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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

It is time for one of my periodic reports updating events regarding the trial of Oded Golan and whether the James Ossuary owned by him is a fraud. For previous updates, see here.

The Trial

The fullest account I have found of recent trial developments is a piece from Herschel Shanks of the Biblical Archeology Society. It must be remembered that his magazine has a lot of credibility tied up in the James Ossuary, but he and others have good access to the court proceedings in Israel. That being said, here is the news.

There were originally five defendants, including Oded Golan. Charges against two were dropped by the prosecution. One reached a plea deal to what has been characterized as a minor offense unrelated to forgery. Golan and a Raymond Deutsch, an antiquities dealer, are defendants in the ongoing trial.

The trial has been going on for three years and the prosecution, having called 70 witnesses so far, is apparently close to resting its case. As soon as the prosecution rests, we can expect the remaining defendants, including Oded Golan, to file a motion to dismiss arguing that the government failed to make its case. If that fails, the defense will then present its case, including documents and witnesses.

The Ossuary

There has been some new information and developments regarding the dispute over the authenticity of the James Ossuary unrelated to the trial.

Something I had not seen before is a lecture by Joseph Fitzymer. It appears to date from 2005. Fitzmyer expresses caution about the IAA results and reports the finding of other experts who still accept the James Ossuary as genuine. Fitzmyer does not whole heartedly endorse the Ossuary, but states, "the last word has not yet been uttered on this new ossuary inscription."

On his blog, Ben Witherington recently stated in a comment, "I am pleased to say that every single epigrapher, including Ada Yardeni of the IAA and Andre Lemaire, that affirmed the authenticity of that inscription five years ago, still does--- and so do I."

Depending on your views on the Biblical Archaeology Society, perhaps the most significant news about the authenticity of the James Ossuary is the results of the Jersualem Forgery Conference. In January 2007, the BAS sponsored a conference with many leading scholars in attendance. The purpose of the conference was to assess the authenticity of various artifacts that at least some have labeled forgeries. The James Ossuary was one artifact under consideration. The "overall judgment" of the conference participants is that "the James Ossuary inscription is very probably authentic." You can download the full report and appendix of evidence and opinions, here.

11 comments:

Interesting Chris; thanks for the update!

JRP

The real problem was and continues to be the non-providence of the artifact. Excavation, a primary component of archeology, cannot be done in the antiquities market, only in the field. In my judgment, while this allows for individual opinion on an object, it disallows for using that opinion as the basis of any kind of evidential argument or scientific conclusion. Thus, I may think that both the ossuary and the inscription (in all its parts) are authentic, but as a professional or as a scholar, I should not ever use that as any kind of evidence to support my proposition that James was a real and literal historical figure.

SOO,

I think many agree with you. However, in my opinion, the "non-providence" goes to the weight of the evidence rather than its admissibility.

Slav,

I'm a bit fuzzy on why I would have an individual opinion that both the ossuary and the inscription (in its parts) are authentic, that wasn't based on an evidential argument. A lack of clear provenance (I recall that it's provenance, not providence, btw) is certainly a serious problem, but while it's an important component of an evidential argument it isn't the only component and its omission could in principle be outweighed by superiority of other factors, couldn't it?

Come to think of it, clear provenance could (in principle) be established back to the site while still being unable, of course, to provide proper data from excavation studies.

Also, aren't there artifacts in legitimate circulation which were procured back in the bad-old-days of early archeology, thus before modern excavation standards, which are still regarded as authentic by professionals and scholars today and so-used in an evidential fashion for support of other propositions? Those would be cases where the quality of the evidence helps compensate for the lack of weight from incomplete or omitted excavation data.

JRP

Yes, provenance is the word I meant.

"its omission could in principle be outweighed by superiority of other factors, couldn't it?"

You cite, as an example, objects that were procured through less then Modern methods in the past. We shouldn't ask of those objects something that wasn't yet either a duty or a desire in those times. But the ossuary isn't one of those objects. As far as I'm aware, its discovery or procurement does not belong to one of those times. What is or is not "quality of evidence" has, of course, changed and developed over time. To avoid anachronism, we need to apply the standards to their appropriate times. If we can, however, update our findings from the past and bring them into better alignment with current methods, we often try to do so. Many previous evidences or data have been updated through later methods and archeology so that we no longer depend on conclusions drawn from a more ancient context. It is not, as you say, that there was some kind of superior evidence in play. If this can be done with the ossuary, then of course it would become a more viable option for use as the basis of an adequate theory or argument. Until then, however, I think the only critical approach would be caution: be welcome to form an opinion on the ossuary and inscription, but do not depend on that opinion as a kind of edifice on which to build anything substantial.

It is amazing that this trial has taken so long.

It is has been eye-opening just to see how the Israeli criminal justice system works.

FYI: You said one of the defendants is "Raymond Deutsch", but his actual name is Robert.

I'm surprised you didn't mention the recent report on the TV show "60 Minutes", which attempted to link the forgery of the James Ossuary to the forgery of the Joash Tablet via an Egyptian. In what I believe to have been a staged undercover interview, he claims to have forged inscriptions for Oded Golan.

Todd Bolen provided a link to the video on March 24th.

Thanks for the correction and the link. I missed the 60 minutes interview.

Slav,

Sorry for the delay. Massive project was being finished elsewhere.

{{We shouldn't ask of those objects something that wasn't yet either a duty or a desire in those times.}}

Certainly not; and yet we manage to draw conclusions about them from which further theories are based anyway--even if we can’t update our findings and bring them into better alignment with more effective modern methods. (I gave a principle example of this earlier, where applying modern methods we manage to trace the provenance of an artifact back to its recovery site, which is certainly helpful in many ways but which cannot substitute for modern excavation practices.)

{{Many previous evidences or data have been updated through later methods and archeology so that we no longer depend on conclusions drawn from a more ancient context. It is not, as you say, that there was some kind of superior evidence in play.}}

Compared to a lack of proper excavation in those instances? Frankly, it looks like you just agreed with me that the superior quality of the data in other regards (especially when checked by modern techniques) can in fact outweigh the omission of proper excavation. {s!}


{{But the ossuary isn't one of those [bad-old-days] objects. As far as I'm aware, its discovery or procurement does not belong to one of those times.}}

No, but its current status is equivalent, for all practical purposes (so far as I can see), to artifacts procured outside modern techniques. Similarly, objects procured through less than modern methods in the past, are not thereby exempt from forgery analysis or conclusion.

{{Until then, however, I think the only critical approach would be caution}}

I would recommend that, even when there is excavation data! {g}


My main point here was an objection to your statement, to the effect that a lack of excavation disallows for using an opinion on the subject (ostensibly formed from an evaluation of the quality of the evidence otherwise) as the basis of any kind of evidential argument or scientific conclusion. We know from other situations that antiquities can be verified enough for further evidential argument or scientific conclusion without having had proper excavation. The pertinent question is whether the other data is judged to be of sufficient quality to outweigh a lack of proper excavation.

Exactly what could be inferred, and how far, from the data if deemed genuine, is a whole other topic, with its own set of cautions and qualifications. It doesn't seem possible, for example, to deductively prove the existence of JamesBroJesus from a genuine artifact as it stands (and I'm a bit doubtful it would be possible to do so even from an excavation site. Maybe so, but we don't have one, so it's a moot point.) And as inductive weight, its value would seem to be only moderate at best.

JRP

Here's an update as of October 30, 2008...

http://www.bib-arch.org/news/forgery-trial-news.asp

I short the article states the inscription was not a forgery.

The government’s star witness, Yuval Goren, former chairman of Tel Aviv University’s institute of archaeology, was forced to admit on cross-examination that there is original ancient patina in the word “Jesus,” the last word in the inscription that reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

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