the “jonah ossuary” theory has finally “jumped the shark” (only, it’s a tropical fish)

I recently read the latest post by Dr. James Tabor on his blog.

While arguing that the image on the front of Ossuary 6 should be viewed as a fish seen from its side, Dr. Tabor states at one point:

“Jerry Lutgen showed our image to a couple of marine biologists in Florida recently and they both immediately identified it as a fairly accurate drawing of a common fish.”

I know this to be true because the same Jerry Lutgen made the same comments on my blog, where he wrote:

I circulated the “fish” image to three fish experts, two staff members of a large marine biology center in the US and one a renowned ichthyologist from Israel.

When asked if they saw a fish or an inanimate object like a vase, both of the US fish guys had no trouble seeing a fish. As one of them said: ”I would have guessed it was a depiction of a fish more so than a vase”

In response to the question; “is it a fish”, the reply of the Israeli ichthyologist is compelling. He states:

I believe that it is a triggerfish from the BALISTIDAE family. It is the only family presenting a first dorsal fin transformed to a strong spine; same for the ventral fin…

What Dr. Tabor didn’t mention in his blog is that Mr. Lutgen’s ichthyologist friend identified the Ossuary 6 image specifically as a triggerfish of the family Balistidae. I have included a picture of a triggerfish below.

Queen Triggerfish (Image via Wikipedia)

A Queen Triggerfish (of family Balistidae), rotated 90-degrees clockwise to place specimen on its side and in the necessary orientation to correspond to the so-called "Jonah Ossuary." (Image via Wikipedia:

Of course, the problem with this (and perhaps the reason Dr. Tabor didn’t mention it) is that triggerfishes are tropical fish that range from 20-50 cm (not meters, centimeters!) long, with the largest species (the stone triggerfish) maxing out at one meter long:

Triggerfishes are about 40 species of often brightly colored fishes of the family Balistidae. Often marked by lines and spots, they inhabit tropical and subtropical oceans throughout the world, with the greatest species richness in the Indo-Pacific. Most are found in relatively shallow, coastal habitats, especially at coral reefs…

The largest member of the family, the stone triggerfish (Pseudobalistes naufragium) reaches 1 metre (3.3 ft), but most species have a maximum length between 20 and 50 centimetres (7.9 and 20 in).

You read that correctly: the “Jonah’s Great Fish” tale has become so precarious, that the theory of a “fish” depicted on Ossuary 6 has come to rely on its similarity to a 50 cm tropical fish.

I would show you an image of a “seaweed wrapped head of a stick figure” coming out of the mouth of a triggerfish, but the only photo I could find of a triggerfish of the family Balistidae in relation to a human is this picture of a triggerfish bite to a human hand received from a ill-tempered specimen:

Triggerfish bite

A triggerfish bite. No wonder the artist of the "Jonah Ossuary" drew a stick figure: they are easier for tropical fish to swallow.

Therefore, as a public service, I have provided the chart below to demonstrate the mental back flips one must perform in order to arrive at the conclusions Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are drawing from the evidence before us:

The Anatomy of the "Jonah Ossuary" Theory. These are the steps one must accept in order to conclude that a 50 cm tropical fish is the inspiration behind the image of a supposed "great fish" inscribed on Ossuary 6.

The Anatomy of the "Jonah Ossuary" Theory. These are the steps one must accept in order to conclude that a 50 cm tropical fish is the inspiration behind the image of a supposed "great fish" inscribed on Ossuary 6.

I’m just not certain that this is the דג גדול (“great fish”) that Jonah 1:17 (2:1) was talking about.

Why would an artist choose a 50 cm tropical fish, more likely to be found in the tropical and subtropical reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba than in the Mediterranean (Joppa to Tarshish), to represent a “great fish” capable of swallowing a man?

And why would said artist spend so much time illustrating the relatively intricate geometric designs on the “body” of the vessel “fish” and then make a stick figure human?

Not to add yet another fish pun to the mix, but I now believe the entire “Jonah Ossuary” theory has officially “jumped the shark.” For those not familiar:

Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show sensational archaeological theory when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. The phrase is also used to refer to a particular scene, episode or aspect of a show the supposed “evidence” in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.

I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to say it. There are no fishes on the ossuary. The “fish in the margins” are not fish. (They are oval decorations.) The “half fish” is not a fish (It is a vessel with visible handles on each side). And the “Jonah fish” is not a fish. (It, too, is a vessel with handles on each side.) The “seaweed wrapped head” is not a seaweed wrapped head. (It is the base of the vessel). And the inscription does not say what Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor say it says (see also here).

I have no problem with Dr. Tabor’s argument that the “sign of Jonah” and the iconography of a “great fish” are symbolic of resurrection. None whatsoever. It has much merit. The problem is, we simply don’t have fish or the “sign of Jonah” in the “Patio Tomb,” not with the iconography, not with the inscription. And with the recent appeals to parallels with tropical fish, I’m afraid all we’re now at the moment where Fonzie “jumps the shark,” only in this case, it’s a tropical fish, thereby signalling the beginning of the end of this entire ordeal.

(And the Resurrection Tomb documentary hasn’t even aired yet.)

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