Tag Archives: james tabor

A Comparison of the First Replica

I’ve taken the time to further illustrate the First Replica next to the Second as well as what I’ve been able to trace from the photographs of the genuine ossuary. Click to enlarge to see the notes.

The first replica does well at reproducing some very strong visual elements of the original ossuary that are very prominent without knowledge of the alleged script. These are features that anyone would notice at a glance, simply because of the pattern the lines make: The prominent “V” shape between the “he” and the “nun” as well as the prominent “lens” shape between the “yod” and the “waw” as well as the “tav tail” on the “he.”

The second replica destroys and filters these features, instead leaning towards forms that better express “Jonah” with little ambiguity.

Additionally, on the first replica, the supposed “nun” is so very widely broken that there is no way to read it as one scratch. It also has some of the “minor” scratches that were prominent.



Robert Cargill, The Enforcer

“Acting like an enforcer, Professor Cargill has assured us that by next week Puech will recant everything.”
– Simcha Jacobovici
So yes, Simcha Jacobovici is once again crying foul after bamboozling a scholar to seemingly endorse his ridiculous theories, when in truth they did not and is trying to lay the blame squarely upon the shoulders of Professor Robert Cargill.
Since I am content in my little bit of satire of Simcha’s overly-dramatic sweeping declarations, apparently elevating Bob to the status of Dirty Harry, I will simply link to the pertinent exposition and critical commentary:

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre over on the NT Blog has brought to light that the “Museum Quality Replica” of the so-called “Jonah Ossuary” has been given a facelift in light of criticism and the shifting claims of Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor. Strangely enough in Replica 2 the inscription that supposedly says “Jonah” is almost too clear compared to the order of scratches on the first replica (which don’t connect certain “letters”), and more importantly the mess of scratches in the actual photographs of the genuine ossuary.

(This second replica’s all-too-clean inscription, by the way, was what Professor Puech was apparently basing his reading off of.)

Curiouser and curiouser. I wonder what Jacobovici has to say about this?

I have to say that I am disgusted.

It’s all fun and games to have a replica made to show off to the press. Seriously. People enjoy that kind of thing. *I* enjoy that kind of thing.

However, it’s another issue entirely to call something a “replica” that’s demonstrably not faithful or accurate to the original, revise it without noting the changes after criticism has mounted so that it looks more like what you’re trying to prove, and then use that altered representation to apparently deceive someone prominent like Puech.

It’s even a further ethical failure, in my opinion, to then turn around and use that person’s opinion (which one can assume has been misinformed due to the altered inscription; think GIGO) as propaganda for one’s own “crackpot” theories.

I’m with Mark on this one. I believe that Simcha owes not just Prof. Puech, but everyone involved thus far an overdue apology for these tactics.


For My Friends Attending SBL

Where I am once again unable to make the trip due to family obligations (one of which is the awesome fact that by the end of the weekend my wife and I will have been married for 12 years 🙂 ) there is one session I would like to remind everyone about as it is of personal interest to me:

Blogger and Online Publication
1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Room: W183c – McCormick Place
Theme: Media Relations and Popular Archaeology
This is a special session with filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor discussing archaeological claims and the role the popular media plays with scholarship. Christopher Rollston and Robert Cargill will join Jacobovici and Tabor to discuss the role of popular media in scholarship.
Christian Brady, Pennsylvania State University, Presiding
Simcha Jacobovici, Panelist
James Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Panelist
Robert Cargill, University of Iowa, Panelist
Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion, Panelist

This is certainly going to be an interesting one. It’s an “all-star” panel. 🙂

Although I have satirized and poked fun at Tabor and Jacobovici in the past (I admit more Jacobovici than Tabor, as he’s more prone to interesting soundbites 🙂 ) primarily for their work on the “Jesus Tomb” and “Jonah Ossuary,” I would really like to see what kind of dialog that can be struck up between them and Cargill and Rollston, as all of them have considerable experience with archaeology specifically vis à vis the media.

I also hope that Chris Brady is able to keep’em all in line (good luck!) and that they’re all in good enough spirits able to share a pint together afterwards. 🙂

Tell me how it goes.


The Talpiot Tomb Names: A Metaphor For Mark Goodacre’s Contention

This is what Goodacre contends Tabor is insisting upon.
Err.. read on, it’ll make sense in a bit.  Promise.
Bear with me. 🙂

So for those of you who have been following the latest on the Talpiot Tombs stuff, James Tabor has expressed what he feels is a problem with a common response to the claim that “the names in the Tomb are common” when he believes that they are, in fact, not.

Among those he mentioned who espouse this view is none other than Mark Goodacre, who himself wrote a response challenging Tabor’s list of names as untenable to begin with as a pastiche constructed from the Biblical accounts as well as from extra-Biblical documents.

Confused yet?

Wondering why there are bears at the top of this article?

Well, besides the fact that I like bears, allow me to explain both Tabor’s problem as well as Goodacre’s rebuttal with a metaphor about the Nativity. I’m not poking fun at Tabor or Goodacre (in fact if I’m poking fun at anyone, it is you, kind reader). I am simply trying to explain things in an easier way to understand them. With that in mind:

There we go. Here’s one that’s more bearable…
.. er I mean *less* bear–.. Nevermind.
You get the idea.

The Nativity is something that nearly everyone in the western world should be familiar with. It is a vignette of the birth of Christ in the manger with his earthly parents Mary and Joseph, heralded by Angels, given adoration by Shepherds and gifts from the Three Magi: Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.

If anyone were to come across these elements together, they would immediately say, “It’s a nativity scene” as that’s simply what’s in one, and this arrangement of elements is more or less unique. One can’t simply say “these elements are common” and that it’s by chance they all fall into the same place as the odds would very well be against them.

This is Tabor’s argument.

But then one asks: Does the Nativity scene actually represent what is in the Bible? All Nativities are actually a combination of the accounts about Jesus’ birth found only in Matthew and Luke. For example, Luke mentions Angels and Shepherds, Matthew does not. Matthew, on the other hand, mentions the Magi, and Luke does not. Some of the details from the scene don’t even occur in the Bible. To pick on the Magi again their traditional number and names are found nowhere in the Biblical account at all. There are also other traditional elements in the Nativity that do not seem to correlate with anything.

Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.
These Three Kings of Orient are Mariamēnē. 
In Tabor’s argument.
In the Nativity metaphor.
If this is confusing at this point it’s only because you’ve only been skimming the pictures.

Because this set of elements does not faithfully describe the Biblical account (as to come at this set of elements requires some selective picking and choosing from the Bible as well as picking and choosing from some late sources well outside of the Bible), the actual set, itself is meaningless for historical comparison.

This is Goodacre’s argument.
In summary: Where Tabor wishes to call what looks like it could be a Nativity a Nativity, Goodacre doubts that the Nativity represents the Biblical account in the first place.
I hope this clears things up. 🙂

Unfaithful Representation

The title of this article is what I believe is the biggest problem with the entire Talpiot debacle: The unfaithful representation of archeological evidence. Since I hope to be thorough enough in this article to make it my last post about the Jonah Ossuary for quite some time, allow me to start at the very beginning.

The “Fish” 

The original page 42.

Since the first press release of the Jonah Ossuary the multimedia was unfaithful. The very first shot of the “fish” that the public was given was simply described as a “blow up” (“A Preliminary Report” first version, p. 42).

The initial image released to the world.

However it was not too long before it was discovered that this initial image was computer-generated composite that was rotated 90 degrees to the right. Digital manipulation artefacts and damnable evidence of reconstruction were found throughout the image, which included (among other things):

  • Adding an additional line of ornamentation.
  • Reconstructing an entire “fin” of the fish.
  • Removal of borders.
  • Stitching artefacts between frames that were of differing perspective.
  • Cloning artefacts where details of the inscription were copied down in more than one place.

These criticisms eventually lead Dr. Tabor, at first, to re-orient label the image in his original report and re-label the caption as a “blow up” (“A Preliminary Report” second version, p. 42) without providing citation of any change, addendum or correction.

The second revision. Note the caption and how the image was mirrored from the one above.

The image in this caption was rotated back to it’s proper orientation, however it was mirrored horizontally to better match the image on the museum replica that was added above it.

This is no fish.

With its original orientation confirmed, It was immediately recognized by the majority of commentators as a vessel, not a fish.

Very quickly after further mounting criticism, Dr. Tabor re-labeled the image once more to “CGI composite of image” (“A Preliminary Report” third version, p. 42), again not providing a citation of any change, addendum or correction.

The third revision. Note the drastic change in caption and the flipped image.

He also mirrored the image horizontally again to bring it back to it’s original plane and orientation.

Throughout all of this, yet another image was featured at the very top of the Jesus Discovery website with the “fish” in yet another orientation.

And this version is still on their website.

All of this re-labeling, flipping, rotating and resizing in response to criticism was alarming, especially since it was done in such a hasty manner. It was as if footprints were quickly being swept up to leave onlookers with no indication of a mistake or any acknowledgement of what has happened.

This is even worse when the CGI image itself was shown not to match actual photographs, and when actual photographs were examined, the figure began to look less and less like a fish, and more and more like a vessel (and vessels are relatively common on ossuaries from the time period).

Even the “museum quality replica” did not reproduce a number of features that were present on the CGI reconstruction such as what Tabor identifies as “Jonah’s head wrapped in seaweed.”

The replica rounds out the shape of the bottom of the figure — virtually eliminating its original shape — to make it more head-like, where the original is hemispherical, much like the base of contemporary pottery.

This artistic embellishment is not faithful to the original inscription.

If that were not enough, there were some additional oddities present on the replica that were not present on actual photographs of the inscription… or at least on photographs that were not digitally inked.

“Fish” in the Margins 

On the museum replica, attention is drawn to “fish” in the margins of the ossuary’s border.

Very obvious fish. Where are they on the original again?

Images on The Jesus Discovery website originally showed these “fish in the margins” with digital ink over them to make them “clearer.” However, once criticism mounted, the original image was taken down from the website completely.

It was quickly replaced with:

  • Image 60, which shows the original inscription
  • Image 61, which has digital ink over the inscription to show “fish”

All of the images that do not have digital ink clearly show that the “fish” in the margins are ovals, not ichthoi, as the replica shows clearly.

Very weak “fish” with digital ink.
No indication of fish.
This framing is not faithful to the original inscription.

Filtered Images

On The Jesus Discovery’s website, digital ink was not the only tool used. Image filters were also employed.

Note the difference in color and texture between these two “no cgi” images.
The latter is enhanced with a sepia filter, which reduces important contrast.

Dr. Tabor was very adamant with his claims that none of the images were enhanced; however, the color and levels on a number of examples labeled “no cgi” prove otherwise.

“CGI” is an initialism which stands for “computer generated imagery.” Where Dr. Tabor may argue a point of nomenclature or technicality (perhaps stating that nothing was “constructed” in these images), a number of pictures labeled “no cgi” were raw where others were processed and enhanced by a computer with no distinction between the two.

This appears to make “no cgi” a label that is unfaithful to the state of the presented evidence.

The Jonah Inscription

Not soon after the documentary came out, “another discovery” was hinted to about the Jonah Ossuary that was “discovered” by Dr. James Charlesworth: That the very name of Jonah was found inscribed in the “mouth” of the “fish” itself.

As Charlesworth sees it.

The text, isolated and rotated.

Now, these outlines provided by Tabor and Charlesworth could very well spell out “Yonah” provided that they are a faithful representation of what is actually on the ossuary. However, that is once again the crux of the matter.

Several of the “letters” aren’t quite connected.
Other lines must be ignored.

There are serious problems with it, to the point that a large number of other scholars have been scratching their beards over how they reached this conclusion:

  1. Robert Deutsch reads YONAH
  2. Haggai Misgav reads [ZILAH or ZOLAH]
  3. Stephen Pfann cannot say without an RTI photo
  4. Ada Yardeni thinks it’s a decorative motif
  5. Gershon Galil thinks it’s a decorative motif
  6. Levy Rahmani thinks it’s a decorative motif
  7. André Lemaire says he’s very skeptical about seeing letters
  8. Christopher Rollston thinks it’s a decorative motif
  9. Eshter Eshel thinks it’s a decorative motif

And the list is growing.

Each photograph of the inscription shows a slightly different set of lines, even accounting for things such as color enhancement and angle of light.

This has led multiple interpretations depending upon which lines are taken into account, and which lines are ignored, showing that the series of lines is more of a Rorschach than a hard and fast inscription.

However, despite these shortcomings, soon after this “discovery hit” Dr. Tabor then published a press release with the following image as the only frame of reference: [1]

This is an unfaithful representation of what is on the ossuary.


From the very beginning this entire “find” has been handled sloppily. Where robot arms and ephemeral claims to early Christianity are fascinating, they do not replace traditional excavation and cataloging.

Furthermore, timing releases to be in synchronization with the Easter season without any traditional peer review beforehand is extremely problematic. Choices to tell a good story and make sensationalist claims seem to have been made over choices to present the evidence properly, and the fingerprints of such decisions seem to be all there.

I firmly believe that if this tomb were to be traditionally excavated that the evidence would be very clear that we are not looking at an early Christian tomb with “fish” on an ossuary labeled “Jonah,” but something much more mundane.

It would be something that the world of Biblical Studies would appreciate, discuss, and even “geek-out” over (as an old tomb is always fascinating to those in the field); however, it would make very poor television.


[1]  Apparently different press release sites selected different images.