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.)

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.”

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

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

The video points out 2 basic points:

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

the first 3 words say it all: an unbelievable “discovery”

The first three words of the newly released The Resurrection Tomb Mystery trailer say all that you need to know: AN UNBELIEVABLE “DISCOVERY”

I couldn’t agree more. (And I see no mention of Jonah anywhere in the trailer…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, Dr. Tabor states:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Tabor states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handles on both sides of the Jonah Ossuary image

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

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

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

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


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

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

YouTube Tutorial on Correcting for Perspective in Photoshop: “Jonah Ossuary” Edition

I have created a new video on my YouTube account, which is a tutorial explaining how to correct for perspective in Photoshop. The tutorial was prompted by the release of a CGI image of the so-called “Jonah Great Fish” image inscribed on Ossuary 6 discovered in a tomb in Jerusalem, as well as other images released by Dr. James Tabor and Mr. Simcha Jacobovici in their book, The Jesus Discovery.

The video is here:

Give it a watch (and apologies in advance for the 26 minute length).

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