Sunday, March 4, 2012

Is this a "Nephesh" or "Jonah and the Whale?"

Lots of controversy and dispute among proponents for their favorite interpretation over what this symbol may be on an intact Jewish bone ossuary in an intact burial from the 1st century CE.  Many are arguing that it is a whale spitting out a person and therefore is a symbol of the earliest Christians who, alluding to Christ's use of the story of Jonah and the whale to predict his own death and resurrection after three days, adopted it as their own.  Others are just as passionately arguing that it is nothing more or less than a representation of a nephesh (a sort of column).

What do you think?  I'll tell you straight out I think it's a fish - not sure if it's a whale and not sure if that stick figure at the "mouth" of the image is being spit out or even if that is meant to represent a person.  But the image itself, I think it's a fish/possibly a whale.

Here are a couple of images I clipped from the PDF article:

Underground mini-cam view of the image on the ossuary in situ.  If it is a whale, its tail is on top of the image, "fins" are at the widest part just below the "head" and the stick figure -- if it meant to represent a person -- is partially in and a large round circle which I presume is meant to be a "head" is outswide of the fish/whale's "mouth."  If it's a nephesh, we're looking at it upside down, and the stick figure becomes problematic -- what would it be doing up on top of the nephesh???

Museum replica of the ossuary showing the location of the "Jonah and the Whale" depiction.

Link to the paper online at -- it's 47 pages long and took awhile to download to my computer, so be warned. Extensively footnoted but well organized and as such papers go, not ridiculously loaded with technical jargon: 

Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem
By James D. Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

You can read some of the blog comments here.  Here is an example:

The image I am looking at sure looks like a picture of The Tree Of Life with the feet sprouting roots, two little hands on either side and a story of the children male and female carved into the body, with a little head on top. Thought, Out Of One Grows Many. Interesting picture
#2 - Margaret Rynn - 02/28/2012 - 20:24

A "tree of life?"  Really?

Lots of coverage on what is being called "The Patio Tomb":

The Patio Tomb coverage:\

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