Looking at the Jonah and the Fish Image: Top Down or Side View?

Credit: Dr. Carl Rassmussen, see holylandphotos.org

It occurs to me that in evaluating our Jonah/fish image on the recently discovered Talpiot tomb ossuary that many might be incorrectly thinking that one is looking down on a fish, as if from above, thus one would expect to see a pair of symmetric eyes, with the tail flat and symmetrical as in the rorqual whale. In such a case the mouth opening would not be visible, thus the impossible x-ray stick vision stick figure that would make no sense, as some have pointed out.

I am convinced we are looking at the fish from the side. The fins are flat and assymetrical from a side view, with only one eye at the top showing, and the clear straight line of the jaw with the figure/head coming out. 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, but from the side view, not the top down, position.

Pictured here is a much later but ever fascinating “Jonah/Christ” relief on what is possibly a tombstone now in the archaeological museum in Konya. Mark Wilson, in his book, Biblical Turkey (p. 169) thinks it might be a sarcophagus but it looks solid. It could well be a tomb marker, some kind of monument, or even an altar. It was found in Beysehir, ancient Mistea, in Turkey. Precise dating is unknown but one is tempted from its features to put it in the 3rd century CE. The top inscription speaks of the dedication in memory of “Mitheos and Paul” and the bottom seems to say “the Great Fish and Jonah.” Notice the “Christ” stick figure coming up out of the two fish below, into the shape of a cross/anchor. There is lots of other symbolism here. The  “Christ figure” as cross and stick image is on the cover of our book, as some maybe have noticed, but arising out of a Hebrew scroll that represents the story of Jonah.

In contrast, one might compare the so-called “Claudius fish,” also on an ossuary, which I am not convinced is a fish in the first place, (see my Preliminary report, p. 24, fig 26), where there are supposedly two eyes, on one each open “jaw,” and no tail, which makes no sense for a fish. Antonio Lambatti tells me that he has located some additional fish images on tombs and ossuaries outside the standard Israel State Collection and I look forward to his report on those though I am not clear as to what their date or provenance might be.

So far as fish images found in Jerusalem during this period we have the well executed example on the stone table that Avigad discovered in the Jewish Quarter.  The fish is shown from the side view, just as I am taking our Jonah ossuary image. Shimon Gibson has just written me this week of an additional fish image found in Broshi’s 1970s Mt Zion excavation on a stone vessel. He is sending me a photo that I will post here when I receive it.