Implications of the “Forgery Trial” Verdict on the Authenticity of the James Ossuary

See Also: Essays on the James Ossuary and the Temple Tablet from Bible and Interpretation

By Amnon Rosenfeld
Emeritus, Geological Survey of Israel
Jerusalem, Israel

Howard R. Feldman
Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School, a Division of Touro College
Division of Paleontology (Invertebrates), American Museum of Natural History
New York, NY

Yoel Kronfeld
Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences
Tel-Aviv University
Tel-Aviv, Israel

Wolfgang, E. Krumbein
Department of Geomicrobiology, ICBM
Carl von Ossietzky Universitaet, Oldenburg, Germany
April 2012

To read this article in its entirety, we have presented it here in PDF format.

Comments (17)

Thank you for sharing this, so that for the first time in English we can learn about the trial details, & the evidence (or lack thereof) that was presented. Personally, I find it shocking how poorly the prosecution presented their case. It's almost as if they put no thought into their decision to prosecute. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?"--Luke 14:28

#1 - G.M. Grena - 05/01/2012 - 03:37

A much needed and enlightening article. But we must hear from the IAA and Prof. Goren about their many failures in the most infamous case in reference to archaeology in Israel. They have a lot to answer for and a number of apologies would be appropriate. Or do they deem silence is the preferred modus operandi?

M. Levy

#2 - Michael Levy - 05/02/2012 - 21:36

The Israeli Antiquities Authority and Professor Goren have open invitations to write about this matter on our site at Bible and Interpretation.


#3 - Editors - 05/02/2012 - 21:46

This was an excelent review of the scientific evidence and it was very interesting to read about how the judge viewed the evidence.

So, it appears that the ossuary and the inscription are authentic. Now we must develop an understanding of what this means. As part of that, I look forward to efforts that will seek to determine the relationship, if any, of this ossuary to the so-called Talpiot Tomb.

#4 - Jerry Lutgen - 05/03/2012 - 04:57

I was among the first to question the authenticity of the so called “James ossuary”, prior to its exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in 2002. I was residing in Toronto at the time and did some work for Ed. Keale, the former head of the Near Eastern Studies department at the Royal Ontario Museum. Dr. Keale curated the exhibit with Dan Rahimi. After close examination of the ossuary "in situ", I revealed in an article published in the Globe and Mail (November 6, 2002) that one can only be certain of the authenticity of the ossuary itself, while the inscription needs more research. As a matter of fact, my main concern was the lack of provenance for the “James Ossuary” and I am not prepared to reintegrate it in the Talpiot Tomb either. Here is why: from the Talpiot tomb they catalogued 9 ossuaries. Although I am not going to enter the controversy in this comment, it is interesting to notice that in his report of the Talpiot tomb, Kloner (see A. Kloner, “A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiyot, Jerusalem”, in Atiqot, 29, 1996, pp. 15-22) catalogues 9 ossuaries while recording 10 in his Table 3, on page 17, 10 as well in note 2, on page 22 of this same article, where he estimates the total number of interments in the Talpiot tomb. Rahmani (1994: No. 701, Comm.1) also mentions a tenth plain and broken ossuary. Where is the missing ossuary? I shall leave the investigation to others’ care. Nevertheless what Kloner (1996) does mention is: “The ossuaries [...] are typical Jewish ossuaries of the first century CE. The number of ornamented ossuaries equals the number of plain ones (Table 3), a ratio common in burial complexes of the period (Kloner 1993: 104). Six ossuaries are inscribed (60%), which is a higher ratio than normally found. Five ossuaries are inscribed in Hebrew and only one in Greek: normally the proportion of Hebrew to Greek is 4:3 (kloner 1993: 105).”
Therefore the tenth missing ossuary was plain according to the first preliminary report of Amos Kloner and in my judgement, cannot at this point be identified with the so called "James Ossuary".
Hence, your essay above is just confirming that a judge is unable to authenticate an archeological artefact.
Oded Golan was acquitted on a criminal matter, a "non lieu" as we say in French.
Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

#5 - Claude Cohen-Matlofsky - 05/07/2012 - 13:07

If the patina of the James ossuary matches the patina of the Jesus Family Tomb and ossuaries, and no other tomb-patinas match the James ossuary-patina, then isn't it evident that the James ossuary came from the Jesus Family Tomb? Regardless of what was said or reported to the authorities, there's a possibility and probability that one or more of the witnesses of the original recent discovery of the JFT, knows exactly what happened with the 10th ossuary. Also, throughout the past two thousand years, there might have been more than ten ossuaries to the JFT.

#6 - Theodora - 05/12/2012 - 19:17

Unfortunately at this point there are still many unanswered questions embedded in yours.
This being said, I am not an expert geologist but if I am not mistaken, the patinas on ossuaries of the rock cut tombs in Jerusalem in the time period we are talking about is rather standard.
Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

#7 - Claude Cohen-Matlofsky - 05/17/2012 - 12:51

Claude, there are microscopic distinctions between the patinas of the various Jerusalem tombs of that time period. Granted, the patinas of the tombs are rather standard, there are still distinctions between the tombs, based on slight differences in the natural environment and, of course, the differences in the bodies that decomposed in them. Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, in the book The Jesus Family Tomb, refer to the distinctiveness as a "signature," "finger print," or "profile." To quote, "...It seemed that, compared to other patina samples from ossuaries found in the Jerusalem environment, the Talpiot tomb ossuaries exhibited a patina fingerprint or profile that matched the James ossuary and, so far, no other." Also, "Combined with New York patina-fingerprinting data, Professor Krumbein's analysis of the patina encrustations that had resided inside key letters of the "James" inscription now made a "beyond a reasonable doubt" case that the ossuaries inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" and "Jesus, son of Joseph" had once resided together inside the same tomb, for millenia."

#8 - Theodora - 05/27/2012 - 23:40

Assuming the data you are quoting is accurate there is still not enough scientific historical or archeological evidence to believe that the provenance for the "James Ossuary" is the "Jesus Family Tomb". We are still dealing with many unanswered questions including statistics, the phrase "brother of" for the "James Ossuary" inscription and many other issues in the "Jesus Family Tomb" ossuaries inscriptions. Please read my article in the forthcoming Eerdmans Volume on the Talpiot Tomb.
Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

#9 - Claude Cohen-Matlofsky - 05/30/2012 - 08:48

If it's true that Oded Golan possesses bone fragments from the James ossuaary, and refuses to share or sell a comparative analysis of them with the Jesus-mtdna, is there any good reason to debate the authenticity or source of the ossuary? If James' mtdna matches Jesus' mtdna, then the debate might be about the true source of the bone fragments. (If not from the James ossuary, then from where?) But, if James' mtdna doesn't match Jesus' mtdna, then either the ossuary didn't come from the Jesus Family Tomb (the patina was somehow faked) OR it could add support to the belief that James and Jesus had two different bloodline mothers.

#10 - Theodora - 06/02/2012 - 01:55

You are raising many issues of methodology in your comment. The mtdna comparison would be the last conclusive evidence to put in. You have to realize that there is still a long way to go. If you want to compare James and Jesus mtdna you have to be sure 1-that the so called "James Ossuary" is the Ossuary of James, brother of Jesus. 2- that the bones Oded Golan could provide would be coming form the "James Ossuary 3- you have to make sure the bones of Jesus would have been saved from the ossuary inscribed Yeshua Bar Yoseph in the so called "Jesus Family Tomb" or Talpiot Tomb A. 4- That the ossuary inscribed Yeshua Bar Yoseph in the Talpiot Tomb A so called "Jesus Family Tomb" is indeed the ossuary of Jesus of Nazareth. I hope you realize that your dna comparison, although most likely logistically no longer possible for many reasons including political, is not going to be conclusive alone no matter what the outcome would be unless much more evidence is gathered for all the issues around these archeological discoveries. As I mentioned in my previous comment much research has yet to be done.
Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

#11 - Claude Cohen-Matlofsky - 06/02/2012 - 19:01

It's Divine Providence that the 90-years window of Christ-Jesus' day has been opened, even if just for a minority of modern-day Christian heretics, myself included!
And, it's the same Divine Providence that created the 90-years of ossuary burial custom, 20 years before Jesus to 30 years after!
I can't imagine that there will ever be a discovery that would conclusively prove that the Talpiot tomb was once that of Christ-Jesus and his physical family. But, there is plenty of compelling evidence to begin logically inducing that it was. The cluster of names from the Talpiot tomb, the substances from the Talpiot and Jonah tombs, the locations of the three tombs (Talpiot, Jonah and the destroyed tomb) in that vicinity, relative to their recognized "landmark" surroundings, as well as to the other tombs throughout Jerusalem and the region, provide a framework for it.
The mtdna of Jesus-son-of-Joseph is already known (JFT book). Aren't the James bone fragments still in Oded's possession? Is it against any law for Oded to release a tiny portion of the bone fragments so that they could be compared with Jesus-son-of-Joseph's mtdna? If it matched, we'd discover the two were related by blood, and that the James ossuary most likely came from the Talpiot tomb. It wouldn't prove that Jesus and James of the Talpiot tomb were the same brothers of the New Testament, but it would probably wake a lot of people up to the awesomeness of its possibility.

#12 - Theodora - 06/03/2012 - 02:51

I just now read the reports from the official IAA committee, on this website, and they determined that the James ossuary inscription is a forgery. I believe that they are being honest about their expert-findings and I'm working on coming to terms with this letdown. Also, after having read what transpired 19 years ago when Oded Golan allegedly contacted one of the following authors: Esther Eshe, Tal Ilan, Dr. Avner Ayalon, Orna Cohen, I don't understand how or why the Jerusalem judicial system let Oded Golan off the hook with 30 days of jail time, unrelated to forgery, already served! Following is the quote, written in May, 2003:
"Oded Golan contacted me over ten years ago, introduced himself as an engineer representing a group of investors who renovate historic buildings. He spoke of the Khan at Sha`ar Hagai as a one of the sites they are preparing to renovate. He said he had studied the subject of creating old patina on new stone to set into the building. I showed him a number of related articles and we discussed the subject."
Now, I ask, can anyone prove that the inscription on the James ossuary is authentic? Will Oded Golan ever release the supposed James bone fragments in his possession? If he does, will the outcome make a difference?

#13 - Theodora - 06/03/2012 - 18:03

André Lemaire and Ada Yardeni say the inscription is authentic. See A. Lemaire, “Burial Box of James, Brother of Jesus”, BAR, 28, (2002): 24-33. As far as I am concerned, I just submitted an essay proposing an alternative analysis of this so called "James Ossuary" for publication in an Israeli scholarly Journal.
Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

#14 - Claude Cohen-Matlofsky - 06/04/2012 - 08:04

I attended the BAS Bible & Archaeology Fest XV (2012) and learned of new technological advances, as presented by Prof. Bruce E. Zuckerman. It's my understanding that the combination and application of these technologies haven't been applied to the James ossuary yet.

#15 - Theodora - 11/19/2012 - 03:33

i.e., if I'm not mistaken, Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) has not yet been applied to the inscription on the James ossuary. There's a great explanation (5 pg PDF) of this technology at's website (The University of Southern California’s West Semitic Research Project).

#16 - Theodora - 11/20/2012 - 03:59

"Listen to Gabriel Barkay outline ten key points all scholars should agree on in judging issues of authenticity of artifacts."

After listening to Gabriel Barkay's outline, that points out that credible opinions like André Lemaire's should be given a lot more weight than the rumors of questionable credibility, I feel now that I was mistaken to heed the rumors and that there's a stronger case for the authenticity of the James ossuary than there is for it not being authentic. However, being that the patina of the James ossuary matches that of the Talpiot tomb, I can't help but believe that the James ossuary is the missing ossuary that came from the Talpiot tomb, regardless of the earlier date of possession that was given to the Israeli court. After an RTI test and other high-tech tests are done on it, and published, the convincing will be easier. In the mean time, if the Talpiot tomb wasn't holding the Jesus family of the New Testament, who was this 'other' Jesus of Jerusalem burial that was given such an unusual tomb? I wonder if this other Jesus (son of Joseph) with two forms of 'Mary' in his family ever came across the NT Jesus with the same, named blood/non-blood relatives. When they came for the NT Jesus in the garden, did the 'other' Jesus hide away somewhere so that he wouldn't be mistaken for the NT Jesus? What was this 'other' Jesus about (someone significant enough to have a tomb with a symbol at the head of it looking like a circle (universe?) crowned with a cathedral edged-arch (holy cover?)? Or, maybe the 'other' Jesus wasn't the significant character of the tomb. Maybe one of the Mary's was. (...just brainstorming.)

#17 - Theodora - 11/22/2012 - 00:21

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