the “jonah ossuary” theory has finally “jumped the shark” (only, it’s a tropical fish)

I recently read the latest post by Dr. James Tabor on his blog.

While arguing that the image on the front of Ossuary 6 should be viewed as a fish seen from its side, Dr. Tabor states at one point:

“Jerry Lutgen showed our image to a couple of marine biologists in Florida recently and they both immediately identified it as a fairly accurate drawing of a common fish.”

I 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 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…

What Dr. Tabor didn’t mention in his blog is that Mr. Lutgen’s ichthyologist friend identified the Ossuary 6 image specifically as a triggerfish of the family Balistidae. I have included a picture of a triggerfish below.

Queen Triggerfish (Image via Wikipedia)

A Queen Triggerfish (of family Balistidae), rotated 90-degrees clockwise to place specimen on its side and in the necessary orientation to correspond to the so-called "Jonah Ossuary." (Image via Wikipedia:

Of course, the problem with this (and perhaps the reason Dr. Tabor didn’t mention it) is that triggerfishes are tropical fish that range from 20-50 cm (not meters, centimeters!) long, with the largest species (the stone triggerfish) maxing out at one meter long:

Triggerfishes are about 40 species of often brightly colored fishes of the family Balistidae. Often marked by lines and spots, they inhabit tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the world, with the greatest species richness in the Indo-Pacific. Most are found in relatively shallow, coastal habitats, especially at coral reefs…

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).

You read that correctly: the “Jonah’s Great Fish” tale has become so precarious, that the theory of a “fish” depicted on Ossuary 6 has come to rely on its similarity to a 50 cm tropical fish.

I would show you an image of a “seaweed wrapped head of a stick figure” coming out of the mouth of a triggerfish, but the only photo I could find of a triggerfish of the family Balistidae in relation to a human is this picture of a triggerfish bite to a human hand received from a ill-tempered specimen:

Triggerfish bite

A triggerfish bite. No wonder the artist of the "Jonah Ossuary" drew a stick figure: they are easier for tropical fish to swallow.

Therefore, as a public service, I have provided the chart below to demonstrate the mental back flips one must perform in order to arrive at the conclusions Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are drawing from the evidence before us:

The Anatomy of the "Jonah Ossuary" Theory. These are the steps one must accept in order to conclude that a 50 cm tropical fish is the inspiration behind the image of a supposed "great fish" inscribed on Ossuary 6.

The Anatomy of the "Jonah Ossuary" Theory. These are the steps one must accept in order to conclude that a 50 cm tropical fish is the inspiration behind the image of a supposed "great fish" inscribed on Ossuary 6.

I’m just not certain that this is the דג גדול (“great fish”) that Jonah 1:17 (2:1) was talking about.

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 said artist spend so much time illustrating the relatively intricate geometric designs on the “body” of the vessel “fish” and then make a stick figure human?

Not to add yet another fish pun to the mix, but I now believe the entire “Jonah Ossuary” theory has officially “jumped the shark.” For those not familiar:

Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show sensational archaeological theory when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. The phrase is also used to refer to a particular scene, episode or aspect of a show the supposed “evidence” in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.

I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to say it. There are no fishes on the ossuary. The “fish in the margins” are not fish. (They are oval decorations.) The “half fish” is not a fish (It is a vessel with visible handles on each side). And the “Jonah fish” is not a fish. (It, too, is a vessel with handles on each side.) The “seaweed wrapped head” is not a seaweed wrapped head. (It is the base of the vessel). And the inscription does not say what Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor say it says (see also here).

I have no problem with Dr. Tabor’s argument that the “sign of Jonah” and the iconography of a “great fish” are symbolic of resurrection. None whatsoever. It has much merit. The problem is, we simply don’t have fish or the “sign of Jonah” in the “Patio Tomb,” not with the iconography, not with the inscription. And with the recent appeals to parallels with tropical fish, I’m afraid all we’re now at the moment where Fonzie “jumps the shark,” only in this case, it’s a tropical fish, thereby signalling the beginning of the end of this entire ordeal.

(And the Resurrection Tomb documentary hasn’t even aired yet.)

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14 Responses

  1. Great post. I laughed. I cried. I now will say “Jonah and the Triggerfish” for years to come.

  2. Dr. Cargil,

    Excellent job! I agree that you have a compelling case that casts doubts on the conclusions reached about the ossuary.

    However, why did you go with the “Despicable Me” shrink ray over the “Honey! I shrunk I kids!” shrink ray? Rick Moranous is much more fitting in debunking the argument.

  3. Ha! Well done, Bob. Charts make for great tools to demonstrate logical leaps.

  4. [...] via the “jonah ossuary” theory has finally “jumped the shark” (only, it’s a tropical fish) « …. [...]

  5. Steve,

    Agreed. “Honey! I Shrunk I Kids!” is a good option. I also considered Dr. Doofenshmirtz’ “Shrinkinator” from Phineas and Ferb, but the Despicable Me was the easiest to put in the graphic.


  6. The chart is my favorite part… I am waiting for you to make the current trend poster for this… you know, the “what I think I do, what they think I do, what my folks think I do… etc”… or did I miss it?

  7. [...] McGrath TweetHere’s the latest round-up on the Talpiot tomb discussion in the blogosphere.The title of this post comes from a post by Bob Cargill which responds to the suggestion that the &#….Tom Verenna’s reference to “leaps in logic” is presumably a funny allusion to the [...]

  8. Very funny Bob…you do have the talent…Take a look at the tombstone in the post, on a more serious note, and what kind of fish would you say the artist is imagining there, plus the cross/stick figure “Jesus” coming up above from the two fish. I could not go with the trigger fish similarity myself but my point was the angle from which one was viewing the fish, that is from the side not the top down? Maybe you had already gotten that point but I think lots of others had not. And I think that was also Jerry’s point…

  9. Now on a more serious note Bob, I have been sitting here thinking of the ancient doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Isn’t it in the text of the Protoevangelium of James that she is examined after Jesus birth and found to be still a virgin. Would not this doctrine of ἀειπαρθένος, aeiparthenos imply, as the Fathers maintained, that Christ’s birth did not diminish her virginal “integrity” but only sanctified it. I think this indicates Jesus, at birth at least, would have been just a few inches tall. You remember the Mr. Bill skits from SNL. You get the idea. But small as he was, as the Prophet declares, the “Lord’s hand was not shortened that he cannot save.” So maybe in the analogy of the “sign of Jonah” the fish was indeed scaled down to his birth size, since death and resurrection was viewed as birth into eternity. Is Jesus called the “firstborn” from the dead? Hence a tiny fish…maybe the ossuary image is even to scale? And that would fit the tombstone on my blog as well, as that fish looks like the one you might have caught in your grandfather’s creek in Arkansas–not a whale, if you had a grandfather in Arkansas with a creek.

  10. All of the photos of the four-line Greek inscription made available to our consultants are now uploaded on the web site, under photos and images. There are 17 total, including four in negative light. These are completely untouched, unedited, just as they came from the camera. If anyone wants to study them closely I suggest you print them out with a laser color printer, do not enlarge or blow up, as this distorts the pixels. In order to see clearly all the letters one must compare several photos as different angles and light show different features. Taking them all together all the letters become clear, including what we take to be a clear zeta/iota as the first letter of line 2 and a clear iota as the third letter, contra Rollston.

  11. Shouldn’t this be “The Jonah Ossuary Has Jumped the Triggerfish?” or “Jumped the Whale”? (The latter is for the more traditionally minded.)

  12. Holy mackeral! Well it sure looks like shooting fish in a barrel when it comes to taking down this new, (in my humble opinion) far-fetched pet theory of Mr.Tabor & Mr. Jacobovici. As is true in all fishermen tales, when telling friends & family about that huge rod caught fish last summer: “When in doubt, exaggerate”.And so it is with this blown up “evidence”, which isn’t presented to scale. (Loved your YouTube tutorial as well, by the way) Why anyone could swallow this fishy story hook, line and sinker is beyond me, It’s a good thing you opened up this can of worms, Mr. CarGILL.

  13. [...] “jumped the tropical fish shark,” Dr. Tabor is once again making a number of rhetorical arguments that attempt to distract [...]

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