Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Changing Body of the Stick Man in Talpiot Tomb B

Last night, James Tabor announced some "breaking news", that James Charlesworth has spotted the Name of “Jonah” Encrypted on the Jonah and the Fish Image.  The observation is made in a Globe and Mail article, Ancient ossuary hints at earliest reference to resurrection of Jesus by Michael Posner, who concludes the article with a quotation from Christopher Rollston to the following effect:
I've looked at the photographs really carefully. The name Jonah is simply not there. It's really ridiculous. They are etchings that are part of the amphora. There are no letters.
I am not an epigrapher myself and so have to defer to experts like Rollston, but I would add that what he says here strikes me as self-evidently the case.  There are so many lines in question here that one could make them spell all sorts of things.  I might just as plausibly see YONAH written in the lines on the palm of my hand.

But there is another issue relating to this "breaking news" item. In order to get "YONAH" spelt out in the "head" of the "fish", the "letters" have to be distinguished from "the stick figure".  In James Tabor's post on the topic, he shows three pictures, the first a photograph, the second a coloured inking-in of the "stick figure" and the third a coloured-inking in of "YONAH".

There is a problem here.  Take a look at the stick figure in the new picture:

"Stick figure", new version, Taborblog
He's inked in in black, with a massive squished head, a body, two arms and two legs.  But as Stephen Goranson pointed out to me, the arms and legs of the stick figure have changed!  Take a look at James Tabor's earlier picture, published on his blog on 6 March.  I have isolated the relevant section of that photograph to produce the following picture:

"Stick figure", original version (cropped), Taborblog
Here again you see the stick man in black, with a large spherical head, a body and arms and legs.  Now compare and contrast the two versions.  Different lines are now being used for the man's arms and legs!

It can be difficult to focus on these pictures given their orientation, so I have rotated them 180 degrees and placed them side by side for the purposes of comparison:

The changing lines of the stick man Jonah (left: original; right: new version)

In the new version, he looks a bit more like a three-legged man with one arm.  Now the non-connecting left arm is no longer part of the man, and a new front right leg has been added, oddly enough also part of what James Tabor and James Charlesworth claim also to be the letter Hey (H), seen in blue on the original image.

If it is so difficult to decide which of the random lines constitute the "stick figure" of Jonah, it is surely time to acknowledge that this is not a stick figure at all, not of Jonah, not of anyone else, still less a "stick figure . . . ingeniously made into the name as well" (Tabor).

This might be the weakest element in the story so far, a story that is already beset with problems.  I may have to revise my Top Ten.

Thanks again to Stephen Goranson for pointing this out.  For more on the problems over the attempt to read "YONAH" in the head of the vessel, see Jim Davila on PaleojudaicaAntonio Lombatti and Robert Cargill (who finds Yo Yo Ma!).

Update (20.45): See now two excellent posts on the topic from Steve Caruso, "Yonah" ON the Ossuary? - No. Simply: No. and Jonah Inscription Problems & Other "Possibilities".

Update (17 May): See now Jason Staples, Stick Man Jonah More Unprecedented Than Previously Realized (includes comments from Simcha Jacobovici).


James D. Tabor said...

The problem is Mark, epigrapher or not, these marks could not be made into anything. You say you go with Chris but even the likes of Haggai Misgave and others are clear on the Heh and the Vav, disputed are the Nun/Lamed and the Yod/Zeta. I see you and Bob are having lots of fun jesting at this but I think it is whistling in the dark. We did not "change" the stick figure. It is there, as it always has been, but if you look at my posts we have never been clear as to how the three lines of the HEH fit in--I mention this on my blog--calling it a strange "F" image, not sure what it is. The stick figure is there, as is the eye of the fish and the four letters, but precisely which are what is open to discussion and I posted this new alternative that takes the leg of the Heh, which is absolutely clear, as maybe part of the figure.

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

"(who finds Yo Yo Ma!)."

Pity. I'm sure there's a Yo Mama joke to be made somewhere in there. ("Yo Mama so fat, the whale choked on her."?)

Steve Caruso said...

Dr. Tabor,

"Zayin" (or even "zai" if we want to go Galilean) not "zeta." :-)

Also after examining all of the images of the inscription available from different light angles, the "line" that comprises "Nun/Lamed" is actually disjunct which would make it unlikely to be either letter at all.


Unknown said...

Is is just me, or does Dr. Tabor's stick man look like one of Dali's melting clocks?

James D. Tabor said...

Yes Steve, zayin! Been reading Greek too long yesterday, had a class in Philo! Actually the "nun" is not disjunct. I thought that too but it is definitely connected. You are the Aramaic guy, right, do you see any letters here at all? Just curious.