Excerpt: 'The Jesus Dynasty' by James D. Tabor

Lemaire told Shanks about the ossuary when Shanks was on a visit to Jerusalem in May 2002. Shanks was duly cautious, since this particular ossuary had not come from any authorized archaeological excavation, and thus its authenticity could be questioned. He asked Lemaire to prepare a detailed article about the new find to be published in the upcoming issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, and he insisted that the ossuary be tested scientifically. Golan agreed, and arrangements were made for experts at the Geological Survey of Israel in Jerusalem to examine it.

Inscriptions on ossuaries can of course be forged, but modern cuts into ancient limestone will not contain the ancient patina that naturally coats the surface of the stone over time. In the meantime Shanks brought in several other expert paleographers to give their opinions on the authenticity of the script itself. The ossuary passed all the authenticity tests with flying colors. The scientists concluded that the patina inside the letters was ancient, adhering firmly to the stone, despite the fact that someone had done a bit of cleaning of the inscription. No signs of the use of any modern tool or instrument were evident. The paleographers agreed with Lemaire's analysis that the script was authentic and wholly consistent with that of the 1st century A.D. There seemed little doubt that the ossuary once held the bones of "a" James, son of "a" Joseph, with a brother named "Jesus," who had died and been buried in the 1st century A.D.

Shanks was ready to go to press and he went into high gear. He knew that next to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls this was perhaps the most sensational archaeological find in modern times. He engaged the services of Emmy Award?winning producer Simcha Jacobovici to produce a documentary for the Discovery Channel on the James Ossuary that would air on Easter Sunday of 2003. He also worked out a deal to publish a co-authored book with biblical scholar Ben Witherington to coincide with the release of the film.5 The discovery was hailed in both the book and film as "the first archaeological link to Jesus and his family." With Golan's permission Shanks arranged a special exhibit for the ossuary at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It would open in late November 2002. The city of Toronto and the month of November were not accidental choices. Toronto was slated to be the host city for the annual meeting of thousands of biblical scholars, archaeologists, and academics in the study of religion the weekend before Thanksgiving. The Society of Biblical Literature quickly arranged for a special session devoted to a discussion of the authenticity and potential significance of the James Ossuary.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) had to approve the temporary export license but at that point no one recognized the potentially explosive attention that the ossuary would generate. When the ossuary suddenly made world headlines following Shanks's press conference on October 21 in Washington, D.C., the Israeli authorities were taken completely unawares and were duly embarrassed. But all the arrangements for the Toronto exhibit were already in place. The Israelis immediately initiated an investigation into the circumstances of Golan's acquisition of the ossuary but they did allow it to leave the country. According to Israeli law, if Golan had acquired it after 1978, the ossuary would have been sold il-legally and subject to confiscation by the state.

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