Is the Ark-Like Structure Found on Mt. Ararat a Hoax?

For those who are interested in the search for Noah’s ark, check out the response by Philip Ernest Williams (Mount Ararat Discovery Foundation) to “A Critique of the Claim of Noah’s Ark Ministries International of the Discovery of a Wooden Structure on Mount Ararat” by Dr. Randall Price Ph.D. and Don Patton, Ph.D. Click this link to read it:

For other cutting-edge articles on the search for Noah’s ark, also

please visit


The “Gabriel Revelation” Stone (2008)

The “Gabriel Revelation” Stone
by Norman L. Geisler


There is yet again another discovery amongst the objects found around the time of Jesus that if proven true will undermine Scriptures and shake the basic view of Christianity. The new discovery is known as Gabriel’s Revelation. One Hebrew professor named Yehezkel Kaufman said, “[Because of this discovery the]Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to all scholarship. What happens in the NT was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.Time Magazine commenting (7-6-08) on this discovery said, “If true, this [Gabriel’s Revelation] could mean that Jesus’ followers had access to a well-established paradigm when they decreed that Christ himself rose from the dead.

Gabriel’s Revelation which was owned by a Swiss-Israeli collector has come to the front line in our media lately. Gabriel’s Revelation is a stone that was found nearly a decade ago in Jordan by the Dead Sea. The stone is said to be three feet tall and date to the 1st Century B.C. Written in two columns on the stone are 87 Hebrew lines of ink with references to the Old Testament books of Daniel, Zechariah, and Haggai. It was initially translated by the Hebrew scholar Ada Yardeni, but it has recently been analyzed by Hebrew Bible scholar Israel Knohl. Yardeni says that the first six lines are unintelligible so they were unable to translate them. Lines 7-44 are intelligible in part but not in whole. The translators were able to render small phrases, but they were still unable to give a complete translation. The next column known as Column B is comprised of 42 more lines. Of those 42 lines 45-50 are unintelligible, while the others were still an incomplete translation.

Of the 87 lines found upon Gabriel’s Revelation the crucial lines of inquiry are numbers 19, 20, and 80. Lines19-20 which says, “sanctity(?)/sanctify(?) Israel! In three days you shall know, that(?)/for(?) He said, 20 (namely), YHWH the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Israel: the evil broke (down). Then in line 80 it says, “In three days… [you shall live?], I, Gabriel…[?].” With the phrase “you shall live” being added by Hebrew biblical scholar Israel Knohl. Knohl believes from the faint letters one can derive the word “hayeh” or live.

From the lines above many of the critics are claiming that there was a resurrection account by Jewish believers about a Messiah who would rise from the dead after three days, and that the disciples borrowed this account in order to fabricate the Gospel message. If true, then as David Van Biema and Tim McGrik of Time(7-7-08) said, “Jesus’ followers had access to a well-established paradigm when they decreed that Christ rose on the third day–and it might even hint that they could have applied it in their grief after their master was crucified. However, such a contentious reading of the 87-line tablet depends on creative interpretation of a smudged passage, making it the latest entry in the woulda/coulda/shoulda category of possible New Testament artifacts; they are useful to prove less-spectacular points and to stir discussion on big ones, but probably not to settle them nor shake anyone’s faith.

So, what would make a group of Time Magazine writers say that it probably will not “shake anyone’s faith?” Initially it is because there are two assumptions that the correct dating is from the 1st Century B.C. and that it is the correct translation. Expert translators have repeatedly claimed that it was too faint to be translated. The phrase could also be translated “there arose” giving the implications that he “just shows up.” Finally, the phrase does not have to refer to a specific resurrection but the common Jewish belief of the general resurrection at the end of time; which according to lines 19 and 20 were said to be in three days.

There are two problems that arise from this discovery and the current interpretations of the data. First, some ask “how can 1 Cor. 15:4 (in A.D. 55) say “on the third day” was “according to the Scriptures” when there was no OT scripture that said this?” The response to this objection is that the Gospel of Matthew may have been written before A.D. 55 (see Bishop Robinson, Wm. F. Albright–by 40’s). Also we know that at around that time Matthews Gospel was considered scripture (1Tim. 5:18). Finally, in the OT Jonah’s three days in the great fish prefigured Christ’s resurrection (Mt. 12:40). The second problem is that some claim that the discovery shows that Christianity is based on previous myths about death and resurrection. But, it is false to claim that the belief of a Messiah that would die and three days later rise from the dead is a myth. It is clear that the OT predicted the Messiah who would die (Isa. 53; Dan. 9) and rise again (Psa. 2, 16). Also the NT is not based on Greek (polytheistic) myths but Jewish monotheistic Messianic predictions (see Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks). As C.S. Lewis said,

All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job. And I am prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legend or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic. I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff” (C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, 209).

Some conclusions that need to be drawn from this discovery are that it first assumes the dating and translation to be correct. Second, it has been evidenced against the standard liberal views that there was no such Jewish expectation at that time. Third, this discovery also discredits the view that the NT writers simply invented the resurrection. But, it could not have been adopted by Jesus’ disciples because there is no evidence that they knew of the stone, and they were surprised by Jesus’ announcement of his resurrection(Mk 16:11; Mt. 28:11; Lk. 24:37; Jn. 20:25). If anything, the discovery supports the NT belief in Christ’s death and resurrection three days later (Mt. 17:22 cf. 1 Cor. 15:4) and the disciple’s interpretation of the OT predictions of a future resurrection (Psa. 2, 16 cf. Acts 2, 13). Concluding with the writers of Time Magazine:

Yet for now, at least, Gabriel’s Revelation must take its place among a slew of recently discovered objects from the time of Jesus that are claimed to either support or undermine Scripture but are themselves sufficiently, logically or archaeologically compromised to prevent their being definitive.” (7-7-08).


Copyright © 2008 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

Also see: Gabriel’s Revelation by Craig Hazen

Is Jesus’ Hometown (Nazareth) a Myth?

Is Jesus’ Hometown (Nazareth) a Myth?

Joseph M. Holden, Ph.D.


For the past 2000 years first-century Nazareth was unquestionably considered the historic hometown of Jesus. The gospels make it abundantly clear that Jesus was “of Nazareth” (Jn. 1:45; Jn 19:19; Mk. 1:24; Lk. 18:27). However, Rene Salm has challenged the historical Nazareth in his The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus (American Atheist Press, 2008). According to his view, ancient Nazareth did not emerge prior to A.D. 70, and the settlement of Nazareth did not exist earlier than the second-century A.D. long after Christ’s crucifixion. To substantiate these claims, Salm appeals to, among other things: 1) late dating Roman and Byzantine artifacts (e.g oil lamps), 2) the Gospel of Luke which tells us that Jesus’ hometown was Capernaum, not Nazareth, 3) “problematic” biblical passages (e.g. Mt. 2:23, “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” ESV) that have no prophetic reference in the Jewish Scriptures, and 4) that Josephus and the Jewish Talmud do not mention Nazareth in their lists of Galilean cities. However, there are several reasons why Salm’s argument against Nazareth should be rejected.

First, there has been little archaeological work completed in the Nazareth area since most of the ancient city lies under the modern city of Nazareth (ca. 60,000 population). The sparse materials and current cumulative data should not be stretched into Nazareth’s non-existence since the alleged absence of material data and the presence of later Roman and Byzantine evidence is not “contradictory” evidence that disproves Nazareth’s first-century existence. Such a conclusion is tantamount to arguing that since we have not found the Ark of the Covenant or Noah’s Ark that the temple never existed or that the flood never occurred. In other words, this sort of thinking commits the logical fallacy of arguing from silence! Besides, the archaeological data from excavations in the Nazareth area demonstrate that Nazareth was a small (60 acre) agricultural village, had a population of about 300-500 people, had several rolling-stone tombs in the vicinity (like the tomb of Jesus) used up until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and a third-century A.D. Jewish synagogue which was probably built over the top of an earlier synagogue that was familiar to Jesus. To be sure, it is not uncommon for a later synagogue to be built over an earlier synagogue structure as was accomplished at Capernaum. In addition, an assortment of pottery has been found in the Nazareth area dating from 900 B.C. to A.D. 640, suggesting the area was occupied at various times over a 1500-year period. Among these finds, there is no evidence that contradicts the view that Nazareth was a small historic village during the time of Jesus. Even if there was no material data uncovered at Nazareth from the early first-century A.D., it does not eliminate Nazareth as a historical city. Why? Salm seems to forget that Nazareth was a small village (about 3 miles south of the thriving city of Sepphoris) with a small population. Further, it is not uncommon that Nazareth’s location moved somewhat over time. It is unrealistic to expect such a small agricultural village to leave massive amounts of material behind as do large cities like Beth Shan and Jerusalem. To demand such evidence from Nazareth would be unrealistic. In fact, it is not uncommon for small villages to just disappear over time since later Roman and modern building projects have been known to erase traces of earlier settlements altogether. Current archaeology has not yet revealed the exact place of first-century Nazareth. This is hardly proof that Nazareth did not exist! The same is true of other small villages like Chorazin, whose archaeological data is mostly Byzantine. Though Chorazin could be located nearby the current location. We must be reminded that only 1% of the archaeological sites have been excavated, and to treat the Galilee region (or the Nazareth area) as “fully excavated” is misguided and incorrect since much more is yet to be learned. The jury is still out on the matter of first-century Nazareth’s exact location.

Second, Salm appears to be arguing against traditions and common lay assumptions, as well as the current Nazareth Village that has been reconstructed, and has not offered any material evidence that disproves first-century Nazareth’s existence. At best his arguments demonstrate that we don’t know the exact location of Nazareth, and that certain archaeological reports conflict on occasion, or that some overzealous Christians have overstated their case for Nazareth at times. However, none of this demonstrates that Nazareth is a myth. It only serves to show us that interpretations may conflict at times as is the case in all discipline that call for human interpretation (e.g. science, theology, etc). In fact, I don’t know of any reputable archaeologist today that is dogmatically certain of the exact location of Nazareth. As for the current Nazareth Village constructed for tourists to gain an understanding of first-century life in Jesus’ hometown, it seems to offer a accurate snapshot of what Nazareth was like without making the claim that the location of the current Nazareth Village was the exact same location of Jesus’ hometown.  Illustrations of terraced farming, replica synagogue, meals, carpenter’s workshop, and models dressed in authentic apparel offer a helpful and realistic portrait of life in Jesus’ Nazareth. Unlike the examples offered in the Nazareth Village tour which are grounded in real origin science (archaeology) and historic narrative descriptions, Salm’s argument against Nazareth is without positive archaeological or historical grounding whatsoever.

Third, the location of Sepphoris in relation to Nazareth is consistent with the social and economic milieu of Jesus’ day. Sepphoris, rebuilt in 4 B.C. by the Tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas, was located about an hour’s walk from modern day Nazareth. This is strong evidence that villages like Nazareth settled within a short distance from this major hub, implying they were not “isolated” from the rest of the Galilee. The labor force (masons and carpenters) most likely could not afford, or did not need, to live in big opulent cities so they settled in nearby villages. Since Joseph and Jesus were masons/carpenters, with no indication that they were wealthy, it would make sense that they settled close by Sepphoris. For example, the small southern California cities of Temecula and Murrieta are affordable bedroom communities that feed the labor force of Los Angeles and San Diego! Though we must not take this to mean that Nazareth was a remote and isolated stop on the way to the city. There is evidence of first-century agricultural infrastructure in Nazareth such as grape and olive presses, farming, vinyards, some stone masonry, the sparse remains of a home (mud, stone, wood, and vegetation), and a nearby highway system connecting the port city of Caesarea Maritima to Tiberias. [1] All of these remains imply a self-sustaining first-century community intricately connected with the rest of northern Israel.

Fourth, Salm mistakenly rejects Matthew 2:23 due to its lack of specific reference among the prophetic books of the Old Testament for several reasons. First, Matthew did not say a single prophet made the statement, but rather it was of the prophets (plural). Meaning that Matthew was not quoting any specific prophet but was instead referring to the general consensus among the prophets that Jesus would be called a “Nazarene.” The fulfillment of this title can be understood in several ways. For example, the prophets said the Messiah would be despised and rejected (Isa. 53:3; Dan. 9:26; Zech. 12:10) much like the way Nazareth was despised during the early first-century (Jn. 1:46; 7:41, 52); 2) though Jesus never took the vow of the Nazarite (the word is spelled differently than Nazareth), He fulfilled it by perfectly keeping the Law by separating Himself to the Lord which was the essence of the Nazarite vow (Num. 6:2; Judg. 13:5); 3) others have indicated that the Hebrew word netzer (meaning “branch”) is the word from which Nazareth was named (since it sounds similar). Several prophets mentioned the “Branch” as being a title of the Messiah (Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech 3:8; 6:12). The best solution is to accept Matthew’s statement at face value, namely, Matthew saw the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when Jesus and his family took residence in Nazareth (Mt. 21:11); 4) John records Phillip’s identification of “Jesus of Nazareth” as the fulfillment of what Moses and the prophets wrote (Jn. 1:45). Nathanial affirms its despised reputation and assumes Nazareth is a historical village when he replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46, ESV).

Fifth, Salm ignores the numerous independent statements in the New Testament that identify Jesus with Nazareth. First, at his crucifixion Pontius Pilate placed a government-authorized sign (titulus) above Jesus’ head that read, “Jesus of Nazareth…” (Jn. 19:19). It is worthy of note that the religious leaders did not dispute truthfulness of Jesus’ hometown (“Nazareth”) written on the placard when they petitioned Pilate to change the writing, but only challenged His claim to be “the King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:20-22)! Second, Jesus was rejected at the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk. 4:16-30). It is inconsistent to affirm the historicity of Jesus and the synagogue and yet assign Nazareth to myth since it is so often associated with the historical Jesus as it is here.  Third, the New Testament writers often referred to “Jesus of Nazareth” (Mk. 1:24; Lk. 18:27) and those among His early church were identified as the “Nazarene sect” (Acts 24:5). Fourth, even the man with an unclean demon acknowledged that Jesus was “of Nazareth” (Lk. 4:33-34). This would have been the perfect opportunity for the demon to challenge the moral character of Jesus by catching Him in a lie about his hometown. Instead, the demon is forced to confirm the truth about His holiness, deity, authority, identity, and place of residence (Lk. 4:34). Never is Jesus identified with any other city such as “Jesus of Caesarea”, “Jesus of Capernaum”, “Jesus of Bethlehem”, or “Jesus of Jerusalem”, only “Jesus of Nazareth”. To conclude otherwise is to overlook the strong and obvious textual connection between Jesus and his hometown of Nazareth.

Sixth, the absence of historical notation among early literature (Josephus and Talmud) does not prove that Nazareth is a myth. Lack of identification does not mean lack of existence, it’s a logical fallacy to argue from silence! For many years, the Babylonian king, Belshazzar, mentioned in Daniel 5 was considered by critics to be a mythical interpolation in the text since he was missing from all Babylonian king lists. However, he was later discovered on the Nabonidus Cylinder to be the son and co-regent of Babylonian king, Nabonidus. Therefore, sound logic and previous experience must limit Salm’s claim of Nazareth’s omission in previous lists to: “the lack of notation in early writers is consistent with the view that Nazareth is a myth.” There are plausible reasons why Nazareth is not found in Josephus and the Talmud’s list of Galilean locations. First, it is possible that Josephus and the Talmud omit it because the lists are not intended to be exhaustive. Second, it may be because Nazareth (due to its despised reputation and size) was such an insignificant village at the time it warranted no mention. Third, by the time Josephus wrote his list of Galilean cities Nazareth may have been known by another name or was not occupied in the late first-century A.D. What is more, Jewish religious leaders may have refrained from listing Nazareth out of disdain for Jesus and His claims to be the Messiah. None of these reasons preclude Nazareth from being the historic village of Jesus.

Seventh, Salm’s theory forgets that Old and New Testament writers always layered their narratives over real geographical locations. Never have we discovered otherwise. Luke is a prime example of exact geographical descriptions to aid his foreign readers in understanding the geography of Palestine. In 1:26, Luke identifies the location as “a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” It is strange hermeneutical practice to accept the historicity of the Galilee region (as Salm apparently does) and reject the existence of Nazareth located within it.  Each time Nazareth and Jesus are mentioned they are so often coupled together in a non-mythical tone. Salm often asserts that instead of Nazareth being Jesus’ hometown, the Scriptures place Jesus in his home at Capernaum. However, this notion is fraught with problems, the most crucial of them is that Salm, being either unaware or by simply ignoring, the same grammatical coupling is associated with Capernaum as well, “Capernaum, a city of Galilee” (Lk. 4:31). Moreover, Matthew 4:12-17 clearly describes that Jesus “leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali” to begin His ministry. Salm is correct when he says that Jesus lived in Capernaum, but this is only true after he left Nazareth (Lk. 3:23 cf. Lk. 4:14-37). It makes no sense (hermeneutically or logically) to assert that Jesus left a mythical city (Nazareth) to live in a historical one (Capernaum)!

Eighth, Salm’s theory favors the interpretations of liberal biblical scholarship without questioning their philosophical assumptions or methodology and does not seriously interact with conservative evangelical scholarship on the matter. Most notable is Salm’s unwarranted rejection of the reliability of the biblical text. There is simply no reason to reject the integrity of the Gospel records that are supported by credible eyewitnesses and thousands of early manuscripts. [2] Salm admits that the purpose ofThe Myth of Nazareth is only the foundational step in deconstructing classical Christianity in order to offer a “new account” of Christian origins that will rely heavily on “investigating suppressed evidence of Gnostic, Judean, and Essene roots of Christianity.” To replace credible and ancient eyewitness testimony with modern critical scholarship that is 2000 years removed from the events recorded in the biblical text is not only unwise, it is bad scholarship on any level!

Salm’s argument against Nazareth can only succeed if he brings to light archaeological evidence that contradicts the biblical testimony of first-century Nazareth. However, thus far it appears he has only revealed his bias against the reliability of the Scriptures and inerrancy, offered arguments from silence, employed minimalist New Testament interpretation, offered a critique of over-stated dogmatic claims by some Christians, and the conflicting interpretations of archaeological data. None of these warrant a change of mind from what has been generally accepted for nearly 2000 years – namely, that Nazareth is the historical town of Jesus.


Copyright by Joseph M. Holden 2012. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 13-14. See Bellarmino Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth: Vol. 1, From the Beginning till the XII Century (2 Vols). (Publications of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum 17. Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1969), 174-218.

[2] See Bruce M. Metzger, The Transmission of the New Testament Text: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration; Norman Geisler and William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (Revised & Expanded) 2012; and Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden, A Popular Survey of Archaeology and the Bible – Harvest House, 2013; Norman Geisler and Frank Turek,I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist).




Joseph Holden, Ph.D.

President of Veritas Evangelical Seminary

and co-author of the forthcoming book,

The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible

The James Ossuary: The Earliest Witness to Jesus and His Family?

[click here to open as a PDF file: The James Ossuary – Dr. Joseph Holden]

The James Ossuary:

The Earliest Witness to Jesus and His Family?


Joseph M. Holden, Ph.D.


One of the earliest and most important discoveries relating to the historicity of Jesus and members of his family is the limestone bone-box (called an ossuary) made known to the public in October, 2002. Ossuaries were used by Israel from about the second-century B.C. until the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Over ten thousand such ossuaries have been discovered but only about one hundred contain inscriptions. Of these, only two have an identification similar to the one etched in the now famous and somewhat controversial “James Ossuary.” The entire Aramaic inscription reads, “Jacob (James), son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” (Ya’akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua).

If, in fact, the inscription in its entirety is recognized as authentic (which we believe to be the case), we have clear first-century A.D. testimony of Jesus, his father Joseph, and brother James. James (Ya’akov) is given in the Gospel accounts as a brother of Jesus (Mt. 13:55), but he is also one of the most important figures in the New Testament. The book of Acts reveals that he was the pastor of the Jerusalem church, moderator of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and penned the epistle of James. James is also spoken of a number of times in the writings of Josephus. He was put to death by certain Jewish leaders in A.D. 62, so if the James Ossuary is the one in which his bones were placed, then the dating of the bone-box would be approximately A.D. 62-63, allowing time for the reburial of the bones after the decomposition of the flesh, according to Jewish practices.

In December 2004, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the State of Israel brought an indictment against antiquities dealer and owner of the James Ossuary, Oded Golan, claiming that the second part of the inscription, the portion which reads “brother of Jesus” to be a forgery. This indictment seems to have come to nothing after five years of court proceedings that concluded in March 2010 with 116 hearings, 138 witnesses, 52 expert witnesses, over 400 exhibits, and more than 12,000 pages of court transcripts! According to Golan’s written summary of the trial (supported by the 474 page Hebrew language opinion handed down by Jerusalem District Court Judge Aharon Farkash on March 14, 2012), many high-level scholars with expertise in ancient epigraphy, paleography, bio-geology, and other crucial disciplines relating to examining the inscription have testified that there is no reason to doubt that the “brother of Jesus” was engraved by the same hand in the first-century A.D. In view of this, it is very likely that we may have a very early and important historical witness to Jesus and His family. A summary of the arguments for and against the authenticity of the inscription is listed below.


Arguments against its authenticity

  1. The ossuary was not discovered in situ, within a secure archaeological context, but rather obtained through the antiquities trade.
  2. Though the bone-box itself and the first half of the inscription are not contested, arguments that the second half of the inscription (brother of Jesus) was recently engraved (forged) and was not completed by the same hand have been posited due to the absence of natural occurring patina. (Patina is a thin layer of biogenic material expected to be present on most, if not all, ancient artifacts to some degree. It is caused by the continuous secretions and activities of micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, algae, and yeast on the stone and inside some of its grooves. If the same consistency of patina is equally distributed on the ossuary and found within the engraved grooves, it would suggest the authenticity of the inscription. The absence of patina within the disputed portion of the inscription would suggest a forgery or modern engraving of letters.)
  3. The foundation of the IAA’s case against Oded Golan was based on an eyewitness (Joe Zias, an anthropologist formerly employed by the IAA) that claimed to have previously seen the ossuary without the “brother of Jesus” portion of the inscription.


Arguments for its authenticity

  1. The size of the ossuary indicates that the bones belonged to an adult male, thus being consistent with James.
  2. In 2004, while the ossuary was in IAA possession, the police (Mazap) made a silicon impression (cast) of the inscription that contaminated and mutilated the inscription. When the silicon was removed it also removed the natural occurring patina, but despite this action traces of the patina were still present in several of the letter grooves, indicating that the inscription is indeed ancient.
  3. The name on the ossuary (James) reveals that the person was a male.
  4. Ossuaries were only used by Jews only in the area of Jerusalem and from the end of the first-century B.C. until A.D. 70, the same time period that Josephus tells of the death of James at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders.
  5. Of all those ossuaries bearing an inscription almost all speak of the deceased occupant’s father, but occasionally has the person’s brother, sister, or other close relative, if that person was well-known. The rare presence of a sibling’s name (Jesus) would indicate that Jesus was a very prominent figure.
  6. Specialist and archaeologist, Prof. Kloner, dates the ossuary to between A.D. 45 – 70, and is thus consistent with the death of James in A.D. 62 according to Josephus.
  7. Though the names Joseph, James, and Jesus are common names in the first-century, the combination of “James, son of Joseph” is rare and unique to this ossuary, meaning that it is highly probable that the bone-box belongs to James, Jesus’ brother even without the second half of the inscription mentioning this.
  8. Prof. Camil Fuchs, head of the Statistic department at Tel Aviv University researched deceased males in Jerusalem in the first-century A.D. He concluded based on conservative estimates a growing Jerusalem population estimate (between A.D. 6-70), minus all women, minus children who will not reach manhood by time of James’ death, minus non-Jews, and considering the fame of Jesus as a brother to warrant the inscription, time of death, and literacy, that with 95% assurance there existed at the time in Jerusalem 1.71 people named James with a father Joseph and brother named Jesus!
  9. Golan affirms that he purchased the ossuary from an antiquities dealer who said it was found in the Silwan (Kidron Valley area) in Jerusalem. James the Just, pastor of the Jerusalem church and half-brother of Jesus was stoned and thrown from the pinnacle of the temple according to Josephus. According to Christian tradition, he was buried in a rock-cut tomb in the Kidron Valley, and one year later, in accordance with Jewish tradition, his bones were interned in an ossuary.
  10. Expert witnesses have confirmed that the inscription in its totality was inscribed by the same hand in the first-century, though this was a much disputed item (especially by Yuval Goren and Avner Ayalon) until experts were put under oath at trial.
  11. Experts have confirmed the presence of microbial patina on the ossuary and both parts of the inscription “James, the son of Joseph” and “brother of Jesus,” demonstrating the unity and antiquity of the inscription. In addition, this patina is generally deemed ancient, without the possibility of it occurring naturally in less than 50-100 years, making a recent forgery impossible. The world’s leading expert in bio-geology and the patination process, Wolfgang Krumbeim of Oldenburg University in Germany, affirmed the patina on the ossuary and inscription most likely reflects a development process of thousands of years. He added that there is no known process of accelerating the development of patina. In addition, he concluded that the patina covering the inscription letters are no less authentic than the patina covering the surface of the ossuary (which the IAA says is authentic). Other researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto confirmed that the patina within the letter grooves is consistent with the patina on the surface of the ossuary, thus legitimizing the entire inscription’s antiquity.
  12. According to expert paleographers (Andre Lemaire and Ada Yardeni) who authenticated (and dated) the inscription based on the shape and stance of the letters, the Aramaic is fully consistent with first-century style and practice. No credible challenge to their findings has yet to be published.
  13. Adding the words, “brother of Jesus” is exceptional among the ossuaries found in Jerusalem. During the trial, it was revealed that what eyewitness (Joe Zias, who does not read Aramaic) thought he saw (i.e. James Ossuary) was actually a different (but similar) ossuary with three Aramaic inscribed names (Joseph, Judah, Hadas) known as the “Joseph Ossuary”. Prior to rendering the final verdict by Judge Farkash, apparently Zias said to Hershel Shanks that he was “joking” when told that the “brother of Jesus” portion of the inscription was missing from the ossuary!


So extensive and strong is the support for the authenticity of the ossuary and its inscription, according to Golan, Dan Bahat (the prosecutor), said in his closing arguments that the State would probably dismiss the charges that the ossuary inscription is a forgery. In fact, many of the IAA witnesses who initially claimed that the inscription was a forgery appeared to have changed their minds after closer analysis and scientific testing. What is more, many prosecution witnesses (witnesses for the IAA/State who argue that the inscription is a forgery) confirmed the authenticity of the inscription based upon careful analysis of the patina and the engraved inscription. The following chart offers a survey of several expert witnesses and their conclusions about the ossuary inscription.


Expert Witness/Opinions Regarding the Authenticity of the James Ossuary


Person Expertise Comments
Andre Lemaire Epigrapher, ancient Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions. Has no doubt that the entire inscription was ancient and inscribed in a single event. No reason to believe the contrary.
Ada Yardeni Paleographer, researcher, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Examined the inscription in 2002 and concluded that the entire inscription is of ancient origin, and inscribed by a single individual. She also stated, “If this is a forgery, I quit.”
Hagai Misgav Member of the IAA Committee, expert in Hebrew and Aramaic ossuary inscriptions. Found no indication of forgery in the inscription.
Shmuel Ahituv Member of the 2003 IAA Writing Committee to examine the authenticity of the inscription and expert on Hebrew inscriptions. Found no indication that the inscription is a forgery or is modern. The text and paleography make it difficult to rule out the authenticity of the inscription.
Yosef Naveh Professor, prosecution witness No indication the inscription is a forgery.
Y.L. Rahmani Archaeologist, has published the corpus of IAA ossuary inscriptions in IAA’s possession. After examining the inscription, found no indication that the inscription (or any part of it) was a forgery.
Dr. Esther Eshel Prosecution witness She cannot rule out the possibility that the entire inscription may be ancient
Roni Reich Jerusalem professor, archaeologist, and researcher Ossuary inscription is ancient, no reason to doubt its authenticity, and most likely comes from the late second temple period.
Gabriel Barkay Jerusalem archaeologist and professor Ossuary is ancient and found no scientific evidence to doubt its authenticity.
Gideon Avni IAA “Writing Committee” appointed to examine the paleography and inscription in 2003. Never testified against the authenticity of the inscription.
Orna Cohen Senior antiquities conservator for the IAA and Israeli museums, archaeologist, chemist, and specialist in the conservation of ancient stone items. Based on her careful analysis of the patina within the letter grooves under various light conditions, she concluded with certainty the phrase “brother of Jesus” had been engraved in ancient times.
Wolfgang Krumbein One of the world’s leading experts (Oldenburg University, Germany) on the patination process, stone patina, geology, and bio-geology. Analyzed samples of patina taken from the ossuary letter grooves, and concluded that this patina would require 50-100 years to develop, and most likely reflect a development process of thousands of years. The patina in the letter grooves was consistent with the patina on the surface of the ossuary, whose antiquity has not been contested.
Shimon Ilani

Amnon Rosenfeld

Experts in Archaeometry (scientific testing of archaeological artifacts) at the Geological Survey of Israel in Jerusalem After examination of the inscription in 2002, they identified natural bio-patina in all the letter grooves, thus demonstrating the inscription occurred prior to the scratches and patina forming. They have no doubt about the ancient origin of the entire inscription.
James Harrell University of Toledo (OH), Expert in geology and stone of the ancient world Found no indication that any part of the inscription was forged.
Dan Rahimi Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto Museum researchers tested the patina and found natural patina in the letter grooves under a granular substance that is consistent with detergent used by the IAA to formerly clean the ossuary.
Yuval Goren Expert in petrography of potsherds and clay/silt, former member of IAA, and prosecution witness Though Goren initially had submitted an opinion on the ossuary at the IAA’s request in 2003 in which he denied any presence of natural patina in the letter grooves, he later contradicted this by reversing his finds. Later in 2007, after a reexamination of the inscription, he admitted to finding natural patina in the second half of the inscription.
Avnor Ayalon Geo-chemist of the Geological Survey of Israel in Jerusalem and prosecution witness He proposed to examine isotopic composition of the oxygen and carbon in carbonate patina, and compare it to the same found in stalactite caves in Jerusalem. Similar isotopic values would prove the carbonate patina on the ossuary may be natural, but a dissimilar value would demonstrate it is not natural and most likely a forgery. However, Ayalon’s model has been demonstrated by others to be based on false assumptions and deemed inappropriate for examining ancient artifacts.
Elisabetta Boaretto Expert in Carbon 14 dating, prosecution witness Found no evidence to support that the inscription is forged or new. Only signed the IAA petition against Golan because Goren (who later reversed his opinion) and Ayalon (whose model was subsequently shown to be mistaken) had previously asserted that they had found no patina, not due to her own analysis of the inscription.
Jacques Neguer Chemist for the IAA and prosecution witness Asserted the inscription had been cleaned (with detergent) in the past, but cannot determine whether it was a forgery.
Israel Police Forensic Department (Mazap) Forensics Letters in the first half of the inscription (which are not contested), were engraved by the same individual who engraved the second half of the inscription.
Gerald B. Richards Adjunct professor of forensic science at George Washington University, and senior consultant to the FBI Conducted scientific tests of Oded Golan’s photos (including infra-red and ultra-violet tests) of the ossuary, proving that the inscription had been engraved prior to 2002 since the photography (Kodak) paper used was discontinued in the 1980s. The indictment against Golan had claimed Golan had forged the inscription around 2002. This claim is now impossible to sustain.
Dan Bahat State prosecutor in the case Announced that the State would most likely dismiss the charges involving the ossuary and retract its claim that the ossuary inscription was a forgery had the bill of indictment not involved other charges.


Golan summarizes the outcome of extensive scientific tests performed on the ossuary and its inscription when he writes,


Neither the prosecution nor the IAA presented even a single witness who was an expert on ancient stone items, or patina on antiquities and who ruled out the authenticity of the inscription or any part of it. On the contrary, the findings of all the tests, including those of prosecution witnesses Goren and Ayalon, support the argument that the entire inscription is ancient, the inscription was engraved by a single person, and that several letter grooves contains traces of detergent/s that covers the natural varnish patina that developed there over centuries, and was partially cleaned (mainly the first section), many years ago.


The apologetic and historical implications following from this ossuary are far-reaching since it informs us that: 1) James, Joseph, and Jesus have historical corroboration as individuals and a family in the first-century; 2) early Christians, like James, may have been buried according to Jewish custom; 3) Aramaic was used by early Christians; and that 4) early Christianity emerged from its Jewish roots, making it extremely difficult to divorce Christianity from its Jewishness. As such, the inscription’s primary apologetic value rests in the notion that after the most intense interdisciplinary expert scrutiny according to the rules of law, the James Ossuary is destined to be the most authenticated/scrutinized artifact in history. We now can appreciate the ossuary as an authentic artifact that provides the earliest direct archaeological link to Jesus and his family!


Copyright © 2012 Joseph M. Holden. All rights reserved

Dr. Holden is the President of Veritas Evangelical Seminary and the author/coauthor of The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible: Discoveries that Confirm the Reliability of the Scriptures, Living Loud: Defending your Faith, and Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate.