Recent commentary on fraudulent discoveries sometimes includes sideswipes at the ossuary inscription of James, brother of Jesus. If forgeries are still being manufactured, then obviously the James Ossuary inscription is a forgery is as well, apparently goes the logic. Recently, Gideon Avni, employee of the Israel Antiquities Authority, published an article in which he argued not that the inscription is a forgery, but that such is old news and we can now look back on the debate as a historical footnote.
Oded Golan, one of those accused of forging the inscription, has written a lengthy defense of the antiquity of the James Ossuary inscription and the Jehoash Tablet. If he speaks accurately of the testimony at the trial (and I believe that he does), then the situation is entirely different than Avni has portrayed. He lists nine world-class scholars who testified in court that they believe the inscription is authentic or possibly authentic.
André Lemaire – testified that he has no doubt the entire inscription is ancient.
Ada Yardeni – “If this is a forgery, I quit.”
Haggai Misgav – found no indication of forgery in the inscription.
Shmuel Ahituv – sees no support for the allegation that the inscription is a forgery.
Yosef Naveh – found no indication that the inscription is a forgery.
Y. L. Rahmani – sees no indication that any part of the inscription was forged.
Esther Eshel – testified that her doubts are not based on scientific grounds and cannot rule out the possibility that entire inscription is ancient.
Ronny Reich – “Each of the features of the inscription on its own and together, without exception, indicate that this is an authentic inscription from the late Second Temple Period.”
Gabriel Barkay – knows of no scientific evidence to doubt the authenticity of the entire ossuary inscription.
In short, one can maintain that (part of) the inscription is a forgery, but it is inaccurate to claim that all or even most scholars in the field hold this position. Golan observes that Yuval Goren, one of the earliest and most vocal advocates of forgery, re-visited his study and identified ancient patina in the one letter of the word “Jesus.” He concluded in his court testimony, “Therefore, ultimately, if you are asking me here to draw some conclusion, the conclusion is that I am undecided. I am deliberating.”
According to Golan, at the conclusion of the closing arguments, the prosecutor observed that the State would probably dismiss the forgery charges concerning the James Ossuary if the indictment did not also include other charges.
Whether or not the inscription refers to two figures mentioned in the New Testament is a separate issue, but it seems clear that there is no consensus that the James Ossuary inscription is forged.
Indeed, the best scholars in the field are on record testifying to its authenticity. Accepting that the entire inscription may be ancient does not require one to believe that Golan is an honest individual, that antiquities trade should continue, or that forgeries are not prolific and profitable.