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.

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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.

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.

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).

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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