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.

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