“Men are often unjust by omissions, as well as by commissions.”
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.5.1
“For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic.”
- Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the
Criticisms of the Film,” jamestabor.com, June 22, 2011, p. 45.
Marcus Aurelius suggested that there are two kinds of sins: those committed by commission, and those committed by omission.
And while the word “sin” connotes a religious wrongdoing and would therefore be inappropriate for an academic discussion of archaeology and the Digital Humanities, the underlying paradigm is unfortunately still quite apropos. Put simply: there are alterations that can be committed to evidence to enhance and promote certain otherwise unlikely interpretations of the data, and there are other instances where pieces of evidence are conveniently omitted when they detract from the interpretation being promoted by a particular scholar.
Unfortunately, recent examination of additional photos released to the public in support of Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. James Tabor’s alleged recent discovery of a “Jonah” ossuary suggests that the pair (and/or their artists) may be responsible for both additional manipulations of the evidence, and the omission of obvious evidence that does not support their claims.
I and others have detailed the various problems with the imagery released to the public by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor in support of their recently released book, The Jesus Discovery. Specifically, I have documented evidence of digital image manipulation on the primary image fed to the public (that also happens to serve as the pair’s website header logo) that has been variously described as a simple “blow up,” (Fig. 21, pg. 42 of Dr. Tabor’s original Bible and Interpretation article) then a “composite representation” (Fig. 26, pg. 86 of The Jesus Discovery), and then a “CGI enhanced” image, and finally acknowledged as a “computer enhanced” image on the pair’s website.
I suggest a more appropriate way to refer to this particular image is as a heavily Photoshopped, out of context, borderless, “computer enhanced”, resized, reshaped, color corrected, “CGI” digital artist’s rendering of the image, rotated out of its in situ orientation, complete with fake, limestone-colored “engraver’s marks” added to the area surrounding the image to give the illusion that the image is real, and with a completely reshaped, digitally generated tail designed to encourage its interpretation as a fish. We can let the readers decide if that image is simply “computer enhanced” or, as I suggest, wholly reconstructed.
I thought it ended there.
Unfortunately, my colleague Thomas Verenna recently drew my attention to yet another problem with yet another one of the images that Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor have offered to the public in support of their claim. This time, in addition to using Photoshop to “digitally enhance” an image to make it better support their claim, there is also reason to believe that the pair has omitted evidence that demonstrates that their proposed “Jonah fish” is nothing more than a poorly inscribed attempt by an ancient artist at an ornate vessel – complete with handles – that are otherwise common to ossuaries of that period.
Let us begin with problems arising with the commission of digital manipulation.
Problems of Commission
There are two major problems with the image below (from thejesusdiscovery.org, Image 16, captioned “Fish in the margins”): one of omission and one of commission.
[UPDATE: Since I published this article on Mar 13, 2012 at 11:49am Central Daylight Time, the thejesusdiscovery.org website has removed the doctored image below. To fix the missing image in this article resulting from its deletion, I have replaced it here with the copy of the image I downloaded from the publicly accessible "Press Kit Photos and Graphics" section. However, I have left the original URL of the removed image in the caption for reference. ]
Let us first address the evidence of commission, specifically, evidence of digital manipulation to the above image to encourage an interpretation of images as fish.
The photo below is the “Fish in the margins” image, which has been cropped to remove the heading, and which has had the “brightness” increased a level of 52 and the “contrast” increased a level of 92. Increasing the brightness and contrast makes dark images easier to see, and increasing the contrast makes different elements on the image stand out against one another.
The first thing one notices in the above image put forth by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor is that the image has obviously been digitally “spotlighted,” or enhanced in such a way so as to brighten and draw attention to certain objects in the image.
While the addition of a Photoshop “spotlight” filter is technically a digital alteration to the otherwise untouched digital photograph, if the image experienced only digital highlighting, which is easily recognized as an artificial enhancement to the image for the purposes of focusing attention upon certain areas without otherwise making changes to the integrity of the digital data preserved in the image, this “spotlighting” does not really rise to the level of “data manipulation.”
Unfortunately, this simple “spotlighting” is not the only manipulation made to the image, and the additional alterations that have been made to the photograph appear designed to create the illusion that there are “fish swimming” in the margins of the photo (hence the image’s title, “Fish in the margins”), with the hopes of thereby enhancing the authors’ claim that the image just beneath the “spotlighted” border is a fish and not a vessel of some sort.
The causal observer may miss the more cleverly disguised alterations to this image. However, a closer examination of the above image reveals that the “Fish in the margins” image has been digitally “inked” using a Photoshop “pencil” or “brush” tool. That is, a careful look at the three proposed “fishes” betrays the fact that each of the engraved circles spotlighted above has had small digital pixels of color added to the grooves of the image to “enhance” the natural lines apparent in the photograph. This digital “ink” is not easily noticed because the color of the line has been carefully chosen to resemble closely the color of the surrounding engraved lines, perhaps in an effort to make the artificial “ink” added to the engraved lines look more natural. This digital “ink” was applied rather well in my opinion by the digital artist altering the image, as I did not notice it at first glance. Then again, there was no reason to suspect that the image had been doctored, as there is no indication whatsoever on the image or in its caption stating that the image has been digitally “enhanced,” “altered,” “inked,” or manipulated in any way other than the obvious spotlighting. Rather, it was only after a close-up examination of the high-resolution image that I noticed the naturally colored, but quite artificial digital “ink” in the engraved area.
Had that been the extent of the image manipulation, one might be able to dismiss it as simple “enhancement” for highlighting purposes. Unfortunately, there is a still greater problem with the digital “inking” alteration: the digital ink does not align with the engraved lines. That is, the artificial digital “ink” added to the photograph extends well beyond the engraved lines. This may have been done to foster the illusion of the presence of fishes (akin to the so-called “Jesus fish” one finds on the back of a vehicle) in the border, thereby encouraging, by similarity and multiplicity of the images, the interpretation of the larger image just below as also a fish.
Unfortunately, one quickly notices from a different photo, entitled “Fish in the margins detail,” offered to the public by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor that the actual engraved lines comprising this so-called “fish” in fact do not overlap.
The image above (which has also experienced an artificial Photoshop “spotlight” filter) does not possess the digital “ink” present in the “Fish in the margins” image.
A closer examination of this “Fish in the margins detail” image (above) reveals that the engraved lines of the supposed “fish” closest to Ossuary 5, in fact, do not overlap, and therefore do not form a little “Jesus fish” shape.
If we place these two images side-by-side, we can see the alterations that have been made to the “Fish in the margins” image.
The “Fish in the margins detail” image (on the left) clearly demonstrates that the engraved lines do not overlap. The engraved line forms an incomplete oval, with its opening on the lower left side. However, the digital “ink” in the “Fish in the margins” photo is drawn (quite remarkably!) in such a way so as to suggest that the engraved lines actually do overlap, forming a “Jesus fish” image. Let us look again closely at the digitally “inked” “Fish in the margins” image:
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.
Let us now examine possible evidence of omission of data.
Verenna suggested that the “Fish in the margins” Image (Image 16) depicts a visible “handle” on the left top side of the inscribed image that Jacobovici and Tabor label a “fish’s tail.”
Furthermore my colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre, along with comments by Don Griffith on the ASOR blog, have also noted that another image on the same ossuary, which I call a “half fish,” and which Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor interpret as a “Big Fish tail,” may also have handles and may also be an attempt at an inscribed vessel of some sort.
In the image below, I have duplicated the “half fish” image and placed it immediately beneath the original photograph taken during Kloner’s investigation in 1981, along with my highlights. A closer examination of this image below demonstrates that the “half fish” image does indeed appear to have handles on each side, beginning with a loop sticking up above the top of the vessel (clearly visible on the left), and extending down to the body of the vessel, prompting Dr. Goodacre’s question: “When is a fish not a fish? When it has handles.”
The “half fish” image (Image 46) from the thejesusdiscovery.org website reveals the clear presence of curved handles on both sides of the engraving connecting the top of the image to the body. Note the engraved line in the shape of an oval loop (spotlighted above) in the upper-left corner and the upper-right corner of the engraved vessel. And while the handle on the right is fairly obvious, there appear to be two possibilities for lines comprising the faint handle on the left side. One is closer to the body and would be congruent with the handle on the opposite side. The other possibility is a handle that arches farther from the body and appears to connect with the looped engraving on the upper-left corner of the image.
Note in the above Image 47 taken in 1981, the image clearly shows handles on each side of the vessel. The oval loop (spotlighted above) on the upper-left corner of the image is also clearly visible. There is a question whether the left handle makes a right angle (black arrows) and returns back to the top of the vessel, or makes a wider curve back to the top.
However one interprets the above images, it is quite clear from these untouched, original photographs that this image is not a fish, but an attempt to represent a vessel of some sort, complete with handles, attaching at oval loops in the the upper-left and upper-right corners of the vessel.
Or, to put it another way: fish don’t have handles!
But the oval loop on the upper-left corner of the engraved “half fish” image is worthy of particular note because a similar oval loop appears on the upper edges of the so-called “Jonah fish” image on the Jonah ossuary. That is, there appear to be a similar oval loop handles on the so-called “Jonah fish” image central to Jacobovici and Tabor’s theory, which have been omitted from much of the discussion concerning the image. And while several scholars have come forward now suggesting the image in question is in fact some sort or another of inscribed vessel, be it an amphora as suggested by Italian scholar Antonio Lombatti, a krater as recently suggested by Warden and President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Andrew McGowan, or an unguentarium, as suggested by Kings College London Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Dr. Joan E. Taylor, all agree the the image in question is not a fish.
To demonstrate the evidence of an omitted handle on the “Jonah fish” image, let’s begin with Tom Verenna’s highlighted image:
Unfortunately, the red line used by Verenna to highlight the handles obscures the actual engraved lines. Additionally, the long vertical line descending from the top of the vessel appears to be the border surrounding the image. Therefore, I have attempted to highlight the handle using other techniques.
In an effort to demonstrate that I am not adding or subtracting digital data to or from Jacobovici and Tabor’s images, I shall demonstrate the omission in a step-by-step process.
First, below is the “Fish in the margins” image available on the thejesusdiscovery.org website:
We have already discussed the three spotlighted images in the above image, which I have demonstrated were clearly digitally “inked” to appear like fish, when they clearly were not, as the engraved lines do not overlap.
But notice also the now infamous “Jonah fish” image just beneath the highlighted and digitally “inked” images. Specifically, notice the oval shaped loop on the top left corner of what Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor call the “tail fin.”
In the photo above, I have adjusted the “brightness” of the image by an increase of 52, and increased the “contrast” to a level of 92. As mentioned above, brightening and increasing contrast are common techniques designed to make engraved lines on objects more easily visible. Note that on the image below, I have spotlighted the oval looped structure on the upper-left corner of the large engraved image. Note that the oval loop is in precisely the same location as the oval loop in the above photos of the “Jonah Ossuary” taken in 1981.
In the example below, I have taken the same image, but this time added red arrows to show how the engraved oval loop proceeds up from the upper-left corner of the vessel, curves into the border (it is unknown whether the loop was engraved before or after the border), and then proceeds down along beneath the rim of the vessel. The descending etched line then curves back toward the body of the vessel. Note that the engraved lines comprising the handle are as clearly visible as other similar lines of the same angle in the same light that comprise the so-called “fish’s tail.”
In the side-by side comparison below, the shape of the handle becomes clear.
Thankfully, my friend and colleague, Dr. James Tabor, has graciously sent to me additional untouched, uncropped photos of the inscribed image Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor interpret as a “Jonah fish,” and has and given permission to reproduce these photos here in this article. In the images below, one can clearly see the oval loop handle at the top of the vessel.
A closer look at the above image in over-under and side-be-side comparison allows us to highlight the handles.
Additional photos from Dr. Tabor demonstrate the power of the robotic camera to peer behind Ossuary 5, which abuts the “Jonah Fish” Ossuary 6. These photos are perhaps the most telling of all as they reveal that there actually are handles on both sides of the top of the vessel.
If we examine the portion of the image behind Ossuary 5, a view made possible by the robotic camera, we quickly note that there is a corresponding handle on the top right of the vessel as well. We also note that the top of the vessel is, in fact, straight, and not bent like the “CGI composite image” that has been circulated to the press.
Again, a close up of the above photo demonstrates that the top corner of each side of the engraved image has a handle.
Thus, we now have evidence of engraved oval loop images of similar shape and size located on both sides of the top of both the so-called “Jonah fish tail” and the so-called “half fish” image from the same ossuary! And yet, for some reason, these engraved oval loops on the upper-left corners of the engraved image are not represented in the “CGI” “computer enhanced” “composite representation” image that has been fed to the press. In fact, it appears to have been omitted:
It is also noteworthy that prior to Dr. Tabor’s sending me additional photos from their remote penetration of the tomb, all of the other photos (with the exception of the “Fish in the margins” image) crop the handles from this particular corner of Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor’s “fish tail.” Or, to use filmmaker lingo, the proposed handle is conveniently “just out of frame.”
For instance, note that on Image 14 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, captioned “Original Jonah Image – no cgi,” the oval loop is cropped from the image:
In fact, if we examine all of the other images that had been released to the public, we notice that with the exception of the “Fish in the margins” photo (which was released to highlight so-called little “fishes swimming” in the border, which were shown above to be altered images that were digitally “inked” and made to look like fish artificially), all of the other photos crop the oval loop handle from the image. In fact, the new batch of photos released on the thejesusdiscovery.org website on Mar. 11, 2012 contains one additional photo of the tail (Jonah Image Photo 4), but it too is cropped precisely where the oval loop handle should be! That is, the engraved oval loop that I propose is a handle is coincidentally omitted from each of the images, including the “CGI” “computer enhanced” “composite representation.”
But what is even more odd is the fact that the oval loop and the line proceeding from the loop down beneath the lip of the vessel are, in fact, represented by the digital artist who sketched the so-called “Jonah Ossuary,” as well as by the artists that created the museum quality replica of the ossuary for Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor’s New York City press conference.
Note closely on the sketch of the “Jonah side” image, the artist appears to attempt to represent the engraved loop present on the ossuary. Likewise, if one looks closely, one will note that the artists who created the “museum quality replica” for Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor also appear to have attempted to represent the handle (or at least the inscribed line) just beneath the upper-left corner of the image inscribed on the ossuary.
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.
Unfortunately, if we take into account the visual evidence that has been omitted, and we acknowledge the digital manipulations that have been committed to the images, we are left with the following conclusions:
1) The “fish swimming in the margins” are the result of digital “inking” and are not fish after all, but simple unclosed, oval shapes used as decorations in the border.
2) The “half fish” on the side panel of the ossuary has clearly visible handles, and is therefore not a fish, but actually some kind of representation of a vessel.
3) The “Jonah fish,” which possesses oval loop handles similar to the “half fish” inscribed vessel (but which were not represented by the authors), is therefore not a fish, but actually an attempt at a representation of some other kind of vessel.
Because, once again, fish don’t have handles.
Thus the entire theory appears to be one big digitally manipulated fish tale (and not a fish’s tail).
Why Pointing Out Evidence of Digital Image Manipulation is Important
Some may ask, “Why bother?” Scholars have certainly asked, “Why waste your time debunking sensational claims that deliberately bypass the academy and peer-review to make a few bucks on TV and a book?” At the other end of the spectrum, supporters of Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor will no doubt say, “Why are you so jealous that you didn’t find Atlantis, the route of the Exodus, the nails of Jesus’ cross, the tomb of Jesus’ family, and now the earliest evidence of Christianity represented by a fish (with handles)? Why pick on Simcha and Dr. Tabor?”
These are both legitimate questions. Let me reassure you I am not picking on anyone. Rather, as a scholar in the relatively young field of the Digital Humanities, it is important, nay essential to distinguish between the use of new technology for sensationalism and quick TV profits, and the appropriate use of that technology in humanities research.
Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor’s entire project is based upon a new technological methodology and approach to archaeology. In that regard, they are doing the very thing that I did in my dissertation research – propose a new theory using a new technological methodology. And even if their theory were an absolutely solid, undisputed theory, complete with papers given at professional conferences and articles in refereed journal articles resulting in scholarly consensus, if the technology and digital imaging used to support that theory is not credible, or worse yet, shows obvious evidence of digital manipulation to favor the theory, it undermines not only their entire project, but the credibility of the Digital Humanities as a whole.
As a Religious Studies scholar in the Digital Humanities, my job is to promote and defend the use of technology to solve research problems (in this case, an archaeological one). There are already enough senior scholars who are skeptical of the use of any new technology that does not reinforce the conclusions they reached without technology. One of my jobs is to convince scholars that the process of digital reconstruction is a transparent, trustworthy, academically accepted methodology.
I don’t care if an argument pertains to Jesus, Jonah, or the Colosseum – my job is to promote and defend the use of technology in Humanities research. And when researchers do not follow standard practices of transparency, it hurts my own credibility as a Digital Humanities scholar as well. I’m trying to argue to the academy that the Digital Humanities are a good and beneficial thing, while others are peddling a sensational theory about fish on ossuaries and uploading multiple, unacknowledged, digitally “inked,” heavily Photoshopped images in support of their theory.
It hurts everyone, especially potential corporate partners like GE, who are quite proud of their new technology and of their potential applications. They report in their online company magazine:
Ultra sharp images were required to make the inscriptions on the ossuaries legible to viewers, so engineers from the Inspection Technologies business of GE Measurement & Control custom designed a high definition camera for the crew.
GE is attempting to demonstrate a wonderful new technology that could truly transform archaeology and could be an effective research tool in the Digital Humanities. Unfortunately, it’s first use in the archaeological field is by a filmmaker attempting to turn an inscribed vessel into a fish, which GE reports as “Move Over Indiana Jones.”
When this so-called “fish” gets debunked, and it will, how will GE feel about having its pilot use of a robotic camera scuttled by the academy, who refuted the claims of a documentary featuring its technology before it even aired? One can only hope that companies like GE will continue to support efforts in the Digital Humanities by credible scholars in the academy who will use the technology for real archaeology, and not for sensational television.
And just think: when Mr. Jacobovici’s pseudo-documentary The Resurrection Tomb airs on Discovery this spring, we’ll get to do this all over again.
Filed under: archaeology, digital humanities, religion Tagged: | Adobe, Amos Kloner, Andrew McGowan, antonio lombatti, asor, bible and interpretation, brightness, brush tool, cloning, commission, contrast, digital, digital humanities, digital ink, Don Griffith, fish, GE, General Electric, handles, healing brush, highlighting, illusion, image, James Tabor, Jerusalem, Jesus Discovery, Jesus fish, Joan E. Taylor, jodi magness, jonah, manipulation, Marcus Aurelius, mark goodacre, Meditations, omission, optical, ossuary, Patio Tomb, pencil tool, Photoshop, Qumran through (Real) Time, simcha jacobovici, spotlighting, Talpiot Tomb, Talpiyot, The Jesus Discovery, The Resurrection Tomb Mystery, tom verenna, whale