Thursday, September 12, 2013

Simcha Jacobovici and the Talpiot Tomb Again!

I have spent a lot of time, some would say wasted a lot of time, engaging critically with claims made by Simcha Jacobovici in relation to two tombs excavated in Talpiot, East Jerusalem.  I won't go into detail on how things have panned out in the past, but I documented some of it in my article published on The Talpiot Tomb and the Bloggers, and have written a lot about it here on the NT Blog.  My most recent extended discussion is found on Bible and Interpretation, The Jesus Discovery? A Sceptic's Perspective, an article based on an enjoyable critical exchange with James Tabor and Christopher Rollston at SECSOR in March this year.

The general response from Simcha Jacobovici himself has either been dismissal or mockery.  Although he asked his critics to point out the mistakes, he has never responded to my attempts to explain why I am unconvinced by his claims, preferring instead either to ignore the critical response or to mock what he calls underwear bloggers.  That's me, and people like me, sitting on the couch, blogging in our underpants while we eat takeaway pizza!

In a post published yesterday, Jacobovici draws attention to a new interview with Professor Émile Puech of the École Biblique in Jerusalem, Jesus Tomb Finds Dramatic Support.  The post includes a video interview with Prof. Puech, who explains Jacobovici's theory about the tomb, indicating his own support for this interpretation, that the controversial image is actually an upside-down fish spitting out a stick-figure Jonah.  It is not a standard vase or vessel.  Moreover, Prof. Puech lends his support to the suggestion that the name "Jonah" is spelled out in Hebrew on the "head" of the "fish".

I must admit that I was a little surprised to see an esteemed, senior figure like Prof. Puech supporting Jacobovici's interpretation of the ossuary.  I accept that there will be disagreements in the guild, and that this is the stuff of academic debate.  I would love to be able to ask Prof. Puech what he makes of things like repeated geometrical shapes in the body of the "fish" that correspond to the same geometrical patterns on the borders of the ossuary, or the handles on the "half-fish", which make the Jacobovici interpretation so problematic for many of us, but I doubt that I will get the opportunity.

Nevertheless, that's the substance of academic debate, and I accept that academics just disagree with one another.  I should perhaps admit also that I was disappointed that there was no new substance in Prof. Puech's interview, i.e. there was nothing to refute those who have argued against Jacobovici.  It is interesting nevertheless that Prof. Puech is convinced by Jacobovici's unusual claims.  I find it surprising, baffling even, but there we are.  That's life in academia.

However, I do want to draw attention to elements in Jacobovici's post that I think problematic.  He attempts to summarize the debate so far, incorporating discussion of both Talpiot Tombs, and drawing attention to why he sees the case for the identification with Jesus and the Jesus movement to be so strong.

There are three particular elements I would like to draw attention to.  These are all elements that have been criticized in the past.  To suggest that each point is self-evident is the real problem here.  In summarizing the case for the identification of Talpiot Tomb A with Jesus and his family, Jacobovici writes:

(1) "Six of them have inscriptions. One of them explicitly states; 'Jesus, son of Joseph'"

The difficulty with this statement is that the inscription is really difficult to decipher.  Indeed Émile Puech himself is on record as doubting the clarity of this inscription, for example here:
Another prominent expert whom Jacobovici did not consult, across town in the tranquil offices of the French Biblical and Archeological School in east Jerusalem, was Prof. Emile Puech. His response to the inscription was much the same as Naveh’s. ‘It’s very crude lettering,’ said the bearded, French-born Father Puech. ‘The ‘Joseph’ is clear. The ‘son of’ is no problem. The ‘Jesus?’ It’s certainly possible to read it that way.’
It may be that Prof. Puech has changed his mind about this but, if so, there is no indication of this in the current article.  This is not to say that the inscription could not be "Jesus" but just to draw attention to our uncertainty about the reading.  It is absolutely not "explicit".

He also writes:

(2): "A third has 'Yose', a very rare version of Joseph. 'Yose', 'Joses' in the King James version of the Gospels, is described as a 'brother of Jesus' by the Gospels of Mark (6:3) and Matthew (13:55-56)".

This is incorrect.  Only Mark has "Joses".  Matthew has "Joseph". And the textual witnesses demonstrate unequivocally that the two names were regarded as interchangeable.

Jacobovici also claims:

(3): "If this is not enough, there was an inscription in Greek of a certain Mary called 'Mariamene'. In all of Greek literature, this particular spelling of Mary is used in reference to Mary Magdalene and no one else."

This is false. The word "Mariamne" is used twice in early Christian literature, once by Hippolytus (third century) and once in the Acts of Philip (fourth). On neither occasion does the author say that this Mary is "Mary Magdalene". Indeed, both authors, Hippolytus and the author of the Acts of Philip, depict Mariamne as having a sister named Martha, which illustrates that they are not talking about the historical first century figure of Mary Magdalene but the later, composite literary figure of the apocryphal Mary who incorporates characteristics from the full range of Marys.

Now of course it could be the case that my readings of the primary texts are wrong, in which case I would welcome some good, robust, critical engagement.  My guess is that I am more likely to receive dismissal or abuse, which is the norm, but I am always happy to be surprised.


Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

" the historical first century figure of Mary Magdalene"


Robert Cargill said...

Mark, this is factual, evidence-based scholarship.

You can't expect him to respond to this. What is he going to say?

This is all rational and logical. You cite evidence. It makes sense.

He's not going to respond to this, as he'd have nothing to say.

He might call you a name, or call you an underwear blogger, or say that you are jealous of his adjunct professorships and Cannes Film Festival Awards and Co-Directorships, but he's not about to engage you on the factual inaccuracies of his claims, because that is actual scholarship, and that is foreign to him.

Geoff Hudson said...

But he might take you to court as he has done to Joe Zias.

James D. Tabor said...

Mark, personalities aside, I will be more than pleased to respond to you on these issues. I think you are mistaken on all three of your points here i.e., that the name "Yeshua" is unclear;" that Yose, though "interchangeable" with Yehosef (as Jim and James are interchangeable), is nonetheless "rare" meaning few male Jews used it in the period, Jesus' brother among them; and our two subsequent references to Mariamene are in fact to MM. Since this little box on your blog for comments is a bit restricted, I will publish my response to this, and your paper at ASOR last March which expands these and other points, at very soon. I look forward to a fruitful dialogue such as we have had in the past. On the YONAH inscription, I think it is very clear, and to have Puech and Hachlili now agree, might give one pause to consider this again. I guess I am not clear on what you do think--and I realize you would point out that Herodian epigraphy is not your field--but you can read names on ossuaries. One thing seems clear, the incised marks are not random scratches but Hebrew letters, as agreed now by a cluster of our best epigraphers, namely Puech, Hachlili, Deutsch, Misgav, Pfann, etc.

James D. Tabor said...

Mark, maybe you should not make this all about Simcha. You say you are baffled, surprised, that a senior scholar like Émile Puech would "support Simcha's interpretation of the ossuary image." In fact, the fish/Jonah interpretation was first suggested by Rami Arav, James Charlesworth, and me. Maybe you can dismiss our views as you do Simchas, and as Bob does here as if the discussion is about him, but you well know that I am the one who has published most of the analysis on this position, defended it and debated it on ASOR,, at SBL and ASOR meetings, and so forth, and put forth most of the arguments. That Simcha and I agree is fine, but there is an undertone here, of let's make it all Simcha and then it will somehow not be credible. In fact, the analysis offered by me and others has nothing to do with any personality, however controversial. Would you not agree? I think for Puech the YONAH inscription is key here, after all, his expertise is in epigraphy more than iconography. Hachlili, on the other hand, is an expert in ossuary iconography and has written "the book" on it, and she also agrees. As I said before, does that not give you pause or at least make you back off of belittling this "baffling" view as that of "Simcha."

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, James. I appreciate the response. We'll have to hammer out the issues on Joses & Mary again at some point. I don't have a lot extra on those. My point in this context was simply that Simcha's statement is over-confident and does not take into account the serious critical engagement on the issues. What he does is to treat the issues as if they are self-evident, as if no one has raised any sensible objections, and as if the only reasons that people disagree with him are theological agendas. It's really depressing stuff to read.

On the alleged YONAH inscription, I appreciate that some people have supported Charlesworth's reading, and I am baffled by it. My major issue remains that I cannot make any sense of the idea that this is supposedly not only a "stick figure" but also a YONAH inscription. Some lines do single service and some lines do double service. Some lines do no service at all. I just find that really difficult to take seriously. Although you appeal to Charlesworth, Puech et al, no one, to my knowledge, apart from you, has attempted to explain which bits are still the stick figure. And your explanation of the stick figure has changed. So the confusion about the stick figure / YONAH inscription combination makes it difficult for me to take seriously. Until that is clarified, I find it difficult to reassess the claim.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, James, for your second comment. The reason I was engaging Simcha directly in this post was that it was his prose that I was commenting on. When I am discussing your work, I home in on what you say, and I've done that before, e.g. in our SECSOR discussion. While I appreciate that you have worked on this stuff together, I want to be careful not to lump you together, or to assume that you agree with everything Simcha says. So I thought I would engage here directly with what Simcha says. For what it's worth, it's much easier to engage critically with you than Simcha, and I would do that any day of the week in preference to to attempting to argue with Simcha, who tends to respond with dismissal, mockery or the attempt to impute agendas.

James D. Tabor said...

Well Mark, let's forget any stick figure for a moment. Just look at these photos and tell me if YONAH in Hebrew is clearly there or not, with all lines accounted for with straight mouth and gill line? I think it is crystal clear. And that is why Peuch and Hachli.i read it so without hesitation.

What do you see here?

Vase, fish, or stick figure not withstanding, what does this inscription say?


James D. Tabor said...


Robert Cargill said...

Yo Yo Ma.

Robert Cargill said...

I'm curious about the image (the blow up in the video) that Simcha showed Dr. Puech.

I wonder if he showed him this one:

James D. Tabor said...

Very funny Bob. Why not just poke fun rather engage in any thing serious. What Puech and Hachlili were shown was the clearest photo we have, from the HiRes camera, untouched in any way--the oranged color one on my blog post. How do you read it? Or do you still say these are only random scratches?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, James. Well, it's like asking if I can see the face of Jesus Ossuary 2! The issue is not whether or not we can take combinations of different lines and make patterns with them, but whether the person inscribing the image on the ossuary intended to write Jonah. For me, the way to test the claim is to relate it to other claims made about the image, e.g. that there is a stick figure there. If it is so clear, how come no one noticed it for months? One can hardly say that no one noticed it because no one was looking at that bit of the image because, on the contrary, a lot of time was spent analyzing those lines on the image, and composing a stick figure with them.

Robert Cargill said...


It's called cognitive priming.
It's how Rorschach tests are used in psychology and psycho therapy.

Once you prime the brain, you can trick it into seeing what you want it to see.

Michael Shermer talks about it in the video below.

The more I review the 'evidence', the more I am convinced of the priming done by Simcha and Dr. Tabor (whether they know they're doing it or not).

It's why the amphora/"Jonah fish" was rotated to the side (unacknowledged at first, then called a "blow up", then conceded that it was a heavily Photoshopped, computer generated rendering.)

It's why the "fish in the margins" were digitally manipulated with ink (unacknowledged at first, with digital ink of the same color as the inscribed area (not red, for example) to conceal the manipulation, and then after being called out on it, conceded that it had been 'marked').

It's why the clearly visible handles are removed from the 'museum quality reproduction' and other renderings.

And it's why the scratchwork at the bottom of the amphora/Jonah fish is always shown with the "YWNH" outlined (although Drs. Tabor and Charlesworth can't agree on which scratches actually constitute the letters, and which lines to ignore).

These are four examples of data that has been "primed" to lead the brain to a prescribed conclusion, and note that all four of the examples AID the argument of Jacobovici and Tabor; that is, the primed images never DETRACT from their argument, but rather they always AID the argument. And it's never some arbitrary image that gets primed, but rather the images that are being rotated and 'marked' and highlighted and reproduced (first without acknowledgement of manipulation, then acknowledged after someone points it out), are always something central to the argument.

This is why, over the long term, with the REPEATED instances of digital manipulation and cognitive priming, the argument becomes weaker and less tenable, as viewers come to expect that each new piece of evidence has been manipulated and are therefore less than credible, EVEN WHEN they are not.

The boy can only 'cry fish' so often before people begin to ignore him.

May you have a reflective Yom Kippur.


Mark Goodacre said...

I think that may be a bit unfair, James. Bob's post referenced above goes to great lengths to engage critically with the claim, blowing up the images, attempting to work out which line goes where. It's true that Bob is partial to a bit of parody here and there (e.g. the Yo Yo Ma post!) but his post referenced there is a serious, detailed, critical discussion of the claim.

Robert Cargill said...

James, I believe they are scratches done by a right-handed engraver, attempting to fill in the bottom of the amphora with the engraver's equivalent of a different (darker or lighter) color.

The limestone is one color. The scratched area where you read YWNH is a darker color (like a crude gradient), and the hemispherical base is darker yet (because it contains deeper and more scratches).

You read the scratches like a psychiatry patient reads a Rorchach test. You see what you want to see, and you promote images that best support what you want to see.

The evidence is murky at best, and given this project's history of manipulating/enhancing key images, people are increasingly less likely to believe it.

In fact, the only folks I'd expect to even consider agreeing with you are older scholars who are less savvy with the power of modern digital imaging technology.

Robert Cargill said...

Besides, what ever happened to your 'stick man Jonah' argument?

Did that Rorschach interpretation get tossed in favor of the YWNH Rorschach interpretation?

See how this works? First, you put all your money down on the stick man Jonah. And now, I rarely hear anything about that.

Just like I might see a butterfly when I'm happy and looking at the ink blots, and a monster when I'm angry.

The mind sees what it wants to see in degraded images (again, please watch the Shermer TED video above), and you REALLY NEED it to see YWNH.

(BTW, the ALLCAPS above are not shouting. You know me. I don't shout. They are used for emphasis online.)

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Bob. I think those are good points. Your point about Profs. Charlesworth and Tabor disagreeing on which lines are which further illustrates my point made above, and it is why the issue over the stick figure to me remains an important one. Another way of looking at it is to see it as a case of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

Further, on the issue of cognitive priming, I have argued that there was a predisposition to find Jonah in this tomb --

-- and I think that that may well have been in their minds when analyzing this tomb.

Robert Cargill said...

Again, I'd argue that if the engraver had intended an inscription of a word, it would look like the inscription on the other Talpiot ossuary. That is, we KNOW what inscriptions look like on ossuaries. And the supposed YWNH isn't one of them.

James D. Tabor said...

All I asked was a simple question. Look at the best HIRes photo we have and see what you can read?

It has nothing to do with stick figures, disagreements between me and Charlesworth, or any of the other issues Bob lists here. Just see what you can read. It is true that all ossuaries have random scratches on them, but they are usually easily distinguished from intentional marks, as in this case. "Older" scholars, not familiar with digital imaging techniques has nothing to do with it--and what an insult to Puech and Hachlili. Or that they were somehow "cognitively primed." No Mark, it is not like looking for a face of Jesus. Seriously? It is reading clear Hebrew letters which you are surely capable of doing. This photo is the best we have, it is not manipulated in any way. What do you see here?

Robert Cargill said...

I see handles on a fish.

But if you're referring to the scratches at the base of the amphora, it is telling that your yellow lines don't actually follow the scratches.

You have a small yellow triangle in your supposed yod, but the photos show no such triangle.

Your yellow outline at the top of your supposed waw arbitrarily stops well short of the scratch, which reaches the right edge of the design. Look at the orangish photo - it touches the line.

Again, to use one of Simcha's frequent analogies, my 2-year old can outline better than that.

In the greener picture on the bottom left, the scratch that forms the down stroke of your supposed nun obviously continues down and is not connected to the bottom of your supposed nun.

Then the supposed heh would have the longest top anyone has ever seen.

Add to that the fact that:

The supposed 'letters' are completely disproportional.

The supposed 'letters' do not follow a topline.

You are ignoring all kinds of VERY visible scratches, that DON'T help your argument, and are therefore simply ignored, especially to the 'heh' side of the supposes stick man that for some reason you don't want to talk about anymore.

It's not an inscription. You're picking and choosing what you want to highlight, and supplying data where there is none. You're ignoring obvious lines that don't fit you're interpretation, and it looks nothing like your ACTUAL inscription.

It doesn't say YWNH, just like it doesn't say YO YO MA above it. But you WANT it to be YWNH, because that fits your fish narrative.

The brain believes what it wants to believe when it is primed to believe something. You've been writing about the spiritual, but not physical resurrection of Jesus for a long, long time. And you can use the "Jonah evidence" to support your resurrection narrative. As you present it in your book, it provides supposed evidence for something you've believed for a long time.(You've been blogging about the spiritual, not physical resurrection of Jesus since before 2007. I know. I screen captured them all off your blog.

Your mind WANTS it to be Jonah. So you see Jonah, even if it means extending lines beyond their shape, connecting lines that don't connect, creating Jesus fishes where there are none, rotating amphorae on their sides to make it look a bit more like a fish and adopting the sideways image as the logo of your website, ignoring handles, and on, and on, and on.

This is what I (and many, many others) mean by 'you're seeing what your brain wants to see'.

And that's OK. You get to believe what you want to believe. But scholars also get to critique the evidence you offer as support. That's our jobs.

And so we have these nice civil discussions, complete with humor, about whether or not what's inscribed on the side of an ossuary is a crudely inscribed decorative amphora like we find on so many other ossuaries, OR, a vertical fish (with handles), surrounded by little Jesus fishes, with a VERY poorly inscribed YWNH surrounding a seaweed-wrapped head of a stick-man Jonah.

Which of these two seem more likely?
Which of these two needs to manipulate the images and rotate them and mis-highlight them, and stretch for an interpretation, AND, which of them is plain to the naked eye?

THAT'S the question we should be asking: which interpretation best explains ALL of the data in the most likely scenario?

And when we ask THAT question, the answer is as clear as an amphora.

Stephen Goranson said...

In early Jewish art, as far as I know, please correct me if I'm mistaken, human figures are relatively scarce, and more scarce if "stick figures." And the subset of figures that are identified by name are also scarce until later (e.g., later synagogue mosaics and Dura-Europos wall paintings), and, of these, the name is usually given near but not touching the figure. In the Tabor/Jacobovici/et al. proposal the "name" is said to be inside the "creature" portrayal but overlapping the "stick figure" portrayal--the "Jonah stick figure" can be partly outside the "creature" but the name cannot be?-- and, depending of which of the sticks constitute the "stick figure" in today's version of the claim, among changing selections of component 'figure sticks," the "name" may use some of the "figure sticks" and only some of the other nearby lines as part of the name? Any parallels? If another ossuary were excavated that fit such a complicated claim, I would surely need to rethink this. But, so far, it seems to me, so iffy.

James D. Tabor said...

Bob, the yellow lines are irrelevant. They were intended only as a general "guide." The untouched photos are what I am asking Mark and others who read this blog entry to examine. I have spent several weeks examining hundreds of ossuary inscriptions in the collections of the IAA at Bet Shemesh, the Rockefeller, and the Israel Museum, with a focus on these particular letters. I am no technical expert in this regard but it seems clear to me that the graffito inscriptions often show these sorts of variations but the general form, provided we can read them, are usually clear. Charlesworth in his published piece discusses these letters in detail and offers cross references to other inscriptions. These are not random scratches. In looking at all the photos we have it is clear that the marks of these letters, as well as the line of the mouth and vertical "gill" line, stand out as distinctive and hardly random, and quite distinct from scratches that almost all ossuary inscriptions have as well.

Robert Cargill said...

The 'untouched' photos?

So you're 'touched' some of the others?

James, I'm using the 'untouched' photos THAT YOU GAVE ME to do the analysis. The scratches extend far beyond what you WANT to see as letters. They don't connect in other places.

Again, what you are attempting to do has been documented in any number of studies that look at patterns of deception in our brains.

Watch here for a popular example:

The fact that the letters for YWNH are essentially three different lengths of straight lines (little line for yod, longer line for waw, longer line still for nun), means that any three straight lines can be the first three letter of YWNH, ESPECIALLY if you're willing to start and stop your "guide" to conform to more standard size of letters.

The same is true with the top of your supposed 'heh', whose top continues to extend for a long, long tie, yet your yellow 'guide' arbitrarily stops in the middle of the line so that the two straight lines intersecting them form what you want to be a het, which you then argue is close enough to a heh epigraphically, BUT ONLY if you ignore the scratch on the bottom left line of your supposed 'heh', which causes the whole thing to look like a block script taw.

You have to make exceptions and special pleading to EVERY SINGLE LETTER in order to make it say YWNH.

The yod doesn't form a loop, the waw continues to the edge, the nun is disconnected, and the heh has a top that extends ad olam. ;-)

I'm dealing with the data you gave me. I'm telling you what I see, and what others see. And I'm also pointing out things you are ignoring (not just the handles on your 'fish', but scratches that you are opting NOT to interpret as letters.

It's a Rorschach test, and you're finding YWNH because you WANT to find YWNH. You're limiting the argument to just the picture above because the other photos of the SAME data betray that there are disconnects in the 'letters' (and in the logic).

James, with all due respect, it's just not there, regardless of how much you want it to be.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for your comments, James and Bob.

My point in bringing up the "Jesus face" on ossuary 2, facetiously I admit, is to focus on the question: How can we test claims like this? How do we know whether or not the image is only in the eye of the beholder? I am suggesting that one way of testing the claim is to look at the history of the claims about this ossuary. The fact that at one time you thought the scratches constituted a stick man is relevant because it illustrates that the alleged "Jonah" inscription is not crystal clear after all. The fact that there are anomalies with respect to the relevant lines (as detailed in Bob's post and echoed here) is relevant because it illustrates that the alleged "Jonah" inscription is not crystal clear after all.

It is the same point I was trying to make with respect to the CGI composite of the image, which supposedly provides a clear, accurate representation of the image on the ossuary. Whoever put together that composite clearly did not see the alleged "Jonah" inscription there because there is a break in the alleged nun, as I pointed out before.

Where there are controversial claims like this, we have to find ways of testing them. These are some suggestions about tests that the alleged inscription does not pass.

Robert Cargill said...

And from Emil Puech himself:

"I am ashame to have been abused."

It's all spin, James. Simcha just hustled another senior scholar into saying something after being given limited data. He hadn't seen all the evidence, just a poor replica with interpretations already on it, and a blow up of a single image.

And now Dr. Puech is already backing away...

Robert Cargill said...

for the record, the above comment can be found here:

it is in the public domain.


James D. Tabor said...

Bob, it does not seem he has backed off his reading of the inscription at all, merely the wider interpretation that Simcha gave it as a result.

"What surprised me is the bottom triangle, like a closed mouth of a fish, and at first the inscription on this part: he is the clearest letter, nun quite good and yod-waw quite acceptable. Thus y-w-n-h is the name Yonah."

Dorothy King said...

For Goodness' sake this can't be right

"(2): "A third has 'Yose', a very rare version of Joseph. 'Yose', 'Joses' in the King James version of the Gospels, is described as a 'brother of Jesus' by the Gospels of Mark (6:3) and Matthew (13:55-56)"."

I cannot believe that anyone would cite an early 17th century translation of the Christian Bible as a primary source for a Hebrew name, when it is easily available in the original language. I can only assume you have made a mistake transcribing SJ's text, because that would be beyond ridiculous.

Robert Cargill said...


Just give it another week. He'll retract all of it.

And to think, Simcha spiked the football on this one. Sad really. It's like doin' the Gatorade bath before the game is over.

Maybe the Cannes Film Festival can give Simcha an award in the category of Quickest Retraction...

;-) bc

Mark Goodacre said...

Unfortunately, though, it does end up looking rather like a failed publicity stunt, does it not, James?

Mark Goodacre said...

The appeal to the King James Bible in this context is somewhat unusual, Dorothy, I agree. But he needs it to be the King James Bible in order to make the point. Matt. 13.55 KJV has "Joses" whereas contemporary translations based on better texts have "Joseph". The latter is by far the stronger reading in Matthew.

jvonehr said...

To my mind, part of the problem in this discussion is that Puech and Hachlili (and others) are being marshaled as expert support without having ever actually argued their case in published form. We have this interview that clearly, in the light of Puech's backtracking, is far from straightforward. It seems to me that until they present their case, providing a detailed argument for the Yonah interpretation, taking into account the objections raised here and elsewhere, their names should be kept out of the discussion. I'm not even asking for a peer-reviewed article. Let them come on here, or any of the other blogs that are involved in this conversation, and present a careful argument. Otherwise, citing Hachlili and Puech as support is just meaningless name-dropping. [Qualification: I haven't been following this as closely as I'd like, so if Hachlili has published something already, please do let me know! My rather hasty google scholar search didn't turn anything up.]

James D. Tabor said...

Final comment here for me as I have said pretty much what I wanted to say.

No, I do not see the interview as a publicity stunt in any way. If you listen to the tape Puech offers his guarded interpretations, looking at the ossuary replica (which Kloner commends for its accuracy) and the best HIRes photo we have. Simcha points out in his accompanying piece that Puech does not in any way support other conclusions on Talpiot regarding the "Jesus tomb" or even necessarily what the implications of a fish with Jonah written in the head might mean. My posting here has been on the inscription and I agree with Puech when he still says "he is the clearest letter, nun quite good and yod-waw quite acceptable. Thus y-w-n-h is the name Yonah."

I think he offers a good solid reading of the obvious inscription. The breaks and extra lines Bob thinks he sees do not make these clear letters into random lines. The best photo we have is the HiRes one shown to Puech and on my blog post, along with the best shot from the regular probe camera: I invite readers to take a look themselves. I am removing the "lined" example because I am thinking now it is better to just let people see what they see from the photos themselves. They can be zoomed in on quite a bit without losing quality.

Bob's Rorschach idea is cute but ridiculous. There is no way one would come up with the very clear name YONAH in standard Herodian script from random marks, even if one "wished" such. Why would Misgav, Deutsch, Charlesworth, Hachlili, and Puech, all who are experienced epigraphers, see letters?

As I mentioned in my post, this summer I showed that photo to a half-dozen Israeli students and asked each of them, without prompting--do you see anything written here? Without the least hesitation every one of them said--YONAH. None of them had any idea even what I was showing them.

Maybe something quite opposite of the "will to believe" is at work here, namely the "will to deny,"--especially anything might give the least support to the "sign of Jonah" interpretation of the symbol. I don't agree that the "fish" has handles and I am convinced, as I have written elsewhere, that the entire ossuary is reflective of Jonah 2:1-10.

Robert Cargill said...

Actually, here's how I know I'm reading the separate/broken supposed 'nun' accurately:


(emphasis, not yelling).

look at the image. before you ditched the seaweed-wrapped stick man jonah claim, you depicted the scratches in the bottom ACCURATELY as a broken, two-piece 'nun'.


That is to say, before you wanted it to say YWNH, you depicted the scratches faithfully.

YOU actually depicted the top of your supposed 'nun' turning and heading down toward the bottom, staying in the right half of the field.

YOU YOURSELF recorded it as broken.
It wasn't until you produced the orange pic, that doesn't match ANY of the other images you recorded of this section, that you started touting THAT image as the 'best one'.

Up until then, ALL of YOUR OWN IMAGES, AND YOUR OWN REPRODUCTION had a broken 'nun'.


Don't tell me I'm seeing things; you saw it too!

Robert Cargill said...

The question we must then ask is why the orange pic DOES NOT record the same data that ALL of your previous pix did?

Steve Caruso said...

Dr. Tabor,

I've also detailed the serious problems with this find over on my blog, especially about the inscription and its varying interpretations as well as outlining the flaws in the interpretive framework used to determine how to divvy up the letters and you and I have engaged in several exchanges about this before.

Epigraphers see letters because it is their *job* to see letters and make sense of things that are otherwise difficult to interpret. I could present any of those individuals with a number of ambiguous images that could prove this fact as the principles and perils are well known. Epigraphy is a field that is one third art, one third science, and one third creativity, and when an epigrapher is given an image without broader context (such as if what they're reading is, say, on its side, or upside down :-) ) there can be (and are often) false positives amongst the noise.

Also, the features claimed are far from "standard" Herodian script -- which is a horrid misnomer as Herodian was never "standardized" by any modern sense that you're appealing to, and there was a great deal of variation between different hands. The major underlying factor is a similar structure brought about by a similar stroke order in different contexts that after a certain amount of variance differentiates it from, say, Hasmonean, or other hands in and around the era. Like the fossil record, it's a gradual change.

For example, what do you think the stroke order on the supposed he was to come out in that shape? When I write an Herodian letters when I'm teaching my kids during the week, the pattern and order is consistent, but the resulting letters will have *predictable* variance.

As such it's unlikely, given the way a number of the "letters" on the ossuary are written with the depth and connection of the scratches from different light angles and photographs, to have been "rote" Herodian, although by all accounts it superficially *resembles* it when one is primed to see a something and one is given an image from a particular angle.

One could come up with plenty of other interpretations *if* it's surely an inscription, because *if* it's surely an inscription it *must* say *something.*

But the better explanation here could be that it's simply noise and we need to discount all priming. An epigrapher works best when they actually have the artifact -- especially a messy one -- in front of them with no forced perspectives.

With this latest interview with Puech and his subsequent published correspondence, something further "fishy" (like everything else about this ossuary) has been going on, regardless of who is responsible.


Mark Goodacre said...

In other words, Bob, when is a nun not a nun? :)

But this gets to my point about testing. Where we have disagreement about who is seeing what, we need to find ways of testing the claims. And the broken "nun" in the CGI composite, produced before the alleged inscription had been found, is a witness against the alleged nun being present.

david meadows said...

dr cargill's cognitive priming comments are important and really do apply here in more than one way ... in our business (which includes epigraphy) we are trained to see certain letter forms and even words which may or may not be there. in my case, you might recall my reading of the other inscription (dyos) and with my classical training, i saw plenty of latin that had been transliterated into greek ... that clearly was an example og cognitive priming but, as my subsequent posts on it clearly show, i was not at all confident of my own readings because i knew they really didnt fit the conext. the only way jonah fits this particular context is if someone is looking for jonah ...

Jeff said...

I truly can't believe this chain of comments. First you say that there is no Jonah there and that no serious scholar believes that there is a Jonah there. Then, when Charlesworth, Arav, Tabor, Lampe, Tabbernee, Baruch, Hachlili and now Puech - some of the greatest scholars on the planet - all say that it says "Yonah" (frankly anybody can see that it says "Yonah"), what do you guys do? Post emails by some guy named Segol trying to get Puech to recant - which he hasn't. And now you've got
a "cognitive priming" theory which basically states that we shouldn't believe our own eyes or the scholars because our mind plays tricks on us, manipulated by the evil Simcha. Frankly, this is really beyond the pale. And while you guys are engaged in this pseudo-science, Simcha has posted a wonderful new article which throws into question the common wisdom that the cross cannot be a 1st century Christian symbol:

Mark Goodacre said...

Quick question, James: when did Kloner commend the replica for its accuracy? I had forgotten about that. If you have a reference, I'd be grateful for it. Thanks.

Mark Goodacre said...

Jeff: Prof. Puech's full statement appears this morning on Prof. Tabor's blog. Segol has nothing to do with it.

Scholars' expertise, credentials and reputations are not in question here. Scholarship is not a playground game where we line people up on different sides, or pick teams. It's a matter of carefully and rigorously studying the evidence.

Jeff said...

Have you seen Simcha’s response to Puech? He takes Cargill to task:

Skeptic said...

When I first heard that Rachel Hachlili agreed with their interpretation I called her and we had a long conversation which again shows how they manipulate data.

She was shown a color photo of the ossuary, unaware that what she was observing was a replica. She noticed that on the left corner of the photo was a human hand which they forgot to crop out and inquired about the hand and it was only then according to her, that they admitted that she was looking at a replica. Which replica, only god knows. I would be interesting knowing what we do know now if she would agree with her initial comments.

Joe Zias

Jeff said...

Simcha has delivered a knock-out punch to you:

Dorothy King said...

Jeff, I understand that you are very enthusiastic about SJ's theories and that is wonderful but ... scholarship is not about "knock-out punches" nor is it about smears.

As a Jew, and one that taught at a Yeshiva, I have known Dr Robert Cargill for quite some time, and I can assure you that he is not anti-Semitic. Although he may mock SJ, we Jews can be mocked, in fact I sometimes mock him. I find these repeated suggestions by SJ that people that do not agree with him are anti-Semitic extremely offensive and they sound rather desperate.

I feel reactions to these sorts of relics are very much a matter of faith, and so I try to tread carefully as faith is a very personal matter. Whilst I do not believe in Jews for Jesus, I assume from SJ's enthusiasm for him that he does, and that may well be behind his views. As much as people claim that their religious views do not affect their interpretation of artifacts and historical events, I'm afraid they do.


Emile Puech has repeatedly made it clear he does NOT support SJ's interpretation and has repeatedly said that he was interviewed about Jonah in general and not in relation to this tomb, nor did he say what SJ is claiming he did. If anyone is being smeared, it is Puech by Simcha et al

Stephen Goranson said...

Jeff, since you apparently recommend the post you linked to, can you explain why it says both that the ossuary image (whether called fish or amphora) was seen 33 years ago and also that the more recent camera provided "never-before-seen images"?

Skeptic said...

What we are seeing is a pathetic 'rehash for cash' with the BAR Crowd. First it was the BBC Talpiot tomb story of 1997, which they failed to disclose and added their spin, not mentioning that it has been done and done with, within a week or two.
Then along came the 1981 tomb, published in the same year in Davar. The author, a PhD in archaeology and a real journalist, who correctly described the amphora on the facade. Like many articles from that period it was not on Google so they apparently tried to slip it by as it was their own discovery, never mentioning the orig. article as they did with the BBC documentary. This has been going along far too long and unless we are vigilant, their next film will be Jesus on Masada.

Joe Zias

MungaCH2 said...

When one would have an affinity with employing early Christian writings into gathering knowledge for the Christian faith, such as with you Mark, they would in that vein discover the doctrinal origins of these ossuaries in question.

Along with Holy Scripture and an anthropological view, the origin can be known, or tested as you suggest, forthwith.

Any ossuary which has the V marking, whether it is upside down or not, this is an indication that it is of a Christian origin; for it depicts the resurrection doctrine - Nehemiah 3:1. The V mark depicts the sheep-gate, where the Shepherd or Messiah brings the sheep for entry into the spiritual city of Heavenly Jerusalem, (Paradise). Note that the two leaved doors are open, signifying acceptance of the ossuary occupant/s in the name of the Saviour, into Paradise.

That ossuary then was indicated to be Judaeo-Christian, for the Christians of that time believed that the Messiah had come, whereas to the Jews who had not embraced Christianity, the Messiah had not come, and so their resurrection into Paradise was not available.

The marking may line up the lid, as an auxiliary function, but a glance by a Christian of that era would tell them that the ossuary was Christian, just by the open gate sign.

With the desecration of tombs happening at the time, discretion of markings was in order.

Any zigzag marking on an ossuary also indicates that the ossuary is Christian in origin, as they also incorporate the Gate sign.

Note they are on the borders usually, and like a wall, but as doors they are open.

Note that one who has the authority to open those doors has the key - in Scripture, the Messiah. The zigzag also resembles a key.

Any rosette or rosettes depicted on an ossuary - usually two and in the inner decoration - indicates that the ossuary is of a Christian origin. The tree of the pomegranate is known as the tree of Paradise, their flowers are the same as the rosettes. The rosettes indicate Eden.

Any markings symbolizing the twelve tribes indicate that the ossuaries are of a Christian origin also, for importantly your tribe has its own gate to enter the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Markings are indexed to The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, as outlined in the Testament of Judah.

This discussion concerns the 'Jonah Ossuary'. This ossuary has the markings outlined as 'mountains' attributed to the tribe of Joseph. James D. Tabor has noted the zigzags and he sees an inscription, do you see the mountains, James?

The Amphora decoration looks like a fish, the holy Spirit symbol, it has handles for the bishop to give the kneeling follower the Eucharist. Jesus Christ is known as the bread of life, in partly discerning the other main decoration. Joseph is the figurehead for Jesus Christ - Testament of Naphtali.

The indications given of the Jonah Ossuary tells us it is of Christian origin.

Talpiot Tomb A - family of Jesus:

That Jesus being attributed to Jesus the Christ, son of Joseph the Carpenter, is fallacious.
The Jesus of Christianity is of the Tribe of Judah. That tribe has the asymmetrical zigzag cut on the rosettes, not seen in Talpiot Tomb A. The tribe outlined 'heaven' to Reuben, is seen.

The outline of the tribes indexed in Judah's testament when known, make tenebrous decoration depictions clear.

For the actual heritage factors that could be obtained through categorizing the tribes, gives decorated ossuaries and their craftsmen and bones, veneration.

MungaCH2 said...

Following on, by discerning more fully the Jonah ossuary decorations and their Christian origin, it can be determined that the other main decoration with the amphora, is primarily an oven.

With the amphora symbolizing the wine, the other main decoration symbolizes the bread - wine and bread being for the Eucharist. As wine comes forth from the amphora, the bread comes forth from the oven.

When looking at the actual photos of the Jonah ossuary (TaborBlog), we can see that the inner area of the front oven decoration is not empty as in the replica, but has in the top right and lower right the steep zigzag mountain design. When composed aesthetically, it would fill most of the inner oven area, and it then symbolizes the bread.

The front oven is seen in the photos to be slightly concave at the top, with the side decoration more plainly an oval oven. The cross on the side decoration also symbolizes the bread, and when the four pieces cut are taken, the cross is left bare, with the nail in the middle.

To the Christian, the Eucharist bread symbolizes the body of Christ. In the decorations The living bread is seen coming forth from the oven, unharmed by the fire. Therefore the oven decoration can also be seen as a tomb, with Jesus the Christ, the living bread coming forth.

On a further look at the amphora shaped like a fish, in the photos the bulb at the mouth of the fish looks like a stater - Matthew 17:27, with an embossed right profile in a downward position.
The side decoration looks more like an amphora, with its higher handles.

With the main tenet being the Eucharist outlined in the decorations as discerned, the Jonah Ossuary is indicated moreover as Christian in origin.

These indications are etched in stone, and can't be ignored in anyone's preconceptions of the Jonah Ossuary being non-Christian in origin.

Lyn said...

Mark, Sorry I'm late to this party, but I just have to say this. Jacobovici strikes me as a true narcissist. Forget about the hackneyed representation that word may bring to mind: the self-idolizing nymph falling in love with its own image in the crystal clear waters of the pool... A narcissist dislikes anyone who falls into disagreement, or even challenges/questions their opinion. The narcissist has a visceral, aggressive reaction to such perceived threats, and they turn the discussion, no matter how scholarly, into a *personal* attack. When we were kids, we used to give a wide berth around the playground to avoid a bully near the swing set. Just so, the best way to handle a narcissist is to ignore his "scholarly" opinions. Nothing will quite so irk his ego like dead silence from his highly respected colleagues....