The Fish and the Man…
by James Tabor
There is quite a raging discussion out in the blogging world, or more specifically what is sometimes called the biblioblogging world, as to whether our image in the Talpiot “Patio” tomb is a fish with a Jonah figure as we claim, or some alternative. Strangely, one of the main objections has been that the fish should not be up-side-down, with the stick figure point down. We have argued that every detail of this drawing is based on the artist’s appropriation of the Hebrew text of Jonah 2. In other words, he or she did not have a standard template of a “Jonah & the Big Fish” image in mind. This was new territory. It might even have been a first–at least so far as we know. So this orientation makes perfect sense since Jonah is being vomited out on land, with the tail of the fish in the air and the contents of the fish’s stomach wrapped around his head. It is actually quite realistic–see the engraving here where the artist had the same objective in mind. In many of the 100s of later images of Jonah from the 3rd and 4th centuries Jonah is pictured as being spit out into the open waters–though not always. In some images he is pictured as here, vomited onto the land.
So far the suggestions of those who “just can’t see the fish, much less Jonah” have been that it looks like a funerary monument or tower (called a nephesh in Hebrew) or some kind of amphora, or most lately a unguentariam or perfume bottle (of the kind often associated with graves). We have had a lot of questions from those who favor either option, the most frequent being where are the lines of the “stick figure” we claim is so plain? It is possible that we are seeing it more clearly than most others, who mainly have our images from our web site to examine, because we were there when it was discovered–not all at once but bit by bit until we got the whole and recognized it. We first though amphora, then nephesh–and finally clearly a fish! Most of the critics of our position seem to have suddenly move from the “tower” to the perfume flask. There are quite a few problems with this suggestion, not the least of which are the examples cited as the closes parallel are actually from much earlier the Persian period. According to S. Loffreda, Holy Land Pottery at the Time of Jesus, Early Roman Period, 63 BCE – 70 AD, (an English version of his Italian Ceramica del Tempo di Gesu), p. 91- 92, unguentaria were found in Jerusalem tombs but, the type of the ungentaria in tombs are all made of pottery and all are without handles. They actually resemble alabstron and sometime they are so called. Also, the pointed bottom, even with a flattened bulb, does not look at all like our “head.” The suggestion that this “ball” is a congealed bit of perfumed spice–perhaps nard– simply defies logic here. If the image is an amphora or flask of some type the mouth would be open and wide–what we are calling the most irregular tail.
Anyway, as an illustration of our own interpretations of Jonah and the Great fish I present here this inked in drawing that Daniel Guajardo recently posted on his Facebook page and shared with me. It is very close to what we have argued from the beginning with reference to both the fish and the “stick figure.” Here the fish is orange, including the eye of the fish, the stick figure black, and the other markings (Daniel thinks they represent splashing water as mentioned in Joel) are blue. Finally green shows the head wrapped in seaweed. I hope this helps, especially on the stick figure that so clearly has two legs, two arms, with one down and one up in classisc oaanes ((Ὡάννης) posture.