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.

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

  1. Does Jacobvichi have a Ph.D.? Calling him “professor” seems to validate his archaeological credentials.

    1. I don’t think he does; but in Tabor’s article, he is referred to has a “professor” at Huntington University (which is somehow connected to Laurentian University) in Sudbury, Ontario. He’s likely an adjunct of some sort …

  2. Hey David, this is really a good summary and I think mostly very fair. If I may say so I think you do have a few things wrong but maybe they will get sorted out in time. We did not post more photos because of Cargill’s demands, nor were any photos ever removed or posted to adjust to the latest criticisms. Since Discovery owns the photos, and their special has not run yet, we had to get permission, which we got when I asked, to post further copyrighted photos. Bob and I were in touch and I told him I would get him what I could as I appreciated his abilities in digital areas. The implication that any photos were every cropped, photoshopped or in any way altered to deceive is simply untrue. We had as our consultants, before the public release of our work (in a record 18 months after discovery rather than the more normal 3-5 years), over 16 experts from every field (art historians, epigraphers, text folks, historians) and they were provided at their request unlimited photos of anything they were working on. Nothing was ever hidden, protected, altered or otherwise “managed.” Foolish or not, we are so convinced of our thesis that we felt the more information out there the better we could have an informed discussion. We welcomed it totally and still do. My only regret is some of the sophomoric cheering and nasty rhetoric, but after all, this is the internet and it is par for the course, even among our colleagues. Seems a guy sitting in his underwear and pretty well say about anything one wants these days. I would not have it any differently actually.

    One thing I wonder though, since through your comments you seem to imply the Jonah image idea is dead and buried, to use a bad but obvious metaphor, what is the view that you would endorse? It seems the experts hardly agree, other than we are wrong. The first six out of the gate on the ASORblog, including the amazing Jewish art historian, and my friend, Steve Fine, argued for a funerary monument/nephesh. Seems at least three, maybe four of them have bolted from that in a week despite the strongest dogmatic statements initially. Then there was the perfume jar, then the amphora, and I think the current rage seems to be a common “vessel,” perhaps similar to a ceramic container such as we find at any 2nd Temple Jewish dig. In the 18 months before we published our findings we considered all these options and consulted with our colleagues. In the end we made our judgment but in my paper I tried my best to represent all the views others had suggested, offering our reasons for opting for the Jonah image and the translation of the Greek inscription we favor. I can’t imagine how anyone could have been more fair or included more due process along the way.

    I am getting the idea that the “consensus” out there now is that whatever this image is there are no parallels on any ossuaries of this period and location/Jerusalem, and I think, though I still want to hear your translation, or Chris’s or others–the inscription itself is without parallel. Glad you are good on the DIOS. IAIO is quite solid I think. If there is something you can’t make out let me know and I will see if we have a photo for that particular line. Different lighting seems to bring out different things. HUPSW seems totally clear, as does AGB now. So what does it mean? I have my view, which I have published and elaborated. Look forward to hearing yours. I consider this a major step. After all, two weeks ago, my friend and colleague Eric Meyers declared that there was nothing at all in this tomb, either icon or inscription, that was the least bit out of the ordinary. It was all much ado about nothing.

    P.S. No one has tried his or her hand yet, so far as I have seen, on the 1981 inscription that shows faintly, see thejesusdiscovery.org. You mentioned Julia…that was one reading I was leaning toward, so maybe she is not lost yet!

    1. I am currently toying with the idea of an amphoriskos, which would have been a common enough piece of funerary pottery, but am not in a position to go much further than the suggestion. I await seeing what others might suggest (with mind open) …

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