Last January your Biblical Archaeology Society hosted a conference in Jerusalem, attended by some of the world’s leading experts, to consider the important inscriptions that have recently been charged as modern forgeries. Scholars came from the United States, England, France, Germany and, of course, Israel and assembled to share their insights and observations. I will file a detailed report in the near future, but it is not too early to share a few observations.
Based on the discussion and some of the things that have not yet been made public, my impressions are:
(1) The ossuary inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” is authentic. A committee of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) declared the inscription a modern forgery, and the government is trying to prove it in a case currently being heard in a Jerusalem court, so most people—scholars and laypeople alike—consider the inscription to be a forgery. But my prediction from listening to the experts is that the little ossuary, or bone box, recently contaminated by the IAA with a red smear and lying in its storerooms unattended, will be found to be authentic.
There is a serious, legitimate question as to whether the Jesus referred to in the inscription is the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth. Scholars are arguing both sides of this question. But that is a different question from whether or not the inscription is a forgery.
The chief reputation to be lost if the inscription is authentic belongs to Professor Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University. He, almost single-handedly, convinced the IAA committee that the inscription is a forgery. He is a widely recognized expert in ceramic petrology; he can reliably tell you the chemical elements in clay. But he was said not to have written a single paper on the petrology of stone, such as the limestone of which the ossuary is made. Stone petrology is far different from clay petrology. More importantly, Goren recently testified in the forgery trial and is said to have conceded on cross-examination that there is (or was) original ancient patina in at least one of the letters of the word Jesus (the ‘ayin). If so, it would seem that the inscription is authentic. Reports of Goren’s courtroom testimony are swirling around the Web.
Professor Goren was invited to our Jerusalem conference, but he did not respond, even negatively, to the invitation. He also rebuffed a prominent French scholar who sought to engage Goren in a collegial scholarly discussion on his findings.
(2) The ivory pomegranate inscription reading “(Belonging) to the priests, the Temple of [Yahwe]h” will be found, I predict, to be authentic. This inscription, too, has been declared a forgery by an IAA (and Israel Museum) committee, again led by the views of Professor Goren.
The two script experts on the committee that declared the pomegranate inscription to be a forgery have now agreed to re-examine it with an open mind in light of a new analysis that is said to prove the inscription authentic.
For many years the pomegranate was thought to be the only surviving artifact from Solomon’s Temple. Again, there is a legitimate scholarly discussion as to whether or not—if it is authentic—it came from Solomon’s Temple. But that is a different question from whether it is authentic.
(3) The Yehoash inscription purports to document repairs to Solomon’s Temple. If authentic, it would be the first royal Israelite (actually Judahite) inscription (of King Yehoash, or Jehoash, in the ninth century B.C.E.). Opinions are so divided regarding this inscription that I am unable to make a prediction. Many very prominent paleographers and philologists are convinced it is a 078forgery. Others, equally prominent, are not so sure. There are just too few inscriptions from this period with which to compare it, they say. Still others, mainly material scientists, are convinced the Yehoash inscription is authentic.
I was impressed by the observation of Ronny Reich, one of the participants in the conference. The forging of the Yehoash inscription, he said, would require knowledge in a number of fields, from ancient Hebrew lexicography to geomorphology. If the inscription is a forgery, there must have been a conspiracy; one person could hardly be knowledgeable in so many fields. But: “If it involved more than one person, something would have leaked.”
Well, it hasn’t leaked—so far! BAR is now offering a reward of $50,000 (see Strata) to induce a leak of information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the forging of the Yehoash inscription.
Last January your Biblical Archaeology Society hosted a conference in Jerusalem, attended by some of the world’s leading experts, to consider the important inscriptions that have recently been charged as modern forgeries. Scholars came from the United States, England, France, Germany and, of course, Israel and assembled to share their insights and observations. I will file a detailed report in the near future, but it is not too early to share a few observations. Based on the discussion and some of the things that have not yet been made public, my impressions are: (1) The ossuary inscribed “James, son […]