Re: The James Ossuary - new article

Date: Tue Dec 03 2002 - 17:35:58 EST

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    Experts Question Authenticity of Bone Box for `Brother of Jesus'
    NYT December 3, 2002

    Skeptics in growing number are weighing in with doubts
    about the authenticity of the inscription on a burial box
    that may have contained the bones of James, a brother of
    Jesus, and so could be the earliest surviving
    archaeological link to Jesus Christ.=20

    When the existence of the limestone bone box, or ossuary,
    was announced five weeks ago, a French scholar asserted
    that the inscription - "James, son of Joseph, brother of
    Jesus" - most probably referred to the Jesus of the New
    Testament. The script, he said, was in the style of the
    Aramaic language of the first century A.D.=20

    Now that more experts have studied photographs of the
    inscription or seen it on display at a Toronto museum, they
    generally accept the antiquity of the ossuary itself, but
    some of them suspect that all or part of the script is a
    forgery. Apparent differences in the handwriting, they
    said, suggested that the Jesus phrase in particular could
    have been added by a forger, either in ancient or modern

    "To say the least, I have a very bad feeling about the
    matter," Dr. Eric M. Meyers, an archaeologist and a scholar
    of Judaic studies at Duke University, said recently at a
    conference of biblical and archaeological researchers in

    Dr. Meyers said he had "serious questions about
    authenticity," in no small part because the origin of the
    ossuary is clouded in mystery. It was apparently found by
    looters at an undisclosed site and bought on the
    antiquities market in Israel. Professional archaeologists
    are not comfortable with artifacts of such dubious

    Others who had just examined the ossuary at the Royal
    Ontario Museum were most concerned that the inscription
    appeared to be written by two different hands. The first
    part, about James, son of Joseph, seemed to be written in a
    formal script, while the second, about Jesus, is in a more
    free-flowing cursive style.=20

    "The fact that the cursive and the formal types of letters
    appear in the two parts of the inscription suggests to me
    at least the possibility of a second hand," said Dr. P.
    Kyle McCarter Jr., a specialist in Middle East languages at
    Johns Hopkins University.=20

    Dr. Andr=E9 Lemaire, the French scholar in Aramaic who
    proposed the inscription's connection to Jesus, stoutly
    defended his interpretation at a conference of the Society
    of Biblical Literature, also held in Toronto. A researcher
    at the Sorbonne in Paris and a respected specialist on
    inscriptions of the biblical period, he published his
    findings in the current issue of the American magazine
    Biblical Archaeology Review.=20

    Dr. Lemaire repeated his contention that "it is very
    probable" that the burial box had held the bones of James,
    a leader of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem, and
    that the inscription referred to Jesus of Nazareth. It was
    extremely rare to name a brother on one's ossuary, he said,
    and so this particular Jesus must have been someone of

    In an interview, Hershel Shanks, the magazine editor who
    published the report, said there were at least two reasons
    to doubt the accusations of forgery.=20

    "If a modern forger did it, for a couple of hundred dollars
    he could get a blank ossuary, and it would be a dumb forger
    who doesn't start from scratch so the writing is
    consistent," Mr. Shanks said. "Also, you've got to assume
    the forger knows how to forge patina - something not known
    by others. All these things are possible, but
    extraordinarily unlikely."=20

    Geologists in Israel who examined the ossuary judged its
    patina, the surface coating from aging and weathering, to
    be consistent with estimates that the box is about 2,000
    years old. They also said they detected no signs of later
    tampering with the inscription. Josephus, a Jewish
    historian of the first century, recorded that James was
    executed in A.D. 62.=20

    Mr. Shanks is co-author of a book, "The Brother of Jesus,"
    to be published in March by HarperSanFrancisco. He will
    describe the discovery and interpretation of the James
    ossuary, and his collaborator, Ben Witherington III, who is
    an author and lecturer on the New Testament, will discuss
    its implications for understanding Jesus.=20

    But the controversy is not likely to die down any time

    The owner of the ossuary, whose identity was not disclosed
    in the magazine article, has now come forward. He is Oded
    Golan, a Tel Aviv engineer and ardent collector of
    artifacts from biblical times. Called in for questioning by
    the Israel Antiquities Authority, Mr. Golan said he bought
    the ossuary 35 years ago but could not remember from whom,
    the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported recently. Mr.
    Shanks said Mr. Golan had no understanding of the ossuary's
    possible importance until Dr. Lemaire saw it on a visit
    last year.=20

    Israeli authorities said they were continuing the
    investigation. The ossuary is to be returned to Israel at
    the conclusion of its exhibition in Toronto, which
    continues until the end of this month. Other researchers
    have entered the fray, calling more attention to signs of
    possible forgery.=20

    Rochelle I. Altman, who moderates an Internet bulletin
    board for scholars of ancient Judaism and describes herself
    as an expert on scripts, was one of the first to note the
    apparent discrepancy in script styles in the inscription.
    "There are two hands of clearly different levels of
    literacy and two different scripts," Ms. Altman wrote. "The
    second part of the inscription bears the hallmarks of a
    fraudulent later addition and is questionable to say the

    Dr. Daniel Eylon, an Israeli engineering professor at the
    University of Dayton in Ohio, approached the problem from
    his experience in failure analysis investigations for the
    aerospace industry. Applying a technique used in
    determining if a malfunction of an airplane part occurred
    before or after an accident, he examined photographs of the
    inscription for scratches caused by moving the box against
    other boxes in the cave or in the final excavation.=20

    "The inscription would be underneath these scratches if it
    had been on the box at the time of burial, but the majority
    of this inscription is on top of the scratches," Dr. Eylon
    said. "And the sharpness of some of the letters doesn't
    look right - sharp edges do not last 2,000 years."=20

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