A Fish Story in the Talpiot Tomb

Another year, another strange suggestion from Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor about tombs and ossuaries in Jerusalem.

Few people, or at least few scholars, looking at the images supplied have been impressed by the idea that the etched figure on a newly-published ossuary is the "great fish" of the story of Jonah. From that unlikely suggestion and some dubious interpretation of fragmentary inscriptions, Jacobovici and Tabor have sought to draw further speculative links with the early Christian movement, claiming even that this would be the first Christian art and a symbol of the resurrection.

If it's not a fish then what is it? The counter-suggestions of the first few days after the announcement tended to emphasize architectural motifs, such as a nephesh or grave monument; thus both Steve Fine and, initially, Bob Cargill

Those have now been supplemented, or just corrected, by comparison with other ossuaries that have cups or vases on them. This has been made easier by Jacobovici and Tabor's team offering a museum replica that makes the orientation of the image on the box much easier to see (the initial photos were taken with a robot camera).

The suggestion comes from Antonio Lombatti, whose blog shows a number of ossuaries that have vases or cups, some of which are at least generally comparable in shape. Cargill himself has drawn attention to this and now defers to it as a better suggestion than his initial thoughts about tomb markers. 

Lombatti and Cargill refer to these as "amphoras" but I am not sure this is the best description. The foot of the vessel (assuming it is that, and I do think it is) has very narrow shape often associated with an amphora, but the rest of the shape - the bulbous lower part with low-set handles, and a bell widening at the top - is much more reminiscent of a krater, the type of large vase used to mix wine at banquets. These also often had knob-like feet, as in this example:

For that matter the other vases shown in Lombatti's post have large looped handles, and are of the type often referred to as kantharoi, which are also drinking vessels, whereas amphoras were typically for storage. The small boss on the bottom of this vase is not so unlike those of the other kantharoi that Lombatti shows.

Vases of various shapes were used as grave goods in Greco-Roman settings - many of the vases now found in museums came from such sources. But at the risk of over-reading the image on the ossuary, it is the type of vase used at banquets, that has overtones of eternal festivity and bliss, as funerary art often did. Maybe recognition of the krater will help put this to rest as well.

Update: A commenter has asked about the relevance of the form to 1st century Palestine. My slightly oblique answer has been to replace the picture I originally linked to a 5th century BCE krater to a 4th century CE mosaic from Antioch, depicting one from much later; the point is that these forms were ubiquitous and persistent both in fact and in art. 


  1. Thanks. The other commentary was ludicrous. This was the first constructive suggestion I've found.

  2. Anonymous2:01 am

    Notice you are showing a photo of a replica of a Greek Krater from circa 500BC.
    Is this consistent with Roman pottery of 1st century Judea?

  3. I would agree with Ryan that your suggestion seems quite plausable. Of course I am not an archaeologist or historian of the period. It does make sense. Thanks.

  4. If you want to actually understand what these symbols mean, you first need to understand ancient symbology. No one involved in this project seems to have a clue and thereby all assertions about symbols and their interpretations are without any factual support.

    I will demonstrate that this image purposely portrays the merger of both a fish and a vessel and it is Hebrew, not Christian. To fully understand what this image represents, it must be viewed correctly with the "ball" at the bottom, just as it was drawn. Changing its position breaks the meaning of the symbolic code. Consider that the ball is the sun rising above the horizon at the spring equinox. The fish/vessel is the constellation Pisces, and thereby this shows the spring equinox sun, rising into Pisces, which is how you determine the current age on the zodiac.

    This image would then represent a zodiacal/astrological time stamp pointing to the second temple period, which was at the start of the age of Pisces. The fish thereby represents the constellation Pisces, and the vessel shape holds the "waters" of that age. Water symbolizes the flow of deeds through time, and a vessel holds a measured quantity of water (or other liquids like wine and oil). The measured period of time is the 2160 years of the age of Pisces, which ended in 2001. This image is a perfect symbolic code for the age of Pisces and the time and deeds (waters...) it represents.

    The second temple period was the 11th 360-year cycle on the Hebrew calendar. That is why the Dead Sea Scrolls were buried in exactly 11 caves, during the 11th cycle, which is also symbolized by the 11 stars in Genesis. The 11th cycle was also the beginning of the age of Pisces, and it is well known that the zodiac was used by those who buried the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as other groups throughout the region.

    The symbology of that image is not Christian, but a time code pointing to the start of the age of Pisces and related details. That is also the true source of the fish symbolism used by early Christians and later recast by Church leaders to hide the astrological source and associations with those most call the “Essenes.” Visit my website (SevenStarHand.org) and download a free copy of my ebook to learn the basic rules for this ancient symbology. They prove all previous interpretations are erroneous, though both a fish and a vessel were correct guesses.

    This image also provides key proof that Christian assertions about the fish and related symbology have always been blatant lies. I'll publish more details soon.

    Here is Wisdom…

    Buddy Page
    Seven Star Hand


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