Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paul Flesher on the James Ossuary

ARAMAIST PAUL FLESHER has a brief essay out on the James Ossuary: UW Religion Today Column for April 24-30: The Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus: 10 Years On. Excerpt:
In 2004, the Israel Antiquities Authority brought charges against Golan for forging antiquities. But all did not go as planned. Some expert witnesses changed their evaluations, and others could say little more than they could not make a determination. The trial dragged on for years: 138 witnesses testified, with 52 of them being experts in some area of antiquity or archaeology. The trial ended and the judge has been considering his ruling ever since. Indications are that he will announce a verdict soon.

If the judge determines Golan is not guilty of forging the inscription, does that mean the inscription refers to James the head of the Jerusalem church? Not necessarily. Not only must the inscription be proven forged "beyond a reasonable doubt," but the charge is only that the forgery is modern. The inscription as a whole or the part of it saying "brother of Jesus" could have been added in antiquity, perhaps after Emperor Constantine and his successors transformed Palestine into the "Holy Land" after 324.

It is even probable that the Jacob/James mentioned in the inscription is not James the brother of Jesus. Jacob, Joseph and Yeshua (short for Joshua) were common Jewish names at the time.

Given the nature of belief, however, a verdict against forgery will strengthen many Christians' belief that the ossuary links to Jesus through his brother and thus "proves" the Bible. Indeed, many people will continue to believe in the inscription's authenticity even if it is declared a forgery.
The judge's verdict will be interesting and not irrelevant to the question of whether part of the inscription on the James Ossuary is forged. But (I say it again and again) ultimately the only way for the genuineness of the whole inscription to be established is in the pages of peer-reviewed journals and monographs. As I said before (see next link), I'd like to know of any such publications on the inscription. So far, no one has replied.

Oded Golan's recent essay on the forgery trial, the James Ossuary, and the Jehoash inscription is noted here.