Review of Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ by Robert Cargill on ‘Friends of ASOR’ Podcast

Friends of ASORI recently reviewed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie for the first ever American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) “Friends of ASOR” podcast. My thanks to Andy Vaughn for hosting.

Via ASOR:

**WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Listen to Dr. Robert Cargill talk about Noah (yes, the one who built an ark).  We asked him about the biblical and ancient Near Eastern descriptions of Noah, as well as his reactions to the movie (of the same name) released this past weekend.

Dr. Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at The University of Iowa. He is a biblical studies scholar,classicist, archaeologist, author, and digital humanist. His research includes the study of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, literary criticism of the Bible and the Pseudepigrapha, and the ancient Near East. He has appeared as an expert on numerous television documentaries and specials and is an advocate for social justice and public higher education. He previously worked and taught at UCLA. For more information on Dr. Cargill, check out his blog bio.

Stay tuned for a review of the movie Noah by Dr. Cargill.

 

 

Some Old Articles about Noah in Anticipation of the New Movie about Noah

In honor of the nationwide premier of Darren Aronofsky’s new Noah movie, I’m reposting some pieces I’ve written in the past about the subject.

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I’ll actually be providing a review of the movie for ASOR sometime in the next few weeks.

For the time being, allow me a few introductory remarks about some of the reactions we’re beginning to see about the movie.

Religious conservatives always freak out whenever anyone messes with their ancient myths. Well, allow me to clarify: as long as you retell the myth as it is preserved in the Bible, you’re praised as a good and faithful servant and an excellent producer/director/actor.

But should you explain the origins of the myth, or offer your own mythological interpretation of the ancient biblical myth, or vary it in any way, well then you’re a heretic destined for burning flames of hell and the movie is immediately dismissed as the fanciful ravings of a godless atheist.

Remember, a worldwide flood has been disproved time and again. It’s a myth preserved in the Bible, which was based upon much earlier flood myths that were incorporated into the biblical narrative.

So why can’t a modern director offer his own interpretation of the ancient myth? When Baz Luhrmann reinterprets the Descent of Orpheus myth as “Moulin Rouge!“, or the Coen brothers reinterpret Homer’s Odyssey as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?“, everyone cheers (including conservative Christians). But when Darren Aronofsky retells the biblical flood myth as “Noah”, religious conservatives weep and gnash their teeth. And why are biblical myths so sacrosanct?

Because many religious fundamentalists still believe the account of the Flood in the Bible is historical. They believe it really happened, regardless of what science says. The myth is to be believed over science, but only when the myth is preserved in the Bible. If it’s a myth of another religious tradition, then it’s OK to accept science, and even to use science to disprove the myth. But if the myth is in the Bible, science suddenly sucks.

Look, they are myths. And this is modern motion picture art reinterpreting ancient literary art. So relax and enjoy the movie. And trust me, there will be plenty of scholars pointing out the places where the movie deviates from the biblical text and takes artistic liberties. Just please don’t confuse those of us who do this with the religious fundamentalists who criticize the movie because they believe the worldwide flood actually happened.

Cheers.

You should be a Friend of ASOR

Friends of ASOR

The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) has begun a new program called Friends of ASOR that allows “friends” access to  The Ancient Near East Today e-newsletter and the ASOR Resource Page which is filled with archaeological content – FOR FREE!

Registration takes 20 seconds. So what are you waiting for? Become a Friend of ASOR today and get credible, scholarly, archaeological content for free.

Profs. Oded Lipschits and David Vanderhooft win 2012 G. Ernest Wright ASOR Book Award

Dr. Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University

Dr. Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University

Dr. David Vanderhooft, Boston College

Dr. David Vanderhooft, Boston College

Congratulations are in order to Profs. Oded Lipschits and David Vanderhooft on being awarded the 2012 G. Ernest Wright ASOR Book Award.

From Eisenbrauns:

We at Eisenbrauns congratulate Oded Lipschits and David Vanderhooft, who were awarded the 2012 G. Ernest Wright Award by the American Schools of Oriental Research for their recent Eisenbrauns book The Yehud Stamp Impressions: A Corpus of Inscribed Impressions from the Persian and Hellenistic Periods in Judah.

This award is given to the author(s) of the most substantial volume dealing with archaeological material, excavation reports and material culture from the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean. This work must be the result of original research published within the past two years. Read more on the ASOR web site.

We’re celebrating by offering all the books they edited or wrote for us at a 30% discount.

Congratulations to my colleagues, and let us celebrate with a toast at Azekah next summer. You’re buying. ;-)

YouTube Video: Digitally Manipulated “Fish in the Margins” Imagery on the so-called “Jonah Ossuary”

I have uploaded my latest YouTube video entitled “Digitally Manipulated “Fish in the Margins” Imagery on the so-called “Jonah Ossuary.” The video walks viewers through an illustrated version of an earlier blog post I wrote entitled, “Sins of Commission and Omission: Digitally Generated Marginal ‘Fishes’ and Overlooked Handles on the So-called ‘Jonah Ossuary’“.

The video points out 2 basic points:

  1. Digitally inked images were released to the public without acknowledging that the videos had, in fact, been inked (with ink colored to look like a naturally engraved area). (After I wrote my blog post, they later designated the image as “marked” and uploaded the “uninked” image for comparison).
  2. The digital ink does not correspond to the engraved areas, giving the illusion of a fish where none is present.

James Tabor is Correct: ‘It’s Anything But a Fish': Logical Fallacies in Defense of the “Jonah Ossuary” Theory

Dr. James Tabor has once again doubled down on his theory, shared by his Jesus Discovery co-author, Mr. Simcha Jacobovici, that Ossuary 6 discovered in a tomb in Jerusalem is covered in fish.

Having “jumped the tropical fish shark,” Dr. Tabor is once again making a number of rhetorical arguments that attempt to distract from the evidence at hand.

First, Dr. Tabor uses the straw man argument of “well, those who interpreted the object as a nephesh pillar have gone silent,” and therefore he (Dr. Tabor) must be correct. This logic, however, fails to take into account a number of possibilities including, but not limited to:

  1. They’ve made their analysis and they’ve moved on. They may still stand by their analysis, and they may not.
  2. They’ve followed the scientific paradigm of presenting their own theory, and then allowing other scholars present other theories, and they are now allowing those theories that appear to be gaining more scholarly consensus to stand.
  3. Because they’ve not said anything, we can’t be sure they based their initial analyses upon Photoshopped imagery (as I conceded I had done).

But this is an example of a rhetorical logical fallacy. Just because the initial critics have fallen silent does not mean that the more recent, more populous criticisms are not valid. Likewise, attempting to argue, “Well, because different scholars have proposed different theories, then some scholars who opposed us must be wrong,” doesn’t make the “fish theory” any more correct. This is a logical fallacy.

Second, Dr. Tabor states:

‎”…it was surely unlike anything seen on any other ossuary. That, everyone seems to now agree upon, even those proposing some kind of vase or amphora.”

The logical fallacy employed here is the errant assumption that because it is ‘unique,’ his ‘unique’ interpretation is correct. Dr. Tabor gets bonus points for an “appeal to dissenters,” arguing that because those who disagree with his interpretation also agree that it is ‘unique‘, that they must also support the remainder of his interpretation. They do not.

This is another example of a logical fallacy. Just because it is unique does not make it a fish, as it could be another unique object.

The third and perhaps most egregious fallacious argument is Dr. Tabor’s argument concerning the handles on his fish. I (and others, namely Mark Goodacre, Tom Verenna, Michael Heiser, ) have demonstrated in earlier posts that Dr. Tabor’s multiple ‘fish’ appear to have handles.

Dr. Tabor states:

Most recently it has been suggested by those arguing the image is some kind of vase, that it actually has handles attached to what we identify as the fish’s tail. A closeup view of this area makes it clear that there is certainly no handle remotely resembling that of a vase or amphora but just a couple of stray lines, unconnected to the image, that the engraver might have even made by mistake…It is also the case that the “handles” imagined on our other image…simple [sic, assuming 'simply'] are not there. The “handle” that is supposedly on the left is at a right angle and not even attached, clearly a random mark, and the “handle” identified on the right looks curved and it is also unclear as to whether it is actually a part of the image or a random scratch. (emphases mine)

So, according to Dr. Tabor, what appear to be handles are (in order of appearance): “a couple of stray lines,” “unconnected to the image,” “made by mistake,” “imagined,” “simply not there,” “a random mark,” and “random scratch.”

Nothing to see here. Please disperse. There is no handle here. You are "imagining" things. It is a "random scratch." It is "unattached." It is only a "couple of stray lines." What is highlighted in red above is "simply not there." They were "made by mistake." It's only a flesh wound.

Nothing to see here. No handles here either. Again, you are "imagining" things. They are completely "random scratches." They are just "stray lines" "made by mistake." They are "simply not there."

Of course, what Dr. Tabor fails to mention is that the ‘fish’ appears to have the same “imagined” “mistaken” “unconnected” “randomly scratched” “stray lines” in the same random size, in the same random shape, and in the same random place on the opposite corresponding side of the vessel! (Coincidentally, these are clearly seen in an image that Dr. Tabor did not show in his blog post, and that for some reason conveniently does not appear among the thejesusdiscovery.org website photos).

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel, er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

Handles on both sides of the Jonah Ossuary image

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel, er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel, er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

I believe it is apparent from the above evidence that whatever it is at the top of each side of the engraved image on Ossuary 6 above, the fact that they are the same size, same shape, and same corresponding location on both sides of the image argues firmly against any claim that they are in any way, shape, manner, or form “stray lines,” “made by mistake,” “imagined,” “simply not there,” or  “random.”

I don’t really know what else to say. Fish don’t have handles. It’s getting to the point where it’s become almost comical, and I really must begin to ask who it is that is doing the imagining…


P.S. For those reading who do not know me, Dr. Tabor, or the other scholars involved in this debate, please know that everyone involved has a very good sense of humor, which allows us to remain in professional conversation about the “Jonah Ossuary.” Several of us (including me here and here and Dr. Tabor here) have made use of humor, parody, and satire at times in our arguments.

In keeping with this tradition, please allow me to conclude with perhaps Monty Python’s best known sketch (and a true comedic masterpiece), which I believe best illustrates Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor’s continued insistence that the imagery on Ossuary 6 is a healthy, beautiful, easy-to-see parrot fish. Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are the shopkeeper behind the counter, and the rest of the academy (not somehow affiliated with Simcha or this project) is the customer. Enjoy.

Sins of Commission and Omission: Digitally Generated Marginal ‘Fishes’ and Overlooked Handles on the So-called ‘Jonah Ossuary’

“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.


Introduction

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. ]

Image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website captioned as "Fish in the margins".

Image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website captioned as "Fish in the margins". Note the spotlighted areas have had artificial ink added to the engraved lines to enhance their interpretation as fishes. (available from: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1)

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.

"Fish in the margins" photo with brightness and contrast raised. (Image available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16)

"Fish in the margins" photo with brightness and contrast raised. (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16) Note Ossuary 5 on the right is pressed up against the so-called "Jonah Ossuary" (Ossuary 6).

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.

"Fish in the margins" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. Time image spotlighted is the nearest image to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary (Ossuary 6). Note the digital 'ink' added by the authors suggests that the engraved strokes on the image overlap, forming a "Jesus fish" shape. (Image available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16)

"Fish in the margins" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. The image spotlighted is the nearest image to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary (Ossuary 6). Note the digital "ink" added by the authors suggests that the engraved strokes on the image overlap, forming a "Jesus fish" shape. (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16)

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.

"Fish in the margins detail" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. This image (nearest to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary #6), is the same image as above, except the authors have NOT digitally 'inked' the image. Note that the engraved lines do NOT overlap to form a fish shape. (Image available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=17)

"Fish in the margins detail" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. This image (nearest to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary #6), is the same image as above, except the authors have NOT digitally "inked" the image. Note that the engraved lines do NOT overlap to form a fish shape. (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=17)

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.

"Fish in the margins detail" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. This image (nearest to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary #6), is the same image as above, except the authors have NOT digitally 'inked' the image. Note that the engraved lines do NOT overlap to form a fish shape. (Image available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=17)

"Fish in the margins detail" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. This image (nearest to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary #6), is the same image as above, except the authors have NOT digitally "inked" the image. Note that the engraved lines do NOT overlap to form a fish shape. (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=17)

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 (left) and the "Fish in the margins" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website demonstrate that the digital enhancements to the "Fish in the margins" image include artificial digitally "inked" lines colored to look like naturally engraved limestone lines that 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 "Fish in the margins detail" image (left) and the "Fish in the margins" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website demonstrate that the digital enhancements to the "Fish in the margins" image include artificial digitally "inked" lines colored to look like naturally engraved limestone lines that 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 “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:

"Fish in the margins" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. Time image spotlighted is the nearest image to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary (Ossuary 6). Note the digital 'ink' added by the authors suggests that the engraved strokes on the image overlap, forming a "Jesus fish" shape. (Image available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16)

"Fish in the margins" photo from thejesusdiscovery.org website with spotlight Photoshop filter added by authors. Time image spotlighted is the nearest image to Ossuary 5, which abuts the "Jonah fish" ossuary (Ossuary 6). Note the digital "ink" added by the authors suggests that the engraved strokes on the image overlap, forming a "Jesus fish" shape. (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16)

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.


Problems of Omission

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.

The half fish image, captioned as "Big Fish tail, back of "Jonah" Ossuary, 1981", is available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=46&wppa-occur=1. The image shows what appears to be the top of some sort of vase or other vessel, but Jacobovici and Tabor interpret it is the tail end of a fish. One will note a loop (possibly a handle) on the upper left corner of the image, and also note curved handles stretching down from the top to the body of the vase on each side.

The "half fish" image, captioned as "Big Fish tail, back of "Jonah" Ossuary, 1981" (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=46&wppa-occur=1). The image shows what appears to be the top of some sort of vase or other vessel photographed during Kloner's investigation in 1981, but Jacobovici and Tabor interpret it as the tail end of a "Big Fish." One will note a loop (possibly a handle) on the upper left corner of the image, and also note curved handles stretching down from the top to the body of the vase on each side.

Image 47, captioned "Jonah Ossuary, 1981", (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=47&wppa-occur=1) shows the end of the so-called "Jonah Ossuary" and what Jacobovici and Tabor interpret as a 'half fish' diving downward. However, the image appears to have faint handles on both sides.

Image 47, captioned "Jonah Ossuary, 1981", photographed during Kloner's investigation in 1981 (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=47&wppa-occur=1) shows the end of the so-called "Jonah Ossuary" and what Jacobovici and Tabor interpret as a "Big Fish" diving downward. However, the image appears to reveal faint handles on both sides.

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 (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=46). Note the clear presence of curved handles on both sides of the engraving, connecting the top of the image to the body. There is an engraved line in the shape of an oval loop on the upper-left and perhaps the upper-right corner of the engraved image. The handle on the right is fairly obvious, there appear to be two possibilities for lines comprising the handle on the left side: one closer to the body (congruent with the handle on the right) and one farther from the body, which appears to connect with the looped engraving on the upper-left corner of the image.

The 'half fish" image (Image 46) from the thejesusdiscovery.org website (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=46). Note the clear presence of curved handles on both sides of the engraving, connecting the top of the image to the body. There is an engraved line in the shape of an oval loop on the upper-left and perhaps the upper-right corner of the engraved image. The handle on the right is fairly obvious, there appear to be two possibilities for lines comprising the handle on the left side: one closer to the body (congruent with the handle on the right) and one farther from the body, which appears to connect with the looped engraving on the upper-left corner of the image.

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.

Image 47, captioned: "Jonah Ossuary, 1981" (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=47). Image 47 clearly shows a handle on each side of the vessel, along with an oval loop on the upper-left corner of the image. There is a question whether the left handle makes an angle (black arrows) and arches back to the top of the vessel, or makes a wider arch back to the top.

Image 47, captioned: "Jonah Ossuary, 1981" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=47). Image 47 clearly shows a handle on each side of the vessel, along with an oval loop on the upper-left corner of the image. There is a question whether the left handle makes an angle (black arrows) and arches back to the top of the vessel, or takes a wider curve back to the top.

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:

Possible handles present on the "Fish in the margins" photo (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16), as drawn by Tom Verenna, Mar. 10, 2012. The red lines suggest possible handles on the top of an image that Jacobovici and Tabor interpret as a "fish's tail fin".

Possible handles present on the "Fish in the margins" photo (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16), as outlined by Tom Verenna, Mar. 10, 2012. The red lines suggest possible handles on the top of an image that Jacobovici and Tabor interpret as a "fish's tail fin".

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:

Image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website captioned as "Fish in the margins".

Image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website captioned as "Fish in the margins". Note the spotlighted areas have had artificial digital "ink" added to the engraved lines to enhance their interpretation as fishes. (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1) Note also the oval loop on the left side of the so-called "tail fin".

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.”

"Fish in the margins" photo with brightness and contrast raised. (Image available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16)

"Fish in the margins" photo with brightness and contrast raised. (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16)

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.

"Fish in the margins" photo (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16) with brightness and contrast raised for clarity and with the handle spotlighted. (Note: the Photoshop spotlight filers on the three so-called "fishes" along with the digitally added artificial "ink" were added by the authors or their artists.)

"Fish in the margins" photo (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-occur=1&wppa-photo=16) with brightness and contrast raised for clarity and with the oval looped handle spotlighted. (Note: the Photoshop spotlight filers on the three so-called "fishes" along with the digitally added artificial "ink" were added by the authors or their artists.)

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.”

The "Fish in the margins" Image 16 (available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1) with the handle outlined by a series of red arrows. The handle at the top left of the vessel is clearly visible.

The "Fish in the margins" Image 16 (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1) with the handle outlined by a series of red arrows. The handle at the top left of the vessel is clearly visible.

In the side-by side comparison below, the shape of the handle becomes clear.

A side-by-side comparison of the handle in the "Fish in the margins" Image 16 (available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1) with the handle outlined by a series of red arrows. The handle at the top left of the vessel is clearly visible.

A side-by-side comparison of the handle in the "Fish in the margins" Image 16 (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1) with the handle outlined by a series of red arrows. The handle at the top left of the vessel is clearly visible.

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.

The top-left corner of the inscribed image shows a definite oval loop handle, just like the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

The top-left corner of the inscribed image shows a definite oval loop handle, just like the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

A closer look at the above image in over-under and side-be-side comparison allows us to highlight the handles.

The top-left corner of the inscribed image shows a definite oval loop handle, just like the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. This image also displays the similar handle at the body of the vessel. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

The top-left corner of the inscribed image shows a definite oval loop handle, just like the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. This image also displays the handle on the body of the vessel. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

The top-left corner of the inscribed image (Jacobovici and Tabor's "Jonah Fish") shows a definite oval loop handle, of a similar shape and in the same place as on the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. This image also displays the similar handle at the body of the vessel. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

The top-left corner of the inscribed image (Jacobovici and Tabor's "Jonah Fish") shows a definite oval loop handle, of a similar shape and in the same place as on the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. This image also displays the handle at the body of the vessel. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

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.

This image, which peers behind Ossuary 5 abutting Ossuary 6, reveals that there are oval loop handles on both sides of the top of the inscribed vessel, just like the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

This image, which peers behind Ossuary 5 abutting Ossuary 6, reveals that there are oval loop handles on both sides of the top of the inscribed vessel, just like the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

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.

Looking behind Ossuary 5 reveals that there is also an oval loop handle on the right side of the top of the inscribed vessel, just like on the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. Note also that the top of the vessel is straight, not bent. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

Looking behind Ossuary 5 reveals that there is also an oval loop handle on the right side of the top of the inscribed vessel, just like on the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. Note also that the top of the vessel is straight, not bent. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

Again, a close up of the above photo demonstrates that the top corner of each side of the engraved image has a handle.

Looking behind Ossuary 5 reveals that there is also an oval loop handle on the right side of the top of the inscribed vessel (matching the left), similar to the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

Looking behind Ossuary 5 reveals that there is also an oval loop handle on the right side of the top of the inscribed vessel (matching the left), similar to the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

Looking behind Ossuary 5 reveals that there is also an oval loop handle on the right side of the top of the inscribed vessel similar to the left, and also similar to the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

Looking behind Ossuary 5 reveals that there are oval looped handles on both sides of the top of the inscribed vessel, similar to the handles on the "half fish" image on a different panel of the same ossuary. (With thanks to Dr. James Tabor for this image.)

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:

Image 13 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, captioned "Computer Enhanced Jonah image found in Tomb." Note the handle visible in the "Fish in the margins" Image 16 is not reproduced in this image, and is cropped where the handle would be.

Image 13 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, captioned "Computer Enhanced Jonah image found in Tomb" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=13&wppa-occur=1). Note the handle visible in the "Fish in the margins" Image 16 is not reproduced in this image, and is cropped where the handle would be.

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:

Image 14 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website captioned: "Original Jonah Image - no cgi" (available from: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=14&wppa-occur=1). Note that the image is cropped precisely where the handle should be.

Image 14 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website captioned: "Original Jonah Image - no cgi" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=14&wppa-occur=1). Note that the image is cropped precisely where the handle should be.

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.”

Clockwise from top left: The "Fish in the margins" Image 16 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1); the "Original Jonah Image - no cgi" Image 14 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=14&wppa-occur=1); "Jonah Image Photo 4" displays the intersection of Ossuary 6 (left) and 5 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=49&wppa-occur=1); the "Computer Enhanced Jonah image found in Tomb" Image 13 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=13&wppa-occur=1); Fig. 20 on p. 41 of original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012, rotated CW for vertical alignment. Note that only in the "Fish in the margins" image is the handle visible. It is cropped or otherwise not represented from each of the other images.

Clockwise from top left: The "Fish in the margins" Image 16 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=16&wppa-occur=1); the "Original Jonah Image - no cgi" Image 14 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=14&wppa-occur=1); "Jonah Image Photo 4" displays the intersection of Ossuary 6 (left) and 5 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=49&wppa-occur=1); the "Computer Enhanced Jonah image found in Tomb" Image 13 (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=13&wppa-occur=1); Fig. 20 on p. 41 of original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012, rotated CW for vertical alignment. Note that only in the "Fish in the margins" image is the handle visible. It is cropped or otherwise not represented from each of the other images.

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.

Sketch of "Jonah Ossuary" (top; available: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/wppa/44.png) and "Museum Quality Replica" (available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/IMG_7422.jpg). A close look at each of these reproductions reveals that the artists actually attempted to represent the visual evidence of the handle. The sketch represents the top loop, and the replica represents the etched line beneath the top left of the image.

Sketch of "Jonah Ossuary" (top; Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/wppa/44.png) and "Museum Quality Replica" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/IMG_7422.jpg). A close look at each of these reproductions reveals that the artists actually attempted to represent the visual evidence of the oval loop in the upper-left corner of the inscribed image. The sketch represents the top loop, and the replica represents the etched line beneath the top left of the image. However, this feature was omitted from the "CGI composite representation" of the image.

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.


Conclusion

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.


Handles: Fish don't have them

Photoshop: When reality won't cooperate

If the Evidence Doesn’t Fit, Photoshop It: Digital Image Manipulation in the Case of Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor’s Jonah Ossuary

As the author of a book in the burgeoning fields of digital archaeological reconstruction and virtual reality, and as a member of the University of Iowa Digital Humanities Cohort, I know the importance of transparency when it comes to representing archaeological data in digital media. While most find it boring (and while some critics claimed chapters 3 and 4 in my book, Qumran through (Real) Time, which detailed each tedious technological step of my digital reconstruction methodology would have been better left out), I find it essential to the credibility of the practice of digital reconstruction to demonstrate at each point in the process precisely how digital reconstructions are made and exactly how the data are handled and represented. When dealing with digital representations of archaeological data, it is essential for the establishment of a researcher’s credibility to document all alterations of digital imagery and data. For as a colleague of mine (who happened to disagree with part of my digital Qumran reconstruction) once memorably stated to me, “If you give the public a picture of your interpretation of the data, they’ll believe it!”

Images are powerful. And because they are powerful, archaeologists must take great care in representing visual data properly in publication. For just as well-handled visual data can greatly inform the reader and provide new insights into archaeological research, so too can mishandled, or worse yet, deliberately manipulated visual images distort reality. Unfortunately, deliberately altered visual data have been used to support sensational claims throughout history like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and this abuse has only worsened with the rise of digital photography and editing. It is now possible for unscrupulous individuals to manipulate photographs for the purposes of supporting sensational claims in the hopes that said claims can be published in print and on television to generate tremendous revenues for those making the claims.

Unfortunately, digital technology is often times also used by some to distract from a weak argument. That is, some will elaborate upon and highlight the use of technology in the hope that the mere presence of sophisticated technology, which may have no bearing whatsoever on the interpretation of an object in under examination, will distract from any subsequent fallacious claims being made about said object. And, in more disquieting cases, digital technology is sometimes used to “enhance” or even fabricate evidence outright that supports an otherwise untenable claim.

Or, to put it another way: if the evidence doesn’t fit, Photoshop it (especially if it looks fishy).

Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that an image that has been circulating in the press as part of the marketing campaign in support of the new book by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and University of North Carolina, Charlotte Professor, Dr. James Tabor, entitled, The Jesus Discovery, and Mr. Jacobovici’s forthcoming documentary, has been digitally manipulated in such a way as to lead the reader toward a desired conclusion. That is, the image making the rounds in the press and published by Dr. Tabor on the Bible and Interpretation website has been digitally altered and made to look like an engraving of a “great fish” on an ossuary discovered in Jerusalem, in order to support the authors’ rather sensational claim.

What’s more, in Dr. Tabor’s article, the manipulation of the photo of the “fish” on the ossuary has been made without any acknowledgment that the image has been manipulated.

Evidence

In his recent publication in Bible and Interpretation entitled, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” Dr. James Tabor describes “Ossuary 6″ (the “Jonah Ossuary”) on page 20, and references two images: Figs. 20 and 21.

Fig. 20 from page 41 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, Feb 28, 2012.

Fig. 20 from page 41 of the 'Bible and Interpretation' article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, published Feb 28, 2012. The caption for this image reads: "20. Jonah image on front façade of ossuary 6."

Fig. 21 from page 42 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, Feb 28, 2012.

Fig. 21 from page 42 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, published Feb 28, 2012. The caption for this image reads: "21. Blowup of Jonah image."

Fig. 20 is pictured on page 41 along with a caption that reads: “20. Jonah image on front façade of ossuary 6.”

Fig. 21 is pictured in page 42 along with a caption that reads: “21. Blowup of Jonah image.”

Nowhere in the text of Dr. Tabor’s article or in the captions beneath the images is there any acknowledgment whatsoever that Fig. 21 has been altered other than being “blown up” or enlarged. This differs slightly from the caption of the same image in the Jesus Discovery book, where the caption for Fig 26 on p. 86 reads: “A composite representation of the ossuary image of Jonah and the big fish” (italics mine). On March 1, 2012, the team’s “Jesus Discovery” media website labeled the image as a “CGI enhanced image of ‘Jonah and the Whale’.”

However, whether the image in question is a “blown up” or “composite” image, as soon as one looks at original photograph and the composite/blown up image side-by-side, one immediately notices that Fig. 21 is no simple enlargement of Fig. 20, but rather a highly-doctored digital artist’s representation of Fig. 20.

Side-by-side comparison of Figs. 20 (left) and 21 from the Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor on Feb 28, 2012.

Side-by-side comparison of Figs. 20 (right) and 21 from the 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb. 28, 2012. I have rotated Fig. 21 (left) back to its actual orientation for comparison purposes.

Let us examine the examples of digital image manipulation.

1. Fig. 21 in Dr. Tabor’s article has been enlarged, rotated, and cropped. Simple changes to scale that retain fundamental aspects of digital data, such as shape, color, and features are generally not considered compromises of the digital image.

Archaeological photo indicating size and direction.

Example of archaeological photo indicating size and direction.

Archaeological photo indicating size and direction

Example of archaeological photo indicating size and direction

However in cases where alterations of scale and orientation are made to images, it is common practice to supply a centimeter measuring stick or relative scale (see above) to convey relative size, and a compass pointing north (see above) to indicate the orientation (especially for rotated images).

Digital reconstruction of the SE pottery annex at Qumran from 'Qumran through (Real) Time' by Robert R. Cargill.

Digital reconstruction of the SE pottery annex at Qumran. Photo from 'Qumran through (Real) Time' by Robert R. Cargill. Note the digital overlay indicating direction/orientation and loci.

These size and direction indicators can even be added to hard to reach areas (like those accessible only through robotic arms) and digital reconstructions after the fact (see above). Both of these are absent in both of Tabor’s Figs. 20 and 21.

Frog or Horse?

Frog or Horse?

Fish or Girl?

Fish or Girl?

As the classic optical illusion of the frog and the horse or the fish and the girl (note that this fish actually has an eye) demonstrates, rotation and orientation make a huge difference when identifying an object. The psychological process of “cognitive priming” can be used to lead the brain to interpret certain objects in a desired manner. Michael Shermer’s book, The Believing Brain, examines this process in detail.

It is quite telling that it was this digitally altered photo, Fig. 21, that was first sent to the press by Jacobovici and Tabor, and that the image was rotated to the side in most press reports. That is, the absence of any indication of proper orientation on the photograph allowed Jacobovici and Tabor to depict the image on its side, that is, in a manner more consistent with the natural orientation of a fish, rather than in its proper orientation with the tapered end down, which would more resemble some kind of ceramic or glass vessel.

For instance, in the Yahoo News story by Eric Pfeiffer and the MSNBC Cosmic Log story by Alan Boyle on Feb. 28, 2012, the doctored image appears rotated onto its side with no indication in the caption or in the story that it has been digitally altered. Similarly, the Photoshopped image depicted in the Haaretz.com story by Nir Hasson on Feb. 28, 2012 describes the image as an “enhanced image” without noting that the image is out of context and rotated to better resemble a fish. Likewise, in the LiveScience story by Wynne Parry and the syndicated FoxNews.com story on Feb. 28, 2012, both the digitally altered photo and the photograph are included among the images. And while the doctored image under examination has a caption that reads, “A CGI-enhanced image” (italics mine), both the Photoshopped image and the photograph are rotated to resemble the natural orientation of fish, and no indication is given for either image that they have been rotated from their in situ orientation.

Of course, Jacobovici and Tabor can “blame the press” for rotating the images, but they wouldn’t have had the problem had the orientation indicators and size and scale indicators been digitally placed on the images in the first place. Likewise, the fact that their own YouTube promotional videos also have the image turned on its side while they prime the brain with discussions about a fish (see the 1:35 mark) suggest that the image rotations were not the product of the press, but were done by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor from the outset.

It therefore appears that the repeated rotation of the image to its side and away from its proper orientation is not the result of trying to fit it on a page for publication, but may be a deliberate attempt to orient the image in such a way so that it better resembles the natural disposition of a fish. The image Jacobovici and Tabor released to the press appears to have been intentionally disoriented.

2. One then notices that Fig. 21 is a different color than Fig. 20. It appears more brown or sand colored, possessing much less green than Fig. 20. While this may be an attempt by the authors to make Fig. 21 look more like other known images engraved in limestone ossuaries, and while this is, in fact, an alteration of the digital data, we can excuse this acceptable manipulation of the image as a simple color correction from the original photo (Fig. 20). That said, many archaeologists do not like the practice of “color correcting,” as maintaining color data is the purpose of employing Munsell color charts in archaeological recording and photography. Such color information is lacking from the article and the figures.

Thus far, the image has been enlarged, rotated, cropped, and color corrected. Unfortunately, Fig. 21 appears to have undergone an additional digital perspective manipulation to correct the oblique angle of the camera, which apparently was not perpendicular to the image when the photograph was taken. This is a more serious digital manipulation of the image, as it involves correcting the lengths and angles of objects to make them appear as if they were photographed at a perpendicular angle to the object (straight on). This technique is also used to correct so-called “barreling” and “fish-eye” lens effects that result from certain cameras and angles, especially during close-up shots. This more severe correction to the image in Fig. 21 can be excused as a digital correction of a poor initial camera angle, but it is customary to acknowledge that the image has been altered to correct for perspective. This is nowhere indicated in Dr. Tabor’s article.

Unfortunately, the evidence of image manipulation with regard to Fig. 21 (the image that has been sent to the press) far exceeds simple rectification of orientation, size, color, and perspective. The evidence below details a number of digital alterations to Fig. 21 that simply cannot be described as a “Blowup of Jonah image.”

A side-by-side look at differences between Figs. 20 (left) and 21 (pgs. 41-42) from the original Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor published on Feb 28, 2012.

A side-by-side look at differences between Figs. 20 (left) and 21 (pgs. 41-42) from the original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012. I have rotated Fig. 21 (right) back to its actual orientation for comparison purposes.

3. An object covering the right side of the supposed “tail fin” (marked as “Digitally Removed” in the upper right corner of Fig. 20 above) is present in Fig. 20, but suddenly absent in Tabor’s Fig. 21. On p. 83 of the Jesus Discovery book, this object is identified as another ossuary (#5) that is “jammed up against it so closely we were unable to see its full decorated façade.” In Fig. 21 above, Ossuary #5 been digitally removed and the right portion of the “tail fin” has been digitally generated using a Photoshop process called “clone stamping.” This is evidenced by the fact that it appears darker than the rest of the “fin.” Likewise, the dark shadow that appears down the right side of the “tail fin” in Fig. 21 may be explained as the unintended result of the process of cloning and creating that portion of the “fin,” as there is a dark spot present in Fig. 20 at the intersection of the right side of the image and Ossuary #5. The shadow is the result of cloning that dark spot up along right side of the “tail fin.”

4. Perhaps one the most egregious alterations to Fig. 21 appears in the so-called “tail.” The shape of the “tail” is altered to make it look more like the tail of a fish. The horizontal top of the “tail” in Fig. 20 is straight, but the corresponding line in Fig. 21 shows a tremendous bend on the right side. This is a deliberate result of the cloning process that produced the right side of the “tail fin” after Ossuary #5 covering part of the image in Fig. 20 was digitally removed from Fig. 21. The creation of this portion of the “tail” appears to have been deliberately drawn at an angle to further the illusion of a natural fish’s tail. Likewise, the left side of the “tail” in Fig. 21 also appears to have been gently rounded at the top, and then curved toward the bottom so that it better resembles a natural fish’s tail, while the corresponding area in Fig. 20 reveals a nearly L-shaped angle.

"IMG_7422 Posted on February 29, 2012 by admin" located on thejesusdiscovery.org website is a photo of the 'museum quality replica' of the "Jonah Ossuary" in question.

"IMG_7422 Posted on February 29, 2012 by admin" located on thejesusdiscovery.org website is a photo of the "museum quality replica" of the "Jonah Ossuary" in question.

It is worth noting that the reproduced image on the “museum quality replica” exhibited at Jacobovici and Tabor’s Feb. 28, 2012 press conference in New York does not match Tabor’s Fig. 21 image above, which was the image released to the press. The image is in its proper orientation, and not on its side. The artist(s) who engraved the replica more faithfully followed the original photograph in Fig. 20 above than did the doctored “composite” photo that was distributed to the press, as the replica more accurately reconstructs the top of the image.

5. The zig-zag triangle and braided border design visible in Fig. 20 to the left side of the image suddenly disappears from Fig. 21. The full size image of Fig. 20 (above) shows that the supposed “fish” is surrounded by a double border consisting of a line zig-zagging in between two parallel lines forming a column of triangles, that sits inside of a beautiful braided or herringbone design, all of which passes just outside the left “fin” of the “fish” in Fig. 20. However, this design element, which appears to be engraved equally as deep as the “fish” in Fig. 20, suddenly disappears in Fig. 21, despite the fact that many of the lines in the double border design appear at many of the same angles present in the “fish” design. Given the lighting, many of the lines comprising the border should appear along with corresponding lines making up the “fish” image, but are peculiarly absent. The border design appears to have been Photoshopped out of Fig. 21 using a combination of clone stamping, feathering, and use of the “healing brush” tool, as the resulting brown texture remaining after the deletion of the border appears indicatively blurry and feathered.

Again, the motivation behind the deletion of the border may be understood as an attempt to remove the image further from its actual context. Combined with presenting the image on its side, eliminating the border gives the viewer the illusion that the “fish” is swimming freely in the ocean rather than bound and framed narrowly by an ornate border, which, along with its proper orientation, certainly detracts from its interpretation as a fish.

6. A segment of the “fish’s abdomen” near the supposed “tail” (that I have labeled Seg4 above) suddenly appears clearly in Fig. 21, but is barely recognizable if not completely absent in Fig. 20. Changes in lighting cannot account for this change, as the three segments (Seg1, Seg2, and Seg3 above) are visible in Fig. 20. Even if we allow for the presence of Seg4 in Fig. 20, it still does not match with the altered angle of the tail in Fig. 21.

The addition or “enhancement” of the Seg4 layer may explain the more tapered, narrowed look of the “abdomen” of the “fish” in Fig. 21, perhaps leading the viewer away from interpretations of Fig. 20 as a nephesh monument or some other architectural structure, and encouraging an interpretation as a fish.

7. Finally, there are marks around the outside of Fig. 21 that betray the telltale signs of digital alteration, specifically, digital cloning. In a number of boxes above, I highlight examples of digitally produced marks that are identical in shape and size. (They do differ in color/tint, as this effect can be applied after the cloning process is complete.) Each mark of a mechanically engraved ossuary is unique in reality. At the pixel level of Fig. 21, however, the attempts at reproducing artificial “engraver’s marks” that I have isolated demonstrate, I believe convincingly, that someone used a Photoshop “clone stamp” tool to add artificial scratches all around the “fish,” and give the illusion of a naturally engraved image.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engravers marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor published on Feb 28, 2012.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engraver's marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012.

Take for example the white boxes numbered 1-4 above. I have cut-and-pasted (a process similar to Photoshop cloning) these examples in the chart to the right. As you can see, the marks bear the telltale signs of being copied time and again around the outside of Fig. 21. Each cloned “engraver’s mark” is comprised of a main line attempting to represent an engraved gash. However, identical marks labeled as “low lines” appear just below each of the “main lines.” Likewise, a light spot appears above the left end of each of the “main lines.” Because such identical markings at the pixel level would never appear naturally on an ossuary, anyone familiar with Adobe Photoshop and digital imagery can attest that these are obviously the product of someone who has cloned gashes and attempts at “engraver’s marks” around the edge of the supposed “fish” in an attempt to make the altered image look more natural.

Likewise, if we examine the yellow boxes above, I have highlighted additional examples of identical, digitally cloned marks that were added in an attempt to disguise the fact that cloning had been done to the image. By altering the shape of the “engraver’s marks” added to the digital image, it was hoped by the digital artist that the additional variety of artificially produced “engraver’s marks” would conceal the artificial marks, making the evidence of cloning less noticeable.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engravers marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor published on Feb 28, 2012.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engraver's marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012.

Yellow boxes 5 and 6 above demonstrate a variation of the “engraver’s marks” digitally added to the image. Likewise, yellow boxes 7-9 show yet another deliberate variation. I have enlarged the identical marks in boxes 7, 8, and 9 in the chart to the right. In each example, there is a central horizontal “main line” curving upward to the left, a small notch just below the center of the main line, and a curved, almost vertical mark just above each “main line.” Again, these examples reveal definite evidence of digital manipulation to Fig. 21 in Dr. Tabor’s article.

Tabor and Jacobovici’s Response

The scholarly community has been nearly unanimous in their rejection of Jacobovici and Tabor’s claims. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) has posted on its blog a series of posts by reputable scholars critiquing the authors’ claims. And while these rebuttals vary in substance and style, from critiques of the inscription to critiques of the authors’ use of the Bible, one of the most intriguing rebuttals has been from a host of scholars critiquing the above altered image in question above, perhaps without the knowledge that it had been digitally altered. Specifically, perhaps based partially upon the demonstrable Photoshopped Fig. 21 above, several scholars (including Dr. Christopher Rollston, Dr. Eric Meyers, Dr. Jodi Magness, Dr. Stephen Fine, and myself) have argued that the image would be better interpreted as a nephesh monument.

However, I cannot help but wonder how many of these expert opinions may have been based upon the digitally altered and deliberately disoriented image described above. It now appears possible that at least some of the scholars interpreting the image in question as a nephesh monument may have been basing some of their arguments on a digitally altered image, removed from context, and rotated away from its original orientation. The interpretation as a nephesh monument may still be a possibility. But alternatively, given a knowledge of the image’s proper orientation, it may also be interpreted as a representation of an amphora as suggested by Italian scholar Antonio Lombatti, or some other kind of vessel like a krater as recently suggested by Warden and President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Andrew McGowan, or perhaps even an unguentarium, as suggested by Kings College London Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Dr. Joan E. Taylor.

The one theme shared by scholars interpreting the image both as a nephesh monument and as some kind of ceramic or glass vessel is this: they all agree it’s not a fish.

But scholars can only evaluate the claims and evidence that authors publish, and proper context and the integrity of the image data are essential to one’s interpretation. The caption under Fig. 21 from page 42 of the original version of Dr. Tabor’s Bible and Interpretation article, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” published on Feb 28, 2012 simply read: “21. Blowup of Jonah image.” Except, it obviously was not.

As I have shared the above evidence of image manipulation with my scholarly colleagues, including an exchange with Dr. Tabor on the ASOR Blog, it now appears that Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici are attempting to take steps to correct their descriptions about the misleading photo in question (Fig. 21 above), which has, in fact, been removed from its context, rotated away from its in situ orientation, and digitally altered, by updating the captions describing these images, and in some cases, correcting their orientation after the fact.

Page 42 of the article by James Tabor entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" published at Bible and Interpretation. The original article (left) was published on Feb. 28, 2012. The revised article (right) appeared on the site on March 2, 2012. Note that the orientation of the image in Fig. 21 (left) is rotated away (CCW) from its in situ orientation, better resembling the natural disposition of a fish. However, the same image on the right has been rectified to its proper orientation (although it has been flipped horizontally). Note also the the revised caption on the revised article (right) still reads, "Museum replica showing placement of image on front panel and closeup of image," despite the fact that the image in question is still not a 'closeup' of the replica, and still does not indicate that the photo has been heavily Photoshopped.

Page 42 of the article by James Tabor entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," published at 'Bible and Interpretation.' The original article (left) was published on Feb. 28, 2012. The revised article (right) appeared on the site on March 2, 2012. Note that the orientation of the image in Fig. 21 (left) is rotated away (counter-clockwise) from its in situ orientation, more closely resembling the natural disposition of a fish. However, the same image in the updated version of the article on the right has been rectified to its proper orientation (although it has now been flipped horizontally, with the digitally reproduced section of the "tail" on the left side). Note also the the revised caption on the revised article (right) still reads, "Museum replica showing placement of image on front panel and closeup of image," despite the fact that the image in question is still not a "closeup" of the replica, and still does not indicate that the photo has been heavily Photoshopped.

For instance, the editors at Bible and Interpretation confirmed to me that they have, in fact, taken down Dr. Tabor’s original article (which I have reposted here for purposes of comparison), and replaced it with a new, revised version. They also updated the title of the revised version with an editorial comment noting that Dr. Tabor’s present article is a different version from the one originally published.

Editor's comment (see red arrows pointing to text in parentheses) noting that a new version of James Tabor's Bible and Interpretation article, originally published Feb 28, 2012, had been revised.

Editor's comment (see red arrows pointing to text in parentheses) noting that a new version of James Tabor's 'Bible and Interpretation' article, originally published Feb 28, 2012, has been revised.

This revision appeared on the Bible and Interpretation website on March 2, 2012, after Dr. Tabor and I had discussed the Photoshopped and rotated image on the ASOR blog. To his credit, Dr. Tabor confirmed that he uploaded a revised version of his article at Bible and Interpretation, noting on his Tabor Blog:

By the way, if you are one of the 18,000 that have downloaded that article in the last two days take a look again at the picture in the appendix–we have added the museum reproductions of the ossuaries.

However, Dr. Tabor makes no mention in his revised article of the fact that he has also corrected the orientation of the supposed “fish” in the image in Fig. 21 by rotating it 90-degrees clockwise into its actual in situ orientation. In the original version of the article, the image was horizontal, with the “head” of the “fish” pointing to the right, perhaps in an attempt to better resemble the natural disposition of a fish. Likewise, the caption for Fig. 21 has been changed from the original, “21. Blowup of Jonah image” to now reading, “21. Museum replica showing placement of image on front panel and closeup of image.”

A side-by-side comparison of the "museum quality replica" (left, source: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/) and the digitally altered photo from Dr. Tabor's 'Bible and Interpretation' article. Both are artist's renditions of the image on the ossuary. Note the difference in shape and scale even in these artists' renditions. Note also that the digital reproduction from the revised 'Bible and Interpretation' article has now been flipped horizontally.

A side-by-side comparison of the "museum quality replica" (left, source: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/) and the digitally altered photo from Dr. Tabor's 'Bible and Interpretation' article. Both are artist's renditions of the image on the ossuary. Note the difference in shape and scale even in these artists' renditions. Note also that the digital reproduction from the revised 'Bible and Interpretation' article has now been flipped horizontally.

The problem is, if one examines the two images in Fig. 21 of the new article closely, the images still don’t match! The bottom image is not a “close up” of the top image at all. Rather, the top image is an artist’s reconstruction on a replica, and the bottom image is a highly Photoshopped image. Look closely at the so-called “tails”: the bottom image has a bent “tail” on the top left (as the digital reproduction from the revised Bible and Interpretation article has now been flipped horizontally), while the image on the “tail” on the replica is flat and straight.

The caption of the same image in their Jesus Discovery book beneath Fig. 26 on p. 86 reads: “A composite representation of the ossuary image of Jonah and the big fish.” Again, there is no mention of the multiple digital alterations that the image has experienced, just the words “composite representation.”

Finally, the caption under the same image on the thejesusdiscovery.org website finally concedes it is a “computer enhanced” photo. Unfortunately, these photos were not made available on the website until after the book had been released, after the press conferences, after scholars had begun their initial critiques, and after I had begun to point out that the image in question (Tabor’s Fig. 21) had been digitally altered as described above.

The question is: which pictures should we believe? Should we accept the artist’s rendition on the “museum quality replica,” or the doctored, heavily Photoshopped, “computer enhanced” digital “composite representation”?

And this is the point: the image that was released to the public was a Photoshopped image. It was rotated. It had been altered in other ways, including having the “tail” reshaped to more closely resemble that of a fish. Yet, these were the images given to scholars to evaluate. And that’s what we evaluated.

I cannot speak for other scholars, so I shall only speak for myself: I admit that my original suggestion of some similarity between the image in question and Absalom’s Tomb stemmed from my analysis of the photo sent to the press (Fig. 21 above), which I have now demonstrated to be a doctored photo that was rotated to more resemble the natural disposition of a fish, and which lacked any indication of size, scale, or orientation like a cm stick or compass point. Once I realized that I had based my analysis upon a doctored photo, I publicly conceded that I no longer favor the interpretation as a nephesh memorial, but instead favor an interpretation of an amphora, krater, unguentarium, or some other form of vessel.

I also noted that as scholars, we must be willing to alter our conclusions based upon new (or in this case, accurate, in context) evidence following a consensus of our trained peers. The question is: are Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor willing to do the same? Now that they’ve had the opportunity to experience the peer-review of trained professionals, will they heed the nearly unanimous voice of the archaeologists and scholars stating that the image under investigation is not a fish?

Conclusion

Unfortunately, the visual evidence detailed above compels us to conclude that Fig. 21 from pg. 42 of Dr. James Tabor’s original Feb 28, 2012 Bible and Interpretation article entitled, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” has experienced a high degree of digital manipulation. Given the changes to the “tail fin” of the supposed “fish,” and given the deliberate rotation of the image’s orientation causing it to more resemble the natural orientation of a fish without offering a compass point or any indication on the image whatsoever that the image has been rotated, it can be argued that the motivation behind making these digital alterations to the image was the desire to create, or at least “enhance” the illusion of a “great fish” swimming freely in the ocean, while vomiting forth a human head.

We should not state that the image has been “faked,” as there is obviously an image on the ossuary. However, we are forced to conclude that the image was digitally manipulated and its orientation altered in such a way so as to encourage and enhance its interpretation as a fish over other possible interpretations. The fact that Dr. Tabor is still using the doctored photo as “evidence” upon which to base his recent rebuttals of other scholars’ critiques of his theory on his own jamestabor.com blog and in a new Bible and Interpretation article is quite telling.

What is more troubling is the prospect that other images published by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor may be similarly digitally “enhanced” without proper acknowledgment. If such image manipulation is demonstrated in the “Jonah fish” image, which is central to their sensational and already highly spurious claim, how can we be sure that other images, such as those of the inscriptions, have not experienced similar amounts of digital alteration? Let us remember that the image distributed to the press and on the “museum quality replica” are, in fact, artist’s renditions of the image on the ossuary and not the image itself – a rendition that the authors desperately want viewers to interpret as a fish.

With the credibility of the visual evidence demonstrated above now highly suspect, and with the scholarly consensus nearly unanimously interpreting the image as something other than a fish, we should be all the more skeptical of any and all claims made by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor regarding any claim of Jonah, a fish, or so-called “new evidence” of early Christianity obtained from these tombs.

Because if it doesn’t look like a fish, and doesn’t swim like a fish, it may very well be an ancient vessel cleverly Photoshopped to look like a fish.

near eastern archaeology vol 74 no 2 now available online

NEA CoverFrom the ASOR Blog:

ASOR is pleased to announce that NEA 74.2 (June 2011) has now been posted online at Atypon Link. This issue (and 4 years of back issues) is available to online subscribers of NEA and to ASOR members who have chosen an online subscription as part of their membership.

The following is an abbreviated table of contents:

-Stefan Münger, Jürgen Zangenberg and Juha Pakkala: Long Article on Kinneret
-Rami Arav, John F. Shroder Jr., Steven Notley: Forum Responses on Bethsaida
-Amihai Mazar: Forum Article on “The Iron Age Chronology Debate”
-Ann E. Killebrew, Lorenzo d’Alfonso, Brandon R. Olson: Fieldnotes
-Hans Barnard: Fieldnote
-Garth Gilmour: Fieldnote

A detailed table of contents is available here.

In fact, the last 4 years of ASOR journals are available to ASOR members. Click here for details.

Go, read, and learn.

congratulations to dr. jeremy smoak, inaugural winner of the asor aviram prize for best paper

Dr. Jeremy Smoak, UCLA

Dr. Jeremy Smoak, UCLA, was awarded the Aviram Prize for best paper

Congratulations to UCLA’s Dr. Jeremy Smoak, who has been awarded ASOR’s inaugural Aviram Prize for best paper of the year. Dr. Smoak’s paper is entitled, “May Yahweh Bless You and Guard You from Evil: The Structure and Content of Ketef Hinnom Amulet I and the Background of the Prayers for Deliverance in the Psalms.” The paper compares the rhetorical structure of the amulet from Ketef Hinnom to several Psalms that petition Yahweh for protection against evil. The paper will be presented at the 2011 ASOR annual meeting in San Francisco this November, and will be published in the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions within the next year.

Joseph Aviram

Joseph Aviram

The Dorot Foundation announced its sponsorship of the prize earlier this year. The Aviram Prize, administered by the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), was established to honor Joseph Aviram, who has held the positions of Director and President of the Israel Exploration Society (IES), an organization to which he has devoted the past seventy years.

(Abraham Rabinovich wrote an excellent article on Aviram for the Jerusalem Post back in April 2011.)

The Aviram Prize is awarded by a committee of distinguished scholars to the paper “that most advances the scholarship of its given field.”

Congratulations to Dr. Smoak on this honor.

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