In Israel: Yeshua Is Never Far Away
by Shira Sorko-Ram
An inscription on a 1st century ossuary reads, Yaakov, son of Yosef, brother of Yeshua
(James, son of Joseph, brother of Yeshua).
I’ll never forget when terrorist pioneer Yasser Arafat explained to the whole world that Jews had never been in “Palestine,” and there had never been a King David, a King Solomon or Solomon’s Temple. In fact he said that Jesus was the first Palestinian!
You should have heard Israeli journalists’ howls of indignation. “Everybody knows,” they said, “Jesus was a Jew!”
In Israel, Yeshua is everywhere. Every tour bus carrying Christian tourists, every building Israelis are constructing to accommodate Christian (and Jewish) visitors to the sights made so famous by the Man from Galilee. Certainly most secular Israelis have a sort of love-hate relationship with their countryman, Yeshua.
On a recent visit to Israel, Mosab Hassan Yousef, the Arab “Green Prince” agent for Israel’s Internal Security Service (Shin Bet), came to tell of his conversion from Islam to Christianity. Many Israelis now understand that Christians of the “born-again” type are about the only friends Israelis have.
Likewise, Umar Mulinde, the ex-Muslim who was born again to faith in Yeshua, held large campaigns in his native Uganda proclaiming that a true Christian believer who lives by the Bible will love the Jewish people. Israeli news coverage is always very positive with stories of Christians like Mosab and Umar, and, in fact, with other Christian personalities and politicians who come to encourage Israel to stand strong.
Indeed, I remember when I first arrived in Israel in 1967. I had graduated a couple of years before from Southern Methodist University, and there was a certain sentiment among the high-brow professors in those days that the person of Yeshua really probably never existed. At least there was reason for doubt.
So I was quite amazed when I moved to Israel to find that no Jew in this land doubted for a minute that the person of Yeshua was a real historic figure, and that he was born and raised in Israel, taught and did miracles in Galilee, until finally, the Romans crucified him in Jerusalem.
Most secular Jews today would say, “Yeshu” (the way non-Messianic Jews pronounce Yeshua’s name) “was a good Jew. Even a prophet.”
The culprit, they would explain, was Paul - who took Yeshua’s teachings and created a new religion for the Gentiles by making Yeshua into God.
So much for the scrambled history. But at least they got the first part right: Yeshua was born in Bethlehem, lived for the most part in Galilee and died in Jerusalem.
But it doesn’t stop there. Archeologists dig up not just ancient synagogues but also remnants of all kinds of churches built here and there.
Traditional churches mark places all over ancient Jerusalem, claiming to be the spot where Yeshua or his disciples had been.
FRAUD TRIAL OF THE CENTURY
And now for ten long years Israelis have followed the saga of the so-called “Forgery Trial of the Century” which first burst onto the world stage in 2002.
It started with one of the world’s leading collectors of biblical antiquities, a 60 year-old Israeli named Oded Golan. Over a generation, he has collected thousands of artifacts from dealers throughout the Middle East.
Back in the 70’s, he purchased an ossuary, which he says he thinks came from an antiquities shop in Jerusalem once owned by an Arab antiquities dealer, Ot’man Waz-waz. (It was so long ago that he says he is not absolutely sure which dealer he bought it from.)
An ossuary is a stone box - a depository for storing bones of the dead after the decomposition of the body. It was a First Century method to save space. This box came from the Silwan area in the Kidron Valley, southeast of the Temple Mount. According to archaeologists, Jews used ossuaries of this type only from about 20 B.C. until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Owning an ossuary from the First Century is indeed a precious treasure. Nevertheless, Golan says he was unaware for some 35 years that he owned anything more than an anonymous bone box. At some juncture he realized that the box had a faint but still visible Aramaic inscription carved into the stone - Yaakov, bar Yosef, akhui di Yeshua (James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus).
The famous editor of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) Hershel Shanks first heard of the ossuary from his friend Professor Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne who had recently examined the box. Shanks immediately realized the potential significance of the ossuary described by Prof. Lemaire, a world-class paleontologist and archaeologist who specializes in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions.
Oded Golan points to the inscription on the ossuary which he purchased in the 1970's.
There was one hitch. The box was not uncovered in a controlled dig by archeologists, but was brought to an antiquities dealer probably after being looted by grave diggers. It was thereby classified as an “unprovenanced” antiquity.
Shanks nevertheless decided to order a scientific examination of the inscription by the official Geological Survey of Israel (GSI). The GSI geologist “found no reason to question the authenticity of the inscription.”
Shanks then brought in Father Joseph Fitzmyer, the world’s leading expert in Aramaic (the language of the inscription) who also confirmed that the inscription was paleographically sound.
Shanks, feeling there was considerable evidence that the James ossuary was genuine, asked Professor Lamaire to write an article on the ossuary and its inscription - which he did.
EVERYONE KNOWS BUT THE IAA
Ever the consummate publicist for bringing the archeological world to the general public, the charismatic Hershel Shanks announced the discovery of the ossuary at a press conference on October 21, 2002.
The next day, he recalls, the James Ossuary was on the front page of every newspaper in the world, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. But when journalists contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) for comment, the Israeli governmental authority was embarrassed and furious: They knew nothing about the object!
But Shanks was not to be deterred. He was aware of the possibility that if the IAA got hold of the ossuary, they could keep it locked up for years while they “investigated its authenticity.” He also knew that within a month of his announcement, thousands of Biblical archaeologists and Bible scholars would be gathering in Toronto for their annual meeting. So Shanks arranged for an exhibit of the ossuary at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). He had a special showing for the scholars and to the horror of the IAA, the general public was also allowed to see it. A hundred thousand people stood in line to do so.
In order to export the ossuary from Israel to Canada, Oded Golan had to apply for a permit from the IAA which was granted. He had clarified on the application that the ossuary contained the words, Yaacov, son of Yosef, brother of Yeshua and that the ossuary was insured for $1 million.
Looking back, Shanks explains, “If the IAA was furious at the announcement of the ossuary at our press conference, it went bonkers at the fact that it was on display in Canada with their permission! By now, the IAA had awakened to the incredible interest in the ossuary which they themselves had never examined. When, because of the vast crowds, Oded requested an extension of a few weeks in Canada, permission was denied!
IAA PROCLAIMS THE OSSUARY A FAKE
On June 18, 2003 the IAA published a report after their analysis of the patina declaring that the last part of the inscription (brother of Yeshua) is a modern forgery.
The IAA did not question the authenticity of the first century bone box itself, nor did they question the first part of the inscription, James, son of Joseph.
Specifically, the Antiquities Authority claimed that the inscription “brother of Yeshua” was added in modern times and made to look old by the addition of a chalk solution making something that could look like patina.
(Patina is a major key to whether or not any ancient item is genuine or not. The so-called varnish patina is a thin crust of material formed by continuous secretions of micro-organism such as bacteria, fungi, algae, and yeast on the stone and inside some of its grooves, over several centuries and that covers all ancient objects. It takes a few hundred years for any measurable patina to appear on an antiquity.)
Ossuaries collected and displayed at Dominus Flevit Church on the Mount of Olives. There are about 900 known
ossuaries from this period in Israel.
GOLAN INDICTED FOR CRIMES OF FRAUD
In December 2004, Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception, including faking the James Ossuary. The criminal indictment claimed that Golan created fake patina which he applied to the words he himself had carved, “brother of Yeshua.”
The investigation and court procedures lasted for nine years! At times, the courtroom seemed more like a doctoral seminar than a legal proceeding. Fifty-two of the world’s leading experts on archaeology, biblical history, Semitic languages, ancient stones and inscriptions, geology, isotopes (both stable and carbon-14), biology, chemistry, microscopy and glue have participated in an often fascinating and sometimes embarrassing collision of scholarship and criminal law, wrote blogger Matthew Kalman who followed the entire trial.
Oded Golan wrote in March of 2011 that 116 hearings took place, testimonies of 138 witnesses were heard, and over 12,000 pages of transcripts were recorded. Hundreds of expert opinions, scientific reports and other exhibits were presented to the court. Thirty-six antiquities dealers, collectors, conservators, museum employees, and auction house employees testified at the trial, as well.
Here are some of the highlights of the trial:
It must be emphasized the ossuary itself was not suspect. However, because the James Ossuary was “unprovenanced,” there were professors like Eric Meyers from Duke University who on principle doubted the inscription was genuine because it had not been discovered in a controlled archeological dig. Yet he had no proof to show that it was fake.
Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University and a former IAA employee, has been the main force behind the charges of forgery. Prof. Goren submitted an opinion on the ossuary at the IAA’s request in 2003. In that opinion, Prof. Goren stated that he did not find any natural patina of the type called varnish in any of the letters of the inscription. In his evidence-in-chief in court, he stated that discovery of natural varnish patina in a single letter groove would allow one to determine that the inscription is ancient in entirety. But, he maintained, he found none.
However, the defense presented a photograph used in one of Goren’s own presentations given some months before the IAA asked him to represent the prosecution in the James Ossuary trial. In that lecture he had exhibited a slide of a close-up of the letter “shin” in the word Yeshua, even calling this letter an “ancient groove.” To be considered ancient, there had to be patina present.
In fact, in 2007, under cross-examination, Goren finally admitted that in 2003 he had also identified with certainty varnish patina inside the grooves of the letter “ayin,” another letter in Yeshua’s name. To his credit, in 2007 he re-examined the ossuary at his own initiative and sent a letter to the IAA saying he had identified patina in these two letters, and “probably” even in the letter “het” found in the word “brother.”
A second star witness for the IAA was one Joe Zias, who claimed he had seen the James Ossuary in a Jerusalem antiquities shop in the mid-1990s without the critical phrase, “brother of Yeshua.” If true, the addition of these words had to be a modern forgery.
Shanks was determined to track down the antiquities shop owner Mahmoud Abushakra that Zias had visited, and Shanks finally found him and his German wife in a village in Saxony, Germany. The reason Shanks knew finding this man was very important because as a reputable antiquities dealer, Abushakra by law had been required to keep a complete inventory of everything in his shop. Shanks found in his inventory list an ossuary, but with different names “Joseph, son of Judah, son of Hadas.” So much for Joe Zia’s testimony.
As to the charge that Golan had himself carved the words “brother of Yeshua” and then put fake patina in the letters around the year 2000, the defense produced photographs taken in Golan’s home that were dated 1976. In these photographs, the ossuary is shown on a shelf. In an enlargement, the entire inscription can be seen, including “brother of Yeshua.” The photographs were printed on 1970s photographic paper and stamped March 1976. The photo was examined by Gerald Richard, a former FBI agent and an expert for the defense. He testified that nothing about the photographs suggested that they were produced other than in 1976 as the stamps and paper indicated.
If the James Ossuary inscription is authentic, this is
the only archeological evidence with a direct
connection to Yeshua’s family. The spectacular
importance of the ossuary and the massive scale
of the case against Golan have led the case to be
considered the “forgery trial of the century.”
~ Matthew Kalman
EXPERTS AFFIRM AUTHENTICITY
Meanwhile, the experts who declared their belief that the James Ossuary inscription was genuine were many, while not a single one brought proof of fraud.
Dr. Wolfgang E. Krumbein of Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany, having analyzed the ossuary, launched a scholarly but blistering attack against the IAA, asserting that their conclusion “originates from a series of errors, biases, mistaken premises, use of inappropriate methodology, mistaken geochemistry, defective error control, reliance on unconfirmed data, disregard of information such as the cleaning and preservation actions performed, and the use of a comparative isotope methodology despite the fact the the [James Ossuary] inscription fails to meet the cumulative prerequisite conditions for such test and comparisons” [meaning a flawed technique was used for one test.]
Lemaire, the professor friend that first told Shanks about the ossuary, testified that the entire inscription is ancient and was engraved in a single event. He stated that he has no doubt that the entire inscription was ancient and he found no reason to believe the contrary. The second world-famous paleographer, Dr. Ada Yardeni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, examined the ossuary and also said she had no doubt whatsoever that the inscriptions in entirety is of ancient origin, and that it was inscribed by a single individual. She stated, “If this is a forgery, I quit.”
GOLAN CLEARED OF 41 COUNTS OF FORGERY
On March 14, 2012, Judge Aharon Farkash declared Oded Golan innocent of all charges of forgery, though noting this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago” and “it was not proven in any way that the words ‘the brother of Jesus’ necessarily refer to the ‘Jesus’ who appears in Christian writings.” Obviously, declaring the James Ossuary to be the ancient burial bone box of James, brother of Yeshua was beyond the purview of the Judge, even though he himself has a degree in archeology.
Golan was convicted on three minor counts of handling goods suspected of being looted and dealing in antiquities without a license.
When the IAA prosecution heard the acquittal, they raised new accusations against Golan. However, the Judge seemed unimpressed, and instead singled out the police forensics laboratory in his verdict for severe criticism for contaminating the ossuary inscription during testing, rendering it scientifically worthless as far as further testing was concerned.
He charged the Antiquities Authority of “trying to mount a new trial” and even accused the prosecutor of a “witch hunt” against Golan. The IAA has been humiliated and Golan exonerated of fraud crimes. They have yet to return the James Ossuary back to its owner. Shanks argues, “Yes, it was probably found by grave robbers. But we can’t dismiss it simply because it is “too good to be true.”
MIRIAM, GRANDDAUGHTER OF CAIAPHAS
During the time of the trial, another ossuary that was “unprovenanced” (not exhumed by archeologists) was seized by the IAA. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University examined it and immediately declared it authentic, even before any other expert was called in. The name on the ossuary was Miriam, daughter of Yeshua, son of Caiaphas, priest of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri (perhaps a relative of the High Priest Caiaphas in the New Testament). Even though the Miriam inscription contains important priestly names, no one has questioned its authenticity - a striking contrast to the James Ossuary inscription. The reason appears quite simple, says Hershel Shanks. The IAA was in control this time.
This article was researched and quotes taken from the following sources: Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2012; The Authenticity of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Table Inscriptions - Summary of Expert Trial Witnesses by Oded Golan, March 2011; The Troubled Return of the James Ossuary, www.biblicalarchaeology. org; Court says not guilty, by Matthew Kalman, Jpost.com, 12May2012; James Ossuary, Wikipedia
Thank you for your fervent prayers,
Ari and Shira Sorko-Ram
Ari and Shira Sorko-Ram are the founders of Maoz Israel Ministries. The mission of MAOZ is: 1) To declare the Message of Messiah and make disciples in the city of Tel Aviv and throughout Israel. 2) To raise up Israeli leaders to prepare for the coming spiritual awakening among the people of Israel. 3) To educate and inform Christians world-wide of the strategic importance of Israel and the Jewish people in God's plan for world revival. The MAOZ web site is http://www.maozisrael.org/.