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.

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.

“Jonah” Ossuary and its Decorative Markings Discussed in 1981 Publication

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.

Short Note from James Tabor on the Talpiot B Images

Just so everyone is made aware, Dr. James Tabor just sent me the following note in the comments:

All the photos that Chris and our other consultants have been using are being posted on thejesusdiscovery.org web site just as soon as possible. They show the inscription from all angles, lighting, and various distances so I hope this will help resolve the matter of the disputed iota/zeta or the iota that Chris thinks is an epsilon. I remain convinced that our initial reading of the letters stands. I look forward to hearing from others.

Stay tuned …

Something Fishy in Talpiot Tomb B

[UPDATE 3/16/2012: Click here for Prof. James Tabor’s response to Robert Cargill’s expose, the subject of the original post.]

A busy day for Talpiot-related news!

Not only did we have the verdict of the James ossuary trial, but yesterday Prof. Robert Cargill posted a very lengthy and devastating analysis of the various image alterations of the Talpiot B tomb “fish art” in this most recent tomb (with many images and illustrations).  The stench has become truly overwhelming. Some excerpts are worth including here (boldfacing is Cargill’s):

One can clearly see that the image has been drawn to suggest a “Jesus fish” image where there clearly is none. The “Fish in the margins” image contains artificially added, digitally “inked” lines colored to resemble naturally engraved limestone lines, which do not correspond to the engraved lines on the ossuary. The digital “ink” extends well beyond the engraved lines of the actual image, which do NOT overlap. This means that the image was digitally altered to generate the illusion of small “fishes swimming” around the edges of the ossuary, perhaps to support the illusion that the image just beneath them is a “fish” and not some sort of vessel.

The evidence of commission presented above is indisputable. An unacknowledged digital alteration was clearly made to the “Fish in the margins” image to create the illusion that there are fishes swimming around the edges of the ossuary. And again, this digital manipulation is nowhere acknowledged in the image or its caption. This is textbook digital manipulation of a image for the purposes of supporting a particular claim.

And…

Thus, despite the fact that the engraved lines comprising the oval loop handle are as clearly visible at the same angle and in the same light as other engraved lines comprising so-called “fish’s tail,” and despite the fact that the same engraved oval loop and handles are also clearly visible on the so-called “half fish” on a different panel of the same ossuary, for some reason, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor chose to omit this evidence from their representations, and chose not to represent the evidence in the heavily Photoshopped “CGI” “computer enhanced” “composite image” they have been offering to the press.

Ouch.

Cargill’s treatment is supplemented by another analysis of the alleged ossuary fish by Juan V. Fernández de la Gala, Forensic Anthropologist and Zooarchaeologist.

Just in Time for Easter Cash Flow: The Tomb of Jesus’ Disciples

$imcha Jacobovici has busy. And amazingly, Easter is just around the corner (again). Oh, the irony.

The man who brought us the error-plagued Jesus family tomb, then the nails from the cross, now claims that he has found a tomb which held the remains of at least some of the disciples of Jesus. Granted, the article at the link is just a preliminary news leak to garner interest for an upcoming press conference where the world will get to see what $imcha has discovered.  Still, this announcement isn’t encouraging. Here’s what we learn that supports the new discovery, at least in part:

  • This cave is nearby the alleged Jesus family tomb (I read in another article that the site is considered pre-70 AD; by whom I don’t know).
  • There is a Jonah and the whale symbol in it (a “Christian symbol” the article notes)
  • An inscription with the word “God” in Greek, the Tetragrammaton (the four-consonant sacred name of God: YHWH), and the word “arise” or “resurrected” in Hebrew
  • Apparently the Tetragrammaton is on an ossuary, something that (according to the article) has never been found on an ossuary. That would suggest a Christian, not a Jewish, burial

My first question was whether the site bears any name of a disciple. If not, why conclude it is connected with them? The feeling I get is that the only “evidence” for this is its proximity to the alleged Jesus family tomb, in which case we have a nice illustration of drawing a conclusion based on something one presumes to be true.  But even if the Jesus family tomb was really that of Jesus (which I do not believe, for reasons noted by many scholars since its announcement), do we have anything else in this new site other than walking distance to link it to the disciples?  If that is the basis of the argument, this is a disappointment. It’s not like the disciples were the only Christians before 70 AD who died and were buried. But in $imcha-land, that sort of thinking seems possible. I just have to think he has more than this. Otherwise, it’s just plain embarrassing. In fact, if this is all he has, I’m going to award him this blog’s second Ph.D. in Non Sequitur Thinking.  I hope there is more, since the alternative would mean James Tabor, a genuine scholar, will have sullied his reputation by association with someone establishing a track record that seems fundamentally bent only toward publicity and self-aggrandizement. That would be a shame.

 

The Talpiot Jesus Tomb

An emailer asked me about this today, and I was quite surprised that I had never posted this paper I wrote on the so-called Jesus tomb.  I blogged about the tomb back in 2008, but I never posted this link (at least that I could find quickly). So, here it is.