Finding Jesus– Episode Four (on James)

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This show just keeps getting better, and if you missed the episode last night, you missed the best episode in this six part series. Go to CNN, type Finding Jesus into the search box, and find last night’s episode on James the brother of Jesus. Once again one has a variety of scholarly opinion, but in this episode we get to dip into the shady world of forgery and coping of antiquities. Copying, and labeling something a copy of say, a first century ossuary, is legal. Making replicas and passing them off as originals is forgery, and of course usually this is done for profit. Was Oded Golan just a copier, or rather a maker of forged items for fun and profit?

One of the good things about the episode last night is that it makes clear that after a ten year trial and mountains of evidence and witnesses, there was no conviction of Golan when it comes to the charges of illegally obtaining the ossuary, nor was the inscription on the box proved to be inauthentic or a later addition. Furthermore, the judge believed the evidence that Golan obtained the ossuary legally back in the 70s before the law changed, otherwise the ossuary would not have been returned to him. Notably absent, and rightly so, was the nonsense about the James ossuary coming out of the Talpiot tomb (which by the way had Hellenistic symbols on it, not Christian ones).

It was a bit disappointing that no one chimed in and dealt with the more recent reports on the patina which have appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, namely that it was genuine throughout the inscription, despite Prof. Rowlston, nor was there any mention that under oath Yuval Goren admitted there was genuine patina in the word Jesus on the James ossuary, which was a crucial bit of evidence, but then you can’t have everything in one 42 minute show.

Perhaps at least the show will revive interest in this box, which I am still convinced on the basis of the scientific testing of the patina, and on the basis of the epigraphic analysis by Ada Yardeni and Andre Lemaire is genuine. David Gibson again did a nice job of moderating the discussion, but in the end this episode, through the voice of Gibson ends on a note of studied agnosticism. I think this is unfair to the evidence we have. There is no solid evidence that the last third of the inscription isn’t original. Indeed, there is even ancient patina in the cracks of that part of the inscription, cracks which were created by the transporting of the ossuary to Toronto.

The show did well to highlight the importance of James in the early church, and I was especially pleased with the analysis of the Acts 15 council, where the conclusion was that basically James agreed with Paul as to the basis for Gentiles to become followers of Jesus. They did not need to first become Jews. A bit more could have been said about the decree in Acts 15, namely that the four items in the decree refer to four things that went on in pagan temples, and so James is asking Gentiles henceforth to stay away from pagan temple meals because of their pagan religious associations, just as Paul does in 1 Cor. 8-10, but as I already said, you can’t have it all in one show. This one was the highlight of the series thus far.