Epigraphy — “and the lab” --- Say it’s GENUINE !

When an inscription appears on the antiquities market or in a private collection, as in the case of the extraordinary inscription discussed in the accompanying article, the first question an epigrapber (a specialist in ancient inscriptions) must answer is: Is it genuine or a fake? To establish authenticity, we start with the object itself and then the inscription on it. Do they together and separately fit what we know from excavations and from other inscriptions?

Also, after more than 30 years of working with Hebrew, Phoenician and Aramaic inscriptions, one develops a “feel,” a first reaction when inspecting a new inscription. Does it fit what we already know from many other inscriptions or is it problematic? This first feeling is important but of course needs to be checked by a detailed examination of the object and of the inscription, both with a magnifying glass (with a magnifying power of at least 10) and, if possible, with a binocular microscope (with a 50 to 100 magnifying power). Does the engraving have any signs of modern edges? Is the patina, the thin covering on the surface caused by age, firmly attached?

The inscription itself must also be studied in detail. Sometimes, although not with the James ossuary, it is difficult to read, especially if it is a graffito or a cursive inscription with partly worn-off ink Details in the shape and stance of the letters are exceptionally important. A mixture of letter shapes from different periods or from different scribal traditions is a dead giveaway that an inscription is a fake. The inscription must also be studied from the viewpoint of language and the historical context; the content must cohere with the style of the inscription.

A purported eighth-century B.C.E. ostracon (an inscribed potsherd), for example, cannot be written with the Herodian script of the first century C.E. Finally, all similar inscriptions already published must be checked because forgers are often tempted to copy from genuine, published inscriptions. All this has been done with the James ossuary inscription, and I am pleased to report that in my judgment it is genuinely ancient and not a fake. However, with such an important inscription, caution requires that it be checked in a laboratory The inscription and the ossuary were examined in the laboratory of the Geological Survey of Israel. Both were studied with a binocular microscope to identify the stone and to observe the patina. Six samples of the chalk (soft limestone), six samples of the patina and two samples of the attached soil were studied with a SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) equipped with EDS (Electron Dispersive Spectroscopy). The scientists concluded: “[The patina does not contain any modern elements (such as modern pigments) and it adheres firmly to the stone. No signs of the use of a modern tool or instrument was sic] found. No evidence that might detract from the authenticity of the patina and the inscription was found.” —Andre Lemaire


                    The Right Man for the Inscription

The James ossuary may not have come to light had it not been for a series of very fortunate events. Andre Lemaire, one of the world’s leading epigraphers (special-ists in inscriptions(, was in Jerusalem from April until September 2002 at Hebrew University’s Institute for Advanced Study. The Institute hosts scholars from abroad and allows them to interact with each other with their Israeli colleagues on areas of specialized research; Lamar’s field of study is Hebrew during the Biblical period in the broader context of Northwest Semitic languages.

As on previous stays in Jerusalem, Lamar learned important ancient objects either recently found in excavations or new to the antiquities market. Because of his expertise, Lamar is often asked to examine such “fresh” finds. The Israel Antiquities Authority, for example, asked him if he thought a badly damaged from the end of the First Temple period is genuine. (He thinks it is!)

Sometimes Lamar is also shown objects owned antiquities collectors, either recently acquired or long held. During his most recent stay in Jerusalem, Lemarie happened to meet a certain collector by chance; the collector mentioned that he had some objects he wanted Lamar to see. One of them was the James ossuary

Lamar was first shown photos of the ossuary and its inscription. Even on a photograph the inscription easy to read. “I recognized its significance right away” Lamar told BAR in his heavily French-accented English. Lamar later checked the ossuary firsthand. Based on his knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic and of the shape and stance of Herodian-era letter forms, concluded that the James inscription was genuine. Not wishing to rely solely on his own epigraphic expertise however, Lamar had the ossuary checked by geologists to see whether the inscription showed signs of having been made in modern times. it didn’t!

The James ossuary passed one other, perhaps even more crucial, test. Beyond the rigors of epigraphic analysis and scientific testing, there was Lemaire’s feeling. “When I see an inscription, either I feel at home or I don’t feel at home,” Lamar told us. With this inscription, I felt at home.”—S.F.






1. James as Full Brother of Jesus



           |                   |          |                  |                |                |          |

           |                   |          |                  |                |                |          |

        Jesus James Joseph Simon Jude Salome Mary

2. James as Half-Brother of Jesus


Previous Wife —- m.----- Joseph ----- m.-----Mary


     | | | | | | |

 James Joseph Simon Jude Salome Mary Jesus                       


3. James as Cousin of Jesus


    |                                                                    |

Joseph------m------Mary Clopas----m----Mary of Clopas

                   |                                                           |


                  |                                                         |



                                                           |            |          |       |              |         |

James Joseph Simon Jude Salome Mary


 Three separate traditions coexist within Christianity regarding the familial relation-ship between James and Jesus. In one tradition James and the other siblings of Jesus are the children of Joseph and Mary; James is therefore seen as a full brother of Jesus (top diagram). This view is widely accepted in Protestant Christianity The second tradition sees James and the other siblings as a product of an earlier marriage of Joseph: Only Jesus came of Joseph’s marriage to Mary (middle diagram). James in this version is a half-brother to Jesus. This view . is dominant in the Orthodox Church. A third tradition, that of the Roman Catholic Church, believes James and the others to be the children of Joseph’s brother Clopas and Mary of Clopas, who later witnessed the crucifixion (bottom diagram). The word “brother” is understood in this version as a general term for relative or kin as well as sibling. James would thus a cousin of Jesus in this view.


If the James ossuary does refer to the holy family, it would seem to refute the notion that James is only a cousin of Jesus, because it proclaims that Joseph, not Clopas or someone else, is James’s father. Whether James was a full brother, a half brother or a cousin of Jesus, the significance of the James bone box is not diminished. It likely held the remains of the leader of the early Church in Jerusalem, known in the Gospels as “James the brother of Jesus.”—N.E.R.








        The Ultimate Test of Authenticity


To forge the James inscription, a forger would need to be able to imitate Aramaic letter forms of the first century C.E. and also to avoid any errors in first-century Aramaic usage. Before publishing the inscription, we showed it to Father Joseph Fitzmyer, formerly of the Catholic University of America and one of the world’s leading experts in first-century Aramaic and a pre-eminent Dead Sea Scroll editor (he edited a number of the Aramaic texts among the scrolls). Father Fitzmyer was troubled by the spelling in the James inscription of the word for “brother;” it is spelled aleph, ,bet, waw and yod In Hebrew it is spelled simply aleph het. Only after hundreds of years would the spelling on the James inscription appear in Aramaic, and then it would be plural, not singular.


However, after doing some research, Father Fitzmyer found the same spelling of “brother” in the Dead Sea Scroll known as the Genesis Apocryphon. In addition, he found another example in which the same form appeared—in an ossuary inscription in which the deceased was identified as someone’s brother, just as James is here. “I stand corrected,” said Father Fitzmyer. Either a putative forger had to know first-century Aramaic better than Father Fitzmyer or the inscription is authentic. To my mind this is one of the strongest arguments for the authen-ticity of the James inscription. — H.S.

bar_blbk.jpg - 5566 Bytes

Return to the Words of Wisdom, Education menu..

Return to the main menu..

D.U.O Project
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
(858) 220-1604

Church of the Science of GOD, 1993
Web Designed by WebDiva