Scholars defend authenticity of biblical-era artifact
6/19/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
By United Methodist News ServiceA
United Methodist pastor and prominent biblical scholar defends the
authenticity of an inscribed, first-century ossuary believed to provide
the oldest archaeological evidence of Jesus Christ, after claims by
Israel's Antiquities Authority that the box is a fake.
have here is a case of dueling scholars," said the Rev. Ben Witherington
III, New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore,
Ky., and a United Methodist pastor in the Kentucky Annual Conference.
with Israel's Antiquities Authority announced June 18 that the Aramaic
inscription reading "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" on the
ossuary is a forgery.
The director of Israel's Antiquities
Authority, Shuka Dorfman, called it a hoax. "The ossuary is real. But
the inscription is fake. What this means is that somebody took a real
box and forged the writing on it, probably to give it a religious
Witherington and Hershel Shanks, editor of
Biblical Archaeology Review, took part in announcing the discovery of
the box last year. They have written a book, The Brother of Jesus: The
Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus
& His Family, about the discovery of the ossuary.
the world's greatest paleographers, and two teams of rigorous scientists
that have tested the inscription, have found nothing to question as to
its authenticity," Shanks said. "All indicate a first-century date.
There is too much evidence in favor of the inscription's authenticity
that the IAA announcement has not yet addressed. It's premature to make
such an announcement without an accompanying scientific report. When
that comes out, paleographers and scientists can then assess it. In the
end, if the inscription is indeed proven to be a fake perpetrated by a
modern forger, then I hope that the forger will be caught and put in
"The IAA findings are, at the very least, incomplete if
not incorrect," Witherington said. "Their yet-to-be-released report
could not have taken into account the new tests performed on the
inscription in Toronto by scholars at the Royal Ontario Museum."
Witherington says the report did not address several crucial points:
In conducting its tests, Israel's Antiquities Authority did not take
into consideration earlier findings by the Israeli Geological Survey and
the Royal Ontario Museum, which contradict the IAA results.
Israeli Geological Survey found conclusively that the ossuary stone and
the dirt found in the ossuary both came from the Silwan area of
Jerusalem. How did dirt from Silwan get encrusted in a box that Israel's
Antiquities Authority claims is from Cyprus or northern Syria?
paleographer or Aramaic specialist in the world has suggested that a
modern forger tried to imitate an older Aramaic style prior to the
report by Israel's Antiquities Authority.
Â· The evidence from the
mass-spectrometry test (the ultraviolet test) performed at the Royal
Ontario Museum and featured on the Discovery Channel special "James,
Brother of Jesus" is "the most rigorous scientific test there is." There
was no evidence of modern tampering with the box or the inscription.
limestone ossuary, a box used by the Jews at the time of Christ to hold
the bones of the deceased, was discovered several years ago after being
purchased by an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem for between $200 and
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