THE “JESUS BOX” — FACT OR FAKE?
As we had reported earlier in our Updates, “after nearly 2,000 years, historical evidence for the existence of Jesus has come to light literally written in stone,” according to an article of Biblical Archaeology Review, published in November 2002. The article continued, “An inscription has been found on an ancient bone box, called an ossuary, that reads, ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.’… The new find is also significant in that it corroborates the existence of Joseph, Jesus’ father, and James, Jesus’ brother and a leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem… The container is one of very few ancient artifacts mentioning New Testament figures. One such object is the ossuary of Caiaphas, the high priest who turned Jesus over to the Romans, according to the Biblical account. Caiaphas’s tomb was uncovered in 1990. Also, some 40 years ago, archeologists discovered an inscription on a monument that mentions Pontius Pilate.” The article pointed out, too, that “Laboratory tests performed by the Geological Survey of Israel confirm that the box’s limestone comes from the Jerusalem area [and that]… it shows no trace of modern elements.”
On July 4, 2003, “The Hindu,” reported that “tests on a 2,000-year-old stone support claims that it once held the bones of St. James, said to have been the brother of Jesus and an important early Christian leader, scientists have concluded. The results of the experiments, which are disclosed in a television documentary, back the suggestion that the ‘bone box,’ or ossuary, may be the oldest archeological link with Christ. Last year, the tomb ossuary, inscribed with the words, ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,’ came to light in Israel… Since then, the box has been subjected to tests which are consistent with it coming from the right place and the right time, said Ed Keall, a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada.” The article continued, “A team at the Geological Survey of Israel extracted the patina, a cream-coloured film adhering to the stone, and found it matched that inside one of the letters after a study with electron microscopy, as would be expected with the genuine item. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto subjected the inscription to a tougher test, using long-wave ultraviolet light, which should highlight attempts to fake it. Again, it looked genuine, said Dr. Keall.”
However, on or about June 18, 2003, it was reported that Israel’s Antiquities Authority had concluded that the artifact was a fake. They had confiscated the artifact during a two-day display in Israel. CNN.com, New Scientist.com, and BBC News quoted the panel as stating that “while the box may date from the correct era, the inscription is a forgery added at a much later date. ‘The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters,’ the official said in the statement.”
Scholars and scientists have heavily disputed the “findings” of the Israel’s Antiquities Authority. The Biblical Archaeology Society pointed out, “A committee appointed by the Israel’s Antiquities Authority (IAA) has declared the inscription on an ancient bone box that refers to ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus’ to be a modern forgery. Case closed? Far from it — this is only the last chapter in a fascinating story. Two other groups of specialists — from the Geological Survey of Israel and the Royal Ontario Museum, in Toronto — also studied the bone box and concluded the inscription was ancient. And some of the world’s leading paleographers — specialists in ancient scripts — have dated the inscription’s style of writing to the first century A.D. Who is right? We still await a scientific report from the IAA [So far, only a two-page summary has been released, but not a full report].”
ChristianityToday.com stated on July 20, 2003, that “Witherington, a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, is not convinced [that the artifact is a forgery]…. ‘The commission report is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate,’ he told Christianity Today. ‘They did not take into account all of the detailed and meticulous work that the Royal Ontario Museum did after the museum exhibit closed in January,’ Witherington maintains, ‘For example, under an electron microscope they found surface marks, which are deeply cut scratches that go through the box and through the letters. And these are ancient.'”
The United Methodist News Service stated on June 19, that according to Witherington, “what you have here is a case of dueling scholars.” He also pointed out that “The Israeli Geological Survey found conclusively that the ossuary stone and the dirt found in the ossuary both came from the Silwan area of Jerusalem. How did dirt from Silwan get encrusted in a box that Israel’s Antiquities Authority claims is from Cyprus or northern Syria?… No paleographer or Aramaic specialist in the world has suggested that a modern forger tried to imitate an older Aramaic style prior to the report by Israel’s Antiquities Authority.”
Crosswalk.com quoted Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeological Review in Washington, stating that there “may be disagreement among the scientists. ‘There may be some archaeological politics involved.'”
Subsequently, the owner of the artifact, Israeli antiquities dealer Oded Golan, was arrested on the suspicion of forgery, but soon released on bail. The Jerusalem Post and Southern Cross Online from Sydney, Australia, reported on July 24 and 29, that Canadian Jewish filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, who had made a documentary on the subject, “stands by the authenticity of the ossuary inscription. She pointed to the belief of noted paleographer Andre Lemaire of Paris’s Sorbonne, an expert in the study of ancient inscriptions, that the inscription was authentic. ‘Normally the opinion of Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne, the world expert on Aramaic inscriptions, who first declared the inscription as real, would be enough,’ she told reporters in Jerusalem this week. ‘As far as I’m concerned, the Antiquities Authority [of Israel] is conducting a disinformation campaign against the ossuary because it believes that antiquities should be found in their archaeological settings.’ Dr. Gabi Barkai of Bar-Illan University in Tel Aviv, who also believes the inscription on the ossuary is genuine, expressed similar views…. ‘The ossuary itself is genuine. The only question is whether the inscription was added later, and the shape of the letters suggests it was not.'”
Whether the truth of the artifact will ever be “scientifically” proven may be doubtful. Too many interest groups with different goals and agendas are involved. This might include those who want to deny the existence of Christ (see our O&A in this Update), or who claim that Christ had no brothers. Also, as has been suggested, motives of personal hurt or rejection might play a role.
Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be: Those who don’t want to believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible, may be “permitted” for a while to find “excuses” as to why they don’t have to, while believers will be strengthened by archeological findings supporting the accuracy of their belief. As we read in Daniel 12:10, “Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.”
Let’s also note Christ’s pronouncement, through the voice of an angel, in Revelation 22:10-12: “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.'”
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND EUROPE
As Zenit reported on August 31, 2003, the pope “placed Europe in Mary’s hands, so that it will ‘become a symphony of nations committed to building together the civilization of love and peace.’ Last Sunday, the [pope] urged that the final draft of the European Constitution should recognize explicitly the Christian roots of the continent, as they constitute a ‘guarantee of a future.'”
The Spectator in the United Kingdom commented on August 30 on the pope’s “recent demand that ‘God’ be featured in the emerging European constitution,” stating that it had been “echoed by many leading Catholic politicians and bishops. While on the surface such a reference may offend only Europe’s atheist and humanist contingent, it must be observed that when the Vatican refers to God, she sees herself as God’s
infallible vice-regent upon earth, the leading organ of divine expression; indeed, according to its publication Dominus Iesus (5 September 2000), as the only mediator in the salvation of God’s elect, insisting that all other Churches, including the Church of England, ‘are not Churches in the proper sense.'” The article continued, “The Roman Church is founded on a political dogma claiming that the Pope is ‘supreme ruler of the world’; superior to all kings, prime ministers and presidents. These spiritual and temporal claims remain very much fundamental dogmas of Catholic teaching, permitting the Pope, through Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to issue clear directives to Catholic politicians on how they should vote. Since their obedience is considered a ‘moral duty’, devolve everything [sic] to the overwhelmingly Catholic European Council of Ministers, Commission and Parliament, and the ultimate Caesar is the Pope.”
The article continued to point out: “There is much debate about whether the EU is a democracy, a theocracy, an oligarchy or a collective dictatorship, but at root it is none of these. It is an amphictyony – a confederation of states established around a religious centre. A Catholic EU will inevitably result in the subjugation of Britain’s Protestant ethos to Roman Catholic social, political and religious teachings. The Queen’s coronation oath ‘to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom according to their laws and customs’ and ‘to maintain the Protestant Reformed religion established by law’ is negated by the process of deeper European integration. It is almost a symbolic confirmation of the Queen’s vassal status that a 20p coin of Gibraltar bears an engraving of Mary crowned ‘Our Lady of Europa’ – the suzerain spiritual authority…”
COMMON EUROPEAN SECURITY
As Stern Online reported on August 29, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, said in an interview that the German government will accelerate the European Foreign and Defense Policy, with or without Great Britain’s participation. He rejected Great Britain’s concerns against the draft of the European Constitution, stating that Great Britain’s position would create a “rebirth of a debate of central European issues.”
TERROR ATTACKS IN THE UK
“Britain faces a threat from suicide bombers, with a terror attack almost inevitable, Britain’s top police officer [Sir John Stevens] says,” according to MSNBC News. The article continued, “Stevens also said al-Qaida was recruiting in Britain and that a real threat existed of chemical and biological attacks. ‘We are at the highest level of alert, I think, that we have ever been,’ he said.”
EARTHQUAKES & ASTEROIDS
New Zealand and Samoa have experienced strong earthquake actvitiies during the last two weeks, fortunately causing no injuries or casualties. “A powerful earthquake struck the remote southern coast of New Zealnd on Friday… The magnitude 7.1 quake, about 12.5 miles deep… was felt across southern New Zealand… The quake shook parts of Sydney, Australia, 1,330 miles away… Hundreds of aftershocks occured in the first six hours after the temblor, including one with a magnitude of 6.2” (Associated Press, August 21). On September 2, 2003, Associated Press reported, “A strong earthquake shook the small South Pacific nation of Samoa early Wednesday… The magnitude 6.2 quake struck… 2000 miles northeast of Wellington, New Zealand.”
CNN reported on September 2 that “a giant asteroid is heading for Earth… It’s potential strike date is March 21, 2014… On impact, it could have the effect of 20 million Hiroshima atomic bombs.” Scientists tried to calm our nerves by assuring us that the “chances of a catastrophic collision are just one in 909,000.” Still, as one commentator pointed out, it’s a bigger chance than hitting the jackpot in the lottery.