James - son of Joseph - brother of
Jesus ossuary inscription forged

(Top Posts - Science - 061803)

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June 18, 2003

Jesus artefact 'a fake' - An ancient burial casket, claimed by its
owner to contain the bones of Jesus' brother, has been declared
a fake by Israeli antiquities experts.
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This is the latest example of how reasonable skepticism enables
those with open and inquisitive minds to deal with claims for which
evidence is questionable.

It will be interesting to see how the Biblical Archaeology Review's
[BAR's] Hershel Shanks and Andre Lemaire (the original promul-
gators of the claims the box was the legitimate ossuary of the bible
James, son of the bible Joseph, brother of the bible Jesus) respond
to the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Quote from the Israeli Antiquities Authority: 'The inscription
appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to
reproduce ancient written characters
.'

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Reflections -- a few posts from the past on the ossuary issues:

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BAR's Bone Box Bias is a post on 10/28/2002 that raised legiti-
mate questions regarding their stance on this issue (and many other
archaeological / biblical issues).
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James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus - Q & A is a post regarding
the original excitement over the find, on 10/21/2002.
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For reflection on how many persons of traditional faiths deal with
archaeological finds based on their preconceptions, see the way
traditional faiths responded to the following legitimate "Jesus" ossu-
ary find:

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1980 - 1996 : Jesus / Joseph / Mary / Matthew /
another Mary / Juda Ossuaries (1 of 2)

1980 - 1996 : Jesus / Joseph / Mary / Matthew /
another Mary / Juda Ossuaries (2 of 2)

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Fascinating report on how legitimate scientific inquiry, given
sufficient time / skepticism / resources, can excel in getting to
the truth of the matter regarding ancient artefacts:

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June 18, 2003
Gold Dust and James Bond
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Israel Antiquities Authority declares
James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription Fake

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Key excerpts focusing on the James Ossuary:

... A forthcoming article by Neil Asher Silberman and Yuval Goren
in the September / October issue of ARCHAEOLOGY will report
on the investigation, its background, and outcome. In the meantime,
the IAA press conference has made the following details clear:

The scholars on IAA's scientific panel were divided into committees
to investigate the epigraphic aspects of the inscriptions (letter forms,
grammar, syntax) and to carry out a minute physical examination of
the artifacts, including the patina that covered them.

... Their mandate was straightforward: make a thorough, independent
study of both artifacts; check the previous scientific conclusions; and
finally, come to a reasoned evaluation of their authenticity.

- - -

... The verdict of the epigraphers with regard to the Jehoash Inscrip-
tion was unanimous: all agreed that the numerous mistakes in gram-
mar and eccentric mixture of letter forms known from other inscrip-
tions made it clear that this was a modern forgery.

- - -

The James Ossuary was a different matter. The epigraphers were
divided about the authenticity of the first part of the inscription but
in light of the results of the patina committee, they unanimously
agreed that the entire inscription must have been modern. Thus in
this case, it was geochemical and microscopic analysis--rather
than scholarly erudition--that uncovered the truth.

Examination of a thin section of the chalk from which the James
Ossuary had been carved indicated that it was of chalk limestone
of the Menuha Formation of the Mount Scopus Group, which is
fully consistent with the hundreds of authentic ossuaries that had
been found in the Jerusalem area.

But the earlier geological experts and the conservators at the
Royal Ontario Museum had mentioned only a single kind of "cauli-
flower"-shaped patina. The geologists Goren and Ayalon, in fact,
identified three distinct coatings on the surface of the ossuary:

  • A thin brown veneer of clay and other minerals cemented to
    the rock surface, presumably rock varnish created by living
    bacteria or alga over prolonged periods of time.

  • A crusty natural coating of patina (this was the "cauliflower")
    that formed over the rock surface due to the absorption or
    loss of various elements and minerals.

  • The "James Bond": a unique composite material that received
    this nickname from Goren since it was bonded onto the in-
    cised letters of the James Ossuary inscription, but wasn't
    found at any other place on the ossuary surface--or on any
    of the authentic ossuaries that the commission members had
    used as comparative examples.

The varnish covered large areas of the ossuary surface and the
patina had burst through the varnish in many places. Both varnish
and patina coated a rosette inscribed on the other side of the ossu-
ary.

But Goren and Ayalon's meticulous microscopic analysis showed
that the letters of the entire Aramaic inscription "James, Son of
Joseph, Brother of Jesus" were cut through the varnish, indicating
that they were carved long--perhaps centuries after--the varnish-
covered rosette.

- - -

Strangest of all was the "James Bond," the chalky material that
coated the letters. It contained numerous microfossils called coc-
coliths, naturally occurring as foreign particles in chalk, but not
dissolved by water.

Hence it was clear that this was not a true patina formed by the
surface crystallization of calcite, but rather powdered chalk
--microfossils and all--that was dissolved in water and daubed
over the entire inscription.

- - -

Thus, the forger's technique was apparent: the James Ossuary
was an authentic artifact on which a decorative rosette originally
marked the "front" side. At some time long after the natural pro-
cesses of varnish and patination in a damp cave environment had
been completed, someone carved a series of letters through the
natural varnish on the ossuary's "back" side. Then he or she
covered the freshly cut letters with an imitation "patina" made
from water and ground chalk.

- - -

... Ayalon determined in his analysis that while the calcite of the
patina from the uninscribed surface of the James ossuary, and
indeed the surfaces and inscriptions of other authentic ossuaries
that he examined, had ratios that were normal for average ground
temperature of the Jerusalem vicinity, the ratios of the "James
Bond"--that strange mixture that covered only the letters of the
inscription--was entirely different.

In fact, they suggested that the crystallization took place in heated
water, not the "cave environment" that the earlier geologists had
claimed. The evidence pointed to an intentional faking of the patina
over the letters of the "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"
inscription--and nowhere else.

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And what of the two styles of handwriting on the James Ossuary
that had been discerned by some early critics?

The physical examination showed that the entire inscription was
carved
at the same time, so two different hands seemed unlikely
in an inscription of only five words. Or did it?

An examination of the very same catalogue of published ossuaries
that
Professor Lemaire had used as comparison for the letter forms
in the ossuary Inscription, now seemed possibly to be their source.

In an age of readily available scanning software it is entirely possible
to make flawless copies of ancient letters as they appear on genuine
artifacts.

For example, taking the word "Jacob" (from catalogue no. 396); the
words "son of Joseph (from catalogue no. 573); "brother of" (from
catalogue no. 570); "Jesus" (common enough to have many exam-
ples) and resizing them and aligning them with the computer soft-
ware Photoshop or PageMaker can create a puzzlingly authentic
template for a faked inscription, that seemed to be carved by more
than one hand.

- - -

... Based on these results and a combination of epigraphic and histor-
ical considerations, the commission concluded that both inscriptions
are modern fakes, engraved on authentic artifacts and covered with
a carefully prepared mixture to imitate patina and to make them look
centuries old.

  • For the controversy surrounding the "discovery" and announce-
    ment of the James Ossuary, see "Ossuary Tales," January /
    February 2003,

  • and for a review of the Discovery Channel documentary see
    "Caveat Viewer," April 17, 2003.

For the latest on these forgeries and their scholarly and political rami-
fications, see the September / October issue of ARCHAEOLOGY.

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