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

how to substitute press releases for evidence

The supposed "Jonah inscription"

The supposed "Jonah inscription"

If you can appreciate “circular reasoning,” then you’ll love this latest example of “circular citations,” a process referred to by my colleague Steve Caruso as the “Citation Two-step” or the “Feedback Fox Trot,” but what I call the “Evidentiary reach-around.”

By now, many readers have been following the sensational claims made by Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. James Tabor. The pair claim to have discovered (among other things):

  1. The “Sign of Jonah”
  2. The “earliest christian symbols ever discovered”
  3. The “first christian symbol ever found from first century CE Jerusalem”
  4. The “earliest testimony of faith in the resurrection of Jesus”
  5. The “earliest record of a teaching or saying of Jesus”
  6. An inscription calling on “YHWH to raise up”
  7. And most recently, an “Inscription bearing the name of Jonah”

(see the back cover of The Jesus Discovery for a full list of sensational claims)

Note that none of these claims have been confirmed, and just about all scholars (except those working with or for Simcha on this or another of his film projects) reject these sensational claims outright. I said as much in my live interview with CNN’s Carol Costello on “CNN Newsroom:”

However, the night before the premier of “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery,” (Simcha Jacobovici’s latest documentary on Discovery Channel), apparently not happy with their “stick man Jonah” argument, the team jettisoned that claim and Dr. James Tabor announced via his blog that a “new discovery” had been made by none other than “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery” consultant and collaborator, Dr. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary.

And where was this great new discovery published? In a peer-reviewed journal? At a professional conference? How about on a blog? No, the revelation came via an article in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail by Michael Posner entitled, “Ancient ossuary hints at earliest reference to resurrection of Jesus.” In the article, Dr. Charlesworth is quoted as follows:

Most likely,” says Princeton Theological Seminary scholar James Charlesworth, director of a project on the Dead Sea Scrolls, “we may comprehend the inscription as reading ‘Jonah.’ And I have no doubt it is a fish.”

If Prof. Charlesworth is right, then a consensus may form that the ossuary depicts Jonah being vomited out of the mouth of the fish” (italics mine)

Again, Dr. Charlesworth has yet to publish anything on the supposed “inscription.” There has certainly been no announcement on the two places we would expect to find announcements of this magnitude: the Princeton Theological Seminary website and Dr. Charlesworth’s Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins. Yet in both places there is nothing. Nothing has been published by Dr. Charlesworth as of yet (although he is said to be presently working on something for publication regarding this inscription.)

And yet, that does not stop the press machine from grinding away.

Dr. Tabor next sends an article to Bible and Interpretation, where it is published citing only a single source: the Globe and Mail article by Toronto’s Michael Posner. Again, not a single shred of evidence or scholarly consensus has been cited other than the claims of Dr. Charlesworth as reported by Dr. Tabor on his blog, by Dr. Tabor on Bible and Interpretation, and by the single article in the Globe and Mail.

In the mean time, the press office at then University of North Carolina, Charlotte issues a press release which parrots the claim of the “discovery” of the “inscription.” Nowhere in the press release is any source cited; the press release quotes only Dr. Tabor, and parrots the announcement that Dr. Charlesworth has made a momentous “discovery.”

And for good reason: Dr. Charlesworth has not yet published anything on the subject. But because the press release is coming from UNC Charlotte to promote its professor and his claimed discovery, the press release is issued without citing anything other than conversations with Drs. Tabor and Charlesworth. And this is all well and good. The UNC Charlotte public relations office is doing its job: announcing the claims of its faculty.

All is well and good.

However, once the press release is issued, it is immediately picked up by science news aggregate website Phys.org. That Phys.org got the story directly from the UNC Charlotte press machine is made fully evident in the last line of this article, which reads:

“Provided by University of North Carolina at Charlotte.”

This means that this “story” was the same written and released by the press office of Dr. Tabor’s home university, The University of North Carolina, Charlotte. What’s more, far from mentioning the overwhelming scholarly rejection of these sensational claims, the press release reads:

“So far, Israeli epigrapher Robert Deutsch has confirmed Charlesworth’s reading of YONAH and Haggai Misgav of Hebrew University says there are definitely letters there although he reads them as ZOLAH rather than YONAH.”

The article does NOT mention the list of epigraphers (see Antonio Lombatti’s list) who reject outright that an inscription even exists, much less says what Drs. Tabor and Charlesworth say it says. Then again, as this press release was composed by UNC Charlotte to promote UNC Charlotte Professor, Dr. James Tabor, we should not expect a hint of objectivity in the press release. Rather, we should expect only Dr. Tabor’s claims and spin to support the claims.

But that does not stop the press machine.

Another Science news aggregator Eurekalert, picks up and parrots the Phys.org story, and even uses the same headline: “Hebrew inscription appears to confirm ‘sign of Jonah’ and Christian reference on ancient artifact.”

Appears to confirm??” Again, no evidence has been cited, and Dr. Charlesworth still has not published a single word on the matter. But now, despite the overwhelming opposition to the sensational claims, they are apparently “confirmed”??

Meanwhile, science news website LiveScience staff writer, Jennifer Welsh picks up the UNC Charlotte press release that has been parroted by Phys.org and Eurekalert, and publishes her own story entitled, “Ancient ‘Bone Box’ Called Oldest Christian Artifact.”

What?? Despite the fact that the article is largely rehash of the UNC Charlotte press release and now includes graphics taken from Dr. Tabor’s blog, somehow the claims is now “called the oldest Christian Artifact“??

Remember, to this point, the UNC Charlotte press release has been picked up and parroted by three news aggregators, with each one altering the title to make the claim a bit more substantiated, despite the fact that Dr. Charlesworth has still not published a word on the matter and the only source for all of these claims is the same author, Dr. James Tabor, who is selling a book making the claims, and who has utilized the UNC Charlotte press office to promote his claims.

And the press machine grinds on.

Finally, this afternoon, MSNBC re-published the LiveScience article by Jennifer Welsh as its own, this time altering the title to read, “Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact.”

WHAT???

Did you see that? CONFIRMED!?? While Dr. Charlesworth has still not published a single word on the supposed “inscription” – an inscription mind you that multiple epigraphers and scholars have rejected altogether as an inscription, much less one that reads “Jonah” – the UNC Charlotte press release, which was issued to promote the findings of Dr. Tabor as published in his new book, The Jesus Discovery, has gone from the Globe and Mail‘s headline of “Ancient ossuary hints at earliest reference to resurrection of Jesus,” to MSBNC’s headline of “Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact.”

!!!!!!!
(I shake my head.)

And nothing has changed. Not a single thing. Nothing has been published in support of the claim that has not originated from Dr.  Tabor and UNC Charlotte. Meanwhile, a host of scholars including myself have published rejections of all of these claims. And yet, there it is: Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact, all within 24 hours and without a shred of evidence or scholarly support.

Un-believable!

Just to sum up:

  1. Dr. Charlesworth’s has yet to publish anything on a supposed “Jonah inscription.”
  2. Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports that Dr. Charlesworth has found something.
  3. Dr. Tabor cites the Globe and Mail article as “breaking news” on his blog.
  4. Dr. Tabor’s  university public relations office at UNC Charlotte issues a press release announcing the “discovery” of the inscription by Charlesworth in support the claims made in Dr. Tabor’s book.
  5. Phys.org and Eurekalert pick up the UNC Charlotte press release that “confirms” the discovery.
  6. A LiveScience staff writer re-writes the Phys.org and Eurekalert stories (which were based upon the press release), altering the title.
  7. MSNBC republishes the LiveScience story with the headline: “Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact.”

And nothing has changed. Not a shred of evidence has been presented outside of Dr. Tabor’s initial claims about Dr. Charlesworth’s apparent “discovery.’ No publications. No other citations. And yet, despite the chorus of scholarly rejections, the claim is “confirmed” in the press. The same story gets republished and republished, with the headline becoming more and more certain with each regurgitation.

And that, my friends, is what scholars call the “evidentiary end run.”

And that’s how you replace evidence and scholarly consensus with a press release.

in search of the historical charlesworth (and the difference between a “mention” and an “endorsement”)

A screen capture of Dr. James H. Charlesworth's Princeton Theological Seminary faculty page.

A screen capture of Dr. James H. Charlesworth's Princeton Theological Seminary faculty page. (Available at: http://www3.ptsem.edu/Content.aspx?id=1917)

My colleague, Dr. Mark Goodacre at Duke University recently raised an interesting question regarding the invoking of the name of Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Dr. James Charlesworth in support of recent claims by Dr. James Tabor and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici regarding their supposed “Jonah’s Great Fish” ossuary.

Goodacre quite cleverly devised a synoptic comparison between Dr. Charlesworth’s own account of his first viewing of the so-called “Patio Tomb” ossuaries (as narrated in a letter he sent to the members of his Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins), and the account as narrated by Jacobovici and Tabor on page 70 of their Jesus Discovery book.

You can read Dr. Goodacre’s comparison here.

The questions I have are as follows:

  1. Who shouted?
  2. Who sight-read the inscription?
  3. How did Dr. Charlesworth interpret the inscription?
  4. How did Dr. Charlesworth interpret the image?

(I almost want to highlight the discrepancies in different color highlighter as a nod to Burton Throckmorton, but I do have a question for Dr. Goodacre: what parts of the narrative can we attribute to Q? ;-)

===

The question is important because Dr. Charlesworth (rather surprisingly) appeared to endorse Simcha Jacobovici’s last sensational claim about the discovery of the tomb and bones of Jesus at Talpiot – a claim that nearly all credible scholars rejected outright. Dr. Goodacre reported at the time:

“James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary, who also consulted on the film, told Newsweek that the documentary makes a strong case for the biblical lineage, which is supported in part by archaeologists, historians, statisticians and DNA and forensics experts.

“‘A very good claim could be made that this was Jesus’ clan,’ he said.”

It was peculiar because not long after the release of The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Dr. Charlesworth appeared to back away from his support of Simcha’s claims, even going so far as to post a statement on Princeton Theological Seminary’s website (since removed) officially clarifying his position (again, distancing himself from Simcha’s claims). As Dr. Goodacre again recounts:

“Prof. Charlesworth has provided an updated statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website (also reproduced by permission on Deinde). In the statement, he distances himself from the notion that the “Yeshua” ossuary belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, but suggests that the tomb might still be that of his extended family…”

Dr. Charlesworth concluded:

“My judgment is that this ossuary does not belong to Jesus from Nazareth. Again, the names “Jesus” and “Joseph” are extremely common in the first century….” (emphasis mine).

And now, given the obvious discrepancy between the claims Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are making about Dr. Charlesworth’s alleged support for their conclusions about the “Jonah Fish” on page 70 of their book:

“He [Charlesworth] also offered without hesitation the same interpretation of the fish. What we are looking at, he said, appears to be the earliest representation from Jesus’ followers of their faith in his resurrection of the dead. A quiet shudder went through the room as the implications of his conclusion sunk in.” (The Jesus Discovery, p. 70, emphases mine.)

A paragraph from page 70 of "The Jesus Discovery" by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici

A paragraph from page 70 of "The Jesus Discovery" by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici

and the rather distant and ambiguous (albeit admittedly promotional) account from Dr. Charlesworth’s Mar. 31, 2012 letter to the members of his Foundation, I cannot help but ask whether or not Dr. Charlesworth is once again backing away from Simcha’s claims and conclusions, or whether he ever really supported them at all.

===

The question becomes one of the difference between a “mention” and an “endorsement.” Mr. Jacobovici seems to consistently (and perhaps deliberately) confuse the two.

For instance, when scholars began to question the recent claims made by Mr. Jacobovici regarding his alleged “discovery” of iconography he claims is a representation of Jonah and his “Great fish,” Dr. Tabor posted a response from Mr. Jacobovici, which at one point reads:

In the words of Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “there’s nothing else like it on an ossuary.” We also found a statement of faith. But even if you say it’s not about resurrection, but some kind of exaltation or testament to an ascension of some kind, there is simply nothing like it on any of the thousands of ossuaries cataloged so far. Again, those are the words of Yuval Baruch.

However, this isn’t exactly an “endorsement.” All Yuval Baruch is saying is that it is “unique.” He’s not saying he agrees with Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici’s conclusions about the interpretation of the iconography or their reading of the inscription, rather, only that they’ve found something “different.”

Likewise, look at Simcha’s own words on my blog, when he offers a supposed litany of “support” for his claims:

“What psychological landscape do you inhabit? The IAA has licensed our dig. Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, put our finding on its front page. Yuval Baruch, IAA Jerusalem district head, has called it “a significant find;” James Charlesworth calls it “a Jonah image” in our film; John Dominic Crossan hails it as an extremely important find. Likewise, Prof. Barrie Wilson….the list goes on.”

However, is this really “support”? Aside from the personal red herrings we’ve all come to expect from Simcha (in this case, questioning my “psychological landscape”), let us examine the supposed “support” Simcha trots out:

“The IAA has licensed our dig.”

Great! They’re not digging illegally, but the IAA website still has no mention of Simcha other than a refutation of an earlier sensational claim Simcha made about discovering the nails from Jesus’ cross (Easter 2011). And they certainly do not agree with Simcha’s interpretation of the iconography or the inscription.

“Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, put our finding on its front page.”

Congratulations! They made news. His public relations people did their jobs. But the article did not endorse the conclusions of the find, they simply mentioned that Simcha had made his annual sensational Easter claim. (Cf. “Jesus nails” around Easter 2011; “Finding Atlantis” around Easter 2010; “Lost Tomb of Jesus” around Easter 2007; “Exodus Decoded” around Easter 2006, etc.)

“Yuval Baruch, called it “a significant find.”

Wonderful. It’s “significant.” They do have Jewish ossuaries after all. But, does Yuval Baruch agree with their conclusions?

“James Charlesworth calls it “a Jonah image” in our film.”

Does he? And, does referring to the image in question as “a Jonah image” constitute an endorsement? I, too, refer to it as “a Jonah image” (including the “scare quotes,” and I usually precede it with a ‘so-called’ or ‘purported’), but I am guessing few would interpret my referring to the vessel inscribed on Ossuary 6 as the “Jonah Image” as support for their conclusion. The question is: does Dr. Charlesworth agree with Simcha’s conclusions? If so, will he do so publicly and unequivocally?

“John Dominic Crossan hails it as an “extremely important” find.”

Again, describing something as “extremely important” is little more than a kind way of saying, “Great, you found many nice things.” Again, they did, after all, find ossuaries with an inscription and some engraved images on them. I’d call this “extremely important” as well. But the question is: does Dr. Crossan agree with their conclusions?

“Likewise, Prof. Barrie Wilson….the list goes on.”

Does it? Does it go on? Or is that all they’ve got? So far, the only people that have shown any support whatsoever for Simcha’s claims have received some sort of compensation for doing so, be it cash, honorariums, subsidized trips to Israel or other places, named consulting credits, on-air face time, co-authorships on books, or they work for Associated Producers, Ltd. I have yet to find (and have asked many times) a single scholar who has not been somehow associated with or compensated by Simcha Jacobovici that endorses or agrees with his conclusions regarding this tomb and its ossuaries. And since Barrie Wilson has been working on projects with Simcha, we are still left searching for a single scholar not working with or compensated by Simcha (or his company, Associated Producers, Ltd.) that supports his claims.

Nothing they’ve listed thus far can be considered an endorsement, much less an agreement with their conclusions.

Again, claiming something is “unique” or “significant” is NOT the same as endorsing or agreeing with someone’s conclusions. I’ve dealt with this before.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “MENTION” AND AN “ENDORSEMENT” OR “SCHOLARLY AGREEMENT.”

===

It will be interesting to watch to see if Dr. Charlesworth publicly endorses Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici’s claims about “Jonah fish” and ossuaries, or if he comments about it as many critics have done. Will Dr. Charlesworth state unequivocally, “This is a representation of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, which is a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus, meaning this is first century evidence of Christian belief in the resurrection of the very man Mr. Jacobovici claimed was dead and buried a few meters away only a few years ago. Likewise, the inscription says precisely what Dr. Tabor and Simcha say it says”?

Or, will Dr. Charlesworth play the role of the “interested promoter,” stating things like:

I am pleased to announce [the release of] an important documentary.”

And uncommitted, scholarly realities such as:

The meaning of the drawings will need to be debated among specialists.”

And then rather than offer endorsements of Simcha’s conclusions, ask a bunch of questions like:

Is the drawing a sign or a symbol? A sign can mean one and only one thing. A symbol must be interpreted and usually has many meanings. How do we discern the intended, implied, or attributed meaning of an early Jewish drawing?

And then acknowledge that the technology is indeed innovative (without agreeing with Simcha’s conclusions) by asking:

Is not the method of unintrusively exploring an ancient tomb itself ground-breaking?

And then speak to the emotion of peering at a Jewish tomb (note: not a “Jonah image,” but the somber reality of staring at mortal remains), by stating:

I was moved when I looked through a camera on the end of a robotic arm into a pre-70 Jewish tomb.

And finally, ask the question we’ve all been asking:

What was it? What was depicted? What did the early Jew intend to symbolize?

I am very, very curious to see if Dr. Charlesworth says what he says he is saying, or whether he says what Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor say he said.

Will Dr. Charlesworth declare unequivocally that the image is, in fact, an image of Jonah spitting out a seaweed-wrapped head of a stick man Jonah? Will he even comment at all in the film about the so-called “Jonah image”?

I am equally curious whether Dr. Charlesworth reads the inscription as, “O Divine YHWH, raise up, raise up!” or “The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place,” or “The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead],” as Dr. Tabor suggests, or, whether he suggests it says something else, (as others have suggested here and here and here and here). Does he see the tetragrammaton or not?

Or, will the response more closely resemble a parent’s response to a drawing his or her child made in daycare: “That’s very nice. How unique. This is quite significant. And what is this? Is that a “Jonah image“? Here, let’s put it on the fridge for all to see.”

chronicle of higher ed asks what’s best done with the dead sea scrolls

An infrared image of a fragment of Deuteronomy 27, part of Azusa Pacific U.'s Dead Sea Scrolls acquisition.

An infrared image of a fragment of Deuteronomy 27, part of Azusa Pacific U.'s Dead Sea Scrolls acquisition.

a new article by jennifer howard of the chronicle of higher education asks an important question: ‘what’s best done with the dead sea scrolls?’ in the article, howard examines the pros and cons of religiously-affiliated universities acquiring fragments of the dead sea scrolls for the sake of publicity.

But for some scholars, the purchases are more a cause for concern than for celebration. Will such acquisitions by academic institutions, even though they are made legally, help drive up the market for looted antiquities and rare artifacts? And is the boost to scholarship really worth the large sums of money those fragments cost?

she also makes note of my recent satirical blog post announcing the acquisition of some dss fragments by other previously unknown dead sea scrolls-centered institutions.

Some scholars feel queasy at the thought that universities will shell out that kind of money in these hard-pressed times, even for objects as symbolically and historically important as pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls. On his blog, Robert R. Cargill, a Biblical archaeologist, imagined “a race of archaeological one-upmanship,” in which institutions compete to scoop up high-profile objects in order to boost their academic reputations.

Mr. Cargill is the institutional technology coordinator of the Center for Digital Humanities at the University of California at Los Angeles, and the chief architect and designer of UCLA’s Qumran Visualization Project. “Universities are charged with educating people, not acquiring cool artifacts,” he said in an interview. “If someone gives a university something, OK. But universities should spend the bulk of their money on educating students and not on cheap public-relations ploys in an attempt to increase credibility overnight with the purchase of an antiquity.” Mr. Cargill also worries that high-profile acquisitions will encourage would-be looters to see what else they can dig up and put on the market.

jennifer did an excellent job with the article and it is certainly worth the read.

devry university, itt tech, and university of phoenix announce acquisition of dead sea scrolls

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment

A fragment (4Q51) of a Dead Sea Scroll

in a stunning development just one day after southwestern baptist theological seminary announced (blog) it had acquired three fragments of dead sea scrolls, the assassinated press is reporting that three more prominent american universities have acquired fragments of the dead sea scrolls and other well-known jewish cultural heritage objects from unnamed antiquities dealers.

in what has become a race of archaeological one-upsmanship, several universities have begun purchasing fragments of the famed dead sea scrolls and other jewish antiquities that have previously been in private collections. prior to last year, princeton theological seminary and the university of chicago were the only american universities to have portions of the dead sea scrolls in their private museum holdings. then late last year, southern california academic powerhouse azusa pacific university surprised the world by announcing (blog) they had purchased fragments of the dead sea scrolls from a southern california antiquities dealer. then just yesterday, southwestern baptist theological seminary announced it had also acquired fragments of the scrolls from an undisclosed antiquities dealer for an undisclosed amount of money.

the desire for christian universities and seminaries to boost their academic reputations by purchasing fragments of the enigmatic scrolls has apparently started a trend among other institutions of higher learning also seeking to gain overnight credibility by purchasing classical jewish inscriptions. this morning, online education powerhouse devry university announced that it has acquired a fragment of the great isaiah scroll discovered in cave 1 near qumran. the fragment is a .5 cm x .3 cm wide and contains a single letter: aleph. despite the fragmentary nature of the fragment, professor roger smoak, who holds a joint appointment in accounting and northwest semitic palaeography, assured devry’s board of regents that the fragment was authentic and worth every bit of the 2.3 million dollars it paid for the single letter.

This fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, although small, shows DeVry’s commitment to being a leader in the online university/alternative education market. Big things come in small packages, and this single aleph is the ‘A’ for effort that will make DeVry a major player in the world of higher education. Look out Harvard! DeVry knows a little about the Bible too. In fact, we now own a part of it.

immediately after devry’s announcement, online technical school itt tech announced that it had acquired an inscribed piece of pottery, or ostracon, from an antiquities dealer in jerusalem for an undisclosed sum. the dealer claims the ostracon is from the famed ‘samaria ostraca‘ collection, which comprises a number of ancient tax receipts for items brought to an israelite palace in samaria. the sherd acquired by itt tech contains three hebrew letters: bet, yod, and taw. while most scholars agree that this fragmentary ostracon simply contains the hebrew word bayit, or ‘house,’ itt tech associate professor of information systems security and hebrew bible, jeremy suriano, said:

While most scholars believe this ostracon says ‘house’ or ‘house of,’ I believe it is the earliest known reference to the computer term ‘bit,’ the foundational building block of bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes. In this sense, this simple ‘byt’ inscription must be considered a prophecy of the technology boom we are now experiencing today. And now we own this piece of prophecy!

A purported silver sliver of the backside of the Ketef Hinnom inscription shown next to a penny for scale.

not to be outdone, the university of phoenix has announced that it has acquired a fragment of the ketef hinnom inscription from a pawn shop in the silwan valley. matthew nam, professor of international trade and systematic theology, believes the silver sliver of text could be the centerpiece of the online university’s new masters program in international business and theology.

Obviously, the acquisition of a piece of history this significant is no small thing. Despite the fact that it contains no actual writing, the 1.1 million dollars we spent on this sliver of the Ketef Hinnom amulet’s backside shows our dedication to establishing our new program in international business and theology and establishing ourselves as the world’s premier online business degree for those who also love the Bible. Because we have made this purchase of a mere fragment of an archaeological object, we must immediately be recognized as a legitimate and major player in online theological education.

still other institutions are rumored to be in the hunt for valuable jewish antiquities in an effort to improve their academic reputations overnight. in an effort to solidify its place atop the field of agribusiness education,  fresno city college is said to be near the completion of a deal to purchase a 2 cm x 2 cm portion of a bar kokhba letter that mentions a piece of fruit. thousand oaks high school has partnered with local temple etz chaim preschool to acquire a coin minted by herod the great. and, liberty university is in talks with the jordan archaeological museum to acquire one segment of the copper scroll, which liberty university will then trade to the istanbul archaeology museum in turkey in exchange for the siloam tunnel inscription, a purported piece of noah’s ark, an artifact to be named later, and cash considerations.


these recent acquisitions of archeological objects by universities all go to show that a lack of status in theological education within the academy can quickly be overcome with a few dollars and the purchase of sensational archaeological objects. while most top schools waste their time educating their students with literary critical techniques and objective assessments of history, bible-based colleges can circumvent the scientific method while maintaining their sectarian doctrinal stances by simply purchasing objects that the public revere but do not understand. in this rough economy, why hire more faculty to educate students when a school can use that same money to purchase antiquities and sell tickets to its museum? thus, it makes great business sense for bible colleges to buy publicity by purchasing artifacts rather than producing scholars who truly understand them.

(n.b. check the ‘filed under’ category below)

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