Friday, October 31, 2008

A Treat without a Trick on All Hallow's Eve-- the James Ossuary Rises from the Dead

Perhaps you will remember a little box called the James ossuary I've been talking about for a while now. It's been embroiled in a trial now for years. I was thinking of printing up bumper stickers reading FREE THE JAMES OSSUARY. Well, that may soon happen, as you will be able to deduce below from the BAR story written by my co-author of the book The Brother of Jesus, Hershel Shanks.

It seems the case of the prosecution against Golan and Deutsch has unraveled, not least because Yuval Goren was forced under oath to testify that there was genuine patina in the word Jesus on the ossuary. You may remember as well that one of the more touted theories was that whilst the first part of the inscription might be genuine the last part, saying 'brother of Jesus' was forged. So much for that theory. We are now on the Eve of All Saints Day, or All Hallow's Eve (from which we get the word Halloween) and James, being one of those celebrated saints, and his ossuary seems to have risen from the dead! Stay tuned for more fun updates. Maybe its the Lazarus Effect!


Supporters of James Ossuary Inscription’s Authenticity Vindicated
by Hershel Shanks
Updated October 30, 2008

The “forgery trial of the century” has all but blown up. The trial judge who will decide the case—there are no juries in Israel—has told the prosecution to consider dropping the case. “Not every case ends in the way that you think it will when you start,” Judge Aharon Farkash told prosecutor Adi Damti in open court. “Maybe we can save ourselves the rest,” the judge told her.

In the most recent embarrassment for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the government’s star witness, Yuval Goren, former chairman of Tel Aviv University’s institute of archaeology, was forced to admit on cross-examination that there is original ancient patina in the word “Jesus,” the last word in the inscription that reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

Recent events have also proved humiliating for the IAA in connection with the committee it appointed that supposedly came to a unanimous decision that the inscription is a forgery. In fact, several members of the committee expressed no opinion—but the IAA counted them as “yes” votes. Several other members of the committee based their vote not on their own expertise, but on Yuval Goren’s supposed expertise, which they were in no position to evaluate. One member of the committee who would have found the inscription authentic said he was “forced” to change his mind based on Goren’s scientific arguments.

No paleographer expert in the script of this period has found any paleographical problem with the inscription. And several scientists at the trial have undermined Goren’s scientific arguments. No other scientist has supported Goren’s arguments.

BAR has consistently supported the authenticity of the inscription, as have leading paleographers André Lemaire of the Sorbonne and Ada Yardeni of Hebrew University. All appear now to be vindicated.


John said...

That is wonderful news!

On the other hand, I doubt the vendication of the Ossuary, BAR, and all involved will recieve as much attention as accusations did.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ranger: It is the very specific combination of names on one single ossuary that makes this an exceptional case. The James in question is son of Joseph, and brother of Jesus. And the order of the names matters. Notice it does not call Jesus 'son of Joseph'. Furthermore, the inscription is in period Aramaic and it calls James Jesus' brother (ahui) here, not his cousin. This is an inconvenient truth for many Christians. Thirdly, this ossuary was found far from the Talpiot tomb and before the Talpiot tomb had ever been openned. Fourthly, the form of the name Ya'acov is different, not what the forger would have used to convince people this was the famous Jesus' brother. Fifthly, if indeed this is the Biblical James ossuary, only a tiny number of examples, two in fact from the first century, have an extended identifier like "his brother is Jesus", and everything after X son of Y in such inscriptions is honorific. So here is the All Hallow's Eve punchline--- this ossuary provides independent evidence that the crucifixion of Jesus was not the end of his story. In that culture you don't put on your tombstone--- "I'm related to a crucifixion victim". No this inscription attests to the redemption of Jesus' honor beyond crucifixion, and I would say attests to his resurrection indirectly. When you mention a brother on your tombstone, it is because he is more famous, and has done something more honorable and noteworthy than you.


Allan R. Bevere said...


"Free the James Ossuary" I love it! Print it up and I will put it on the bumper of my pickup.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Witherington, thanks for this important and interesting story! It reminds us that our Christian faith rests on a rock solid (pardon the pun) historical foundation. These are real people the NT describes. I'm not convinced we can ever know for certain that this find refers to THE James, THE Joseph and THE Jesus. The names are just too common in 1st century Jerusalem; but it is an interesting find.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Doobie: Actual this particular combination of names is not common at all. There may be only one other example in all of Biblical and related data from that period. And the one other example does not include the apocopated form of the name Ya'akov. But of course you are right that we cannot have absolute air tight certainty about who this refers to. But the probabilities are very high that they are the Joseph father of James, whose brother is Jesus that we know and love.


Michael Bridgman said...

Well, golly, leave it to Ben Witherington to dig up good news from a tomb just in time for Halloween. Being a bit unfamiliar with the knicks and knacks of archeology, could you please tell me a bit about the use of patina in the ancient world? What implications do you think we should draw from the ancient patina on the word Jesus?