The Authenticity of the James Ossuary Inscription: My Opinion is Shifting

I just got done reading this article about the Oded Golan trial. The point of fascination is that Golan mentions a picture taken in the 1970s of some shelves inside the home of Golan’s parents. The photograph shows the now-famous James ossuary — with the complete “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” inscription. The authenticity of the photograph was vouched for by an FBI photo analysis expert (from the USA, naturally).

I was unaware of this photograph. I find it persuasive. It seems very solid proof that the full inscription is not faked, but authentic. The article describes attempts by the prosecution to argue the photo was faked, but the thinking is quite strained (and I’m willing to bet the FBL guy knew what he was doing). This would mean that the suspicious patina issues surrounding the inscription must have some other explanation (I am still not satisfied at all with the current defense of the inscription on that point).

The photo also means something else: The James ossuary cannot have come from the “Jesus Family tomb.” That tomb was discovered on March 28, 1980, according to Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who investigated the find at the behest of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.1 If the “Jesus Family Tomb” was discovered in 1980 but this photograph of the James ossuary is from the 1970s, the James ossuary has no connection to that tomb.

  1. See p. 15 of Amos Kloner, “A tomb with inscribed ossuaries in east Talpiyot,” Jerusalem. Atiquot 29 (Jerusalem):15-22.

Greek Apocryphal Gospels in Digital Form

My employer, Logos Bible Software, recently put the Greek Apocryphal Gospels on pre-pub. My colleague, Rick Brannan, blogged today over at the Logos blog about that product and those gospels.

These gospel documents are not canonical (i.e. they are not copies of the gospels found in the New Testament, but different texts entirely). They are “other gospels” that provide a lot of insight into what early Christians were hearing and thinking about Jesus and the apostles. They are also useful for Greek grammatical research. Brannan breaks them down into three types:

  • Infancy Gospels. These include stories about Jesus’ youth and even earlier. The Protevangelium of James includes a much fuller story about Mary and Joseph with all sorts of details (even about Mary’s midwife) that are not canonical by any stretch, but insightful nonetheless.
  • Passion Gospels. These are gospels about the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They have similarities with the canonical gospels, but include expansions and embellishments as well.
  • Post-resurrection Gospels. The Greek extant for the Gospel of Mary is fragmentary, but insightful; one of the available fragments has a snippet of a story where Peter turns to Mary and asks her to relate what she knows of Jesus.

Check out the post for more details!

New PaleoBabble “Recommended Books” Widget

I came across a cool site a couple days ago and love it — Shelfari.  On one hand, there are other such library tools on the web, but I really like the graphic look of this one, as well as what you can see when you click through.  I’ve put nearly 150 books on my shelf for readers to browse. The titles aren’t paleobabble; they are cures for paleobabble — ancient history, religion, languages, etc. Have a look!

Short Note from James Tabor on the Talpiot B Images

Just so everyone is made aware, Dr. James Tabor just sent me the following note in the comments:

All the photos that Chris and our other consultants have been using are being posted on web site just as soon as possible. They show the inscription from all angles, lighting, and various distances so I hope this will help resolve the matter of the disputed iota/zeta or the iota that Chris thinks is an epsilon. I remain convinced that our initial reading of the letters stands. I look forward to hearing from others.

Stay tuned …

Update on the Talpiot B Tomb Inscription

For those of you interested in epigraphy, especially that of the Talpiot B “disciples’ tomb,” here are two follow-up posts in response to the recent offering of Richard Bauckham.  One of the major points of contention in the inscription is whether or not the divine name is present — which hinges on whether the first letter in the relevant line is an “I” (iota). Christopher Rollston, whose post began the discussion, did not (and still does not — see below) see a iota for this letter. His view was based on his assertion that the epigraphic iota does not have a top and bottom line appending the vertical line. Bauckham was able to find some examples to the contrary.

Now Rollston responds in a new post, noting that, while Bauckham did succeed in finding some examples, the real issue is that the “IAIO” (“Yahweh”) spelling has two iotas — and if Bauckham is to be believed, the scribe wrote the two iotas differently in the name (the second iota clearly has no lines at top or bottom). Rollston says this would be utterly unique, and so rejects the idea as completely anomalous (see his post for how he translates the inscription). In addition to Rollston’s new post, H. Gregory Snyder offers his own thoughts in defense of an initial iota (but does not address the anomaly of the scribe writing the same letter in one four-letter name two different ways).

This is a good example of scholarly give-and-take. I’m guessing this won’t be resolved unless new pictures are obtained.


Just a quick note.

I’ve created a Twitter account so that when I post on any of my blogs, notification will appear there. (And it worked on another blog, so it should for this post as well).  I needed to post the information here as well.

I don’t know much about Twitter.  I think that if you click here you will go to my Twitter page and can decide to follow me or not. It might be a good way to be alerted right away when I post something (at least that’s what I’m thinking — don’t worry, I won’t be alerting you to what I had for breakfast or when I’m taking the dog out). As noted above, we’ll see if it’s working.

In case you’re wondering why I don’t send posts to Facebook, I tried setting up the Plugin and creating the necessary Facebook App for automatically posting notifications, but killed the idea as soon as Facebook wanted my credit card number for account “verification” (hey, how about the fact that I’m in your website, which required a password get there?). It will be a cold day in Sheol before I give the Facebook troll my credit card information. The site would also accept a mobile device but I don’t have one. So that died a quick death.


Something Fishy in Talpiot Tomb B

[UPDATE 3/16/2012: Click here for Prof. James Tabor’s response to Robert Cargill’s expose, the subject of the original post.]

A busy day for Talpiot-related news!

Not only did we have the verdict of the James ossuary trial, but yesterday Prof. Robert Cargill posted a very lengthy and devastating analysis of the various image alterations of the Talpiot B tomb “fish art” in this most recent tomb (with many images and illustrations).  The stench has become truly overwhelming. Some excerpts are worth including here (boldfacing is Cargill’s):

One can clearly see that the image has been drawn to suggest a “Jesus fish” image where there clearly is none. The “Fish in the margins” image contains artificially added, digitally “inked” lines colored to resemble naturally engraved limestone lines, which do not correspond to the engraved lines on the ossuary. The digital “ink” extends well beyond the engraved lines of the actual image, which do NOT overlap. This means that the image was digitally altered to generate the illusion of small “fishes swimming” around the edges of the ossuary, perhaps to support the illusion that the image just beneath them is a “fish” and not some sort of vessel.

The evidence of commission presented above is indisputable. An unacknowledged digital alteration was clearly made to the “Fish in the margins” image to create the illusion that there are fishes swimming around the edges of the ossuary. And again, this digital manipulation is nowhere acknowledged in the image or its caption. This is textbook digital manipulation of a image for the purposes of supporting a particular claim.


Thus, despite the fact that the engraved lines comprising the oval loop handle are as clearly visible at the same angle and in the same light as other engraved lines comprising so-called “fish’s tail,” and despite the fact that the same engraved oval loop and handles are also clearly visible on the so-called “half fish” on a different panel of the same ossuary, for some reason, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor chose to omit this evidence from their representations, and chose not to represent the evidence in the heavily Photoshopped “CGI” “computer enhanced” “composite image” they have been offering to the press.


Cargill’s treatment is supplemented by another analysis of the alleged ossuary fish by Juan V. Fernández de la Gala, Forensic Anthropologist and Zooarchaeologist.

Responses to the James Ossuary Forgery Trial Verdict

A “not guilty” verdict in the seven-year trial of antiquities dealer Oded Golan was announced today. The trial was significant in that it involved the James ossuary (and so, naturally, its inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”). As I blogged a short time ago (see point #3 at the link), though the ossuary itself is accepted by all as authentic, many scholars consider the inscription to be entirely or partly faked. Since this ossuary is thought by some (namely Jacobovici and Tabor) to have originally been interred in the first Talpiot tomb (the “Jesus family tomb”), the case has been watched closely.

Mark Goodacre has a round-up of scholarly responses to the verdict. Most (Tabor of course is an exception) don’t think a legal verdict means the inscription is authentic, declaring that the scientific evidence against the inscription is a separate issue from who is responsible for it. The response of Eric Meyers of Duke University, whose comments are representative:

“I would therefore emphasize that because the government, in this case, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Police, failed to prove that the artifacts in question were inauthentic in no way means that they are authentic. The burden of proof that falls on the prosecution in a criminal case must rise to a high level of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the defendants have been acquitted thus does not end the matter of the quest to decide authenticity. This leaves much opportunity for academic opinion to continue to believe that these artifacts are not authentic and to question their provenance.”

Meyers’ response also includes mention of the fact that “The prosecutor Dan Bahat said the case had been weakened by the refusal of a key witness to travel from Egypt to testify, the same person who had appeared on Sixty Minutes.”

Talpiot B Fish – With Handles?

Those of you who have been following the discussion over the Talpiot B “fish symbol” will find this of interest. Kudos to Mark Goodacre for posting Amos Kloner’s 1980 photograph inside this tomb before it was sealed (see Tabor’s report) that is available on the “Jesus Discovery” website (NOTE per Mark Goodacre in the comments: this “fish” is the “half fish” on the side of the ossuary rather than the so called “Jonah fish” on its front facade). The “fish” symbol is visible in the photo. You can go to the post and click on Goodacre’s link to a high resolution image of the “fish” to see the point Goodacre is making — the “fish” has handles. This of course would be no surprise if the “fish” is an unguentarium ( a flask), but it’s not expected (!) for a fish.

I took the liberty of adding lines to the left and right-hand of the image so readers could see the point Goodacre is making (click on the links). While the (larger image) left-hand side has the most visibly clear lines (of a handle)

I think the (larger image) right-hand side does as well:


Looking less like a fish all the time.

And then there’s the issue of photo-shopped images of the fish symbol released to the public, as ably pointed out by Robert Cargill.

If you could see me now, I don’t have a surprised look on my face.