Talpiyot B / Patio Tomb Roundup ~ The Final Nails in the Ossuary(ies)

Folks might recall our previous post on the contentious claims being made by Dr James Tabor and Professor Simcha Jacobovici in regards to their research at a tomb in Jerusalem which they claim contains the earliest evidence of Christianity, and possibly is connected to some of Jesus’ disciples (The “Patio Tomb” … Evidence of Early Christianity? I Hae Me Doots (A Classics Perspective) ). I’ll direct folks to that post to see how the story was spun by the press, but the conversation/discussion continued on various fronts over the past weeks and I think the claims have been thoroughly discredited. With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to put together a ‘one-stop-shopping’ type roundup of all the various scholarly opinions that have weighed in, especially seeing that the book on this tomb has just come out and there is an impending Discovery documentary. When the latter comes out, without a doubt, folks will be hitting the internet looking for ‘the real story’ and hopefully what follows will help guide their opinions.

At the outset, I think it is important for folks to know that I am retracting my own reading of the “Messanic” inscription on Ossuary 4. I was working from the early photos of the inscription and, while I still like the idea of a ‘pagan’ couple named Gaius and Julia in a Jewish tomb, other photos — which are much more clear but haven’t been made available to the general public — demonstrate that my reading clearly cannot stand. The photos that are available as part of the press kit at The Jesus Discovery site continue to be somewhat low quality (alas, see, e.g., here, here, here, and here), but contact with other scholars who are privy to such things have shown definitively, e.g., that the first line is definitely ΔΙΟΣ, among other things (this aspect of the story is probably still developing).

And so, on to the roundup … in what follows I’m linking to professional scholars (i.e. they have degrees in a relevant discipline and are actively engaged in teaching and/or research) ; if a link has (JT) or (SJ) following it, it is an indication that James Tabor or Simcha Jacobovici have responded to the blog in its comments section. (Comments) indicates that there are valuable comments by other scholars that are worth reading as well. Again, I strongly encourage folks to spend some time reading the (now revised) version of James Tabor’s paper on the site which is up at Bible and Interpretation

Other views on the inscription:

… at this point, we should reiterate that this “messianic” inscription is on Ossuary 5 but there are serious problems with the identification of the various ossuaries (especially 4 and 5) when the available photos are examined closely. In this regard, I decided to make this problem my initial foray into Pinterest, and direct folks there to see the problems. Mark Goodacre blogged on the same subject and definitely should be read in conjunction therewith:

Turning now to the more contentious issue, namely, the so-called Jonah image, things have definitely taken some strange turns. After several folks had pointed out the image in the newspapers had been rotated to predispose the public to see it as a fish spewing out a man, several reasonable alternative suggestions were made:

Other comments on the ‘fish':

… but in regards to the Jonah image, as time went on it became very clear that rotating the image to predispose viewers to see a fish; CGI enhancement (and possibly photoshopping) of key images began to rear their ugly heads. Robert Cargill led the way on this one, which resulted in ‘unenhanced’ photos appearing in the press kit:

… after the ‘corrected’ images were added to the press kit, other items began to appear:

… and Robert Cargill pounded the final nail into the ossuary (I believe) with a post just the other day:

… which, interestingly enough, resulted (it appeared) in all sorts of photos disappearing and reappearing from the press kit. Steve Caruso was/is all over that:

That said, as can be seen from the above, Dr Tabor has been actively trying to defend his views with the various scholars. In the interest of balance, we should also make readers aware of things he posted on his own blog or at the ASOR blog:

Miscellanea (Other blog posts which are useful):

… also worth a read:

Other Roundups (which include items I have not):

… that should be satis superque to debunk this one. I may add items to this page over the next few days if it seems worthwhile.


Dorothy King’s latest project is called “Lootbusters” and is an online photographic catalog of sorts of items purloined from museums (Greek, Roman, and Egyptian) and Greek and Roman items suspected to have been looted. It’s clearly a work-in-progress (and, given the nature of the antiquities trade, always will be), and is definitely worth checking out every now and then … especially at auction time and/or after that session on eBay: