Biblical Archaeology Review 33:5, September/October 2007

First Person: Of “Curiosities” and “Relics”

Special objects that connect us to our past are important in themselves.

By Hershel Shanks

I’d like to inveigh a little (Does it seem like that’s all I do?) against those scholars who disparage a simple emotional, even spiritual interest in the stones on which Jesus may have walked or a clay lamp like one he may have used to light his way.

When I was in Jerusalem not long ago, Sy Gitin, the director of the “American School” (the W.F. Albright School of Archaeological Research) invited me to address the fellows of the school and the local archaeological community. During the discussion we talked briefly about the bone box, or ossuary, that, if authentic rather than a modern forgery (as has been charged), might have held the bones of Jesus’ brother James. The same charge of forgery has been leveled at the inscribed ivory pomegranate that, again if authentic, might have come from Solomon’s Temple. In the discussion of whether or not these artifacts were forgeries, Professor Ann E. Killebrew, a distinguished archaeologist who lived in Israel for many years and now teaches at Pennsylvania State University, observed that it really didn’t matter much because, even if they are authentic, they are mere “curiosities.”

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