why the so-called ‘jonah ossuary’ does not contain the name of jonah

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the image that Dr. Tabor and Dr. Charlesworth both claimed yesterday morning contained the “name of Jonah.”

I disagree. I have argued against this here and here.

I have marked up the image below. (The original is here.) I have placed a marked-up image next to the original so that viewers can see that the color-stroked lines correspond to the actual engraved lines. (Click for larger image.)

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Dr. Charlesworth has claimed that red line forms a yod (“Y”), the aqua line forms a waw (“O”), the lime and yellow lines constitute a nun (“N”), and the orange, black, and pink lines form a heh (“H”). Dr. Charlesworth proposes that these lines form the name יונה (“YONH,” or “Jonah”).

There are a number of problems with this reading. Jim Davila, Antonio Lombatti, Mark Goodacre, Steven Goranson, and Steve Caruso have all already addressed many of the problems. Below is a summary with illustrations.

1. There is a space between the lines that comprise the supposed nun (yellow and lime lines), meaning it is likely not a nun. NOTE that given the present lighting, there are visible horizontal lines (to the left) and angled lines (above and to the right). Thus, were the yellow and lime lines connected, we should expect to see a quite visible horizontal connection between the two lines. However, this is lacking even though the same angles are visible in the same lighting elsewhere in the same photograph.

There is a space between the lines that make up the supposed 'nun'. Thus, this is not likely a 'nun'.

An over-under comparison of the original image (above, available here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1) and the same image with the contrast and levels increased for clarity. The red arrow points to a space between the lines that make up the supposed 'nun'. Thus, this is not likely a 'nun'.

We must also ask if there is a line (that I have not highlighted) at the bottom of the lime green line running from northwest to southeast, that intersects the center white line at the space where the lime green and yellow lines approach one another. We might also ask whether the dark green line is a continuation of the lime green line.

2. The line above the supposed yod (blue line) is completely overlooked or intentionally ignored.

Side-by-side images of the original image (left) of a supposed 'yod' and a line above it. The line above the supposed 'yod' is completely ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side images of the original image (left) of a supposed 'yod' and a line above it. The line above the supposed 'yod' is completely ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

3. The line making up the supposed waw (aqua line) is bent the wrong way.

Side-by-side image of the supposed 'waw' from the so-called 'Jonah ossuary'. The waw is bent the wrong way. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side image of the supposed 'waw' from the so-called 'Jonah ossuary'. The supposed 'waw' is bent the wrong way. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

4. The faint line to the bottom left of the left leg of the supposed heh (purple line) is completely overlooked or intentionally ignored.

Side-by-side of an ignored line to the left of the left leg of the supposed 'heh'. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side of an ignored line to the left of the left leg of the supposed 'heh'. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

5. The line that provides the top of the supposed heh (pink line) is far too long in relation to the lines of the other supposed ‘letters.’

Side-by-side image of a supposed 'heh.' The top of the supposed letter is far too long in relation to the lines that would comprise the other supposed letters. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side image of a supposed 'heh.' The top of the supposed letter is far too long in relation to the lines that would comprise the other supposed letters. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

6. The faint, but definitely present line toward the bottom on the left side (the green line) is completely overlooked or intentionally ignored.

Side-by-side illustration of a faint line (green line above) that has been missed or ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side illustration of a faint line (green line above) that has been missed or ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

7. There is no base line. The supposed yod should not be lower than the supposed waw, and the supposed nun should not extend that far above the supposed heh, etc. In the graphic below, I have isolated the lines that supposedly make up the name of Jonah (and have ignored and not highlighted the lines that have been missed or intentionally ignored, just for argument’s sake).

No baseline exists for the supposed letters. We should expect the letters to hang from a baseline like on nearly all other ossuary inscriptions.

Side-by side image with lines that were missed or ignored removed. This image therefore consists only of the lines that some believe to make up the name of Jonah. No baseline exists for the supposed letters. We should expect the letters to hang from a baseline or show some attempt at some linear alignment like on nearly all other ossuary inscriptions.

Thus, in order for the name of Jonah to be present on the bottom of this vessel (or proposed “Jonah’s Great fish”), Dr. Charlesworth and Dr. Tabor must claim the following:

1) that two strokes that are not connected can count as a letter typically made with a single stroke (see the nun in #1 above)
2) that lines that clearly appear among the other lines can be simply ignored and disregarded because they do not fit the desired outcome (see #2, #4, and #6 above)
3) that letters can bend over backward to become something they’re not (see the waw in #3 above)
4) that lines of letters can be disproportionately lengthy compared to others (see #5 above)
5) the letters lack any semblance of a linear alignment (see #7 above)

If the above rules are permitted, that there may be no end to the ways in which we can interpret a random set of lines at the bottom of a vessel (complete with handles).

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Because yods, waws, and nuns, are essentially straight or slightly curved lines of varying lengths, if we eliminate linear alignment, we can make a chicken scratch patch of lines of various lengths say just about anything that contains the letters Y, W, O, or N. And if we add the lines that were missed or deliberately ignored, we can introduce the letter Z, and perhaps L.

It is far more likely that the graffito artist made a poorly executed attempt (like the rest of the graffito vessel) at representing the geometry we find at the bottom of many amphoras, kraters, and hydrias, just above their half-spherical bases.

This interpretation seems far more likely that taking a Rorschach Test / word search approach to epigraphy.

on seeing the name of “Jonah” in the “Jonah Fish” ossuary

This really is Rorschach Test archaeology.

News from Simcha, Dr. Tabor, and Dr. Charlesworth claim to have ‘discovered’ the ‘name of Jonah’ inscribed in a jumbled mess of lines at the bottom of the so-called “Jonah fish” ossuary.

I addressed this yesterday in a YouTube video. There is no ‘Jonah.’ Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor had been arguing that the half-spherical base of the vessel was, (I kid you not), the ‘seaweed wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah.’

But, this was SO patently absurd, that just last night, they’ve changed their position and are now arguing that a bunch of randomly etched-in lines spell out the Hebrew name of ‘Jonah.’ (Think about it: Jonah loses his legs and arms if they are now ‘letters.’)

The problem with this is that the first three letters of the name of Jonah in Hebrew, yod, waw, and nun, are essentially differing lengths of straight or slightly curved lines. They are looking at these simple lines and trying to make letters out of them like one would look at a Rorschach Test and make into whatever their imagination tells them.

Jim Davila, Antonio Lombatti, and Mark Goodacre have already addressed this new ‘discovery.’

Apparently, their previous ‘stick figure Jonah’s head’ argument was so weak, they appear to have already ‘cut bait’ (all pun intended) and have moved on to “Rorschach Test Archaeology.”

So, if that’s how we’re going to do it, then I have a (quite satirical) ‘discovery’ of a name of my own:

If a bunch of random lines is "Yonah," then I've discovered "Yo Yo Ma." The argument of "Jonah's seaweed wrapped stick figure head" is so weak, Simcha and his team have cut bait and moved on to "Rorschach Test archaeology."

If a bunch of random lines is "Yonah," then I've discovered "Yo Yo Ma." The argument of "Jonah's seaweed wrapped stick figure head" is so weak, Simcha and his team have cut bait and moved on to "Rorschach Test archaeology."

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.

antonio lombatti presents evidence that the ‘fish’ on tabor and jacobovici’s ‘jonah ossuary’ is actually an amphora

Forget what I said about ‘Absalom’s Tomb’ here and here. It was a nice observation, but it’s probably not correct. In fact, it’s probably wrong.

If the photo that Tabor and Jacobovici are releasing is properly oriented, the nephesh monument would be upside down. It would have been nice to have had the proper orientation of the original, undoctored (or ‘computer enhanced’) photo, but if the photo is correct and the ossuary is right side up, the nephesh monument would be upside down, and therefore my ‘Absalom’s Tomb’ monument interpretation would be unlikely.

(BTW, this can serve as a quick lesson to students both in the sciences and in the humanities (and especially you in religious studies): the beauty of science and the scientific method is that scholars are free to admit they were wrong when better evidence and arguments come along. In fact, we are encouraged to do so. Rather than dig in our heels and argue until our dying breath for interpretations that have long been disproved by new evidence, critical scholars celebrate peer-review and the discussion of ideas among learned individuals, who offer new proposals and bring knowledge and familiarity with evidence from their respective specialized fields to the discussion. Through the process, a consensus is often reached that is based upon a consideration of all of the latest evidence, and not just the claims of those who made them first or the loudest, or worse yet, who bypassed the scholarly process altogether to take their sensational claim directly to the public for the purposes of selling a popular book. As a scholar, I am humbled, and yet pleased when I can admit when my interpretation was wrong, because it means I am still learning from my colleagues and peers, who have taken the time to engage me in academic debate.)

With that said, another interpretation has come to the forefront, and this one may just be right: amphora.

Antonio Lombatti has posted images of ossuaries with amphorae on them that closely resemble the image that Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor are telling the world is “Jonah’s Great Fish.”

As you can tell from the actual published photo of the image on the ossuary in its proper context and orientation (below), and even from the museum replica of the ossuary (below), a crude attempt at an amphora may be the best interpretation.

1. The top of the image is wide and flat like an amphora. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this is a ‘tail’.)

2. The body tapers down through a nice curve like other amphorae. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this the ‘fish’s body’.)

3. Handles appear on the sides of the amphora. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim these are ‘fins’.)

4. The base is decorated with grooves like other amphorae. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this is a ‘fish head’.)

5. There is even a small foot (base) of the amphora. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this is ‘a human head wrapped in seaweed’ – I kid you not).

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, Feb 28, 2012.

A 'museum quality replica' of the so-called 'Jonah Ossuary' from the "Jesus Discovery" website: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/

A 'museum quality replica' of the so-called 'Jonah Ossuary' from the "Jesus Discovery" website: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/

I believe Antonio Lombatti’s proposal is the best proposal so far. What say you?

no, it’s not a nail from the cross of christ

A nail. That’s it. A nail.

as my mother used to say to me, ‘i just got through warning you, and you did it anyway.’

the telegraph is the latest in the long line of irresponsible, ridiculous, and purely sensationalistic media outlets to prey on the hopes of some gullible christians around the world and make a claim (or ask a silly question) with absolutely no archaeological or factual basis. their latest offering asks if a nail found in an archaeological excavation could have been a nail used in the cross of christ. the headline reads:

Nail from Christ’s crucifixion found?

the subheading reads:

A nail dating from the time of Christ’s crucifixion has been found at a remote fort believed to have once been a stronghold of the Knights Templar.

antonio lombatti has already addressed this issue.

listen up: there is absolutely no evidence to support any claim that this was a nail from the cross of christ, as the headline asks.

btw, this is not ‘minimalism;’ it is just the facts of archaeology. allow me to explain.

the archaeologist says that the nail

dates from the first to second centuries

and that it appeared to have been

handed with extreme care, as if it was a relic.

but that’s all we know. someone ages ago may have thought it was a relic from the time of christ. all the archaeology shows us is that the nail dates to within a couple of hundred years of the time of jesus.

and what is the context of the find? the answer is a small fort on a tiny island just off the coast of the port of funchal, a city on another small island, madeira, off the southwest coast of portugal. according to its website, the location:

Fort of São José is the headquarters of the Principality of the Pontinha, a self-proclaimed country by Prince D. Renato Barros. The Fort of São José is located off the coast of the port of Funchal, capital of the Madeira Islands, an autonomous region of Portugal.

so the context of the nail is a fort claimed by some prince, who formally announced his island’s secession from portugal. you read that correctly, a nail that some claim might be from the cross was found in a fort off the coast of portugal. riiiiight.

the most one can say is that an archaeologist (bryn walters in this case) thinks that a nail discovered along with three skeletons and three swords in a fort on a small island off the coast of portugal, might possibly have been revered by the three deceased men, who could possibly may have been knights templar (since there is some old legend tying this city to the knights templar), who in turn may have believed that the nail they may have been toting along with them could possibly have been a relic that someone said was once a nail from the cross of christ.

and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you sell newspapers: you find something, and interpret it as possibly something that perhaps someone believed to be something ages ago because someone else revered it.

of course, some representative (christopher macklin in this case) from some modern knights templar club (the knights templar of britannia) is going to say that the discovery was ‘momentous,’ but who cares. that is no more proof or credible support than some nutjob from some alien abduction organization saying that some purported sighting of a ufo is ‘monumental’ or ‘evidence of extra-terrestrial existence.’

and just so you know, i’ve found lots of nails excavating in roman era archaeological sites much closer to jerusalem than this nail. but i’d never make this claim, because it’s not only irresponsible and reckless, but is not supported by the evidence.

finding a nail in portugal is no more evidence of the cross of christ than finding wood on a mountain in turkey is evidence of noah’s ark.

now, please note, that the archaeologist never claimed it to be a nail from the cross of christ. all he said it was that it was a nail that appeared to have been revered or at least delicately handled, possibly by the three men buried nearby. those men, in turn, could have been knights templar. and those knights possibly could have been told that this was a nail from the cross of christ. an assumption of an assumption of an assumption. thus, this is not really the archaeologist’s fault, for he stated the truth. it is the unnamed author of the article that is responsible for the hype and misleading headline. and that, of course, falls at the feet of the telegraph.

because in the end, all you really have is a nail.


march 3 update: see the los angeles examiner article by chris cunnyngham.

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