Archaeologists in Israel and around the world are getting caught up in a festering controversy over artifact authenticity.

First it was the James Ossuary, the burial box with the inscription connecting it to the brother of Jesus. Many archaeologists overcame their profession's hesitancy in dealing with items with uncertain histories and publicly endorsed compelling evidence in favor of its authenticity.

Last June the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) famously announced that its investigation found the inscription a forgery. But a few Ossuary supporters say the counterevidence is, so far, unconvincing.

Another artifact, known as the Jehoash Tablet, surfaced at about the same time as the Ossuary. Investigators eventually traced it to the same controversial collector, Israeli engineer Oded Golan.

Many archaeologists saw the Tablet's ancient inscription—like the inscription on the Ossuary—as being almost too good to be true. (The inscription describes repairs to the Jewish Temple under the reign of King Jehoash, which occurred in the 9th century B.C., according to 2 Kings 12.)

The IAA study committee also evaluated the Jehoash Tablet. The committee concluded that its gold-flecked patina (the aging sheen of the stone) was not natural.

It also said the inscription reflected more modern word usage.

But as in the case of the James Ossuary, critics accuse the IAA of a rush to judgment. Four Israeli scholars have called for another, more careful investigation, "without prejudice."

David Merling, professor of archaeology at Andrews University and president of the Near East Archaeological Society, said archaeology must be done without an agenda. "We need to make sure that we draw the theories from the data and not evaluate the data based ...

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Christianity Today
Rush to Judgment?
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In the Magazine

May 2004

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