Update on Second Talpiot Tomb

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.

Dropa Dopiness Debunked

Back in March I had blogged about the Dropa Stones, another insipid argument for ancient astronauts. Supposedly these stones, discovered on the Tibet/China border, contained “etchings” that told the sad tale of marooned extraterrestrials. That earlier post directed readers to a worthwhile discussion of the stones on the Bad Archaeology website.

Frank Johnson of the Ancient Aliens Debunked blog recently produced another worthwhile debunking of these alleged ancient alien artifacts. Johnson’s post references the Bad Archaeology post but goes beyond its rebuttal with respect to several aspects of the tale.

Truth be told, the Dropa Stone story is a contrivance across the board, one full of unverifiable details, like studies performed on the stones, museums supposedly involved, etc. It’s hearsay on steroids.

Margaret Barker and the Jordan Codices

This past June Dr. Margaret Barker was on Coast to Coast AM talking about the infamous Jordan Codices. Barker is a legitimate scholar in the fields of biblical studies and Second Temple Judaism. She’s a favorite author of mine, not because I always (or even often) agree with her, but because she’s out of the box.

My fondness for Barker’s work won’t stop me from being critical of her thinking, though. Her thoughts about these codices, which basically the rest of the scholarly community thinks are fakes, for very good reasons, are a case in point. But I don’t have to chime in myself, as a fellow scholar and friend of mine, Dan McClellan, has already done so. Dan is one of a handful of scholars who has followed the codices saga very closely and done a lot of work to chronicle it for the rest of us. I recommend reading Dan’s critique of her appearance.

Los Lunas Lunacy

At times I am asked about the evidence for ancient (Jewish) visitation to the Americas. Part of what prompts the question is inscriptional “evidence” like the Los Lunas stone. (Other parts are British Israelite and Mormon apologetic leanings). While I’m not one who rules out an ancient sea crossing by someone before Europeans, the Los Lunas stone can be safely assigned to forgery. No modern epigrapher of ancient Hebrew alive today would defend the authenticity of the inscription.

Here’s a recent (Feb 2013) lengthy article on the stone that tries hard to be even-handed. But even this essay contains damning evidence of the stone’s fabricated nature. For instance, when commenting on the thoughts of David Atlee Phillips, curator of Archeology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, the author of the piece notes:


“The smoking gun for Phillips is the “caret,” symbolizing a correction, a modern symbol. “I infer that the person who inscribed the words was not fluent in the language, but was working off a photograph or drawing and temporarily overlooked part of the inscription.”1 Furthermore, Phillips writes, “when you stand and look at the inscription, a glance downward will show the possible signature of the creators. There in the bedrock is inscribed ‘Eva and Hobe 3-13-30.’ There is an oral tradition at UNM that Eva and Hobe were anthropology majors who prepared the inscription as a hoax, and who were found out. They were told that if they ever did something like that again, their careers in the field would be over.”

Professor Phillips is quoted elsewhere in the article as confirming something I’ve already learned many times over about people who want to believe in things like the Los Lunas stone:

“As every con man knows, the essence of a good fraud is allowing the victim to believe what that victim wishes to believe. The ‘true believers’ I have encountered vis a vis the Los Lunas inscription fall into two categories. First, individuals for whom an ancient Old World inscription in the New World would validate their particular religious beliefs. Second, individuals who are looking to make the Next Great Scientific Discovery. Some humans are able to resist the temptation of the more self-serving path, but others are not—and once they are on that path, they use their certainty to determine which potential facts are correct and which are not. In my experience, once people have started down that path, they are quite impervious to whatever information I provide them.”

Impervious is the right word for it. Just read through the comments to posts on this blog and you’ll understand.

At any rate, for those who want to become familiar with the Los Lunas inscription, this article is a very good place to start.

  1. A better explanation for this may be that the forgers were looking at a transcription or hand drawing of some Old World material and copied the caret straight out of the transcription, not realizing it wasn’t part of the inscription, but an item placed there by the transcriber. -MSH.

Update on Talpiot B: James Charlesworth’s Report and Responses

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.

Prof. Robert Cargill on the Alleged Talpiot B Inscription: “How to Substitute Press Releases for Evidence”

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.

Two Items Regarding Talpiot B and James Tabor

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!

Richard Bauckham on the Flimsy Evidence for Talpiot B as the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea

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.

Is “Jesus Archaeology” Becoming Like Professional Wrestling?

That was the thought that hit me after reading “Scientists say Turin Shroud is Supernatural.” Now, you all know that I’m interested in the Shroud of Turin. (How could I not be when I write a blog like this?) Despite my ambivalence toward the object (I lean toward the skeptical end of the spectrum), occasionally something turns up that makes me think the Shroud warrants more study. This isn’t one of those occasions. The timing makes the motive seem pretty obvious.

If you’ll pardon my cynicism, this seems to be merely the “good guy Jesus archaeologist-wrestler” getting off the mat to drop-kick the Talpiot “villain” in a preliminary skirmish that will no doubt lead to a cage match, a lumberjack match, a scaffold match, or the ever-popular no-disqualification match. Yep, a good ol’ fashioned donnybrook is brewing. The soap opera script is getting some plot development just in time for Good Friday and Easter — in response of course to the Discovery Channel’s airing of Jacobovici’s latest “Christianity’s face goes into the turnbuckle” documentary. Are there any breath-taking barely-clad “managers” waiting in the wings to get involved? I did hear this week that Megan Fox wanted to do some archaeology, so give her a call, $imcha, it’s your turn to add to the drama.  I can hardly wait for the pay-per-view (until next time) finale! Spade-o-Mania time! (I guess you can all tell what I was watching during my junior high years by now).

Actually, none of this should be a surprise. One side will say this sort of archaeological chair-throwing is merited as a response to Jacobivici’s P. T. Barnum approach to archaeology. But is Vince McMahon the answer?