers to “architectural façades (belonging to the Temple?), a vase and two names written in Greek.” So it seems that the “vase” reference is not to the Jonah image at all! The article speaks about Temple “façades” or “features” in the plural i.e., the fish is subsumed under “Temple façades,” since it is carved next to a Temple-like structure on the front of the “Jonah ossuary.” The “vase” is a separate item altogether and it’s referred to in the singular, probably what we have identified as the tail of a fish at the backend of the ossuary.
Similarly, Tabor writes:
 Since Ilan does not seem to know about the four line Greek inscription, or clearly mention the Jonah image, my guess is he might be referring to the “half fish” (Cargill and Goodacre’s vase with handles) that is clearly visible in the photos in Kokh 1, ossuary 1, and NOT the Jonah image that is on its face since this account implies Kloner was in and out very quickly without moving the ossuaries.
The reason that I am interested in these comments is that they at least suggest that Tabor and Jacobovici accept that it would be reasonable to interpret the "half-fish" as a vase.  Let's just take a moment to look again at the relevant image:

This is a detail taken from Kloner's original 1981 investigation of the tomb, with arrows pointing to the handles (from here; see also here; new photograph here).  I suggested that this picture of a vase provides key contextual information about the interpretation of the picture on the façade of the same ossuary (see Robert Cargill's Sins of Commission and Omission for more).   A vessel on the end of the ossuary; a vessel on the façade of the ossuary.  Compare, for example, these images from Rahmani's catalogue shared by Tom Verenna in which there is a vessel on the end of the ossuary, and a vessel on its façade.

Now of course it could, in theory, be that there was a vessel on the end of the ossuary but a "fish" on its façade, but the very fact that Jacobovici and Tabor have insisted on the "half-fish" interpretation for the end of the ossuary suggests that they are aware of the importance of contextual clues.

However, I must admit that I think it most unlikely that the DAVAR article is referring to this vase on the end of the ossuary.  The more striking image is the one on the façade and I cannot imagine that the vase on the end of the ossuary would have commanded their attention more than the one on the façade.

Either way, the article is telling for another reason.  Simcha Jacobovici recently suggested that the reason that many scholars do not see a "fish" is that they are involved in some kind of "theological trauma".  But as Paul Regnier commented , "Quite how can you be traumatised by a viewpoint that won’t actually exist for another 30 years?!" However one attempts to spin this one, the original investigators did not see any fish on this ossuary, and I am afraid that that is telling.


Justin King said...

Thanks for this Dr. Goodacer. It seems like we have another example of Dr. Tabor and Simcha attempting to divert attention from how thin their argument is. But then I might just be suffering theological trauma.

Greg Carey said...

Two questions, Mark, from someone who's just catching up. (1) Since when does the Jonah fish -- or any fish -- swim downward? (2) On the other hand, if the image represents a vessel, why would it have a little knob on the bottom?

Scott F said...

One question would be: Are you more likely to portray just the tail of your fish on the end of your ossuary or the mouth of your "vase"? Would the fish-tail be emblematic enough of the Sign of Jonah? Or should you have preferred to go with the business end of the fish?

Sili said...

As for (2), that has already been explained as an unguentum. But a quick google shows that some amphora have a protrusion on the bottom as well.

Skeptic said...

The utter silence from the scientific adviser, the archaeologist Rami Arav, the archaeologists from the IAA not to mention the Rabbi who gave them cover is deafening.

Gao said...

Greg, I think this will be helpful for determining what's at the bottom of the vessel:

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for these comments. Greg: on (1) they see the border of the ossuary as representing "land", perhaps even mountains (triangular shapes on the border) and so the fish is spitting out Jonah onto the border of the ossuary. I am not persuaded by this interpretation myself. On (2), see Gao's link above. See also Bob Cargill's post about it here:

Scott: good question. They want to make the "half-fish" part of the story that the ossuary tells, so presumably this is the fish now without Jonah. Since I don't think it looks anything like a fish -- the border has the same design as the image (little triangles) -- I think a half-vase is more likely. My guess is that the artist simply didn't finish it.

Greg Carey said...

Thanks, Gao and Mark!