The central contradiction in the work of the IAA committee that condemned both the James ossuary inscription and the Yehoash inscription as forgeries is this: The statements of the committee members are full of unanswered questions (for example, does the coating prove that the ossuary inscription was engraved in modern times or only that it was cleaned in modern times?), wildly differing conclusions (that one hand—or two hands—engraved the ossuary inscription; that one part—or no part—of the inscription is authentic), speculations, uncertainties, etc. Yet the committee’s conclusion is firm and clear: The inscriptions are surely forgeries, no doubt about it…

What can account for this internal contradiction? I think I know.

I talked with one member of the committee who believed the ossuary inscription was a forgery, but he and I were able to have an extended and civil discussion about it. At the end of our talk, I said, “You know, if someone were to ask me what your view was, I would say that you believed that there was a 75 percent probability that the ossuary inscription was a fake.”

“Well,” he said, cogitating, and then under his breath: “Well, maybe 80 percent.”

I mentioned this to another committee member, who told me the secret: “The committee decided that we had to reach a firm conclusion.” In other words, for whatever reason, they had to reach a level of certainty that simply wasn’t there.

I also spoke with Uzi Dahari, the chairman of the committee and deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He had no doubt about the committee’s conclusion. “This isn’t 99.9 percent sure,” he said. “It’s 100 percent.”

Few things in the world of archaeology reach that level of certainty. Is this one of them?