This is about Talpiot B, the tomb with the alleged “Jonah and the fish” symbol on one of the ossuaries. Most people don’t think this is a coherent identification. I don’t (“Jonah” still looks like a ball of string to me). I’ve posted before about what the image probably is (here and here). Other scholars have accused the principle folks behind it of Photoshopping evidence. At any rate, here’s a recent update of the image — the work of Dr. Wim G. Meijer, via Duke professor Mark Goodacre’s NT blog.
This headline caught my eye today: “Turin shroud makes rare appearance on TV amid claims that it is not a forgery.” Why, you ask? Because last year at precisely this time — Easter — basically the same sort of story ran. I blogged it here under the title, “Is ‘Jesus Archaeology’ Becoming Like Professional Wrestling?”
Answer: Yes, but without the steroids.
So, for your reading entertainment, we have in one corner, Simcha Jacobovici’s latest attention-grabbing claim of a couple days ago, the “Templar Terror.” In the other corner, hailing from parts unknown, the “Turin Titan.” Maybe next year the History Channel can take some time off from its commitment to ancient aliens to have Hulk Hogan narrate a special on Jesus archaeology. He could tear up some manuscripts instead of T-shirts. Or head-butt some archaeologists.
Welcome to ringside.
Ah, it’s that time of year again.
Readers will be thrilled to know that Simcha Jacobovici is keeping his “just so you know that Easter is really about me and my ideas” streak alive. In the past, Simcha has partnered with James Tabor to bunny hop all over the Christian holy day. James is along for the ride again, but keeping a bit of distance. A good idea, since Simcha’s newest academic resource is Scott Wolter, a researcher with a reputation for shell-game research and less-than-coherent thinking about ancient America and masonic conspiracies.1
This time Simcha and James want the world to know that Scott has made an amazing discovery that validates their earlier interpretation of the “Jesus Family Tomb” of East Talpiot: a “Knights Templar” coin that pictures Jesus emerging from a tomb — and it must be the Talpiot tomb, since the coin bears a Chevron symbol.
Setting aside the fact that Simcha and James deny that Jesus emerged from the Talpiot tomb — which would slightly mar the new analogy just a bit — there are problems with Wolter’s idea.
Jason Colavito has put together a worthwhile essay addressing this claim. As Jason so succinctly puts it, “The longer you look the less there is to see.” Indeed. Any leap from the first century to the high Middle Ages is problematic. But for so many who want to connect dots no matter where in space and time that they are, a non-sequitur is a bridge to understanding.2
- Jason Colavito has documented Wolter’s flawed material and its presentation in a number of posts on his blog. ↩
- And think about this case: “That shape on a medieval coin looks like that shape on a first century tomb — they must be related.” Pretty stunning. I’m glad we don’t have people who think like this working on the space shuttle or doing internal medicine. I’m happy to keep them in Washington, DC and the History Channel. ↩
I’m a bit behind on posting these items, so my apologies. But I have to admit I’ve basically lost interest in it. I see nothing compelling in Charlesworth’s report, but you can read it for yourself. James Tabor naturally linked to it and has some commentary of his own. Mark Goodacre posted his thoughts here and here.
That’s the title of Mark Goodacre’s recent post on the Talpiot tomb debate. I highly recommend the post, as it illustrates this logical fallacy very clearly and applies it to the Talpiot tomb material.
Ah, the paleobabbling media now gives us proof that it is also clueless with respect to intellectual discourse. Mark Goodacre reports that Nicole Austin, the Associate Producer on The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (The Jesus Discovery in Canada) has accused him of slander.
So, let me see if I understand the power of Ms. Austin’s contention correctly. Mark and other bloggers have expressed deep doubts and reservations about the claims made in this “documentary,” and have made those reservations public, along with their reasons. And … well … I guess that’s all.
How dare they!
Honestly, I didn’t realize that freedom of speech had been outlawed in Canada, or that expressing one’s opinion about an academic matter was slander. Disagreement means slander? Really? Hmmmm. Can we disagree with Ms. Austin about any matter and not be a slanderer? Like her grasp of what academics do? Maybe the cure (besides requiring those who disagree to just plug their pie-holes) is that Ms. Austin gets to say things to the public and those who disagree don’t. We can just talk amongst ourselves (with the telescreens off, of course). That will work (in a world where TV channels are all run by a ministry of propaganda anyway).
The fact that some journalists seem unaware that disagreement is a significant part of academic discourse is just another reason why they should not be the starting point for this sort of material. Granted, that would mean less publicity and cash for those initiating the process, or for Ms. Austin’s production company. It may result in fewer DVD sales down the road. What a shame. But things will pick up when this all happens again next Easter season.
You can tell from the title of Cargill’s post that its content is pretty brutal. Readers know how I feel about using the popular media for “doing ancient studies” so no one should be surprised that I’m in agreement with his overall gripe. Like I’ve said on this blog many times — it matters not that material gets debated after the fact, because most of the public will never follow the debate; the original pop-media blather will become their truth on whatever the subject is. And that’s pathetic.
I’m a bit perplexed as to how James Charlesworth allowed himself to be put in this awkward situation. I can’t believe he wouldn’t know that his words wouldn’t get sensationalized to some extent. Hopefully whatever he publishes will be accessible to the public — it would add to the problem if he publishes in some journal that the masses don’t even know exists, and even if that wasn’t the case, most wouldn’t have access to the material anyway without a university ID. Let’s hope that much forethought was put into this.
I’m just reading James Tabor’s post regarding Prof. James Charlesworth’s apparent discovery of the name “Jonah” on the ossuary that purports to have a fish symbol on it. If that turns out to be a true inscription (looks pretty reasonable to me), then that would definitely help turn the discussion toward favoring a Jonah symbol on the ossuary. I’m wondering what Robert Cargill has to say on this since he has been over the photographs pretty thoroughly. Perhaps he will post something. But as I note in my response to Tabor’s other recent post on resurrection, a Jonah symbol doesn’t prove the tomb is a Christian one (but that isn’t integral to Tabor’s views on a “Talpiot complex” that contained the bones of Jesus). Still, this new discovery, presuming Charlesworth is parsing what he sees correctly, is just the kind of thing that I’ve been asking for: a data-driven argument, where the data aren’t easily co-opted by two or three other interpretations that seem more plausible. Stay tuned!
[Addendum: Turns out Robert Cargill did indeed comment on the alleged "Jonah" inscription: here and here. I'm still getting caught up on this one! The second post is much more substantive than the first, as it links to other criticisms of the inscription and offers its own plausible critique. Even more helpful is Mark Goodacre's most recent post (less than fifteen minutes ago by the time of this addendum) on this new proposed inscription, which casts more doubt on it. Looks like this is another stalemate at best, but likely falling short of even that status due to the "broken nun" letter (at least to me). Incidentally, in the Goodacre post, take a look at the CGI composite image of the round blob that both Tabor and Jacobovici say is Jonah, or Jonah's head, being spit out by the fish. It simply has no features of a head, face, or any other appendage that I can recognize. -- MSH]
I’m a bit late on the above post because I’ve been writing a review of Tabor’s stimulating essay on early Jewish and Christian views of resurrection. That review is posted on another blog. Please have a look!
I hope you all read the short but clear-headed guest post on Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog by guest blogger Richard Bauckham. Professor Bauckham does a nice job of succinctly demonstrating the tenuous nature of what seems to be the only data point approximating evidence for this identification.
Frankly, I’m getting bored with this topic, but will dutifully post updates (from either side) on the issue. Is there not *one* piece of unassailable evidence in favor of what Jacobovici and Tabor are arguing? Anything that doesn’t simultaneously invite two or three other interpretive options that, when considered, offer a wider body of evidence and greater explanatory power than the originally suggested thesis? It’s not an unreasonable request.
The ASOR blog has a short, interesting post about an article in Hebrew that appeared in 1981 about what is now known as the Talpiot B tomb. As readers know, this tomb is home to the “Jonah” ossuary, so-called because James Tabor and $imcha Jacobovici argue that the ossuary bears the symbol of a fish spitting out a man on it. To my knowledge, every other scholar who has examined photos of it rejects that view, including me (see earlier posts for reasons why). The point of bringing this up is that the 1981 article describes the ossuary decorations as “(1) Architectural features (perhaps of the Second Temple?) and (2) An amphora (Heb.agartal).” This closely echoes more recent interpretations offered by scholars who reject the idea that we’re looking at a fish.
The article ends with a question that seems intended to tweak Tabor and Jacobovici for this oversight. Don’t anyone fall out of their chair, but I’m inclined to give them both a break on this. I don’t know anything about the 1981 source publication (Davar) except that it’s just a newspaper. Since it isn’t a scholarly journal or trade magazine of reputation in ancient studies, the oversight is understandable in my mind. Why would a scholar be looking at popular newspapers and magazines? Maybe I’m just hopelessly jaded when it comes to popular journalism, but for me this would be like an erstwhile grad student finding something thought long lost in an American museum basement and then checking to see if the Saturday Evening Post had published anything on the item. I doubt most minds would be thinking it necessary to look in a newspaper in such a context. I’m betting ASOR has many archaeologists in its membership that do not consult old editions of Israeli newspapers when they find something that may have seen the light of day once before.