- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

ATLANTA (AP) — A purported first-century inscription naming Jesus may or may not be the real thing, but Israel’s labeling of the find as a fake is premature, scientists and scholars said at a panel discussion Sunday.

At issue is a limestone burial box, or ossuary, with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” that emerged on Israel’s antiquities market last year.

If authentic, the ossuary would offer a rare physical link to the life of Jesus, but Israel’s Antiquities Authority in June declared the inscription a fraud.

Panelists, speaking in Atlanta at the annual joint conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, said the authority should examine the box more closely before passing judgment.

“I don’t know for sure whether this is a forged inscription, and I’m sort of cast as a defender of the inscription. I’m not,” said moderator Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, which published the initial findings. “What I do know is, Israeli authorities have badly managed the affair.”

The antiquities authority, which has yet to release a full report on its findings, said the ossuary itself is ancient but oxygen isotope analysis suggested the words on it were inscribed in modern times.

The hard, brown patina that covers the box could not be found on the inscription, where a soft, grayish chalk-and-water paste had been applied instead to imitate weathering, the authority said.

James Harrell, a geologist at the University of Toledo and member of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity, said his analysis of the inscription suggests the missing patina could simply be the result of overcleaning — not forgery.


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