Wednesday, April 11, 2007



Grace had left her mother fuming in the kitchen because the matzo ball soup had too much water in it. Camelia’s memory of the recipe called for six cups of water, but it was obvious that four cups were plenty. Now Camelia was contemplating starting over, but she hated to waste anything. So Grace had thin soup for lunch and then announced that she was off to the IAA for the afternoon.
Camelia retorted , “Muzzel tov.”
Grace drove a rather flashy car for a teacher and part time IAA operative. It was a Mazda Miata rag top, bright red. She figured she deserved a little fun in her life. Zooming down the hill towards the IAA building she passed the Knesset and the Shrine of the Book, and kept right on going.
Parking across the street was Art West, who saw her red car flash into the staff parking lot. Grace was a lot of fun to be around, always the life of the party, that is, when she ever had time to go to a party. Like Art, Grace was a workaholic.
Art waved a newspaper in the air, as he raced toward her. “Grace, come on, let’s go find Sammy!” he yelled, grabbing her arm and rushing her into the building. The two of them nearly collided with Sammy who was talking to a secretary.

Sammy turned quickly and called out, “Did either of you see today’s papers?”

“I’ve got a copy of the Post in my hand. Grace you won’t believe this!”

“Come on, let’s go into my office,” said Sammy.

“It seems that our Lazarus stone has turned up sold to the British Museum.” He deliberately avoided mentioning the other article on the front page of note– the one about Art. Sammy kept telling himself -- ‘He’s innocent until proven guilty.’
“What? Are you kidding?” cried Grace in response to Sammy audible comment.

“See for yourself,” said Art handing her the front page of the Jerusalem Post. Priceless Artifact Obtained by British Museum.

Press Conference Reveals Ancient Inscription.
The British Museum press release included a picture of a man named Oliver St. James, and the article detailed how the Museum had bought the limestone inscription after careful authentication. Despite repeated questions from the press, neither the seller nor the price tag were revealed. In conclusion, the report stated that the British Museum looked forward to displaying the stone in the room with Codex Vaticanus.
Sammy was fuming.

“Do you two have any idea how hard it is to pry a stolen artifact from the clutches of those who run the British Museum? You know that they still have never given back the so-called Elgin marbles, the friezes from the Parthenon, even though Greece requested them to be returned several summers ago in time for the Olympic games. What a mess!”

“Well, the inscription has been found, but Patrick Stone wasn’t mentioned. Mustafa told me this morning that he saw Patrick Stone at the Bethany site. Even though Simpson isn’t giving him up, it’s obvious he took the stone. Did he give it to a broker to sell, I wonder? Did he take it to London himself? Did he shoot Kahlil? Are the police tracking him?” Art wasn’t running out of questions, so Sammy interrupted.

“Yes, well, the police are looking for Dr. Stone, and yes, Raymond Simpson is still withholding evidence and now their thinking you are in cahoots with these other two ne’er do wells also. I guess Simpson’s praying that Dr. Stone won’t roll over on him!”

“Enough with the stone jokes,” laughed Grace. “The police can do their work. How hard can it be to track a short, nearly bald man in his sixties – unless he’s a master of disguise!”

“With plenty of cash and maybe even a false ID,” added Art.

“You two watch too many detective shows. But, yes, even the most amateur felon can elude the police for some time. Meanwhile, did I hear you say you were in Bethany this morning, Art?” asked Sammy.

Glad to add to the news reports, Art said, “Yes friends, I have a little surprise for you. Lest anyone argue that this Eliezar is someone other than the biblical Lazarus, I crawled back into the tomb with Mustafa. And guess what? There are inscriptions in the roof of one of those niches. Here’s a picture that Mustafa took.”
Grace playfully snatched it from his hand and looked closely at the Aramaic. She translated:

“‘Martha, asleep in the Lord, lies here, awaiting resurrection.’ So this was truly a family tomb, and at one time Martha and presumably Mary were also interred there.”

“Which brings us to the other manuscripts, the small ones found in the figurines. Some of our technicians are working with the fragments right now. I suggest you both look in on them. I have some phone calls to make – to London,” said Sammy with a deep frown.

Minutes later, they joined some of Grace’s coworkers examining the fragments. So far all of them were pieces of John’s Gospel. The workers were attempting to put them in order.

“Look familiar?” Grace asked as she handed Art a fragment ready to be translated. He read a line in the Aramaic:

“‘Jesus stooped down and started to write on the ground with his finger.’ Well, no doubt this is a copy of the story of the woman caught in adultery. Do you know what are in the other fragments?”

Anna, one of the other workers, a graduate student from Cornell spending her summer studying Aramaic texts, explained. “More of the same story, and a couple of others from John 21.”
Art turned to Grace, “So Stone found these fragments in the tomb after I managed to get out last Tuesday morning. It’s a good thing the ossuary was too big for him to get it through the hole. We already know Stone had the figurines made. I’m sure he put the manuscripts inside. He probably gave them to Ray to hide for the time being in his locker. It’s possible Raymond didn’t even know the manuscripts were inside. Grayson said he never saw the figurines at the apartment.”

At this point, Sammy entered the room. London promises to return my call. Sure, and it might rain in Jerusalem today. Sorry for the sarcasm. Are you talking about the figurine manuscripts? Raymond Simpson has finally admitted that he stored the figurines for Dr. Stone, but he swears he had no idea that the manuscripts were inside. He remembers Dr. Stone picking up a jar from the tomb, but he never saw what was inside the jar. My guess is that Dr. Stone had no intention of sharing this find with Raymond. But I’m also hoping that Dr. Stone will eventually get in touch with Raymond in the hopes of having them sent by mail somewhere.”

“Yes, I had lunch with Grayson” said Art “He mentioned you were tapping his phone. Do you think Stone has any idea that Raymond has been arrested?”

“No, I don’t think so. Raymond has an answering phone in his apartment, so we are tracing all incoming calls. So far, nothing. Our Mr. Stone might not call for some time. He thinks the figurines are safely stashed. Detective Hoffner is monitoring the calls with one of his favorite gadgets. Of course, there are some perks. Hoffner is getting an education from Grayson in Tofu burgers, Christian rock music, tie-dyed t-shirts and, my personal favorite, the art of tongue piercing! And they say that working for the IAA is tedious and boring!” laughed Sammy.

Everyone in the room turned to listen to Sammy’s uncharacteristically long speech. Sammy obliged them by continuing.

“We have to do the press conference tomorrow to counter the press conference in London. Wouldn’t we all like to know how much the Museum paid for our stone! Anyway, I need you two to walk with me to discuss the details. Let’s head down to the room where the ossuary manuscript is laid out. I’m sure you want to see it again.”

Sammy had decided that for the time being the best way he could finally make up his mind about whether Art was actually involved in some nefarious way in these matters was to continue to proceed as normal and watch West’s reactions to the various developments. Art West did not strike him as a person who could readily conceal his feelings about matters that he was passionate about. He also noted the absence of defensiveness on the part of West thus far. He had informed the police of his modus operandi in this matter and suggested that they remain cordial, but distant while they were observing and following Art. Thus far, they had agreed that was the way to go, perhaps on the theory that at the worst Art might lead them to something that would make a difference in the case.

Art, Grace, and Sammy left the workroom still staring in silence. On the way through the halls, Sammy continued.

“Art, we need you to put on your game face and emphasize that you found the inscribed stone on Tuesday, June 1, on site, and therefore the British Museum has been lied to by the seller. Obviously, you can’t mention the name of Stone. You can save your lengthier explanation of the significance of this find for next week. We’ll have another briefing then for the press, and you can talk to your heart’s content. And if I were you I would also forestall a lot of questions by stating flatly what you have told us— “that you have no idea how that money got in your checking account.”

“And,” said Art, “ I have decided the best thing to do is to turn that money over to the police forthwith to avoid even the appearance of ongoing impropriety.”

“Good idea,” said Grace, feeling a bit relieved to hear Art say this. “But-- be matter of fact when you say this. Don’t be defensive.”

Sammy interrupted: “By next week we hope to have located Stone, and to so embarrass the British Museum that they will at least talk about returning the stone. I am sure they have insurance, so they can probably recoup most of their financial loss. Now I am going to leave you and Grace alone with the manuscript for awhile as I must arrange the news conference. Behave yourselves.”
Art rolled the scroll open and found the story he liked to call ‘Nick at Night,’ one of his personal favorites from John 3. Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus reminded him of some of his chats and debates with Grace about the early Jews who were followers of Jesus. He read out loud in Aramaic John 3.16-17, then he translated,

“‘For in this way, God loved the world, that he gave his only natural Son, in order that all those believing in him might not perish but have everlasting life. Because God did not send the Son into the world in order to condemn the world, but in order the save the world through him.’”
Art fell silent for a moment. “You know, it’s hard to understand how anyone
who reads this could not realize that God loves everyone, not just the so-called elect, not just one ethnic group or another. Don’t you think this text means that it’s God’s desire for everyone to be saved and have everlasting life. And the essence of the mystery which brings about redemption is this self-giving of the Son. This is the way God loved a lost and dark world. But, at the same time this does not help us unless we respond. It is not just about God making a decision from before the foundations of the world. We must believe in him, we must engage freely in the relationship and trust God.”
West stopped. “I’m sorry, Grace, I didn’t mean to start preaching, but this is the beating heart of it all, that which most reveals God’s character and our dilemma. Whenever I come to this text, I feel like I‘m finally standing on solid ground with all the saints who have come before us, including Lazarus. He, above all persons, could understand that love is a transforming force that could change the world and stop the cycle of violence. Tom Robbins once wrote, “There are many things worth living for, there are a few things worth dying for, but there is nothing worth killing for.” Can’t anyone in this country stop Palestinians killing Jews and vice versa?”
Grace had just let him go on. It was rare when he really shared this deeply what he believed, and it helped her understand his credo.

“Not meaning to trivialize what you just said, but it sounds rather like the plot of the movie, The Fifth Element, where love is the fifth element which can save the world. In that movie, Leelu yearns for love, and Dallas learns that only true love can overcome evil.”

“Yes, love conquers all. But for me, the gospel message is even more profound – Jesus, the personification of love, conquers all.”

“Well,” teased Grace, “Let’s put your theory of love to the test. My mother,

a person to be reckoned with, can probably be won over if you love her cooking.

Are you game to try? Would you like to join us for supper?”

“Yes, I’d be delighted to join your love feast!” laughed Art. But Grace had more than dinner on her mind.


A weary Sadiq Hadassah arrived safely back in Tel Aviv armed with new information– Stone was in the south of France. As he was riding in the taxi back to Jerusalem he pondered whom to share this information with. Should he just tell the authorities? Should he call Sammy Cohen at the IAA? Should this be anonymous or should he go public now? He decided that since he did not trust all the authorities, and trusted the IAA even less, filled as it was by Jews who were hardly ultra-orthodox, that he would leave an anonymous tip with the police.

Dialing up Jamison Parkes Law first while riding along, he heard the phone ringing and ringing. Finally Law picked up. “Yes,” he said.

“This is Sadiq, mission accomplished. The stone was indeed sold to the British Museum, it was sold by Stone, and he then went off to the south of France. The question is whom, other than you and Rabbi Menachem, should I actually tell about this? How did your interview with Glickstein go?”

Law paused and said “Fine, although West made bail, and the IAA seems to not be all that worried about the money put in West’s account. Perhaps they are stringing him along and giving him enough rope to hang himself or reveal his real role in all this. I am still thinking we are dealing with two Protestant scholars out to make some money quickly, although I am reluctant to believe this about West.”

“Yes, said Sadiq, “but how else do you explain the payment into West’s account? Stone doesn’t strike me as a generous man wanting to support the archaeological work of the good Dr. West. To the contrary, he has always been a rival of West. There must have been some sort of deal struck.”

“Unless of course Stone is so malicious that he wants to mainly pin the rap on West, and get away scot free.”

“I suppose that is possible, but again who do I tell this news about Stone to? It looks like your going to the press didn’t produce instant confessions or results.”

“You’re right, you should call Shimon at the police station, but use a pay phone that can’t be traced to you. Trust no one other than the Sons and the Society– do you hear me?”

“Right,” said Sadiq, “Shalom” and he rang off. Once he got to Jerusalem, Sadiq would make the call at the bus station on the north side of town where he had asked to be dropped off. The traitors to Israel had to be smoked out.

And there was something else really worrying Hadassah. If West was exonerated and was able to use the Lazarus Stone as a platform he might be able to make a compelling case for the earliness of the idea of Jesus’ divinity, since he was someone who could actually raise the dead. Then West could argue by connecting that miracle to the creation of the Fourth Gospel that the earliest Gospel, written by a Jew, had affirmed such a notion. And knowing West, he would stress that affirming Jesus’ divinity actually comports with the Jewishness of that Gospel!

For Sadiq such an idea was anathema, it was heresy and blasphemy, it was idea which would lead even some faithful Jews astray. And as a zealot for true Judaism, Sadiq could not allow that idea to prevail. Rabbi Menachem had stressed that this idea was an extreme violation of Jewish monotheism and if necessary, it required an extreme response.

The Mashiach had not yet come to earth Sadiq told himself, and so such Christian ideas about Jesus as a divine messiah should not be made appealing to Jews, especially not to a Jerusalem audience. West above even Stone, must be stopped as a promulgator of blasphemy, one guilty of besmirching the divine Name and nature. Sadiq got furious just thinking about it. If the police didn’t discredit and stop West, something else would have to be done before long.

Sadiq could tolerate working with someone like Law because Law believed in leaving Jews alone, he believed in a two track model of salvation, of peoples of God, of prophecy and the like. But West was much more troubling and dangerous because he affirmed that Jesus had come to create only one people of God– Jew and Gentile united in Christ. Like a modern version of Saul of Tarsus, Sadiq was on a mission of zeal to stop the mouths of those who blasphemed God in the Holy Land. How far he was prepared to go on this mission, remained to be seen.


Interpol had become more and more efficient over the years, but it was by no means infallible. Finding Patrick Stone was proving difficult on several counts. In the first place it appeared that, unlike Ray Simpson, Stone had never been finger-printed, nor were there any mug shots of him. He seemed to have stayed on the good side of the law throughout his life, so far as one could tell.

All the evidence which the IAA and the Jerusalem police had amassed so far indicated that Patrick Stone had taken the stone inscription from the tomb, arranged for the copy, smuggled it out of the country, and sold it to the British Museum under false pretenses. He also took some small manuscripts from the tomb – manuscripts that ended up in a bus station locker.

Finally, the derringer was a Stone family antique. Plus, the hairs found at the scene of the crime matched those found in Stone’s apartment. Stone’s passport had been tracked to England but there the trail went cold. He hadn’t used any credit cards. He was now wanted for stealing, forgery, selling stolen goods, and attempted murder – a one-day crime spree from a seemingly unpretentious American professor!

Everyone agreed that Ray Simpson was withholding information to protect himself and Dr. Stone. West’s role in all this was not yet clear. Patience was now the plan. First, the police hoped that Stone would eventually call Raymond about the figurines – the phone was already tapped. There was no reason for Stone to suspect that Raymond had tried to flee the country – the small news article on Simpson’s arrest had not made the front page of any major paper. Secondly, if Stone tried to use his real passport or a credit card, they could track him quickly.

Meanwhile, Patrick Stone was oblivious to all the ruckus he had caused.

He really hadn’t given Raymond a second thought. Right now he could care less about the small manuscripts – he had a friend in Germany who would love to have those papyri. No, right now he had no rainy days on the horizon. Tuesday he had visited the bank, a car dealership, and a realtor before collapsing on the beach in the late afternoon. He never made it to the jazz club.

Having established a bank account with Credit Lyonnais in Cannes, he transferred $10 million from his Swiss account and withdrew $200,000 cash. The bank official was cordial but hardly impressed. In fact, he conveyed the impression he had already handed out more money to other individuals that very morning. Stone had certainly landed in the lap of luxury.

The first real purchase Stone made was a car – a car with class – a Mercedes Benz CL55AMG . This car had more power than anyone could use, and a sound system that could make one go deaf rather quickly. Stone was enthralled with its ease of handling, the way it hugged the road, its leather and polished wooden interior. He had paid over one hundred thousand cash in the Cannes show room, and the dealer had not even blinked. There would be no obvious paper trail.

So, on a sunny Wednesday morning, Stone was house hunting. Everywhere by the sea and in the hillsides there were enormous homes, and he was wondering what in the world he would do with all that space. Of course, he would have his ten thousand plus volume library shipped over from New Haven, and his personal effects, but that would hardly fill up even a third of some of these homes. He delighted in the idea that his mother could stay in such a palace rather than a nursing home in Tennessee. He could afford 24-7care for her now.

The road to Monaco was filled with tourists and residents enjoying the sunny summer weather. Driving down the highway, Stone finally came to the border with Monaco. He had in the seat beside him his two passports and an appointment to see a house. The realtor had shown him a number of homes from the listing book homes so large that it would be gauche and unnecessary to list the prices. This annoyed Stone, but he realized he had to play the game by the rules. They narrowed down the choices and his realtor was able to make one Wednesday appointment – in Monaco.

The winding narrow road up the cliff was interesting to drive, and Stone remembered once seeing an auto race on TV that went through Monaco on these very roads. There had been no problem at the border checkpoint. Stone thought he looked rather chic with his Gucci leather loafers, expensive open-collared shirt complete with cravat, golf shorts, and Raybans. The fact that he looked something like an over-dressed lobster, due to a severe sunburn from sitting on the beach Tuesday, never occurred to him.

The house was elegant, overlooking both the beach and a nearby castle. Best of all, however, it came with furnishings and a staff who spoke three languages! He would instantly be in business and wouldn’t have to go through all the falderal of shopping. The house, pompously called Chateau Puissant, had been owned at one time by a French Duke and a Texas oil baron, but recently by an English rock star who had fallen on hard times.

Stone drove up to the huge iron gate. A voice came over the speaker box saying, “Chateau Puissant. Identify yourself , s’il vous plait.” He took a deep breath and answered boldly, “Patrick Stone. I have an appointment .”

The gate swung open and Stone drove into the most gorgeous estate he had ever seen. The lane was flanked by huge Lombardy poplars. The lawn was meticulously manicured and rolled so that there were symmetrical patterns in the grass. As he rounded the last bend, the house came into view. It took Stone’s breath away. He stopped the car for a moment and just stared at the mansion partially draped in purple bougainvillaea. The old saying “Seek and ye shall find” came to mind, though doubtless Jesus, who in the same sermon had also said “Blessed are the poor,” would not have agreed with Stone’s use of the text. What did Stone care now? He had landed in the lap of luxury and he meant to enjoy it—for the rest of his days.


Harry and Art were both up bright and early on Wednesday, Press conference morning. Art had showered and shaved and put on his best suit, usually used for lecturing or attending church back in the States. Harry for his part had put on his lawyer attire except that he was wearing a bright red bow tie. Harry was something of an expert at holding press conferences in Washington to announce major archaeological finds. Over breakfast, he was coaching Art.

“You need to be clear, concise and definitive,” Harry was saying. “Don’t go wandering off on the importance of this, that or the other. Make the main point the MAIN point, if you catch my drift. And by all means, defer some questions until the next press conference, which you can announce today. Has Sammy arranged for next week’s press conference?”

“Yes,” said Art, swigging his orange juice. “What about questions about Patrick Stone if there are any?”

“‘No comment’ is your answer, since he hasn’t been arrested for anything yet. And keep your remarks about the money in your account to a bare minimum.”

“OK, I think I’ve got the basics covered in regard to my own involvement in these matters. Sammy’s opening remarks will include a clear statement that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that I have not formally been charged with anything yet, hence it is o.k. for me to speak at this news conference.”

“Good,” said Harry, “You stay away from being defensive. You are to be definitive, not defensive, at this press conference – by the way, relax! I’ve heard you speak, you’ll be fine!”

Art was indeed a first rate lecturer but he knew he could be a bit pompous and prone to exaggeration especially when he got revved-up. He would need to be on his best behavior today. Art had put together a Power Point presentation using his digital pictures of the tomb, the ossuary, and the inscriptions. He already had the printout, but hopefully, there would be time before the meeting to check out the laptop and run through the slides. Technology was great . . . when it worked.

The public announcement in Monday’s papers, Ha’ Aretz and the Jerusalem Post, would guarantee a highly professional, demanding crowd. The pressure was on. Art received a call late Tuesday night from Sammy saying all was in readiness – even the PowerPoint show was running smoothly. Golda Meir lecture hall on the campus of Hebrew University was ready. Art felt good about using the university setting – his natural turf.

The ride to Hebrew University was a short one, situated as it was northeast of the old city walls on Mt. Scopus overlooking the city. By the time Harry and Art got there at nine, an hour before the press conference, the parking lot was already packed full of vehicles. Fortunately, the IAA had reserved Art a space, and equally fortunately he was driving a Mini Metro which could be shoe-horned into almost any opening. The sun was climbing in the sky, and all kinds of things were about to be brought into the light of day.

Entering into the lecture hall, Art was immediately waylaid by Grace. He waved goodbye to Harry, who gave him the thumbs up sign.

“Art, several important points before we start. Sammy has asked me to speak to the authenticity of the materials in question, in particular in regard to the Aramaic. I may have failed to tell you this but the inscription, and the script of the scroll was authenticated by no less than AndrĂ© Chartier.”

“Yes, you told me, but that makes it a slam dunk,” said Art brightly.

“This means that you need not belabor the authenticity question. Just concentrate on the time line issue, and that you were the person to discover the Bethany tomb.”

“Grace, we’ve been over this. Please relax, even if I can’t,” he urged truthfully.

“Remember,” said Grace slightly exasperated. “No remarks about Stone, and no more than ten minutes of questions. You are our clean up hitter, so hit a home run.” Grace, like Art, was a big but long suffering baseball fan, having grown up loving the Boston Red Sox. Thank goodness they had finally won the World Series!

“Right,” said Art, “his stomach beginning to churn. You know I was once told that the only cure for nervousness before public speaking is embalming.”

“None of that today, even though we are talking about the twice dead Lazarus. Be your lively self, nothing stuffy please.” With that remark they reached the platform and were met by Sammy Cohen who had been running around getting everything in order. Sammy looked a little disheveled. Grace tidied up the table while Art exchanged pleasantries and tried not to look awkward.

Grace returned and fussed over Sammy: “Straighten your tie and put on your coat and comb your hair. This deal will be on major networks in the US. Let’s make the IAA look good and competent, shall we?”

Sammy blushed and straightened his tie. He wasn’t going to argue with Grace when she was in ‘master and commander’ mode. The cameras were being positioned just to the right of the stage, and huge banks of flood lights were being set up on the left, so the participants would be well lighted but would be looking slightly to their right into the camera and away from the lights. Careful thought had gone into this entire event despite the limited time.

The next thing Art, Grace, and Sammy knew they were sitting on the podium. The IAA banner had been draped over the lectern. Sammy looked at his watch and the cameramen gave him the high sign. It was show time.

Sammy rose first, went directly to the lectern, and started slowly.

“I want to first thank the Hebrew University for allowing us the use of this hall on such short notice, but in view of the fact that we are dealing with a major news story, the choice of venue was important. I also wish to thank Professors Grace Levine, AndrĂ© Chartier and Arthur West who have helped the IAA in many ways since the onset of this matter. The IAA believes that Professor West should be deemed innocent until proven guilty of some crime though we are mindful of the recent allegations, and needless to say we would not have asked him to speak today, and represent the IAA today, if we did not believe West was a trustworthy person.”

“This brings us to the matter at hand. We are announcing today that the tomb of a New Testament figure, Eliezar, also known as Lazarus, has been discovered behind the church of Mary and Martha in Bethany. This discovery must be credited to Professor Arthur West who will be speaking to you about this matter shortly.”

Sammy summed up with the following surprise announcement.

“I must also announce that the tomb was indeed looted Tuesday, June 1, shortly after its discovery. The original inscription over the ossuary of Eliezar was removed, and then illegally sold to the British Museum. You have perhaps read of the news conference held by the British Museum on Monday. It is good to know that the inscription is in safe hands. Unfortunately it is in the wrong hands, for the law of Israel is perfectly clear – any precious antiquity found from 1978 on becomes the property of the state of Israel and shall not leave the country, except for touring exhibits in museums which have the proper security. In short, we will negotiate with the British Museum for the return of the inscription. The police are currently investigating the case, and hope to prosecute the perpetrator or perpetrators to the full extent of the law. I cannot comment on the investigation at this point. I will now turn things over to a leading expert in ancient Aramaic inscriptions who is both a professor at this university and works with the IAA. Will you please welcome Professor Grace Levine.”

Grace arose to a round of applause and marched directly to the podium carrying her portfolio with her. Wearing a trim gray suit with a colorful red scarf she looked professional and yet classy. No rumpled academic here. Grace adjusted her red glasses and began.

“Along with the two Aramaic inscriptions in the tomb, we also found one complete document and a number of fragments of a document, all in Herodian period Aramaic. Both Professor Chartier and myself are in complete agreement that these are genuine first century documents of inestimable value for the study of early Judaism and the rise of the Christian movement. Both the carbon dating and the epigraphical evidence are clear the script is pre-70 Common Era Aramaic, written in a beautiful hand. All the materials are in the same hand, except the heading to the longest document. As for content, we have an early and Aramaic form of parts of the Greek Gospel of John. I will defer to Professor West to speak more directly to the significance of this for New Testament Studies.”

Grace turned and nodded to Art before continuing.

“Let me stress that these documents are the earliest Jewish-Christian documents of any kind, dating to before the end of Pontius Pilate’s reign, which is to say before 38 of the Common Era. The IAA intends to properly house and protect these documents. A building similar to the Shrine of the Book could display the ossuary, the manuscripts, and the Lazarus stone when it is recovered and returned to its rightful owners, which, if there is any justice and fairness, will happen soon. Thank you.”

Applause rang out throughout the room, and leading the charge was Grayson Johnson. He kept saying, “Go Dr. Levine go” under his breath. Grace Levine’s word was considered Gospel when it came to her areas of expertise.

As soon as Grace was seated, Art moved to the podium, grabbed the mouse, and the first Powerpoint slide picturing the Church of Mary and Martha came up on the screen.

“Friends, I am here to tell you the story of a remarkable discovery, which unlike most such discoveries did not come after weeks of hard labor digging in the ground. On the contrary, this discovery was made on the very first day I was inspecting a tel behind this church, the Church of Mary and Martha in Bethany.”

Click went the mouse.

“Here you see the tel itself. Let me be perfectly clear that this mound had not been dug at anytime before June 1. Any claims by anyone to have seen or owned the inscription stone of Lazarus before that date are clearly false. This means that the stone in question which now is housed in the British Museum was first stolen and then sold to them. To be fair, the British Museum would not have bought the stone unless they believed the accompanying documents were bona fide.”

“Now we are inside the tomb and you will notice various niches in the back wall, which usually contain ossuaries or bone boxes. We do not know what happened to the bone boxes of Mary and Martha; they were not found in the tombs.”

“This next slide shows an Aramaic inscription found on the roof, if you will, of one of the niches. I am indebted to Mustafa el Din, the church caretaker, for managing this excellent shot! According to this inscription, Martha was interred here in hope of the resurrection. The practice of using ossuaries for burial has to do with a strong belief in the afterlife, such that it was felt the bones should be kept together in hope of bodily resurrection. I will say more on this matter at my press conference next week.”

“And here is the already famous inscription originally carved right into the limestone above the niche. Here [he clicked again] is the close-up of the stone and its inscription which reads in Aramaic, ‘Twice dead under Pilatus, twice reborn in Yeshua, in sure hope of the resurrection.’ It is a remarkable inscription in many ways. First, it attests to the fact that Lazarus died twice, which is to say he was raised from the dead as the Gospel story tell us, only to die a second time.”

“Secondly, it attests with the ‘twice reborn’ reference to his spiritual rebirth through discipleship to Jesus. This is certainly the earliest attestation to early Jewish Christian beliefs about being born again. Outside of the Gospels there is nothing comparable in the works of Josephus, Philo or in other early Jewish or Christian works that date to the first half of the first century A.D. More on this next week.”

“I have purposely enlarged the bottom corner of this slide that has the inscription in full view so you can see the date on it which the camera automatically stamps on the slide – notice the number 06-01-2004. This stone was still an integral part of the tomb when I took this picture Tuesday morning. Just a little aside, here. While I was in the tomb Tuesday morning, someone managed to seal me in the tomb for awhile. Thanks to a cell phone and the aid of Mustafa, I was not buried permanently with the saints that day!”

“Anyway, here for comparison is a picture taken late Tuesday afternoon by the IAA. As you can see the stone inscription is gone. Someone stole the inscription on the very day I discovered it!”

“Moving along, this is the simple ossuary of Lazarus which has a traditional patronymic inscription – Eliezar son of Simon. The name Eliezar is the ancient form of the name Lazarus – notice the similarities in the consonantal radicals or letter-- L-Z-R. We know beyond reasonable doubt that this is the Lazarus of the Bible. How? First, because his tomb is located in Bethany. Secondly, because in this very same tomb we found an inscription about the burial of Martha. The chances of those two names being juxtaposed in the same tomb from the early New Testament era are slim at best.”

He pushed the clicker again. “Here is the scroll which was found, not by me, but by the IAA when they took the ossuary into protective custody.”

“And now we have a close up of the scroll itself, written in a beautiful linear hand in that interesting mixture of formal and cursive script that characterized Herodian period Aramaic inscriptions.”

“As Professors Cohen and Levine have already stressed, we have overwhelming evidence that the Lazarus stone belongs here in Jerusalem with the other artifacts found on this site. We hope and trust the British Museum will see fit to do the right thing. Thank you. We will now take approximately ten minutes worth of questions.”

A lanky man with a decidedly French accent and an International Herald Tribune badge arose and asked, “Are you suggesting that this find attests to, or provides authentication of a miracle, the raising of a dead person?”

Taking a deep breath, Art replied, “I can’t speak for my colleagues, but yes, that would be my conclusion. Now having bone fragments of Lazarus makes clear that his resurrection was not of lasting duration. The New Testament does not claim that was the case for anyone prior to Jesus. Only Jesus received a resurrection or permanent body, but more of this next week. Next question.”

A lady from the third row asked, “Do we know when these artifacts will be put on public display?” Sammy Cohen joined Art at the lectern. “Given the amount of work that needs to be done, I hesitate to predict a date.”

A man from the London Times arose: “Has anyone contacted the British Museum yet?” Sammy again answered, “Yes I have, but I cannot comment on the progress of those talks, yet.”

A reporter from the New York Times called out, “Professor West, why were you questioned about the forged stone in the first place and would you please explain how all that money got into your bank account if you were NOT involved in selling the stone to the British Museum?”

“Wednesday morning, June 2, a copy of the original Lazarus stone arrived at my door, anonymously, by courier. The alleged forger, an American named Raymond Simpson, is now in custody. As for how that money got in my bank account, I honestly and truly do not know, but I am announcing today that however it got there, I am now turning the million plus dollars over to the police. In my hands I have a banker’s check (he held it up for the camera’s to focus on). And I am now handing the full sum over to Officer Shimon of the Jerusalem police (Art walked over to the wings of the stage, and handed the check to Shimon who had been standing at the far end of the stage for security purposes). With a stunned look on his face and with his hand extended but visibly shaking he accepted the check.

“ I want nothing to do with ill-gotten gains wherever they may have come from.”

Before any more questions could be raised Sammy leaned into the microphone. “On behalf of Professors West, Levine and the IAA, thank you for coming today. A formal press release is available.”

Sammy, Grace and Art sat looking at each other with silly grins alternating with sighs of relief. Harry approached the stage. “Well done. That will not merely preach, that will litigate.”

“Spoken like a true lawyer,” said Art.

Grayson rushed up gushing, “Y’all were like totally awesome. I just want to shake all your hands, and then I have to go back to the flat to keep Detective Hoffner happy. He’s waitin’ for that phone call, you know. Dude’s bored! I play my music for him – some praise songs, Led Zeppelin, some praise songs, Boston – I think he’s gettin’ into it!”

Art stuck out his hand and said to Grayson, “Ah, you have a devious mind! You know, brother, I’ll need someone sharp like you at the Bethany dig once all this commotion settles down. Would you be interested?”

Grayson lit up like a Christmas tree and exclaimed, “I’m there in a heartbeat!”

But another figure standing behind the cluster of lights on the right, was experiencing a far different emotion. “West is actually going to get away with this,” he muttered to himself. “But he must be stopped before he goes any further in testifying to Jesus.”


Peter Kirk said...

Good stuff! Perhaps "Grace" is OK for a Red Sox fan, even a Jewish one. Did I miss that she was American born? But one point, from Art West's speech:

We know beyond reasonable doubt that this is the Lazarus of the Bible. How? First, because his tomb is located in Bethany. Secondly, because in this very same tomb we found an inscription about the burial of Martha. The chances of those two names being juxtaposed in the same tomb from the early New Testament era are slim at best.

This sounds like the kind of flawed statistical argument used to argue for the genuineness of the Talpiot tomb. Surely West had better arguments than this.

Ben Witherington said...

Ah, but you haven't found out what the inscription about Martha says :) And there is one about Mary as well.

Ben Witherington said...

P.S. Grace is based on a real person, a good friend of mine who is a big Sox fan.

wnpaul said...

So far, I have just copied the parts to my PDA, one by one, hoping that the book will soon be complete, because there is nothing I hate more than to get started reading an exciting novel and then being left hanging because the rest of the book is missing ... so how many more chapters are coming? I want to get started reading :-)

Anyway, Prof. Witherington, I wanted to also say how much I appreciate your blog, for a number of reasons.