"Jesus Box" Is a Fake, Israeli Experts Rule

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"The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters," the agency announced.

"There doesn't appear to be anything new in the report, either in terms of evidence or argument," said Ben Witherington, a New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. "And they haven't looked at or taken into account the Toronto evidence."

A conference of biblical scholars took place in December at the Royal Ontario Museum, allowing a large number of antiquities professionals to look at the box, and many were convinced of its authenticity, he said. The box also underwent laboratory testing in Toronto and was examined using mass spectrometry, ultraviolet light, and other tests.

Question of Authenticity

The artifact's lack of provenance had always been a red flag to many scholars. To antiquities specialists, knowing where something was originally found provides a wealth of clues that can be used to authenticate an object.

Lemaire discovered the ossuary while examining the collection of Oded Golan, an engineer in Tel Aviv with a passion for relics from biblical times. Golan purchased the artifact from a Jerusalem-based dealer in the 1970s. However, Golan's reputation as a collector is "questionable."

"The dealer who sold it was a man of questionable reputation who had a history of inappropriate dealings with various museums and government agencies," Eric Meyers, an archaeologist at Duke University, told National Geographic several months ago.

Meyers doesn't question whether the box is genuine and dates back to the first century. But he never believed the inscription was authentic.

In addition to provenance, doubts arose because half of the inscription had been cleaned at some point in time. The break comes at the word "brother." The "brother of Jesus" part of the inscription also looks to be written in a slightly more cursive form than the beginning of the inscription.

The box was originally tested in Israel by scientists at the Geological Survey Group, who judged it to be about 2,000 years old, and carved from Jerusalem limestone. The Antiquities Authority committee suggests that it's possible the stone from which it was hewn originated in Cyprus or northern Syria.

"All they seem to have looked at is the patina issue. No one is doubting that this is an ancient Jewish ossuary," said Witherington, who is co-author of The Brother of Jesus. "Nor is anybody arguing about whether the inscription is more recent than the ossuary. I think we're talking about a reused ossuary, which would account for some of the discrepancies in weathering." The book, published March 18, describes the find itself, and what it tells us about biblical times and the origins of Christianity.

"Even if it was [made of stone quarried outside of Jerusalem], what difference would that make? We know the people of the times carted cedars from Lebanon to Jerusalem to use in building the temple; why wouldn't stone masons bring in good quality stone?"

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