With Each New “Jonah Ossuary” Photo, Multiple New Problems

With each new photo released by the Jesus Discovery/Restoration Tomb Mystery team, we are presented with multiple new problems.

I’ve put most of the text of my argument into the graphic on this one, but click on the image for a larger version. I’ve listed the four main discrepancies below.

Comparing pictures of the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem.

Comparing pictures of the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem.

Comparing the original image of the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 published on the thejesusdiscovery.org website, with the a newly released image captioned “Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera” on James Tabor’s blog, with Dr. Tabor’s drawing (from his blog) of his desired interpretation of the lines comprising the image, we are presented with a number of new discrepancies:

1. Supposed “Yod”
The lines appear about the same in Original and HiDef images, but for some strange reason, Dr. Tabor’s drawing shows a ‘looped’ area, while arbitrarily ignoring half of the remainder of the line.

2. Supposed “Waw”
The line in the Original appears to fade toward the right. However, the HiDef image now appears to extend all the way to the right border! But, Dr. Tabor’s drawing stops well short of right border. So which is it?

3. Supposed “Nun”
The Original image appears to be made with two strokes, with the top stroke extending down past the bottom stroke. However, the HiDef image shows the strokes connecting, the desired interpretation Dr. Tabor records in his drawing.

4. Several lines must be deliberately ignored to even make supposed “inscription” possible.

It’s becoming a case of one step forward, two steps back. And with each new image released by the Jesus Discovery/Resurrection Tomb Mystery team, the data gets more confusing, and the arguments change and change again. First no inscription, then suddenly an inscription. First stick man arms and legs, then suddenly they are letters. First the arms and legs are here, then they are here. First the letters are here, then they extend to here. First these lines aren’t connected, then suddenly they are connected. Which is it?

Once again I must reiterate the importance of the integrity and full transparency of digital imagery used in archaeology. Why weren’t these images released all at once at the outset? Why are they trickling out to the public one at a time?

Next Stop: The “Sign of Jonah” Corporate Logo

The "Sign of Jonah Corporate Logo" (based upon the image publicly available here: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/) is one possible design for the hypothetical argument that a graffito artist INTENTIONALLY attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of "Yonah" vertically and without a standardized linear guideline into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed wrapped stick man image with the DELIBERATE purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection.

The "'Sign of Jonah' corporate logo" (satirically based upon the image publicly available here: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/) is one possible design for the hypothetical argument that a graffito artist INTENTIONALLY attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of "Yonah" vertically and without a standardized linear guideline into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed-wrapped stick man image with the DELIBERATE purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection.

I’d like to make a prediction: the next argument we’re going to hear from Dr. James Tabor is what I’m referring to as the “Sign of Jonah” corporate logo theory.

Simply put, the theory will sound something like this:

A graffito artist intentionally attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of “Yonah” (vertically and without a standardized linear topline) into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed-wrapped stick man image with the deliberate purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

That’s my prediction. Here’s my rationale:

In the beginning, Dr. Tabor saw a “stick man Jonah” with a “seaweed-wrapped head” coming down and out of the closed mouth of “Jonah’s great fish.” (Other scholars have called this a depiction of a vessel of some sort (complete with handles), complete with a base and decorative motifs. Other scholars have suggested the image is the representation of a nephesh.)

Dr. Tabor and his partner, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, went to press with a book (The Jesus Discovery) and broadcast a documentary (The Resurrection Tomb Mystery) making this claim.

However, a few days before the airing of the The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (and six weeks after withering critiques of their The Jesus Discovery book, much of which focused upon their iconographic interpretations including the claim of a “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah“), attention turned to a new discovery credited by Dr. Tabor to Dr. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, who purportedly noticed an inscription made up of the letters yod (“Y”), waw (“O”), nun (“N”), and heh (“H”), spelling יונה (“YONH,” or “Jonah”). (I critiqued this claim earlier.)

The problem was that this discovery came long after the publication of the book, and after the final cut of Mr. Jacobovici’s documentary had been sent to Discovery Channel for broadcast. However, Dr. Tabor quickly came to favor Dr. Charlesworth’s observation, perhaps assuming that it was more likely to be adopted by others as a credible possibility. However, because Dr. Tabor had already published the “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah” argument and wasn’t ready to jettison it in favor of Dr. Charlesworth’s “Jonah Inscription” theory, he needs a plan to integrate them together into a single Jonah Fish Grand Unifying Theory (AKA Jonah Fish GUT).

Thus, I predict, Dr. Tabor will attempt to incorporate both theories, blending Dr. Charlesworth’s “Jonah Inscription” theory into his existing “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah” argument. Dr. Tabor has already argued in response to Dr. Mark Goodacre’s critique of some migrating arms and legs, arguing that although he now assigns different lines to the stick figure’s arms and legs, this is not incompatible with his original “stick man Jonah” theory. I argue that this tactic would be better named the “Mr. Potato Head Jonah,” and one can rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

Mr. Potato Head Jonah. Simply rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

Mr. Potato Head Jonah. Simply rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

I am also guessing that Dr. Tabor will, no doubt, attempt to call it, “yet one more piece of evidence all pointing to their original conclusion…”

So, because Dr. Tabor can’t claim that he saw the purported “Jonah inscription” or knew about it beforehand, they’ll attempt to accept the new “Jonah inscription” theory while retaining the original “stick man Jonah” theory using the same technique that apologists have used for years: harmonization. In fact, Dr. Tabor has already hinted at this tactic in an earlier blog post.

I believe the next logical step for the Jesus Discovery/Resurrection Tomb Mystery folks will be to claim that the ancient graffito artist deliberately intended to craft together an anthropomorphic / typographic logo or symbol of letters that incorporates both theories: a stick-man anthropomorphic image made of poorly executed, misaligned letters spelling out the name of Jonah.

I believe this is where they’re headed, and Dr. Charlesworth himself may argue this harmonization in his forthcoming article.

Of course, this will leave us with a few questions:

1) Why would the graffito artist choose to hide a poorly executed and misaligned name in the base of the image, when he took the time to create a rather well planned horizontal area in the center of the image where he could inscribe letters? (Note: The artist chose to fill this area with additional geometric design motifs.)

Why would the artist hide a name at the bottom of the image using very poorly executed and misaligned letters when he demonstrates he is perfectly capable of inscribing a linear area in the middle of the image far better suited for an inscription?

Why would the artist hide a name at the bottom of the image using very poorly executed and misaligned letters when he demonstrates he is perfectly capable of inscribing a linear area in the middle of the image far better suited for an inscription?

2) If we are going to engage in Rorschach Test archaeology and try to make decorative lines into a name with little care for letter shape, rotation, and linear guidelines, then why can’t we find other lines that spell other names like “Yo Yo Ma“? (In fact, I’m almost tempted to start a contest where viewers can send in their best “THE JONAH CODE” hidden inscriptions…)

Inscribed name of Yo Yo Ma "discovered" in so-called "Jonah Ossuary." This is obviously a prophetic motif symbolizing the spread of Christianity as Yo Yo Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents before moving to the United States.

Inscribed name of Yo Yo Ma "discovered" in so-called "Jonah Ossuary." This is obviously a prophetic motif symbolizing the multicultural spread of Christianity as Yo Yo Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents before moving to the United States.

Thus, much like the typographic/anthropomorphic elements used in making the famed letters of YMCA, I predict this argument will gravitate toward a Y-O-N-A explanation – where arms and legs form the shape of letters – and linger there for a little while longer.

YMCA of the Rockies statue

YMCA of the Rockies statue

when is a nun not a nun?

My friend and colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre made a keen observation last evening that is worthy of repeating. It relates to recent claims made by Dr. James Tabor that Dr. James Charlesworth has found the letters of the name of Jonah in the image inscribed on the front of Ossuary 6 from the so-called “Patio Tomb” from Talpiot, Jerusalem. The specific issue has to do with the fact that Dr. Tabor wants to interpret a pair of lines on the image as a single line, so that he can interpret them as the Hebrew letter nun, and thereby produce a necessary element of the name of Jonah. The problem (as Dr. Goodacre has pointed out) is that the supposed letter nun is drawn as two separate lines in their own reproduced images!

Indeed, one can test for the clarity of the lines here by returning to the CGI composite image of what is depicted on ossuary 6.  This image aims to represent what the authors of the project used to regard as clear and self-evident and yet it is quite clear that before this new “Jonah” reading had been proposed, they too saw a break in the line that is now held to be a nun.  In other words, before the “Jonah” inscription interpretation, they too could not see the continuous line of a letter “nun”.

That is, Jacobovici and Tabor’s own Photoshopped composite CGI image clearly treats the lines of the desired nun as two separate lines! I’ve dealt with this before, but see below how Dr. Goodacre has refuted Dr. Tabor’s claim with Dr. Tabor’s own published rendering of the image!

Lines from the CGI composite image from Ossuary 6 are depicted as TWO lines, not ONE.

Lines from the CGI composite image from Ossuary 6 are depicted as TWO lines, not ONE.

Once Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor found something they felt would make a better argument, they jettisoned the ‘stick man Jonah’ argument (or at least rearranged / eliminated his arms and legs), and are now resorting to redrawing (or at least reinterpreting) the image in a more favorable light and angle in order to produce an ‘inscription’ that doesn’t exist. As I stated in my live CNN interview with Carol Costello, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor (and reportedly Dr. Charlesworth) have resorted to “Rorschach Test archeology” to salvage something – anything – that relates to Jonah.

So, my friend and colleague, Dr. James Tabor, has recently announced that Dr. James Charlesworth has discovered the name of Jonah at the bottom of an image inscribed on the face of an ossuary that was re-discovered in the so-called “Patio Tomb” in Talpiot, Jerusalem.

While Dr. Charlesworth has yet to publish anything on the matter (the only report we have is from Toronto’s finest news source, The Globe and Mail), Dr. Tabor has released a new image on his post from yesterday, which he has captioned: “Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera.” The image is below:

Image of "Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera" of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem, supposedly containing letters forming the name of "Jonah."   (Original image available at: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/19/inscription-on-the-jonah-image-says-yonah/)

Image of "Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera" of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem, supposedly containing letters forming the name of "Jonah." (Original image available at: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/19/inscription-on-the-jonah-image-says-yonah/)

First of all, I am quite curious to know what has caused the blurred out areas on each side of this ‘untouched’ image. The blurred out and shadowed area to the right may be caused by Ossuary 5. However, I know of no known obstructions on the left of the image, unless the blurred area is caused by a part of the camera itself.

Second, notice how FLAT “Jonah’s seaweed-wrapped head” suddenly appears in HiDef. From this straight-on angle it appears to be a nearly symmetrical attempt at representing a half-spherical (or hemispherical, or echinus – HT: compsciphi ;-) base of a vessel. Note the difference in shape between the CGI composite representation above and the “Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera” immediately above. Note how distorted the base of the vessel is in the CGI composite, while the actual image is nearly symmetrical, as Steve Caruso has pointed out here and here. Again, Dr. Tabor’s own new images refute his previous claims.

Finally, while this one photo that Dr. Tabor has produced above appears to show lighting and an angle favorable to Dr. Tabor’s argument, other images on their own thejesusdiscovery.org website clearly show that from multiple different angles with different lighting, the lines that form the supposed nun are, in fact, two separate strokes. Additionally, the would-be vertical stroke of the supposed nun clearly extends well beneath the angled, would-be bottom stroke of the supposed nun, clearly indicating that the nun is little more than wishful thinking.

An image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website showing the bottom of the image inscribed on the face of Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. Note that the lines which Dr. Tabor explicitly (and Dr. Charlesworth reportedly) claim to form the Hebrew letter nun are clearly two separate lines, with the vertical down stroke extending well beyond the angled bottom stroke. The traced strokes are highlighted in an inset. (Original image available here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/wppa/50.jpg)

An image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website showing the bottom of the image inscribed on the face of Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. Note that the lines which Dr. Tabor explicitly (and Dr. Charlesworth reportedly) claim to form the Hebrew letter nun are clearly two separate lines, with the vertical down stroke extending well beyond the angled bottom stroke. The traced strokes are highlighted in an inset. (Original image available here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/wppa/50.jpg)

See also this close-up from a previous post:

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'.

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'.

I believe I speak for many when I say that I am certainly awaiting Dr. Charlesworth’s treatment of this inscribed area. I have stated earlier that one must do some rather strenuous mental gymnastics to arrive at the letters for the name of Jonah in this image, including ignoring lines that are clearly present but do not fit the desired inscription, joining together lines that are clearly not conjoined, reshaping letters, and eliminating any semblance of linear alignment. Again, if these are the epigraphical rules we are following, then my ‘discovery‘ of the name of ‘Yo Yo Ma‘ is not as comical as it is intended to be…

Then again, if Antonio Lombatti’s recent post listing various scholars and their readings of the supposed inscription is any hint, it appears that, yet again, the scholarly consensus (of at least those not working with Simcha on this or another of his film projects) is leaning away from reading “Jonah” the base of the vessel.

the talpiot tomb and jesus: it’s come to this

The whole Simcha Jacobovici / Talpiot Tomb / Jesus Family Tomb / Jonah Ossuary / Resurrection Tomb Mystery / Jesus Discovery circus has finally (and perhaps not unexpectedly) completed its descent into absurdity.

It’s come to this:

The Talpiot Tomb: It's Come to This

For background, see "Representative from Simcha Jacobovici’s Associated Producers, Ltd. Claims to Have Discovered the FACE OF JESUS in Talpiot Tomb Ossuary!" at http://wp.me/pm5VN-2tc.

HT: Every Jesus Sighting Ever

the power of twitter for pseudoarchaeology

Twitter: Because when reason, logic, common sense, facts, evidence, and scholars all say "No," you can always appeal to faith and beg the public to keep the story alive.

Twitter: Because when reason, logic, common sense, facts, evidence, and scholars all say “No,” you can always appeal to faith and beg the public to keep the story alive.

washington post reports on the so-called ‘jonah ossuary’ circus

Simcha points at a blank areaNicolas Brulliard of the Washington Post has filed an excellent report entitled, “Jerusalem tomb houses some of Jesus’s earliest followers, filmmaker says,” critiquing the approaching media circus known as Simcha Jacobovici’s latest Easter season documentary, The Resurrection Tomb Mystery.

The article reports:

“Where we’re standing right here is the beginning,” [Jacobovici] said this week outside the building erected atop one of the two 1st-century tombs. “To my mind, this is the most important archaeological find ever maybe — of the past 100 years for sure.”

Not everyone agrees.

No, not everyone does. In fact, the only people thus far who have even come close to supporting Jacobovici’s claims are those receiving some form of compensation for doing so in the form of cash, honorariums, subsidized trips, consulting credits, co-authorships, or on-air face time. Thus far, not a single scholar not somehow associated with this or another of Mr. Jacobovici’s projects has offered any form of public endorsement of, agreement with, or academic support for his claims. (You can read more about this near unanimous rejection of Jacobovici’s claims here).

“It sounds like they’re trying to act out ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ” says Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa.

And once again:

The reading of the inscription has spurred a healthy amount of discussion among scholars, but Tabor and Jacobovici’s interpretation of one of the carvings has been rejected outright. Where they see a stick-figure Jonah emerging from a great fish heading downward, others see a vase, a perfume bottle or a pillar but no fish and no Jonah.

“The image on ossuary 6 is not Jonah’s great fish spitting out a seaweed-wrapped head of Jonah,” says Cargill, who favors the Greek vessel interpretation. “Fish don’t have handles.”

Handles: fish don't have them.

Handles on a "fish" are more likely handles on a vessel. But why isn't this drawn on the 'museum quality replica' shown to the press??

Handles on a "fish" are more likely handles on a vessel. But why isn't this drawn on the 'museum quality replica' shown to the press??

Give it a read.

Representative from Simcha Jacobovici’s Associated Producers, Ltd. Claims to Have Discovered the FACE OF JESUS in Talpiot Tomb Ossuary!

Simcha Jacobovici‘s documentary production company Associated Producers, Ltd. saved the greatest surprise of all until the very end!

Mr. Jacobovici is apparently claiming to have discovered the FACE OF JESUS in an ossuary in Jerusalem! At least that’s the claim made by a video uploaded to YouTube by an Associated Producers, Ltd. employee.

In exclusive, un-aired footage from the forthcoming Discovery Channel documentary, The Resurrection Tomb Mystery, Associated Producers, Ltd. employee, Mr. John McGinley (email: jmcginley@apltd.ca), has uploaded a video claiming to have discovered an image of the FACE OF JESUS in the same tomb that Mr. Jacobovici and his partner, University of North Carolina, Charlotte Department of Religious Studies Chair, Dr. James Tabor, claim to have discovered the earliest evidence of Christianity.

Jacobovici and Tabor had already claimed to have found an ossuary engraved with an image they claim to be the biblical figure Jonah being swallowed by a “Great Fish,” and an inscription that the pair claim reads: “O Divine YHWH, raise up, raise up!”

However, few expected Mr. Jacobovici or anyone from his production company to claim to have actually discovered the FACE OF JESUS! In the stunning video entitled, “FaceofJesusinTombHiRez.mov” uploaded to his YouTube Channel, jesusfaceimage, Associated Producers, Ltd. representative McGinley points out – using footage from The Resurrection Tomb Mystery – precisely where the FACE OF JESUS appears, peering forth from the ossuary at the robotic camera operated by the remote intruders.

The description of the video uploaded by Mr. McGinley reads:

This amazing video made available by Associated Producers taken from their original footage highlights the “Jesus Face” spotted yesterday, April 4, 2012.

Apparently motivated by a satirical blog post penned by Duke University Professor Dr. Mark Goodcare (cf. “Literally Unbelievable,” a website about people who think stories published on the satirical website The Onion are actually true), Mr. McGinley shows footage of the General Electric remote robotic arm (the technology featured in the forthcoming documentary) fixating upon the FACE OF JESUS in the ossuary!

As the robotic arm passes over the FACE OF JESUS, viewers can hear the voice a member of Mr. Jacobovici’s team calling out:

“All right, go back!”

Then, as the camera focuses upon the FACE OF JESUS, you hear a member of Mr. Jacobovici’s team cry out:

“You can see on your monitor where you are!”

The leaked Discovery Channel footage then freezes and spotlights the image that the Associated Producers, Ltd. production team apparently believes to be the unmistakable FACE OF JESUS!

As the mesmerizing hum of the underground tomb drones on in the background, the footage shows several different highlighted angles of what Associated Producers, Ltd. employee McGinley claims is the FACE OF JESUS!

The video then cuts to an advertisement inviting viewers to:

“Watch the full documentary of The Jesus Discovery/Resurrection Tomb Mystery on April 12th at 10 pm EST on Discovery TV in USA and Vision TV in Canada”

which is followed by a link to the thejesusdiscovery.org website.

Since the release of the documentary’s companion book, The Jesus Discovery, authored by Tabor and Jacobovici, the pair had openly claimed to have found the engraved “Jonah Ossuary” and the inscription, but the book made no claim of the discovery of the FACE OF JESUS. However, the exclusive Discovery Channel footage leaked by Associated Producers, Ltd.‘s McGinley suggests that the The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary will make the additional, shocking claim that the very FACE OF JESUS also appears on the ossuary!!

The documentary airs Thursday, April 12th at 10 pm Eastern/Pacific on Discovery.

(This video has been mirrored here in case slow loading times or other problems should arise with the original video.)

“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas” Inscription Announced

This morning, archaeologists from Bar Ilan University and Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of an ossuary (burial bone box) in Israel, which was recovered from thieves who had robbed a tomb.

The ossuary is unprovenanced – that is, because it was not discovered in a controlled archaeological excavation, its origin and context are unknown. However, further investigation (which I understand to be interrogation of the thieves) has led researchers to the conclusion “that the ossuary came from a burial cave in the area of the Valley of ‘Elah, in the Judean Shephelah.”

The authenticity of the ossuary and inscription were verified by Dr. Boaz Zissu of the Department of the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology of Bar Ilan University, and Professor Yuval Goren of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations of the Tel Aviv University using ESEM/EDS (Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope / Energy-Dispersive Spectrometer) technology. The results of the study are published in Vol. 61 of Israel Exploration Journal (published this week by the Israel Exploration Society).

The ossuary includes the Aramaic inscription, which appears to read:

מרים ברת ישוע בר קיפא כהני מעזיה דבית עמרי

which translates:

“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas,
Priests of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri”

or

מרים ברת ישוע בר קיפא כהן דמעזיה דבית עמרי

which translates:

“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua, Son of Caiaphas,
Priest of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri”

or, as Jack Kilmon suggests

“Miriam, Daughter of Yeshua Bar Qayafa,
Priest of (the course of) Ma’aziah of the House of ‘Omri”

(There is a question about whether the letter following the נ (nun) in כהן (cohen, or priest) is a ד (dalet), or a י (yod) with an unrelated scratch beneath it, or a מ (mem, apparently not in final form) similar to the letter that follows it. This is partially due to the fact that it is not certain whether the נ (nun) is in final form. It is longer, which would argue for a final ן (nun), but it is also curved, which would support the letter being a regular נ (nun). If it is a ד (dalet), then it would serve as a genitive construct indicator for the phrase “priest of Ma’aziah.” If it is a י (yod), then the word כהן (priest) would become the plural construct כהני מעזיה (priests of Ma’aziah), and the נ (nun) before would have to be interpreted as a standard נ (nun) not in final form. If it is a מ (mem), the result would be a pluralized כהנמ מעזיה with the construct implied (“priests [of] (the course of) Ma’aziah”), and the preceding נ (nun) before would have to be interpreted as a standard נ (nun) not in final form. All three options translate roughly the same. There will be other questions about the ש (shin) in the name Yeshua, as well as the diagonal mark to the right of the initial י (yod) in the same name, as well as a few others. I shall leave the formal epigraphical work to my Aramaic colleagues, who to be sure are already working up all possible interpretations and alternatives for this inscription.)

The ossuary is not unprecedented as ossuaries bearing the family name “Qayafa” (which many pronounce as “Caiaphas”) were among a total of twelve previously discovered in Jerusalem in 1990. I stated in an article at Bible and Interpretation:

“Twelve ossuaries were discovered in the so-called “Caiaphas” tomb, including a highly ornate ossuary discovered in situ (Ossuary 6) with two inscribed Aramaic inscriptions reading, יהוסף בר קיפא and יהוסף בר קפא (variant spellings of “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”), and another (Ossuary 3) with just the name קפא (“Caiaphas”) etched in an almost graffito fashion on the ossuary.”

The peripheral significance of this discovery to Christianity is that the High Priest Caiaphas, son-in-law of Annas, is mentioned in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus:

“First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.” (John 18:13 NRSV)

Dr. Boaz Zissu of Bar-Ilan University made the following photo available:

The "Miriam Ossuary." Photo copyright Dr. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University.

The "Miriam Ossuary." Photo copyright Dr. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University.

The official press release is here. DO read this release for the best information about the ossuary and inscription.

News reports can be found on AP, Arutz Sheva, Jerusalem Post, Yahoo News, and more photos can be found at TimesUnion. Jerusalem Post video is here.

One can see the Aramaic inscription running from right to left along the top of the ossuary.

Regarding the end of the inscription, Arutz Sheva explains:

Ma’azyah was the name of the 24th priestly service shift at the temple. Members of this family signed the convention mentioned in the book of Nehemiah (10,9). The House of Imri refers to the priestly family of Miriam, or to the location she came from.

Steve Caruso at Aramaic Designs has offered up a mashup of the inscription with the letters filled in with black.

Caruso suggests the following:

Inscription of Miriam Ossuary, mashed up by Steve Caruso.

I have done the same below. The top image is an animated GIF (made with the help of MakeAGif) of my Photoshop fill-in of the inscription. I flash the inscription because it allows the viewer to verify precisely how I filled in the inscription (transparency, transparency, transparency!)

Animated GIF of Miriam Ossuary inscription highlighting the Aramaic Inscription

Animated GIF of Miriam Ossuary inscription highlighting the Aramaic Inscription. (Click to view.)

Below is a still photo of the inscription released by Dr. Zissu (top), and my highlight with the letters in black (and uncertain areas in gray, bottom).

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (without editing).

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (without editing).

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (with letters traced in black and gray)

Inscription of the "Miriam Ossuary" (with letters traced in black and gray)

Finally, before everyone gets carried away with what this ossuary and inscription mean, let me give the reader a quick review of what it does NOT mean:

  1. Since the ossuary was recovered from a thief, it is unprovenanced, meaning we cannot be certain of its place of origin or context. As an unprovenanced archaeological object, many academic publications that have agreed not to publish unprovenanced objects (to deter against looting and forgery) will not be publishing this ossuary. That is why you may not read about it in some of the more credible archaeological journals.
  2. The “investigation” (which I’m assuming was, in part, the interrogation of the thieves) concludes that the ossuary came from the Valley of ‘Elah, in the Shephelah, and NOT from the so-called “Caiaphas family tomb” in the Jerusalem Peace Park. There are some who understand the tomb in Jerusalem to have been the family tomb of Caiaphas, the High Priest mentioned in the Bible (Matt 26:57-68), who is said to have been involved with the trial of Jesus. If the ossuary came from elsewhere, there is a question why this ossuary would not have been found in the Caiaphas family tomb in Jerusalem. One answer may be that the Valley of ‘Elah tomb may be that of ישוע (Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus) Bar Qayafa (whose daughter, Miriam’s, ossuary was recovered), while the Jerusalem tomb may belong to יהוסף (Yehosef/Joseph), his brother.
  3. That said, the discovery of this ossuary is NOT evidence of the existence of Jesus. The ישוע (Yeshua/Jesus) mentioned in the inscription was NOT the same Jesus who is the central figure of the New Testament. Likewise, the presence of an inscription mentioning a peripheral character mentioned in the Bible does not mean that the entire story is true or historical.
  4. The inscription is NOT evidence that Jesus was tried by Caiaphas. This inscription only lends support to the understanding that there was, in fact, a priestly family named Qayafa/Caiaphas.
  5. The inscription is NOT evidence that there was a trial of Jesus. (See above.)
  6. The inscription is NOT evidence that Jesus died and was raised form the dead. That has nothing to do with this ossuary. Again, this discovery only lends support to the understanding that there was, in fact, a priestly family named Qayafa/Caiaphas.
  7. The inscription in and of itself is NOT evidence that the Bible is historically reliable, inerrant, infallible, or any other “See, I told you so” statement. The Bible is full of true facts and historical verities. No one questions this. However, the authentication of one claim does NOT mean that all claims are verifiable.

What this discovery DOES tell us is this:

  1. Someone named Miriam existed. She was apparently the daughter of  ישוע (Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus) Bar Qayafa (or the son of Qayafa/Caiaphas).
  2. If this Miriam is the daughter of Yeshua, and if that Yeshua is the son of Caiaphas, then the discovery gives us new information that the Qayafa/Caiaphas family was from the Ma’aziah order of priests from Beyt ‘Imri.
  3. Thus, the discovery of this unprovenanced ossuary provides support to the understanding that there was, in fact, a priestly family named Qayafa (Caiaphas) around the time of Jesus.

I look forward to following this story as it develops. I do NOT look forward to what will inevitably be the sensationalization of this story by some whose false or ignorant claims will be used to make money or promote a particular ideology, religious or otherwise.

earliest hebrew inscription reported found

Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon

Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa claims this inscription on a pottery shard discovered in the Elah valley dating from the 10th century BCE is the earliest example of Hebrew writing. Courtesy of the University of Haifa

researchers at haifa university are claiming that the ostracon discovered in 2008 at khirbet qeiyafa contains the earliest example of hebrew writing. professor gershon galil of the department of biblical studies at the university of haifa has translated the text of the faded ostracon. according to a press release:

The inscription itself, which was written in ink on a 15 cm X 16.5 cm trapezoid pottery shard, was discovered a year and a half ago at excavations that were carried out by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel at Khirbet Qeiyafa near the Elah valley. The inscription was dated back to the 10th century BCE, which was the period of King David’s reign, but the question of the language used in this inscription remained unanswered, making it impossible to prove whether it was in fact Hebrew or another local language.

galil’s english translation reads as follows:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

galil uses the ostracon to argue that hebrew was established much earlier that most scholars date the origin of the language. while the gezer calendar, which dates to approximately the same period is a simple text telling the reader when to plant and when to harvest and may have served as a school text, this qeiyafa ostracon echoes some of the teachings that would later be found in the bible, such as caring for slaves, widows, orphans, infants, foreigners, and the poor.

a few comments and questions should surely be asked:

  1. what was the context of the sherd? this is instrumental in ruling out forgery. the ostracon came from the elah fortress excavation. the new york times’ ethan bronner wrote an article highlighting the excavation. there is an excellent timeline of the discovery of the ostracon.
  2. is the translation accurate? scholars will no doubt debate each letter of the transcription and translation. stephen smuts has blogged about a youtube video where professors hagai misgav and yosef garfinkel discuss their translation of the ostracon. galil’s translation will be sure to continue the debate.
  3. does this prove the existence of king david? the answer is no (nor does it arge against his existence). what it does show is that hebrew (if it is determined to be, in fact, hebrew and not some canaanite dialect) writing was practiced in the 10th century bce. this would support the presence of literate hebrew scribes at qeiyafa. whether the presence of scribes in a smaller coastal town supports the existence of an even larger israelite presence in jerusalem is yet to be seen. we cannot assume that just because someone in a small town southwest of jerusalem can write in hebrew means that there are even more people writing in a capitol in jerusalem. what it would tell us is that literacy was more common and widespread at an earlier period than previously thought. of course, none of this lends any evidence to the existence or absence of king david, but a widespread literacy of hebrew in the 10th century bce could be used as evidence of an established or coordinated scribal system in israel.
  4. does this mean that the bible was written earlier than we thought? no. because the text of the ostracon only makes references to themes that would later appear in biblical books, and does not cite them specifically, we cannot say that the bible was composed at any earlier of a date than the 7th-to-1st century bce periods that scholars already date the bible. conservative scholars argue that some portions of the bible were written as early as the 8th century reign of king hezekiah (with some archaic hebrew songs and poems perhaps dating a bit earlier), and other scholars date the composition of the bible to the 6th and 5th centuries bce, during and after the exile to babylon. still other minimalist scholars date the composition of the bible to the 3rd and 2nd centuries bce. (some books like daniel and esther were written even later and date to the second and first centuries bce). thus, we cannot state that this ostracon requires us to date the biblical texts to an earlier period. what we can say is that the themes of social justice and care of the poor and marginalized that would later be echoed in the torah and by the prophetic books were already in the consciousness of the peoples that would later com to identify themselves as jews.
  5. does this prove the story of david and goliath is true? no. better yet, not on your life! the story of david and goliath claims to have taken place in a valley where this ostracon was discovered. here’s a great rule of thumb in archaeology: just because something – anything – was found in a place where a legendary story is said to have taken place does not prove the story. it does nothing. it’s as if i told you that i floated in mid air unaided at ucla. you then traveled to ucla and found a flip flop that said ‘rainbow’ on it. you then tell the world that you discovered a rainbow flip flop in the same place that cargill claims to have floated in mid air. this does not make my story valid, it just means that the place i claimed to have done something exists. likewise, the discovery of this ostracon in the place where david was said to have battled goliath does not in any way lend evidence to the historicity of the legend. it only means that there is a place named the valley of elah. this, of course, won’t stop reporters form mentioning david and goliath.

links

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2010/01/linguistics-and-dating-of-texts.html

http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2010/01/etching-hints-bible-is-older-than-thought-earliest-hebrew-inscription-found/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+TheChurchOfJesusChrist+(The+Church+of+Jesus+Christ)&utm_content=Google+Reader

http://jamestabor.com/2010/01/07/oldest-hebrew-text-deciphered/

http://www.dailyhebrew.com/2010/01/07/update-10th-century-khirbet-qeiyafa-inscription/

on looted archaeological objects, the antiquities market, the heliodorus stele, and the israel museum

Heiodorus Stele

The so-called Heliodorus Stele is said to be both authentic and from an archaeological excavation in Beit Guvrin, Israel. Scholars wonder how an object discovered in a sanctioned excavation made it onto the antiquities market.

there is an excellent editorial on the bible and interpretation site by editors mark elliot and paul flesher about the so-called ‘heliodorus stele.’ specifically, the editorial asks the question why this inscription, if authentic, wound up in the hands of collectors and antiquity dealers?

the article concludes:

In short, we would argue that there are many questions which need to be answered about the Heliodorus Stele, above and beyond the inscription written upon it: when was it found; how was it found; if it were looted from Beit Guvrin, did the dig directors know when and how it was taken; did the IAA and the Parks Authority know that such looting was going on and, if so, what steps did they take to prevent further looting; how did Gil Chaya really come into possession of the stele; how did the Steinhardts find out about it and buy it; how much did they pay for it and was Chaya allowed to keep the money; why wasn’t the sale stopped; why was the sale allowed in the first place; what role did the Israel Museum play in this; and why isn’t the IAA (and the dig directors) questioning all this if the object has been shown through analysis to come from the same place on a licensed dig as three other similar objects?

there are a few different conclusions we can draw about the heliodorus stele, and each one of them raises some serious questions. i want to know the following:

  • looted – if it was taken from beit guvrin, why aren’t the authorities trying to apprehend the looter(s)? who received money for the transfer of this looted object?
  • antiquities market – if it was not looted, but is simply an unprovenanced object on the antiquities market, why are scholars and journals publishing articles about unprovenanced materials?
  • forgery – if it is a forgery, what is the israel museum doing displaying it? and who got duped into saying this forgery is authentic? also, if a forgery, were the fragments discovered during the ‘dig for a day’ excavations planted?

put simply, if it was discovered in a legitimate excavation, what on earth is it doing on the antiquities market? and who took it?

%d bloggers like this: