The bone box is authentic, but the inscription is not. That's the conclusion of experts at the Israel Antiquities Authority following careful examination of the "Ossuary of James," which was unveiled to the world last November by Biblical Archaeology Review.
"The inscription is a fake," IAA director Shuka Dorfman told reporters at a news conference in Jerusalem. But BAR editor Hershel Shanks and Asbury Seminary professor Ben Witherington, his coauthor on a book about the ossuary, aren't yet convinced.
The inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," electrified Christians who suddenly had an authentic 2,000-year-old souvenir of the founder of their faith. The 18-inch-long box carved out of soft limestone was typically used by first-century Jews to reinter the bones of deceased family members. To have one that may have held the bones of Jesus' brother was called by Shanks "the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology."
But the IAA confiscated the relic from antiquities collector Oded Golan as it returned to Israel from a two-month display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. A second artifact, a fragment of an inscribed tablet that purported to date from the reign of the 9th century B.C. king Jehoash, was also confiscated a short time later. The fact that both objects surfaced in the possession of the same collector, Golan, heightened suspicions.
The IAA assigned one team to reexamine the geology of the ossuary. A second team looked at the epigraphy of the inscription, the letterforms, grammar, and syntax.
"This was not a matter of competing experts," says archaeologist and writer Neil Asher Silberman. Silberman is coauthoring an article on the ossuary for Archaeology magazine with Yuval Goren, ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Find hope and historical insight. For a limited time, explore 60+ years of CT archives for free!
- Daily devotions from Timothy Dalrymple during this pandemic.
- Hundreds of theology and spiritual formation classics from Philip Yancey, Elisabeth Elliot, John Stott, and more.
- Thought journalism that inspires you to think more deeply about your faith.
- View the complete archive.
- Join now and get print issues access to archive PDFs.