Skip to: Site Menu | Main content

Updates on the Ossuary of Ya'acob bar Yosef and the Temple Tablet


    The end of text marker, the elongated final graph in a text or on an inscription, is an anti-fraud technique. On page 33, footnote 4 in Mr. Shanks' book, James, The Brother of Jesus, Lemaire states: "The last letter of the name Joseph is a typical final pe." The last letter in the name “Yosef” is not a "typical final pe." It is much longer than is usual on a final pe; its extra length is an end-of-text marker. There are, of course, many examples of normal and extended final letters in the Rahmani Catalogue. As the name yosef' (yehosef) is so common, there also are many examples of normal and extra length final pe to be seen in Rahmani's Catalogue.

    An extra length final graph can be seen on, for example, Rahmani numbers 15, 16, 22, and 704. This last reads in Aramaic, "Yeshua, son of Yehosef." People tend to forget that these ossuary inscriptions were written by grieving relatives. The inscription on Rahmani number 704 is simply scratched in, but there are ligatures and abbreviations the writer held a straight line; the writer was literate, and he used the end-of-text marker on his final pe. An excellent example of a normal length final pe and another end-of-text marker is found on Rahmani 16. There are two inscriptions. The text of the second inscription reads: "Yehosef son of Shimon." This inscription was written by a literate person and uses the Jerusalem "shin." The final pe on “Yehosef” is the usual length; the final nun on “Shimon” is extended as in the final pe in “Yosef” on the "James" ossuary. (Fig. 9)

Figure 9: End of text marker on Rahmani 16: "Yehosef, son of Shim'on"

    On Rahmani 15, the text reads: YO'EZER baryehosef. The name “Yo'ezer” is written quite large and fills the writing zone between the writing limits. The “bar Yehosef” is written small and hangs from the upper writing limit. The final pe in “Yehosef,” however, extends all the way down and ends *equal* with the large letters of “YO'EZER.” Once again, the final pe in “Yehosef” on Rahmani 15 is an extra length end-of-text marker.

    On all four examples, Rahmani 16, 15, 704, and the "James" ossuary, the extremely long extension on the final graph is an end-of-text marker. The end-of-text marker gives notice that nothing more should appear after this mark; the text has ended.


    Joseph Fitzmyer has been quoted a number of times in print as stating: "The last two words in the inscription, achui d'Yeshua, literally mean 'his brother, of Jesus.'"16 Fitzmyer is correct; it does mean "his brother of Jesus." However, what nobody bothers to mention is that the inscription on Rahmani Number 570 does NOT contain a dalet [d]. The inscription on this ossuary was written by a professional scribe; it is full of abbreviations and the script is a chancery font of the 2nd century CE. The reading with “d” is only proposed; it is not in the text. The proposed reading is

Shimi bar Asiyah achui [d] Hanin. What has been proposed as a “dalet” [d] is a zayin with an added ~, [Z~], an abbreviation for "in memoriam." Further, in the proposed reading, the “Z~” has been moved from before achui to after. (Fig. 10)

Figure 10: Rahmani 570: the "Shimi" ossuary

    The actual text reads: shimi bar'asiyah'Z~ach i nehanin. [Note: the ' is a high marker ("dots") setting off the name of the father -- who must have been an important man for a professional scribe to have bothered to make such a distinction.] In modern English, the inscription reads: Shimi, son of Asiyah; in memoriam, his brother Nehanin. In other words, a normal simple genitive and an inscription that makes perfectly good sense as written.

    The forger demonstrated that he did not read the inscription itself but read only the proposed reading as transliterated into Modern Hebrew square script. We now know why the error of adding that “dalet” -- which is not in the text -- occurred; it was copied from the proposed reading. We can also assert that the forger's ineptitude extends to not bothering to read the accompanying notes on the inscription -- which flatly state that the form of the name "Shimi" is 2nd century CE and later.

    "Achui" (his brother) appears on Rahmani 570 and in one oddity of a scroll from among the DSS known as the "Genesis Apocryphon." The form "achuid" is what we find on this forged inscription. The genitive (possessive) is doubled up (his brother of) on the ossuary, but not in the “Genesis Apocryphon” or in the text as written on Rahmani 570.

    The inclusion of the non-existent “dalet” from a proposed reading of this inscription into the forged inscription, "achuidyeshua," makes it extremely clear that Rahmani 570 was used by the forger as an "authentic" model to write the fake inscription. With a number of ossuaries inscribed "of" -- including the good standard Aramaic "of" written "di" [DY] on Rahmani 801 (mother of) and 226 ([died] of giving birth), we could wonder why anyone would bother to search out this singular example of second-century CE Galilean "achui" on Rahmani 570 to use. Rahmani 570 was used for a very good reason.


    As Dr. Flesher noted, the editor of the "Genesis Apocryphon" is Joseph Fitzmyer.17 Fitzmyer has excellent command of Biblical and Judean Aramaic; he is not an expert on the dialects of Aramaic, or he would not have dismissed the syncopated form, "achui," in his edition of the "Genesis Apocryphon" as a spelling error. The forger(s) assumed Fitzmyer would recognize the "last two words,"18 “achuidyeshua” on the "James" ossuary as being the same unusual form as the "erroneous" “achui” in the “Genesis Apocryphon” which Fitzmyer himself had edited. Fitzmyer was targeted as the expert on Aramaic who would be asked to examine the ossuary and support the reading of the uncommon "achuid." Rahmani number 570 was the ossuary inscription of choice because Fitzmyer was the editor of the "Genesis Apocryphon."


    Rahmani's book was published in 1994. We now know that the second half of the inscription was added after 1995 but before the ossuary was given to the Geological Service of Israel to examine in the summer of 2002. We can, however, narrow the date down even further. The targeting of Fitzmyer as the scholar to support the "reading" of the inscription points to a date in late 2001 -- or even early 2002. Dr. Chadwick is right; the second inscription is a deliberate modern fraud. We have a bottom line for when; the whys are all too clear.


    The question was asked as to where the frame had gone. The question was, and is, rhetorical; the frame has been visible all along. This question was never answered by any of the experts who have authenticated the ossuary.19 The time has come to enlighten them. In keeping with the expensive, made-to-order simplicity of the Ya'acob bar Yosef ossuary, the frame is severe, simple, and expensive. Many people have noted the difference in texture behind the original part of the inscription (Ya'akob bar Yosef) and the forged addition (his brother of Yeshua).

    This difference in texture is the result of surfacing the stone to prepare it for inscribing. The area behind the original inscription was surfaced by a professional stone mason. It was smooth and precise in size. The frame is a reverse excision; the stone was removed within the frame to make a slightly sunken surface. This left a somewhat raised single-line frame made of the unprepared stone of the rest of the box surrounding the excised area. The son or other male relative of Ya'acob bar Yosef wrote on this professionally prepared, slightly sunken surface. Although time-worn, this framed area is still visible on the ossuary.

    The area behind the forged second inscription was also prepared for inscribing, but our forger is not a professional stone mason. He did succeed in lowering the edge next to the final “pe” in “yosef” somewhat and wrote the Jericho aleph right on the edge of the original frame. The slight difference in depth undoubtedly accounts for the choice of the Jericho aleph for the fake inscription.

   Already coated with a thicker layer of fake patina than the rest of the inscription,20 the forged part is now so covered with scratches that it is unlikely we shall ever be able to check on the surfacing on the fraudulent part.21 The original frame, however, is still very much there and visible -- particularly in photographs and when one can see the ossuary not covered by plexiglass.


    One point should be iterated. In antiquity, the text was written as spoken, that is, in modern terminology, in sound bites. The written words produced a visual tape recording. Anybody who has examined ancient texts has seen the visual tape recordings in action. In Aramaic and Hebrew, the graphs move up and down from the upper outer writing limit according to the amount of stress on a given syllable. The graphs expand and contract according to the duration of a sound. The variable spacing between "bites" reflects speech as spoken.

    "Ya'acob bar Yosef" is written in sound bites. The final pe is lowered because the voice drops at the end. "His brother of Yeshua" is written in scripto continuo -- a continuous stream; if it were authentic, it would be written in sound bites. (Fig. 11) Even in the inscriptions on ossuaries written by semi-literates, the text still is written in sound bites. The spacing may not be as controlled, the horizontal and vertical movement may not be as exact, but those inscriptions are written as spoken.

Figure 11: Rahmani 865: writing by "sound bites"

    What about the Greek inscriptions? Greek texts are not written in a continuous stream; they are written by "breathings," that is, the number of syllables that can be said in one breath. On wide format documents, there is a space after a breathing. On narrow format documents, each line is a "breathing." This is true also for early Latin texts. Modern aesthetic judgments apply to modern aesthetics. The inscriptions are not nearly as sloppy as they seem to modern eyes. The ossuary is a very modern forgery. What has been happening with the equally modern and fraudulent Temple Tablet?


    Like the fraudulent ossuary, there has been a concerted effort to keep the inscription on the tablet alive22 and to turn an obvious forgery into merely a scholarly squabble akin to the Shroud of Turin.23

    Nevertheless, there is no question that the inscription on that tablet is a very modern forgery executed sometime between 1996 and 2001.* Aside from the evidence supplied by your author24 and Drs. Joseph Naveh and Yuval Goren,25 as with the amateur carving done on the forged second inscription on the ossuary,26 the forger again revealed his less than perfect carving technique.

    Like the ossuary, the tablet was delivered broken. Easily visible along the line of the break, the forger went over the graphs again and again to reach the desired depth. Needless to say, if the carving had been the work of a professional stone mason, each graph would have been incised with one precisely delivered blow of the mallet against the correctly held chisel. This amateur chisel work is one of this forger's "fingerprints." So, incidentally, is the use of conglomerate scripts. This forger has made the same mistakes on every item thus far identified as coming from his workshop. The items identified include seals, the ossuary, the Temple Tablet, and the conglomerate script on the ostracon known as the "Temple Receipt."27

    On October 21, 2002, Mr. Hershel Shanks, lawyer turned publisher and managing editor of the Biblical Archaeological Review (BAR), a glossy popular pulp magazine, announced to a group of journalists, assembled for the purpose of a media circus, the discovery of an ossuary said to be inscribed: "James brother of Jesus." The ossuary was featured in the November-December 2002 issue of BAR.

    Within a few days, scholars from a variety of disciplines28 raised questions as to the authenticity of the inscription. The moment questions are raised as to the authenticity of the artifact, scholarly ethics require that such questions should be addressed and answered. This is termed an ad rem response.29 If these questions cannot be answered, the ethical response is to cease promotion of the artifact until further investigations have been performed. The ethical response was ignored. Instead, this blatant fake has continued to be promoted.30 Yet there is no question; the second inscription on the ossuary is a modern forgery. Promotion of this fake should be stopped immediately. At this juncture, failure to stop crosses the line from treating the religious communities as a herd of cows to be milked for all they are worth to deliberate fraud. Deliberate fraud, however, is not the province of scholars. Fraud is a criminal offense and best left to the police and postal authorities to handle.

    * The author regrets the need to explicitly state the standard copyright formula. Unfortunately, portions of the Reports on the Ossuary and the Temple Tablet have been plagiarized violating copyright; the only recourse is to iterate what usually is assumed as an ethical "given."

|Page 1|Page 2|Notes|