James Tabor is Correct: ‘It’s Anything But a Fish’: Logical Fallacies in Defense of the “Jonah Ossuary” Theory

Dr. James Tabor has once again doubled down on his theory, shared by his Jesus Discovery co-author, Mr. Simcha Jacobovici, that Ossuary 6 discovered in a tomb in Jerusalem is covered in fish.

Having “jumped the tropical fish shark,” Dr. Tabor is once again making a number of rhetorical arguments that attempt to distract from the evidence at hand.

First, Dr. Tabor uses the straw man argument of “well, those who interpreted the object as a nephesh pillar have gone silent,” and therefore he (Dr. Tabor) must be correct. This logic, however, fails to take into account a number of possibilities including, but not limited to:

  1. They’ve made their analysis and they’ve moved on. They may still stand by their analysis, and they may not.
  2. They’ve followed the scientific paradigm of presenting their own theory, and then allowing other scholars present other theories, and they are now allowing those theories that appear to be gaining more scholarly consensus to stand.
  3. Because they’ve not said anything, we can’t be sure they based their initial analyses upon Photoshopped imagery (as I conceded I had done).

But this is an example of a rhetorical logical fallacy. Just because the initial critics have fallen silent does not mean that the more recent, more populous criticisms are not valid. Likewise, attempting to argue, “Well, because different scholars have proposed different theories, then some scholars who opposed us must be wrong,” doesn’t make the “fish theory” any more correct. This is a logical fallacy.

Second, Dr. Tabor states:

‎”…it was surely unlike anything seen on any other ossuary. That, everyone seems to now agree upon, even those proposing some kind of vase or amphora.”

The logical fallacy employed here is the errant assumption that because it is ‘unique,’ his ‘unique’ interpretation is correct. Dr. Tabor gets bonus points for an “appeal to dissenters,” arguing that because those who disagree with his interpretation also agree that it is ‘unique‘, that they must also support the remainder of his interpretation. They do not.

This is another example of a logical fallacy. Just because it is unique does not make it a fish, as it could be another unique object.

The third and perhaps most egregious fallacious argument is Dr. Tabor’s argument concerning the handles on his fish. I (and others, namely Mark Goodacre, Tom Verenna, Michael Heiser, ) have demonstrated in earlier posts that Dr. Tabor’s multiple ‘fish’ appear to have handles.

Dr. Tabor states:

Most recently it has been suggested by those arguing the image is some kind of vase, that it actually has handles attached to what we identify as the fish’s tail. A closeup view of this area makes it clear that there is certainly no handle remotely resembling that of a vase or amphora but just a couple of stray lines, unconnected to the image, that the engraver might have even made by mistake…It is also the case that the “handles” imagined on our other image…simple [sic, assuming ‘simply’] are not there. The “handle” that is supposedly on the left is at a right angle and not even attached, clearly a random mark, and the “handle” identified on the right looks curved and it is also unclear as to whether it is actually a part of the image or a random scratch. (emphases mine)

So, according to Dr. Tabor, what appear to be handles are (in order of appearance): “a couple of stray lines,” “unconnected to the image,” “made by mistake,” “imagined,” “simply not there,” “a random mark,” and “random scratch.”

Nothing to see here. Please disperse. There is no handle here. You are "imagining" things. It is a "random scratch." It is "unattached." It is only a "couple of stray lines." What is highlighted in red above is "simply not there." They were "made by mistake." It's only a flesh wound.

Nothing to see here. No handles here either. Again, you are "imagining" things. They are completely "random scratches." They are just "stray lines" "made by mistake." They are "simply not there."

Of course, what Dr. Tabor fails to mention is that the ‘fish’ appears to have the same “imagined” “mistaken” “unconnected” “randomly scratched” “stray lines” in the same random size, in the same random shape, and in the same random place on the opposite corresponding side of the vessel! (Coincidentally, these are clearly seen in an image that Dr. Tabor did not show in his blog post, and that for some reason conveniently does not appear among the thejesusdiscovery.org website photos).

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel, er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

Handles on both sides of the Jonah Ossuary image

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel, er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

You are "imagining" things. That thing on the top right of the vessel is simply some stray lines that just so happen to be in the same random size, and in the same random shape, and in the same random position on the corresponding side of the vessel, er, fish. It's "simply not there." Can't you *not* see?

I believe it is apparent from the above evidence that whatever it is at the top of each side of the engraved image on Ossuary 6 above, the fact that they are the same size, same shape, and same corresponding location on both sides of the image argues firmly against any claim that they are in any way, shape, manner, or form “stray lines,” “made by mistake,” “imagined,” “simply not there,” or  “random.”

I don’t really know what else to say. Fish don’t have handles. It’s getting to the point where it’s become almost comical, and I really must begin to ask who it is that is doing the imagining…

P.S. For those reading who do not know me, Dr. Tabor, or the other scholars involved in this debate, please know that everyone involved has a very good sense of humor, which allows us to remain in professional conversation about the “Jonah Ossuary.” Several of us (including me here and here and Dr. Tabor here) have made use of humor, parody, and satire at times in our arguments.

In keeping with this tradition, please allow me to conclude with perhaps Monty Python’s best known sketch (and a true comedic masterpiece), which I believe best illustrates Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor’s continued insistence that the imagery on Ossuary 6 is a healthy, beautiful, easy-to-see parrot fish. Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are the shopkeeper behind the counter, and the rest of the academy (not somehow affiliated with Simcha or this project) is the customer. Enjoy.

17 Responses

  1. Its a fish -BC is digging a hole for himself.

  2. Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    Die, vampire theory, DIE!!!!!

  3. […] I’ll never forget that lesson as well as the frustration we all felt.  And in a lot of ways this lesson has an appropriate correlation to the scenario with the Jonah ossuary.  You see, James Tabor has once again blogged a response to the latest criticisms of his interpretation of the data.  But it seems to me, at least, that James is just like the sixth-grader (albeit, with a PhD) trying with all of his might to push down that wall, using modern art and bizarre arguments which seem weak, stretched, and implausible to his colleagues, only to face down reconstructions and interpretations which do a better job explaining the evidence and require much less effort than his own. […]

  4. Neither fish nor nephesh.
    Apparently a vessel.

  5. agreed (and hoping you are well :)

  6. Reblogged this on A Robin Hood's Musing.

  7. Okay, Bob, just a few comments here, alas, sigh, sigh!

    You totally missed my point about the “tower/nephesh” phenomenon. If the likes of Eric Meyers, Chris Rollston, Robin Jensen, and Steven Fine–two of the finest art historians in the business–ALL of whom had photos and all relevant information for months before Feb 28th, unanimously say on that day–They are convinced it is a nephesh–and Jodi chimes in, and then you–the point is not, as you imply, a “logical fallacy”–but thanks for the lesson in obvious and basic Logic 101. What it means is that the best eyes in our field did not view it as a vase/vessel initially, and maybe still don’t, and unanimously took the position it was a nephesh–which I think you would agree–given it would be up-side-down, is a bit of a stretch. So the point–the image is not so easy after all to identify–as you and others now proclaim. A very simple point I think and that was all I was saying.

    So far as your “handles’ just leave off the red arrows and the highlighted areas, and let people look at the photos, HiRes, as zoomed in as one wants, and I think people can see the problems with what you are arguing here. I think there might be a case for the B&W 1981 image, though since the left “handle” is at a sharp 45degree angle and totally unattached (not just at the top!) and the right is curved, and maybe attached–I seriously doubt they are handles. Those other little highlighted things you see I can’t see in the original. As for the Jonah image there simply are no handles and the red line you draw, as I have pointed out several times to you and Tom, as Tom originated it, is the border of the ossuary–very obviously. Yet Antonio reproduced that again on bibleinterp.com, spreading this very misleading marking on the photos.

    I think if you concentrated on the details of the bottom 1/4 of the image, closely, we would be away ahead on this discussion. The “head” is simply nothing like any vase you have pictured, drawn from various centuries and cultures, nor are the careful markings on the head and the “stick figure” and attendant features. They are careful, deliberate, and meaningful. This is no carelessly drawn image and it is nothing like any “vase.”

    I think we have agreed that there is no other image on any ossuary like this one, but you have found vases that you think are parallel, so what you imagine is the creator had one of those in mind. Can you identify the date/provenance of any of your closest examples? And do you have any theory as to what might the intention of the ossuary face as a whole, with the temple/square image, the images on the two ends, and the other features, all clearly chosen and not ordered from the corner “ossuary shop”? And BTW, I have never implied, as you incorrectly state here, that since we agree the ossuary image is “unique” then my “unique” interpretation is correct. That is absurd. Talking about a straw man. I have argued for my interpretation in detail and I have read yours and others and of course understand that “unique” does not mean fish. If I thought that why would I cover from the start the views of those who had suggested both the nephesh and the vase.

    Anyway, enough…Laila Tov

  8. James,

    Thank you for your comments.

    1) Tom is mistaken about the long red line coming down the side. That is indeed the border. And Antonio reproduced it (and attributed it to me!!), but it is wrong. I stated so in my post when I said,

    “Unfortunately, the red line used by Verenna to highlight the handles obscures the actual engraved lines. Additionally, the long vertical line descending from the top of the vessel appears to be the border surrounding the image.”

    That said, the loop that is at the top left is there and extends into the border, but it appears to come back to the vessel (or remain unattached near the vessel) just like on the right side. At first I thought that the bottom of the handle descended along the side of the vessel (inside the border) with a slight curve, but I thought better of it. The inscribed mark is not clear enough for me to argue that (at least as not as deeply inscribed as the other lines. On the right (behind O5) it is more visible. It’s clearly the same size and shape as on the left.

    I say you’ve got handles. The image you sent me (not on your jesusdiscovery.org site) supports that argument.

    Off to a meeting. Cheers,


  9. ‘The “head” is simply nothing like any vase you have pictured, drawn from various centuries and cultures’. James Tabor above.

    I think one could also say that ‘The ‘head’ is simply nothing like any head that anyone else has ever pictured from any century or culture.’ Can James Tabor please explain why he he is so sure it is a head when heads of even the most abstract sort make some attempt to have a mouth, eyes, nose etc.’ I also hoped to see on his blog a close-up of the ‘head’ just in case one could spot anything that supports his assertions. Perhaps he can post one.

    Has anyone seen or heard any of James Tabor’s academic supporters making statements as of the past two weeks in support of his fish/Jonah theory?

  10. I have since found the ‘head’ in close-up on James Tabor’s photo shoot. Surely the straight, slightly curved, line at the bottom, e,g, the alleged top of the ‘head’, is clear evidence that this could not possibly be a head. I would like to see a clear drawing of the apparent markings within the ‘head’ to help us further.
    Perhaps it is time to move on. I have been sent by Penguin UK a book called The Sign by one Thomas de Wesselow to review ( I suppose because I have written both on relics and early Christianity). Apparently the Risen Christ was none other than the Turin Shroud. I am sure Bob Cargill has better things to do but his critique of this theory would be immense fun to read! I could not even work out how to begin a review: there was so much speculation piled on speculation asserted with complete conviction. It seems to be catching.

  11. […] “Patio Tomb” in Talpiyot, Jerusalem. The video also examines Dr. James Tabor’s claims that the lines comprising the handles are merely “imagined,” “made by […]

  12. Anything based on a lie is a lie and the truth always prevails.The Holy blood Holy grail pretend that Jesus escaped death on the cross and married Mary Magdalene.Then Da Vinci code pretend a secret marriage between Jesus And Mary Magdalene and the real blood of the grail is inside Mary based on the painting of the last supper By Leonardo Da Vinci.After that some persons pretend finding Jesus tomb and bones and carried DNA tests! and statistics on names! Their discoveries correspond and support the above fake stories.There is two dangerous lies:The real blood and the marriage of Jesus with Mary Magdalene.For the first one the truth is that real and Holy blood of Jesus is on His forehead and not in the womb of Mary Magdalene.This is revealed in the true story The Coin Of The Temple by Souheil Bayoud.For the second which is the marriage of Jesus with Mary Magdalene will be revealed to those writers,false scholars and archaeologists when they bow on their knees with a godly repentance or when feathers come out of their heads.

  13. It is both a vessel and a great fish as both originate from the same source type. IMHO, libation is derived from leviathan. The two handles are essential for this symbol to represent BOTH the great fish and the loving cup. I have been researching this subject, off and on, since I was profoundly effected by an encounter with a whale shark at Sharm El Sheik.The whale shark had thin white vertical bars on its skin, alternating with columns of pale yellow spots (stars) over a dark grey background. The creation story of an indigenous Bedouin tribe of the Red Sea region is the great fish Nun that carries the earth on its back as it travels through the heavens and lives at the bottom of the abyss. Sounds like the whale shark to me.

    The Tihamah is a region located on the lowland coast of the Yemen It runs parallel to the Afar fracture zone created by the separation of Asian and African subcontinents.The Tihamah trough is part of the Mid Oceanic Ridge which produces high levels of hydrogen sulfide in thermal vents that specialized microbes can use for chemosynthesis. This deep trough ecosystem is nutrient rich and has a very high biomass; a perfect environment for the filter feeding whale shark. In Genesis, the gap or primordial abyss created when heaven was separated from earth is called Tehom and (I speculate) is cognate to Tihamah.

    A site survey of human occupation for the Tihamah was completed in 2008 by a coalition of Yemeni Governmental agencies. This survey documented a large number of sites dating to the early holocene containing a significant amount of obsidian tools – especially geometric microliths. The unusually large quantity of these artifacts combined with the numerous sites left the scientists wondering what was their purpose.The low lying coastal location as well as the association with sharms IMO could mean whale shark butchering. Sharms are located at the mouths of wadis and would be excellent haul out spots for large fish because of the gradual incline as opposed to sudden drop off of the coral reef.

    I can’t finish this right now but hope to write more if this post gets past the moderators (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t).

  14. The Hebrew word Leviathan can be broken down into two memes. The “lev” can be translated as “attachment” as the Levites were attached to other tribes. It can also mean “love” as Leah hoped Jacob would love her after the birth of her son. “Tan” can be translated as “loaded or laden” as Pharoah told Joseph to load up and get to Canaan. It may also be the origin of tonne- a liquid unit of measure or the container thereof. The source type for Leviathan could be translated as “attachment container” or even “loving cup” (with two handles). The importance of the two handles is so that the “twin” can participate in the libation. The twin being the shade or soul of the person pouring the liquid.

  15. The liver of the great fish is laden with oil. A virtual container of oil. The twin of the fish is the night sky as depicted by the zodiac sign Pisces – a fish above connected by an umbilicus to the fish below. The ancient whale hunters had a covenantal relationship with the great fish. When they ate the fish at a banquet that included all the participants of the covenant, they helped it to reunite with its twin shade. The ancients thought we all must “pass through” the liver of a totem animal whether it be a vulture, a fish or the lowly wyrm (I think also the lion could be included here) to reunite with our twin. Even the Pharaoh had to pass through Apophis for his ka to reunite with his ba.

  16. […] and Bob handle it so well, I won’t go into it here (just follow the links above, along with this and this for further evidence of additional manipulation […]

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