Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ossuary Rises from the Patina Dust-- the Latest Bombshell

Hershel Shanks and BAR are now reporting that we have further, and perhaps definitive confirmation of the authenticity of the inscription on the James ossuary from one of Europe's leading micro-biologists. The article on the report which you will find the verbatim of below, shows the profound and clear flaws in the IAA report. It speaks for itself.

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Update—Finds or Fakes?

Forgery Bombshell

May 16, 2006

The ossuary inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" has recently been studied by Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein, a world-renowned authority. He has reached startling conclusions that will change the debate over this highly controversial artifact. Printed below is a summary of Professor Krumbein's report; click the following links for the full text of the report and the accompanying photographs.


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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.

According to Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein, of Oldenburg University, Germany, a well-known expert in geology, geochemistry and microbiology, "We can state with certainty that a period of 50-100 years, at least, was necessary for the formation of the specific composition of patina whose traces were identified inside the ossuary inscription."

Krumbein also examined the patina on the ossuary far from the inscription. His conclusion:

"Patina sampled from the surface of the ossuary, far away from the inscription, was found to be identical to the microscopic traces of patina, which I found inside the ossuary inscription and sites sloping from the surface into the inscription grooves (and no indication of any kind was found of any adhesive on this patina). Therefore, we must conclude that the patina formed over the entire ossuary and the remains of patina in the inscription area were formed over the same period of time."

What about the examination and reports by Tel Aviv University Professor Yuval Goren and his colleague Avner Ayalon of the Geological Survey of Israel on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), concluding without doubt that the inscription is a modern forgery?

Professor Krumbein directly addresses their reports:

"The conclusions noted in the reports by Goren, Ayalon and their colleagues, originate from a series of errors, biases, mistaken premises, use of inappropriate methodology, mistaken geochemistry, defective error control, reliance on unconfirmed data, disregard of information (such as the cleaning and preservation actions performed [on the ossuary], and the use of a comparative isotope methodology despite the fact that the [James ossuary] inscription fail[s] to meet the cumulative prerequisite conditions for such tests and comparisons." Each charge is documented in detail in Krumbein's report.

Professor Krumbein is considered one of the world's leading experts on stone chemistry and biology. He has been a visiting professor at numerous universities, including Harvard, and has conducted post-doctorate research at Hebrew University. He is the recipient of two honorary doctorates. He has edited 15 scientific books and has published over 400 articles in scholarly journals. He was recommended to undertake this study by Professor Steven Weiner, the director of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, who was asked for a recommendation by Golan's attorney, Lior Bringer.

Under the heading "Disregard of Relevant Information," Krumbein noted that Yuval Goren and Avner Ayalon ignored the fact that some members of the IAA team also observed original patina in the inscription, patina that Krumbein himself observed. As stated in his report, "I found traces of natural patina inside the ossuary inscription in at least three different sites of the inscription (in the first and last sections of the inscription)." He pointedly added (an apparent reference to observations of other members of the IAA team), "Traces of ancient patina were found inside the area of the inscription... not only by us."

Professor Krumbein had available to him the photographs taken of the ossuary at the time the inscription was initially published in BAR, the photographs taken at the Royal Ontario Museum after the ossuary had broken into five pieces during transit from Israel, photographs taken by the IAA after the ossuary was confiscated, and photographs he himself took when he examined the ossuary in 2005. From a comparison of these photographs, Professor Krumbein found that "the ossuary inscription recently was altered and contaminated by the IAA and/or police." Professor Krumbein notes that "Traces of such [original] patina are evident in photographs of several letters taken in 2002."

Krumbein compared pictures taken in 2002 (published in BAR) with photographs subsequently used in presentations by Goren. In the 2002 photographs there is hardly any filling inside the letters, filling that Goren called the "inscription coating" and more sarcastically (implying a forgery) as the James Bond. This, according to Goren was the paste or adhesive (the bond) used by the forgers to cover the evidence of a modern forged engraving. Krumbein reported that later photographs, taken in 2003 by the IAA, do "show the presence of a 'granular' coating [the inscription coating or James Bond]." On Krumbein's examination in 2005, however, he "saw no traces of such granular coating inside these letters, because these had been recently removed by the IAA/police." Krumbein then observes, "This could be taken as a documentation of deliberate manipulation of the inscription patina by the IAA and/or police during the custody period."

The Krumbein report goes on: While the ossuary was in the custody of the IAA "The inscription and surrounding areas was contaminated using silicon-like red material, preventing more comprehensive tests to confirm or disprove previous test results." The red material was apparently used to make a cast of the inscription. The remains of this material are visible in many of the photographs Krumbein took in 2005.

The Krumbein report also accuses the IAA of ignoring exculpatory evidence. In his report for the IAA, Professor Goren states: "The inscription has been engraved or cleaned over its entire length in the modern age." In their scientific publication Goren and his colleagues acknowledge that the inscription was "freshly cleaned." The Krumbein report charges that "The IAA completely ignored these statements and specifically ignored the ramifications of the cleaning," which would account for the presence of the inscription coating.

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.

Professor Goren also condemned the ossuary inscription because he found microfossils of nanoplankton (coccoliths) in the inscription coating that, in Professor Goren's words, "are abundant in marine-derived sedimentary rocks (such as chalk), but are nonexistent in terrain-derived sediments. This phenomenon is unique to the inscription coating and was never observed in the other patina samples."

Krumbein directly contradicts Professor Goren:

"Contrary to Professor Goren's opinion, marine microfossils, unobservable to the naked eye, are commonly found in the patina on stone artifacts from the Jerusalem region and were found by us on the ossuary also at places far away from the inscription. Not only do they not indicate a forgery, their presence in the patina reinforces the arguments supporting the authenticity of such items...Over 150 years of literature it was established that all kinds of microfossil remains are permanently blown by wind and storm into the atmosphere and deposited on exposed surfaces and even penetrate into caves."

Professor Krumbein concludes:

"The patina covering several of the inscription letters is no less authentic than the patina covering the other parts of the ossuary, which, according to the IAA team, is authentic."

15 comments:

H-G said...

It's been some time since I've followed this story, but as I recall, there was an article in BAR some time last year reporting how an artisan of some kind was found in a bar somewhere in Palestine bragging about how he had been hired to execute the forgery. I might even still have the BAR issue. So, was his story concocted?

Ben Witherington said...

yup....

Layman said...

Professor,

I am not sure how closely you are following the trial, but on the chance that you have more info than I, I have a question about the two defendants who have pleaded guilty. Some other bloggers have made much of that fact, but it is my understanding that those two defendants were not alleged to have been involved with the James Ossuary. Is that correct?

Thanks

yuckabuck said...

It's great that truth continues to get a fair hearing in the ossuary matter!

(And the fact that critics are ripping on the Da Vinci Code movie might bring a smile as well. Allegedly, only Ian McKellen, who was awesome as Gandalf in the first Lord of the Rings movie, really shows any talent for good acting in the flick; even Hanks' performance is being jeered. Won't really know 'til I see it myself, though.)

Ben Witherington said...

There are 159 people being grilled in that trial. Some of them have had nothing to do with the James ossuary. I imagine those two are among them.

Ben

marc bennett said...

In National Geographic's program about the Gospel of Judas they gave 2 examples of histories biggest forgeries, the Hitler Diaries and the James Ossuary. I thought this revealed National Geographic's bias toward canonical NT history. My research has shown that at worst the authenticity of the James Ossuary engraving is inconclusive. To list that as one of histories greatest forgeries was at best uninformed.

john hallowell said...

In Nov 2003, on a flight back to Southern Cal. from the AAR/SBL mtg in Atlanta, I was fortunate to sit next to Professor Robert Eisenman the noted scholar. I had done some translating under hire (payment in pizzas) as a student of Greek for him during my undergraduate days at Long Beach St, where he was constantly searching extant documents to back his theories. We had much to talk about and he was very collegiate in his conversation. He said that Hershel Shanks had asked him to come out and be part of a scholarly "post-mortem" at the AAR on the whole bone box crisis. The IAA had declared a "forgery" in June of 2003 and Eisenman was one of the original "naysayers" (see Christianity Today blog from 2002 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/141/22.0.html ). Robert said that when he saw Hershel in the elevator prior to the session that all he could do was shake his head, "you shouldn't have created so much hype before it was authenticated scientifically."

Eisenman's reflections were not so much "I told you so" as he felt saddened that the world's supposed scholars were having "the first word" (ie, the breaking news and hype) and not "the last word" (ie., pointing out the significance of authenticated findings). While I would find it a stretch to agree with Eisenman on anything Scriptural or about his view of the Ossuary in discussion, I think I see where he was very wise about how this unfolded over the last few years. Maybe the science should have been applied carefully and thoroughly before the scholars hailed the significance of the finding. It might have established the Ossuary in fact before the cultural/political tug-of-war in part destroys the item of interest (and destroyed the patina). No?

Ben Witherington said...

Eisenman has a point however I would remind you that Andre Lemaire was and is the world's leading epigrapher. Furthermore, two then members of the IAA itself authenticated the patina. Kyle Mc Carter and Frank Moore Cross also declared it genuine. That's some heavy hitters. Hope we will be able to run more tests soon, but this report makes very clear that the IAA report is bogus, and always was.

Ben

john hallowell said...

Yes...agreed. And the process of (in)validating is apparently back on track with the right people involved. Thanks for this update.

Frank Walton said...

Where is the link to this story? I don't see any internet links specified in the blog.

Rainsborough said...

I gather that no one disputes that the provenance of the ossuary is unknown. None of the archaeological niceties have been observed, hence a fraudster confronts only last-resort safeguards. So it would be very nice if its putative owner was known to be a man of good character.

The accused is Oded Golan.

The prosecution in the case against him alleges that in a police raid the ossuary was found sitting on toilet seat on the roof. Apparently, this is true, since Golan is reported to have said the roof was safer than his apartment and he feared thievery.

The head of the Israel Antiquities Authority says his investigators found several forgeries on the premises, in various stages of completion.

The head of the IAA's theft unit claims that investigators also found bags of semi-finished royal seals, blank stones with the same dimensions as the Joash tablet (another (alleged) fraud), an ossuary newly engraved, and molds usable to make bronze statues. The IAA says these are the equipment of a fraudster, Golan says they're materials used for restoration work.

Well-credentialed experts disagree whether it can be proven that the words "ahi Yeshuva" were inscribed in 63 AD. We non-experts can't know whether to trust the patina or not. How then can we decide whether the words were inscribed in 63 by ossurarian or two millenia later by a fraudster? One would hope, by deciding whether Golan can be trusted or not. But if he is a fraudster, he may be so clever as to have covered his tracks. It doesn't help that Golan reportedly says he doesn't remember from whom he bought the ossuary.

Ben Witherington said...

Rainsborough:

Lets sort out a few things. Firstly we do know where this ossuary came from--- Silwan, from the soil samples in the box itself.

Secondly, we have witnesses to the full inscription on the box in Golan's house from the 70s-- including ex-girl friends who are not friends any more.

Thirdly, the ossuary was in its container in the storage room on the roof. It was the IAA who took it out, placed it on the toilet and then took the picture, to make Golan look bad. Golan did not leave it in that condition on the toilet.

Fourthly, Golan has made replicas which are perfectly legal, but as the experts have said he has neither the skills, nor the tools to have made the inscription on this ossuary. Nor is there any evidence he has sold replicas as genuine.

Fifthly, not a single expert epigrapher has said that the last part of the inscription must be by a different or later hand. This is simply not true. There was a woman who made such a claim, in an act of self publicity. She turned out to be someone who knew nothing about ancient epigraphy. Her field was medieval illuminated manuscripts!

Having said all this, of course more tests need to be run on the ossuary. Let's hope the trial is over soon.

Blessings,

Ben

Rainsborough said...

A visit to a couple of Israeli newspapers disappointed me--no coverage of the Golan trial. But I did find this story about one the parties to the case.
"Senior officials at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) are suspected of involvement in the removal of artifacts from the Old City of Acre.

"A senior IAA inspector who complained to the police of the removal of the artifacts and antiquities was suspended by IAA director general Yehoshua Dorfman.

"Dorfman allegedly tried to persuade police officers to drop the inquiry they had begun following the inspector's complaint.

"Police have also questioned IAA archaeologist Eliezer Stern after he said that the paving stones that had been removed were not antiquities contrary to his previous statement on the items removed from that site."

jud77 said...

This is fascinating. I love how folks want it both ways.

When science is used to cast doubt on the history of the Christian faith it is lauded as the great objective truthfinder. Yet, when science starts to confirm significant historical data supporting the Christian faith it is then subject to the same doubt as the faith. Ironic, eh?

I saw a show the other night where they did DNA testing on bone fragments from the Merovingian line. They determined the DNA was without a doubt European - there was no trace of Middle Eastern descent, thus exploding yet another Da Vinci/Holy Blood Holy Grail myth.

Let's get some consistency here - if you're going to accept scientific evidence to disprove something, at least be big enough to accept it when solid scientific evidence confirms something you have doubts about.

Johannes Climacus said...

Wheather the ossuary is authentic or not is beyond most of our abilities to discern. But, the acceptance of artifacts from the antiquities market is a dangerous precedent that may encourage ingenious forgers to make a quick buck.