A Question I Was Asked:

What Are Your Views on the James Ossuary Controversy?

What are your views on the James Ossuary Controversy?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, I will admit that this is not within my area of expertise so I will simply outline what this whole controversy is about and see where we go from there.

New Testament Evidence Not Lacking

There is far more evidence for the veracity of the New Testament than for many other writings which no historian ever doubts. Just check out this chart. Notice how soon the New Testament could be found in manuscript compared to many other ancient writings. Also notice the sheer volume of these manuscripts. Moreover, the variations between these manuscripts is known to be remarkably tiny.

An ossuary was a place or receptacle for the bones of the dead. Apparently these things were frequently used where burial space was scarce. In the middle east, a body was sometimes first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains were removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary meant that it was possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is. However, the practice appears to have virtually disappeared, or become very uncommon, by about 150-200AD.

The James Ossuary is a 1st century chalk box which was claimed to have contained the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. The Aramaic inscription: Ya'akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua (English translation: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus") is cut into one side of the box. The inscription is considered significant because, if genuine, it might provide archeological evidence of Jesus of Nazareth (of course, much evidence does exist for the life of Jesus, but not, so far, much archeological evidence).

The existence of this ossuary was first announced at an October 21, 2002 Washington press conference co-hosted by the Discovery Channel and the Biblical Archaeology Society. The owner of the ossuary is Oded Golan, an Israeli engineer and antiquities collector. However, the authenticity of the inscription upon this ossuary was soon challenged. The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) claimed in 2003 that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date. Oded Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception, including forgery of the Ossuary inscription. This subsequently led to a trial which lasted an incredible seven years before Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict. On March 14, 2012, Golan was finally acquitted of the forgery charges but was convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. However, the judge said that this acquittal "does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago." In short, it remains an open question, nevertheless, this was at least a partial victory for Golan. The ossuary was returned to Golan, who put it on public display.

As one can imagine, all sorts of claims and counter-claims have now been made about this matter including the claim that the Israeli authorities damaged the ossuary while it was in their care. Please note the following:

"In the summer of 2004 the Israeli police, with permission of the IAA, made a red silicon mold of the inscription destroying the 'letter patina' by pulling out this 'soft' patina which cannot be observed anymore, thus, destroying evidence. Consequently, the alleged small amount of masking letter patina is absent now and cannot be studied any further," observed Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani, the geologists who first studied the ossuary before it was revealed to the public in 2002. (source: http://jamesossuarytrial.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/scientific-vandalism.html).

So this matter of the ossuary will not now be finally resolved one way or the other. For Christians, however, it really makes no difference. We know that James was the brother of Jesus and was the senior elder at Jerusalem in the first century AD. So it is important to bear in mind that this was/is an archeological controversy - not a Christian one. After all, much favourable evidence already exists including the discovery of the tablet containing the name of Pontius Pilate, and let us not forget that the very heavy manuscriptal evidence of the New Testament is overwhelming. Just look at the chart to the right:

Robin A. Brace. August 18th, 2014.