Just wanted to check in regarding the new Talpiot tomb discovery (referred to most often it seems as Talpiot B). I’m caught up with all the reading available online, beginning with James Tabor’s description of the discovery and sketch-analysis (“A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera: Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem“). It’s the place to start. Here’s what you’ll learn: (a) there is an inscription on one of the ossuaries that Tabor believes to contain the divine name (Yahweh) in Greek, and that contains the word for resurrection; and (b) there is an image of a great fish / whale spitting out a man — i.e., the sign of Jonah, a symbol in the gospels for resurrection.
I have to say I’m disappointed. I was expecting more. The earlier Talpiot tomb (the so-called “Jesus family tomb”) was not only more interesting, but the issues just seemed to require more analysis. I’ve now read Rollston’s response on the inscription, and if it is correct (and Rollston should know; he’s an epigrapher) that the “I” of the presumed divine name can’t be that letter (it would be anomalous in shape), then there is no divine name. It would be nice to have an example of two contrary to Rollston before we allow Tabor’s reading to be valid. And it doesn’t seem to matter, since resurrection wasn’t a distinctly Christian idea. I have to agree with Eric Meyers who doesn’t think there’s anything to fuss about. As for the whale / fish, the blob at the end of it simply doesn’t look *anything* like a man. Just zero resemblance (maybe to Picasso it would be clear). The two other options offered by art historians are that the symbol is either a drawing of a nephesh tomb monument (see Cargill’s response for examples) or an unguentarium, a small receptable for perfumed oils used for anointing the dead for burial (e.g., Mk 14:3; Jn 12:3). I have to agree with Tabor that the nephesh option seems weak. I find the unguentarium option fairly compelling, though, especially for the blob at the top (example 1 and example 2, courtesy of Thomas Verenna).
So, I’m currently at “no fish, no Jonah, and very likely no divine name.” It just feels vacuous. And even if Tabor is correct on all these counts, there is nothing that actually connects this tomb to the other — it’s just a hunch or supposition. I’d sooner go back to the first tomb and have another round of research there than spend any more time on this one. It would be more stimulating.
The most disturbing piece I read on Talpiot B was easily that of Dr. Robin Jensen — Prof. Robin Jensen Refutes Any Claim that She Concurs with the Interpretation in “The Jesus Discovery”. If there’s any piece that all of you should read it’s this one. She describes her trip to Rome to participate in the filming of the National Geographic special on this tomb. It can only be described as a deliberate attempt to manipulate her status as an art historian for the sake of pre-determined conclusions. James Tabor responded to her piece in the comments: “Nothing was twisted. You appear in the film totally out of connection with the Jerusalem tomb, only the catacombs.” I’ll give James the benefit of the doubt there, that he’s being forthright, but his response misses the point. It’s ultimately not about where she appeared (in the final version) in the film. It’s about the fact that Jacobovici tried hard to get her to say something (or sound like she was saying something) she didn’t believe. He was looking for a sound bite, pure and simple (presuming she is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt her either). Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to this, since I have lived this scenario myself with the History Channel. The facade put forth is that truth is the first goal; her anecdote says otherwise.
Michael, thanks for your thoughts here and I appreciate that at least your read my report before you commented–typical of your thoroughness but believe it or not, all to rare with our bioglog colleagues who like to pass things on without checking. On your final (main) point you might want to see Simcha’s response to Robin, and mine as well. I was there and we report things as they happened. Robin is free, of course, to change her mind but she was treated with utter respect and professionalism, then and now. She is also a personal friend of mine.
We of course considered the unguentarium and amphora possibilities as you saw in my paper. The examples Taylor and Verenna point out are not of the place or period of a 1st century Jerusalem tomb and the “blob” would be at the bottom, not the top. Taylor’s suggestion that it is oozing nard is really far fetched, since this is would be an open vessel at the top. Besides no example of these perfume flasks, from any period, have such a ball–look again at Tom’s photos, they are flattened knobs. See Rami’s comments on the ASOR blog at Joan’s post. He is an archaeologist and an expert of images in this period. Also the mouth of the flask would be strangely flared, as the “tail” of the fish is irregular, with the left side, looking at the image, flared out dramatically, just as a fish’s tail. The strange “head” is because the Jonah text has it wrapped in seaweed. The artist is being very literal with the biblical text, as I point out in my article. See my full post on this at my blog, plus a lined in drawing so the stick figure is obvious. The man is coming out of the fish’s mouth: jamestabor.com. Thanks for your thoughts Michael. I have always appreciated your insights though I wish you would calm down the personal accusations and imputing of motives. This was a thoroughly scientific endeavor, with IAA license, approval of the Archaeological Council, supervision of UNC Charlotte’s chair of Anthropology, IAA supervision on the scene working with us. GE Inspection Technologies did the camera work and imaging. What we accomplished was amazing and had never been done before. It has great possibilities for all sorts of closed space explorations. The interpretations are another thing and scholars have a right of course to dispute such things and always have and always will but moderation and professionalism should be our hallmark.
I just don’t see a head or man; “blob” is the best word that I can think of at this point. I need to see facial features (at least) and limbs to see a man. And I’m not really convinced in any event that this would have to indicate a Christian context. While the OT view of the afterlife was nowhere near as nuanced as what would follow, the hope of the righteous would still be to escape Sheol (the point of the Jonah imagery as you know). A Jew could have noted that and combined it with the corporate hope of Hosea 6:2 and come out where this tomb image (allegedly) is pointing. There is a good bit of “corporate talk” of resurrection in the OT, and as a member of the nation at whom that hope was directed (Israel / Jews) a Jew could quite conceivably appreciate Jonah’s story in that light.