the ’tilapia tomb’

TilapiaQuestion:

Now that Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor are claiming that an ossuary discovered in Jerusalem has a ‘fish’ on it, can we begin referring to the Talpiot Tomb the “Tilapia Tomb“?

#St. Peter’s Fish

antonio lombatti presents evidence that the ‘fish’ on tabor and jacobovici’s ‘jonah ossuary’ is actually an amphora

Forget what I said about ‘Absalom’s Tomb’ here and here. It was a nice observation, but it’s probably not correct. In fact, it’s probably wrong.

If the photo that Tabor and Jacobovici are releasing is properly oriented, the nephesh monument would be upside down. It would have been nice to have had the proper orientation of the original, undoctored (or ‘computer enhanced’) photo, but if the photo is correct and the ossuary is right side up, the nephesh monument would be upside down, and therefore my ‘Absalom’s Tomb’ monument interpretation would be unlikely.

(BTW, this can serve as a quick lesson to students both in the sciences and in the humanities (and especially you in religious studies): the beauty of science and the scientific method is that scholars are free to admit they were wrong when better evidence and arguments come along. In fact, we are encouraged to do so. Rather than dig in our heels and argue until our dying breath for interpretations that have long been disproved by new evidence, critical scholars celebrate peer-review and the discussion of ideas among learned individuals, who offer new proposals and bring knowledge and familiarity with evidence from their respective specialized fields to the discussion. Through the process, a consensus is often reached that is based upon a consideration of all of the latest evidence, and not just the claims of those who made them first or the loudest, or worse yet, who bypassed the scholarly process altogether to take their sensational claim directly to the public for the purposes of selling a popular book. As a scholar, I am humbled, and yet pleased when I can admit when my interpretation was wrong, because it means I am still learning from my colleagues and peers, who have taken the time to engage me in academic debate.)

With that said, another interpretation has come to the forefront, and this one may just be right: amphora.

Antonio Lombatti has posted images of ossuaries with amphorae on them that closely resemble the image that Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor are telling the world is “Jonah’s Great Fish.”

As you can tell from the actual published photo of the image on the ossuary in its proper context and orientation (below), and even from the museum replica of the ossuary (below), a crude attempt at an amphora may be the best interpretation.

1. The top of the image is wide and flat like an amphora. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this is a ‘tail’.)

2. The body tapers down through a nice curve like other amphorae. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this the ‘fish’s body’.)

3. Handles appear on the sides of the amphora. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim these are ‘fins’.)

4. The base is decorated with grooves like other amphorae. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this is a ‘fish head’.)

5. There is even a small foot (base) of the amphora. (Tabor and Jacobovici claim this is ‘a human head wrapped in seaweed’ – I kid you not).

Fig. 20 from page 41 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, Feb 28, 2012.

Fig. 20 from page 41 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, Feb 28, 2012.

A 'museum quality replica' of the so-called 'Jonah Ossuary' from the "Jesus Discovery" website: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/

A 'museum quality replica' of the so-called 'Jonah Ossuary' from the "Jesus Discovery" website: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/

I believe Antonio Lombatti’s proposal is the best proposal so far. What say you?

on ‘absalom’s tomb’ in jerusalem and nephesh monument iconography

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into a burial ossuary.

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into an ossuary. Photo credits: Left: Brian796 (http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/brian796/2/1264692913/the-tomb-of-absalom.jpg/tpod.html). Center: MSNBC Cosmic Log (http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/27/10521007-new-find-revives-jesus-tomb-flap) Right: Ariel Horowitz on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Avtomb.JPG).

Here’s a thought:

In response to Simcha Jacobovici’s sensational claims of a “Jonah’s Great Fish” icon on a burial ossuary in Jerusalem, Duke University’s Dr. Eric Meyers states the following:

In fact, the image in the book is so poorly reproduced in my copy that one suspects it has been intentionally altered so that no one could see what the the image really is. Indeed, the image actually seems to resemble a nephesh, or tomb monument, like those found in many places in Jerusalem in the first century CE and depicted on ossuaries of this very period (so for example in fig. 13 or 30 of Rahmani’s A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, 1994). A nephesh is the above-ground monument of a tomb that marks the tomb below and the one(s) buried there.

Chris Rollston adds:

I must emphasize that I am confident the engraving  is simply a standard “nephesh tower motif,” an ornamental motif that is fairly widely attested on the corpus of ossuaries.  In fact, in Rahmani’s discussion of the ornamental motifs of ossuaries, the first ornamental motif he mentions is that which has the appearance of a tomb façade or nephesh tower. (Rahmani, L. Y., 1994. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, p. 28).

By the way, the features of  this ossuary’s ornamentation that Jacobovici and Tabor contend are the “fins of a fish,” are actually a standard feature of a roof, namely, the eaves (which, of course, are important for directing the water away from a building).  Note also that eaves are visible in multiple of Rahmani’s drawings of ossuary ornamentation.  In short, this is not a fish.  It is a nephesh tower or tomb façade.

The initial thought that came to my mind was the so-called Tomb of Absalom (that we coincidentally discussed today in my “Jerusalem from the Bronze to Digital Age” class at Iowa). The shape of the figure resembles the shape of the Tomb of Absalom, which is dated to the 1st C. CE in Jerusalem. I suggest that the “round” figure at the top of the ossuary image may be an attempted representation of a lotus flower that Kloner and Zissu state is carved into the top of the Absalom monument. (Kloner A. and Zissu B., 2003. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and The Israel Exploration Society. Jerusalem (in Hebrew), pp. 141-43.) It certainly could be interpreted as an attempt at the petals of a flower.

Likewise the lower panels of the image could be an attempt at a representation of the tomb’s pillars.

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into a burial ossuary.

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into an ossuary. Photo credits: Left: Brian796. Center: MSNBC Right: Ariel Horowitz on Wikipedia.

Note also that the sections of the “tail” of the “fish” correspond to the attempted representations of the stacked Greek architectural segments on the tomb’s (frieze, architrave, etc.):

'The Tomb of Absalom.' Peter Bergheim, a Jerusalem resident of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, took this photo, which shows how the rock rubble piled up even inside the tomb. The Bergheim family had a bank just inside Jaffa Gate. Photo by Peter Bergheim, courtesy of Joe Zias. (Available at: http://tfba.co/content/index.php/projects/34-tomb-of-absalom/46-the-tomb-of-absalom-reconsidered?start=9)

'The Tomb of Absalom.' Peter Bergheim, a Jerusalem resident of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, took this photo, which shows how the rock rubble piled up even inside the tomb. The Bergheim family had a bank just inside Jaffa Gate. Photo by Peter Bergheim, courtesy of Joe Zias. (Available at: http://tfba.co/content/index.php/projects/34-tomb-of-absalom/46-the-tomb-of-absalom-reconsidered?start=9)

This may not be the inspiration for the image on the ossuary, but it certainly seems more likely than a “fish” spitting out a “human head.”

maximize the money, archaeology be damned: simcha jacobovici claims ‘new’ evidence of jesus

See? Once you have this inscription, we know Jesus was buried here. Simple, no? I shake my head...

See? Once you have this inscription, we *know* Jesus was buried here. Simple, no? I shake my head...

On December 8, 2012, in response to learning that Simcha Jacobovici had sued one of his more vocal critics, Joe Zias, I left the following comment on Jim West’s blog:

How much do you want to bet that this law suit was filed a couple of months before the release of Simcha’s ‘next big thing’? Wouldn’t it be something if this lawsuit was simply part of a media strategy to intimidate critical scholars by suing someone just prior to the release of some crazy new claim. The cherry on top would be another ossuary claim, because the world doesn’t have enough sensational ossuary controversies. Just watch. Let’s see if this is what happens. If so, Simcha will have proved me correct, and the world will know precisely what this is all about.

Well, what do you know? I hate to say it, but…I told you so.

And now, the press is beginning to be polluted with this: ‘Naked Archaeologist’ finds signs Jerusalem cave was used to bury Jesus’ disciples (Haaretz)

And this: New find revives ‘Jesus Tomb’ flap (MSNBC)

And this: Tomb exploration reveals first archaeological evidence of Christianity from the time of Jesus (eurekalert.org)

And this: The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity [Hardcover]

Fascinating how these stories all hit the wires the same day – Feb 28, 2012 – precisely the same day that Jacobovici’s new book gets released?? And, is it coincidence that said media marketing campaign gets kicked off during the Lenten season just before Easter?

This is nothing more than a coordinated press release to sell a book and promote a forthcoming documentary. There is no new discovery here; this has been known for years.

REMEMBER: don’t watch what Simcha says – you know he’s going to try and sell the public on his latest speculation. Rather, watch what the scholars say – or better yet, watch what the scholars don’t say, and you’ll have your answer.

As for the ‘substance’ of the argument? Witherington got it right: “one speculation upon another speculation.”

Am I shocked? Absolutely not. This is the kind of nonsense we’ve come to expect from Simcha Jacobovici: maximize the money, archaeology be damned.

the role of archaeology in biblical history (edición español)

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson lectures

The Chilean La Tercera recently published an article entitled “Historias bíblicas: lo que la ciencia ya decifró y las preguntas pendientes,” or, “Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and the remaining questions).” La Tercera offers a link to a digital paper copy here.

The Mexican Jewish website Enlace Judio also ran the story, as did Terrae Antiqvae (complete with pictures).

The article discusses the role of archaeology as a science in relation to the Bible and biblical history. The article surveys many of the recent claims and recounts various archaeologists’ interpretations of these discoveries.

Below is an English translation of the story by Marcelo Cordova and Jennifer Abate.


Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and questions pending)

In recent years, a string of findings has been an unprecedented boost to archeology studying characters and events depicted in sacred texts, from the existence of King David to the tomb of Herod the Great.

by MARCELO CORDOVA / JENNIFER ABATE

After a backbreaking day of work under the Israel sun, the team of archaeologists from Union College in Jerusalem was preparing for a break amongst the ruins of Tel Dan, an ancient northern city. But before resting, Gila Cook, one of those in charge of the team, noticed an unusual shadow on a wall that had been exposed after digging what had been the main entrance.

It was July 21, 1993 and, as the explorer relates the story, approaching the spot, she discovered a piece of basalt protruding from the floor and on it was a text written in ancient Aramaic. Excited, she called loudly to Avraham Biran, chief researcher of the group. His surprise was immediate: it was an inscription about a military victory of the king of Damascus from the ninth century BC which mentioned the “King of Israel” and “house of David.”

This news was a historic and scientific success. It was the first time that a non-biblical reference was found that proved the existence of the monarch, the central figure of the Christian scriptures and recognized not only for his great artistic and warrior skills, but also for being an ancestor of Jesus. After centuries of exploration and speculation, which even talked about David having been invented by Hebrew scribes, a text was discovered that had been written by an enemy of the monarch.

That was the starting point for a string of discoveries which in recent years has launched an unprecedented boost to biblical archeology. A discipline that emerged after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947), when scientists stopped considering religious texts as a history that could only be demystified, and started using the Bible as a written compass to guide their excavations.

Recent efforts to search the sacred texts have paid off, achieving the illustration of episodes like the battle of David and Goliath and events related to the life of Jesus, which have been enriched with details that remained lost in time (see graphic). However, in the process scientists have also unearthed and brought to light relics that pose questions to some biblical passages, such as the Gospel of Judas, which seems to show how Jesus asked his apostle to turn him into the authorities. The role of testing and proving and, sometimes of rebuttal, is one of the major challenges of biblical archeology, Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University California, told La Tercera.

“Archaeology helps us improve our understanding of the Bible. In the same way that a site visit helps to understand its historical legacy. Sometimes it provides evidence that contradicts it. For example, there is no evidence of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt or of the Flood. But there are many findings in Jerusalem and other places that do support these texts,” says Cargill. He adds: “The idea is not to completely discard the Bible altogether just because some passages can not be verified. This book is an ancient piece of literature that should be examined for what it is: an ancient collection of documents that do not necessarily give us information about what happened then, but about the beliefs of the people from that ancient world.”

Verifying the Scriptures

If one asks the experts what are the most salient findings of recent years, the names of some places and characters tend to be repeated. One of them is one that stunned the world in 2007 when the explorers, led by archaeologist Ehud Netzer, announced the discovery of the tomb of King Herod the Great, in the Herodium, south of Jerusalem. The monarch, who was appointed by the Romans to govern Judea from 37 BC and 4 BC, is described in the Bible as the instigator of the “slaughter of the innocents” (at the knowledge of the birth of Jesus, he ordered the deaths of children under two years old in Bethlehem).

But apart from this notoriously sad reputation, he was known for his grand architectural vision; he ordered the construction of the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem and the almost mythical fortress of Masada, the last bastion of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 73 AD.  Most archaeologists assumed that he had been buried at the Herodium, but it was the finding of some monumental steps 6.5 m wide, which were built for Herod’s funeral procession, described in detail by the historian Josephus, which eventually led Netzer to a large broken sarcophagus 2.5 meters long. While inside it no human remains were found, the detailed ornamentation and the surrounding buildings of that place causes the experts to claim that the body of the monarch did lie there.

Netzer explained in 2007 that this discovery put an end to 30 years of research and gave support to the legendary ambition of Herod. Herodium is the only site that carries his name and was chosen by the king to immortalize himself, integrating a huge palace located in the desert hilltop. “This finding is significant because it puts into perspective Herod, a key figure in Christianity,” he told The Guardian.

Illustrating how a king produced a majestic tomb helps – Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at the U. Tel Aviv, told La Tercera – the specialists to delve into the economic, social, political and demographic contexts that marked this era in which these texts were written. A view shared by Michael Coogan, a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College (USA), who told La Tercera: “If we take the example of an opera, the Bible is the script and archeology is the setting in which it takes place.”

While in recent years there have discoveries made in various parts of Israel – including a synagogue in the town of Migdal where Jesus would have prayed regularly, and 2,000 year-old houses in Nazareth that reveal a village of just 50 homes of humble lifestyle. The vast majority is concentrated in Jerusalem. Remains of pottery and other objects show that the city was inhabited from 4000 BC, although it was King David who established it as the capital of the united kingdom in 1000 BC.

And it was his son who built the first temple of the city. The Book of Kings recounts how Solomon brought his Egyptian wife to the city of David, where he built his home and a large wall. In 2010, archaeologists found a big wall in Jerusalem from the tenth century BC providing support to the existence of a royal palace and a fortified capital under the control of a king. In addition to an outdoor structure, which is 10 m high and 70 m long, a monumental tower and a large entrance were found.

“This is the first time we’ve run into a structure that conforms to the descriptions of the works of Solomon. This fits into the biblical story and it enhances our ability to establish a link with the wall of Jerusalem. It is very probable that the Bible, as the stories of many dynasties, preserves a core of truth,” said archaeologist Eilat Mazar to Haaretz news group.

The Chapter on Jesus

The evidence found that is tied to the most recent Scripture passages – especially to that of the life of Jesus, his family and apostles – is also coming to light in the form of objects and texts. In 1968 explorers found the remains of a man in his twenties in a cave northeast of Jerusalem. The find was considered unique because although the Romans were known to have crucified thousands of rebels, thieves, and deserters, a victim of this technique had never been found. And his remains corroborated the biblical description of such execution: the man’s left ankle had a nail that went through 11 cm and a small wooden box between the bone and the nail head to prevent release of the cross leg.

This evidence not only corresponds to a similar period as that of the crucifixion of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, but, according to experts, it verifies the description of his funeral. For decades it was believed that the Romans were limited to throwing the corpses into mass graves to be devoured by animals and thus impose fear.  But, this body showed that, on occasion, funeral proceedings were permitted similar to those mentioned in the Scriptures.

Recent explorations in and around Jerusalem have uncovered not only references linked to the death of Christ, but also to the image that his miracles propagated and to the characters that surrounded him, such as John the Baptist.  Seven years ago, works in the neighborhood of Silwan gave the location of a pool where, according to the Bible, Jesus gave sight to a blind man and in 2008; while underwater archaeologists recovered from the Bay of Alexandria (Egypt) a vessel of the late 1st century AD that says Dia chrstou o goistais (“Christ the magician”).

According to Franck Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, it would be the earliest known reference to Jesus outside the Bible. The words in this inscription further illustrate how Christianity and paganism were intertwined during the first years after the crucifixion. The investigator told Discovery News that it is very likely that some magician had inscribed “Christ” in the bowl to legitimize his own powers by invoking his name: “It is very probable that in Alexandria, where one also found one of Cleopatra’s palaces, the existence of Jesus and his legendary miracles were known.”

In 2004, archaeologists found a clue to the legacy of John the Baptist, when they located a cave in Jerusalem that may have been used by him for some of his ceremonies. The site, 21 meters long, was excavated between 800 and 500 BC and includes a series of carvings from the 5th century A.D. depicting the image of a man with a staff. There is no direct evidence of the link between this place and John, but the British archaeologist Shimon Gibson told Fox News that the carvings, combined with a stone used for foot washing and the proximity to the place where John lived, suggests that the cave was used by him.

“Apparently, this site was adopted by John the Baptist, who wanted a place to bring people to perform his rituals and propagate his ideas about baptism,” added Gibson. Amihai Mazar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told La Tercera that despite the lack of confirmation of the link, such findings illustrate the customs and rituals of that time: “Now we can reconstruct how people lived, how they viewed their settlements and what their economic and social structures were.”

Subject for Dispute

It is clear that these findings have not been without controversy, and they are almost always preceded by sensationalistic media. One of the most iconic episodes in this regard came last year when it was announced that Noah’s Ark had been discovered atop Mount Ararat (Turkey). After a series of criticisms for its inconsistencies in terms of dating, this finding was branded false.

Something similar could be taking place with the announcement a few days ago of the alleged discovery of two nails used to crucify Jesus. The documentary, guided by Simcha Jacobovici (who years ago said he had found the tomb of Jesus), mixed evidence with a series of assumptions to announce the discovery of these objects in a tomb explored in 1990 and which, for some unknown reason, ended up at an anthropologist’s laboratory in Tel Aviv, where they remained forgotten.

The main argument of the filmmaker is that an ossuary was also found in the tomb that has scientific backing and a connection with the death of Jesus: an receptacle with human remains and the inscription “Caiaphas,” the name of the High Priest who organized the capture of Jesus. Robert Cargill, who is part of a committee of U.S. archaeologists that refutes baseless claims, tells La Tercera: “These type of assumptions are made by amateurs, not professional archaeologists. Usually, they are scams to earn money or convince people of a certain faith claim.”

The subject about which scientists have not yet achieved consensus is the Gospel of Judas. The full text, which is 1,700 years old and written in Egyptian Coptic Christian, continues to cause controversy, not because they doubt its authenticity, but for its meaning. While the Bible portrays Judas as a traitor, the initial translation shows the apostle as the closest friend and disciple of Christ, who sacrifices his teacher at his request; this involves a reinterpretation of biblical texts. Another analysis, however, postulates that the text does not say this, but rather that Judas was a “demon” and that he, in fact, betrayed Jesus.

Researchers are divided in their analysis of what remains to be discovered. Some speak of cities or more details of King Solomon, but the same Robert Cargill says the key requirement, such as it has been until now, is discovering more about the daily life of the society in which the writings were produced: “A dream find would be something like the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that opens a new window to understanding how these people thought and interacted thousands of years ago. I’d love to find something written in a new language and decipher it, or find a palace or a temple, because no serious explorer ever says he has found the Ark of the Covenant, the cross of Christ, or the Holy Grail.”

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