By Eric M. Meyers
Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor
Director of the Graduate Program in Religion
I would like to set the record straight on several issues raised in a recent article entitled, "Lying Scholars? Ossuary Update" in Biblical Archeology Review, Vol. 30, Issue 3.
One of the issues raised by Hershel Shanks is the credibility of Joe Zias' communication with me as summarized in my web article in bibleinterp.com in January 2004. Mr. Shanks also questions the nature of the relationship between Mahmoud Abushhakra, the antiquities dealer, and Mr. Zias, and in the article, Mr. Abushhakra is quoted as stating he does not know Mr. Zias. In fact, several documents contradict this claim, including the numerous export licenses signed for Mr. Abushhakra by Mr. Zias (which are on file in the Rockefeller Museum files). In addition, a photograph appearing on page 52 of the very article in BAR shows Mr. Zias (in a green and red sweater) standing before Mr. Abushhakra. The photographer credited with taking the photo, Dr. Ludwig Kempe, was taken at Mr. Abushhakra's shop by Dr. Kempe, who is prepared to verify that Mr. Abushhakra and Mr. Zias appeared to be well acquainted with one another.
It is therefore puzzling to read in Mr. Shanks' article that Amir Ganor, chief of the IAA robbery unit, accepted the word of Mahmoud Abushhakra over Joe Zias (p.62). The clear evidence that the two were and are acquainted should at least make Mr. Ganor revisit the matter and reconsider the veracity of Mr. Zias' account and that of his unnamed colleague who is a priest at the École Biblique.
As to the questioning of Mr. Zias' motivations in his critiquing of the authenticity of the so-called James Ossuary, I would state simply that Mr. Zias has nothing to gain by lying. He is retired from the Rockefeller Museum post he held for nearly 30 years and has spent much of his life in Israel rescuing and storing artifacts for the government. As a scholar, he has devoted his life to publishing what he believes to be the truth.
Finally, Mr. Shanks questions the purported sale of the ossuary to the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. While Zias may have his dates slightly off, he nonetheless stands by his story.