Possible Solution to the “Seaweed-wrapped Stick Figure Head” in the “Jonah Ossuary” Iconography

As I continue to examine the new, hi-resolution images that my colleague, Dr. James Tabor, has released on the thejesusdiscovery.org website’s “Press Kit Photos and Graphics” page (and many thanks to Dr. Tabor and his team for doing so!), I came across a beautiful, hi-res photo of the base of the inscribed image.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, captioned "Detailed Jonah Image - no cgi" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The image shows a close-up of the bottom of the image inscribed on the front left panel of Ossuary 6 (the proposed "Jonah Ossuary").

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, captioned "Detailed Jonah Image - no cgi" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The image shows a close-up of the bottom of the image inscribed on the front left panel of Ossuary 6 (the proposed "Jonah Ossuary"), rotated 90-degrees clockwise from its in situ orientation.

Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici interpret this as the head of a stick figure Jonah wrapped in seaweed, referencing the poetic prayer of Jonah from within the great fish’s belly recorded in Jonah 2:5:

“The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.” (NIV)

Many scholars, however, are now convinced that the image that Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici are interpreting as a “Great Fish” spitting out the seaweed-wrapped head of Jonah (and thus a reference to the resurrection of Jesus, as both were said to have spent three days in their respective places), is actually an attempt by an ancient artist at a representation of a vessel of some sort, which are commonly found on ossuaries from Jerusalem.

I have suggested in a recent post that the image we see on the front panel of Ossuary 6 is actually a vessel of some sort (perhaps a krater, hydria, or some other kind of vessel), and I point to the symmetrical handles present on both the body of the vessel and the rim as evidence, as well as similar handles on another image present on the same ossuary, which Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici interpret as a “half fish.”

One problem I have had with an interpretation as a vessel, however, has been how to reconcile the roundish engraved area at the base of the image (the stick figure’s “seaweed-wrapped head”). However, based upon the new photos released by the thejesusdiscovery.org website, I’d like to suggest a possible – and I stress possible – solution.

It is fair to say that the skill of the artist who engraved the image on the front of Ossuary 6 lies somewhere between the professionally made, inscribed ossuaries we find in Jerusalem, like the well-known “Joseph, son of Caiaphas” Ossuary (see front panel below) and graffiti (see side panel inscription of name below, which is more like the image inscribed on Ossuary 6).

Ossuary of Joseph, son of Caiaphas. Jerusalem. 1st century. Limestone. Israel Antiquities Authority Collection, exhibited at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Image copyright: Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

Ossuary of Joseph, son of Caiaphas. Jerusalem. 1st century. Limestone. Israel Antiquities Authority Collection, exhibited at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Image copyright: Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

Thus, while the “Patio Tomb” Ossuary 6 artist may not be a seasoned professional artisan, he still may have attempted some advanced techniques.

This may be the case with the base of what I propose is an inscribed representation of a vessel on the front of Ossuary 6.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a blowup of the area under examination; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved surface of the base in black); a Google Sketch-up digital model of the base of the vessel in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a blowup of the area under examination; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved and flat surfaces of the base in black); a Google Sketch-up digital model of the base of the vessel in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

Note that the roundish area at the base of the image under examination above is not actually round, but more of a sphere with a flattened bottom. Note also that the engraved lines used to fill in the area also appear to have a consistent pattern to them: those engraved lines toward the top of the sphere (above the artificially inked red outline of the inscribed image above) appear to all be curved down at their ends perhaps representing the curved surface of the top of a spherical base, while the engraved lines at the bottom of the image (the flattened part of the sphere below the red line in the image above) all appear to be straight or curve up at their ends, perhaps representing the flat, circular bottom of the base.

Thus, the roundish object at the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 may be an early attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist in perspective. This would be quite a fascinating discovery in its own right! The level of execution on the attempted representation of the base is consistent with level of artistic ability exhibited throughout the rest of the inscribed image.

I created a very quick Google Sketch-up digital model (blue background) of my proposed base of the vessel and placed it in its approximate orientation next to the image. I’ve also added representative images of bases similar to what I’m arguing the ossuary artist is attempting to represent.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist, perhaps in perspective. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a Google Sketch-up digital model (green background) showing the possible base not in perspective in approximate orientation; a blowup of the area under examination with artificially added red ink outlining the border not in perspective; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved and flat surfaces of the base in black) in perspective; a Google Sketch-up digital model (blue background) of the base of the vessel in perspective in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist, perhaps in perspective. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a Google Sketch-up digital model (green background) showing the possible base not in perspective in approximate orientation; a blowup of the area under examination with artificially added red ink outlining the border not in perspective; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved and flat surfaces of the base in black) in perspective; a Google Sketch-up digital model (blue background) of the base of the vessel in perspective in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

UPDATE: I’ve also added a Google Sketch-up digital model (green background) of my proposed base of the vessel, which would show the base not in perspective, but rather simply as a flattened half-sphere.

Again, I stress that it is a possible alternative to the stick figure’s “seaweed-wrapped head” proposed by Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici, but I welcome feedback from my colleagues. I’d also welcome feedback from anyone who may know at other early attempts to represent perspective in art, especially on ossuaries from Jerusalem, as Ossuary 6 might be quite unique in this regard.

And thank you again to my colleague Dr. Tabor for making the new images available to me and to the public.


UPDATE: See Steve Caruso’s article on how correcting the base of the Ossuary 6 inscribed vessel for rotation and perspective causes the base to look even more like the half-spherical base a vessel.

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24 Responses

  1. Possibly, though I would not say the rest of the image shows skill at perspestive.

  2. Dr. Cargill,
    I would agree that your vase theory is far more plausible than the “jonah” theory. Keep up the great work!

  3. stephen, agreed. i’ve updated the article with an option for the base not in perspective.
    thanx!

    bc

  4. [...] images previously circulated were created based on multiple photos taken from a variety of angles.Bob Cargill discusses the base of the vase (or seaweed-engulfed head of Jonah), followed up by Steve Caruso depicting what happens when you adjust the angle/perspective on the [...]

  5. Robert,

    The discussion of “perspective” as it relates to the “fish” image is useful. But to my eyes, this potential correction not only makes the bottom of the image look more like a base of a vase, it also makes it look more like a head. So I am not sure how far this gets us.

    I circulated the “fish” image to three fish experts, two staff members of a large marine biology center in the US and one a renowned ichthyologist from Israel.

    When asked if they saw a fish or an inanimate object like a vase, both of the US fish guys had no trouble seeing a fish. As one of them said: ”I would have guessed it was a depiction of a fish more so than a vase”

    In response to the question; “is it a fish”, the reply of the Israeli ichthyologist is compelling. He states:

    “I believe that it is a triggerfish from the BALISTIDAE family. It is the only family presenting a first dorsal fin transformed to a strong spine; same for the ventral fin; the large distance from the snout to the eye, protecting it from urchin spines. I also believe that drawing shows the fish preying on a sea urchin.”

    The sea urchin reference is interesting. The ichthyologist wasn’t told about the Jonah connection. Still he sees something interacting with the mouth of a fish.

    So, it seems to me that it would be just plain silly to dismiss the possibility that this is a fish. Now you might say that you can see handles, thereby eliminating the fish idea. I can assure that I have studied these images as much as anybody and it is my opinion that it is more likely that you are seeing stray marks or artistic flaws.

    Even though I favor the fish interpretation of this image, I do agree that the various alternatives that have been proposed should not be dismissed summarily. Therefore, I am promoting the idea that the tomb should be reentered and that a full, well controlled photographic study should be conducted. Hopefully, you can throw your support behind this idea. Of course, even with widespread support, it is not a slam dunk that this will ever happen.

  6. I suppose it could be a base, in perspective. It looks to me as much like a base as of a head.

  7. Jerry,

    If we want to exchange anecdotes about ichthyologists, I can run down to the Marine Sciences department at Rutgers and pass this image around as well; however, I would not prime the pump with “Is this a fish or inanimate object?” (Which is basically exposing the subject to “Is this something that has been very well defined to me? Or something undefined to me?”; they will nearly always choose what has been well defined.)

    I’d present the image in its proper orientation and context and simply ask “What is this?” as that is more proper methodology, even for anecdotal evidence. :-)

    Also, Bob was kind enough to link to my blog where I actually perform the perspective adjustment in question on the image. The “head” becomes very “flattened” and distinctly demisphereoid, much like the base of a vessel, and unlike the head of a man (at least a man who hasn’t had half of their head dashed in).

    Excavating the tomb traditionally? I, for one, am all for it.

    Peace,
    -Steve

  8. jerry,

    thanx for the comments. and great to meet you in sf last nov.

    i looked up triggerfish from the Balistidae family and here’s what i found:

    The largest member of the family, the stone triggerfish (Pseudobalistes naufragium) reaches 1 metre (3.3 ft), but most species have a maximum length between 20 and 50 centimetres (7.9 and 20 in).

    here’s my question (and i’m not trying to be funny, but this is the next logical question):

    why would an artist choose a 50 cm tropical fish, more likely to be found in the tropical and subtropical reefs in the gulf of aqaba than in the mediterranean (joppa to tarshish), to represent a ‘great fish’ capable of swallowing a man?

    and why would the artist spend so much time illustrating the geometric designs on the ‘body’ of the ‘fish’ and then make a stick figure human? i’d argue that an artist is either a good, details oriented artist, or a stick figure artist.

    and besides, i’m not sure this is the דג גדול (“great fish”) that jonah 1:17(2:1) was talking about. i have found an image of a triggerfish in relationship to a human. i’ve posted it below:
    Triggerfish Bite

    i don’t mean to me skeptical. i really don’t. but this seem to have become a speculative theory in search of evidence, instead of evidence in need of a theory.
    it almost seems that it has become an updated case of the ‘biblical archaeologists’ of old, who sought to prove the bible with ‘a bible in one hand and a robocam in the other.’

    sure, it is possible to scan the world for a fish that might resemble the vessel on ossuary 6. but the triggerfish theory causes more problems than it solves.

    i certainly hope that simcha and dr. tabor are not going to make the tropical fish argument…

    again, great to meet you in sf!

    cheers,

    bob cargill

  9. Steve, yes it would have been great to somehow have conducted a blind study with the fish guys. However, its kind of hard to pretend that you are not thinking about a fish when you show that image to a fish professional.

    At this point I am simply arguing that a fish is a viable interpretation based on the visual evidence.

  10. Robert,

    Nice memory about SF. I enjoyed your talk about debunking bad history and science; I have read your work with interest since then. I do have to be honest and say that I have not resonated with your work on the Jesus Discovery.

    Why would an artist use a triggerfish or perhaps some composite of other real world fish as a model for the “great fish”. I think there is a simple explanation. The artist had never seen a “great fish”. Also, we might expect that he did not have any “great fish” models to follow.

    If it had fallen to me to create a “great fish” it would probably have turned out to look like a Muskie, which is the largest fish I have ever had in my hands. On our lake it is hard to get them over 40 inches.

    BTW, there are many varieties of triggerfish, all over the place and some of them have scales that look like some of the “scales” on this image – which is after all artistic in nature.

    Let’s just keep an open mind, it could be a fish.

  11. jerry,

    agreed. and i may have drawn a rainbow trout, as that’s what i grew up catching. but what i wouldn’t have done is draw a garbed ‘human head’ approximately the same size as my trout.

    or, as professor fernandez de la gala puts it:

    the diverse way that the two characters, whale and man, have been graphically solved. While the supposed whale shows a decorative profusion of detail, the supposed man ─who one would think should be the main character─ has been reduced instead to an irregular circle, completely out of proportion, with some poorly connected and not very well depicted stick-like marks. That does not fit at all. Bearing in mind that even the most elementary rules and anatomical proportions of a human body haven’t been followed at all, I sincerely think that your reflections on smaller details (such as an “eastern pose,” etc.) could be a sure and straight way to a fallacious over-interpretation.

    what i’d have been more likely to draw is a vessel, like on numerous other ossuaries.

    and yes, it could be a fish. it could also be an alien rocket ship. but most likely, it’s a vessel of some sort.

    cheers,

    bc

  12. Jerry,

    And I am arguing that the entire anecdote should be thrown out as rubbish because of the serious problems you have freely admitted, along with any “viable” conclusions made from said problematic anecdote. ;-)

    Joking tone aside, It’s the academically honest thing to do. No?

    Peace,
    -Steve

  13. Yes, the “head” size is hard to explain. Could just be a bad artist; or it could be a vessel of some sort – but what sort seems to be an open question too.

  14. Robert,

    You raised the point that the “head” is out of proportion to the fish. It got me thinking of the Jonah images I have seen from the catacombs. I didn’t do a thorough search, but I did find examples where there are similar proportion issues. Just google “jonah catacombs image”.

    I don’t think the proportion issue can be raised as a serious objection.

  15. Steve,

    No, the academically honest thing to do is to be clear about how the information was obtained. It is not realistic to expect that all information on these matters will come from “pure” sources. That’s life. We do the best we can.

  16. Jerry,

    I think a misshapened stick figure head disproportionately appearing beneath the closed mouth of a 50 cm tropical fish should at least cause some reason for objection.

    bc

  17. Jerry,

    Indeed, and when the information obtained is a problematic anecdote, we reject it. It has nothing to do with “pure” sources in this case (all sources have bias), it has to do with proper sources (where bias is mitigated by using well established and well known methods).

    I believe that Bob’s latest comment puts it best.

    Peace,
    -Steve

  18. Robert,

    Yes, there is some reason for objection, just not total denial. For example, I am not enthusiastic about the stick figure idea. A head wrapped in seaweed I can see, but for me the stick figure is a stretch.

  19. Jerry,
    I can appreciate that.
    I think that an interpretation as a vessel, however, has a ton of precedence, explains the handles, explains the geometry in the mid-section, explains the orientation, explains the flattened-half-spherical base, explains the handles on the vessel on the other panel, and doesn’t require digital inking to make it look the way it does.
    But I agree that the stick figure is a bit of a stretch.
    Cheers,
    BC

  20. [...] know this to be true because the same Jerry Lutgen made the same comments on my blog, where he wrote: I circulated the “fish” image to three fish experts, two staff [...]

  21. [...] attempt at representing a half-spherical (or hemispherical, or echinus – HT: compsciphi ;-) base of a vessel. Note the difference in shape between the CGI composite representation above and the [...]

  22. [...] book, much of which focused upon their iconographic interpretations including the claim of a “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah“), attention turned to a new discovery credited by Dr. Tabor to Dr. James Charlesworth of [...]

  23. […] just as I’ve written before, the “Seaweed Wrapped Head” of “Jonah” is actually an attempt at a […]

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