Battle Over the James Box

 December 2004 Update


DATE OF PUBLICATION: April 2005 WM1264 - 1265

FEBRUARY 2005 Update

"Two years ago, an Israeli antiquities collector produced a stone box with an inscription suggesting it had held the remains of Jesus brother James . . As for the inscription on the ossuary (a limestone box in which first-century Jews stored the bones of their dead), the overwhelming scholarly consensus is that its a fake, according to Eric Meyers, a Judaic-studies scholar at Duke. The Israeli police have confiscated the box from the owner, who claimed to have bought it for $200. A minority, though, holds to the view . . that the inscription may be genuine." Newsweek, August 30, 2004.

The above summary is full of inaccuracies. In a December 2002 tract set, we described at length the remarkable discovery of the James Box (The Burial Box of James, the Brother of Jesus [WM1118]), with a rather complete coverage of what the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy has to say about James.

In October 2003, we published Battle over the James Box [WM1169-1170], which disclosed the shocking efforts of the Israeli government to disprove the genuineness of this outstanding archaeological discovery. Apparently, there continues to exist a deep resentment in Israel against Christ. The Israeli government, working through their Israel Antiquities Authority, has tried every means to stifle investigation, produce false reports, and even prosecute the owner of the box as an evil man.


In order to properly introduce the subject, I would have to repeat the 12 pages of data already sent you. But, in brief, Oded Golan, 52, a soft-spoken engineer who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, has for decades privately collected antiquities. In the 1970s, he purchased an ossuary from an antiquities dealer for a few hundred dollars.

In the time of Christ, when a Jew in Palestine died, he was placed in a burial cave until the flesh rotted away. Then the bones were taken and placed in a rectangular stone box (an ossuary) with a stone lid on top. The name of the person was then scratched on the side of the box.

In some instances, the bones of several family members were placed in the box. In 1990, the box of family members of "Joseph son of Caiaphas" was found. The older bones were assumed to be those of the same Caiaphas before whom Jesus stood during His first of three trials early Friday morning, on the day He was crucified.

Not knowing the Hebrew script, after purchasing it, Golan stored the box among his collection and forgot it. In April 2002, Andr Lemaire, one of the worlds leading epigraphers, flew from the Sorbonne, in Paris, to Tel Aviv, and then drove to Jerusalem where he worked for over five months at Hebrew University's Institute for Advanced Studies. Scholars from all over the world go there to consult with other scholars and work on projects. (Epigraphy is the study of ancient inscriptions. Lemaire's field of expertise is Old Testament Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions on stonework and monuments from the Babylonian captivity on down through the first several centuries A.D.)

On each of his trips to Jerusalem, Lemaire learns of important new finds and he is asked to analyze the writing on various objects. New discoveries are continually coming to light, either through archaeological studies or the antiquities market.

One day during his 2002 stay in Jerusalem, Lemaire met a collector, Oded Golan, who asked him to examine some objects he had. One was an ancient stone boxan ossuary. Golan had no idea whether the box had any significance or value.

Before being shown the actual box, Lemaire was shown photographs of it. The inscription was easy to read and the writing expert immediately recognized its tremendous importance.

After very carefully examining the actual burial box, Lemaire concluded that, due to the spelling, shape, and slant of Herodian-era letter forms--the inscription was genuine.

Lemaire has examined purported finds for so many years that he can sense when he is examining a fake; that is, an inscription and object that is declared to be genuine and/or ancient, but is not. He concluded that this burial box was fully genuine in every detail.

Although Lemaire was an expert on handwriting, he wanted experts on stonework to closely examine the box before he, Lemaire, issued a report.

I will not here repeat the initial investigations, except to say that they all confirmed Lemaire's findings--that the inscription, the patina (the thin aging discoloration on the surface of the inscription and the box), and even the type of limestone in the box--all came from the first century A.D.

This initial investigation included a careful analysis by the Geological Survey of Israel, a department of the Israeli Ministry of Infrastructures, which carefully examined the box itself and its patina. When it was completed, they privately handed Lemaire a copy of their report. Nether the Israeli government, nor the general public, had, as of yet, learned of this astonishing discovery. Orthodox Jews in Israel, who hold a pivotal vote in the Keneset (the Israeli Congress), were unaware of the find.

The official report of the Geological Survey concluded that the box was about 2,000 years old and that the one-line inscription etched into its side was of the same age.

This type of burial box is generally dated between about 20 B.C. and A.D. 70; and the practice of placing remains in stone boxes was widespread among the Jews of Judaea, from about A.D. 1 to A.D. 70.

Here is additional information about the lettering--the inscription--scratched on the side of the box:

Not only do the letter shapes have to fit into the time period, but the spelling should also match. In order to confirm that fact, it must be compared with every other inscription from that period. The language and historical context are also important.

Lemaire found that the distinctive shape (orthography) of the Aramaic letters, engraved on the box, closely agreed with this time period. None of these letters have any of the characteristics of lettering in a later period of time.

However, three letters on the inscription were unique: These are the dalet, yod, and aleph. (See the top of the next page.) On the James box, all three are somewhat slanted (cursive). As a result, these special letters and the overall pattern of the sentence date this inscription to the last few decades prior to A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed--and to no other time period in history.

After careful examination and later confirmed by other writing experts, in his report Lamaire dated this burial box to A.D. 63. As explained in the previous tract (Battle over the James Box [WM1169-1170]) there is evidence that James, the brother of Jesus, died only one year earlier.

Hershel Shanks, publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review, the largest popular journal dealing with matters relating to Biblical archaeological studies, announced the discovery in the November / December 2002 issue of that publication. News of the find created a sensation throughout the world.

Recognizing that it would bring immense numbers of tourists to Canada, the Toronto Museum asked to have the box shipped there; so that, for three months, it could be examined by experts from America and Canada, and also displayed to the general public.

However, because it had not been packed well, when the box was shipped in November, it was cracked in transit. After being carefully repaired, thousands of tourists came to see it. All the experts which examined the box pronounced it to be genuine.

One new and highly significant test, done at Toronto, was the ultraviolet light test. It showed the box and inscription to be very ancient. In February, the James box was shipped back to Golan, in Tel Aviv.

When Shanks, in a November 2003 interview with Christianity Today, declared the ossuary to be "the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology," public excitement increased even more.

Thoroughly enraged, the Israeli government stepped into the picture as soon as the box was shipped back from Toronto. First, they had been told nothing about the box's existence until Shanks in America published an article on it. Second, if genuine, the box would provide evidence that Jesus actually existed and the New Testament was true! Something had to be done.

To begin with, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) declared that the box belonged to them! Back in the 1980s, a law had been enacted that all finds within the borders of Israel must be turned over to the government.

But Golan stood firm in his contention that he had purchased the box in the 1970s, before that law went into effect.

Many feared that if the IAA gained permanent possession of the box, it would be hidden somewhere and never seen again.

Within a few days, Shuka Dorfman, Director-General of the IAA, notified Golan that he must let IAA experts carefully examine this purported "box of Jesus brother" for themselves. Only then, Dorfman said, could an official decision be made.

Press reports were immediately issued by the IAA that, at last, an accurate investigation of the box would be made. It would be followed by an exhaustive report.

Only a few weeks had passed since the totally favorable press conference by scientists at Toronto.

The thoroughly flawed, and essentially useless, IAA summary report was issued on June 20, 2003. It is discussed in Battle Over the James Box [WM1169-1170].


It is now December 2004, and the IAA investigation has continued for over two years! Yet during that time they have been unable to produce any evidence sustaining their charge that the box is a fake, so Golan could be charged in court with a criminal act of some kind.

More than a hundred potential witnesses have been interrogated and thousands of documents collected. But no charges have been filed against Golan.

Yet IAA deputy director Uzi Dahari has repeatedly declared that the IAA is not 99 percent certain--but 100 percent certain--that the ossuary (the James box) and its inscription constitutes a gigantic hoax.

The IAA and Israeli police have confiscated hundreds of antiquities from Golan's collection, including the James box. Because, according to Israeli law, the government was only permitted to keep them three months, it repeatedly asked the court for extensions so it could examine the box still more.

Finally, Golan filed a legal paper opposing any more applications for extensions, claiming that the government should either charge him so that he can clear his name or return the confiscated items, including the ossuary.

Pleading for still more time, on January 11, 2004, the head of the police investigation told the court that "the investigation is close to completion and the authorities require several weeks before a charge is made." Another extension was granted, and the weeks turned into months.

At the May 10 hearing, the judge was becoming upset over the repeated delays. The government told the court it wanted to keep the box, and all the other antiquities, for an unlimited amount of time, until it had completed its investigation. The judge refused this request.

In response, the government asked for a six-month extension. But the judge said it could only have three months--and only because it was claimed that the police had opened up new avenues of investigation" which were "of significant international importance."

With such a dramatic announcement, what judge could refuse such a request? Later that same month, IAA deputy director Uzi Dahari announced that an indictment against Golan would be filed within three or four months."

The three and four months passed, and still there was no indictment. And still the antiquities were not returned to Golan.

In early August 2004, once again the government appeared before the judge and asked for another time extension. Quite angry, the judge said he found the governments position "on its face unreasonable." He also said this:

"It is not possible that the state should hold the rope from both ends, on one hand making serious allegations against the respondant [Oded Golan], and on the other hand preventing Golan from facing the charges in court as part of a legal proceeding . . Therefore I instruct the release of the confiscated items, unless the applicant [the Israeli government] files an indictment by September 1, 2004."

The judge also ruled that no further extensions would be granted.

The IAA and Israeli government were now under severe pressure to do something: either issue an indictment or return all the antiquities. By issuing the indictment, it could continue the investigation.

But no indictment was issued. More time passed and then, a few days before the first of September, the government suddenly appealed the district courts ruling to a higher court. Why did the government take a chance of losing the case in the appeals court, when all it had to do was bring an indictment?

There could be only one solution to this puzzle: The IAA and police knew that they had absolutely no evidence that either the box or its inscription were not genuine, so they could charge Golan with a fraudulent act.

At the appeals hearing, once again the government asked for an unlimited extension of time. Golan, who was present, declared through his attorney that this was a totally unreasonable request.

Finally, both parties agreed that, if the government was given just one more extension--to January 1, 2005, it would ask for no more extensions.

So we wait until the January 1 deadline. What will it bring?

Some fear that the IAA is so desperate that it might put the box in a nearly empty building,--and then secretly burn it down and afterward say it happened by accident.

Or perhaps it will have carefully cleaned off the patina and placed other, newer substances on the surface. The problem with this latter sabotage is that so many experts had previously photographed the box and taken patina samples. They knew the exact positioning and spelling of the inscription.

When asked what the charges are that will be brought against Golan, Police Major Yonatan Pagis who is in charge of the ossuary investigation--freely says they will include fraud, interfering with the investigation, money laundering, trading in antiquities without a license, selling property illegally, and exporting antiquities without a permit.

Yet still no charges have been filed. 

Battle Over the James Box

- FEBRUARY 2005 Update


The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) had a problem on its hands: The whole world knew about the so-called "James Box" and all the experts outside of Israel declared the writing on it to be genuine.

As discussed in the last update, the problem was that the small stone burial box (called an "ossuary," or bone box) had that one-line inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

How unfortunate! Evidence of Jesus! Something had to be done!

So "Shuka" Dorfman, a retired Israeli general without a job and any background in archaeology, was hired as head of the IAA for this project, to destroy confidence in the James Box and to obtain a court conviction, entitling Israeli police to seize and destroy it.

When one senior IAA archaeologist on staff objected, saying that a highly experienced archaeologist should be appointed to that position, instead of Dorfman, that archaeologist was summarily fired and told he would not be given excavation permits for any future digs.

A tough, battle-hardened veteran of many years, Shuka, it turned out, was just the man for the job. Cooperating fully with Yuval Goren, he set to work with a vengeance to discover all kinds of "frauds" which could help the case against the James Box.

Yuval Goren has been the key Israeli archaeologist willing to unswervingly label the James Box as a fakein defiance of the authoritative conclusions of inscription experts in Israel and throughout the world. Goren is a professor at Tel Aviv University and chairman of its department of archaeology.

It was decided by Shuka and Goren that, in order to make the case against the James Box stronger, they would also declare an astonishing number of other archaeological finds to be fakes! This would give the impression that some kind of grand conspiracy was taking place. And, they would charge the private collector who owned the James Box as being at the center of it!

Goren needed such diversionary tactics, since, after months of examination and discussion, he and his associates could produce little evidence against the authenticity of the James Box inscription, other than something he called "a coating."

That coating happened to be oxide traces of a cleaner which the mother of the boxs owner, Oded Golan, had earlier used to clean the inscription. Of course, she should not have done that; but, in her ignorance, she did. Those traces of cleaning solution are all that Goren and Shuka can find as "evidence" that the James Box is a fake. They can find nothing else on the box or inscription, absolutely nothing.

And that brings us to Oded Golan, the man who owns the humble appearing stone box, which once contained the bones of the older brother of Jesus Christ. He has one of the largest, if not the largest, private collections of antiquities in Israel. He has been collecting them since he was a youth. He buys them, but does not sell them.

But in order to make the case strong against the James Box, Goren and Shuka have trumped up a charge that Golan is the head of a forgery ring, responsible for a number of attempts to sell fraudulent antiquities.

In late December 2004, four Israelis, including Golan, and one Palestinian Arab were indicted in Jerusalem on charges of running a massive forgery ring over several decades.

The IAA and the Israeli police claim the ring has created a large number of Biblically related fakes, involving millions of dollars; some of these are currently on exhibit in the prestigious Israel Museum.

One of the many, so-called "fakes" is a piece of ivory carved in the shape of a pomegranate fruit, which has the inscription, "Holy to the priests, the Temple of [Yahwe]h" (with "Yahwe" missing). This was once thought to be the only relic from Solomon's Temple, and was purchased by the Israel Museum in 1988 for $550,000.

But now, on little evidence, it has also been declared to be a fake--in order to bolster evidence of a conspiracy ring charge, which is supposed to involve the James Box.

Men are becoming so desperate, they are willing to condemn a major antiquity owned by their own national museum!

The other indicted Israelis are Robert Deutsch, Rafael Brown, and Shlomo Cohen.

Deutsch is an antiquities dealer who has shops in Jaffa and in two hotels in downtown Tel Aviv. Since becoming an antiquities dealer, he has obtained a masters degree from Tel Aviv University and is studying for two Ph.D.s, one at Tel Aviv University and the other at Haifa University, where he teaches while continuing to operate his antiquities shops, which hold twice-yearly auctions of important antiquities. Deutsch has written scholarly books and articles on epigraphy (ancient writing) and archaeology.

Rafael Brown was the chief conservator at the Israel Museum for years; and he left to become a licensed antiquities dealer in Jerusalem. He is no longer a dealer. In recent years, he sold his business and retired to Switzerland.

Shlomo Cohen purchased Browns dealership, when he retired to Switzerland. But Cohen later closed the shop and retired to Switzerland.

As of this date, no specific charges have been brought against Deutsch, Brown, or Cohen. None of these men are specifically charged with being involved in the James Box forgery, but only in other alleged antiquities frauds as part of the general "conspiracy."

Oded Golan, the owner of the James Box, is charged with tampering with that box and destroying a seal. What seal?

Fayez al-Amaleh (the only Arab charged in the indictment) is a West Bank Palestinian who brought the Menashe (Manasseh) seal and 17 bullae to Oded Golan. The seal had the name of King Manasseh on it. But neither Golan nor any of his wealthy friends purchased the bulla, fearing it might be a forgery. Because the bulla later disappeared, Golan is charged with having destroyed it!

(A bulla [plural, bullae] is a small lump of wet clay that is impressed with a seal and is usually placed over string that has been tied around a document. Once the bulla hardens, it serves to seal the document--until the bulla is broken and the document opened.)

The official Israeli indictment involves four counts (four criminal acts). The indictment begins with Count No. 1, which concerns the James Box. Only Oded Golan (Defendant No. 1) is named as the forger in Count No. 1. The other four defendants are only named in one or more of the other counts.

The forgery on the James Box is said to have been done by Golan "alone or with the assistance of others." But no one else is named in this count.

There are several strange things about this official indictment about the James Box.

First, although it has involved an investigation lasting two years, costing thousands of dollars, and involving hundreds of witnesses, the government cannot produce a single co-conspirator with Golan on the supposed James Box forgery.

Second, all sides agree that the box itself is authentic and dates to the first century, A.D; it is the inscription on the box which is being called in question by the government. Yet there is even official confusion over that.

At first, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) committee that studied it declared that the entire inscription was a forgery. Yuval Goren and Avner Ayalon, his associate, said that both the first part of the inscription ("James, son of Joseph") and the second part ("brother of Jesus") were both etched on the box recently.

But in the indictment, filed in late December, only the last part of the inscription is alleged to be fraudulent! Here is the wording on this part of the indictment:

"To execute [produce] his scheme, Defendant No. 1 [Oded Golan] used an ancient ossuary from the Second Temple period that bore an engraved inscription of James, son of Joseph. Defendant No. 1 added to the ossuary, either alone or with the assistance of others, the words brother of Jesus. "

Let us examine all the "evidence" against Golan more closely:

The first "evidence": There is the "forged inscription." Not one experienced paleographer (expert on ancient writing), who has studied inscriptions from the first century A.D. has questioned the genuineness of that engraved sentence on the James Box. Not one.

Andr Lemaire, at the Sorbonne in Paris, is one of the worlds leading paleographers. The first to carefully study the James inscription, he stedfastly maintains it is genuine.

Ada Yardeni, a prominent Israeli paleographer, firmly declares the writing to be a genuine first century A.D. inscription.

The only other leading Israeli paleographer, Joseph Naveh, who in the past has often spoken loudly against fraudulent inscriptions, has thought it best to remain publicly silent on the James Box.

Two geologists of the Geological Survey of Israel (Shimon Ilani and Amnon Rosenfeld) also carefully analyzed the James Box and its inscription. They continue to maintain that the inscription and box are authentic and date back to the first century A.D.

Edward Keall of the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto, Canada, who had several months to study the inscription, carefully agrees with that assessment.

James Harrell, an officer with the ASMOSIA (Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity), is in full agreement with the other authorities.

All unite in declaring that the efforts of Goren and Ayalon, to disprove the genuineness of the inscription, are deeply flawed. Indeed, not one other scientist, inside or outside Israel, has expressed agreement with the work performed by Goren and Ayalon or their announced conclusions.

The second "evidence": There is the so-called "inscription coating." The IAA declares that it was placed there in order to conceal a modern forgery. But, of course, it could have been applied to clean the inscription (although they admit that it may be a possibility).

Independent groups tested several cleansers and found that any of them could be the cause of the oxide evidence for the "coating." It is known that, without his consent, Golans mother cleaned the inscription one day on the balcony of the family apartment in Tel Aviv.

The IAAs Goren and Ayalon have been unable to satisfactorily explain what purpose such a coating would accomplish in producing a forgery! Nor have they even shown how the coating was applied. They have given several successive explanations, but all have proven incorrect.

Goren and Ayalon have even admitted that the "inscription coating" can be removed by a toothpick! Any real "coating" would require special solvents or a metal scalpel.

The third "evidence": At an earlier time, the IAA brought forth two scholars, Joe Zias and Emile Puech, who said that they thought they had seen that same ossuary in Mahmoud Abushakras antiquities shop in the mid-1990s without the last part of the inscription on it. If true, that would be significant evidence.

In response, careful analysis of interviews with both men revealed that their reports conflicted with one another and with their own statements.

Since then, both men have backed away from these claims, have gone to the Israeli police, and have retracted their statements.

Puech told the police, "I am not sure I saw the ossuary in Mahmouds shop. I remember it had a rosette on it. I did not see any inscription on it."

There are, not one, but two rosettes on the James Box, but both are on the back side where the inscription is not located; and they can only be seen close-up and in excellent, contrast lighting because both are barely visible. Zias also has expressed strong doubts about having seen the ossuary.

As for Mahmoud Abushakra, who has moved to Germany: He told the police the James Box was never in his shop.

In summary, there is no evidence of any kind of forgery.

But there is some interesting evidence on the other side: Two different lady friends of Golan have affirmed that, about 20 years ago, they saw the inscription with three names on it. Their memories are quite clear about the details; and they identify other oddities about the ossuary.

If the inscription was on the box that long ago, it must be authentic. A forger would not wait 20 years to try to sell it. Indeed, Golan has never tried to sell the box at any time.

Do not imagine that the IAA has just sat around for two years, during the time that they are supposed to have been investigating the James Box. They have paid the salaries of several men to search for evidence in the box, on the box, and away from the box--which would show the inscription to be a forgery.

For example, Amir Ganor is a 36-year-old graduate student at Hebrew University, where he has been studying for a masters degree in his spare time. But, as head of the IAAs Fraud Unit, he has spent the last two years trying to figure out ways that the James Box is a fraud. With this purpose in mind, he has made one raid after another on antiquities dealer shops and files.

The name of Christ must be declared fraudulent!

Then there is Yonatan (Yoni) Pagis of the Jerusalem police. A hard man to deal with, he has questioned more than a hundred people and compiled thousands of pages of reports, transcripts, interviews, etc.

He and Ganor have interrogated Golan more than 50 hours! They have taken him to police headquarters in shackles to question him. Then they have released him. Apparently, in Israel, people are assumed guilty until proven innocent. And this includes their best citizens, such as Oded Golan, who is a prosperous engineer living in Tel Aviv.

When one arrest does not shake Golan into confessing, they arrest him again and again. Hoping to get a confession of guilt, on one occasion they jailed him for four days. When that accomplished nothing, they released him without charging him.

The fact is that they have no evidence to charge him with anything. Yet in late December, they did anyway.

Then there is Dan Bahat, a lawyer assigned to the case, who has helped guide its legal aspects throughout all the years of hopeless efforts to prove the inscription to be a fraud. Bahat would supply the IAA and police interrogators with questions, and try to keep everything looking like a good case when it arrived in court. He will lead the prosecution, in an attempt to jail Golan and possibly others.

Keep in mind that Golan is charged with being the ringleader in a fraud conspiracy, involving other antiquities--most of which he has never had anything to do with.

On the other side stand the antiquities and handwriting (paleography and epigraphy) experts.

Andr Lemaire is recognized as one of the worlds leading specialists in ancient Semitic writing (which includes Hebrew script of the first century A.D.). He is an expert in epigraphy, paleography, linguistics and philology, and is a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

Lemaire was the first one to examine the ivory pomegranate inscription, declare it genuine, and write a report published in French in the Revue Biblique. That is the pomegranate which, in an effort to bolster their case against the James Box, the IAA now declares to be a forgery.

Ada Yardeni is one of the top two or three paleographers in Israel. She studied the James Box inscription carefully and made the initial drawing of it. She continues to be adamant that the inscription is authentic. The IAA has been unable to shake her decision.

Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani are two geologists with the Geological Survey of Israel. They were first from that department assigned by its director, Amos Bien, to examine the James Box inscription. Rosenfeld and Ilani found nothing suspicious about the inscription; and both continue to maintain its genuineness, in spite of the allegations of fraud since brought forward by the IAA. The two men also authenticated two other antiquities, now declared forgeries by the IAA.

Do not forget Edward Keall, senior curator at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. He studied the James Box and its inscription during the lengthy time it was on exhibit there.

Keall was also the only person who was able to study a cross section of the inscription! This is because the box cracked in transit to Canada; and, before it was patched, Keall was able to closely examine the inscription from the side, at the place the break went through it. Keall has never wavered in his conclusion that the inscription is genuine.

Two sets of attorneys represent the defense. Lior Bringer is Oded Golans attorney. Arnold Spaer and Haggai Sitton represent the defendants Deutsch and Brown. All three are excellent attorneys, well-versed in antiquities cases.

Although an indictment is simply an accusation. The proof must still be presented. Yet, whether or not it wins its case in court, the IAA is causing many people to think that the James Box must be a hoax.

And this must certainly be a cause for rejoicing among certain people in Israel.

All the while, innocent men are being slandered and accused of criminal activity.