YouTube Tutorial on Correcting for Perspective in Photoshop: “Jonah Ossuary” Edition

I have created a new video on my YouTube account, which is a tutorial explaining how to correct for perspective in Photoshop. The tutorial was prompted by the release of a CGI image of the so-called “Jonah Great Fish” image inscribed on Ossuary 6 discovered in a tomb in Jerusalem, as well as other images released by Dr. James Tabor and Mr. Simcha Jacobovici in their book, The Jesus Discovery.

The video is here:

Give it a watch (and apologies in advance for the 26 minute length).

13 Responses

  1. Thanks for this Bob. Is this the same video we were trying to authorize me to see last week? I assume it is. Clearly adjusting for perspective in terms of a single angled photo is important, as you demonstrate, but as you know we have photos taken at all angles, so that actually we can see the image from top to bottom as it is on the ossuary by considering several of them. I do think the image you chose is much less angled than your computer screen was, and some of the other photos, that are taken more straight on, if combined, would have given you a better representation of the whole, but be that as it may, your point would remain in terms of an angled photo needing adjustment.

    What is not clear, and maybe you can follow up with this, is your production of what you think the image as a whole actually looks like on the ossuary. Maybe you can paste in your reconstruction, considering all the photos, on the “replica” ossuary for perspective, or produce your own CGI of the whole, even better. I think the bottom line is that when you are finished what you have is indeed wider at the body but it still looks like a fish, with the stick figure emerging, and not even close to one of the vessels you present (what period are these–3rd century hellenistic?), nor any vessel (amphora, etc.) we find on any ossuary of the period–and even less like a funerary monument, or nephesh, which is the opinion of the revered Steven Fine, who I think, is the only historian of Jewish art to chime in on the ASOR blog so far–but you disagree with him. Since a funerary monument is nothing like a hellenistic painted vessel as you show at the end, and even less like a hellenistic perfume flask (won’t use the UNG word here) there seems to be some problem with another kind of perception, and it is not perspective but simply identification of features. Actually I wish you had included your “handles” in your example since I think they are so obviously not handles but a stray line that does not even connect to the “tail” it would have been interesting to see how you would represent them. We are interested in correcting and producing the best composite image of the whole as possible and if you can come up with one we would surely be glad to use it. Could you take all the photos, include all the features, and produce a flat on image of the whole as you see it, CGI or whatever. That would be really helpful.

  2. James,

    i’m stepping into another class, but i’ll read your comment and respond a little more in a bit.
    for now, check out


  3. James,

    Thanx. Quick responses:

    1) The ossuary was not at precisely the same angle as my computer screen, but i did the computer screen to demo the method and technique. If the angle is less, the skew is less. But as long as the vertical sides end up vertical, the horizontal sides horizontal, and the image is corrected for height, the technique works on any angle. And, I demonstrated that the base of the vessel (your fish head) is too narrow (as you suggested to me earlier).

    2) As you know, digital reconstructions take a lot of time (as do these articles and videos ;-), but I am happy to provide them as a service to my students, my fellow colleagues, and the public interested in how digital technologies can be used to create (and correct) archaeological data. That said, I did one image to prove the concept. To do one for each of your photos would take much longer, time I’ll more likely spend doing my own research.

    3) I do think it’s a vessel. I think you have an interesting argument as a unique vessel (that is, you didn’t need to argue for Jonah to have something quite worthwhile of academic study here – you just probably wouldn’t get a documentary out of ‘Hey, we found a rad vessel.’ Yes, I used the word ‘rad.’ ;-). I think “poor jonah’s seaweed wrapped head’ is the base of the vessel. It’s flat on the side one would expect the bottom to be. I can’t decide if it’s an attempt at perspective yet. As Dr. Goranson stated, the rest isn’t drawn in perspective, so i’m presently leaning toward not in perspective.

    4) I don’t think, “Well, then, what kind of vessel is it then?” is the best counter-argument. If you do have a unique vessel (or, one that is poorly executed artistically, which could be the case as it is only superficially inscribed and not professionally engraved), then it may be something we’ve never seen before. Again, I think you have a wonderful set of findings with the image of the vessel as an attempt at imitating the traditional vessels we find on other ossuaries. Imitation ware and graffiti make wonderful research topics. But again, Discovery probably can’t sell advertising to a documentary entitled, ‘Amazing Greek Pottery Decoded.’ That said, I haven’t spoken with Dr. Fine. I just know that I thought nephesh before I realized I was basing my analysis on a Photoshopped image that had been rotated. Once I had the photographs and proper orientation, I think the vessel argument wins out. Dr. Fine and others may disagree. But attempting to argue, “Well, Dr. Peloni Almoni argues nephesh, and Dr. So-and-so says amphora, and she says krater, and he says hydria, and besides, Dr. Peloni Almoni has more experience, so who are you, but since you all disagree, I’m sticking with fish,” doesn’t really fly because there is one thing that all scholars not involved with the project have argued: IT’S NOT A FISH (because fish don’t have handles).

    5) RE: “Could you take all the photos, include all the features, and produce a flat on image of the whole as you see it, CGI or whatever. That would be really helpful”: That is time an money. I’ll see what I can do ;-)

    I can promise that I’ll make more videos and illustrate what I’ve said in some of the blog posts, incorporating what Drs. Goodacre and Rollston and others have contributed. Again, I use blogs to test ideas like peer-review, only open to the public, and much of what I submit to refereed journals for publication first gets discussed out here. So maybe I’ll take all of the iconographic data and write a proper article with it.

    I should love to deal with the data and not the hype. And I hate it when there is so much money riding on advertising dollars for TV distribution and book sales, because scholars (all of us!) tend to dig in our heels and defend our views even when it increasingly becomes obvious that we’re wrong when there is money and reputation riding on this. I wish that all of this evidence could have been presented to SBL or ASOR first, and we could all chew on it and offer feedback first, instead of having it all staged for the cameras (and that’s not a shot, it’s just the reality of shooting a documentary – one must stage each shot, and shoot multiple takes, and even rehearse a bit). And this is a testament to your professionalism, because you are doing the professional thing now with all of us that I suggest we should have been doing first. And then, once all of the possible pitfalls are exposed, we have either the earliest evidence of Christian belief in resurrection depicted in burial iconography, or, a really cool refereed article on a new Greek vessel inscribed in graffito/imitation style. (And trust me, while I’d love the money and the TV exposure that the former would bring, as a pre-tenure scholar, I’d DEFINITELY take the latter! :D



  4. Thanks Bob for your reply. I appreciate the exchange as it gives me a chance to address some of your points.

    First, let me ask, just because you are the expert here. If I took a good clear photo of you, tilted it at the angle of your computer screen, then went through the adjustments for perspective, using photoshop, just as you demonstrate them here, do you think I would end up with a clear, proportional photo of you, similar to the one I began with. I might try it myself but I thought, with your experience, you might be able to answer that without even trying. My sense is that the pixels and other visuals might get fairly distorted, but maybe I am wrong.

    In terms of process let me offer a few clarifications here as I think you have misunderstood a few things in this regard. What normally happens with archaeological excavations, ancient texts are discovered, or other kinds of finds, especially those of more general interest or potential importance is that those involved with working on them present their findings in a preliminary report, or in the case of some texts like the DSS, Nag Hammadi, etc. even a principle edition. At that point the discussion begins. I think at the SBL meeting some years ago, maybe you were there, we all voted, considering what happened with the DSS and the decades of delays in releasing the photos of the texts, that we recommended a five year period of study after which we would hope new finds would be published. As you probably know many many excavations and finds do not adhere to that parameter, though some do. In the case of this exploration, which was a fully IAA sanctioned and supervised operation, headed by Rami Arav and our anthropology department at UNC Charlotte, we have brought out our results in a preliminary way, via my report at, less than two years after their discovery and now put them before the academy. Further, rather than just publishing our views we brought in 16 highly regarded consultants, the best we could find, who offered their formal academic input. I also approached about 10 others privately, asking them for informal help with interpretations of both the image and the Greek inscription. These included art historians, epigraphers, historians, and archaeologists. All of their views were incorporated into my report. This is in fact much more than is normally done at this stage. Now that the discussion and debate has begun I look forward to seeing things further explored at professional meetings and accordingly have proposed and had accepted a paper at the SBL, accepted an invitation at the regional ASOR meeting, and this is in addition to your SBL panel.

    Your implication that I have presented views that I can not now back off on because of wishful thinking, or disingenuous commitment to money and “fame,” is a charge I find out of place and unfortunate in this discussion. Chris has implied the same because I do not agree with his reading of several critical letters in our inscription that I am convinced he is clearly and absolutely mistaken about. I have come to my considered views on these findings after many months of study and deliberation and until I see arguments that are convincing otherwise I will continue to hold them. I am confident in time the best interpretations will surface and I look forward to talking to you about all this face to face at our earliest convenience.

    I also think there is another dynamic working here, one might call it a “give it to Simcha syndrome,” (and hell, Tabor too for that matter!) that so far as I am concerned has no place in a proper academic discussion but is more than obvious by the gleeful comments of a host of bibliobloggers who behave as if they are watching a Saturday night boxing match rather than as serious scholars. Fortunately there are exceptions and those in the academy that I think we most value conduct themselves, both in the blogging world (if they enter that arena at all) and the wider academy with admirable respect fellow colleagues.

    On the image, what kind of “vessel” this is, the “handles,” the “half fish,” and the little “ovals” I will address when I can carve out the time. LIke you I still have my “day job” and my students.

  5. Bob and readers…I checked with our camera folks and they pointed out a couple of things that are relevant here. The camera we used had a very wide angled lens that makes images much fatter, so there has to be some adjustment. Also some of our shots are pretty much straight on, very little angle, so they give a fair glimpse at the image. I think the original CGI we made over a year ago should be fatter and that is why, before you or anyone else said anything about our images, we had the image on the replica made fatter and closer to what we were seeing with further comparative work on all the images.

  6. Hello Bob and all,

    I have solved the identity and meaning of the “fish or vessel” image if anyone is interested. Many won’t like my style, but I solve Biblical mysteries better than anyone alive, and I have solved this one.

    I will publish more details shortly further decoding this and the other symbology in that tomb.

    Peace and Wisdom…

  7. no, no you haven’t.

  8. James,

    Agreed, the base of the vessel (your fish’s head) should be much fatter, as the video points out. But your answer above doesn’t explain why the CGI image you distributed to the press has a bent tail, or why the museum quality replica and the CGI don’t match. Or, why the museum quality replica doesn’t represent the loops at the top of the vessel (on both sides) or the handles on the ‘half fish.’

    By adjusting for the height and width using ratios (since no one has the basic measurements of the “Jonah ossuary”) it corrects for wide angle lenses.


  9. James,

    Was out of town in Chiacgo. But I owe you a response from your questions and comments last week.

    1) RE: “If I took a good clear photo of you…”
    Unfortunately that’s not the scenario we have here. We’re not beginning with pixel-accurate HD photographs. A more accurate analogy would be this: if someone with moderate artistic skill (like me – ever seen me draw?) inscribed a poorly executed, asymmetrical, engraving (which is far more difficult than drawing) of my ugly mug, from memory, and THEN someone with a camera took a good, clear photo of it, but at an askew angle (or maybe straight on with a wide-angle lens), I’d be willing to bet that using the techniques I describe in the video, I could return the image rather near to the original asymmetrical, ugly, poorly inscribed portrait of me. I am absolutely certain that I’d get both my chins. And to be sure, the corrected image wouldn’t result in a portrait of me with a pointy, Fred Astaire chin. (And, I’m guessing no one would confuse the inscribed representation of my beard with seaweed ;-).

    2) RE: “What normally happens with archaeological excavations…”
    Please. Don’t condescend. I’ve dug multiple archaeological sites (like you). I’ve written area reports (like you). I did a dissertation on the archaeology of Qumran for crying aloud. I know how it all works. Telling me, “You see, what normally happens with archaeological excavations…” is simple condescension, and it doesn’t suit you. (And, please tell Simcha that archaeologists discard a ton of material every year, including tiny, disintegrated, rusty old nails (not the ones he ‘discovered’ in the lab; see p.7 of Simcha’s response). In fact, there are usually large piles of pottery outside the storehouses of every dig site, testifying as a daily reminders to Simcha’s so-called “Cargill Rule.” ;-) But you and I both know this. We both know what happens on archaeological excavations (even if Simcha doesn’t).

    And, I also know what typically doesn’t happen on archaeological excavations, like turning the entire process over to a film crew headed by someone who admits he is ‘neither an academic nor an archaeologist.’*** That’s usually not part of the process. And, usually, the preliminary report is published and presented at SBL or ASOR before the press conference, the PR campaign, the release of the popular book, and the documentary airs.

    I’ll ask again the question I posed to you earlier: please name one scholar who was not somehow involved with this project or another of Simcha’s projects, who did not receive payment or compensation of some sort (including honorariums, free travel, face time on air, consulting credits – anything) who agrees with your interpretation of this ossuary. One. I don’t know of one scholar who has written publicly in support of your interpretation of the “Jonah Ossuary” who was not involved with the project (or some forthcoming Simcha project). If you know of one, please disabuse me, for I am not familiar with any.

    My point is that the ‘academy’ appears to be rejecting your theory. And that’s OK – some from ‘the academy’ didn’t like my theory on Qumran. And that’s OK. But I did at least have a number of scholars who saw some positive contribution to the discussion from my research, while others actually liked the theory. And I’m sorry, but I don’t see that coming from anyone not already involved with the “Jonah Ossuary” or some future Simcha project.

    3) RE: “Your implication that I have presented views…a charge I find out of place and unfortunate in this discussion”
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: potential motive is a legitimate topic of discussion. You spend much of your book speculating on motive. “Why did they draw a fish on an ossuary? Well, maybe they’re Christians. Maybe they believe in resurrection (of the man you claimed in 2007 is dead and buried only a few feet away). Maybe they understand the “Sign of Jonah” to be a symbol for resurrection in the 1st century (long before the 2nd and 3rd centuries).” “Maybe they drew a fish because…” is speculation upon motive. You do it, and rightly so: it’s a legitimate question.

    The speculation on motive about the “Jonah Ossuary” is also a legit topic of discussion. Quite frankly, it is fair for scholars to wonder why you’re concluding what you are concluding. They don’t see a fish. They don’t see reason to interpret the image as a fish. They don’t see ‘fish in the margins’. They don’t read the inscription the same way. So, it is inevitable that the discussion turns to why: why are Tabor and Jacobovici interpreting what they see as a fish? And, I believe that since only you and those involved in the project see a fish (again, unless there is someone not associated with Simcha’s projects who also sees a fish whom I haven’t yet read), the question naturally turns to why. Why do they see a fish when no one else does? And, unfortunately, the answer quickly shifts to Simcha, who is neither an academic, nor an archaeologist,*** but rather a filmmaker, who owns a for-profit company, Associated Producers, Ltd., who spent much time raising much capital in the form of corporate sponsors, from GE to Vision TV, etc., who simply don’t want a program titled “Quite Interesting Greek Vessel DECODED.” Rather, they want “RESURRECTION TOMB: Evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection!”. It sells better. And that’s what most scholars are going to conclude. And your involvement with a businessman – a for-profit businessman (and a quite good one at that) – a filmmaker, as producer of a documentary, and as co-author of your book, may – again MAY – be part of the reason why some think you see a fish when scholars not involved in the project see something else.

    Potential motive is a legitimate topic, especially when you are working with someone – a filmmaker – whose company is seeking a profit. And rightly so – remember, Simcha is a filmmaker who owns a company, and not “an academic, nor an archaeologist.”*** Your involvement with Simcha – no matter how great of a friend he might be to you – is always going to raise the eyebrows of scholars when the conclusions you reach appear geared more toward sensationalizing archaeological findings for sale to a television audience during Easter week 2012, than they do reporting the findings as they are, proposing possible interpretations to the academy, and then asking for feedback. They thought the same thing with his “Jesus nails” Easter 2011. And they thought the same thing during “Finding Atlantis” Easter 2010. And they thought the same thing with the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” Easter 2007. And they thought the same thing about “Exodus Decoded” Easter 2006. There appears to be a pattern, and scholars are usually pretty good at finding patterns…

    I also know the power of academic stubbornness and ‘being right.’ Look, I deal in Qumran. I know how stubborn scholars can be (including myself). And, I know how some scholars (and their anonymous children) would rather go to prison than admit they were wrong. My point is that I have no problem saying, “Well, based upon this new evidence, and the input from other scholars, I’m going to change my view on this matter” (as I did with the nephesh memorial). I have no problem changing my opinion when John Collins, or Jodi Magness, or Hanan Eshel, or James VanderKam, or Pnina Shor, or the paragraph full of scholars I consulted on my dissertation have advice to give, or suggest to me, “Actually, you might want to consider this, because there are problems with that in your theory.” That’s because I was looking for answers, and not defending the claims of a popular book I just published. I just know that I, personally, would feel tremendous pressure to defend my theory if a book I released less than a month ago already showed serious flaws in its conclusions and its portrayal of the data.

    And in the future, I’ll do the same. For instance, I’ll likely submit a few papers to SBL on Joseph and Aseneth, and maybe publish a chapter somewhere, before I release my book on Joseph and Aseneth. That will keep me from arguing some absolutely ridiculous theory, like that it had something to do with Jesus and Mary Magdalene…

    3b) RE: “out of place and unfortunate in this discussion”
    And speaking of ‘out of place and unfortunate’ comments, why did you allow Simcha to publish the description of me on p.7 of his response, which describes me as “an ordained minister with a Ph.D.”? That’s not even true, but I guess Simcha felt he needed to attempt to marginalize my credibility as a scholar by lying about some personal religious beliefs or position he thought I held. I’m neither ordained, nor a minister. But what if I was? Would that make me less of a scholar? Or, did Simcha just thrown in a shot (albeit a false one) about my supposed religious beliefs/vocation in an attempt to undermine my scholarship? Do you believe scholars who happen to hold to a set of a religious beliefs are somehow lesser scholars? Is that appropriate? Is that ‘out of place and unfortunate?’ Do you think one’s personal religious beliefs (or lack thereof) should be part of a scholarly response? If not, why would Simcha say that? And why would you publish it (and still not retract it)? Is that what we’re doing here?: invoking each other’s (perceived) personal religious beliefs in a scholarly debate in an attempt to impugn their credibility? If so, 1) please tell Simcha not to lie about mine, 2) please tell Simcha not to complain about imagined sleights regarding his religious beliefs if he’s going to lie about and invoke other’s, and 3) please don’t call legitimate concerns about possible motive ‘out of place and unfortunate’ when your co-author is the first to invoke (and lie about) what he believes are his critic’s religious beliefs in an attempt to undermine their credibility, because that would be ‘out of place and unfortunate.’

    4) RE: “give it to Simcha syndrome”
    Look, you know what I think about Simcha (see above). I don’t hate him, but I don’t think he’s an academic or an archaeologist – a fact made much less difficult to admit aloud since he admitted as much.*** I also feel that claiming, “give it to Simcha” is an attempt to play the victim (Simcha likes to take it a little farther than that, as we’ve seen above in 3b) and use that as a distraction from the evidence and issue at hand. I’ve never heard anyone say “give it to Simcha.” I’ve heard people say “he’s not an academic,”*** or “he’s not an archaeologist,”*** or that he is “not really naked” (in fact, methinks he even had that printed on T-shirts for sale), or that “he only plays an archaeologist on TV,” but never “give it to Simcha.” (If someone has, it wasn’t me and I didn’t see it.) Again, scholars are always going to be skeptical of a man who owns a business, and who makes money pretending to be an archaeologist on TV, especially when he admits he is not one.***

    As for you, I like and respect you. You know this. I’ll let the others speak for themselves. Just remember that like scholars, bloggers are all very different – proud individuals each representing different viewpoints, different levels and areas of specialization and training, and different faith or non-faith traditions. Like scholars, bloggers crave independence and seek out their unique voices. So if it seems that all bloggers are engaged in a chorus of negative critiques of your theory, then it probably has less to do with ‘giving it to Simcha,’ and more to do with exposing the gaping flaws in a speculative theory (like correcting the use of digital media, sorting out which ossuaries are actually which, figuring out what is Q and what is not, arguing alternative readings of inscriptions, etc.).

    I’ll post some more videos later this week.



    *** Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the Criticisms of the Film,”, June 22, 2011, p. 45.

  10. […] Bob Cargill makes note, motive is always on the table in a discussion like this.  And I second that.  When you have a […]

  11. […] on books, etc., or they work for Associated Producers, Ltd. I have yet to find (and have asked many times) a single scholar who has not been somehow associated with or compensated by Simcha […]

  12. […] Robert Cargill has made a video that demonstrates, step by step, how to correct the perspective distortion of the high-angle camera shots of the so called “Fish” on the “Jonah Ossuary”: […]

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