Just months ago, a stone
box was cited as an important link in substantiating New Testament accounts of Jesus, the alleged god-man of the Christian
religion. Now, the so-called "James Ossuary" is being pronounced a hoax by leading Israeli archaeological experts.
The container caused a media sensation last October when Andre Lemaire, a noted French scholar of ancient texts, concluded
that an Aramaic inscription on the stone surface reading "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" was genuine. For believers
and even some Biblical-era historians, it was the closest link yet to Jesus Christ, the Christian messiah. James is
mentioned in the Gospels as the brother of Jesus, and was stoned to death around 62 or 63 C.E. for religious proselytizing.
The director of Isreal's Antiquities Authority, Dr. Shuka
Dorfman, now says that futher tests on the ossuary, evidence shows that the ancient inscription is a fake. Microscopic
and chemical analyses indicated that a forger had cut through layers of material and ancient vanrish to make the inscription
then covered the letters with what the Washington Post newspaper describes as "a recently applied mixture of water and ground
chalk." The results of Lemaire's examination were published only last year by Biblical Archaeological Review, but without
the bemefit of peer review or third-party testing.
Deputy Director Uzi Dahari led the three-and-a-half-month long investigation into the ancient box. He told reporters
that the agency decided to investigate the authenticity of the James ossuary "because the whole world was talking about this,
and a lot of innocent people could be hurt if you're trying to fool them to make money." Co-investigator Yuval Goren of Tel
Aviv University said that the antiquities team concluded that the ancient Aramaic
script appeared to have possibly been written by more than person. The report says that a forger could have utilized
a computer program that scanned ancient letters from known texts, and then etched the words on the side of the limestone box.
Experts remain divided over whether the word "Yeshua" (Jesus) was forged, "but the rest for sure is fake," Goren announced.
"Yeshua was a very common name. If all you have is the name Jesus, that proves nothing," he added.
of 2002 it had been released to the press that the ossuary of James the brother of Jesus had been found. A number of
reasons concerning the object itself (besides the lack of evidence for an historical Jesus) support the conclusion of
this being another hoax.
Over & over again objects have been paraded as proof of biblical
fictions. When a new one is found, the skeptic presumes that it is another case of a forgery. The James
Burial box is on more example. It's creators have been indicted in December of 04.
warned on Bible-era relics
Israel says important artifacts may be forged
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Posted: 10:36 PM EST (0336 GMT)
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Experts advised world museums to re-examine their Bible-era relics after Israel indicted
four collectors and dealers on charges of forging some of the most important artifacts of recent decades.
The indictments issued Wednesday labeled as fakes perhaps the two biggest biblical discoveries in the Holy Land
-- the purported burial box of Jesus' brother James and a stone tablet with written instructions by King Yoash on maintenance
work at the Jewish Temple -- and many other "finds."
The forgers "were trying to change history,"
said Shuka Dorfman, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The forgery ring has been operating for more than 20 years, Dorfman said. Scholars said the forgers were exploiting the deep emotional need of Jews and Christians to find physical
evidence to reinforce their faith. "This does not discredit the profession. It discredits unscrupulous dealers and collectors,"
said Eric Myers, an archaeology professor at Duke University in North Carolina.
The announcement of the indictments capped a two-year probe. The indictment
listed 124 witnesses, including antiquities collectors, archaeologists, officials from Sotheby's auction house in Israel and
representatives of the British Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. Dorfman said the
Israeli investigators had limited resources, and "we discovered only the tip of the iceberg. This spans the globe. It generated
millions of dollars," Dorfman said.
The forgers would often use authentic but relatively mundane artifacts, such as a plain burial
box, decanter or shard, and boost their value enormously by adding inscriptions, Dorfman said. Once the words were engraved,
the forgers would try to recreate patina, or ancient grime, to cover the carvings, the indictment said. The four men indicted were Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan, owner of the James ossuary and the Yoash tablet;
Robert Deutsch, an inscriptions expert who teaches at Haifa University; collector Shlomo Cohen, and antiquities dealer Faiz
al-Amaleh. The four are free on bail, police said. A fifth person was indicted,
but his name was not released because he is not in the country. Additional indictments were to be issued in coming days, said
Shaul Naim, the chief investigator of the Jerusalem police. Golan said in a statement
Wednesday that "there is not one grain of truth in the fantastic allegations related to me," and that the investigation was
aimed at "destroying collecting and trade in antiquities in Israel." Deutsch dismissed the indictment as "ridiculous."
The probe began after the Yoash tablet was offered for sale to the Israel Museum for $4.5 million two years ago. Uzi
Dahari, a top official in the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a recent lecture that some of the forgeries were done
by an Egyptian artisan who has worked in Israel for the past 15 years. The Egyptian went out drinking in a Tel Aviv pub from
time to time and would brag about his exploits, until some of the pub's patrons alerted police, Dahari said. Naim said many more fakes are apparently in the possession of collectors and museums worldwide. Shimon Gibson, an Israeli archaeologist, said museums should review items of questionable origin. "Now
it looks like we are going to have to go backward and double-check all our facts to make sure that what we thought was real
really is," he said.
Last week, the
Israel Museum said one of its most prized possessions, an ivory pomegranate scholars long believed served as the tip of a
scepter for Jewish Temple priests, was also a fake. The indictment listed the
pomegranate as one of the items forged by the ring, but no charges were brought in this case because the statute of limitations
expired. The pomegranate was bought by the Israel Museum in the late 1980s from an anonymous collector for $550,000. In a statement, the Israel Museum expressed support for efforts to "end such criminal
activities," adding that its investigation of the authenticity of the pomegranate was its own.
Hershel Shanks, the editor of the Washington-based Biblical Archaeology Review, said he was not sure Israeli authorities
had solid proof against the suspected forgers. "Either this is going to be proven a horrific scandal or the greatest embarrassment
to the Israel Antiquities Authority," Shanks said in a telephone interview. Shanks
disclosed the existence of the James ossuary in November 2002. Scholars said that if proven authentic, the ossuary would be
the first physical link between Jesus and the modern world.
Dan Rahimi of the Royal Ontario Museum said
it displayed the ossuary only after the Israeli government "reviewed the artifact and its provenance." The investigation trained a spotlight on the sometimes murky antiquities trade in the Holy Land. "It's a free-for-all market ... and there is no control over something that doesn't come from a proper
excavation, photographed and documented," Dorfman said.