Skip to: Site Menu | Main content



[1] The basis of the announcement was the essay by André Lemaire, “Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus,” Biblical Archaeology Review (Nov-Dec, 2002), pp. 24-33, 70.

[2] For a description of the talks, see my report, “The Experts and the Ossuary: A Report on the Toronto Sessions about the James Ossuary,” on the website Bible and Interpretation. This website has a reputation for making biblical and archaeological scholarship accessible to the general public. A number of essays about the ossuary may be found there.

[3] Even though Lemaire himself is an internationally known epigrapher, his essay appeared in the Biblical Archaeology Review, which is a popular magazine rather than a peer-reviewed scholarly journal.

[4] The final report of the Israel Archaeological Authority and the individual preliminary reports by the experts can be found in English at the website Bible and Interpretation. The committee was charged with reviewing the possibility of forgery with regard to two items, the James ossuary and the Yehoash inscription. Some scholars studied both objects, while others analyzed only one.

[5] For a view of Shanks written before the IAA report, see R. Altman, “Updates on the Ossuary of Ya’acob bar Yosef and the Temple Tablet,” on the website Bible and Interpretation.

[6] Shanks & Witherington, pp. 54-63.

[7] Ossilegium ended in Jerusalem when the Romans destroyed the city in 70 CE. However the practice continued into the third century in southern Judea and in Galilee. See Levi Yizhaq Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 1994), pp. 21-25 [hereinafter cited as Rahmani, Catalogue].

[8] Shanks cites the work of Dr. Camil Fuchs (Shanks & Witherington, pp. 62-3), a statistician at Tel Aviv University, who brought several further assumptions to the computation of Jerusalem’s population. These assumptions have the effect of reducing the relevant population of Jerusalem and thus reducing the number of times this combination of three names could take place. He estimates that the combination would occur only 2-4 times, making it much more likely that this is the ossuary of James, Jesus’ brother.

[9] Shanks & Witherington, pp. 55-57. Oddly, although the final number of 20 is the correct result of the calculations described, Shanks (following Lemaire) gives the statistical probability of the three-name combination incorrectly. On p. 57 he writes, “The chance that all three names will appear in this order is only 1/4 of 1 percent (…=0.00252).” This is off by a factor of 10. It should be one quarter of one tenth of one percent, or 0.000252.

[10] Shanks & Witherington, pp. 57-59.

[11] See the report by Y. Goren.

[12] Shanks’ discussion on p. 16 reveals his lack of knowledge of Aramaic. He assigns a quote to Professor Joseph Fitzmyer, one of the world’s foremost experts in Aramaic, which contains a mistake in Aramaic that a second-year student would not make. “The form achui doesn’t appear in Aramaic until a couple of centuries later,” Fitzmyer said, “and when it does, it is plural, ‘brothers,’ not singular.” While the first part of Fitzmyer’s quote is correct, the second part is not; the word is not plural. The word ach, “brother,” is irregular. Like the word for father, ab, its singular form takes suffixes that are formally plural. But, this does not mean that the noun is plural. It remains “brother,” not “brothers.” This irregularity appears not only in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic from “a couple centuries later” (i.e., third through seventh centuries CE), but also in Jewish Literary Aramaic of the first and second centuries BCE and CE, and in the Official Aramaic of earlier centuries. It even seems to be true for Biblical Aramaic, given the limited evidence available.

[13] Several times Shanks makes statements to the effect of “I am not competent to judge” (p. 43). This honesty on Shanks’ part is to his credit.

[14] Rahmani, Catalogue, #570. The inscription as given by Rahmani was deciphered by J. Naveh.

[15] A. Yardeni, Textbook of Aramaic, Hebrew and Nabataean Documentary Texts from the Judaean Desert, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 2000), vol. A, p. 236; vol. B, p. 82.

[16] The inscription is #20, from Umm el-Amed, appears in J. Naveh, On Mosaic and Stone (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1978), pp. 40-42, in Hebrew. Fitzmyer and Harrington provide the text and the scholarly bibliography in Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Daniel J. Harrington, A Manual of Palestinian Aramaic Texts (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978), pp. 268-9, 298.

[17] The evidentiary basis upon which Fitzmyer concluded that this was “popular way of writing the patronymic (sic)” on p. 10 of his America essay (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Whose Name is This?” America [November 18, 2002] vol. 187, no. 16, pp. 9-13) has disappeared as fast as it appeared. Shanks cites Fitzmyer’s remark on pp. 22 and 48 of Shanks & Witherington.

[18] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I: A Commentary, 2nd revised edition (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1971), pp. 70-71 167.

[19] Although Shanks quotes her explicitly, he fails give a proper bibliographical citation. Altman’s report is titled, “Official Report on the James Ossuary” and can be found on the Bible and Interpretation website.

[20] Shanks & Witherington, pp. 41-42. In violation of proper netiquette, Shanks also attacks an email Altman wrote during a discussion on a private email list in the first days following the announcement when the only photographs of the inscription available were poor ones gleaned from the press.

[21] When Shanks argues against J. R. Chadwick, he is actually criticizing a manuscript submitted for publication in his magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review, one which the magazine decided not to publish. This might be judged a breach of editorial confidentiality. Chadwick’s essay can now be found on the Bible and Interpretation website.

    Oddly, Shanks seems to find it difficult to give proper bibliographical citations for the work of his critics. In addition to Altman and Chadwick, Shanks also fails to cite Eric Meyers’ first book—on ossuaries no less—when he criticizes it. Meyers’ book is Jewish Ossuaries: Reburial and Rebirth (Rome, 1971). Robert Eisenman, whom Shanks appears to criticize on pp. 40-41, even goes unnamed.

[22] Shanks indicates that Lemaire and others do not agree with the two-hand theory, but none have yet published their analyses in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Indeed, that is the problem with the treatment of this find; to date no analyses, not even Lemaire’s initial article, have appeared in proper scholarly publications.

[23] See my earlier, independent remarks concerning chisel use in “Observing the Ossuary” on the Bible and Interpretation website.

[24] Shanks & Witherington, pp. 16-21.

[25] Ayalon suggests that the seventh sample gave the proper reading because some of the ossuary’s stone contaminated the sample during collection.

[26] Interestingly, in her report to the IAA, Orna Cohen admits that, as a professional courtesy, she gave Oded Golan articles about faking patina. At the time, he claimed he was interested in the process for an architectural project he was working on.

|Page 1|Page 2|Page 3|Page 4|