From Code to Discourse: The Semantics of Ancient Near Eastern Ritual

Feder_YitzhaqBy: Yitzhaq Feder, University of Haifa, Educational and Cultural Affairs Fellow

My fellowship at the Albright Institute provided me with the opportunity to make significant progress in my large-scale inquiry into the origins of ritual symbols and their sociological and political functions in cultural discourse. This project builds upon the recognition of the foundational role of concrete imagery in processes of human conceptualization and expression (as elucidated in ‘embodiment’ theory), particularly as reflected in the languages and rituals of the ancient Near East. In implementing this project, I distinguish between codes (the repertoire of symbols) and discourse (the systems of thought regulating the use of these codes). The case studies which I examined during my residency at Albright aimed to shed light on different aspects of the relationship between ritual codes and cultural discourse. Continue reading

A Response to Chris Rollston’s Reading of the Ossuary from Talpiot Tomb B

By: H. Gregory Snyder, Professor of Religion, Davidson College

Back in October, James Tabor invited me to join in a conversation that was underway between himself, Richard Bauckham, and Jim Charlesworth. Tabor submitted eleven photos of the ossuary bearing the four-line inscription for our inspection, and all of us engaged in a lengthy debate about possible readings.

For the record, Bauckham and I were not given the so-called Jonah image until later, when the people at the Discovery Channel forwarded an advance copy of the film for our scholarly comment. At that time, I expressed the opinion that the figure on that ossuary represents an amphora or a vessel of some kind, however non-standard, and cannot be taken as an image of Jonah, and nothing has occurred to dissuade me from that judgment. I say this to make it clear that in nearly all matters of consequence, I do not share the conclusions presented in the book or the film. But James Tabor has been forthcoming and above-board in all our exchanges, and we have enjoyed a productive conversation.

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THE FOUR-LINE GREEK INSCRIPTION FROM A TALPIYOT TOMB: EPIGRAPHIC NOTES AND HISTORICAL DISCUSSIONS

Christopher A. Rollston, Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Introduction

The publication of a four-line Greek inscription from a tomb in East Talpiyot (Jerusalem) has generated substantial interest, especially because of the dramatic claims surrounding it (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012).  James Tabor has argued that this inscription reads as follows: “DIOS IAIO UPSŌ AGB.”  He translates it as “Divine Jehovah Lift up, Lift up.” He believes this to be a Christian tomb (in fact, he states that it is arguably that of Joseph of Arimathea) and that this inscription is to be understood as reflective of an early Christian confession of a belief in the resurrection (and he has also argued that some of the ornamentation on a different ossuary from the same tomb is distinctively Christian).  Continue reading

Eric Meyers’ reaction to the verdict in the forgery trial in Israel

Reaction to Golan Acquittal, Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University

The verdict announced today, March 14, by Judge Aharon Farkash in Jerusalem, acquitting Oded Golan and Robert Deustch of all major charges comes as no surprise. The James ossuary first came into public view some ten years ago in Toronto when a special exhibition was mounted at the Royal Ontario Museum coterminous with the conventions of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research. I was among the very first to question the wisdom or such an exhibition after the artifact had a questionable provenance and had come to the public’s attention with such hoopla, which is not the normal way for important artifacts or subjects to be vetted. Speaking at a plenary session of SBL I also drew attention to portions of the inscription which seemed questionable at best and to the rush to judgment that this was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Secondary burial in an ossuary was a common form of inhumation in late Second Temple times that continued on for some time after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE in the Galilee. It was the dominant form of burial at the Jewish necropolis of Beth She`arim near Sepphoris where Rabbi Judah the Prince was buried in the 3rd c. CE. Continue reading

SOME CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT THE ICTHYOMORPHIC DRAWING ON OSSUARY 6:3 FROM EAST TALPIOT TOMB (TALPIOT B OR “PATIO” TOMB), IN JERUSALEM

Juan V. Fernández de la Gala, Forensic Anthropologist and Zooarchaeologist, Associate Professor of History of Medicine, Universidad de Cádiz, Spain, delagala@telefonica.net

SUMMARY: Professor Tabor’s team has recently explored a first century Jewish tomb found in Jerusalem. One of the ossuaries showed a nicely carved icthyomorphic design on its front façade that Professor Tabor interpreted as Jonah’s whale and suggested that it was related to the closest followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

The finding has provoked an increasing interest in mass and professional media. In the last days, some archaeologists have already questioned Tabor’s interpretation and its consequences. Dr. Fernández de la Gala, professor of History of Medicine at the University of Cádiz (Spain), a forensic anthropologist interested in zoological symbolism in funerary contexts, has analyzed and discussed the case and proposes that a reasonable  interpretation of the drawing is that is a funerary neck amphora instead, as other scholars have also indicated.

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The Four-Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B – an Interpretation

Richard Bauckham, www.richardbauckham.co.uk

Preamble: I should first explain that in the autumn of 2011 I took part in a lengthy email correspondence about this inscription with James Tabor, Greg Snyder and Jim Charlesworth. It was a profitable conversation in which we made real progress in both reading and interpreting the inscription, though we certainly did not reach full agreement, especially on the interpretation. (Tabor’s references to me in footnotes to his article, ‘A Preliminary Report …,’ recently published on the internet, reflect that conversation.) We were all bound by a non-disclosure agreement until last week, when the material was made public. At that time Greg Snyder and I had not seen the so-called ‘Jonah’ image and we did not discuss it until much more recently and then much more briefly. Our efforts were focused intensively on the inscription, for which we had the benefit of a number of photos, not only those that have now been published in the book (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012) and on the internet. My own interpretation of the inscription developed through that conversation, but I have modified it very recently (so that some of my argument in what follows is not already known to Tabor, Snyder and Charlesworth).

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The Talpiot Tomb and the Beatles

By: Mark Goodacre, Dept of Religion, Duke University

The current discussion of Talpiot Tomb B, the “patio tomb”, has largely centered on the interpretation of the picture on one of the ossuaries.  But Tabor’s and Jacobovici’s argument that this tomb is linked with Jesus and his disciples is related to their earlier claims about Talpiot Tomb A, the “garden tomb”.  The case that this is the Jesus family tomb was made in 2007 in a book, a film and a website.[i]  It was largely based on a claim about statistics — this cluster of names, bearing so close a relationship to the names of members of Jesus’ family, was most unlikely to have occurred by accident. Continue reading

The Talpiot Tombs and New Testament Historical Criticism

James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair of New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University, Indianapolis

The discovery of ossuaries in tombs in the Talpiot neighborhood of modern Jerusalem would almost certainly never have made international news or led to book deals, were it not for the claims of a relationship between those ossuaries and texts from the New Testament. While most of the criticisms of the recent claims made by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici have focused on epigraphy and inscriptions, interpretation of iconography, and other matters related to the physical evidence, there are also problems with the claims in so far as they pertain to the New Testament texts. If there is any correlation at all to be made, it must treat all the evidence, including the texts, using the appropriate tools and methods of historical inquiry. Yet on this point, and from this perspective, the narrative being woven by Jacobovici and Tabor is problematic.

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The Talpiyot Unguentarium

Dr. Joan E. Taylor, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London

It is easy to feel in this quest to identify the picture of a ‘whale’ a sense that we are all staring at the same ink-blot and seeing different things. The architectural edifice/tower/tomb monument theory does not quite work, because there are little ‘flaps’ on each side, the sides are concave and the circular blob is not explained well. In addition, as James Tabor has said, no one would draw a tomb monument upside down on the side of an ossuary. However, no one would draw a fish in this position on an ossuary either. Instead, viewed the right way up, there is a simpler solution: the picture depicts a small receptacle often used in tombs, called an unguentarium. Continue reading

A Reply from Prof. Tabor—A Jonah Fish Image or a Tower Tomb Monument?

James D. Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

 I want to thank ASOR’s executive director Andy Vaughn, guest editors Eric Meyers and Christopher Rollston, and participating colleagues, for devoting time and space to a special consideration of the ideas expressed in the non-specialist book, The Jesus Discovery as well as the more technical paper I have published at the web site The Bible and Interpretation, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem” during the month of March. Whether damned or praised—and so far there has been much more of the former than the latter—it is an honor to have ones ideas considered by colleagues. Continue reading

Comments from Prof. Steven Fine on the “Jesus Discovery”

I was a member of a team assembled last summer by a major media outlet to evaluate this project. Sitting in a stately conference room, Mr. Jacobovici, Professor Tabor and Professor Charlesworth presented their discoveries for the consideration of an internationally renowned group of scholars. The members of the evaluating team then offered our professional evaluations of this project. Continue reading

Prof. Robin Jensen Refutes Any Claim that She Concurs with the Interpretation in “The Jesus Discovery”

From Prof. Robin Jensen, Vanderbilt University

In December, 2010, I was asked to participate in a National Geographic film project that—I was led to believe—would investigate the image of Jonah in early Christian art. I was asked to fly to Rome in January in order to be filmed in the catacombs and comment on the figure of Jonah as it appeared in the iconographic décor of those underground cemeteries. It was made clear that my expertise in ancient Christian art, especially in regard to representations of Jonah, was the reason for this invitation.
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On ‘Absalom’s Tomb’ in Jerusalem and Nephesh Monument Iconography: A Response to Jacobovici and Tabor by Robert Cargill

By:
Robert R. Cargill (robert-cargill@uiowa.edu)
Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies, The University of Iowa

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).

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Jodi Magness responds to the “New Jesus Discovery”

Professor Jodi Magness
Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As usual, the arrival of the Easter season this year is heralded by a sensational archaeological claim relating to Jesus. In March 2007, we learned from a TV documentary and accompanying book that the tomb of Jesus and his family had been discovered in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood. The producer was undeterred by the fact that not a single archaeologist – including the tomb’s excavator – supported this claim (for my comments see http://www.archaeological.org/news/279; also see Eric Meyers’ response to the current claim). Now the same producer has identified remains of early Christian followers of Jesus in a tomb nearby. What is the basis for this new claim? Photos taken by a robotic arm that was inserted into the tomb supposedly show a graffito depicting a whale incised on an ossuary, and an inscription containing the Tetragrammaton and the word “arise” or “resurrection.”

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Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B: A Detailed Response to the Claims of Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici

Professor Christopher A. Rollston (crollston@ecs.edu) Professor of Semitic Studies, Emmanuel Christian Seminary

I. THE CLAIMS OF TABOR AND JACOBOVICI: THE NEW BOOK[1]

Here are the basic claims of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici: “Talpiyot Tomb B contained several ossuaries, or bone boxes, two of which were carved with an iconic image and a Greek inscription.  Taken together, the image and the inscription constitute the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.”  They go on and state that these ossuaries “also provide the first evidence in Jerusalem of the people who would later be called ‘Christians.’  In fact, it is possible, maybe even likely, that whoever was buried in this tomb knew Jesus and heard him preach.” Continue reading

Eric Meyers’ review of “The New Jesus Discovery”

Review of “The New Jesus Discovery”
(Simon and Schuster 2012, ISBN 978-1-4516-5040-2)
Eric M.Meyers, Duke University

For nearly two millennia Christians have venerated the site believed to be where Jesus was buried. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built at a place where liturgical celebrations were held in honor of Christ’s death and resurrection, even before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Emperor Hadrian in 135 CE built his Capitoline temple there, and a shrine to Aphrodite was built adjacent to it. Constantine, the first emperor to embrace Christianity (in the 4th c. CE), decided to build a church there to commemorate the Resurrection. The temple was thus torn down; construction of Constantine’s church began in 326, and the church was dedicated in 335 CE according to Eusebius of Caesarea (Life of Constantine, 3:28). No other site in all Christendom has been more venerated and more often authenticated than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Nonetheless, on the basis of very little evidence James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici would have us throw all of this tradition away and identify a Jewish family tomb in East Talpiot, several kilometers south of the Old City on the road to Bethlehem, as the “new” family tomb of Jesus.

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Brief Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B

Professor Christopher A. Rollston, Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Much can, and no doubt will, be said about the proposal (and new volume) of Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici that Jesus of Nazareth was married to a woman of Magdala named Mary, that they had a son named “Judas” and that their tomb has been found in East Talpiyot (Jerusalem).  Of course, this all started several years ago with the same individuals proposing the same basic thing about a tomb dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb A.”  Recently, these same scholars investigated a tomb that they have dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb B,” and they believe that this new tomb demonstrates the veracity of their previous conclusions. Continue reading

Meyers and Rollston are guest editors for ASOR’s coverage of the “New Jesus Discovery”

Professors Eric Meyers and Christopher Rollston will be the guest editors of the ASOR Blog for the month of March. ASOR plans to invite scholars in ASOR and the field to react to the proposals made by Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici in their new book, The New Jesus Discovery. The ASOR Blog will host responses from scholars throughout the month of March, and these responses will be moderated by Meyers and Rollston. The discussion will start today (Tuesday, February 28th) with several posts from Meyers and Rollston: Continue reading

Archaeology, Bible, Politics and the Media: Duke “Office Hours” with Professors Carol and Eric Meyers

Drawing on their decades of experience on archaeological digs in Israel, Duke University Professors Carol and Eric Meyers take questions from online viewers about the charged combination of archaeology, the Bible, politics and the news media, during an “Office Hours” conversation September 1, 2011. Learn more at http://www.dukeofficehours.com.

NEA 74.2 (June 2011) is available online for subscribers

ASOR is pleased to announce that NEA 74.2 (June 2011) has now been posted online at Atypon Link. This issue (and 4 years of back issues) is available to online subscribers of NEA and to ASOR members who have chosen an online subscription as part of their membership.

The following is an abbreviated table of contents:
-Stefan Münger, Jürgen Zangenberg and Juha Pakkala: Long Article on Kinneret
-Rami Arav, John F. Shroder Jr., Steven Notley: Forum Responses on Bethsaida
-Amihai Mazar: Forum Article on “The Iron Age Chronology Debate”
-Ann E. Killebrew, Lorenzo d’Alfonso, Brandon R. Olson: Fieldnotes
-Hans Barnard: Fieldnote
-Garth Gilmour: Fieldnote

You may access the detailed table of contents here:
http://www.atypon-link.com/ASOR/toc/nea/74/2

As a reminder, the last 4 years of ASOR journals are available to ASOR members on Atypon Link. For details, please see the following URL:

http://www.asor.org/updates/atypon-online.html