Updates on the Ossuary of Ya'acob bar Yosef and the Temple Tablet

Rochelle I. Altman
May 2003

    *No part of this article may be reproduced in any format, electronic, print, or otherwise, without the expressed written permission of the author. Expressed written permission has been granted to the on-line journal, Bible and Interpretation. The article will be reproduced in its entirety, with expressed permission, in an upcoming book.


    This article was completed in May 2003. As it is unethical to discuss anything that is sub judice in a public forum, publication had to wait until the release of the reports on the two artifacts issued on Wednesday, June 18, 2003 by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

    As a result of the release of these two reports by the IAA, one item has been added and cited from a response as of Wednesday, June 18, 2003, and one comment has been made on the IAA reports. Otherwise, the article is as written one month ago.

    Please note that the ability to track the model used for a graph is a basic requirement in the professional training of a script designer, but not of epigraphers or paleographers. Nor does this imply anything negative about these fields; this is merely notice that, while there is a large area of overlap between the fields, the training of an epigrapher or paleographer does not cover exactly the same areas as that of a script designer.

    Finally, the IAA reports do not take into account some very important points:

  1. The graphs for the first part are not in Rahmani and do not appear as written anywhere else.
  2. The "James bond" covers both sides of the inscription, but this does not mean that both sides were written at the same time. It merely means that the forgers coated both sides to make them appear to have been written at the same time and then carved the second part and went over the entire inscription again.
  3. The heavier fake patina over the second part confirms that the second part is a very modern addition to an existing inscription.
  4. The third point also explains why the first part is correctly written in sound bites and why the second part is written in the completely wrong continuous stream.



    The majority of scholars agree that the inscription on the ossuary of Ya'acob bar Yosef is in two parts. Indeed, the meeting at the Toronto conference in November 2002 turned into a discussion of when and why the second part, "his brother of Yeshua," had been added.1 While still an open question at that date, nonetheless, it had become clear that “why” would depend rather strongly on “when.”

    “When” has no effect on any other conclusions -- the dialect of the second part is still Galilean Palestinian Aramaic of the second century CE and later;2 there are still two hands, two different fonts, two different levels of execution, two different carvers, and two different social strata.3 “When,” however, has been a bothersome point all along. The font on the first part is a coherent design, a member of a font family of formal bookhands usually reserved for editions of the Torah (Pentateuch). (Hence, it was extremely pretentious to use on an ossuary.)

    The font used on the second part is cursive, a mixture of business fonts. The technical term for such a mixture is a conglomerate font, that is, the graphs belong to different script designs.4 As prior to the second quarter of the 20th century CE, nobody,5 literate or not, would conflate five different script designs in a single phrase; there are only two reasons why a conglomerate would appear on this inscription.

  1. The second part is relatively old and was added by someone who was unfamiliar with the correct scripts in use several hundred years earlier. If early, the person or persons used whatever models were available on other nearby ossuaries.
  2. The second part is very modern indeed. If modern, it had to have been done by someone who assumed that the script merely had to be from the correct time period and the use of a conglomerate made no difference.6 A conglomerate font is a definitive mark of a forgery. Without additional information, the amateur execution suggested the fourth century (when relic collecting got under way) and someone unfamiliar with either dialects of Western Aramaic or the correct scripts and fonts for the time frame of the original. As we shall see shortly, the additional information has been supplied. Because the second part of the inscription is a conglomerate, if modern, this precludes the use of one of the books available today that contain full sets of the different scripts. The second part was executed by someone copying from other another source.

    One item has kept appearing among the very small, yet media-powerful, pro-authenticity faction.7 This was a constant reference to ossuary number 570 in L. Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel, as evidence that the form “achuid” for "brother of" was in "common use."8 Rahmani 570 dates to the second century CE. The inscription on Rahmani 570 was written by a professional scribe in a chancery font that is chock full of abbreviations. A very careful re-examination of every ossuary in Rahmani seemed to be in order.

    The assumption that the graphs were copied from ossuaries and the assumption that someone unfamiliar with the dialects of Aramaic have turned out to be factual, not hypothetical.9 The assumption that the forger assumed that the use of a conglomerate did not matter has also become fact. To this, we should add that the forger's Greek is very weak, if he (or they) knows Greek at all.

    We can now state the earliest possible date for this addition.10 The graphs are from ossuaries, but not in some cave where the box was found. Just as Rahmani 570 was definitely copied as the model for "his brother of,"11 the graphs used to write "his brother of Jesus" are copied from ossuaries, all right, ossuaries in Rahmani's book.

    Perhaps we should take a moment to note that one of the major advances in the examination of documents has been the computer and its ability to digitize photographs. The fact that scribes used different pressure when writing has long been known. With a digitized scan, one can separate out the different hands by viewing the document under different filters. In the case of the ossuary inscriptions, the first part (Ya'akob bar Yosef) remains stable at all percentages of filtration. The second part (achui d Yeshua) keeps shifting to the extent that some of the graphs disappear entirely.

    Digitization has one other enormous advantage when viewing inscriptions, particularly those that are obscured by encrustations. If one inverts the digital photograph, one can "see through" the encrustations to what is really there. To avoid the subjective interpretation of an artist's eye, in the examples below, the illustrations are traced directly from the inverted photograph and show the letter graphs exactly as they are in the second inscription on the ossuary. The inverted photograph enables a true comparison of the graphs on the ossuary with the inscriptions in Rahmani's catalogue.

    The Rahmani Catalogue contains 895 ossuaries of which 233 have inscriptions. Of these 233 with inscriptions, 143 are in square script (Jewish scripts), 73 in Greek, 14 Greek-Aramaic or Greek-Hebrew bilinguals, 2 in Latin, and 1 in Palmyrene script. On many of the boxes, inscriptions were written by more than one hand.

    The forger(s) made five very serious mistakes:

  1. The forger firmly believes the common error that scripts develop. Scripts do not develop: methods develop; scripts mutate. There must be an existing class model for scripts to mutate from.
  2. In spite of assertions by Andre Lemaire, including presumptive examples,12 no inscription on any ossuary in Rahmani is written in a mixture of fonts in one word: not one. Even the inscriptions written by semi-literates, no matter how poorly executed, are in one font design. All fourteen Greek-Aramaic and Greek-Hebrew bilingual inscriptions are written in one font per language.
  3. The forger used as a model for one of the graphs an inscription on an ossuary from Jericho. The scripts and fonts in use at Jericho are not the same designs as those used at Jerusalem.13
  4. The forger did not bother to read the inscriptions themselves; he
    read only the translations into English and the transliterations into modern Hebrew square script.
  5. In his delusion that one can use any graphs from any ossuary, he did not realize that the cursive script designs used on ossuaries in the Jerusalem area between ca. 5 and 70 CE have some decidedly peculiar features. A script is bound to cultural identity and reflects events and changes of power structure within any given period. The design family popular during this period of roughly 65 years is unusual and time-specific.14

    The “shin” the forger used on the ossuary was not used on ossuaries from Jerusalem in the relevant time period.


    This is a most peculiar shin for a cursive design: its model is an uncommon form of square script monumental. This shin consists of a straight minim (upright stroke) with two oblique strokes to the right of the upright. The upright descends below the bottom limit of the writing zone. (Fig. 1)

Figure 1: The angular shins



Figure 1: The angular shins

    There are slight variations (e.g., a slight leftwards tilt, reflected, tailed, truncated, etc.) dependent upon the individual who wrote the inscription on a given ossuary, but the minim is always straight and so are the oblique lines. Of the inscriptions containing a shin, this shin can be seen on, among others, Rahmani 9, 12, 13, 16, 18, 23, 24, 26, 66, 71, 86, 217, 288, 293, 342, 270, 430, 455, 559, 582, 610, 651, 655, 700, 702, 716, and 730.

    The reflected form can be seen, for instance, on Rahmani 38, 610, and 682. The complete script design that goes with this “shin” is very angular. A slightly rounded mutation of this design is also used during the period, but it does not appear to be a Jerusalem script. In this design, the “shin” still has a straight minim and oblique lines but incorporates curves at the ends of the obliques as, for example, on Rahmani 801, an ossuary from Jericho. These "tip" curves are incorporated into the rest of the graphs in this script design. Hand 4 (of 6) on Rahmani 217 uses this probable Jericho shin; the other five use the Jerusalem shin. (Fig.2)

Figure 2: Top: Jerusalem shins; Bottom: Jericho shins





Figure 2: Top: Jerusalem shins; Bottom: Jericho shins

    Rahmani 520, found on Mount Scopus, is an excellent example of the Jericho script design written by an educated person -- which tends to indicate that the family either was from Jericho; or the family lived in Jericho, but Ashuni, son of Shim'on, was from Jerusalem and was brought home to the family cave tomb in Jerusalem from Jericho; or the family was from Jerusalem but now lived in Jericho. [Number 520 is one of the boxes Lemaire claimed to be in a "mixture" of fonts; it is not. The inscription is written by two hands using the same Jericho font; the first hand was fully literate; the second hand was still learning to write (age 13??) and did not as yet have full control.]

The use of this straight-minim/oblique-line shin is consistent on ossuaries throughout the relevant time period on boxes from the Jerusalem area. The familar "round" designs date to BCE or post 70 CE. The “shin” on the "James" ossuary was not used on ossuaries from Jerusalem in this period at all. The shin on the ossuary is a variation of the very common curved-arm shin of business cursives in use during the BCE period and after 70 CE. The ossuary shin has a straight minim; the curved-arms are obscured by the extra thick patina over that part of the inscription but are quite clear in the inverted digitized scan. As the curved-arm shin is so common, we would not be able to say which was the model if it were not that the ossuary shin uses precisely the same curved-arms as those of Rahmani number 488.

    Rahmani 488 comes from a large group found in 1974 in a double-cave system with five chambers. The shin indicates that this box is from the earliest levels. (Fig. 3) The shin on Rahmani 198 is not the model, which again is of the same family of script designs that were in standard use except during the great majority of the 1st century CE.

Figure 3: Right: Rahmani 488 shin; Left: Ossuary shin









Figure 3: Right: Rahmani 488 shin; Left: Ossuary shin


    The Hebrew/Aramaic graph that most closely resembles the "dalet" inscribed in "achuid" on the ossuary is an “ayin.” In Greek, the graph is an upsilon. At no point in the history of the dalet graph, from Ebraeo-Phoenician down through square letter, do we find a dalet of this form. The Paleo-Ebraic and Square script dalet always have some kind of "cup" on the top cross-stroke. This can vary from a straight line to an open “4” (fig. 4).

Figure 4: Paleo-Hebraic and Square script dalets across the centuries. Left: Hebraeo-Phoenician; (2) Paleo-Hebraic; (3) DSS; Right: modern cursive and print type-font


Figure 4: Paleo-Hebraic and Square script dalets across the centuries. Left: Hebraeo-Phoenician; (2) Paleo-Hebraic; (3) DSS; Right: modern cursive and print type-font

    M. Lemaire has cited Rahmani number 801 as another example of a dalet written in the manner of the dalet in the ossuary. He states that the dalet on the ossuary has an upper stroke that lowers on the right. The dalet on Rahmani 801 bears no resemblance at all to the supposed "dalet" on the ossuary. (Fig. 5) The dalet on the ossuary is either an ayin or an upsilon.

Figure 5: Left: Rahmani 801 dalet; Right: Ossuary "dalet"











Figure 5: Left: Rahmani 801 dalet; Right: Ossuary "dalet"

    The model for the "dalet" is Rahmani number 568 and, as suspected, is an “upsilon” that has been confused with a dalet. (Fig. 6) The name, written on the narrow side in Greek, is IOYDAS (ioudas); in English and the Romance languages the name is "Judas." The final sigma on 568 looks like a reflected resh. A very similar upsilon is found on Rahmani 32, only written IOUDAC. That “C” is a sigma, but only scholars very familiar with early Greek scripts know that is a sigma.

Figure 6: Left: Rahmani 568 upsilon; Right: Ossuary upsilon/"dalet"





Figure 6: Left: Rahmani 568 upsilon; Right: Ossuary upsilon/"dalet"

    Rahmani 35 is from the same cave-tomb as 32; this one is a bilingual Greek- Hebrew inscription reading: IOYDA C [iouda s] HDWHI <-- [yehuda] HRWPS <-- [shappira*][* possibly "the beautiful" to distinguish this yehuda from the other one in the same cave-tomb???]

    The inscription on number 35 is the same graph but not quite as neatly inscribed as that on 32. On Rahmani 35, the sigma looks disconnected, leaving the name as IOYDA and the graph is only partial. In any case, the third letter, the upsilon in IOUDAS was taken for a delta or “dalet.” The forger's Greek is either non-existent or is very weak indeed.

    The decorations on 32 and 35 place them to the time of Herod, that is, 37 BCE to ca. 5 CE. “Judas” on Rahmani 568 is the second name on the box; the first name, MARKEOC is mentioned in Josephus and also at Masada before 73-74 CE and may be the reason for the choice of number 568 as the model.


    The aleph is an "antique" form. The script model for this font design is from a coin script used during the Hasmonai'im period (2nd-1st BCE). This cursive font design is not a Jerusalem script; it was used in Jericho. The aleph used in "brother" [ach] is, in fact, from Rahmani number 783 (Fig. 7). The specificity of this particular font design as tied to Jericho can be seen on Rahmani numbers 796, 797, and 803. The Jericho aleph can be seen in five different hands on Rahmani 797. [Rahmani 777 is from Jericho, but the deceased is from Jerusalem (Pelatya, from Jerusalem), and the font used to inscribe number 777 is, naturally enough, a Jerusalem font.]

Figure 7: Left: Jerusalem alephs; Middle: Jericho alephs; Right: Ossuary Aleph




Figure 7: Left: Jerusalem alephs; Middle: Jericho alephs; Right: Ossuary Aleph


    The ayin in "Yeshua," as has already been noted, is not the same as the ayin in "Ya'acob," although it clearly is an attempt to imitate the authentic ayin in Ya'acob. The ayin in Ya'acob is a formal bookhand design. The attempt at imitation led to a composite ayin: it is a weird mixture of a chancery round-lobe and a cursive angled-foot. (Fig. 8)

Figure 8: Left: ayin in "yeshua"; Right: ayin in "ya'acob"








Figure 8: Left: ayin in "yeshua"; Right: ayin in "ya'acob"


    As the form of the yod has been used to claim the date of 63 CE for the ossuary, we do have to take a look at the forms. An inscription from the period cannot be dated from the vav; it can be dated from a peculiar elongation of the yod. This design feature, the elongated “yod,” while it appears in scrolls produced from a certain group of scriptoria during the BCE period, dates an ossuary inscription to post 70 CE and later. Without exception, prior to the very end of the 1st century or beginning of the 2nd century CE, every inscription on an ossuary written in Aramaic or Hebrew in Rahmani from Jerusalem makes a clear distinction between the vav and the yod. Even Rahmani 572, which uses the elongated yod and the 4-shaped dalet, dates to between the last quarter of the first century and the early part of the second. Further, the elongated yod in "achuid" [his brother of] is a result of the amateur carving on the second half; it is a slip of the chisel.15 The yod in "achuid" is actually a normal yod as in "yeshua." As the elongated first yod in the second part of the inscription is merely a slip of the chisel, one cannot date anything by the form of these yods.

    This yod is in the same script design family that was in use at Elephantine in the 6th-5th century BCE. Hence, the yods on this part of the inscription date to between the 6th century BCE and the 1st century CE. The two yods in the first half are quite consistent, made at the same angle, are distinct from the vavs, and have the mini-wedges that are part of this formal script design. This script design can be dated to between ca. 2nd BCE and the first quarter of the 1st CE. The two yods on the second part are inconsistent, made at different angles, and as the elongation of the yod in “achuid” is merely a slip of the chisel, are still distinct from the vavs. These two yods do not have wedges. The vavs and yods in "achuidyeshua" cannot be assigned to any one ossuary. These two graphs are too common to pin down.


    The end of text marker, the elongated final graph in a text or on an inscription, is an anti-fraud technique. On page 33, footnote 4 in Mr. Shanks' book, James, The Brother of Jesus, Lemaire states: "The last letter of the name Joseph is a typical final pe." The last letter in the name “Yosef” is not a "typical final pe." It is much longer than is usual on a final pe; its extra length is an end-of-text marker. There are, of course, many examples of normal and extended final letters in the Rahmani Catalogue. As the name yosef' (yehosef) is so common, there also are many examples of normal and extra length final pe to be seen in Rahmani's Catalogue.

    An extra length final graph can be seen on, for example, Rahmani numbers 15, 16, 22, and 704. This last reads in Aramaic, "Yeshua, son of Yehosef." People tend to forget that these ossuary inscriptions were written by grieving relatives. The inscription on Rahmani number 704 is simply scratched in, but there are ligatures and abbreviations the writer held a straight line; the writer was literate, and he used the end-of-text marker on his final pe. An excellent example of a normal length final pe and another end-of-text marker is found on Rahmani 16. There are two inscriptions. The text of the second inscription reads: "Yehosef son of Shimon." This inscription was written by a literate person and uses the Jerusalem "shin." The final pe on “Yehosef” is the usual length; the final nun on “Shimon” is extended as in the final pe in “Yosef” on the "James" ossuary. (Fig. 9)

Figure 9: End of text marker on Rahmani 16: "Yehosef, son of Shim'on"










Figure 9: End of text marker on Rahmani 16: "Yehosef, son of Shim'on"

    On Rahmani 15, the text reads: YO'EZER baryehosef. The name “Yo'ezer” is written quite large and fills the writing zone between the writing limits. The “bar Yehosef” is written small and hangs from the upper writing limit. The final pe in “Yehosef,” however, extends all the way down and ends *equal* with the large letters of “YO'EZER.” Once again, the final pe in “Yehosef” on Rahmani 15 is an extra length end-of-text marker.

    On all four examples, Rahmani 16, 15, 704, and the "James" ossuary, the extremely long extension on the final graph is an end-of-text marker. The end-of-text marker gives notice that nothing more should appear after this mark; the text has ended.


    Joseph Fitzmyer has been quoted a number of times in print as stating: "The last two words in the inscription, achui d'Yeshua, literally mean 'his brother, of Jesus.'"16 Fitzmyer is correct; it does mean "his brother of Jesus." However, what nobody bothers to mention is that the inscription on Rahmani Number 570 does NOT contain a dalet [d]. The inscription on this ossuary was written by a professional scribe; it is full of abbreviations and the script is a chancery font of the 2nd century CE. The reading with “d” is only proposed; it is not in the text. The proposed reading is 

Shimi bar Asiyah achui [d] Hanin


Shimi bar Asiyah achui [d] Hanin. What has been proposed as a “dalet” [d] is a zayin with an added ~, [Z~], an abbreviation for "in memoriam." Further, in the proposed reading, the “Z~” has been moved from before achui to after. (Fig. 10)

Figure 10: Rahmani 570: the "Shimi" ossuary

Figure 10: Rahmani 570: the "Shimi" ossuary

    The actual text reads: shimi bar'asiyah'Z~ach i nehanin. [Note: the ' is a high marker ("dots") setting off the name of the father -- who must have been an important man for a professional scribe to have bothered to make such a distinction.] In modern English, the inscription reads: Shimi, son of Asiyah; in memoriam, his brother Nehanin. In other words, a normal simple genitive and an inscription that makes perfectly good sense as written.

    The forger demonstrated that he did not read the inscription itself but read only the proposed reading as transliterated into Modern Hebrew square script. We now know why the error of adding that “dalet” -- which is not in the text -- occurred; it was copied from the proposed reading. We can also assert that the forger's ineptitude extends to not bothering to read the accompanying notes on the inscription -- which flatly state that the form of the name "Shimi" is 2nd century CE and later.

    "Achui" (his brother) appears on Rahmani 570 and in one oddity of a scroll from among the DSS known as the "Genesis Apocryphon." The form "achuid" is what we find on this forged inscription. The genitive (possessive) is doubled up (his brother of) on the ossuary, but not in the “Genesis Apocryphon” or in the text as written on Rahmani 570.

    The inclusion of the non-existent “dalet” from a proposed reading of this inscription into the forged inscription, "achuidyeshua," makes it extremely clear that Rahmani 570 was used by the forger as an "authentic" model to write the fake inscription. With a number of ossuaries inscribed "of" -- including the good standard Aramaic "of" written "di" [DY] on Rahmani 801 (mother of) and 226 ([died] of giving birth), we could wonder why anyone would bother to search out this singular example of second-century CE Galilean "achui" on Rahmani 570 to use. Rahmani 570 was used for a very good reason.


    As Dr. Flesher noted, the editor of the "Genesis Apocryphon" is Joseph Fitzmyer.17 Fitzmyer has excellent command of Biblical and Judean Aramaic; he is not an expert on the dialects of Aramaic, or he would not have dismissed the syncopated form, "achui," in his edition of the "Genesis Apocryphon" as a spelling error. The forger(s) assumed Fitzmyer would recognize the "last two words,"18 “achuidyeshua” on the "James" ossuary as being the same unusual form as the "erroneous" “achui” in the “Genesis Apocryphon” which Fitzmyer himself had edited. Fitzmyer was targeted as the expert on Aramaic who would be asked to examine the ossuary and support the reading of the uncommon "achuid." Rahmani number 570 was the ossuary inscription of choice because Fitzmyer was the editor of the "Genesis Apocryphon."


    Rahmani's book was published in 1994. We now know that the second half of the inscription was added after 1995 but before the ossuary was given to the Geological Service of Israel to examine in the summer of 2002. We can, however, narrow the date down even further. The targeting of Fitzmyer as the scholar to support the "reading" of the inscription points to a date in late 2001 -- or even early 2002. Dr. Chadwick is right; the second inscription is a deliberate modern fraud. We have a bottom line for when; the whys are all too clear.


    The question was asked as to where the frame had gone. The question was, and is, rhetorical; the frame has been visible all along. This question was never answered by any of the experts who have authenticated the ossuary.19 The time has come to enlighten them. In keeping with the expensive, made-to-order simplicity of the Ya'acob bar Yosef ossuary, the frame is severe, simple, and expensive. Many people have noted the difference in texture behind the original part of the inscription (Ya'akob bar Yosef) and the forged addition (his brother of Yeshua).

    This difference in texture is the result of surfacing the stone to prepare it for inscribing. The area behind the original inscription was surfaced by a professional stone mason. It was smooth and precise in size. The frame is a reverse excision; the stone was removed within the frame to make a slightly sunken surface. This left a somewhat raised single-line frame made of the unprepared stone of the rest of the box surrounding the excised area. The son or other male relative of Ya'acob bar Yosef wrote on this professionally prepared, slightly sunken surface. Although time-worn, this framed area is still visible on the ossuary.

    The area behind the forged second inscription was also prepared for inscribing, but our forger is not a professional stone mason. He did succeed in lowering the edge next to the final “pe” in “yosef” somewhat and wrote the Jericho aleph right on the edge of the original frame. The slight difference in depth undoubtedly accounts for the choice of the Jericho aleph for the fake inscription.

   Already coated with a thicker layer of fake patina than the rest of the inscription,20 the forged part is now so covered with scratches that it is unlikely we shall ever be able to check on the surfacing on the fraudulent part.21 The original frame, however, is still very much there and visible -- particularly in photographs and when one can see the ossuary not covered by plexiglass.


    One point should be iterated. In antiquity, the text was written as spoken, that is, in modern terminology, in sound bites. The written words produced a visual tape recording. Anybody who has examined ancient texts has seen the visual tape recordings in action. In Aramaic and Hebrew, the graphs move up and down from the upper outer writing limit according to the amount of stress on a given syllable. The graphs expand and contract according to the duration of a sound. The variable spacing between "bites" reflects speech as spoken.

    "Ya'acob bar Yosef" is written in sound bites. The final pe is lowered because the voice drops at the end. "His brother of Yeshua" is written in scripto continuo -- a continuous stream; if it were authentic, it would be written in sound bites. (Fig. 11) Even in the inscriptions on ossuaries written by semi-literates, the text still is written in sound bites. The spacing may not be as controlled, the horizontal and vertical movement may not be as exact, but those inscriptions are written as spoken.

Figure 11: Rahmani 865: writing by "sound bites"



Figure 11: Rahmani 865: writing by "sound bites"

    What about the Greek inscriptions? Greek texts are not written in a continuous stream; they are written by "breathings," that is, the number of syllables that can be said in one breath. On wide format documents, there is a space after a breathing. On narrow format documents, each line is a "breathing." This is true also for early Latin texts. Modern aesthetic judgments apply to modern aesthetics. The inscriptions are not nearly as sloppy as they seem to modern eyes. The ossuary is a very modern forgery. What has been happening with the equally modern and fraudulent Temple Tablet?


    Like the fraudulent ossuary, there has been a concerted effort to keep the inscription on the tablet alive22 and to turn an obvious forgery into merely a scholarly squabble akin to the Shroud of Turin.23

    Nevertheless, there is no question that the inscription on that tablet is a very modern forgery executed sometime between 1996 and 2001.* Aside from the evidence supplied by your author24 and Drs. Joseph Naveh and Yuval Goren,25 as with the amateur carving done on the forged second inscription on the ossuary,26 the forger again revealed his less than perfect carving technique.

    Like the ossuary, the tablet was delivered broken. Easily visible along the line of the break, the forger went over the graphs again and again to reach the desired depth. Needless to say, if the carving had been the work of a professional stone mason, each graph would have been incised with one precisely delivered blow of the mallet against the correctly held chisel. This amateur chisel work is one of this forger's "fingerprints." So, incidentally, is the use of conglomerate scripts. This forger has made the same mistakes on every item thus far identified as coming from his workshop. The items identified include seals, the ossuary, the Temple Tablet, and the conglomerate script on the ostracon known as the "Temple Receipt."27

    On October 21, 2002, Mr. Hershel Shanks, lawyer turned publisher and managing editor of the Biblical Archaeological Review (BAR), a glossy popular pulp magazine, announced to a group of journalists, assembled for the purpose of a media circus, the discovery of an ossuary said to be inscribed: "James brother of Jesus." The ossuary was featured in the November-December 2002 issue of BAR.

    Within a few days, scholars from a variety of disciplines28 raised questions as to the authenticity of the inscription. The moment questions are raised as to the authenticity of the artifact, scholarly ethics require that such questions should be addressed and answered. This is termed an ad rem response.29 If these questions cannot be answered, the ethical response is to cease promotion of the artifact until further investigations have been performed. The ethical response was ignored. Instead, this blatant fake has continued to be promoted.30 Yet there is no question; the second inscription on the ossuary is a modern forgery. Promotion of this fake should be stopped immediately. At this juncture, failure to stop crosses the line from treating the religious communities as a herd of cows to be milked for all they are worth to deliberate fraud. Deliberate fraud, however, is not the province of scholars. Fraud is a criminal offense and best left to the police and postal authorities to handle.

    * The author regrets the need to explicitly state the standard copyright formula. Unfortunately, portions of the Reports on the Ossuary and the Temple Tablet have been plagiarized violating copyright; the only recourse is to iterate what usually is assumed as an ethical "given."


[1] From the beginning, it was not clear when the second half of the inscription on the ossuary was added. (See Paul Flesher, "The Experts and the Ossuary" ; J. Rivera, Baltimore Sun, Friday, Nov. 29, 2002).

[2] See Paul Flesher (President of the International Organization for Targumic Studies; Editor of the Newsletter for Targumic and Cognate Studies) on the dialect.

[3] See Rochelle I. Altman, Official Report on the James Ossuary.

[4] Xenographic exchange, the use of Font B in a text written in Font A, depends upon strict adherence to the body of a text being in one font. This has always been true from Akkad on down the millennia to this day. The use of italics to designate "foreign word" or "book title" is a modern application of the ancient xenographic exchange technique. A conglomerate script renders the exchange meaningless.

[5] In the mid-twentieth century CE, thus a very modern phenomenon, artists at advertising agencies sometimes played around with conglomerate fonts. This was usually for "shock" value. As such fonts are annoying to a literate person and difficult for a semi-literate person to read, the technique has largely been abandoned.

[6] One of the persons holding a vested interest in the authenticity of the ossuary has been quoted as stating that mixed scripts are "normal." They are not; xenographic exchange is a very well documented and ancient use that is dependent upon strict adherence to the same font design in any given text. Nor would there be any reason to use xenographic exchange in the phrase "his brother of Yeshua." Conglomerate fonts are a sure sign of forgery. (See Altman, Report on the Temple Tablet).

[7] Mr. Shanks continues to promote the ossuary as authentic (and his "free the antiquities dealers" agenda) in BAR, in his book, and with the help of his media friends (e.g., "Bones of Contention," by Charlotte Allen in the Washington [DC] Times, Apr. 20, 2003; Lemaire and Witherington are on lecture tours).

[8] The assertion that this form, "achuid" was "common" and was "in popular use" has been made several times in print. (See, for example, the article on the ossuary in the Nov.-Dec. 2002 issue of BAR and the book by Mr. Shanks and Witherington, p. 22, footnote 2). This assertion is based on the inscription on ossuary number 570 in Rahmani and ONE appearance of "achui" in one scroll from the DSS. See RAHMANI 570. The all-important “d,” "of," has miraculously disappeared in the recent book by Mr. Shanks and Witherington.

[9] Professor Jeff Chadwick's position that we were dealing with a modern forgery is correct.

[10] That Rahmani 570 was the model for the forgery was clear in January 2003. As of that date, the ossuary had not yet been returned to Israel and was not in safe hands. A "mole" was planted on the scholarly lists, specifically on the list where a report on Rahmani 570 was requested. Until the ossuary was safely out of danger of further "improvements," the proof that "achuid" was copied from Rahmani 570 could not be given. Scholarly ethics required that the fact there was no “dalet” in the inscription be mentioned. The mole reported on the lack of a “dalet”; Mr. Shanks goes to great effort in his book to avoid any mention of the “dalet.”

[11] See Rahmani 570 for a full explanation.

[12] Andre Lemaire, stated at the Toronto conference, "When you look at the inscription, there are not two parts," he said. "In the second part, you also have formal script. Only two letters are cursive. .... That mixture of cursive and formal script is well known from other inscriptions." (J. Rivera, Baltimore Sun, Friday, Nov. 29, 2002.) First, the entire second part is in cursive scripts, five different cursive scripts. Second, Lemaire's examples of "mixtures" (conglomerates) are Rahmani 15 (one font, the name of the deceased, “Yo'ezer,” written larger than “son [ben] of Yehosef” in the same font); Rahmani 520 (two hands, one font); Rahmani 783 (two hands, two separate inscriptions -- one on the side and one on the lid, each one written in a different coherent font). There are no "mixtures." In sober fact, not one of the inscriptions in Rahmani is a mixture of fonts: none.

[13] Script equals identity. The fonts in use at one location are not the same as those used in another locale. All Hebrew scripts are mutations of the same class model, but there are very clear distinctions among them from area to area. Lest anyone think this state of affairs has changed, we can still tell where someone learned to write from the script that he or she uses. The scripts and fonts taught at a private school and a public school are very different. We can also tell whether someone learned to write English in Oxford or in New York, Paris, Rome, or Jerusalem. On the ossuaries and among the DSS, scripts delineate: a) a professional scribe; b) a literate person trained at the equivalent of a private school; and c) someone taught at home or by a "village" school. We can also tell whether someone is accustomed to writing on a regular basis.

[14] Fonts go in and out of fashion, being popular at point X and unpopular at point Y. This angular cursive script design follows the usual historic pattern of a change of font along with a change of power structure. In this case, it should be a strong indication of a repudiation of Herod and what he represented. The post-destruction reversion to designs re-incorporating components of the BCE period is another very common historic pattern called "archaization." These post-destruction calls on the past are a reflection of the political situation during the second and third centuries CE.

[15] For the amateur carving technique, see Paul Flesher's "Observing the Ossuary".

[16] Fitzmyer on the "last two words" p. 22, footnote 2, in James the brother of Jesus, by Mr. Shanks and Witherington.

[17] See Paul Flesher.

[18] Fitzmyer, cf note 16.

[19] The only person who answered the question about the frame in any kind of detail is a complete novice who only showed interest in "biblical paleography" once the Interim Report was issued. In his ad hominem pseudo-"rebuttal," Mr. Bryan Cox had, and still has, no idea that the frame is there for all to see -- but he included a “slippery slope,” IF... THEN, to conclude with something that was never said.

[20] The fact that the patina over the second part of the inscription is thicker than over the first part is stated by Mr. Shanks in his book (p. 46-47). It is rather peculiar that only the area of the second inscription on the entire box should have a thicker patina.

[21] The numerous scratches over the second inscription, that were not there in photographs taken of the box in Oct. or upon its arrival at the ROM, may perhaps be explained by the comment by Dr. Daniel Eylon, an engineering Professor at the University of Dayton, that "The inscription would be underneath these scratches if it had been on the box at the time of burial, but the majority of this inscription is on top of the scratches." ("Experts Question Authenticity of Bone Box for `Brother of Jesus'," by John Noble Wilford for The New York Times Dec. 3, 2002.)

[22] Mr. Shanks has gone so far as to hold a "produce-a-fake contest." As Dr.Goren seems to have "hit the nail on the head" on the method used to produce the fake patina on the ossuary, Mr. Shanks chose to slander him along with the 100% correct Dr. Chadwick in his editorial in this same issue of BAR. As Mr. Shanks is known to attack only those "outside" his picked group of experts and those he fears, we gladly welcome Drs. Goren and Chadwick into a select company.

[23] Please note that we do not know why the Shroud was painted. It may not have been intended as more than a mystical painting so typical of the age. Its status as a religious artifact, in fact, may lie in a later misunderstanding -- an all too common state of affairs.

[24] Report on the Temple Tablet

[25] For Joseph Naveh's comments on the mixed fonts. For Dr. Yuval Goren's report.

[26] See Flesher's report on the carving; cf. note 15.

[27] Note: The beitdavid stele from Tel Dan was used as the model for the ostracon, not the reverse. ("First Things," editorial on the Ostracon by Hershel Shanks; BAR Nov.-Dec. 1997) The stele, however, has a provenance and does not exhibit evidence of fakery. The script is a coherent design and is in keeping with the script designs from that general area. Likewise, the triangular shape is correct in the Phoenician-Aramean hierarchies of shape. Incidentally, the use of a sherd for the ostracon is yet another typical error-of-ignorance made by this incompetent forger. The Temple Receipt is not the shape we can expect from a receipt issued by an official site. No official receipts at any time, past or present, are written on "postcards."

[28] Dr. Robert Eisenmann ("Too Pat," Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2002) commmented on the lack of identification of "Jesus" and added that the addition seemed to be aimed at a modern audience. Dr. Emile Peusch, among other things, also commented on this lack of identification. (Le Monde de la Bible no. 149, March 2003, 62-66). In the same article, the statistical analysis was called into question by Jean Bertoin who noted that the population data base was substantially larger than presented. John Lupia, art historian and specialist on antiques, examined the photograph under high resolution and immediately dismissed the inscription as authentic because of the lack of biovermiculation throughout the patina in the inscribed graphs. In other words, the natural "worm" holes in the patina are scattered all over the ossuary, but are lacking in some of the letters in the inscription. Dr. Herbert Basser also noted the two hands ("BONES OF CONTENTION: The ossuary of the 'brother of Jesus' holds unanswerable questions by William Hopper). Dr. Jeff Chadwick had a list of 20 reasons why he thought the second half is a modern forgery (Provo, Utah news journal). The lack of provenance was a major stumbling block and remarked upon by numerous scholars from Eric Myers of Duke University (along with many of his colleagues) to French academics, such as Marie-Francoise Baslez. There were many more, including, of course, Altman's "Official Report on the James Ossuary" (on this site)

[29] The only ad rem response came from a devoted amateur, Mr. Jack Kilmon. While Mr. Kilmon has been interested in the scripts and fonts of the Dead Sea Scrolls for many years, he is, nonetheless, an amateur lacking much of the knowledge necessary to address the issues. Indeed, starting from the premise that there was only one hand and script in the entire inscription, the gentleman ended up proving that there were, in fact, two different scripts, two different levels of literacy, and two different levels of skill (24 Oct. 2002, [XTALK] FW: "James again"; 25 Oct 2002, [XTALK] FW: "James again"). There was one other response; this one was from a complete novice in paleography whose interest, as already noted, dates to the release of the Interim Report. As Mr. Cox is a member of the list on which the Interim and Final Reports appeared and read them there, he asked if your author would place the Report on his brand new list that he was starting. This request is a red flag to anyone who manages a list; items are placed on the archives of a list by the owner, not the author. This fake "Rebuttal" is not ad rem and, as any experienced teacher can tell you, has all the marks of a term paper thrown together at the last minute directly from the textbooks. (See also note 19 on the frame.)

[30] As of the date of the release of the Reports by the IAA that these two artifacts are "hoaxes," Mr. Hershel Shanks gave notice that he is not prepared to cease and desist. "If it's a fake, I want to know it as badly as anyone else," said editor Hershel Shanks Tuesday in a telephone interview from the United States, voicing his confidence that the findings to be released Wednesday will just "open discussion of the issue, and not close it." "'Jesus ossuary', biblical tablet are fake -- Antiquities Authority," by Etgar Lefkovitz. Front Page (contd. page 11), Jerusalem Post, Wed., June 18, 2003.

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