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

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.


To begin with, it is completely out of my aim to discuss here if the Talpiot tombs are or are not related to Jesus of Nazareth or his closest followers. We probably need more archaeological evidence and more effort to analyze them rigorously, keeping the research as far as possible from sensationalism or from any kind of dogmatism.

Professor James D. Tabor from North Carolina University has recently explored a sealed tomb in Jerusalem with the technical help of a robotic camera. Among several findings of interest, one of the ossuaries [1.]  placed in one of the nine niches (or kokhim in Hebrew) showed a nicely carved icthyomorphic drawing on its front side. The skilled handling of the robotic arm has permitted an original approach to the tomb and has provided the scientific community with some relevant photographs to study and discuss. I am sure they will encourage the necessary dialogue and, perhaps, some impassioned arguments as well, that will lead all of us at the end to a more accurate comprehension. I sincerely feel grateful for those enjoyable pictures that Tabor’s team has provided us in such an ingenious way. At the same time, I feel tempted to make some comments, especially from the zooarchaeological and symbolic aspects, despite the cultural complexity regarding the inception of Christianity and its controversial links to the Jewish world.

I would like to discuss the pictures below taken from James Tabor’s paper that appeared recently at Figure 1 is a shot taken during the robotic camera exploration. Figure 2 is a close-up view of a replica.

Figure 2: Replica close-up

Figure 1: Robotic Exploration Shot

In his work the author opts for a zoologic interpretation. He suggests that the figure is a whale, noting how the prophet Jonah was swallowed by a “large fish” and then, after three days and three nights, was vomited alive onto the beach (Jonah 2: 1-11)[2]. Professor Tabor proposes that the circle we can see just in the mouth of the whale is indeed Jonah´s head. He thinks we can even see the prophet’s arms and legs still inside the whale. Without any special effort, the icthyomorfic drawing seems to be a whale, certainly, and a modern zoologist could even identify it as a rorqual, taking into consideration its acute muzzle (rostrum), and the biogeographical fact that several rorquals of Balaenoptera genus were common along the Mediterranean coasts[3].  We are, therefore, allowed to suppose that whales were familiar to the cultural background of the draftsperson, whoever he was. The relatively big size of the “fish”[4], generously occupies the whole half of the ossuary. The graceful pectoral fins and the horizontal caudal fin are, I think, three useful clues that can reasonably support this interpretation.

But there are in my opinion, at least, nine incongruities that we cannot elude at all:

1)      The lack of fish eyes. In its most schematic representation, fish are usually reduced as two opposite arcs crossing each other at both ends. Sometimes in those representations, the caudal fin could even remain uncompleted and scales could be absent in many cases. Instead, eyes themselves have a strong symbolism to suggest a fish, because of being one of the most relevant anatomic references beside a fusiform biological shape. The absence of a well depicted eye in that case deducts a big part of its credibility as a fish representation. Even though whales do not have conspicuous eyes and we classify them among mammals nowadays, we need to interpret the drawing through the cultural prism and usual symbolism of people from the first century, that is, as whales being real fish.

2)      The disharmony of the characters.  It seems to me paradoxical, too, the diverse way in which the two characters, whale and man, have been graphically solved. While the supposed whale shows a decorative profusion of details, the supposed man, who appears to be the main character, has been reduced instead to an irregular circle with some not well connected stick-like marks.

3)      In the same way, the well-proportioned body of the supposed fish contrasts openly with the big-headed man.

4)      The total absence of anatomic elements in the human face makes hazardous his identification as human. Tabor justifies this lack referring to the literal text of the Jonah prayer: “the abyss enveloped me; seaweed clung about my head” (Jonah 2, 6).

5)      Even when the preservation of the figure makes this part of the carving hard to perceive, some of the stick-like marks of Jonah’s supposed arms and legs seem to continue all along the head of the whale, forming not an anthropomorphic design, but probably an arborescent or reticular image instead.

6)      The different appearance of scales and their compartmentation in blocks. The supposed scales have been graphically represented in very different styles. They look strangely diverse in shape and texture. And they are shown by blocks or compartments clearly divided transversally all along the “fish” body.

7)      It remains unexplained why the draftsperson decided to use the same carving texture for the caudal fin, for Jonah’s head and even just for some scales.

8)      In the same way, the whale position (head down) is atypical for a “fish” and it is just the opposite to suggest that it is putting Jonah alive on the surface, onto the beach, according to biblical text.

9)      And finally, it is difficult to harmonize a whale vomiting a man with the fact that the animal jaws apparently remain firmly closed.

Taking all these perplexities into consideration, we want to suggest a neck funerary amphora as a more reliable interpretation, that is also a very traditional decorative motif in Jewish ossuaries. From this point of view, the drawing, with all its peculiarities and its decorative pattern, becomes very obvious, as we try to show in figure 3:

1)      The vertical position of the drawing does not need any explanation.

2)      Pectoral fins now become the amphora handles.

3)      The segmentation in different panels or decorative levels of the neck and the body of the vessel is common in this kind of pottery.

4)      The ornamental pattern does not resemble scales, but just geometric decorative elements, as it was usual in geometric attic amphorae, for instance.

5)      The use of the same carving pattern or texture for the rim, the foot of the amphora and for some of its decorations (marked in grey) becomes now more evident: the draftsperson tried to reflect that both parts were in the same colour as in the original vessel, probably black, as it used to be in that kind of pottery.

6)      The exploration shot does not permit us to guess the decorative pattern of the body, whose grooves seem to take part of an arborescent or reticular drawing.

Figure 3: The drawing deduced from the robotic exploration shot (left). The areas with the same carving texture have been underlaid with grey colour. Right: A hypothetical reconstruction of the funerary neck amphora.

Likewise, some scholars have proposed an unguentarium or a krater as an equally reliable hypothesis. Perhaps the geometric decorations at neck level, the general proportions and the pretty well defined shoulders suggest that the carving resembles an amphora rather than any other kind of vase. It is obvious that we do not have the real container, however, but just a very personal and subjective interpretation of it instead.

Finally, only two more short comments about Professor Tabor’s paper. Firstly, to advise that the ossuary, named the “child’s ossuary”(page 31, figure 5), paradoxically contains inside the remains of an adult. All the bone fragments that I reach to see (several cranial bones, ilium, scapula, ribs and lumbar, thoracic and cervical vertebrae) seem to belong to an adult. For instance, a really big lumbar vertebra in the foreground (orange arrow) shows a transverse body diameter that reachs at least 5 cm.

Figure 4: The “child's ossuary” (sic). The orange arrow shows an adult lumbar vertebra.

Figure 5: John Dory (Zeus faber), from Murre Techniek website fish translator

Secondly, perhaps I may shed some light on the fish called zaeus by Plinius[5], cited on page 15 of Tabor’s paper and related to the Greek inscription on ossuary 5:3. According to references I am aware of, it is known among zoologists as Zeus faber. In English it is called a “Peter’s Fish”, “Saint Pierre Fish” or “John Dory”, but in the South of Spain we know it as pez de San Pedro or gallo and more infrequently gallopedro or pejegallo. We usually prepare it as fish in bread-crumbs. I can assure that, as in Plinius days, it continues to be one of the gastronomic delights all along the Bay of Cádiz, from where I am just writing these lines, in fact.




BAUCHOT, M. L. and PRAS, A. (1993): Guía de los peces de mar de España y de Europa. Barcelona, Omega: 118, 128.

BURTON, Maurice (1978): Guía de los mamíferos de España y de Europa. Barcelona, Omega: 240-253.

CARWARDINE, Mark (1995): Ballenas, delfines y marsopas. Manual de identificación. Barcelona, Omega.

DUGUY, R. and ROBINEAU, D. (1987): Guía de los mamíferos marinos de Europa. Barcelona, Omega.

FIGUERAS, Pau (1983): Decorated Jewish Ossuaries. Documenta et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui XX. Leiden, Brill.

MELVILLE, Herman (1892): Moby-Dick or The White Whale. Boston, St. Botolph Society.

MEYEROVICH, Eva (1985): Ballena. In: CHEVALIER, Jean and GHEERBRANT, Alain (Eds.) (1985): Diccionario de los símbolos. Barcelona, Herder: 171-172.

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE (2002). Rome, Libreria Editrice Vaticana. [Available online at: . Last accessed date: 9th March 2012].

PLINIO SECONDO, Gaio (1983): Storia Naturale II. Antropologia e Zoologia. Libri 7-11. Torino, Einaudi: 334-335.

TABOR, James D. (2012): A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem. Published on The Bible and Interpretation website. [Available online in PDF format at: . Last accessed date: 10th  March 2012].

TABOR, James D. (2012): A Perfume Flask or a Fish? Published on The Bible and Interpretation website. [Available online at: . Last accessed date: 10th March 2012].

TAYLOR, Joan E. (2012): The Talpiyot Unguentarium. Published on ASOR Blog (American Schools of Oriental Research). [Available online: . Last accessed date: 10th March 2012].

TEROFAL, Fritz (1986): Peces de mar. Barcelona, Blume: 78-79.

TORRE GARCÍA, Mercedes de la (2004): Ictionimia portuense. Cádiz, Concejalía de Cultura del Ayuntamiento de El Puerto de Santa María: 206-208.


[1] Ossuary 6, from kokh 3 (i.e., 6:3), according to Tabor’s references, but 1:1 according to Kloner’s map.

[2] Jesus of Nazareth speaks about the “sign of Jonah” in the Gospels as a metaphor for resurrection in Mt 12:29, Mt 16:4 and Lk 11:29-32. There are also specific mentions in the Quran, where Jonah is known as Yunus (10:98, 37:139-144).

[3] Western Mediterranean coasts, at least, as well as the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

[4] The definitive attribution of whales to mammals was a taxonomic acquisition of the 18th century, in the second edition of Linné’s works, Systema Naturae (1758). Even in Moby-Dick, by the American novelist Herman Melville (1851), the characters keep the term “fish” to designate the whale in their dialogues throughout the text.

[5] “(…) zaeus idem faber appellatus, Gadibus, circa Ebusum salpa, obscenus alibi et qui nusquam percoqui possit nisi ferula vertebratus” (Naturalis Historia IX, 32).


  1. One of my first thoughts about the image was that, if it is a fish, it seems to be biting Jonah’s head off, not spewing him out. Thanks for your expert judgments.

  2. Excellent reconstruction! You’ll want to check out Bob Cargill’s most recent article on the digital manipulation of the photos:

    As Bob and I have noted, there seems to be handles on the upper part of the vessel as well.

    And if you’d like, you might want to consider my post on the subject:

  3. Great input to the discussion. It’s nice having someone outside the field of Biblical Studies contribute. As Tom said, excellent reconstruction.

  4. Thanks a lot to Richard Bauckham,from Cambridge. I am glad to share with him more than this point of view (because I know he is hardly interested in other fields as well and I think he is a talented children’s tales writer). Congratulation for your recent awards, Richard.

    Many thanks as well to Tom Verenna for his two suggestive links that I will read the soonest I can and then we could probably comment properly.

    And finally, thanks to Mike Holmes for his cheerful and kind comment about the paper. Yes, I hope it will help us to understand a bit more the delightful problem that James Tabor has just put on the table. (So, thanks to Professor Tabor as well.)

    Happy to meet such interesting people here.

  5. I want to thank you Prof. Fernández de la Gala for your most informative and courteous response. It is a pleasure to meet you on these pages and exchange views on this fascinating topic. As a footnote, I am quite interested in your take on the possibility of a reading of ZAIO[S] (see Liddell Scott, sv. ζαιός· εἶδος ἰχθύος, Hsch., cf. Pliny.HN9.68 , v. ζαζαῖος) in the inscription. My limited reading had indicated this was some kind of fish of the sea-urchin family, but that came from Hesychius I think.

    But to your post. First of all I am pleased to hear that you do not think this image is either a funerary monument (nephesh) or a perfume flask, which have been the dominant views on this blog site the past few weeks, though changing with the wind. The “ball” has been seen as anything from congealed “nard” from a broken bottom, to the “soul” of the dead seeping out. I remain convinced that we are dealing here with an unprecedented image of a fish with a stick figure representing Jonah being expelled from the mouth, and not an flask or inanimate vessel of some type for the reasons I will outline below. One clarification I would like to have with regard to your thesis presented here. Do you know of an ornamented ossuary in any of our known collections that presents a close parallel to what you see represented by this iconographic image? I have not found one in examining most all the extant images in the Bet Shemesh, Rockefeller, and Israel museum basement collection, as well as the private collections of the Franciscans by autopsy. We spent about 18 months looking for parallels while all the time consulting with experts in these areas who seemed to agree they had seen nothing like this on any ossuary so far known. The representative images of the well known amphora are in my paper and readily available. I don’t think anyone could remotely mistake any of them for a fish, much less a “Jonah” image. But as to our thesis, here are my reasons for thinking it is a fish/Jonah image and not a vessel:

    1. The “tail” of our image is sharply pointed and quite elongated on the left side. In fact, when we first got a glimpse of the partial image we thought it was the prow of a boat! In contrast, the mouths of amphora and perfume bottles are round and quite symmetrical.

    2. The clear stick figure in our image with the enlarged “ball” or head at the bottom seems to be in contrast to the typical flattened or knob like ends of amphora or other similar vessels. The arms of the figure are positioned in a classic eastern pose (Ὡάννης), in contrast to what we find in the west–the orans position of supplication with both arms raised. This is a major point and we are presently preparing a special paper dealing with the motifs associated with the various sea-man figures of the eastern Mediterrean world in this period. This was pointed out to us by one of our art historian experts in Israel who is also publishing something separately on this from our treatment which is forthcoming. The “head” itself has a very distinctive pattern on it which we have taken to be the artists attempt to represent seaweed “wrapped about my head” as mentioned in the text of Jonah (2:5). The “eye” of the fish is also etched on the lower right side, with a curved line. We are not yet certain what the Etruscan “F-like” marking is to the left of the figure’s body as it is now oriented but our guess is it has to do with an eastern mythical hero motif and several suggestions have been made by two of our ancient art historians.

    3. The patterned body of the “fish” with its scale/tile like patterns, which led some to conclude it was the brickwork of a tower, or in your case, the painted design on a ceramic vessel, we understand to be akin to the armor of the mythical fish Leviathan (aka Behemoth, Rahab, etc.)–which in modern Hebrew still means “whale.” In Jewish tradition this unique sea creature represents “death” and the righteous are to eat its flesh in the last days, thus “swallowing up death” forever (Isaiah 27:1; 25:8; Baba Bathra 74b). When this happens the “dew of light” will shine on the world of the death and those in the land of shades will live or be resurrected (Isaiah 26:19).

    4. The downward orientation of our fish image, which some have taken as an objection to it being a fish, is to the contrary just what one would expect, as we understand Jonah is being spat out on land in this depiction. To have the nose of the fish oriented upward (heavenward), or to right or left, would be to spit him into the waters of “chaos,” which he is now to escape, by being vomited on dry land. The head of our “Jonah” figure is actually touching the border of the bottom of the ossuary, which seems to represent that land. In Christian mythology this is being “born from above,” and some early Christian texts & images, picture Jonah as coming out of the fish as an embryo-which we have also considered for our “ball,” but in the end went for the text of Jonah itself as our guide. That and thinking the fish might be blowing a bubble-which gave all of us a good laugh at our first academic gathering last May in D.C. Someone even suggested a “coin” in the mouth of a fish, as per Matthew’s unique story.

    We are convinced that the creator of the Jonah image is taking his or her cues from the text of Jonah itself—not from a pattern of evolving types—since we have no extant Jonah images from this period, or for that matter, any biblical scenes at all. This would be a first. The text of Jonah seems to provide the clues and that is how I have interpreted its several features as I explain in my paper:

    “I called out to Yahweh, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried . . . Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit” (Jonah 2:2-6).

    We are convinced that these detailed features resemble much more closely a fish than the mere similarity in shape to an amphora. After all, even though an amphora, or especially an alabastron, might be somewhat cylindrically “fish like” in shape, no one would mistake a flask or perfume vial for a fish–and we think something in the reverse is working with this latest suggestion. Lots of inanimate objects can “look like” animals…but usually in art history we can easily tell the “beast” from the thing…The right panel of the ossuary also seems to reflect a temple motif, mentioned here also in the text of Jonah.

    Our interpretation is further supported by the other fish motifs on the ossuary itself, as mentioned in my paper, particularly the six little fish along the top border of the ossuary as if they are swimming along a canal or river, the cross-like gated “bars of death” on the right side panel (compare Rahmani, CJO, Plate 7: 46F and Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, plate III-7a), and the half-fish or tail, on the right end-which we do not agree is a half-vessel with fantom handles. We see this as representing a patterned narrative. Even though its elements might be lost to us we think the general motifs are clear–namely entrance into “death” and chaos and being “brought up” from the “pit” or Sheol–presented by both the waters and the great fish. Since the use of Jonah as a resurrection image is first found in the Matthew version/expansion of the Q source, associated with Jesus and faith in his resurrection, we find that to be the most likely context and provenance for this fascinating, and as we would argue, all together extraordinary image.

    It is difficult to make these points without illustrations but I know of no way to put them into a blog comment so I trust you might visit my blog at if you want to see more on these points. Thanks again for your piece.

  6. I read that in those days fish and fish sauce were big businesses, and they were sent out in amphorae. Maybe the family that owned the ossuary was in the fish , fish sauce, or fish amphorae business, so they combined a fish (fish tail) with an amphora into a picture of a fish-looking amphora to represent their business. It sounds strange, but every idea about this is strange because no one can know for sure what the right answer is.

    Kenneth Greifer

  7. James, let me see if I understand your position.
    Are you arguing that you find not persuasive the vessel interpretation because you are not aware of an exact enough parallel on an ossuary, while at the same time you find persuasive what has no even remotely near parallel on an ossuary:
    a Jonah narrative cycle (with influence of Oannes and Etruscan-like symbol and stick figure seen inside as if by x-rays and fish above land and dissimilar scales and “eye” that resembles one “arm” and leftover lines as wave splashes (inside of outside the fish?) and the closed mouth, as I noted on 29 Feb (comment to Jodi)?

  8. Maybe the person who died was a fisherman or in the fish business, so whoever made the design on the ossuary combined that person’s interest with the traditional funeral amphora, and made an amphora that looked like a fish with fish tail on top. I have heard about places where people are buried in coffins designed to look like their favorite cars or whatever their hobbies were, so maybe this was the same idea, except the person was not a very good artist.

    THe half fish could be a mistake if the person made it too big to fit the whole picture on that side, so the person did it again on another side. That is also just a wild guess.

    Maybe the amphora looks like a fish and an amphora because it is both.

    Kenneth Greifer


    The link above (I’m not able to see whether it’s clickable or not, but it can be cut and pasted), shows an alternative figure in the fish.

    I’m an artist who had some (visual) confusion about the nature of the stick figure inside the fish. It seemed that the lines of the stick figure somehow did not form a visual gestalt- and given the clarity of the rest of the fish, it seemed unlikely that this should be the case. There were lines that were unaccounted for in the stick figure portion of the image- lines that were fainter- and it seemed to be a stretch to say that this or that line represented an eye because there were several lines to choose from-and none of them clear to me. So I used a magnifying glass, bumped the size of the image up and connected the lines that were already present to find the visual gestalt in the fish. I had to work from a photograph without knowing whether a line was created by a scratch, accretions caused by weathering, or was created intentionally by the artist. I made my best guesses about which marks seemed purposeful. The idea was to get rid of preconceived ideas of whether there was a stick figure or no figure and reveal what was actually there, if possible, by connecting the lines. I think I did this except for a lingering idea that there might be an eye somewhere in the series of curved lines toward the edge of the image. My results really did not present me with anything that visually clarified the stick figure idea, nor did they clarify anything about which line might have been a fish eye.
    Then I showed the drawing to another person who’s written on the anthropology of art,(Richard L. Anderson), who immediately saw a complete figure in the fish: the figure is most clear when the fish is oriented with the mouth on the right so I’m presenting it that way for the sake of clarity. The figure’s face is hidden in his right arm which wraps around his head, he is on his knees with his right leg extending toward the back of the fish. I’m not clear on the left arm. The shape that I’ve drawn on the schematic could be an arm that follows the figure’s left thigh (it was very faint in the photograph), but as I’ve been looking at the figure online- it seems to me that the other arm is, instead, above the head reaching toward the mouth of the fish (I’d previously left open the possibility that that line might indicate an eye but now I think I’m wrong about that; the sense of the carving on the ossuary is that it is the other arm: so both arms reach emphatically toward the mouth of the fish with the head pointing downward, the face hidden by the right arm, as if the figure is in position to leave the mouth of the fish.
    I transferred what I found in my drawing to this schematic with the clickable link (or, you may need to cut and paste). From what I can see online with a magnifying glass, this visual gestalt accounts for all, or most, of the primary lines, and the visually confusing asymmetric area of the lower part of the fish now makes sense. As I mentioned, the line above the head may be the other arm. Whether in art historical terms this visual interpretation makes sense, I have no idea.

    If this figure was actually intended by the artist, then I have some questions: could this image have been meant to work on two levels-as a fish containing a figure (Jonah presumably) and an amphora? Did the artist want to hide the “graven image” inside the fish, to present the image more conventionally as an amphora? Is there a parallel between an amphora and a fish-both “vessels” for holding something, in this case; Jonah?
    If this image is meant to be a visual pun, the figure’s head might also (sort of) work as the eye of the fish (not a conventional fish eye), and the lower right leg also works as a fin.

  10. Thanks for your comment Stephen. What I am saying is that whatever the image is it has no parallels on any ossuary, contrary to initial views of those asserting it was a common nephesh or amphora. Let’s assume we had argued the nephesh on ossuary #1 was actually a fish, when it is so obviously a nephesh, or we had found a clear amphora, such as the one I have in my paper (see Figs. 25 in my paper), but we argued that was a Jonah image, it is inconceivable that Andy Vaughn would say-let’s devote a month to blogging on this new find or that a dozen distinguished colleagues would be spending a year discussing these finds, including full day meetings in D.C. last May. Even Simcha could not pull that one off as it would be patently absurd. What we have here is clearly not of that ilk and if it is so obviously a “vessel” of some type, as I think you believe, I am wanting to point out, in my view at least, the parallels so far cited do not work.

  11. Prof. Fernández de la Gala , I did not yet comment on your observation about the skeletal remains in the little ossuary removed from the tomb in 1981. I have no expertise in that area and others have referred to it as a child’s ossuary because of its very small size, see photo in my report, fig. 4.

  12. Kim,

    An interesting idea. Whether it holds water, though, I’ll leave to the experts, as it would seem odd to draw the figure sideways on an otherwise vertical object. I’ll note, however, that your depiction is strikingly similar to those of the “Weeping Judea” seen on Roman coins isssued by Vespasian after suppressinn the first Jewish Revolt 66-70 CE-typically on the reverse side of the coin, a weeping woman (representing a defeated Judea) would be depicted. That’s seems a stretch, but interesting nonetheless and shows the pluses/minuses of human perception.
    Here’s a link to one to one of the weeping Judea coins. Don’t know whether that influenced you or your colleague.


    Thanks a lot, James, for your suggestive comments that have enhanced the discussion. I will try to find a reliable answer for each of the topics you have brought up as precisely as I can.


    The Plinian quotation you mentioned (NH 9:68) does not refer to any kind of sea urchin (which belongs to the Echinodermata taxonomic group), but refers instead to the Cnidaria group (formerly called Coelenterata). Cnidaria includes swimming forms (jellyfish) and bottom-dwellers (or polyps, such as sea anemones and corals). In reference to that question, Plinius closely follows Aristotle’s classical texts, “Historia Animalium” and “De partibus animalium”.

    As a curiosity, here along the coasts of Cádiz (Andalucia, Spain), we continue to designate them using the same word that Plinius used: “urticae”, and, in Spanish: “ortigas de mar” or “ortiguillas” (literally, “little sea nettles”), another of our gastronomic delicacies. They are served fried in olive oil, like crunchy tempura. Their salty taste is strongly reminiscent of the sea.

    Sorry about all these continuous references to food, but it’s probably because dinner time is so soon…

  14. Thank you for your comment, Don. I have an interest in ancient Greek coins but wasn’t aware of the weeping Judea coins. Appreciate the link.

    I didn’t try to create this “figure” (if that’s what it was intended to be), and had no visual prototype I was trying to follow. The figure emerged on its own when the lines were connected. At first I didn’t recognize it as a figure. I agree about needing the opinions of the experts (I’m a very interested layperson and artist), and am just sticking the image out there because it makes use of most of the visual evidence I could find in a very confusing area of the fish.

    It does seem like all of the intentionally made lines (insofar as it’s possible to know what they are) are important and the resulting image should account for them.

    If you turn the fish so it is pointing head downward in its correct orientation on the ossuary, the figure seems to be heading diagonally downward, with its arms extended toward the mouth of the fish (if its left arm is really overhead instead of by its left side).


    B) About (my) rim or (your) tail shape:

    -“The mouths of amphora and perfume bottles are round and quite symmetrical”, said Tabor.

    -Of course, they “are round and quite symmetrical” in real vessels, but we are dealing here with just the imperfect drawing of a vessel, made probably by a poorly skilled drawer. In that case, you have to consider that real whales show a tail well depicted with a slightly narrower peduncle between its caudal fin and its body and this tail is symmetrical as well. We should not demand a figurativist or realistic piece of artwork. It is not the case, it is not the time and it is not even within the artist’s capabilities. That is just the reason why we are discussing just now what the devil this picture could represent. Unfortunately, we have not a Velázquez oil on canvas in front of us.

    I don’t know, James, if you are skilled in drawing, but I am sure that if the readers of this blog tried to draw an amphora just now, most of their designs would clearly show an asymmetry in the body, rim or handles, exactly like this Talpiyot ossuary shows, especially if the lines couldn’t be erased or re-shaped. This was just the case with our draftsperson when he was in front of a limestone ossuary, trying to remember how best to draw an amphora. I have just experimented by having a fair number of my students draw an amphora in this manner. You may wish, perhaps, to verify these results by drawing it yourself.



    Unfortunately, in the robotic exploration shot, there is a problem with the light source (over exposed?) just at the level of the amphora’s body. In addition to that, taking into account the proximity to the soil, certain taphonomic disturbances at the same level (moisture marks and probably fungal growth) make it difficult to guess the course of the grooves on that part of the vessel. An arborescent pattern, perhaps? A reticular design, instead?

    I have even considered for a moment if this kind of reticular pattern could be a graphical reference to the usual practice of ritual funerary breakage. I cannot honestly be sure, however. Probably new shots focused on that area could shed some light on this question.



    James, when I look at your icthyomorphic carving, trying to imagine it as a sign of Jonah, one of the strongest reluctances I find is the diverse way that the two characters, whale and man, have been graphically solved. While the supposed whale shows a decorative profusion of detail, the supposed man ─who one would think should be the main character─ has been reduced instead to an irregular circle, completely out of proportion, with some poorly connected and not very well depicted stick-like marks. That does not fit at all. Bearing in mind that even the most elementary rules and anatomical proportions of a human body haven’t been followed at all, I sincerely think that your reflections on smaller details (such as an “eastern pose,” etc.) could be a sure and straight way to a fallacious over-interpretation.


    I took my time to find a supposed “eye”, looking carefully along the supposed whale. Finally, I reached to guess two curved lines,
    like a parenthesis, just on the Jonah’s derriere.
    Certainly it does not seem to me a very convincing eye, but even in case, we just have a one-eyed animal.

    James, if the handles of my amphora are the pectoral fins of your whale (I mean, right and left pectoral fins) we still need to find the left eye. Otherwise, the draftsman would have had to have been a Pablo Picasso or one of his earlier cubist predecessors in Jerusalem, if you allow me to add some levity to our discussion.

  18. Professor

    Inspired by Robert Cargill’s article that Tom Verenna linked to in the second comment, I’ve taken the time to adjust the aspect on the base of the figure:

    When the perspective distortions are minimized (and the distortions are significant between the angle of the shot and the perspective of the lens) the “ball/head” at the bottom appears to look like a demisphereoid, a shape that more closely matches the base of a vessel than the “seaweed wrapped head” of a man.


  19. Dear Prof. Fernández de la Gala, I thank you for your kind replies. I am just not getting back to this. Let me offer a few brief responses to this very interesting discussion.

    1. It occurs to me that you and perhaps many others are thinking of our fish proposal as looking down on a fish, as if from above, thus one would see a pair of symmetric eyes, with the tail flat and symmetrical as in the rorqual whale, and thus the mouth opening would not be visible, thus the impossible x-ray stick vision stick figure that would make no sense. I am convinced we are looking at the fish from the side. The fins are flat and assymetical from a side view, with only one eye at the top showing, and the line of the jaw with the figure/head coming out. I have no ability to put photos or images in this comment section so far as I can determine but if you know the “Claudius fish,” which I don’t think is a fish-see my Preliminary report, p. 24, fig 26), where there are supposedly two eyes and no tail, which makes no sense for a fish-I think that is how people might be taking this image. There is a nice photo of a Jonah image in the latest issue of BAR (March/April), p. 57 that has the fish oriented as I see this one. If you look at my blog post here: I have inked in the head of the fish with the stick figure and I think you will clearly see what I take to be the eye-the little curve at the top, just where one would expect it from this side view of the fish.

    2. Regarding you “drawing” experiment I am sure if I tried any lapidary work my result would be quite a mess, but on the whole I am rather impressed with the designs on this ossuary and I think they are carefully executed, though you are right, not from the professional artisan “shop” where one might order a standard design. However, given an person lacking these professional skills I don’t think you would end up with a “tail” or mouth of the jar as asymmetrical as this one. As an alternative experiment as your students to draw a fish from the side view with a stick figure coming out of its mouth head first.

    3. As for the stick figure, again look at the lined-in drawing at my blog post. I think it is pretty clear. Two of the art historians we consulted, who think this is a Jonah image, both commented that they assumed there was a reluctance on the part of the creator to portray a realistic human figure, based on the prohibition against representing a “graven image,” especially of a human, and especially a face, so that a more minimalist attempt was made. I found this to be a compelling point.

    4. Regarding your proposal for an amphora or vase-do you know of any examples of such vessels on any ossuary of the period or time that would most closely resemble what you see here? I was not sure of the date/provenance of the vase you illustrate in your article but it appeared to be early Hellenistic/Greek. I have tried to examine, in the course of our research, every example we have of amphora and so far I have seen nothing that is close. Or to put it another way, one could not even put forth the argument that any of the known ossuary amphora (or nepheshim for that matter) are in fact Jonah images/fish. There are sometimes superficial resemblances between inanimate objects and animals, but in even the most primitive art it is usually easy to tell the artists’ intention and distinguish one from the other.

  20. Great job, Steve!
    That is more than an attempt: you have hit the mark.

    But, you know how strong-willed Prof. Tabor can be (and that’s good for a researcher, anyway).



    James, perhaps you may have underestimated this point of my thesis that I consider to be conclusive and, probably, the best contribution that I can provide to this problem, i.e. the use of the same texture for some areas of the drawing (the rim, the foot of my supposed amphora and for some of its decorations). The draftsperson filled them with a particular carving texture and I have marked them in dark grey in my sketch. I think our drawer tried to reflect that these parts were in a particular colour in the original vessel, probably in black, as it used to be in that kind of pottery. Just taking this idea in my mind I dare to draw my hypothetical amphora.

  22. James, thanks for your reply. Perhaps I did not make my point clearly enough. You wrote that “whatever the image is it has no parallels on any ossuary.” I think there are vessels on ossuary parallels, even if they are not precisely the same, given this crude drawing. But that contrasts greatly with the total lack of parallels for your Jonah and fish proposal. Would it be fair to raise the question of possible special pleading? That is, going with probability when it seems (to you) to suit you and rejecting it when not. The questionable reading of the 4-letter name also comes to mind as unique, were it valid. Naturally, I’d be interested to hear from others. You mentioned art historians and what they said in the past (Were they even drawing on oannes attested in Nineveh?-something beyond the drawer’s likely knowledge). But it may be more important what they think now, now that more evidence is available than they had then, as well as additional interpretations. Is it worth considering that groups convened with non-disclosure forms and control of information flow and a TV-funded goal of making newsworthy discoveries may not be the optimum way of pursuing reliable scholarship?

  23. Among the puzzles in the “stick figure” interpretation:
    do (some of) those who hold that interpretation consider the line used for the “Jonah” neck, back and one leg to be, simultaneously, the (closed) fish mouth?

  24. If you actually want to understand what these symbols mean, you first need to understand ancient symbology. No one involved in this project seems to have a clue and thereby all assertions about symbols and their interpretations are without any factual support.

    Here are more insights.

    I will demonstrate that this image purposely portrays the merger of both a fish and a vessel and it is Hebrew, not Christian. To fully understand what this image represents, it must be viewed correctly with the “ball” at the bottom, just as it was drawn. Changing its position breaks the meaning of the symbolic code. Consider that the ball is the sun rising above the horizon at the spring equinox. The fish/vessel is the constellation Pisces, and thereby this shows the spring equinox sun, rising into Pisces, which is how you determine the current age on the zodiac.

    This image would then represent a zodiacal/astrological time stamp pointing to the second temple period, which was at the start of the age of Pisces. The fish thereby represents the constellation Pisces, and the vessel shape holds the “waters” of that age. Water symbolizes the flow of deeds through time, and a vessel holds a measured quantity of water (or other liquids like wine and oil). The measured period of time is the 2160 years of the age of Pisces, which ended in 2001. This image is a perfect symbolic code for the age of Pisces and the time and deeds (waters…) it represents.

    The second temple period was the 11th 360-year cycle on the Hebrew calendar. That is why the Dead Sea Scrolls were buried in exactly 11 caves, during the 11th cycle, which is also symbolized by the 11 stars in Genesis. The 11th cycle was also the beginning of the age of Pisces, and it is well known that the zodiac was used by those who buried the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as other groups throughout the region.

    The symbology of that image is not Christian, but instead a symbolic time code pointing to the age of Pisces and related details. That is also the true source of the fish symbolism used by early Christians and later recast by Church leaders to hide the astrological source and associations with those most call the “Essenes.” Visit my website and download a free copy of my ebook to learn the basic rules for this ancient symbology. They prove all previous interpretations are erroneous, though both a fish and a vessel are correct guesses.

    You have discovered something that none of you understand and now I bring proof of the correct solution to this mystery. Sadly for religious leaders, it completely exposes pivotal ancient lies…

    This image provides key proof that Christian assertions about the fish and related symbology have always been wrong. I’ll publish more details soon.

    Here is Wisdom…

    Buddy Page
    Seven Star Hand

  25. Everyone wants to sell us a book these days, I think.

    So, we have just known your bizarre interpretation. What about your “factual support”?

    Let me guess: we will find it in the book that we have to buy, of course.

  26. Hello Juan,

    The pdf version of my book can be downloaded for free, which is made clear, so don’t accuse me of doing what the The Jesus DIscovery crew has done. I am not the one who broke into this grave site and is now telling lies about it, for profit. I do have the solution to your little mystery though, just in time to join the hype caused by others, not me. I am the victim in this matter, seeking truth and justice. Be patient and I will prove my case beyond any shadow of a doubt.

    Here is the link to my first article on the topic. I will publish more details shortly. Many will not like my style, but I solve Biblical mysteries better than anyone alive, and I have solved this one.

    Here is Wisdom…

    Buddy Page
    Seven Star Hand

  27. Pingback: Stick Man Jonah More Unprecedented Than Previously Realized | Professor Obvious

  28. What should be noted here are the comments by the forensic anthropologist, that the vertebrae shown here is than of an adult in a childs ossuary.. Moreover, their scientific overseer from UNC, Prof. Levy who signed on to the project giving scientific oversight is a physical anthropologist! Question is, did she ever look at their findings , as this is physical anthropology 101 ???

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