YouTube: “Jonah’s Seaweed Wrapped Head” on the “Jonah Ossuary” from “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery”

I’ve created one more YouTube video that critiques the image that is claimed by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. James Tabor to be “Jonah’s Seaweed Wrapped Head” on the so-called “Jonah Ossuary” from a tomb in Talpiyot, Jerusalem. The ossuary is featured in a forthcoming Discovery Channel documentary entitled “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery.”

And just as I’ve written before, the “Seaweed Wrapped Head” of “Jonah” is actually an attempt at a half-spherical base of a Greek vessel etched into the side of the ossuary. Nothing more.

The “seaweed” is nothing more than an etched version of “coloring in” the base, just like the artist “etched in” the top of the vessel (Simcha and Dr. Tabor’s “fish tail”) and many areas of the geometric border surrounding the vessel. Note that the lines are drawn as you’d expect one to draw them were they attempting to represent a half-spherical base.

Finally, the lines that comprise the extra “legs and arms of stick man Jonah” are nothing more than attempts at reproducing the ring of lines that quite commonly appear just above the bases in vessels, as the video clearly shows. Unless you are going to put forward Rorschach tests as archaeological evidence, there is nothing else there.

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

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

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

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

I know this to be true because the same Jerry Lutgen made the same comments on my blog, where he wrote:

I circulated the “fish” image to three fish experts, two staff members of a large marine biology center in the US and one a renowned ichthyologist from Israel.

When asked if they saw a fish or an inanimate object like a vase, both of the US fish guys had no trouble seeing a fish. As one of them said: ”I would have guessed it was a depiction of a fish more so than a vase”

In response to the question; “is it a fish”, the reply of the Israeli ichthyologist is compelling. He states:

I believe that it is a triggerfish from the BALISTIDAE family. It is the only family presenting a first dorsal fin transformed to a strong spine; same for the ventral fin…

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

Queen Triggerfish (Image via Wikipedia)

A Queen Triggerfish (of family Balistidae), rotated 90-degrees clockwise to place specimen on its side and in the necessary orientation to correspond to the so-called "Jonah Ossuary." (Image via Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:4987_aquaimages.jpg)

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

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

The largest member of the family, the stone triggerfish (Pseudobalistes naufragium) reaches 1 metre (3.3 ft), but most species have a maximum length between 20 and 50 centimetres (7.9 and 20 in).

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

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

Triggerfish bite

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

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

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

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

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

Why would an artist choose a 50 cm tropical fish, more likely to be found in the tropical and subtropical reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba than in the Mediterranean (Joppa to Tarshish), to represent a “great fish” capable of swallowing a man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible Solution to the “Seaweed-wrapped Stick Figure Head” in the “Jonah Ossuary” Iconography

As I continue to examine the new, hi-resolution images that my colleague, Dr. James Tabor, has released on the thejesusdiscovery.org website’s “Press Kit Photos and Graphics” page (and many thanks to Dr. Tabor and his team for doing so!), I came across a beautiful, hi-res photo of the base of the inscribed image.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, captioned "Detailed Jonah Image - no cgi" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The image shows a close-up of the bottom of the image inscribed on the front left panel of Ossuary 6 (the proposed "Jonah Ossuary").

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, captioned "Detailed Jonah Image - no cgi" (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The image shows a close-up of the bottom of the image inscribed on the front left panel of Ossuary 6 (the proposed "Jonah Ossuary"), rotated 90-degrees clockwise from its in situ orientation.

Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici interpret this as the head of a stick figure Jonah wrapped in seaweed, referencing the poetic prayer of Jonah from within the great fish’s belly recorded in Jonah 2:5:

“The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.” (NIV)

Many scholars, however, are now convinced that the image that Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici are interpreting as a “Great Fish” spitting out the seaweed-wrapped head of Jonah (and thus a reference to the resurrection of Jesus, as both were said to have spent three days in their respective places), is actually an attempt by an ancient artist at a representation of a vessel of some sort, which are commonly found on ossuaries from Jerusalem.

I have suggested in a recent post that the image we see on the front panel of Ossuary 6 is actually a vessel of some sort (perhaps a krater, hydria, or some other kind of vessel), and I point to the symmetrical handles present on both the body of the vessel and the rim as evidence, as well as similar handles on another image present on the same ossuary, which Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici interpret as a “half fish.”

One problem I have had with an interpretation as a vessel, however, has been how to reconcile the roundish engraved area at the base of the image (the stick figure’s “seaweed-wrapped head”). However, based upon the new photos released by the thejesusdiscovery.org website, I’d like to suggest a possible – and I stress possible – solution.

It is fair to say that the skill of the artist who engraved the image on the front of Ossuary 6 lies somewhere between the professionally made, inscribed ossuaries we find in Jerusalem, like the well-known “Joseph, son of Caiaphas” Ossuary (see front panel below) and graffiti (see side panel inscription of name below, which is more like the image inscribed on Ossuary 6).

Ossuary of Joseph, son of Caiaphas. Jerusalem. 1st century. Limestone. Israel Antiquities Authority Collection, exhibited at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Image copyright: Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

Ossuary of Joseph, son of Caiaphas. Jerusalem. 1st century. Limestone. Israel Antiquities Authority Collection, exhibited at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (Image copyright: Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

Thus, while the “Patio Tomb” Ossuary 6 artist may not be a seasoned professional artisan, he still may have attempted some advanced techniques.

This may be the case with the base of what I propose is an inscribed representation of a vessel on the front of Ossuary 6.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a blowup of the area under examination; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved surface of the base in black); a Google Sketch-up digital model of the base of the vessel in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a blowup of the area under examination; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved and flat surfaces of the base in black); a Google Sketch-up digital model of the base of the vessel in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

Note that the roundish area at the base of the image under examination above is not actually round, but more of a sphere with a flattened bottom. Note also that the engraved lines used to fill in the area also appear to have a consistent pattern to them: those engraved lines toward the top of the sphere (above the artificially inked red outline of the inscribed image above) appear to all be curved down at their ends perhaps representing the curved surface of the top of a spherical base, while the engraved lines at the bottom of the image (the flattened part of the sphere below the red line in the image above) all appear to be straight or curve up at their ends, perhaps representing the flat, circular bottom of the base.

Thus, the roundish object at the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 may be an early attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist in perspective. This would be quite a fascinating discovery in its own right! The level of execution on the attempted representation of the base is consistent with level of artistic ability exhibited throughout the rest of the inscribed image.

I created a very quick Google Sketch-up digital model (blue background) of my proposed base of the vessel and placed it in its approximate orientation next to the image. I’ve also added representative images of bases similar to what I’m arguing the ossuary artist is attempting to represent.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist, perhaps in perspective. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a Google Sketch-up digital model (green background) showing the possible base not in perspective in approximate orientation; a blowup of the area under examination with artificially added red ink outlining the border not in perspective; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved and flat surfaces of the base in black) in perspective; a Google Sketch-up digital model (blue background) of the base of the vessel in perspective in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

Image 15 from the thejesusdiscovery.org website, showing the bottom of an inscribed image (Available at: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1). The roundish image at the bottom may be an attempt to represent the half-spherical base of a vessel by the artist, perhaps in perspective. Surrounding the untouched photo (which has been rotated back to its in situ orientation) are (clockwise from top right): a Google Sketch-up digital model (green background) showing the possible base not in perspective in approximate orientation; a blowup of the area under examination with artificially added red ink outlining the border not in perspective; an artificially inked outline of the engraved area depicting the edges of the object in red and the engraved marks representing the curved and flat surfaces of the base in black) in perspective; a Google Sketch-up digital model (blue background) of the base of the vessel in perspective in approximate orientation; the bases of various vessels representing half-spherical bases.

UPDATE: I’ve also added a Google Sketch-up digital model (green background) of my proposed base of the vessel, which would show the base not in perspective, but rather simply as a flattened half-sphere.

Again, I stress that it is a possible alternative to the stick figure’s “seaweed-wrapped head” proposed by Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici, but I welcome feedback from my colleagues. I’d also welcome feedback from anyone who may know at other early attempts to represent perspective in art, especially on ossuaries from Jerusalem, as Ossuary 6 might be quite unique in this regard.

And thank you again to my colleague Dr. Tabor for making the new images available to me and to the public.


UPDATE: See Steve Caruso’s article on how correcting the base of the Ossuary 6 inscribed vessel for rotation and perspective causes the base to look even more like the half-spherical base a vessel.

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