Jesus Never Existed

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Jesus Never Existed

The 'James Ossuary' – A Box of Tricks

At a very young age (16?*) an Israeli guy named Oded Golan buys an ossuary from an Arab trader. He has no idea of its value but keeps it safe for thirty five years. Then, perchance, he arranges a viewing by a visiting biblical scholar – the Sorbonne’s Andre Lemaire – who almost immediately identifies the inscription as referring to Jesus of Nazareth and his brother James. OK, he’s a Catholic but he’s a scholar, right?
Now, with an artifact literally priceless, and reputed insured for $2 million, Oded ships his ossuary to Canada in a cardboard box lined with bubble wrap, where it arrives in pieces. Are you buying this? Well you better take your mother with you when you next buy a car.
“Golan himself didn’t get too excited when he heard about the cracks in his ossuary.”
– Ha’aretz April 2003
Alas, for fans of the divine salvation plan, the story of this “priceless artifact” shattered as easily as the bone box itself. In December 2004, Golan was indicted as the mastermind behind an international antiquities forgery ring, operational for twenty years and with many “ancient finds” to its credit. Fakes able to fool biblical experts take a lot of skill but the religious antiquities market is especially lucrative. The world’s museums vie with wealthy private collectors for that elusive evidence of “God’s hand in history”.
Sadly, the religiously gullible will always be with us and there will always be smart criminals ready to feed their addiction.

* PS: Israeli law changed in 1978. If an artifact was bought after this date it reverted to the state.
So when did you buy your ossuary, sir?

Don’t fret – they’ll manufacture it soon enough!
Warehouses filled with artifacts of questionable origin, Paleo-Hebraic inscriptions inscribed to order, boxes of earth from different parts of Israel to make fake patinas …
“King Solomon’s Tablet of Stone”, circa 2003.
“The two most important biblical finds in a generation were proven to be fakes. There was no archaeological proof for the existence of Jesus Christ. There was no evidence for the existence of The Temple of Solomon.”
“King Solomon’s Tablet of Stone”, circa 2003.
July 21, 2003
Israel Antiquities Authority declares James Ossuary (and Jehoash Inscription) Fake
Well, what a surprise! The scientific panel has reached its verdict: FAKE. Long after the natural processes of a damp cave environment had coated the ossuary with “biovermiculation” and patina, someone carved a series of letters through this natural varnish. He then covered the freshly cut letters with an imitation patina made from hot water and ground chalk – a sort of baked on “soup”, microfossils and all.
Only advanced technology saved us from being duped by another foolish relic. If the same scam had been tried just fifty years ago, everyone (well, almost everyone!) would have had no self defense and would have accepted this nonsense as ‘real proof’ of the god-man.
The warning is clear. Expect ever more sophisticated forgeries as the forgers master new technologies.
October, 2002 – and a 50 cm long trapezoid ossuary, or bone-box, grabs the world’s headlines.
Now ossuaries are not exactly unusual – thousands have been found. They were used for centuries to save burial space and sometimes held more than one skeleton. Jews not only from Palestine but from all around the Mediterranean often had their bones placed in ossuaries and taken to the Holy City of Jerusalem for interment. Even inscribed ossuaries are not particularly rare (over 200 are known) and some even mention the name Yakov (James) or Yeshua (Jesus) – both common names in 1st century Palestine. But this one got star treatment.
Evidently this particular ossuary had once contained the bones of a saint – for it was inscribed: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
Alerted by scholar Andre Lemaire, an article appeared in the November-December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review – flatly stating that “This container provides the only New Testament-era mention of the central figure of Christianity and is the first-ever archaeological discovery to corroborate Biblical references to Jesus.
Inscribed on the box were twenty letters of an ancient script:
“Ya’akov bar Yoseph achui d Yeshua”
(Reading right to left)
The Jewish collector who possessed the ossuary – Oded Golan – had not recognize its value, said Lemaire, because to him, “Jesus was known as the son of God, so he had no brother”, an “unusual attitude for a Jew”. Nonetheless, the collector had kept the box safe through thirty five turbulent years of Israeli history. But then bizarrely, the ossuary was shattered into several pieces on its flight to Ontario. After repair by staff of the Royal Ontario Museum the ossuary went on public display.
Andre Lemaire had very quickly concluded that “very probably” the inscription referred to Jesus of Nazareth. He dated the ossuary and its inscription rather precisely to 63 AD, a date consistent with the inscription’s cursive style of Aramaic – which only occurs from 10 – 70 AD – and the “known fate” of James, the brother of Jesus. The death of James the Just is assigned by Christians to the year 62 CE. After a year of rotting down, the bones of James would have been ready for his box.
The ossuary itself has no inscribed date and cannot be precisely dated by any other means.
Lemaire’s positive judgement was endorsed by such worthies as Jesuit Joseph Fitzmeyer of the Catholic University of America, the renowned Hebrew scholar Professor Frank Moore Cross (of Dead Sea Scrolls fame) and Hershal Shanks and the conservative ideologues of BAR.
An original bone box (Israel has thousands of them) – but could it be a fake inscription?
The badly wrapped box arrives seriously damaged…
Large cracks…
In fact… a box – in several pieces
Oh dear – cracked right through the crucial lettering “brother of Jesus”
Restorers get to work
Um – a little filler…
Voila – A perfect artifact again!
After the Ontario showing, the ossuary was shipped back to the Israel Antiquities Authority which has appointed two separate commissions to inspect the object. Before they could report, a hugely successful Discovery Channel program was aired at Easter/Passover 2003, followed by the inevitable book. The myth of the James’ bone box is in the public domain, whatever science may have to say.
A worrying aspect of any archaeological find is a lack of known custody – and no one is sure where this bone box came from. Oded Golan – after searching through “35 year old memories” – belatedly recalled that the dealer who sold him the ossuary had told him that it had been unearthed from a cave in the Silwan area. Silwan is an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The “best guess” history of the ossuary therefore is a story of pure conjecture:
Armenian Legend
62 AD James is thrown from the Temple wall by his opponents. He is intered in a rock-cut tomb in the nearby Kidron valley; a year later his dried bones re-intered in his ossuary. A tomb complex, impressive memorial and chapel grow up around his grave.
7th century. Muslim invaders arrive, Armenian monks run off with the bones. The fate of the bone box is unknown.
– Hang on a minute, wasn’t James was stoned to death? The stoning apparently followed the 100′ fall! Now that’s dead
– Could it be here that the bone box slept away twenty centuries?
1960. John Allegro leads dig at “St James’ Chapel”. No inscribed “James” ossuary found
– but Bedouin could have sneaked in, looted the bone box & sold it to a dealer ??!!
If lack of provenance were not disturbing enough, the ossuary was first shipped to the Geological Survey of Israel (GSI), rather than to an acknowledged expert on ancient Jewish ossuaries, such as, say, Dr. Levi Rahmani. The GSI was able to authentication certain aspects: Dr Richard Bauckham (University St Andrews), working for the GSI, concluded that the box itself was of limestone from the senoan period (senoan chalk of the Menuha Formation?) typical for the area of Jerusalem – but then again, commonly exposed in many places in Israel, the Mediterranean area and parts of Europe.
The GSI also conducted electron microscopy tests on the box that appeared to prove the inscription was not added at a later date: no traces of modern elements could be found. Energy dispersal spectrometry showed calcite, silica etc. consistent with Jerusalem clays. Ultraviolet spectrum analysis by the ROM revealed no fake patina (a thin sheen that forms on stone over time).
But the GSI could not comment further on the all-important inscription.
The norm would have been for peer review and examination of the ossuary from a variety of disciplines. Instead, the ossuary was rushed out of Israel before those who could offer an authoritative opinion even saw the artifact – and into the global fanfare.
Be that as it may, a number of specialists did eventually get an opportunity to comment.

Forgers are often well skilled in reproducing artifacts. They are as expert as the scholars. Motivation? Millions of dollars for the collectors, a resounding endorsement for all those who profit from the business of religion.

The Inscription
Ancient Writing Specialist 1.
“The bone-box is original; the first inscription, which is in Aramaic, ‘Jacob son of Joseph,’ is authentic. The second half of the inscription, ‘brother of Jesus’ is a poorly executed fake and a later addition.”
– Rochelle I. Altman Final Report on the James Ossuary
FAKE (3rd – 4th century?)

• incorrect spelling
• incorrect letter sizes
• line not straight
• a conglomeration of unrelated graphs from across the centuries, not a coherent script
• hurried?


• extensively cleaned?

Source: Roger Viklund (Sweden):
Ancient Writing Specialist 2.
“The spelling on the Jacob ossuary is 2nd – 7th CE Galilean Aramaic according to Flesher and Basser, both of whom are experts on the dialects of Aramaic.”
Ossuary inscriptions usually ran something like: “Judah son of Johanan, son of Jethra,” and do not include a brother’s name. In fact, such a reference is almost unknown; the only other known example of reference to a brother has similarities uncannily like the James inscription, even to an untrained eye. Could this inscription have been used as the template?
Shimi, son of Asiya, brother of Hanin
(L. Y. Rahmani, A Catalog of Jewish Ossuaries, no. 570, ).
The individual “Hanin” is historically unknown – an observation which rather undermines the claim that it was the very illustriousness of “brother Jesus” that prompted the inclusion of his name on the ossuary!
Moreover, a rare Aramaic spelling is common to just these two inscriptions which mention a brother – almost as if someone had the catalog in front of them when they inscribed the James ossuary…?
Did Jesus even have a brother? Most Christians never thought so. If he did, it rather shakes the “perpetual virginity” of Mary, though that idea was dreamed up in the 4th century (see: Mary, Mary... Immaculate Deception). It is a sectarian view that Jesus had siblings, which makes the reference to ‘brother of Jesus’ look contrived, ‘planted’ in order to prove a point.
An original excised frame around the first part of the inscription has been removed to fit in the last, faked part, i.e., “brother of Jesus.” Moreover, says Rochelle Altman:
“Contrary to all other known ossuaries where little attention is paid to the placement of the inscription, here the placement is clearly carefully calculated, and the first part of the inscription is balanced in proportion to the overall size of the box. This careful balance has been disturbed by the second part of the inscription.”
Ancient Writing Specialist 3.
“So it seems clear that the inscription was cut with two hands: the one of the inscription’s first half which held the chisel parallel to the stone surface and cut straight down and the other which held it at an angle and used the corner as a point to incise lines of uneven depth or to move along the surface.”
– Paul Flesher Observing the Ossuary
Its odd that an orthodox Jew – such as the James character – would have his epitaph written in Aramaic, the language of the northern kingdom, as opposed to Hebrew, which was that of Judea and of “true” Jews. Educated Jews may have settled on Greek possibly, but not Aramaic.
Possibly, the forger supposed – as have millions of Christians – that an historical Jesus spoke Aramaic, and therefore so would his purported sibling James. In order for the inscription to appear “authentic” to Christian tradition, it was written in Aramaic.
Though inscriptions can appear on any side of an ossuary (depending in part how they are to be stored), one side of this bone box has feint traces of incised Herodian rosettes. The inscription however appears on the ‘back’.
Carbon-dating, used to date organic remains, has an error factor of + or -150 years. But nothing can date stone even that accurately. The ossuary, quite obviously ancient, could date from two or three hundred years either side of Jesus’s purported existence. Canaanites, Israelites, Hebrews and Jews all used ossuaries back to at least the Second Temple Period and continued to do so for several centuries into the Common Era. The site of Hederah in northern Israel even yielded some ossuaries with the exact shape as the “James’ ossuary”. (Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land , II, 496.).
“Moreover, the lid does not fit the ossuary, suggesting that this is not the original lid. It is a flat lid a couple of inches in thickness.
– Paul Flesher Observing the Ossuary
Much of the box shows the ‘weathering’ effects of dirt, stains, discoloring, etc. It also has extensive scratching:
‘The inscription would be underneath these scratches if it had been on the box at the time of burial, but the majority of this inscription is on top of the scratches. And the sharpness of some of the letters doesn’t look right – sharp edges do not last 2,000 years.’
– Dr. Daniel Eylon (Professor of Engineering, University of Dayton)
Despite ‘passing’ the ultraviolet spectrum analysis test, patina is easily faked (Professor Baruch Halpern of Penn State). In any event, there is no way to distinguish between a patina which is, say 500 years old, and one which is 2000 years old. But is there the necessary layer of patina…?
“Biovermiculation is limestone erosion and dissolution caused by bacteria over time in the form of pitting and etching. The ossuary had plenty, except in and around the area of the inscription. This is not normal. The patina consisted of the appropriate minerals, but it was reported to have been cleaned off the inscription. This is impossible since patina cannot be cleaned off limestone with any solvent or cleanser since it is essentially baked-on glass. It is possible to forge patina, but when it is, it cracks off. This appears to be what happened with the ossuary.”
– John Lupia, art historian
An analysis of the patina also revealed the presence of Tel Aviv tap water. Golan would artfully claim at his trial that this was because “his mother had scrubbed the ossuary, not realizing its value.
Professor Camil Fuchs (Tel Aviv University) has calculated that thousands of individuals called JosephJesus and James would have lived in 1st century Palestine, at least 3000 of them called James. However, the incidence of a James with a father called Joseph and a brother called Jesus boils down, it seems, to just 3. That’s close enough to conclude that the inscription on the bone box refers to James the Just and his divine god-man brother Jesus of Nazareth.
However, if we are dealing with a doctored inscription, we need consider only how many men called James had a father called Joseph – and that could be several hundred. An suitable bone box would not be such a rare find.
The doubts about the trumpeted “authenticity” multiply. Yet there can be no doubt that forgery has been the lifeblood of Christianity from its very beginning. With mediaeval fakes so readily exposed by modern science should we not expect that same science to be used to fabricate ever more subtle forgeries?
But at least we have an admission that, if this were to be the first, then there is no other evidence of our illustrious god-man … !!
Nina Burleigh, Unholy Business: ATrue Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the HoIy Land (Collins, 2008)
(and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!)
Marco Ghatas, an Egyptian artist and jeweller, has confessed to manufacturing many items for Golan, based on sketches supplied by him. Other members of the forgery ring have turned state’s evidence.
Oded Golan: Would you buy a used ossuary from this man?
An ossuary bearing the name Jacob, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus, in Aramaic, was, it seems, originally found in the basement of a museum by Prof. E.L. Sukenik of Hebrew University around 1926. Subsequently, it was lost…
Marco Ghatas, an Egyptian artist and jeweller, has confessed to manufacturing many items for Golan, based on sketches supplied by him. Other members of the forgery ring have turned state’s evidence.
Other Ossuaries (were these all genuine too?!)
1) There are six ossuaries carrying the name Jesus.
2) There are two ossuaries carrying the names Jesus, son of Joseph.
One of those ossuaries – carrying the name Jesus, son of Joseph (in Hebrew, catalogue no. 80.503) – was found in a family cave in March 1980 in southern Jerusalem.
The same cave also contained another nine ossuaries, with the names Joseph (in Hebrew), Mary (of the same period], Mary (in Greek), and Judah, son of Jesus (different date).
Is Oded Golan really the owner of the ossuary? There seems to be some doubt…
Is Oded Golan really the owner of that other stunning artifact, the so-called Jehoash Tablet (aka “King Solomon’s Tablet“) seemingly inscribed with Phoenician script and referring to the Jerusalem Temple at the time of King Jehoash?

What a guy…

Prof. Yuval Goren (Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel-Aviv University) provides a step-by-step guide to fooling the experts:
February 2003
“The custom of re-interment of the bones (in ossuaries) was widespread among Jews at the end of the Second Temple Period and for several centuries afterwards.
Numerous laws in the Mishnah and Talmud deal with the modes of burial and the form and size of tombs.”
– Michael Avi-Yonah (Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations of the Holy Land)

Looting Rife

“Over 90 percent of the antiques originating in Israel are antiques that have been looted from 30,000 different sites all over the country, most of them open and unguarded.”
– Ha’aretz April 2003

The Book of the Bone Box

Hershel Shanks, Ben Witherington III “The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus & his Family”
Shanks is editor of Biblical Archaeology Review; Witherington is Professor of New Testament, Ashbury Theological Seminary

Forgery: A long and ignoble history

The list is endless and includes countless “documents,” including ridiculous correspondence between Jesus Christ and King Agbarus, letters from the Virgin Mary, the Lentulus forgery, and hundreds of others.
Few people are aware of the relative ease with which one can take a genuine piece of ancient stone, skin, papyrus, etc. and write an inscription on it.
Unless the forger uses modern inks or tools on ancient stone, for example, the artifact will obviously, when subjected to most geological tests, show the age of the authentic ancient base.

A Forgery!

“… the line of custody is insecure, and the inscription is too perfect. They would never have written ‘brother of Jesus’ in the first century… people would not have thought to put that parentage or fraternal relationship on an ossuary in that manner at that time,” “
– Robert Eisenman, one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts on “James, the Brother of Jesus.”

A Forgery!

Kyle McCarter, an eminent paleographer, says that the script style of the second part is like that of the Wadi Murabbaat from second-century Judea.
Some fifty articles are now available as a book. For your copy order: