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!

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 …

Update on the Talpiot B Tomb Inscription

For those of you interested in epigraphy, especially that of the Talpiot B “disciples’ tomb,” here are two follow-up posts in response to the recent offering of Richard Bauckham.  One of the major points of contention in the inscription is whether or not the divine name is present — which hinges on whether the first letter in the relevant line is an “I” (iota). Christopher Rollston, whose post began the discussion, did not (and still does not — see below) see a iota for this letter. His view was based on his assertion that the epigraphic iota does not have a top and bottom line appending the vertical line. Bauckham was able to find some examples to the contrary.

Now Rollston responds in a new post, noting that, while Bauckham did succeed in finding some examples, the real issue is that the “IAIO” (“Yahweh”) spelling has two iotas — and if Bauckham is to be believed, the scribe wrote the two iotas differently in the name (the second iota clearly has no lines at top or bottom). Rollston says this would be utterly unique, and so rejects the idea as completely anomalous (see his post for how he translates the inscription). In addition to Rollston’s new post, H. Gregory Snyder offers his own thoughts in defense of an initial iota (but does not address the anomaly of the scribe writing the same letter in one four-letter name two different ways).

This is a good example of scholarly give-and-take. I’m guessing this won’t be resolved unless new pictures are obtained.

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.


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.


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

Talpiot B Fish – With Handles?

Those of you who have been following the discussion over the Talpiot B “fish symbol” will find this of interest. Kudos to Mark Goodacre for posting Amos Kloner’s 1980 photograph inside this tomb before it was sealed (see Tabor’s report) that is available on the “Jesus Discovery” website (NOTE per Mark Goodacre in the comments: this “fish” is the “half fish” on the side of the ossuary rather than the so called “Jonah fish” on its front facade). The “fish” symbol is visible in the photo. You can go to the post and click on Goodacre’s link to a high resolution image of the “fish” to see the point Goodacre is making — the “fish” has handles. This of course would be no surprise if the “fish” is an unguentarium ( a flask), but it’s not expected (!) for a fish.

I took the liberty of adding lines to the left and right-hand of the image so readers could see the point Goodacre is making (click on the links). While the (larger image) left-hand side has the most visibly clear lines (of a handle)

I think the (larger image) right-hand side does as well:


Looking less like a fish all the time.

And then there’s the issue of photo-shopped images of the fish symbol released to the public, as ably pointed out by Robert Cargill.

If you could see me now, I don’t have a surprised look on my face.

Richard Bauckham on the Talpiot B Inscription

I just read the the lengthy essay by Richard Bauckham entitled, “The Four Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B: An Interpretation” posted on the ASOR blog today. It’s fascinating, and exactly what I was hoping would follow the Rollston article. Bauckham comes up with some examples of what Rollston was sure did not exist — the letter iota with top and bottom horizontal strokes — and so the reading IAIO seems secure in my mind. This is what ought to happen in interchanges between scholars; one corrects another, and they collectively lay out the strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, for the millions who read only the first headline and its content, framed by whatever archaeo-bungling, headline-seeking journalist who wrote it, articles like this might as well not exist. That headline is now their truth. It’s appalling when that happens, but to deliberately cause it to happen is unconscionable. But I digress.

I would recommend the Bauckham article to all. It’s technical, but worth it even for non-specialists. His conclusion is that the inscription is rare since it couples the divine name, Yahweh, with Zeus. But he allows for another take on it. If Bauckham’s preference (the Zeus reading) is correct, why that coupling may have been done receives considerable attention. Such conceptual linkages were not that unusual. It made me think of how, iconographically, Yahweh is associated with Sol Invictus in certain Jewish synagogues that have zodiac mosaics. Such a linkage need not be seen as an expression of the theological compromise of Yahwism (it certainly wasn’t in a synagogue). What is unusual in the present case is the coupling on an ossuary inscription. Bauckham also concludes that the inscription has nothing to do with Jesus or early Christianity. To date there is nothing in Talpiot B that does. As I noted in a recent reply to James Tabor in the comments, even if the symbol is the sign of Jonah, a Jew could have thought of that story in resurrection terms (and connected it to three days via Hosea 6:2). Frankly, for Jesus’ statement about the sign of Jonah to have any impact (Matt 12:39), it couldn’t have been a Christian symbol at the time of the speaking. He was speaking to JEWS (Matt 12:38) — and so it would have had to mean something to that audience.  But I still don’t see a fish spitting out a man. The “man” seems like a blob to me.

State of the Question for “Jesus Family Tomb” and Talpiot B

I was prodded to write this summary post by Mark Goodacre’s most recent post on Simcha Jacobovici’s apparent obliviousness to the academic criticisms of his work by Mark and others. In a video dated to last year, Jacobovici pretends to be unaware of any mistakes in his work and its presentation.

There are only two explanations for how he “missed” Mark’s list of errors (this weekend will mark four years that they have been online) and those of others: (1) ineptitude; and (2) apathy fueled by self-aggrandizement. I’ll let readers decide which one makes more sense. My money is on the latter.

Mark, of course, good-natured as he is, seems to have assumed that Jacobovici actually cared about the discourse over the past few years and the past few days. I can imagine Mark doing his best to imagine $imcha pouring over the scholarly interaction, fretting here and there about how he could have done  a better job of thinking more carefully about the data. Forget it, Mark. That never happened nor will it. After years of blogging on paleobabble and the constant internet trafficking of antiquity-twaddle (and even more years of doing so by email), I can tell you from hard experience that the last thing people like Jacobovici are interested in is pursing truth objectively. They are interested in the “truth” of the agenda they have constructed. I know this comes across as harsh, but it’s just the way the paleo-babbling grist mill works. I’m more jaded than Mark because I’ve seen dozens of other archaeo-hucksters pretend that their work is so paradigm-shifting and intellectually overwhelming that it cannot be answered by mainstream “in-the-box” scholars. It’s PR BS; just part of keeping people interested enough to keep coming back for the next credit card swipe. And Jacobovici is better at it than most.

Consequently, as a refresher of sorts, I thought I’d put together a summary of where all this is really at — what are the main sticking points?

Aside from Mark Goodacre’s listing of errors on Jacobovici’s website presentation of this tomb, what has all the discussion of which Jacobovici feigns ignorance produced? What’s the current situation?  Here’s a list of the most crucial points:

The “Jesus Family Tomb”

1. The Names in the Tomb

A. Paucity of Patronyms

Most of the names in the tomb lack patronyms. That is, we have no idea of the relationships between the people in the tomb. This applies to “Jesus son of Joseph” and either of the Marys in the tomb. Jacobovici (and Dan Brown, another scholar) wants people to think that Jesus and one of the Marys (the one whose name allegedly reads “Mariamne,” and alleged reference to Mary Magdalene) as being married.But why not brother and sister? Aunt and nephew? Grandmother and grandson? Second cousins twice removed? No patronyms = guesswork. The same goes for any of the other names lacking patronyms. There is ZERO evidence in any ancient text that Jesus was married to anyone. For example, you can click here to watch some exciting screen capture videos of me searching the Gnostic gospels (in vain) for a Jesus’ marriage. You can see Goodacre’s list of errors in regard to the “Mariamne” red herring as well.

B. The Commonality Issue

Most of the names in the tomb are common. The retort to this is that the assemblage of these names in a single tomb is not common.  But how would we know that? Rahmani lists 227 inscribed ossuaries, many of which are from the same tomb, and so few family tombs have actually been discovered. The most reasonable scholarly estimates of the population of first century Jerusalem at no more than 100,000, most of whom were Jews (Samuel Rocca, Herod’s Judaea [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], p. 333). So let’s say 75,000 Jews in first century Jerusalem. Numerically, there would have been many more family tombs than have been discovered, so any estimate of the rarity of any collection of names is based on navigating without instruments. The point: Rarity in terms of the data we have is not the same as rarity in terms of the data that corresponded to a first century Jerusalem reality. Not having the latter gives no warrant to substituting the former and pretending it’s the latter. That’s a little thing I like to call “cheating.”

The statistical likelihood of this being Jesus’ family tomb is also greatly influenced by the name Yoseh. If this name is just a variant of the more common Joseph, the probability that the tomb is truly that of Jesus of Nazareth is 2-3%. If, on the other hand, Yoseh is a rare name, then the probability is 47%. Mark Goodacre has pointed out for years now that Yoseh and Joseph are interchanged in the gospels for the same person:

The difficulty over (1) is that the names Joses and Joseph are clearly regarded as similar or the same in the New Testament. Mark 6.3 calls Jesus’ brother “Joses” while the parallel in Matt. 13.55 calls him “Joseph”.  Matthew clearly regards Joseph as an alternative, preferable way of saying “Joses”.  Likewise, the character who appears in Mark 15.40 and 15.47 is called Joses in Mark and Joseph the Matthean parallel (Matt. 27.56).  Moreover, the fact that this character may be a different character than the brother of Jesus also witnesses against the alleged extraordinary nature of the name. The same Joseph / Joses variation is found in the texts too, and not just here in Matthew but also in Acts 4.36, Joses / Joseph Barnabas.

So, if we go with the data we have for the persons actually in question (Jesus’ family) the name is not rare; it is a variant for “Joseph.”

[UPDATE 3/13/2012: Richard Bauckham was kind enough to add the following note in the comments page regarding this name:

“There is an important point about the name Yoseh which is being missed. People seem to have accepted the claim by Tabor and the others that there are only 9 occurrences. But they get this figure by distinguishing between Yoseh(final he) and what Tabor says is “Yosi” (final yod). These are in fact the same. The latter should be vocalised “Yose” (long e). Yoseh is an Aramaic spelling, Yosey a Hebrew spelling. The combined total occurrences for the two forms is about 40, which means a considerably higher frequency. In this case, Yose is not ‘rare.’ Of course, it is also true, as has been said a number of times in these discussions, that Yose is just a shortened form of Joseph(Yosef or Yehosef), and the same person would often be known by both full and short forms. Matthew has Joseph where Mark has Joses, no doubt because Matthew preferred the formal to the colloquial form. The same could happen on an ossuary inscription or in other places.”]

2. Logical Coherence

A. Yoseh and Judas

The above issue with the name Yoseh is important for another reason. On one hand, Jacobovici would have us be breathlessly astonished with how his evidence coincides with the gospels, while on the other hand, we are to ignore where it simply is not. Goodacre succinctly notes this inconsistency in two regards:

(1) They claim that “Yoseh” is significant because it is rare, a claim that does not take the New Testament evidence seriously.

(2) They do not regard “Judas son of Jesus” as contradictory evidence for the identification with the Jesus family.

Honestly, we are supposed to believe Jesus had a son (by Mary Magdalene) and named him JUDAS!?  Yes; that is what we are asked to believe.

B. Logic Check

I can’t help asking what to me are some obvious questions:

  • This tomb was not hidden underground. Given its famous occupants, how is it that no enemy of the early church, Roman or Jewish, simply didn’t end Christianity by exhuming the bones of Jesus of Nazareth from his own tomb showing the whole thing to be a sham?
  • “Matthew” is a name on one of the ossuaries. So, presuming with Jacobovici that he is the Matthew who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, and that Jesus of course was long dead before he wrote it, how in the world would Matthew get away with that scam? No one local in Jerusalem knew it was a scam? Seriously?

3. The James Ossuary Debate

Most scholars believe the ossuary is genuine, but that the inscription (“James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus/Yeshua”). There are good reasons (here and here and here) to consider either the whole or the second half of the inscription to be faked  (i.e., added by a modern hand). This would make the related issue of whether this ossuary was one of the missing ossuaries in the “Jesus Family tomb” moot. Obviously, if if came from that tomb, then the statistics would have to be reworked (but that would not in term affect the Yoseh issue noted above, or the logical coherence issues). And even if it came from the tomb, the inscription could still be a fake (whole or part). Someone could have taken a blank ossuary from that tomb and added the inscription. The official final report of the Israel Antiquities Authority on this ossuary included these epigraphic experts (with their summative thoughts included):

The Ossuary Inscription Committee

Prof. Amos Kloner (Appendix 6E)
It is clear that the engraving on the bone box dates from a different period than its original installation. The inscription appears new. The writer tried giving the letters an ancient appearance by using samples from contemporaneous inscriptions.

Dr. Tal Ilan (Appendix 6F)
Even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume that the deceased was actually the brother of Jesus. But I am of the opinion that the inscription is a forgery.

Prof. Roni Reich (Appendix 6D and 6D1)
The inscription does not exhibit a combination of configurational or substantial effects that would imply forgery. But I was convinced that the inscription is a forgery when presented with the findings by the Materials Committee.

Dr. Esther Eshel (Appendix 6G)
From my examination of the inscription and the data I received, it appears to me quite clear that the inscription is not authentic, and was added at a much later date (possible in two stages).

Incidentally, the verdict in the antiquities hoaxing trial that involves this ossuary is set to be announced next Wednesday. Regardless of the verdict, it seems the inscription involved fakery judging by the links noted above. The patina issue as it relates to the inscription seems very suspicious.

The Talpiot B Tomb

My thoughts on this are captured in an earlier post. Basically, we have an inscription reading (for the divine name) that lacks precedent in terms of letter formation and a picture that is supposed to be a fish spitting out a man (Jonah), but the man is a blob. No man; no Jonah, and no fish [insert blurry UFO picture joke here]. I’m going with the unguentarium view of the drawing. It makes the most sense.

Thoughts on the New “Talpiot B” Tomb

Just wanted to check in regarding the new Talpiot tomb discovery (referred to most often it seems as Talpiot B). I’m caught up with all the reading available online, beginning with James Tabor’s description of the discovery and sketch-analysis (“A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera: Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem“). It’s the place to start. Here’s what you’ll learn: (a) there is an inscription on one of the ossuaries that Tabor believes to contain the divine name (Yahweh) in Greek, and that contains the word for resurrection; and (b) there is an image of a great fish / whale spitting out a man — i.e., the sign of Jonah, a symbol in the gospels for resurrection.

I have to say I’m disappointed. I was expecting more. The earlier Talpiot tomb (the so-called “Jesus family tomb”) was not only more interesting, but the issues just seemed to require more analysis. I’ve now read Rollston’s response on the inscription, and if it is correct (and Rollston should know; he’s an epigrapher) that the “I” of the presumed divine name can’t be that letter (it would be anomalous in shape), then there is no divine name. It would be nice to have an example of two contrary to Rollston before we allow Tabor’s reading to be valid. And it doesn’t seem to matter, since resurrection wasn’t a distinctly Christian idea. I have to agree with Eric Meyers who doesn’t think there’s anything to fuss about. As for the whale / fish, the blob at the end of it simply doesn’t look *anything* like a man. Just zero resemblance (maybe to Picasso it would be clear). The two other options offered by art historians are that the symbol is either a drawing of a nephesh tomb monument (see Cargill’s response for examples) or an unguentarium, a small receptable for perfumed oils used for anointing the dead for burial (e.g., Mk 14:3; Jn 12:3). I have to agree with Tabor that the nephesh option seems weak. I find the unguentarium option fairly compelling, though, especially for the blob at the top (example 1 and example 2, courtesy of Thomas Verenna).

So, I’m currently at “no fish, no Jonah, and very likely no divine name.” It just feels vacuous. And even if Tabor is correct on all these counts, there is nothing that actually connects this tomb to the other — it’s just a hunch or supposition. I’d sooner go back to the first tomb and have another round of research there than spend any more time on this one. It would be more stimulating.

The most disturbing piece I read on Talpiot B was easily that of Dr. Robin Jensen — Prof. Robin Jensen Refutes Any Claim that She Concurs with the Interpretation in “The Jesus Discovery”. If there’s any piece that all of you should read it’s this one. She describes her trip to Rome to participate in the filming of the National Geographic special on this tomb. It can only be described as a deliberate attempt to manipulate her status as an art historian for the sake of pre-determined conclusions. James Tabor responded to her piece in the comments: “Nothing was twisted. You appear in the film totally out of connection with the Jerusalem tomb, only the catacombs.” I’ll give James the benefit of the doubt there, that he’s being forthright, but his response misses the point. It’s ultimately not about where she appeared (in the final version) in the film. It’s about the fact that Jacobovici tried hard to get her to say something (or sound like she was saying something) she didn’t believe. He was looking for a sound bite, pure and simple (presuming she is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt her either). Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to this, since I have lived this scenario myself with the History Channel. The facade put forth is that truth is the first goal; her anecdote says otherwise.