Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy and the Talpiot Tomb

I have often attempted to articulate here what I see as some of the difficulties with the claims made by those involved with the TV documentaries The Lost Tomb of Jesus (2007) and The Resurrection Tomb Mystery / The Jesus Discovery (2012).  Earlier today a blog commenter made me aware of a phenomenon known as "The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy", which is nicely explained in this short Youtube video:

In my post on Returning Once Again to the Names in the Talpiot Tomb, I had attempted to explain that one of the difficulties for the claim that Talpiot Tomb A belonged to the family of Jesus was that names that correlate with early Christian texts are celebrated while names that do not correlate are ignored.  It is a kind of cherry-picking of the data.  Paul Regnier then commented:
There is simply no evidence that Jesus was married, or had children, or more specifically that he had a son named Judas. As mentioned above, you can't draw attention to matches with the NT record and ignore non-matches. Focusing on a piece of data that does fit a theory and ignoring the pieces of evidence that do not fit has a name - it's called the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.
Daniel McRaney explains on his website You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self-Delusion why it is called The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy:
The fallacy gets its name from imagining a cowboy shooting at a barn. Over time, the side of the barn becomes riddled with holes. In some places there are lots of them, in others there are few. If the cowboy later paints a bullseye over a spot where his bullet holes clustered together it looks like he is pretty good with a gun.
The relevance to the Talpiot Tomb claims is that a cluster of names in a given tomb is only impressive if that cluster is not contaminated with non-matches and contradictory evidence.  It is true that Jesus son of Joseph, Mary and Joses are also found among Jesus' family names in early Christian texts, but Matthew and Judas son of Jesus are not.

The same issue appears again in relation to the claim that a stick man, allegedly the figure of Jonah with seaweed wrapped around his head, is drawn into the head of the "fish" in the tomb:

The changing lines of the stick man Jonah (left: original; right: new version)
See The Changing Figure of the Stick Man in Talpiot Tomb B

James Tabor has offered two different versions of the stick man, utilizing different lines on each occasion, the earlier version to the left above and the later version to the right.  In my analogy, this is akin to the Texas sharpshooter drawing the target around holes, or here to the attempt to isolate specific lines that may or may not help us to see the presence of a stick man differently configured each time.

The same issue crops up again in relation to the alleged letters now seen in the "head" of the "fish":

Alleged letters spelling out "Jonah" on James Tabor's blog
This interpretation, attributed to James Charlesworth, isolates parts of some of the lines seen in at the bottom of the vessel (the "head" of the "fish") and suggests that they spell out the name Jonah, YWNH.  The difficulty is that there are lots of lines there, and one can only see YWNH by ignoring lines and parts of lines.  Once again, it is like the Texas sharpshooter drawing his target around the bullet-holes in the side of the barn.  (See further Do the lines in the "fish" head spell out Jonah;  With Each New "Jonah Ossuary" Photo, Multiple New Problems and links there and Talpiot Tomb B: Connected and Unconnected Lines).  

As Daniel McRaney writes, 
Anywhere people are searching for meaning, you will see the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. For many, the world loses luster when you accept the idea random mutations can lead to eyeballs or random burn patterns on toast can look like a person’s face.
And of course it is possible to spot the face of Jesus on the side of one of the ossuaries in Talpiot Tomb B, just as it is possible to see a fish in another ossuary in the same tomb, a stick man and letters in its head, and Jesus' family in the tomb next door.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Accused of slander for criticizing the "Jesus Discovery" claims

I was disappointed to see Nicole Austin, Associate Producer on The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (The Jesus Discovery in Canada), characterizing this blog as engaging in slander.  In a comment on Robert Cargill's blog today, she responded to Paul Regnier who  had asked her a question about the scholars working on the project.  She wrote:
You are repeating the same slander which has dominated the Cargill/West/Goodacre blogs and has kept the majority of true scholars away from this discussion. 
Nicole, who works for Associated Producers Ltd., goes on to make other rude remarks, mentioning me by name again, but it is the accusation of slander that I find especially disappointing.  The others mentioned in this comment can of course answer for themselves, but I would say that I have always attempted, both in relation to the recent project and the one from 2007, to be fair and accurate, to state any objections in a calm and reasonable way, basing them solely on the evidence presented. If this kind of honest, rigorous critical analysis is characterized as slander, then it is clearly impossible to have a serious discussion about the claims made in the Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor's project.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Returning once again to the names in the Talpiot Tomb

In an essay in Bible and Interpretation, On Yoseh, Yosi, Joseph, and Judas son of Jesus in Talpiot, Kevin Kilty and Mark Elliott respond to critics of the statistical case for the identification of the Talpiot Tomb with the family of Jesus of Nazareth.  They respond in particular to comments made in criticism by John Poirier, Richard Bauckham and me.  I will respond here to the points they make on my blog post.

First, a minor comment on a shorthand that they use.  They speak of critics of Simcha Jacobovici's theory as "critics of Talpiot"; and they speak of my "argument against the Talpiot tomb".  However, I am not a critic of the tomb.  On the contrary, I am fascinated by it.  I am a critic of the theory that connects this particular tomb with Jesus of Nazareth and his family on the basis of a alleged name correlations.

But the issue at hand relates to two of the names found in the Talpiot Tomb, what is now known as Talpiot Tomb A in order to contrast with Talpiot Tomb B next door.  Talpiot Tomb A has the names in it, "the Jesus family tomb", and Talpiot Tomb B is the one recently explored by means of the robotic arm and which Jacobovici and Tabor think is the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and the early disciples of Jesus.

The two names that Kilty and Elliott discuss are Yoseh (Joses) and Judas son of Jesus.  The statistical case benefits from the treatment of Yoseh as a rare name and from not regarding Judas son of Jesus as contradictory evidence, points that I pressed in a blog post earlier this year entitled Returning to the Talpiot Tomb.  I noted that:
The difficulty . . . is that the names Joses and Joseph are clearly regarded as similar or the same in the New Testament. Mark 6.3 calls Jesus' brother "Joses" while the parallel in Matt. 13.55 calls him "Joseph".  Matthew clearly regards Joseph as an alternative, preferable way of saying "Joses".  Likewise, the character who appears in Mark 15.40 and 15.47 is called Joses in Mark and Joseph the Matthean parallel (Matt. 27.56).  Moreover, the fact that this character may be a different character than the brother of Jesus also witnesses against the alleged extraordinary nature of the name. The same Joseph / Joses variation is found in the texts too, and not just here in Matthew but also in Acts 4.36, Joses / Joseph Barnabas.
Kilty and Elliott's response misunderstands or misreads the point.  They characterize my argument in this way:
Mark Goodacre argues that Matthew uses the name Joseph for Jesus' brother (Matt. 13.55 and Matt. 27.56) and should take priority over Mark's Joses (6:3) for this same brother.
I do not argue that the name Joseph "should take priority".  I argue that the names Joseph and Joses are interchangeable in the NT, both synoptically and text-critically.  They write that "we don't agree that Matthew's Joseph should take priority over Mark's Joses".  Nor do I.

Kilty and Elliott go on:
So does Matthew have any insight on the name Joses? What information did Matthew have concerning Jesus' brother? Did he know anyone from Jesus' family? What evidence exists that Joses was ever called Joseph?
Arguing for Matthew's ignorance of Jesus' family is, however, a risky strategy.  If we were to marginalize Matthew's witness, then we would marginalize also the information that he provides that is absent in Mark, that Jesus' father was named Joseph (Matt. 1.16, 18, 19, 20, 24; 2.13, 14, 19, 21), something that is key to the Talpiot tomb statistical argument.

The discussion of the variant in Acts 4.36 is similar.  I am attempting to point to the fact that it is not only the evangelists who regarded Joseph and Joses as interchangeable, but also certain scribes.  It is not the case that I am calling for "viewing Joseph as the only legitimate name to be used in any calculation concerning the Talpiot tomb"; I am pointing to the importance of including the interchangeability in the calculations.

Moreover, I do not think it unreasonable to suggest taking the evidence from the first century Gospel of Matthew seriously when Simcha Jacobovici asks us to take seriously the fourth century Acts of Philip.  To their credit, Kilty and Elliott steer clear of this.

Now, I had also repeated something I had often said before and recently said again, that one of the difficulties with the identification between the Talpiot Tomb and the family of Jesus of Nazareth is the name Judas son of Jesus.  In order to make the case, they require extraordinary correlation but what we have here is an extraordinary contradiction.

It is no answer to this point to enter into general discussions about Jesus' celibacy or to say that Jesus may have been married in spite of the silence of our sources.  The point is, let us remember, that the case is based on allegations of amazing correlation.  There is no other basis for the case.  So contradictory evidence simply has to be taken seriously.

I don't know of a fresh way of saying this, so I will simply restate the point by means of the analogy that Simcha Jacobovici and others so like, the Beatles analogy.  When our future researchers find a tomb in Liverpool that includes "Ziggy, son of John", we do not say, "Aha!  John Lennon must have had a son called Ziggy that we have never previously heard about!"  No, we say, "Oh, it does not look like it is the tomb of the Beatles, after all.  Those sources that said that he was cremated in New York must be right after all."

There is some nonsense at the end of Kilty's and Elliott's essay about "biblical literalism" that I will ignore except to point out that the comment that I repeated about the unlikelihood of Jesus naming his son Judas was so obviously facetious that I am amazed that anyone would take it seriously.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Do the lines in the "fish" head spell out Jonah?

Just over a week ago, James Tabor discussed an interesting suggestion made by James Charlesworth that the name "Jonah" might be spelt out in Hebrew letters in the head of what they see as the "fish" in Ossuary 6 in Talpiot Tomb B, the image that others see as some kind of vessel or vase, Name of “Jonah” Encrypted on the Jonah and the Fish Image (see also The Hebrew Name “YONAH” Embedded in the Image of the Fish on the Talpiot Tomb Ossuary).

My worry about the suggestion was that it led to a revision of an already problematic aspect of the case, the idea that the image featured a "stick figure" of Jonah emerging from the fish, a point made by Stephen Goranson and illustrated in my post headed The Changing Body of the Stick Man in Talpiot Tomb B.  But more importantly, the suggestion about the letters spelling out Jonah was received with scepticism -- Christopher Rollston in the Globe and Mail aticle; Jim Davila in Paleojudaica, Antonio Lombatti, Robert Cargill, Robert Cargill againSteve Caruso and Steve Caruso again.

Now James Tabor makes clear that, as far as he is concerned, the Inscription on the “Jonah image” Says YONAH.  He complains about several blog responses and he quotes from troubling posts that I have not seen.  My preference is, of course, to deal with matters of substance and there is something I would like to draw attention to.

One of the difficulties that  some have seen with the new proposal is that one of the alleged letters, the nun, appears to be broken in the middle, and thus does not appear to be a nun at all.   Here, for example, is Robert Cargill's helpful illustration:

Image (bottom) on Ossuary 6. Original image here .Coloured lines courtesy of Robert Cargill.
On the left is a close up of the bottom of the image as it appears on ossuary 6.  On the right is Robert Cargill's representation of the engraved lines.  The alleged nun is here represented by the yellow and green lines in the picture on the right.

The difficulty with this letter is that there is an obvious break between the elements of the alleged nun.  James Tabor maintains, however, that the lines are clear and that they are not random markings.  He does not acknowledge that there is any break at all in the lines that constitute the alleged nun.  In his pictures, the line is represented as continuous.  Take for example the recent illustration on his blog:

Alleged letters spelling out "Jonah" on James Tabor's blog
But how do we test the competing claims?  Is the alleged nun here continuous or broken?  Tabor maintains that the letters are "crystal clear" but I remain sceptical.  One of the main reasons for my scepticism is that the break in the middle of the alleged nun is actually "crystal clear", to borrow Tabor's language.  This is not a nun; it is two random lines.

Indeed, one can test for the clarity of the lines here by returning to the CGI composite image of what is depicted on ossuary 6.  This image aims to represent what the authors of the project used to regard as clear and self-evident and yet it is quite clear that before this new "Jonah" reading had been proposed, they too saw a break in the line that is now held to be a nun.  In other words, before the "Jonah" inscription interpretation, they too could not see the continuous line of a letter "nun".

It's worth taking a close-up look at the image.  The original CGI image is oriented horizontally, but a rotation and a zoom-in helps us to compare this with the images used to illustrate the alleged inscription:

Close-up of CGI composite of the bottom left facade of Talpiot Tomb B
A glance at the image confirms that those involved with the project could not see what is now interpreted as a nun.  The two lines are quite clearly unrelated.  To draw attention to this clear non-nun, I have added a red circle here to show the key area in question:

Close-up of CGI composite of the bottom left facade of Talpiot Tomb B,
drawing attention to the break in the alleged nun.
It is not just sceptics of Tabor's and Jacobovici's claims who are struggling to see the name of Jonah spelt out here.  It is the project authors' own  CGI picture, designed before the new claim, that bears testimony to the difficulty in seeing the letters that they now wish to see.

Update (6.54am): Link to James Tabor's post above fixed (with thanks to James Davila). See now Jim Davila's helpful comments on Paleojudaica, including the following:
If Professor Tabor wants to convince his colleagues that there is an inscription there and that it says "Jonah," he needs to take up the objections one by one and demonstrate that (1) the lines he says he sees on the ossuary, especially those of the "nun," are really there and as he sees them and (2) that each supposed letter shape can be closely paralleled by specific letters in other Herodian informal lapidary inscriptions such as appear on ossuaries.

Update (4.45pm):  See now also Antonio Lombatti, Is YONAH there or not? and Robert Cargill, When is a nun not a nun?.  (See what he did there?!).  See too Steve Caruso, Unfaithful Representation.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Bart Ehrman Blog

I am grateful to my colleague Bart Ehrman down the road at UNC Chapel Hill for letting me know about his new blog:

It's looking slick and professional and there are already a couple of posts, one on the First Century Copy of Mark? that has previously been discussed here and elsewhere and one on his new book about Jesus Mythicists.

Extra goodies are hidden behind a paywall, including an extension of the above post on the first century Mark fragment.  Also, only paying members are able to comment on blog posts.  Money earned from the site will go to assisting the needy.  I am not aware of other academic bloggers who have added a paywall, so it will be interesting to see how the blog fares.  I am looking forward, though, to the public posts.  Welcome to the blogosphere, Bart!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jane Schaberg has died

I was sorry to read, on Kathy Schiffer's blog on Patheos, that Jane Schaberg has died.  Jane Schaberg was Professor of Religious Studies and Women's Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy and is most well known for her controversial but thought-provoking The Illegitimacy of Jesus which recently (2006) celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a new edition.  She has also published extensively on Mary Magdalene, including The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament.  Her passing is a great loss.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Divine Women, Bettany Hughes

I meant to mention this last week when Leonie Jameson (Executive Producer) sent it over, but there is a new three-part series on Wednesday evenings on BBC2 entitled Divine Women.  It is presented by Bettany Hughes.

There is more here, including clips:

BBC Two: Divine Women

There is more too at the Open University.  I was a consultant on the episode that airs tomorrow night, Handmaids of the Gods.

Jesus Christ Superstar back on Broadway

It's good to see that Jesus Christ Superstar is back on Broadway again, forty years after the original run.  There's a nice montage of shots from the show set to its most famous song "Superstar" here.  Jesus' hair is a bit freakily long for my liking, and I'd love to hear what his voice is like and whether it rivals the great Ted Neeley's, but otherwise it looks like an interesting adapatation:

Monday, April 16, 2012

How the "half-fish" became a vase and why it matters

Over on the ASOR blog several days ago, "Jonah" Ossuary discussed in print in 1981, Eric Meyers and Chris Rollston brought to our attention Zvi Ilan's report, in DAVAR in May 1981,  on the discovery of what is now called Talpiot Tomb B.  The report was revealing because it mentioned the sighting of a vase or vessel on one of the ossuaries and it mentioned nothing of a "fish".

The article has spawned many comments, including several from Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor themselves.  Jacobovici writes:
As for what the article says; it refers to “architectural façades (belonging to the Temple?), a vase and two names written in Greek.” So it seems that the “vase” reference is not to the Jonah image at all! The article speaks about Temple “façades” or “features” in the plural i.e., the fish is subsumed under “Temple façades,” since it is carved next to a Temple-like structure on the front of the “Jonah ossuary.” The “vase” is a separate item altogether and it’s referred to in the singular, probably what we have identified as the tail of a fish at the backend of the ossuary.
Similarly, Tabor writes:
 Since Ilan does not seem to know about the four line Greek inscription, or clearly mention the Jonah image, my guess is he might be referring to the “half fish” (Cargill and Goodacre’s vase with handles) that is clearly visible in the photos in Kokh 1, ossuary 1, and NOT the Jonah image that is on its face since this account implies Kloner was in and out very quickly without moving the ossuaries.
The reason that I am interested in these comments is that they at least suggest that Tabor and Jacobovici accept that it would be reasonable to interpret the "half-fish" as a vase.  Let's just take a moment to look again at the relevant image:

This is a detail taken from Kloner's original 1981 investigation of the tomb, with arrows pointing to the handles (from here; see also here; new photograph here).  I suggested that this picture of a vase provides key contextual information about the interpretation of the picture on the façade of the same ossuary (see Robert Cargill's Sins of Commission and Omission for more).   A vessel on the end of the ossuary; a vessel on the façade of the ossuary.  Compare, for example, these images from Rahmani's catalogue shared by Tom Verenna in which there is a vessel on the end of the ossuary, and a vessel on its façade.

Now of course it could, in theory, be that there was a vessel on the end of the ossuary but a "fish" on its façade, but the very fact that Jacobovici and Tabor have insisted on the "half-fish" interpretation for the end of the ossuary suggests that they are aware of the importance of contextual clues.

However, I must admit that I think it most unlikely that the DAVAR article is referring to this vase on the end of the ossuary.  The more striking image is the one on the façade and I cannot imagine that the vase on the end of the ossuary would have commanded their attention more than the one on the façade.

Either way, the article is telling for another reason.  Simcha Jacobovici recently suggested that the reason that many scholars do not see a "fish" is that they are involved in some kind of "theological trauma".  But as Paul Regnier commented , "Quite how can you be traumatised by a viewpoint that won’t actually exist for another 30 years?!" However one attempts to spin this one, the original investigators did not see any fish on this ossuary, and I am afraid that that is telling.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Congratulations to Stephen Carlson!

I would like to take a moment to congratulate Stephen Carlson who has successfully defended his PhD dissertation here at Duke.  His thesis title is "The Text of Galatians and Its History".  Bart Ehrman and I were co-advisors.   Joel Marcus, Douglas Campbell and Michael Holmes joined us on his committee.  Those of you who already know Stephen's work will not be surprised to hear that his thesis was outstanding, and his defense of it exemplary.  If we awarded "honors" here at Duke, or "graduation with distinction", this thesis would have received that award.  Very many congratulations to Stephen on a richly deserved PhD.  I feel a great sense of pride to have been able to work with him during his time at Duke.  He is a bright star of the future and I know that I will not be the only one who will follow his career with great interest.  

The Gospel of Us

I was just listening to The Film Programme on Radio 4 and it begins with a discussion of The Gospel of Us, a new film that comes out this weekend in the UK.  I am ashamed to say that until hearing this feature, it had completely passed me by.

The film is a kind of cinematic version of a modern Passion play set in Port Talbot in Wales and it stars Michael Sheen as "the teacher".  As far as I am concerned, anything with Michael Sheen in it is worth watching, and to see him in a Passion play set in Wales sounds just wonderful to me.  In fact, I once spent a happy weekend in Port Talbot as a kid; my dad is a book collector and there was a book fair there.  I can't wait to see the film.  Here's the official trailer:

The Guardian is a bit muted in its enthusiasm:
Passion plays are like Titanic for Christians: it's a tale they never tire of hearing, despite knowing how it ends. Sheen's secularised approach (his Christ figure is referred to as the Teacher) was spread over several days at venues in and around Port Talbot, an impressive theatrical undertaking that deserved to be recorded for posterity. Dave McKean's film is a stylised documentation of the event, a bold attempt to turn it into something more cinematic. He keeps things visually interesting and exciting, overlaying images and using the occasional separately filmed segment. For the most part it works well, although having all the dialogue virtually shouted (a necessity in outdoor theatre) doesn't help.
More elsewhere in the Guardian here.  The Independent really hates it -- "a calamitous misjudgement", in part because:
The director Dave McKean admits he's an atheist, which is fine, but denuding the Easter story of any religious dimension is surely nuts. He says he's exploring "belief systems" but fails to show what anyone here believes in.
I'd have thought the religious beliefs (or lack of them) ought not to be decisive in the film's impact.  After all, one of the most critically respected Jesus films, The Gospel According to St Matthew, was directed by the atheist Pier Paolo Pasolini.  The Independent article goes on:
Sheen calls himself Teacher, and all he does is pass around sandwiches (the feeding of the 5,000, I think) and ask people to tell him their "stories" – as if in this age of blogging people need encouragement. The Teacher has provoked evil corporate profiteers who want to exploit the town's resources. How he could threaten them never becomes clear. Sheen is a Messiah figure without the mystery, majesty or dark wit that characterised Jesus. Instead of giving great speeches to inspire followers or worry enemies, he just looks vaguely beatific, like a local boy made good. The conceit of it is at once narcissistic and completely banal.
IMDb's entry is here.  BBC News has a feature and an interview.  And there are three clips here.  The chance of catching it in one of the cinemas here is pretty remote so my guess is that I will have to wait for the DVD.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B, by Richard Bauckham

I am delighted  to have the opportunity to blog the following guest post from Prof. Richard Bauckham.  It is also available as a PDF file here.

Joseph of Arimathea and Talpiyot Tomb B

Richard Bauckham

The “Resurrection Tomb Mystery” documentary attempts to suggest that Talpiyot Tomb B was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Hardly any evidence for this is actually provided. The only point at which some reason for the identification is given is this:

“The two [Talpiyot] tombs were found on what had been in the first century a rich man’s estate, complete with wine press and ritual bath. And the area is dominated by two hills. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man and his name, in Hebrew, means ‘Two Hills.’”

This comment obviously depends on the usual explanation of Arimathea as representing the Hebrew place name Ramathaim (1 Sam 1:1), and correctly notices that this is a dual form of the word ramah. The latter means ‘height’ but is scarcely used except in place-names, either alone, as Ramah (there are 4 or 5 towns so-called in the Hebrew Bible), or in compounds, such as Ramoth-Gilead. In such cases, it designates a town built on a high place. For the Arimathea/Ramathaim from which Joseph is named, there needs to be a town, not just an estate ‘dominated by two hills’. That there was a town, or even small village, called Ramathaim, so close to Jerusalem but mentioned nowhere else in our sources, seems unlikely.

The most likely identification of Joseph’s place of origin is with the Ramathaim (textual variant: Rathamin) mentioned in 1 Macc 11:34 as the headquarters of a toparchy transferred in 145 BCE from Samaria to Judea. This Ramathaim is clearly not near Jerusalem, but near the borders of Judaea and Samaria. Eusebius’s Onomasticon places it at the village of Remphis (Israel map grid 151159), which is about 30 km north-west of Jerusalem. It should be noticed that the dual form of Ramathaim is an archaic form, which has survived unusually in this place name (otherwise only in 1 Sam 1:1, which may refer to the same place, evidently called Ramah later in the narrative of I Samuel). It is therefore very distinctive (unlike the common Ramah) and we should not multiply Ramathaims unnecessarily.

The makers of the documentary perhaps assume that, since Joseph appears in the Gospel narratives in Jerusalem and has a tomb near the city, Arimathea must be near Jerusalem. But this is a mistake. Like many aristocrats in the ancient world, Joseph had estates in the country (not necessarily at all near Jerusalem) but lived most of the time in the city. This is the most obvious way of explaining why he has a new tomb, not yet occupied, near Jerusalem. His aristocratic family would surely already have a tomb – back in Arimathea. But Joseph has decided that he would like to be buried near the holy city, rather than having his body transported back to Arimathea. We now have a nice parallel in the case of the Caiaphas family, another aristocratic Jerusalem family. They had the now well-known tomb in north Talpiyot, where the high priest Caiaphas himself was interred, together with other family members. But from the ossuary inscription that was made known to the public only last year (the ossuary of Mariam daughter of Yeshua of the Caiaphas family), we now know that there was also a family tomb elsewhere, somewhere in the vicinity of the Elah valley (where the ossuary is said to have been found), plausibly at Khirbet Qeiyafa. This will have been where the family estates were located. (See my article, ‘The Caiaphas Family,’ JSJH 10 [2012] 3-31.)

So the only shred of evidence presented in the documentary for identifying Talpiyot Tomb B as that of Joseph of Arimathea is entirely without value.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Resurrection Tomb Mystery: Live Blog

I am live blogging a commentary on The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary that is airing on Discovery Channel (USA) tonight, 10pm EDT.  It is airing at the same time in Canada as The Jesus Discovery (Vision TV).

It's a while since I have done one of these live blogs, but I have been posting so extensively about this tomb over the last six weeks that now seems like a good time to do it.  The idea is simply that I tap away on my laptop while I watch.  If you want to follow along, you'll have to remember to hit the "refresh" button from time to time.

The way that this tends to work is that I blog the most during the ad breaks.  On this occasion, I am particularly excited about actually getting to see some footage of the tomb.  Although I have been heavily critical of the claims being made in the published materials so far, I am nevertheless genuinely excited about seeing inside this early Roman period (1st century BCE to 1st century CE tomb).  I'm sure that that footage will be the highlight for me.

9.58: tuning in.  Discovery are showing a documentary on Jesus to get people in the right mood.  Just realized that I need to feed the cats and grab a glass of wine before I settle down.

10.00: Starting.  Begins with a note that people will disagree about what they see.

Goes on with a flashback to the previous documentary from 2007.

Note: Bob Cargill is also live-blogging over on XKV8R.

Ok, they are cracking on with it.  Good.  Already talking about the 1980 excavation of Talpiot Tomb A.  Nice black and white style reconstruction as if we are looking at real footage.  Now some footage from the 2007 film.  Explanations of the cluster of names from the Talpiot Tomb A, Jesus Son of Joseph, etc.  And now the first contribution from James Tabor saying that the Talpiot Tomb is Jesus' family tomb.

22.04: They talk about the controversy, but imply that the problem comes from fundamentalists, not scholars who find the claims implausible.

Now they are doing a nice reconstruction, again in black and white, of the 1981 excavation. They show two of the pictures from 1981.  Good to see.

22.06: the name of Joseph of Arimathea is brought up for the first time.  First worrying sign.  And now "Two hills" are linked with "Arimathea" to link the tomb to Joseph of A.  This is very weak.  Bear in mind that there is absolutely nothing in this tomb that links with Joseph of Arimathea.

22.08: the Haredim manage to shut down the excavation; shots of activists disrupting the excavation.

22.09: explanation of how they are looking for the tomb and using GPR.  They do not mention the fact that they already sent cameras down into the tomb in 2007, and that there was footage in the documentary of the ossuaries and the inside of that tomb.  Unless I missed it, the implication is that they did *not* go into the tomb at that point, and that they are looking for it here afresh.

22.10.  First ad. break. 22.13. Starts again.  They don't know how to access the tomb.

James Tabor and Rami Arav now introduced formally.  They need to get into the tomb somehow without going in themselves.  William Klassen is now being introduced in Toronto -- robotic arm and the camera.  This is easily the most interesting and important element, in my opinion, in the documentary.  Fantastic new technology and the chance to see an early Roman period tomb.

22.15: "What would an early Christian symbol look like".  They go to Rome with Robin Jensen to look at possible Christian images.  Catacombs.  Simcha asks Jensen, "Jonah is Christian?"  "Oh yes".  In context here, yes!

Bear in mind that Robin Jensen has made clear that she does not endorse the claims made in this documentary about the "fish" in the Talpiot tomb.  But there are further problems -- we should not be going in, expecting to find Christian images.  This is predisposition.

22.18: We are back in the attempts to get into the tomb.  Finding problems getting in, etc.  And now "the moment we have been waiting for".

22.19: Another ad break.  Nice to see the Geko with a British accent.

OK, a third of the way through and we are not yet in the tomb.  But it's on its way.  Audience have been told that if we find Jonah and the fish, then we have an early Christian image of resurrection.  So what's the guessing that they are going to find Jonah and the fish?

I've just heard that Tom Verenna is live blogging too.  Don't forget to check up Robert Cargill too.  If anyone else is live blogging, let me know.

22.24: longish ad break. Starts again.  Robotic arm stuff and general recap.  Simcha "believes . . . the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea".  This is persuasion by repetition.  Bear in mind that there is nothing to link this tomb to Joseph of Arimathea.  Absolutely nothing.

22.25:  The camera is going in.  We are getting the shots of the tomb.  Simcha and company is thrilled.  "Almost there, almost there", they say.  Don't get that.  Almost where?  What are they looking for?

22.27: Fabulous to see shots of ossuary one, and the snaking through.  Tabor: "It's really ornate, befitting a wealthy person"  So Joseph of Arimathea, then?!  They are showing the Nephesh on ossuary 1.  Nicely done.

22.28.  Moving to kokh 2.  They are calling them "niches".  Looking at ossuaries 2, 3 and 4.  Looking at ossuary 4, MARA spelt out.  They are linking it with Mariamene Mara from Talpiot Tomb A.  Now linking with Mary Magdalene.  Here we go.

I just want to look at the ossuaries; I don't want all this stuff.

They are pressing on after making progress.  But the cable has snapped and they've hit a problem, a problem of the kind that in documentaries requires an . . .

. . . . ad break!

Half way through the documentary now.  For me, a highlight is seeing the footage of the ossuaries.  I am not enjoying hearing repeated, unfounded references to Joseph of Arimathea.

Just checked up on how Robert Cargill is doing in his blog and he also spots the repeated references to Joseph of Arimathea.  Ad break is going on a bit, so checked on Tom Verenna's too.  He notes that they had already seen these ossuaries before in 2007, so there is an element of staging here.

10.34: we are off again.  Broken robotic arm.  This will last a short while and then we will overcome it and carry on.  Documentaries have to have a few crises. "The exploration appears to be over before it really begins."  Repaired and back.  Good.  Now let's see some more ossuaries!

10.36: looking at kokh 3, plain ossuary and no inscriptions.  They are running out of options.  No Joseph of Arimathea, they say.

10.37:  now they are approaching ossuaries 5 and 6 and we are about to have whoops of delight, I am sure, when they see the vessel on one of the ossuaries.  They talk about looking at "number 4", which can't be right.  They see "the cross".  Here we go.

10.39: "earliest Christian related cross ever found".  And that requires an ad break!

Two thirds of the way through and we have not yet got to the "fish" business, and the inscription.  It'll be coming shortly.

10.42: resumes.  Summary. Haha, there's the Jesus face that that "Duke professor" found.  "We have a cross which I think is a Christian cross".  But Tabor says, we don't have anything that links it to the tomb next door.

10.43: they have found the image.  Close ups of the image of the "fish".  Rami Arav thinks it is a nephesh.  Simcha thinks it's a nephesh.  The others disagree.  "Those could be the handles".  They saw the vase first.

"That's Jonah's head . . . it's spitting Jonah out"  And here's the composite cgi version emerging.

The stick figure, the fish; and the fish inked in -- even more strongly than in the pics.  This whole section is pretty depressing to those of us who have spent time studying the image.

10.47: the earliest Jesus symbol ever found.  They are all thrilled with it.  The documentary repeatedly shows the "fish" in the CGI reconstructed version, and sideways, not in the orientation it has on the ossuary.

10.48: they talk about the handled half-fish, and go to the Kloner 1981 photograph, highlighting a part of the vessel, but not the handles on the sides.

Ad break. They are saving the inscription until the end.  This was, as I expected, the most disappointing section of the documentary so far -- the entire way that the image was shown was front-loaded with its interpretation as a fish, oriented to one side, using the CGI reconstruction with the tapered tail, with the inked-in "fish" in the margins, and the handled half-fish.

Using the ad break to check in on Robert Cargill's blog.  As I expected, he was not too pleased with that section!

10.52: we are off again, probably for the last section.  The CGI reconstruction is used again. They've found the inscription now.  Trying to read it.  "The inscription is in Greek, the dominant language of the wealthy in Jerusalem".  What?!

10.53: they've called in James Charlesworth.  He's looking at the inscription.  He's doing the interpreting.  God or Zeus or YHWH / raise up / spelling it out.  "I am lifted up, says Jesus, I am lifted up".  Now they are reading "God Jehovah Raise Up! Raise Up!"  etc.

10.55: My wife has fallen asleep.

10.56: They are trying to use the use of the divine name to link the ossuary to Jesus.  I wish they'd just show me some more of the ossuaries.

10.57: Tabor explains that he is now up to 95% linking it with Jesus.

10.58: Charlesworth explains that this links to Jesus -- Jonah and the fish and Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified.

Tabor explains that it is about Jesus' resurrection, but it's not physical resurrection of bones and flesh but a spiritual exaltation.

10.59: summing up.  "Talpiot, Jerusalem is the resting place of Jesus and his family, his disciples  . . ." etc.

"Debate is just beginning"  Well, it's been going on for six weeks or so and I'm afraid we are not persuaded.  Sorry, Simcha.  Sorry, James.

11.00: the documentary is over.  No real surprises.  One big disappointment for me was not seeing more of the ossuaries and the tomb itself.  I was surprised to see just how often they mentioned Joseph of Arimathea and just how weak the attempts to link the tomb to Jesus appeared.

End of live blog.  Beginning of reflections!

The Changing Body of the Stick Man in Talpiot Tomb B

Last night, James Tabor announced some "breaking news", that James Charlesworth has spotted the Name of “Jonah” Encrypted on the Jonah and the Fish Image.  The observation is made in a Globe and Mail article, Ancient ossuary hints at earliest reference to resurrection of Jesus by Michael Posner, who concludes the article with a quotation from Christopher Rollston to the following effect:
I've looked at the photographs really carefully. The name Jonah is simply not there. It's really ridiculous. They are etchings that are part of the amphora. There are no letters.
I am not an epigrapher myself and so have to defer to experts like Rollston, but I would add that what he says here strikes me as self-evidently the case.  There are so many lines in question here that one could make them spell all sorts of things.  I might just as plausibly see YONAH written in the lines on the palm of my hand.

But there is another issue relating to this "breaking news" item. In order to get "YONAH" spelt out in the "head" of the "fish", the "letters" have to be distinguished from "the stick figure".  In James Tabor's post on the topic, he shows three pictures, the first a photograph, the second a coloured inking-in of the "stick figure" and the third a coloured-inking in of "YONAH".

There is a problem here.  Take a look at the stick figure in the new picture:

"Stick figure", new version, Taborblog
He's inked in in black, with a massive squished head, a body, two arms and two legs.  But as Stephen Goranson pointed out to me, the arms and legs of the stick figure have changed!  Take a look at James Tabor's earlier picture, published on his blog on 6 March.  I have isolated the relevant section of that photograph to produce the following picture:

"Stick figure", original version (cropped), Taborblog
Here again you see the stick man in black, with a large spherical head, a body and arms and legs.  Now compare and contrast the two versions.  Different lines are now being used for the man's arms and legs!

It can be difficult to focus on these pictures given their orientation, so I have rotated them 180 degrees and placed them side by side for the purposes of comparison:

The changing lines of the stick man Jonah (left: original; right: new version)

In the new version, he looks a bit more like a three-legged man with one arm.  Now the non-connecting left arm is no longer part of the man, and a new front right leg has been added, oddly enough also part of what James Tabor and James Charlesworth claim also to be the letter Hey (H), seen in blue on the original image.

If it is so difficult to decide which of the random lines constitute the "stick figure" of Jonah, it is surely time to acknowledge that this is not a stick figure at all, not of Jonah, not of anyone else, still less a "stick figure . . . ingeniously made into the name as well" (Tabor).

This might be the weakest element in the story so far, a story that is already beset with problems.  I may have to revise my Top Ten.

Thanks again to Stephen Goranson for pointing this out.  For more on the problems over the attempt to read "YONAH" in the head of the vessel, see Jim Davila on PaleojudaicaAntonio Lombatti and Robert Cargill (who finds Yo Yo Ma!).

Update (20.45): See now two excellent posts on the topic from Steve Caruso, "Yonah" ON the Ossuary? - No. Simply: No. and Jonah Inscription Problems & Other "Possibilities".

Update (17 May): See now Jason Staples, Stick Man Jonah More Unprecedented Than Previously Realized (includes comments from Simcha Jacobovici).

Robert Cargill on CNN discussing the "Jesus Discovery"

Robert Cargill appeared live on CNN Newsroom this morning discussing the Talpiot Tombs in Jerusalem ahead of the broadcast of the Resurrection Tomb Mystery (USA) / Jesus Discovery (Canada) documentary being broadcast tonight. Here's the clip:


If you can't access the clip, go to the link here.

"The Jesus Discovery": Summary and Top Ten Problems

James Tabor & Simcha Jacobovici, Robotic Arm Control Center
The Jesus Discovery Website,
I have now been blogging about Talpiot Tomb B for almost six weeks.  Since the The Resurrection Tomb Mystery (Discovery Channel, USA) / The Jesus Discovery (Vision TV, Canada) is being broadcast tonight, I thought I would take a moment to draw things together and summarize my top ten problems with the claims that are being made.

Several people have asked me for a kind of "layperson's guide" to the claims and what is wrong with them so I will attempt to provide it here.  After providing a summary of the case, I will list my problems with the case as succinctly as possible.  Some of these are things that I have brought up; others are things highlighted by other bloggers.  I have tried to link to at least one blog post to provide more detail on each of the problems.  I may update the post with more after it goes live.

First, a quick survey of the context and claims.  In 2007, a Discovery Channel documentary on The Lost Tomb of Jesus was broadcast, and there was an associated book and website.  The creative force behind the project was Simcha Jacobovici.  The claim at the centre of the documentary was that they had discovered the family tomb of Jesus in Talpiot, Jerusalem. The basis of the claim was that there was a remarkable cluster of names, several of which corresponded to names found in the New Testament.  The vast majority of scholars rejected the claims being made in the documentary, the book and the website.  I listed multiple Errors and Inaccuracies, all of which remain on the website to this day.

Now, in 2012, there is a follow-up documentary, book and website, labelled either "The Jesus Discovery" or "The Resurrection Tomb Mystery".  The key figures here are filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and Professor James Tabor of UNC-Charlotte.  The new project involves the investigation of a tomb that is next door to the one discussed in the previous project.  It is labelled Talpiot Tomb B, or the "patio" tomb.  It is underneath an apartment block and has been reached by the use of ingenious, expensive technology, a robotic arm and snake camera.  This is because the ultra-orthodox Jews were unwilling to allow them to enter the tomb.

The claim at the heart of the new documentary is that this tomb belonged to some of Jesus' disciples, his earliest followers, probably Joseph of Arimathea himself, the man who buried Jesus.  The basis for the claim is twofold: (1) One of the ossuaries is said to feature a picture of a fish, pointing downwards, that is spitting out a stick man.  They interpret this as depicting the Hebrew Bible's story of Jonah and the fish, and they suggest that this is being used as a symbol of early Christian resurrection. (2) Another of the ossuaries features an inscription that they interpret as referring to resurrection.

I have read the book carefully, I have examined all the photographs and footage that have been made available so far, and I have carefully read James Tabor's Preliminary Report.  On the basis of all the material I have seen so far, I want to state unequivocally that I am totally unconvinced by the claims that are made by Tabor and Jacobovici.  The case that this tomb belonged to Jesus' disciples is very weak.  Here are some of the reasons that I am unpersuaded:

(1) Weak circumstantial evidence alone. There is nothing in this tomb that offers a clear and explicit link to the early Christian movement.  The case is based on circumstantial evidence alone, and weak circumstantial evidence at that.

(2) Handles on a fish?  The claim that one of the ossuaries depicts the tale of Jonah and the fish is weak.  The image is of some kind of vase or vessel.  The vessel features matching handles at the top and in the middle of the image.  And when is a fish not a fish?  When it has handles. (See Sins of Commission and Omission).

(3) Layered patterns of geometric shapes.  The vessel also features layered patterns of geometric shapes.  These decorations are not bizarre attempts to draw the scales of a fish -- they are decorations that match the border decorations of the ossuary in question. (See Scales of a Fish on the Talpiot Ossuary?).

(4) The Composite Computer-Generated Image. The project works with a computer-enhanced, composite, re-oriented CGI image of the vessel in all of its publicity materials.  The clever use of this image, which differs in important ways from the actual photographs, achieves a kind of "cognitive priming".  (See If the Evidence Doesn't Fit, Photoshop It).

(5) The original excavators did not see a fish.  The tomb was first excavated in 1981. In a write-up in DAVAR in May that year, Zvi Ilan reported that the excavators, who actually saw the ossuary, interpreted the image in question as an amphora (a vessel).  (See "Jonah" Ossuary Discussed in Print in 1981).

(6) Fish in the margins. Tabor and Jacobovici claim that there are little fish in the margins of the ossuary in question.  They suggest that these interpret the larger "fish".  However, on closer inspection, these do not appear to be fish.  They are simple decorative ovals. (See Sins of commission and Omission).

(7) The handled half-fish. The image that gets all the attention is on the front facade of the ossuary.  But on its side there is another image, an image of a vase with clear, obvious handles on each side.  This vase helps one to interpret the other image as a vessel.  Tabor and Jacobovici suggest that this is a "half-fish", pointing downwards, but the handles are problematic for this interpretation.  (See When is a Fish Not a Fish?).

(8) The Inscription Does Not Clearly Refer to Resurrection.  Although Tabor and Jacobovici are confident that the four line Greek inscription refers to resurrection, the evidence for this is now looking increasingly weak.  It requires time to examine these things, but the sight-reading shown in the documentary and reported in the book is shaky. In particular, it needs to be stressed that the inscription does not mention Jesus. (See The Four-Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B and Bauckham on the Talpiot Tomb Inscription)

(9) The Tomb Does Not Clearly Date to the time of Jesus. In order for this tomb to be connected to Jesus' disciples, and specifically Joseph of Arimathea, it would need to be dated to the narrow period from the 30s to 70 CE.  However, the dating evidence suggests that the tomb may have been in use much earlier in the early Roman period, perhaps as early as the first century BCE (See The Dating of Talpiot Tomb B).

(10) Witnessing to Resurrection Does Not Make the Tomb Christian.  Even if, for the sake  of argument, we were to grant Tabor and Jacobovici's claims about the tomb's inscription and iconography, this would witness only to early Jewish belief in resurrection.  We already know from many texts that many Jews believed in resurrection in the Second Temple period.  Belief in resurrection from the dead is not distinctive of the early followers of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Comments on ABC's Nightline Feature on the Talpiot Tombs

Last night, ABC News broadcast a short feature as part of their Nightline programme about the Talpiot Tombs. You can view it here:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

If that does not work, try this link instead. The story is here:

"Jesus Tomb" Controversy Rages

I thought that the feature was fair to those involved and I have no complaints about the way that they used the footage they recorded with me yesterday afternoon here in Gray Building at Duke; I think they did a great job. I thought it was a shame that Robert Cargill could not be included in the piece, though, especially as I was the only dissenting voice represented on screen. And of course, most of what I said did not make the cut, including discussion of the inscription and a chance to talk about the cluster of names in Talpiot Tomb A -- they even invited me to comment on Simcha Jacobovici's Beatles analogy (and I enjoyed mentioning John, Paul, George, Martin, Alan and Ziggy). But that is very much par for the course. It's remarkable how much information they manage to cram into this short format.

One feature of the report is worth an extra comment. When they discuss the "vase" or "vessel" interpretation, they quite fairly invite the audience to decide for themselves, "Vase or fish?" However, the image they then give to the audience as the basis for comparison is the Composite, CGI recreation of the image (see Robert Cargill's critique) and not the actual photographs. The CGI version is constructed on the basis of the fish interpretation, including the tapered "tail", and it does not incorporate features like the upper handles that can be seen in the actual photographs (see again Robert Cargill's critiques).

Two features in the report surprised me. I have read everything available on the tomb and have looked at all the materials that they have made available but haven't yet seen the documentary that airs on Thursday, so I was surprised to see a clip from the documentary in which James Charlesworth says "I am lifted up, says Jesus, I am lifted up! . . . apo tou thanou [?], from the dead!", surprised because the ossuary says nothing about "Jesus" at all. It will be disappointing if the documentary gives the impression that the inscription on the ossuary mentions Jesus because it does not.

The other thing was Simcha Jacbovici's suggestion that those who disagree with him are reacting because of "theological trauma". I knew there was something wrong with me. Now we know why I saw the face of Jesus in the side of one of the ossuaries!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

ABC News Nightline feature on Talpiot Tombs

Watch ABC News's Nightline tonight for a feature on the Talpiot Tomb controversy.  See the article about the feature here:

'Jesus Tomb' Controversy Rages as Archaeologists Explore Another 2,000-Year-Old Tomb

The article features a few quotations from my interview.  The feature goes out at 11.35pm EDT out here in NC, but it differs elsewhere.

Interview on the Talpiot Tombs on ABC's Nightline tonight

I interviewed today for ABC's Nightline programme on the Talpiot Tombs in Jerusalem and the forthcoming "Resurrection Tomb Mystery" documentary that airs on Discovery this Wednesday.  I have no idea, at this point, if they will use any of that footage, or even if the segment will get bumped because of other news.  James Tabor was interviewed in New York and Simcha Jacobovici in Jerusalem.  I'll add an update if and when I have it.  The programme is on at different times across the USA, but it's 11.30pm in our area.  It should be available online tomorrow.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Dating of Talpiot Tomb B: did Jesus have disciples in the first century BCE?

I have recently been reading and greatly profiting from Amos Kloner and Boaz Zissu's  magisterial The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Perod (Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Culture and Religion 8; Leuven: Peeters, 2007) and I naturally turned with interest to their brief cataloguing of the Talpiot Tomb B, where I read with interest:
The finds indicate that the cave was used from the first century BCE to the first century CE (342).
Now did I just read that right?   Was this tomb already in use in the first century BCE?  By my reckoning, that makes it a little more difficult for it to have been known as the special burial place of Jesus' disciples.  Tabor and Jacobovici's speculation that the tomb belonged to the first century CE figure of Joseph of Arimathea also becomes unlikely in the light of this important detail.

After coming across this detail, I went to look at James Tabor's Preliminary Report and although he refers to that page of the book, he does not comment on this detail.  It is implied throughout that this tomb is, without doubt, first century CE.

I have also checked through  James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012) and there is no discussion of the Kloner and Zissu's dating of the tomb there either.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I would have thought that attempting to date the use of the tomb in question would be fundamental to any attempt to associate it with a particular group of people.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Successes in Correcting Material on "the Jesus Discovery" website

Since I have often complained in the past about my inability to make an impact in listing the multiple errors and inaccuracies on the Jesus Family Tomb website (see also Jesus Tomb: I pointed out the mistakes), I don't want to appear ungracious this time round.  There is a marked difference with the 2012 analysis of Talpiot Tomb B when compared to the 2007 analysis of Talpiot Tomb A.  On that occasion, try as I might, it was impossible to get those involved with the project to acknowledge the most egregious errors imaginable, and all remain to this day.  But on this occasion, there has been a degree of success where I have attempted to draw attention to anomalies and apparent difficulties.  

I mentioned recently the Correction in Identifying one of the Talpiot Tomb B Ossuaries after I had drawn attention to anomalies in the captioning and discussion of photographs in James Tabor's Preliminary Report.  But now there is more.  I had been puzzled by the description of Ossuary 4 in kokh 2, on the Jesus Discovery website, as "Plain".  Here is a close-up of the relevant section on the original page, drawing attention to the description of ossuary 4 as "plain":
Excerpt from "Complete Findings", describing Ossuary 4 as "plain"
I could not see how ossuary 4 could be described as "plain".  Here is the excerpt from my earlier post:
Ossuary 4 is described in the Complete Findings as "Plain (Not fully explored)", which conflicts with the idea that it is "ornamented" ("Preliminary Report", 14).  If the 1981 photo above is of Ossuary 4, there is no question that it is ornamented.  Here is the detail of the façade as we see it above:

Close-up of ornamented facade on ossuary 4 (1981)
. . . .  And while it is described as "plain" in one place, it is described as "ornamented" in another.
Well, I recently noticed that the Complete Findings page on the Jesus Discovery Website has been adjusted apparently to take account of my criticism:
Excerpt from the "Complete Findings", describing ossuary 4 as "highly decorated"
The same ossuary is now described as "highly decorated".  I am grateful to whoever made the change for taking account of my comments.  They do not acknowledge me or my observation and they do not make any note on the site that they have made these changes but I am pleased to see that on this occasion blog criticisms are apparently making an impact, albeit an unacknowledged one.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Face of Jesus spotted in Ossuary 2, Talpiot Tomb B

Remember that craze a few years ago for finding Jesus' face on crisps, wardrobe doors and so on?  Well, here is the proof that I am finally going insane and that I have spent far too long staring at pictures of the ossuaries in Talpiot Tomb B.  I've spotted the face of Jesus in one of them, Ossuary 2:

See it?  There it is in the bottom left hand corner of the ossuary.  If you don't believe me, here's a close-up:

Update on the afterlife of this post (Saturday): This facetious post appeared on Wednesday evening and to my amusement generated extensive comment and publicity from the programme makers themselves.  John McGinley, an employee of Associated Producers, produced a Youtube video announcing "'Face of Jesus' spotted in an ancient Jerusalem tomb by Prof. Mark Goodacre, Duke University".  The video itself does not provide a link to this blog post.  To my even greater amazement, the main Jesus Discovery website then placed a prominent notice just after the advertisement for the programme, at the top of every page, to this effect:
Duke Professor finds Jesus Image on Ossuary
There is a video of the "Face of Jesus" that was spotted by Prof. Mark Goodacre of Duke University on one of our ossuaries that is now circulating on youtube and the internet. Although we find the image entertaining we do not want it to detract from the seriousness of our finds, including the clear image of "Jonah and the fish" and its important significance.
There is still no link to the blog post itself, nor does the notice make clear that the people responsible for producing, uploading and circulating the video are Associated Producers themselves.  Since these remarks only make clear that they find the image entertaining, it is possible that this is an ill-judged attempt at mockery, but I am encouraged to see that after they have made frequent unacknowledged corrections to their website on the basis of my critiques, I have finally received a surprisingly prominent name-check!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Was Ossuary 2 in Talpiot Tomb B moved?

I am so busy at the moment with reading dissertations, theses, proofs and what-not that staring at photographs of the Talpiot Tomb B finds can only be a treat that I occasionally indulge in in my spare time.  But there are several issues that still bother me about the photographs that have been published so far (see previously Questioning the Identity of Ossuary 4 in Talpiot Tomb B, Correction in Identifying one of the Talpiot Tomb B Ossuaries and links there) and I just want to ask a question in this post about one of them.  Was Ossuary 2 moved?

Here is a photograph of ossuary 2 in kokh 2 of Talpiot Tomb B (see Complete Findings from the Talpiot Tomb to see it in context):

Ossuary 2, kokh 2, extracted from The Jesus Discovery Website
What has been bothering me is how close it is to the wall on the left of kokh 2.  To draw attention to it, I've added a blue arrow here.  The gap is so narrow that there is hardly space in this picture to depict it:
Ossuary 2, kokh 2, with blue arrow showing narrow gap
But in the pictures of Ossuary 3 (the one with the "Mara" inscription), in the same kokh, Ossuary 2 appears to be further away from the wall.  In this picture, also from the Complete Findings from the Talpiot Tomb, it looks to me like there is a much larger gap:

Ossuary 3 (back), ossuary 2 (front right), kokh 2, showing large gap
In this picture, we are looking at Ossuary 3 at the back. Ossuary 2 is on the front right.  Now I understand that one has to allow for differences in perspectives caused by different camera angles, but I am wondering if those kind of differences are sufficient to cause the major differences between the first picture of Ossuary 2 above, and the second one here.  

As always, I would stress that I am only asking the question.   It is quite possible that further pictures from different angles would explain the apparent differences in placement of the ossuary.

Tabor vs Charlesworth on the Talpiot Tomb discoveries

OK, I admit that my title is a little facetious, but regular readers will know of my interest in Synoptic issues, i.e. accounts that differ in minor details, not only Matthew vs. Mark, Mark vs. Luke and Matthew vs. Luke, but also Acts vs. Galatians, Thomas vs. the Synoptics and so on.

And I must admit that I could not resist drawing attention to a nice modern day example of minor differences in two accounts of the same event.  Regular readers will also know of my interest in the Talpiot tomb, and recently of the book, websites and forthcoming Discovery channel documentary on Talpiot Tomb B.  It's in relation to that material that I found this enjoyable example of two differing accounts of the same event, and something that I may be tempted to use as an analogy in my teaching on the Synoptics.
Charlesworth Tabor and Jacobovici
I was moved when I looked through a camera on the end of a robotic arm into a pre-70 Jewish tomb. There in the darkness below my feet was an ancient tomb with bone boxes (ossuaries) clearly made before the massive revolt against Rome in 66 CE. As the camera turned, I saw a door that sealed the tomb in antiquity. Then the camera moved silently past ossuaries. A shout was heard by colleagues near me as an inscription came into view. Then, not much later the robotic arm moved again, being directed by a scientist. None of us could believe our eyes. We were all riveted to a drawing that ostensibly broke the second commandment. What was it? What was depicted? What did the early Jew intend to symbolize? The following day we called in Professor James Charlesworth, an expert in Greek and early Christianity, who was in Jerusalem doing research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. After reinserting the robotic arm and swinging the camera once again over to the third niche, we showed him what we had discovered: first the inscription, then the image. He immediately and independently offered the same interpretation we had come to the day before. He excitedly sight-read the inscription. “The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead].” He 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 Charlesworth account is from the Letter from James Charlesworth, Mar. 31, 2012 on the Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins website.  The Tabor and Jacobovici account is from James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012): 70.

There are major points of contact between the two accounts, the camera, the robotic arm, "None of us could believe our eyes" and "What we are looking at", the tone.  But there are also points of divergence.  In the Charlesworth account, some readers might infer that he was present when everyone was seeing this for the first time, whereas it is clear in the Tabor and Jacobovici account that it was a day later.  In the Charlesworth account, "a shout was heard" whereas in the Tabor and Jacobovici account there was "a quiet shudder".

Indeed, as in the Synoptic comparisons, or the Acts vs. Paul comparisons, there are elements in Charlesworth's acccount that appear earlier in the Tabor and Jacobovici account, which suggests, of course, that the Charlesworth account is somewhat compressed.  In Tabor and Jacobovici, "A shout went up in the cramped corridor when we read the inscription" the day before, and similarly "As our camera passed along its façade, a shout went up . . ."

I hope readers will forgive me the indulgence of finding this analogy from our own time enjoyable and potentially useful.  For what it's worth, the lack of verbatim agreement between the two accounts is a sure indicator of their literary independence from one another.