Date: Mon Dec 02 2002 - 07:58:45 EST
Two points regarding the ossuary, from a post to another list. One regards
Barnhardt'sfinctional Gospel, the other is Deal Hudson's (Crisis magazine)
remarks re: the ossuary's authenticity
Since the discovery of the ossuary claimed to belong to James brother
of Jesus I have been wondering how long it will take before Israeli
scholars find Jesus' 'bones.' Such a paradigmatic kick in the
theological tail was fictionally related by Wilton Barnhardt
in 'Gospel' (St. Martin's press, 1993) a novel which is a tale of the
search for Jesus' 'bones.'
But according to Deal Hudson of Crisis, a Catholic magazine, there is
still a dispute over the authenticity of James' ossuary.
A Massive Hoax?
CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter
October 31, 2002
Well, I'm back from the cruise, refreshed and relaxed from my week at
sea. We all had a great time, and my thanks go out to everyone who
sailed with us and helped make the trip possible. Hopefully we'll see
even more of you out there next year.
Before I get into my letter, I want to pass along to you an
interesting news release that I came across yesterday. The article
from United Press International is titled "Ark of Covenant reported
to be in Ethiopia." It goes on to say that some scholars and
researchers now think that the Ark may actually be in a tiny town in
Ethiopia called Axum, guarded by a small group of priests.
This certainly would be exciting news -- that is, if we hadn't
already reported it.
As you may know, CRISIS ran an expanded cover story on this very
topic way back in July. Our writer followed the path of the Ark from
Israel down to the Ethiopian Orthodox church where the relic is
reputedly stored. Not only that, but he interviewed the monk who
guards the Ark -- the only man allowed to approach it.
If you want to get a copy of that issue -- along with the photos --
call 1-800-852-9962, and ask for the July/August 2002 issue.
Sorry, I just couldn't resist dropping a little plug in there.
The main reason I wanted to write you has to do with a different
article I came across a couple days ago. In my letter from last week,
I told you I was interested in seeing what new developments would
arise concerning the ossuary that was recently discovered bearing the
inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
It turns out I didn't have to wait long -- the report I read claims
that part of the ossuary is an obvious fake. While many scholars who
have studied the box are convinced of its authenticity, there are a
growing number who are skeptical.
Robert Eisenman is one. He recently wrote a piece for the L.A. Times
where he says that the discovery of the ossuary is just "too perfect"
to convince him that it's real. For one thing, its sudden, mysterious
appearance and lack of any record of its whereabouts for the past
2000 years makes him suspicious of its origins.
Another problem he has is with the nature of the inscription itself.
Eisenman states that ancient sources never called James "the brother
of Jesus" -- this is strictly a Biblical reference. Instead, he would
have been referred to as "James the Zaddik" or "Just One," titles
given him by other early Christians. He also says that ancient
sources are unclear as to James's father, and probably would have
called him "son of Cleophas" or "son of Alphaeus" (these names were
often interchanged, according to Eisenman), but not "son of Joseph,"
something a more modern reader would expect.
In the end, Eisenman thinks that the ossuary is a little too perfect
to be convincing. It seems to please a modern audience, one that
bases its knowledge of St. James on the Gospels, not at an ancient
audience who would have known first-hand who James was.
Dr. Rochelle Altman is another critic of the recent findings. An
historian of writing systems and an expert on scripts, Altman writes
that while the ossuary itself is genuine, the second half of the
inscription -- "brother of Jesus" -- is a poor imitation of the first
half of the inscription, one that must have been added later. Her
reasons sound pretty convincing (though I claim no expertise in that
According to Altman, inscriptions on ossuaries were covenants made by
the dead person's family members, pledging that they would continue
to revere their deceased loved one. As was the case with all such
solemn vows, the covenant had to be written in the hand of the person
making it. Thus, while professional masons might have "touched up"
the inscription later, the original inscription had to be made by the
Obviously, not all family members were literate, so their
inscriptions might have been a little shaky. Either way, it would
have all been done in the same hand. However, Altman argues that the
inscription on this particular ossuary was written by two different
How does she know? Well, the first group of words -- "Jacob son of
Joseph" -- was written by someone who was fully literate (she could
tell by the consistency of the lettering and the formal script).
After the author carved the initial lettering, a professional excised
the text (meaning that the stone around it was carved out to make the
letters raised) and enclosed the words in a kind of frame -- a common
practice when excising an inscription.
All of this appears legitimate to Altman. But, she says, that's not
true of the second half of the inscription -- "brother of Jesus."
Apparently, there are a few strange misspellings in this second part,
as if the person writing it had little grasp of either Hebrew or
Aramaic, and was trying to copy a script and language unfamiliar to
him. Altman also points out that the script is informal, as compared
with the formal lettering of the first section.
But that's not all. She additionally notes that there's no excised
frame around the words. Since it was a normal practice to excise both
the words and a frame, she concluded that the second writer removed
the original frame so he could add his own words.
Her final verdict? The box is real; the inscription is not. "If the
entire inscription on the ossuary is genuine," she says, "then
somebody has to explain why there are two hands of clearly different
levels of literacy and two different scripts. They also have to
explain why the second hand did not know how to write 'brother of' in
Aramaic or even spell 'Joshua' [the Hebrew form of Jesus]. Further,
they had better explain where the frame has gone."
Once again, there's really no way to know conclusively whether or not
Altman is correct. Nevertheless, her points -- and Eisenman's points -
- are significant and need to be addressed.
And, of course, I'll keep you updated as the investigation into the
Talk to you soon,
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