If it walks like a duck: Ossuary 6 of the Talpiot 'Patio' Tomb depicts commonly used Jewish images
Wim G. Meijer, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tabor and Jacobovici identified ossuary 6 of the Talpiot 'resurrection' tomb (Talpiot patio tomb) as early Christian based on the presence of a cross on the side of the ossuary and the depiction of Jonah as a stick figure with his head wrapped in seaweed, apparently being spit out by a giant fish. In addition, it is claimed that the fish head also contains a Jonah inscription. If true, this would be the earliest example of these Christian images ever identified. Furthermore, Tabor and Jacobovici argue that the presence of this Christian tomb 60 meters from the controversial ‘Jesus family tomb’ (Talpiot garden tomb) supports their conclusion that Jesus and his family were buried there.
|Figure 1: The ‘Yehosah’ ossuary|
(top panel) and the ‘cross’ in
the middle of the ossuary
(enlarged) compared to replica 1
of ossuary 6 of the Talpiot tomb
A cross is also present on the ‘Yehosah’ ossuary from a tomb belonging to a priestly family.
The ‘Yehosah’ ossuary, described by Asher Grossberg in the Biblical Archaeology Review, was discovered in a cave tomb in south-eastern Jerusalem (Grossberg, 1996). The ‘Yehosah’ ossuary displays a clearly identifiable cross in the centre (Fig. 1), with similar dimensions as the one on Talpiot ossuary 6. Clearly the cross on ossuary 6 is not unique, but is it Christian? The ‘Yehosah’ tomb contained a further seven ossuaries bearing the inscription of names that are closely associated with contemporaneous priestly and Levite names. This includes the name ‘Tarfon’, which is mentioned in the Talmud as belonging to priests performing duties in the Temple. Grossberg thus concludes that the Yehosah ossuary is from a tomb belonging to a priestly family. The cross on the Yehosah ossuary is therefore most certainly not a Christian symbol. Based on ancient descriptions of the Temple, Grossberg argues that the central image containing the cross is a depiction of the second Temple.
The depiction on the side of ossuary 6 is strikingly similar to images of the second Temple.
Tabor and Jacobovici focused on the cross on the side of ossuary 6 as a Christian symbol, and have not paid much attention to the image as a whole. However, when the entire image is taken into consideration (Fig. 2), one can not help but notice the striking similarities between this image with that on a coin struck during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 CE). This coin depicts a structure with two columns on each side, which is generally believed to be the facade of the second Temple. These two columns on each side are clearly visible on the side of ossuary 6 (Fig. 2). The columns flank an arched, dome like structure in both images, with at the centre a square, which on ossuary 6 is freestanding, while the sides are merged with the sides of the domed structure on the coin. However, based on the similarities it seems clear that these two contemporaneous images depict the same: the facade of the Temple. This imagery was not only used in the 1st and 2nd century CE, but is still present in many synagogues as the Aron Kodesh, housing the Torah scrolls (Fig. 2). It is arguably one of the oldest and most enduring images in Judaism.
|Figure 2: Comparison of the image on the side of replica 1 of ossuary 6 to a coin|
struck during the Bar Kokhba revolt and an Ark Kodesh of the Rachmastrivk
a Hasidim, Jerusalem.
In summary, comparison of the image on the side of ossuary 6 to contemporaneous images on an ossuary belonging to a priestly family and to a coin of the Bar Kokhba revolt strongly suggests that the image on the side of ossuary 6 is Jewish, and most likely depicts the facade of the second Temple.
|Figure 3: Comparison between Temple|
vessels depicted on coins of
the first Jewish revolt to the
vessel on replica 2 of ossuary 6.
If Tabor and Jacobovici are correct about their ‘fish’, then the critical part of the ‘fish’ image, defining it as Christian, is its mouth spitting out Jonah as a stick figure and containing a Jonah inscription. I cannot help but wonder that if this part of the image is all important then why is the tail of the fish depicted on the side of the ossuary and not Jonah? Without Jonah, the inscription and the fish head, there is nothing in this half image that has any Christian significance. However, depicting just the very wide mouth of a vessel used in Temple services still makes this half image instantly recognisable as a ritual vessel.
If ossuary 6 is early Christian, as claimed by Tabor and Jacobovici, it would have contained uniquely Christian images that are not shared with or have similarities to images on Jewish objects. However, the images on ossuary 6 also occur on contemporaneous Jewish coins and an ossuary belonging to a priestly family, which most likely depict the Temple and a vessel used in Temple rituals. Therefore both Occam’s Razor and the Duck test lead to one obvious, inescapable conclusion: Ossuary 6 is Jewish and does not have any connection with the emerging Christian movement.
Grossberg, A. ‘Behold the Temple: is it depicted on a priestly ossuary?’ Biblical Archaeology Review 22,3 (1996) 46-51, 66.