James Ossuary

Apr 4, 2017 | Bible Archeology | 0 comments

In October of 2002 the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) reported a major new archeological discovery. They announced that the burial box of James the Brother of Jesus was found in Jerusalem. This box had inscribed on it the words, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The inscription, if authentic, would be the earliest mention of Jesus outside the New Testament, and would confirm the reliability of the Bible. 4

The James Ossuary is a ossuary, limestone box for containing bones, which came to light in Israel in 2002. It was claimed to have been the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. Its provenance is unknown. The Israel Antiquities Authority assess it as a modern forgery, but some scholars continue to maintain its historical authenticity. Its discovery was followed in January 2003 by another contentious archaeological “find” soon connected with Oded Golan, the so-called “Jehoash Inscription” (see below). A dramatic documentary film The Lost Tomb Of Jesus (2007) capitalised on public interest in this find and its controversies. 1

To resolve the controversy, In March of 2003, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) appointed a committee of 14 scholars to examine this find plus the “Jehoash” inscription, both objects of unknown provenance which appeared on the antiquities market about the same time. On June 18, 2003, the IAA announced in a press conference that the “James Ossuary inscription” is a forgery. It should be noted, however, that one of the 14 scholars who signed the report has since decided that the inscription is genuine. 4

In the New Testament Epistles, St. Paul specifically refers to his meeting in Jerusalem with “James, the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19), while other items refer to James presiding over the famous Circumcision Debate (Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15:4-34) as Head of the Nazarene Church. Also, the writings of the 1st-century historian, Flavius Josephus (Commander of Galilee in AD 66) relate to “the brother of Jesus – who was called Christ – whose name was James” (Antiquities of the Jews 20:9:1). 6

IT WAS NOT an auspicious beginning. When workers at the loading dock unlocked the doors of the Brinks truck on the morning of Oct. 31, 2002, Dan Rahimi, then the ROM’s director of collections, blanched. The priceless James ossuary, trumpeted on the world’s front pages only 10 days before as the first historical evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ, was packed in a cardboard box like a discount-store toaster oven. The normal protocol for shipping an antiquity is to put it in a foam-lined wood or metal crate, placed inside yet another sturdy foam-lined crate. 18

The next day, in a special climate-controlled room, employees cut away the cardboard. Inside were several layers of bubble wrap. The large cracks that criss-crossed the previously intact stone box were visible through the plastic. The biggest went right through the Aramaic inscription, Ya’akov bar Yosef ahui d’Yeshua – “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The ossuary was, says Rahimi, shipped in such an “extremely unprofessional” manner that “it was almost guaranteed to break.” 18

The ossuary was going to be exhibited in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) with permission of Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), and there was talk of various documentary deals. When the ossuary arrived in Toronto on the morning of October 31, 2002, the ROM personnel on hand were horrified to see that the ossuary was packed in a cardboard box (whereas the standard for shipping antiquities is typically within a foam-lined metal or wooden crate). The next day they proceeded to “unwrap” the ossuary, only to find the few layers of bubble-wrap which surrounded the ossuary were thin enough to show the cracks which ran through the once-solid stone, the largest of which went right through the famed inscription. When the museum conservators proceeded to repair the damage, they discovered a carved rosette decoration on the side opposite the inscription. 1

With the James ossuary bringing the siblings of Jesus to the forefront of current discussion, some orthodox theologians have suggested that Aramaic was an unusual language in that it did not differentiate between brothers, sisters and cousins. Not only is this quite incorrect, but the New Testament Gospels were not written in Aramaic; they were compiled in Greek, which defines relationships very clearly. 6

Forgery expert Joe Nickell, writing for the Skeptical Inquirer in an article published before the release of the IAA committee findings made similar observations. He also noted that the ossuary had unmistakable, but faint circular decorations on the front. He also points out that, while these decorations are blurred and nearly effaced, the inscription remains sharp and pristine.[8] Joe Nickell’s most provocative claim is found in a later issue in response to a letter to the editor. 4

The whole affair came together with unprecedented haste – most major ROM exhibits take two years to plan. But the James ossuary was a godsend for a struggling institution (the ROM’s funding from the Ontario government – half of its operating budget – has been frozen since 1995, it now has 110 fewer staff than it did at the beginning of the ’90s, and the last time it mounted a big, prestige-building touring show from its collections was 1983). The museum’s attempts at due diligence were rapidly completed. Rahimi made some discreet inquiries to Israeli colleagues about the ossuary. No one had heard any hint of the box before it was unveiled to the press. 18

In January 2003, another artifact, dubbed the “Jehoash Inscription”, appeared in Israel. It was rumored to have surfaced in the construction site or in the Muslim cemetery near the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. It supposedly described repairs made to the temple in Jerusalem by Jehoash, son of King Ahaziah of Judah, and corresponded to the account in 2 Kings 12. Once again, the owner was an anonymous antiquities dealer, this time in Hebron. GSI initially backed up this claim as well. 1

Goren and Ayalon conducted oxygen isotope tests on the inscription coating (or James Bond), which in their report is the basis for concluding that the inscription is a forgery. The Krumbein report states that “the isotopic tests conducted on the ossuary inscription patina are irrelevant and can provide no indication of the dating of the inscription production, because the item fails to meet the prerequisite conditions, which are necessary if such tests should bear any scientific meaning.” The Krumbein report explains at great length why this is so. 10

Lastly, three aspects of this problem have to be recalled: (a) The ossuary had been examined by scientists of the Geological Survey of Israel and also by expert curators at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; neither of these teams concluded that the ossuary or its inscription was fake. In fact, the scientists of GSI went out of their way to stress that “the patina does not contain any modern elements (such as modern pigments) and it adheres firmly to the surface. No signs of the use of a modern tool or instrument was [sic] found.”28 (b) The reaction of the IAA is simply the same as the attitude of most archaeologists about artifacts obtained from antiquities-dealers, as already mentioned. Only now, it has become a matter of politicized archaeology, advocated by the highest authority on antiquities in the State of Israel. 11

As this is being written, Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan is being tried in criminal court for forging the now-famous James ossuary inscription (“James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”). A new report by a leading German scientist, however, may blow the case out of the water. 10

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