Jesus Tomb Discovery Team's 'Jonah Whale' a Deception, Say Scholars
The controversy surrounding the Jesus Tomb discovery in Jerusalem continues as scholars and archeologists argue over a 2,000-year-old "Jonah Whale" engraving which some say represents the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other scholars suggest, however, that the team behind the discovery has been deceiving the public.
Led by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, an archeological team including biblical historian James Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, used a robotic arm and camera in 2010 to chart through a 1st century CE Jerusalem tomb they say contains the bones of Christ, his family and some of his disciples.
The findings were released in the book The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity. The tomb allegedly contains ossuaries with inscriptions containing the names of the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, next to each other. Jacobovici and Tabor said that it was unlikely such a sequence of names was coincidental, but others have insisted those names were common at the time and might indeed be purely coincidental.
Another significant discovery, however, includes an image of what archeologists say is a whale, or "big fish," swallowing Jonah, an Old Testament image representing the resurrection of Christ. If legitimate, it would likely be one of the earliest accounts of the story of Christ, but other scholars are skeptical and insist every piece of evidence should be closely examined.
"Now whether they were saying he rose or we will rise, we can argue about it, but the finds themselves are hard archaeology that show, you know, new light, shed new light on the big bang of Christianity," Jacobovici said.
Some, however, have argued that the image is not even of a whale.
"When is a fish not a fish? When it has handles, matching handles," Mark Goodacre, an associate professor of religious studies at Duke University shared with ABC News. "It's a vessel. It's a vase. It's a vase that looks like many of the ones that you'll find in the early Roman period."
Another scholar, Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, claimed that Tabor himself had shared with him an image of the supposed whale that clearly has handles on the sides, but the handles do not appear in the images distributed to the media.
"There are clearly handles on the top of the so-called 'Jonah fish' image, but Tabor and Jacobovici don't include them in their museum replicas or the CGI image," Cargill said. "No credible scholar except those that work with or for Simcha on this or some other project believe his conclusions... The evidence does not support their sensational claims. But that doesn't stop them from wanting it to be true, so in their minds, it's true."
While Goodacre and others dismiss the entire validity of the Jesus Tomb discovery, the many findings by Jacobovici and his team are likely to continue stirring much discussion in the archeological community.
A new documentary for the Discovery Channel called "The Resurrection Tomb Mystery," premieres on April 12 at 10 p.m. ET, which will closely examine the Jesus Tomb discoveries and the discussions surrounding them.