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The Controversy Surrounding the James Ossuary

Ossuary 80/509 disappeared before it could be checked for inscriptions and decorations.

There were ten ossuaries in the tomb discovered in 1980. Ten catalogued. The tenth went missing. It was not photographed like the others. The measurements for it were hastily scribbled estimates, rounded off: 60x26x30.

The James Ossuary came to light in 2002 when Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeological Review connected with the eccentric antiquities collector Oded Golan. A limestone bone box inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Amazing.

Golan, who had wanted to remain anonymous but who soon had to face the world, stated that he recalled having purchased the ossuary on the underground market in the late 1970s. If he bought it before 1978, it would be his. But the laws changed in Israel that year: any significant find that fell into an individual’s hand would automatically become the property of the State. Did it actually come on the market in 1980? Golan would not want to lose title to the artifact. Maybe he fudged things a little…

It’s true, there were various problems with the James ossuary. One, it wasn’t found in situ by archaeologists—it had no provenance. Two, the IAA had never heard of it—until it made embarrassing headline news at a Discovery Channel press conference held in Washington, DC, which chipped away at the credibility of the individuals involved. Three, after the state confiscated the ossuary, the second part of the inscription (“brother of Jesus”) of the inscription was declared to be a fake.

However, the reality is that the jury—literally, since there is an ongoing court case—is still out on that artifact. The trial resumes in Jerusalem on February 27, 2007. In 2006, Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein, of Oldenburg University, Germany, the world’s foremost expert on stone accumulated patina, declared the inscription to be authentic. It was cleaned, not forged.

The documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” presents startling new evidence in the ongoing debate concerning the “James Ossuary”. Namely; the James ossuary was found around 1980. “The Jesus Family Tomb” was discovered in 1980. One of the ten ossuaries went missing from “The Jesus Family Tomb”. Its dimensions generally match the James ossuary. Recent tests conducted at the CSI Suffolk Crime lab in New York demonstrate that the patina (a chemical film encrustation on the box) from the James ossuary matches the patina from the other ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb.

Considering the already significant cluster of New Testament names, this is a massive discovery that should prompt at least more testing against other ossuaries of the region. If the patina matches only those ossuaries found in the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries, it would send the statistics on the name cluster into the stratosphere.


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