Biblical Archaeology Review 30:3, May/June 2004
Ossuary Update

Lying Scholars?

Rumor, Gossip and Misinformation Swirl around the James Ossuary Inscription

By Hershel Shanks

Intense scholarly disagreements are common in archaeology. Cases of deliberate lying, however, are rare. Is this such a case? If so, what is the motive? When I returned from the Annual Meetingsa in Atlanta last November, I penned my customary report for publication in the March/April issue.b (I have been doing this in the March/ April issue for 22 years.)

For this year’s report, I described a conversation with two scholars who told me that they had seen the controversial James ossuary, now inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” in the shop of a Jerusalem antiquities dealer named Mahmoud in the mid-1990s or earlier. But when they saw it, on separate occasions, it bore only the inscription “James, son of Joseph.” No reference to Jesus!

One of the scholars was Joe Zias, a physical anthropologist and archaeologist who formerly worked for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) but was let go during a budget squeeze in 1997. He has been without a full-time job since that time. I will not name the other scholar because he asked me not to.

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