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Ossuary with James inscription a fake, Israeli Antiquities Authority reports

JERUSALEM (BP)–Although its owner contests the decision, Israel’s Antiquities Authority has decided that an ancient burial box purported to have held the bones of Jesus’ brother, James, is a fake.

Reports of the decision appeared June 18 in the Jerusalem Post and another Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. The latter said the decision was reached after intensive examinations by several committees of experts of an inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” on the ossuary.

Also determined by the authority to be a forgery: the “Yoash inscription,” a shoebox-sized tablet containing 15 lines of ancient Hebrew with instructions for maintaining the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

The inscriptions, possibly done in two separate stages, are not authentic, the authority said in a statement, according to an Associated Press report.

Referring to the writing about James on the limestone box, the authority said, “The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters.”

The items’ existence stirred international interest last November when the Biblical Archaeology Review in Washington, D.C revealed them.

At the time, Review editor Hershel Shanks said the box’s owner insisted on not being identified, although the person was later identified as engineer Oded Golan, 51, of Israel.

“If it’s a fake, I want to know it as badly as anyone else,” Shanks told the Jerusalem Post. He expressed confidence that the release of the agency’s findings will stir discussion of the issue.

Robert Eisenman, the author of a book on James, had studied the box and called its authenticity questionable, the AP reported. Not only was the writing in two different hands, Eisenman said, the artifacts had appeared rather suddenly.

“I always considered the timing of the James ossuary very odd and worrisome,” Eisenman said. “There was a spate of books on James and his importance in 1997 and 1998, then the box appeared.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Golan — who previously accused the committee of having preconceived notions — downplayed the officials’ findings. He also told the AP he believes the Yoash inscription was authentic.

“I am certain the ossuary is real,” Golan said. “I am certain that the committee is wrong regarding its conclusions.”

Golan reportedly bought the James ossuary in the mid-1970s from an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem’s Old City for about $200, although the AP said he could not remember the dealer’s name.

Antiquities inspectors also are investigating suspicions that Golan had acquired the ossuary in recent months. That would violate a 1978 law that stipulates all archeological finds after that date belong to the state and cannot be sold or used by private citizens, according to the Post.

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