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

When the ossuary arrived in Toronto it had been cracked in transit and the scientific team at the Royal Ontario Museum took on the task of repairing it for the exhibit. One of the cracks ran through part of the inscription, allowing the scientific team at the museum to more closely examine the way the letters were cut into the limestone. They agreed with the Israeli scientists that ancient patina was present in the letters, it was firmly adhering to the stone and consistent with the rest of the ossuary.

Even before the Toronto gatherings, questions were being raised about the conclusions of Lemaire and Shanks. No one questioned the authenticity of the ossuary itself -- it was clearly a genuine artifact from the time of Jesus. Some objected to any discussion of the ossuary at all since it was a "black market" item lacking an archaeological context. Others had argued that the phrase "brother of Jesus" appeared to be written in a different hand than "James son of Joseph," and might have been added by a forger. Still others maintained that even if genuine we would never be able to prove that the "James son of Joseph" of the ossuary was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth since all three names were common in the period.

I first viewed the ossuary at the November meeting in Toronto at a private after-hours gathering of scholars at the Royal Ontario Museum. About twenty-five of us were invited -- historians, archaeologists, epigraphers, and New Testament scholars. I stood next to Shanks and heard firsthand three of the top experts on ancient scripts in the world all agree that the inscription was authentic. The feeling in the room was contagious and electrifying yet strangely sober and subdued. I think most of us were convinced that we were standing before the actual 2,000-year-old stone box that had once held the bones of James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.

When the James Ossuary was returned to Israel in February 2003, the Israel Antiquities Authority confiscated it and appointed a team of fifteen experts to make a judgment as to the authenticity of all or part of the inscription. The committee was divided into epigraphers who were experts in ancient scripts and physical scientists who were to test the geochemistry of the artifact. In June 2003 the IAA committee declared the ossuary genuine but the inscription a partial forgery. A month later Golan was arrested on suspicion of forging antiquities. He has since been formally indicted and charged with adding the phrase "brother of Jesus" to an otherwise genuine ossuary that was inscribed with "James son of Joseph," attempting to coat the letters with a fake baked-on patina, and lying about when he acquired the ossuary -- all for purposes of generating worldwide publicity and financial gain. Both the IAA committee conclusions and the indictment against Oded Golan were widely reported in the media, giving the public the impression that the experts had now concluded that the James Ossuary was a forgery.6 Such is hardly the case, and the authenticity issue is far from settled.7

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