Monday, September 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Replicas

The recent renewed discussion of the Talpiot Tombs, brought about by Simcha Jacobovici's post featuring an interview with Professor Émile Puech of the École Biblique in Jerusalem (See Simcha Jacobovici and the Talpiot Tomb again), and followed up by Prof. Puech's own statement on the affair , has sent me back once again to the photographs, the blog posts, the media reports and the articles that I have in the past spent such a long time looking at.  But this time I spotted something new, what I am calling "A Tale of Two Replicas".

Throughout the discussions of the Talpiot Tomb, right from the first, Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor and others involved with the "Jesus Discovery" project (website here) have talked about and publicized what they call "the museum quality replica" of ossuary 6 from Talpiot tomb B.  But here's the curious thing.  It's not one replica.  There are two different replicas. As far as I am aware -- and I think I have read everything -- they have never admitted that they produced a second replica to replace the first.  (Please correct me if I am wrong).  And when one notices what changes between the two replicas, there is some cause for concern.

Here is the first replica.  This one was on the first version of the Jesus Discovery website and dates back to when the site was first published in February 2012, as you can see from the capture.

Replica 1 (February 2012)
Here is the second replica, which dates back, as far as I can tell, to April 2012, and which replaced the first on the Jesus Discovery website.  This is the one you see there now.

Replica 2 (April 2012)
If you think they look pretty similar, you would be right.  But there are some telling signs that illustrate beyond doubt that these replicas are different.  Let's take a look at them side by side:

Replica 1 (left) and Replica 2 (right)

There are several tell-tale signs.  Notice how in Replica 1, there are some lines drawn inside the square shaped object to the right of the vessel / fish, whereas in Replica 2, these lines are completely absent:

Replica 1 has a drawing inside the square which Replica 2 lacks

Notice also how the top left tip of the vessel / fish is next to the pointed part of a triangle in Replica 1 but next to the flat part of a triangle in Replica 2:

Triangle border differs next to top left of vessel / fish 
Similarly, notice how at the bottom left of Replica 1, the triangular shape protrudes across the border whereas in Replica 2, the triangle is neatly inside of its border:

Replica 1: triangle protrudes across the border in contrast to Replica 2

Similar observations could be repeated for other elements in the two replicas, but I am sure that you get the basic point.  Now one of the reasons that this is worthy of comment is that the replica (singular) has always been called "museum quality" and its accuracy has been praised.  Yet, far from this being one, accurate "museum quality" replica, it is two contrasting replicas, in which attention to detail is far from the order of the day.

It is not just the question of accuracy and representation that is at issue here, or the apparent failure to flag up the differences between the two replicas.  It is that Replica 2 makes several changes that may be the result of engaging with criticisms of the project.  Let me attempt to explain what I am getting at.

Replica 1 appears in all the publicity for the documentary, book and website from February to March 2012.  Replica 2 first appears, again as far as I can work out, and subject to correction, on April 3 or 4 2012, in Jerusalem:

Simcha Jacobovici shows off Replica 2 in Jerusalem, 3/4 April 2012
In between the release of Replica 1 and Replica 2, there had been a lot of criticism about the project's claims including, among other things, the idea that there are drawings of little "fish in the margins".  Robert Cargill demonstrated that the little oval shapes had been "inked in" so as to make them appear like fish.  Now notice how the "fish in the margins" changed between the two replicas. In Replica 1, before the criticism had appeared, they were presented as fish, with very clear, long tails:

Replica 1: "fish in the margins close up" (screengrab from Steve Caruso)
In Replica 2, which appeared after the criticism had been made, these shapes resemble more closely the actual shapes on the ossuary.  The tails have gone:

Replica 2: "fish in the margins" now appear more like ovals

Now, since Replica 2 appeared some time after Replica 1, I began to wonder whether there were also any changes in the way that the alleged YWNH ("Jonah") inscription appeared.  Does the alleged inscription differ at all between Replicas 1 and 2?  There is, indeed, a major difference in the way this appears between Replicas 1 and 2.  Here it is in Replica 1:

Close up of alleged "Jonah" inscription on Replica 1
This replica appears to have been produced before the "YWNH" inscription theory had emerged.  The lines really look like random lines.  Notice in particular what would become the letter "nun" -- it is here completely broken, just as it was in the CGI composite photograph and all the pictures up to this point (Do the lines in the "fish" head spell out Jonah?).  No one looking at this picture would for a moment think it was spelling out "Jonah".

However, in Replica 2, the transformation of these lines is remarkable.  Now the inscription could indeed be taken to spell out "Jonah".  Notice how the "nun" is now one single, connected line.  It is no longer broken.  The "he" is given the appearance of stopping with one thick line forming the top of the letter, and only a thin line going on to the border.  And the "yod" has a little loop on it just as it does in the "tracing" of the letters that appeared when the alleged inscription first came to light.  Here's a close-up:

Close up of Replica 2, showing YWNH lettering clearly marked

One can see the whole of Replica 2 in high definition here, if you want to take a closer look.  Notice also that there are no extraneous lines here.  Everything appears to be doing service in the representation of "YWNH".  Here's the tracing of the letters as it appeared on James Tabor's blog:

Yellow tracing of the alleged letters, James Tabor's blog, April 2012
In each, the "yod" has a loop, the "nun" is unbroken and the top line of the "he" does not extend all the way to the border.

I don't know what to make of all this, but I thought in the interests of analyzing Talpiot Tomb B, and the claims made by those involved with the "Jesus Discovery" project, it would be useful to lay out what I have found by analyzing the two contrasting replicas, and to see if others also see what I am seeing.  Why is it that the "fish in the margins" are recrafted in between Replicas 1 and 2?  Why is it that the "YWNH" inscription suddenly becomes clear only in Replica 2?

It may be worth adding that the replica shown to Prof. Puech in the video released last week is clearly Replica 2, which has a version of the "YWNH" inscription that we see above, and not the ambiguous representation of Replica 1:

Simcha Jacobovici shows Émile Puech Replica 2
As we have seen above, it is only Replica 2 that has a representation of the "YWNH" inscription that conforms with the interpretation of those involved in the project.  Did the representation of "YWNH" on Replica 2 influence Prof. Puech's reading?


createdwright said...

Excellent analysis, Mark. Using replicas by anyone with the intent of implying proof has always been troubling to me. Obviously, getting the real ossuary out of the ground would be ideal—then, let the data speak for itself. Variations in these 2 replicas illustrates the subjectivity involved. One can only imagine the process they went thru; sharing drawings; coaching every stroke of the tools; getting the craftsman to convey precisely what the customers expect. I very much appreciate your detailed, common-sense approach to these claims and your even-handed manner in addressing them.

Keen Reader said...

Unfortunately photographs (doctored or otherwise) cannot convey the malodor surrounding this whole project.

Stephen Goranson said...

Thank you, Mark. A possible future interview question: Can you read "Jonah" or shall I obtain an easier-to-read "copy"?

James D. Tabor said...

Mark, I am surprised you did not realize there were two replicas as you and I discussed the little "hangman's gallows" in the first, that was removed in the second, because the photos just did not allow us to see inside that right panel, so we decided it best to leave it blank. I sent you the photos at that time of what we could see in that right panel and we exchanged a few e-mails on that.

The first replica was done by the Discovery Times Square Museum in NY for their Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit by their technicians and wholly commissioned and paid for by them. It is very heavy, actually made of stone. So far as I know it is still on "tour" as an auxiliary to the exhibit. You will remember maybe the filming of the Nightline special you and I were part of where I was at the museum in NY at the display. The second was done in Israel by Associated Producers, for the launch of The Jesus Discovery film. It is made of a light acrylic kind of material and it remains in Israel.

They are indeed somewhat different since two different labs produced them using the photos we had taken. I think the second might be a bit more accurate overall, especially in the proportional size of the "fish" and a more careful representation of the "little fish" along the border, plus a few other details, such as the "zig zigs" on the left end that should have been added. Both were produced before Charlesworth noticed the YONAH inscription. Even though one could call them "museum quality" they should only be used for illustrative purposes since both were made from a series of photos and we don't have the actual ossuary to "replicate," so you are correct, "museum quality" should be taken with that qualification, given the limitations in this case compared to replicas that copy the actual "thing."

In studying the possible inscription of YONAH, or any other details of this ossuary only the photos should be used and that was what Puech was shown, a blowup of the best photos from the HIRes camera. A good selection of all the best photos is up on the web site: and has been since last March. What the replicas is good for are to show the placement of the various features of the ornamentation, but no one should rely upon them over the photographs, and surely not for reading any possible inscriptions, either YONAH or the Greek inscription. I have posted the two best ones I can find on the YONAH inscription on my blog here: and there is a whole series of the Greek inscription, as well as all othe features of the ossuaries in that tomb that we could see, at also as I think you know.

Richard Budelberger said...

Note that « yellow tracing » which James Tabor withdrew from his site was not drawn on Replicas.