James Ossuary is an urn that was found in Israel in 2002 and was claimed to have been the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus Christ. Its provenance is now in serious doubt and it is considered a modern forgery. It was closely followed by Jehoash Inscription.

The James Ossuary

In October 21 2002 a press conference of the Discovery Channel and the Biblical Archeology Society presented a small chalk ossuary that had as inscription Yaakov bar Yoseph Achui de Yeshua (translated as "James son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus"). Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archeology Review, told it belonged to an anonymous Israeli antiquities collector. The ossuary had been dated 1st century AD by Geological Survey of Israel (GSI) and Andre Lemair of Sorbonne University. Lemair considered that it was "very possible" that the ossuary had belonged to the biblical James. GSI had determined that chalk was typical of Jerusalem ossuaries. The ossuary was going to be exhibited in Royal Ontario Museum with permission of Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) and there was talk of various documentary deals.

Ossuary was cracked enroute to Royal Ontario Museum and the museum conservators proceeded to repair the damage. In the process they discovered carved rosette decoration on the site opposite the inscription.

Identity of the owner was published in Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz as Israeli engineer and well-known collector Oded Golan.

Critical voices were already heard. Robert Eisenman of University of California-Long Beach, scholar specializing in biblical James, declared the discovery "too perfect".

When the exhibition of the James Ossuary began, Oded Golan flew to Ontario to participate. Lemair defended his conclusion in the session of the Society of Biblical Literature. Shanks belittled his critics and defended Oded Golan.

The Jehoash Inscription

In January 2003, another artifact dubbed Jehoash Inscription appeared in Israel. It was rumored to have surfaced in the construction site or in the Muslim cemetery near the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. It supposedly described repairs made to the temple in Jerusalem by Jehoash, son of King Ahaziah of Judah and corresponded to the account in the 2 Kings 12 in the Bible. Again the owner was an anonymous antiquities dealer, this time in Hebron. SGI initially backed up the claim again.

Find also reignited the schism between Muslim authorities on the Temple Mount and the Israeli group of Temple Mount Faithful; the latter declared that the find was a definite divine sign that the al-Aqsa Mosque of the Temple Mount should be demolished and the new temple built on it immediately.

Criticism appeared again. Israeli historian Nadav Na'aman, who had theorized that the books of the Kings could be based on public inscriptions, opined that the possible forger could have used his theory as a basis. Epigrapher Joseph Naveh of the Hebrew University revealed to the IAA and police that he had met the owners of the stone and had recognized the inscription as a collection of Hebrew, Aramaic and Moabite letters. Frank Cross of Harvard University noted various errors in spelling and terminology. Yuval Goren of Tel-Aviv University demonstrated how the convincing fake could be produced by abrasive airbrush. The stone itself remained hidden.

Police Investigation

Israeli magazine Maariv correspondent Boaz Gaon reported that IIA Theft Unit had focused their attention of the Jehoash Inscription as being an expensive bait to defraud a prominent collector in London. Israeli investigators linked a phony business card and a phone number to a Tel Aviv private eye who admitted that his employed was Oded Golan of James Ossuary fame. Oded denied that he was the owner of the stone and claimed that the real owner was a Palestinian antiquities dealer who lived in area under Palestinian Authority and would therefore remain nameless.

March 19 2003 article of Maariv told that court had given a search warrant on Golan's apartment, office and rented warehouse. The search brought forth incriminated documents and photographs of Golan beside the Jehoash Inscription. Under interrogation, Golan promised to reveal the locations of the stone in exchange for immunity from prosecution but was refused.

Then police made a new search in storage page Golan had rented in Ramat Gan but had not disclosed to the police. They found scores of dubious artifacts, forged ancient seals and other inscriptions in various stages of production and tools and documentation to help in the manufacture of the forgeries. Under harsh questioning, Golan reputedly broke down, confessed and promised to hand over the Jehoash Inscription.

IAA Commission

Limor Livnat, Israeli Minister of Culture, mandated the work of a scientific commission to study the suspicious finds. IAA begun a heavy investigation about the affair.

As for the James Ossuary, epigraphers of IAA concluded that the inscription was modern. Chalk type of the ossuary did match with the type of chalk in various other ancient ossuaries. However, Yuval Goren and Avner Ayalon of GSI identified three different coatings in the ossuary, the last of which was artificial and covered only the inscription. Letters had been cut through the patina and covered with artificial coating. Different parts of the text in different styles had been copied from a catalog of Jewish ossuaries and possible carved by the aid of scanning software. Ossuary was authentic - albeit unusual in shape - but the inscription was a fake.

As for the Jehoash Inscription, commission concluded that various mistakes in the spelling and mixture of different alphabets made sure this was a modern forgery. The stone was typical to western Cyprus and areas in further west. Patina over the chiseled letters was different from that of the back of the stone and could easily be wiped off the stone by hand.

In press conference in Jerusalem in June 18 2003 the IAA commission declared that both inscriptions were modern forgeries.


Some people still refused to believe the conclusion. Oded Golan claimed publicly to believe his finding were genuine. Hershel Shanks declared that he did not believe the evidence and launched a personal complaint against IAA director Shuka Dorfman. Lemaire supported his original assessment when Frank Cross regretted Shank's attitude.

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