Re: The James Ossuary

Date: Mon Dec 02 2002 - 07:58:45 EST

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    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


    Dear Friend,

    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
    family member.

    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
    ossuary continues.

    Talk to you soon,


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