THE STORY THUS FAR…
The assumptions for computing the probability of the three names occurring together also have shortcomings. One issue not taken into account is how many children, particularly brothers, were in the average family. If there were six children in the average family, and we assume that there were an equal number of boys and girls, then every boy named James would have two brothers, one of whom could be named Jesus. If, however, there were only 2 children per family then there would be only a fifty percent chance that a James would have a brother, significantly reducing the chances of the sibling being named Jesus.
An even more devastating problem is that no one knows the relationship between the frequency of names in inscriptions and the frequency of names in the population. It is unlikely that there is a direct link. The list of inscribed names is not the equivalent of a modern phone book, which at least lists family phone numbers used during the same year in the same town or city. The list of inscribed names comes from a period of decades, and may be affected by class, income, and accident of modern discovery. So the list of inscribed names is completely unreliable as a basis for this calculation.
These few considerations indicate the data for the statistics come from imagined assumptions—reasonably imagined to be sure—but imaginary nonetheless. Even if only one assumption is incorrect, it could affect the results by a factor of ten or more. But this comment reveals a further problem with this approach. There is no way to test it for accuracy. Which assumptions and considerations are correct and which are not cannot be determined. So in the end it is just guesswork, making this point unable to support the claim that the ossuary belonged to James the brother of Jesus Christ.
The second point that needs to be demonstrated to indicate that this is James’ ossuary is that it needs to come from Jerusalem. Shanks seems to assume this without much consideration, largely because the shop of the antiquities dealer from which it was purchased was located in Jerusalem. The only piece of evidence indicating Jerusalem comes from the geological report Shanks had done which states that the stone is a [limestone] chalk belonging to “the Menuha Formation of Mount Scopus Group” (sic, Shanks & Witherington, p.18), which is found in the Jerusalem area. The more recent geological studies commissioned by the Israel Antiquities Authority indicate that Mt. Scopus limestone is found at many locations in Israel and is not restricted to the Jerusalem area.11 The evidence of the stone type therefore indicates that the ossuary could be from Jerusalem, but it could just as likely be from elsewhere in Israel. If the ossuary was buried anywhere other than the immediate Jerusalem area, then this would not be James the brother of Jesus Christ because James supposedly was buried in Jerusalem. Since the ossuary is unprovenanced, no evidence exists one way or another. So the second point cannot be verified, making it even more unlikely that the ossuary held the bones of James, the head of the Jerusalem church.
The third point that must be demonstrated in order for the claim of Shanks and Lemaire to be proven is that the dialectal and writing characteristics of the inscription fit best into pre-70 CE Jerusalem, or at least Judea. The dialectal problem is this: Aramaic represents as a single word the two-word English translation “his brother.” The word is, in Shanks’ transliteration, achui, which consists of two parts: ach-, “brother,” and “-ui,” which is an attached suffix meaning “his.”12 The problem lies in the “-ui” spelling of the suffix, which constitutes the common spelling in Galilean Aramaic of the third to seventh centuries CE. It is not the expected spelling for the Aramaic of Judea in the first century; that would be “-uhi.” Indeed, there is only one certain example of the -ui suffix used in texts of this dialect, and that appears in the Genesis Apocryphon (21:34).
Shanks argues on p.16 that there are two other first century examples of this ending. These two, if correctly identified, plus the one in the Genesis Apocryphon, plus the one on the inscription would make four examples and it would move this usage from being rare to merely uncommon. It is here that Shanks’ lack of scholarly training, which he readily admits, causes problems.13 The first example Shanks cites comes from ossuary published in Rahmani’s extensive catalogue (#570).14 However, Shanks seems unaware of the scholarship on this inscription, for Ada Yardeni’s Textbook of Aramaic, Hebrew and Nabataean Documentary Texts from the Judaean Desert, provides another reading of the same inscription.15 Yardeni studied the inscription carefully and found that the letters of the suffix were doubtful, and those which followed this word were indecipherable—casting doubt on whether this inscription even identifies the deceased as a brother of someone else. So this inscription fails to provide a supporting example of the use of this form in the first century. Shanks’ second example comes from Umm el-Amed (p.16 and footnote 3). Although Shanks cites it as an example supporting the linguistic usage of first-century Jerusalem, it actually comes from third or fourth century Galilee.16 So in the end, there remains only one certain instance of this form from first century source, the Genesis Apocryphon.17 And as the text’s best-known analyst—Joseph Fitzmyer—wrote about that passage, it seems to be a spelling error.18 Thus the dialectal characteristics of the Aramaic used in this inscription more likely belong to Galilee of the third century or later than to Judea of the first century.
The writing characteristics of this inscription—its paleography—have received extensive scholarly analysis. The most significant critique has to do with the claim that, against Lemaire’s view that the inscription was written in a single hand, it was actually done by two different hands. This was put forward by Professor Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University in his presentation at the Royal Ontario Museum, as noted by Shanks, and independently by other scholars. Having the second part of the inscription, “brother of Jesus,” added by a second hand makes the inscription look like an forgery. That is, perhaps someone found an ossuary of “James the son of Joseph” and decided that by adding “brother of Jesus” they could enhance its sacred character in the eyes of pilgrims, if done in antiquity, or it value in the eyes of collectors, if done in the modern period. Although it is true the second person could have done their work within an hour of the first hand, in the same workshop, the presence of two distinguishable hands is suspicious.
To allay the implication of forgery brought by the two-hands analysis, Shanks mounts a vigorous case against the analyses of two scholars. First, Dr. Rochelle Altman, an Israeli analyst of writing systems, brings to the inscriptions a methodology that looks at not just the forms of letters a scribe/carver chose in creating an inscription, but also at the social and cultural meaning inherent in those choices. She put forward a strong case based on the use of formal lettering in the inscription’s first part and informal cursive lettering in its second part, arguing that the formal characters indicate an official or noble status, while the cursive derives from a rather low-class merchant context—two cultural contexts that do not go well together.19 Rather than refute her arguments, which Shanks admits he is ill-equipped to do, he puts down her credentials.20 Second, Dr. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, a professor at Brigham Young University, also put forward a two-hand theory, which Shanks takes two pages to refute, mostly by suggesting that he is an “amateur.”21 Interestingly, when Shanks mentions McCarter’s views, he does not argue so stridently against them, even though McCarter points out many of the same phenomena discussed by the other two analysts (p.46).22
The report on the ossuary released by the Israel Antiquities Authority on June 18, 2003, provides further support for the two-hand analysis. The independent judgment of Esther Eshel, the expert on Second-Temple period Hebrew and Aramaic scripts appointed to the expert committee, is that the inscription was cut by two different “chisels.”23 She also emphasizes that the two parts of the inscription contain two different types of “handwritings,” which suggests to her that the inscription in not authentic. Her conclusion is that the inscription is a modern forgery, done by the forger in two stages. Indeed, she argues that the forger copied letters of the inscription’s second part from the inscription #570 in Rahmani’s Catalogue. Ironically, this is the very inscription Shanks cites as corroborating evidence (see above). This means that neither the character of the Aramaic used in the inscription nor its paleographic character provide solid support that the inscription as a whole was carved in the first century.