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Committee Report



By Esther Eshe, Tal Ilan, Dr. Avner Ayalon, Orna Cohen
 

The 'James son of Joseph brother of Jesus' Ossuary

Tal Ilan

Although I have seen hundreds of ossuaries in my life, I do not pretend to be an expert on ossuary production techniques, or carved inscriptions, or paleography ' typical script from specific archaeological periods. Therefore, regarding the question of authenticity and the inscriptions I will rely on what the experts have determined. It seems to me that my contribution will be reduced to the question of the names and the degree of authenticity they reflect. My report consists of two parts. In the first, I will discuss the elements suggesting authenticity. A subsection will deal with the question of whether the item is authentic, and the chance that the ossuary actually belonged to The Jesus' brother. The second part will discuss components that serve to cast doubt on authenticity of the inscription.

A. No one doubts that the ossuary itself is authentic. Jerusalem is full of ossuaries (some are just thrown about, as in the Albright Institute courtyard). If someone wanted to forge an inscription, he could easily find an authentic ossuary for that purpose. Experts have also determined that the inscription appears authentic, and the fact that the second part seems scratched out in more cursive script (a possible hint toward a second forger) may suggest that the reference to a brother could have been added later, in order to better identify the deceased. Two handwritings do not necessarily prove a forgery, and perhaps point to the opposite. A forger would have tried harder to match the first and second parts.

My main claim in this report is that, even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume that the deceased is actually the brother of Jesus (the first Christian). From an onomastic point of view, the three names were very common in the Second Temple period. In the catalogue of names I recently published (Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity Part I: Palestine 330 BCE ' 200CE; T'bingen, 2002) listing names of 3193 men, the name Joseph is the second most popular name, Jesus is the sixth and James, the eleventh. In all, 379 men bearing these names have been documented, comprising 12% of the male population.

In my lexicon of names there are two 'Jesus son of Joseph' (Rahmani's catalogue, no. 6 and no. 51) and another 'James son of Joseph' (Murba`at Papyrus no. 42). Moreover, the lexicon lists men named 'Joseph son of James' ( Rahmani catalogue, no. 290); 'Jesus son of James' (Greek, Tze'elim Papyrus ' Discoveries in the Jusaean Desert 38, 222) and 'James son of Jesus' (Babatha Archive, Yadin Papyrus 17). The reason I cite these additional artifacts is not only to show similar combinations, but also to indicate the number of families in which these names are found together.

In an article by Professor Camil Fuchs enclosed with the information we received, a statistical survey worth noting gave results for the chance that the three names would appear together during this historical period. Fuchs indicated throughout that he used very conservative methods (thereby increasing chance to the maximum at every research stage) taking a large quantity of data into account so that his analysis will be most reliable, considering the limited data actually available. He concluded that during the period of time under discussion, there could have been 3'4 persons in Jerusalem to whom this combination of names could have applied. It appears to me that only one piece of data is missing in his analysis, which could increase the chance by several percent. I have no argument with the data chosen for study (Rahmani's catalogue). Based on the catalogue, he too reached a similar percentage of name distribution amongst the population ' Joseph 7.9%, Jesus 4.1%, James 2.1% (higher than my result, namely14% of the population). But it appears to me that the significance of this concentration was not brought into his calculations. The reservoir of names from which parents could have chosen their children's names was small and therefore the chance of choosing these names was higher, and increased as other names were already taken in the family. It appears to me that approximately 10 people with this combination of names would be more concurrent with reality.

In the summer of 2002, before BAR published its ossuary sensation, I had the opportunity to observe and photograph its inscription. The letters were clear and their context did not raise in me any special interest. The names were plausible. This is not the first ossuary bearing the name of a sibling (see Rahmani catalogue, 570, 'Shimi son of Assia brother [of] Hanin'; also an ossuary from Akeldama which I published, 'Natira, brother, father mother of Natira' and an ossuary published by Avigad found in the Russian Monastery of Mount Scopus 'Miriam my only sister'). Ossuaries bearing the names 'Jesus son of Joseph' have been found in Jerusalem in the past, and on two occasions, also raised no small amount of interest. In the late 1920s an ossuary bearing the inscription Jesus son of Jehoseph appeared on the antiquties market (Rahmani catalogue, no. 9), raising a great uproar in Europe (see L.H. Vincent, ''pitaphe pr'tendue de N.S. J'sus-Christ,' Atti della pontificia: accademia romana di archeologia:Rendiconti 7 [1929-31] 213-39).

Slightly less of an uproar was caused by an ossuary revealed to a team from the BBC in 1996 that came to photograph a film for Easter on the truth of the empty tomb claim. Rahmani's catalogue documents an ossuary inscribed with the names 'Jesus son of Jehoseph. This ossuary was used by the TV crew as proof that Jesus was not buried at Golgotha and was not resurrected, but buried by his family in a secondary burial in the area that is Talpiot Mizrah today. These two cases clearly indicate that Christian scholars will alway be interested in artifacts from the period of early Christianity, using these finds to blow out of all proportion, their Christian religious relevance in an attempt to prove (or disprove) the truth of that religion.

I conclude that even if the ossuary were authentic, there is still no reason to believe that the deceased was actually the brother of Jesus.

B. Is the ossuary authentic? One point not taken into account when considering the question of authenticity of the ossuary inscription is the question of orthography. I have observed that during the Second Temple period the name Joseph was always written as Jehoseph (Tal Ilan, לשוננו נב [תשמ"ת] 1-7). Although I have listed several exceptions in my lexicon, such as: two ossuaries (out of 32, Rahmani catalogue, no. 573; Peuch, Liber Annus 32 [1982] 358), also in the Bnai Hazir inscription (Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum 1934) and Papyrus Murba`at nos. 28 and 31; three times in the Yadin Papyrus 7 and once in Yadin Papyrus 44, as compared to nearly 50 instances of 'Yehoseph. The appearance of the name in the form 'Joseph' as on the ossuary is very rare and raises doubts about its authenticity.

Similarly, it can be said that the spelling יעקוב, with vav, was found on two ostraca at Masada, but never on any papyrus or ossuary of the period. On the other hand, inscriptions of this form in the Jewish Diaspora were preferred, as can be seen from leafing through the pages of Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum.

The spelling יוסף is biblical. The spelling יהוסף appears only once in a late Psalm (no.81:6) perhaps influenced by the Second Temple period custom, and therefore a person not versed in the orthography of that period would automatically choose the biblical spelling. On the other hand, the spelling יעקוב is more profuse in the Bible. It appears in the Bible five times, once in Leviticus 26:42, and four times in Jeremiah (30:18, 33:26, 46:27, 51:19). Does the choice of the two names in their less common form on the ossuary indicate that the forger did not do his homework and chose the spelling that seemed logical to him, or does it indicate that the ossuary is authentic, and that the forger would surely have chosen the more common spelling? It is difficult to decide.

After further deliberations in the committee that investigated the James ossuary, and after reading the reports of the other experts, I would like to suggest a creative reconstruction of the process which the ossuary had undergone on the way to acquiring its present form. Both Orna Cohen and Avner Ayalon, who maintained that the patina inside the letters of the inscription had been faked, insisted that the only exception to this conclusion is to be found in the name 'Jesus'. Orna Cohen wrote: 'In the the second half of the inscription '... אחוי דישוע' one can notice inside the letters a yellowish patina similar to the one on the ossuary surface (which is authentic ' T.I.).' Avner Ayalon wrote: 'Only one patina sample, scraped from the last letter of Yeshua yielded a value within the expected range'. All the epigraphists have already concluded that the hand which inscribed the words יעקוב בן יוסף is not the same one as that which inscribed the words אחוי דישוע. I thus suggest that the forger came into possession of an ossuary bearing an authentic inscription 'brother of Jesus.' The name 'Jesus (ישוע)' was very popular in the Second Temple period spelt exactly thus (and not as the Biblical יהושע or the medieval name the Jews gave Jesus ' ישו). Such an ossuary could easily fire the imagination of a forger, who added the name of the brother of Jesus Christ to the ossuary to raise its value.

I would like to end with a joke connected with the ossuary. Regarding the question of why it was necessary to mention the deceased's brother, scholars have suggested that it was because the brother was a well known personality. Steven Pfann recently suggested the ossuary inscription 'שימי בר עשיה אחוי [ד] חנין) be read as שימי בר דוסא אחוי [ד] חנין and that Hanin be identified with the pious Hanina ben Dosa חנינא בן דוסא who appears in rabbinic literature. Others suggested that he is mentioned because it was the brother who brought the deceased to burial. Of course if this is the brother of Jesus who was in the ossuary, it is not likely that Jesus was the one to bury his brother, since at this stage, Jesus was already dead. Unless we assume that this ossuary proved the words of Jesus himself ''let the dead bury the dead' (Matthew 8:22), thereby allowing Jesus to live up to his own principles.

 

13 May 2003
To:
Uzi Dahari
Deputy Director
Israel Antiquities Authority

As requested, I submit my opinion regarding the authenticity of the inscriptions ' Brother of Jesus Ossuary and Yehoash Inscription.

1. Ossuary 'Brother of Jesus'

From my examination of the ossuary inscription and the data I received, it is my opinion, that, quite clearly, the inscription is not authentic, and was added later to the original ossuary (possibly in two stages):

A. I am not aware of any ossuary with an inscription surviving from the Second Temple period where the letters are so deeply engraved and the decoration on the same ossuary (rossettes, in this case) so worn as in the ossuary before us (compare the photos in L.Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries)

B. The inscription itself exhibits variations in handwriting, thickness and depth of the incised letters when comparing the words 'James son of Joseph' to the words 'brother of Jesus'. I have been told, that the committees reached similar conclusions after very precise examination. Thus, the inscription was made with two different chisels.

C. There is a significant difference between handwritings in the first and second parts of the inscription. The first part is written in the formal style of a scribe and the second part is cursive. The letters bet and kuf in the first part are characteristic writing of a scribe, and the second, cursive part has a characteristic alef.

D. When comparing the words 'brother of Jesus' on this ossuary to ossuary no. 570 in the Rahmani catalog (p. 200), a surprising resemblance can be seen. The letters het, vav, and yud are quite similar, and the most exceptional letter dalet is identical. In both inscriptions, only the descending line survived. It thus seems that the writer copied the inscription from this ossuary.

In summary, the different handwritings of the two parts indicate that the inscription is not authentic, although the original ossuary may possibly have contained the first part of the inscription, the second part was added later. Based on the depth of the letters, I am uncertain of even this possibility, and it seems more likely to me that the forger wrote the inscription in two stages.

2. The Yehoash Inscription

Regarding this inscription, I have no doubt it is forged, judging from the handwriting, spelling and language. Because I think this conclusion is clear to all concerned, and all the reasons have surely been lengthily explained by the others, I will not set them down here. If the need arises that I too offer my reasons for concluding that the Yehoash inscription is forged, I will be happy to do so.

Sincerely yours,
Esther Eshel

 

State of Israel
The Ministry of National Infrastrucures
Geological Survey
30 Malkhei Yisrael St.
Jerusalem 95501, Israel

9 June 2003
Uzi Dahari, Deputy Director
Israel Antiquities Authority
PO Box 586
91004 Jerusalem

Subject: Examination of Authenticity of the James Brother of Jesus Ossuary and Yehoash Inscription

Shalom Uzi,

I submit herein, a summary of the results of my study in the laboratories of the Geological Survey of Israel on the patina of the 'James son of Joseph brother of Jesus ossuary and the Yehoash inscription. In this report, the term 'patina' refers to an outer surface of worn, coated material, resulting from dissolution of the rock by water seepage through soil and rock and reprecipitation. In carbonate terrain (as in the Judean Hills) patina is composed mainly of calcite (calcium carbonate ' CaCO3).
This examination aims to determine if the patina on the items is a product of a natural process occurring in the environmental conditions of the Judean Hills.

I emphasize herein that the purpose of this summary is to relate general details, results examinations and conclusions. This document does not constitute a scientific article or report. In time, the results will be published in the usual scientific format in a professional publication.

Examination Method and Premises

My work focused on examination of authenticity of patina coating the ossuary letters and the letters and surface of the Yehoash inscription.

My work focussed on determining isotope ratio of 18 O/16 in calcite from various samples. The isotope composition of oxygen is determined by temperature of patina precipitation and isotopic composition of water from which the patina precipitated. The measurements were conducted using a stable isotope mass spectrometer in the laboratory of the Geologic Survey in Jerusalem. Accuracy of the measurement is 0.1 permil (0/00).

The study method relied on background data from the Geological Survey's research of the Judean Hills which clearly shows that the isotope composition of oxygen (δ18O) in carbonate patina formed on the surface or in shallow burials in the area in the last 2000 years lies within the range of -6 to -4 0/00 (PDB). The premise of this study is that a different patina composition in the letters indicates an unnatural patina treatment. This premise was tested through examination of the objects under discussion as well sampling additional objects from the collections at the Rockefeller Museum.

A. James son of Joseph brother of Jesus Ossuary

1. I conducted comparative tests of authentic ossuaries from the collections at the Rockefeller Museum. I examined patina from the surface (henceforth, 'surface patina') and patina scraped from inside the letters (henceforth, 'letters patina') in ossuaries whose catalog numbers are: 41.127, 36.2175, and 236.913. Every sample yielded an oxygen isotope value within the expected range of -4 to -5 0/00 (PDB).

2. Oxygen isotope composition of surface patina was examined on the James ossuary. Eight samples were taken from its various areas, including the rosette on the back. All samples yielded oxygen isotope values in the expected range for ossuary patina from the Judean Hills, -4 to -6 0/00 (PDB).

3. Seven patina samples were scraped from inside the letters of the inscription 'Ya'acov son of Yosef brother of Yeshua'. Oxygen isotope composition of 6 samples yielded very negative values for oxygen, between -7.5 and -10.2 0/00, varying significantly from the conventional values for the Judean Hills.

   Only one patina sample, scraped from the last letter of Yeshua yielded a value within the expected range (-5.8 0/00). The ossuary was hewn from limestone (composition is also CaCO3). Isotope composition of oxygen in limestone in the Judean Hills ranges from +1 to -2 0/00. Clearly, if during sampling, particles of the original limestone entered the sample, the measured isotope composition will be less negative. This appears to be the case in the sample from the last letter of Yeshua.

Conclusions

1. Oxygen isotope composition of the letters patina in the ossuary is clearly different from that of the surface patina and from patina from several authentic ossuaries. The letters patina is also different from expected ranges for carbonate patina formed in recent times, and surface patina formed in the Judean Hills in the past 2000 years.

2.Under normal burial conditions, the oxygen isotope composition in the letters patina could not have formed naturally in conditions of temperature and typical water composition in the Judean Hills in the last two thousand years.

B. Yehoash Inscription

The inscription was carved into stone composed of silicate minerals and does not contain carbonate. Patina samples were taken from the inscribed surface, 3 samples from the reverse, and 3 samples scraped from inside the letters in different areas of the inscription. The patina sampled from the reverse is composed of silica only, and contains no carbonate.

Samples from the inscribed surface divided into two groups:

A. Patina samples with very negative oxygen isotope values from -7.3 to -8.4 0/00.

B. Patina samples with relatively high isotope values -1.7 to -0.9 0/00, similar to the typical values derived from marine carbonate. The carbonate in the patina in this group undoubtedly originated in the sea as evident by the presence of marine micro-organisms (planktonic foraminifera). Patina with an isotope composition typical to that occurring naturally in the Judean Hills was not found, neither on the surface, nor inside the letters.

Conclusions

1. The oxygen isotope composition of the surface and letters patina is clearly different from the expected value range of carbonate patinas formed in recent times in the Judean Hills, and in the last two thousand years.

2. Taking into consideration the usual burial conditions, the very negative oxygen isotope composition in the patina could not have formed naturally in the temperature conditions and water composition typical to the Judean Hills in the last two thousand years.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS FOR THE TWO ITEMS

    1. The oxygen isotope composition of the letters and surface patina of the Yehoash inscription, as well as the letters patina on the ossuary is clearly different from the composition of the patina coating the James ossuary surface, and the surface and letters patina sampled from authentic ossuaries.

2. Considering normal burial conditions, oxygen isotope composition in the Yehoash inscription and the letters patina in the ossuary could not have formed under temperature conditions and water composition present in the Judean Hills in the last two thousand years.

1st. If we assume that the letters patina was formed at a surface temperature of 18-200C, typical to caves and soil, the calculated oxygen isotope composition of water would have to be as low as -10 0/00. Such water doesn't exist in the Judean Hills nor in all of Israel. Such water is found in polar areas.

2nd. If we assume that the letters patina was formed from water with a typical isotope composition of water in the Judean Hills, the precipitation would have had to occur at temperatures of 40-500C, higher than expected in Jerusalem climatic conditions in caves and underground.

On the other hand, the patina measured oxygen isotopic composition can be achieved by artificial means. The exceptional isotope composition of the ossuary patina and that of the Yehoash tablet can be explained by artificial production through the sedimentation of ground carbonate dissolved in hot water and then placed on the surface of the ossuary letters and the Yehoash tablet. Heated water was used to insure good adhesion of the patina. Another possibility is grinding carbonate, spreading it over the surface and warming it inside an oven.

Respectfully,
Dr. Avner Ayalon

 

19 May 2003

CONCLUSIONS FROM AN EXAMINATION OF THE OSSUARY AND YEHOASH INSCRIPTION

     Oded Golan contacted me over ten years ago, introduced himself as an engineer representing a group of investors who renovate historic buildings. He spoke of the Khan at Sha`ar Hagai as a one of the sites they are preparing to renovate. He said he had studied the subject of creating old patina on new stone to set into the building. I showed him a number of related articles and we discussed the subject.

Patina is composed mainly of oxylates formed as a result of organic activity on the stone surface. The production of this material can be accelerated in a laboratory by creating suitable conditions.
In view of the doubts that have arisen regarding the authenticity of the antiquities in his possession, I think it important to know that Oded Golan possesses such information.

The 'James son of Joseph brother of Jesus Ossuary

From my examination, the ossuary appears to be authentic. Its inscription suggests forgery, for the following reasons:

Yehoash Inscription

A review of the inscription shows brown patina on the stone surface that doesn't penetrate into the crack. It is expected that the development of patina in nature would naturally reach into the crack as well.

The brown material on the stone had been dissolved in water and is probably some sort of earth and not patina. Cleaning the letters revealed that they were incised using a method of small breaks that appear new and do not match the original worn stone surface.

The method used to cut out the letters is not compatible with the known methods of ancient times.

Conclusions:

It seems to me that both cases are forgeries and deceptions. When considering the ossuary, even though part of the inscription may be original, the inscription in its entirety is a fake.

By Esther Eshe, Tal Ilan, Dr. Avner Ayalon, Orna Cohen
 

The 'James son of Joseph brother of Jesus' Ossuary

Tal Ilan

Although I have seen hundreds of ossuaries in my life, I do not pretend to be an expert on ossuary production techniques, or carved inscriptions, or paleography ' typical script from specific archaeological periods. Therefore, regarding the question of authenticity and the inscriptions I will rely on what the experts have determined. It seems to me that my contribution will be reduced to the question of the names and the degree of authenticity they reflect. My report consists of two parts. In the first, I will discuss the elements suggesting authenticity. A subsection will deal with the question of whether the item is authentic, and the chance that the ossuary actually belonged to The Jesus' brother. The second part will discuss components that serve to cast doubt on authenticity of the inscription.

A. No one doubts that the ossuary itself is authentic. Jerusalem is full of ossuaries (some are just thrown about, as in the Albright Institute courtyard). If someone wanted to forge an inscription, he could easily find an authentic ossuary for that purpose. Experts have also determined that the inscription appears authentic, and the fact that the second part seems scratched out in more cursive script (a possible hint toward a second forger) may suggest that the reference to a brother could have been added later, in order to better identify the deceased. Two handwritings do not necessarily prove a forgery, and perhaps point to the opposite. A forger would have tried harder to match the first and second parts.

My main claim in this report is that, even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume that the deceased is actually the brother of Jesus (the first Christian). From an onomastic point of view, the three names were very common in the Second Temple period. In the catalogue of names I recently published (Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity Part I: Palestine 330 BCE ' 200CE; T'bingen, 2002) listing names of 3193 men, the name Joseph is the second most popular name, Jesus is the sixth and James, the eleventh. In all, 379 men bearing these names have been documented, comprising 12% of the male population.

In my lexicon of names there are two 'Jesus son of Joseph' (Rahmani's catalogue, no. 6 and no. 51) and another 'James son of Joseph' (Murba`at Papyrus no. 42). Moreover, the lexicon lists men named 'Joseph son of James' ( Rahmani catalogue, no. 290); 'Jesus son of James' (Greek, Tze'elim Papyrus ' Discoveries in the Jusaean Desert 38, 222) and 'James son of Jesus' (Babatha Archive, Yadin Papyrus 17). The reason I cite these additional artifacts is not only to show similar combinations, but also to indicate the number of families in which these names are found together.

In an article by Professor Camil Fuchs enclosed with the information we received, a statistical survey worth noting gave results for the chance that the three names would appear together during this historical period. Fuchs indicated throughout that he used very conservative methods (thereby increasing chance to the maximum at every research stage) taking a large quantity of data into account so that his analysis will be most reliable, considering the limited data actually available. He concluded that during the period of time under discussion, there could have been 3'4 persons in Jerusalem to whom this combination of names could have applied. It appears to me that only one piece of data is missing in his analysis, which could increase the chance by several percent. I have no argument with the data chosen for study (Rahmani's catalogue). Based on the catalogue, he too reached a similar percentage of name distribution amongst the population ' Joseph 7.9%, Jesus 4.1%, James 2.1% (higher than my result, namely14% of the population). But it appears to me that the significance of this concentration was not brought into his calculations. The reservoir of names from which parents could have chosen their children's names was small and therefore the chance of choosing these names was higher, and increased as other names were already taken in the family. It appears to me that approximately 10 people with this combination of names would be more concurrent with reality.

In the summer of 2002, before BAR published its ossuary sensation, I had the opportunity to observe and photograph its inscription. The letters were clear and their context did not raise in me any special interest. The names were plausible. This is not the first ossuary bearing the name of a sibling (see Rahmani catalogue, 570, 'Shimi son of Assia brother [of] Hanin'; also an ossuary from Akeldama which I published, 'Natira, brother, father mother of Natira' and an ossuary published by Avigad found in the Russian Monastery of Mount Scopus 'Miriam my only sister'). Ossuaries bearing the names 'Jesus son of Joseph' have been found in Jerusalem in the past, and on two occasions, also raised no small amount of interest. In the late 1920s an ossuary bearing the inscription Jesus son of Jehoseph appeared on the antiquties market (Rahmani catalogue, no. 9), raising a great uproar in Europe (see L.H. Vincent, ''pitaphe pr'tendue de N.S. J'sus-Christ,' Atti della pontificia: accademia romana di archeologia:Rendiconti 7 [1929-31] 213-39).

Slightly less of an uproar was caused by an ossuary revealed to a team from the BBC in 1996 that came to photograph a film for Easter on the truth of the empty tomb claim. Rahmani's catalogue documents an ossuary inscribed with the names 'Jesus son of Jehoseph. This ossuary was used by the TV crew as proof that Jesus was not buried at Golgotha and was not resurrected, but buried by his family in a secondary burial in the area that is Talpiot Mizrah today. These two cases clearly indicate that Christian scholars will alway be interested in artifacts from the period of early Christianity, using these finds to blow out of all proportion, their Christian religious relevance in an attempt to prove (or disprove) the truth of that religion.

I conclude that even if the ossuary were authentic, there is still no reason to believe that the deceased was actually the brother of Jesus.

B. Is the ossuary authentic? One point not taken into account when considering the question of authenticity of the ossuary inscription is the question of orthography. I have observed that during the Second Temple period the name Joseph was always written as Jehoseph (Tal Ilan, לשוננו נב [תשמ"ת] 1-7). Although I have listed several exceptions in my lexicon, such as: two ossuaries (out of 32, Rahmani catalogue, no. 573; Peuch, Liber Annus 32 [1982] 358), also in the Bnai Hazir inscription (Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum 1934) and Papyrus Murba`at nos. 28 and 31; three times in the Yadin Papyrus 7 and once in Yadin Papyrus 44, as compared to nearly 50 instances of 'Yehoseph. The appearance of the name in the form 'Joseph' as on the ossuary is very rare and raises doubts about its authenticity.

Similarly, it can be said that the spelling יעקוב, with vav, was found on two ostraca at Masada, but never on any papyrus or ossuary of the period. On the other hand, inscriptions of this form in the Jewish Diaspora were preferred, as can be seen from leafing through the pages of Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum.

The spelling יוסף is biblical. The spelling יהוסף appears only once in a late Psalm (no.81:6) perhaps influenced by the Second Temple period custom, and therefore a person not versed in the orthography of that period would automatically choose the biblical spelling. On the other hand, the spelling יעקוב is more profuse in the Bible. It appears in the Bible five times, once in Leviticus 26:42, and four times in Jeremiah (30:18, 33:26, 46:27, 51:19). Does the choice of the two names in their less common form on the ossuary indicate that the forger did not do his homework and chose the spelling that seemed logical to him, or does it indicate that the ossuary is authentic, and that the forger would surely have chosen the more common spelling? It is difficult to decide.

After further deliberations in the committee that investigated the James ossuary, and after reading the reports of the other experts, I would like to suggest a creative reconstruction of the process which the ossuary had undergone on the way to acquiring its present form. Both Orna Cohen and Avner Ayalon, who maintained that the patina inside the letters of the inscription had been faked, insisted that the only exception to this conclusion is to be found in the name 'Jesus'. Orna Cohen wrote: 'In the the second half of the inscription '... אחוי דישוע' one can notice inside the letters a yellowish patina similar to the one on the ossuary surface (which is authentic ' T.I.).' Avner Ayalon wrote: 'Only one patina sample, scraped from the last letter of Yeshua yielded a value within the expected range'. All the epigraphists have already concluded that the hand which inscribed the words יעקוב בן יוסף is not the same one as that which inscribed the words אחוי דישוע. I thus suggest that the forger came into possession of an ossuary bearing an authentic inscription 'brother of Jesus.' The name 'Jesus (ישוע)' was very popular in the Second Temple period spelt exactly thus (and not as the Biblical יהושע or the medieval name the Jews gave Jesus ' ישו). Such an ossuary could easily fire the imagination of a forger, who added the name of the brother of Jesus Christ to the ossuary to raise its value.

I would like to end with a joke connected with the ossuary. Regarding the question of why it was necessary to mention the deceased's brother, scholars have suggested that it was because the brother was a well known personality. Steven Pfann recently suggested the ossuary inscription 'שימי בר עשיה אחוי [ד] חנין) be read as שימי בר דוסא אחוי [ד] חנין and that Hanin be identified with the pious Hanina ben Dosa חנינא בן דוסא who appears in rabbinic literature. Others suggested that he is mentioned because it was the brother who brought the deceased to burial. Of course if this is the brother of Jesus who was in the ossuary, it is not likely that Jesus was the one to bury his brother, since at this stage, Jesus was already dead. Unless we assume that this ossuary proved the words of Jesus himself ''let the dead bury the dead' (Matthew 8:22), thereby allowing Jesus to live up to his own principles.

 

13 May 2003
To:
Uzi Dahari
Deputy Director
Israel Antiquities Authority

As requested, I submit my opinion regarding the authenticity of the inscriptions ' Brother of Jesus Ossuary and Yehoash Inscription.

1. Ossuary 'Brother of Jesus'

From my examination of the ossuary inscription and the data I received, it is my opinion, that, quite clearly, the inscription is not authentic, and was added later to the original ossuary (possibly in two stages):

A. I am not aware of any ossuary with an inscription surviving from the Second Temple period where the letters are so deeply engraved and the decoration on the same ossuary (rossettes, in this case) so worn as in the ossuary before us (compare the photos in L.Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries)

B. The inscription itself exhibits variations in handwriting, thickness and depth of the incised letters when comparing the words 'James son of Joseph' to the words 'brother of Jesus'. I have been told, that the committees reached similar conclusions after very precise examination. Thus, the inscription was made with two different chisels.

C. There is a significant difference between handwritings in the first and second parts of the inscription. The first part is written in the formal style of a scribe and the second part is cursive. The letters bet and kuf in the first part are characteristic writing of a scribe, and the second, cursive part has a characteristic alef.

D. When comparing the words 'brother of Jesus' on this ossuary to ossuary no. 570 in the Rahmani catalog (p. 200), a surprising resemblance can be seen. The letters het, vav, and yud are quite similar, and the most exceptional letter dalet is identical. In both inscriptions, only the descending line survived. It thus seems that the writer copied the inscription from this ossuary.

In summary, the different handwritings of the two parts indicate that the inscription is not authentic, although the original ossuary may possibly have contained the first part of the inscription, the second part was added later. Based on the depth of the letters, I am uncertain of even this possibility, and it seems more likely to me that the forger wrote the inscription in two stages.

2. The Yehoash Inscription

Regarding this inscription, I have no doubt it is forged, judging from the handwriting, spelling and language. Because I think this conclusion is clear to all concerned, and all the reasons have surely been lengthily explained by the others, I will not set them down here. If the need arises that I too offer my reasons for concluding that the Yehoash inscription is forged, I will be happy to do so.

Sincerely yours,
Esther Eshel

 

State of Israel
The Ministry of National Infrastrucures
Geological Survey
30 Malkhei Yisrael St.
Jerusalem 95501, Israel

9 June 2003
Uzi Dahari, Deputy Director
Israel Antiquities Authority
PO Box 586
91004 Jerusalem

Subject: Examination of Authenticity of the James Brother of Jesus Ossuary and Yehoash Inscription

Shalom Uzi,

I submit herein, a summary of the results of my study in the laboratories of the Geological Survey of Israel on the patina of the 'James son of Joseph brother of Jesus ossuary and the Yehoash inscription. In this report, the term 'patina' refers to an outer surface of worn, coated material, resulting from dissolution of the rock by water seepage through soil and rock and reprecipitation. In carbonate terrain (as in the Judean Hills) patina is composed mainly of calcite (calcium carbonate ' CaCO3).
This examination aims to determine if the patina on the items is a product of a natural process occurring in the environmental conditions of the Judean Hills.

I emphasize herein that the purpose of this summary is to relate general details, results examinations and conclusions. This document does not constitute a scientific article or report. In time, the results will be published in the usual scientific format in a professional publication.

Examination Method and Premises

My work focused on examination of authenticity of patina coating the ossuary letters and the letters and surface of the Yehoash inscription.

My work focussed on determining isotope ratio of 18 O/16 in calcite from various samples. The isotope composition of oxygen is determined by temperature of patina precipitation and isotopic composition of water from which the patina precipitated. The measurements were conducted using a stable isotope mass spectrometer in the laboratory of the Geologic Survey in Jerusalem. Accuracy of the measurement is 0.1 permil (0/00).

The study method relied on background data from the Geological Survey's research of the Judean Hills which clearly shows that the isotope composition of oxygen (δ18O) in carbonate patina formed on the surface or in shallow burials in the area in the last 2000 years lies within the range of -6 to -4 0/00 (PDB). The premise of this study is that a different patina composition in the letters indicates an unnatural patina treatment. This premise was tested through examination of the objects under discussion as well sampling additional objects from the collections at the Rockefeller Museum.

A. James son of Joseph brother of Jesus Ossuary

1. I conducted comparative tests of authentic ossuaries from the collections at the Rockefeller Museum. I examined patina from the surface (henceforth, 'surface patina') and patina scraped from inside the letters (henceforth, 'letters patina') in ossuaries whose catalog numbers are: 41.127, 36.2175, and 236.913. Every sample yielded an oxygen isotope value within the expected range of -4 to -5 0/00 (PDB).

2. Oxygen isotope composition of surface patina was examined on the James ossuary. Eight samples were taken from its various areas, including the rosette on the back. All samples yielded oxygen isotope values in the expected range for ossuary patina from the Judean Hills, -4 to -6 0/00 (PDB).

3. Seven patina samples were scraped from inside the letters of the inscription 'Ya'acov son of Yosef brother of Yeshua'. Oxygen isotope composition of 6 samples yielded very negative values for oxygen, between -7.5 and -10.2 0/00, varying significantly from the conventional values for the Judean Hills.

   Only one patina sample, scraped from the last letter of Yeshua yielded a value within the expected range (-5.8 0/00). The ossuary was hewn from limestone (composition is also CaCO3). Isotope composition of oxygen in limestone in the Judean Hills ranges from +1 to -2 0/00. Clearly, if during sampling, particles of the original limestone entered the sample, the measured isotope composition will be less negative. This appears to be the case in the sample from the last letter of Yeshua.

Conclusions

1. Oxygen isotope composition of the letters patina in the ossuary is clearly different from that of the surface patina and from patina from several authentic ossuaries. The letters patina is also different from expected ranges for carbonate patina formed in recent times, and surface patina formed in the Judean Hills in the past 2000 years.

2.Under normal burial conditions, the oxygen isotope composition in the letters patina could not have formed naturally in conditions of temperature and typical water composition in the Judean Hills in the last two thousand years.

B. Yehoash Inscription

The inscription was carved into stone composed of silicate minerals and does not contain carbonate. Patina samples were taken from the inscribed surface, 3 samples from the reverse, and 3 samples scraped from inside the letters in different areas of the inscription. The patina sampled from the reverse is composed of silica only, and contains no carbonate.

Samples from the inscribed surface divided into two groups:

A. Patina samples with very negative oxygen isotope values from -7.3 to -8.4 0/00.

B. Patina samples with relatively high isotope values -1.7 to -0.9 0/00, similar to the typical values derived from marine carbonate. The carbonate in the patina in this group undoubtedly originated in the sea as evident by the presence of marine micro-organisms (planktonic foraminifera). Patina with an isotope composition typical to that occurring naturally in the Judean Hills was not found, neither on the surface, nor inside the letters.

Conclusions

1. The oxygen isotope composition of the surface and letters patina is clearly different from the expected value range of carbonate patinas formed in recent times in the Judean Hills, and in the last two thousand years.

2. Taking into consideration the usual burial conditions, the very negative oxygen isotope composition in the patina could not have formed naturally in the temperature conditions and water composition typical to the Judean Hills in the last two thousand years.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS FOR THE TWO ITEMS

    1. The oxygen isotope composition of the letters and surface patina of the Yehoash inscription, as well as the letters patina on the ossuary is clearly different from the composition of the patina coating the James ossuary surface, and the surface and letters patina sampled from authentic ossuaries.

2. Considering normal burial conditions, oxygen isotope composition in the Yehoash inscription and the letters patina in the ossuary could not have formed under temperature conditions and water composition present in the Judean Hills in the last two thousand years.

1st. If we assume that the letters patina was formed at a surface temperature of 18-200C, typical to caves and soil, the calculated oxygen isotope composition of water would have to be as low as -10 0/00. Such water doesn't exist in the Judean Hills nor in all of Israel. Such water is found in polar areas.

2nd. If we assume that the letters patina was formed from water with a typical isotope composition of water in the Judean Hills, the precipitation would have had to occur at temperatures of 40-500C, higher than expected in Jerusalem climatic conditions in caves and underground.

On the other hand, the patina measured oxygen isotopic composition can be achieved by artificial means. The exceptional isotope composition of the ossuary patina and that of the Yehoash tablet can be explained by artificial production through the sedimentation of ground carbonate dissolved in hot water and then placed on the surface of the ossuary letters and the Yehoash tablet. Heated water was used to insure good adhesion of the patina. Another possibility is grinding carbonate, spreading it over the surface and warming it inside an oven.

Respectfully,
Dr. Avner Ayalon

 

19 May 2003

CONCLUSIONS FROM AN EXAMINATION OF THE OSSUARY AND YEHOASH INSCRIPTION

     Oded Golan contacted me over ten years ago, introduced himself as an engineer representing a group of investors who renovate historic buildings. He spoke of the Khan at Sha`ar Hagai as a one of the sites they are preparing to renovate. He said he had studied the subject of creating old patina on new stone to set into the building. I showed him a number of related articles and we discussed the subject.

Patina is composed mainly of oxylates formed as a result of organic activity on the stone surface. The production of this material can be accelerated in a laboratory by creating suitable conditions.
In view of the doubts that have arisen regarding the authenticity of the antiquities in his possession, I think it important to know that Oded Golan possesses such information.

The 'James son of Joseph brother of Jesus Ossuary

From my examination, the ossuary appears to be authentic. Its inscription suggests forgery, for the following reasons:

Yehoash Inscription

A review of the inscription shows brown patina on the stone surface that doesn't penetrate into the crack. It is expected that the development of patina in nature would naturally reach into the crack as well.

The brown material on the stone had been dissolved in water and is probably some sort of earth and not patina. Cleaning the letters revealed that they were incised using a method of small breaks that appear new and do not match the original worn stone surface.

The method used to cut out the letters is not compatible with the known methods of ancient times.

Conclusions:

It seems to me that both cases are forgeries and deceptions. When considering the ossuary, even though part of the inscription may be original, the inscription in its entirety is a fake.

The production of surface patina using ground stone on the ossuary and brown earth in the Yehoash inscription reveals an attempt at simple forgery. In both cases, no use was made of the information for producing patina that I had given to Mr. Golan in the past.

Orna Cohen
Conservator of Antiquities
 

The production of surface patina using ground stone on the ossuary and brown earth in the Yehoash inscription reveals an attempt at simple forgery. In both cases, no use was made of the information for producing patina that I had given to Mr. Golan in the past.

Orna Cohen
Conservator of Antiquities
 

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