Image: The Jehoash Inscription
A court in Israel is expected to rule on a case that has attracted much attention in the archaeological world: the fate of the James Ossuary and the fate of the Jehoash Tablet. Below is a description of the two artifacts taken from a report detailing the controversy:
The James Ossuary
A limestone box built to hold the bones of the dead. Called the James ossuary, the small stone box has an inscription that reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” If authentic, it would be considered the first physical link to Jesus.
The Jehoash Tablet
The Solomon-era relic is at the forefront of the battle. Called the Yoash tablet, it is a rectangular stone about the size of a hardbound book, inscribed with 15 lines of ancient script detailing repairs made to Solomon’s temple, which echo a passage from the Old Testament.
The following is an excerpt taken from a report on the controversy:
A 10-year legal battle is drawing to a close in the Holy Land over several astounding biblical relics, including a limestone box said to have held the bones of the purported brother of Jesus and the first-ever relic of biblical King Solomon’s First Temple.
But are they real or the greatest hoax in a hundred years?
Last year, the Israel Antiquities Authority failed to prove in court that the items were forged by antiquities collector Oded Golan. Now the IAA seems to have changed its tune, and the two parties found themselves in court again in early August. Now Israel wants to own the items it spent a decade calling fake.
The issue in this case is whether these two artifacts are genuine or forgeries. The Israel Antiquities Authority failed to prove that these artifacts are forgeries. This then, opens the possibility that the artifacts are genuine. But the issue is not that simple as the report shows:
The challenge in proving the Yoash tablet real is that it was found at in antiquities store, and not in the ground, explained Jonathan Rosenbaum, an expert in antiquities forgery and president emeritus of Gratz College in Pennsylvania.
We have no way of really knowing its background and where it came from. This is a common problem.
Experts look at three areas to determine authenticity: the style of the writing, the language of the inscription and the geological makeup of the material. Experts in these three fields have come to different conclusions, Rosenbaum said, but he believes it to be a fake.
As to the James ossuary, Rosenbaum explains that it would be easy for an antiquities collector to come into possession of a relic and simply add a controversial inscription.
“All they had to do was put words on it and it becomes historically significant. With the James ossuary, the box is authentic, but the inscription added on is not.”
You can read the report in its entirety here.
The problem with artifacts found in the possession of antiquity dealers is ascertaining whether they are real or fakes. When an artifact is found in situ, archaeologists vouch for its authenticity and can use stratigraphy to ascertain the date of the artifact. But, when artifacts are bought in the antiquity market, it becomes almost impossible to know whether or not they are forgeries.
It is possible that in the future archaeologists will find another way to determine the authenticity of these artifacts. Until then, doubts will remain about the historical value of these artifacts.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary