Summer 2003, Vol. 6, No. 2

Table of Contents
Summer 2003

Quick Links:
Articles in this issue

From the Editor
St. Francis to the Rescue

Keeping the Shi'ites Straight

Masses of Torts

The Trouble with Missionaries

Jihad for Journalists

The Smart Saga

Ghosts of New York

Santorum v. Sodomy

The Irreverent Eagle

The Latest Japanese Cult Panic

Israel's Tele-Rabbi

Letters to the Editor


Letters to the Editor

The Disputed Ossury

To the editor:
          Maxine Grossman’s article on the James ossuary (and me) (“James in the Box,” Spring 2003) is on the whole accurate, but nevertheless fundamentally flawed.  She is guilty of the same sin--in the opposite direction--as the journalists she castigates for failing to pursue adequately the question of the inscription’s authenticity.  She makes the question of authenticity the theme of her article, despite the fact that there is little doubt about this, concluding with an admonition: “[D]on’t bet the house on authenticity.”

            This leaves the impression that the inscription is likely a forgery--or at least that there is a serious question about its authenticity.  She does this by pitting a few marginal scholars with their single-person theories as to why it is a forgery against the world’s experts. Obviously, the story will be more interesting if she can claim there is a real controversy about authenticity. 

            I, of course, am not capable of independently determining the inscription’s authenticity. Like most of us, I must depend upon the experts.  But I conscientiously tried to get the judgments of the world’s leading authorities in the relevant disciplines before publishing in Biblical Archaeology Review the article by Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne, himself a world-class paleographer.  While not an expert myself, I can tell you what experts think--and Maxine Grossman has not painted that picture fairly:

            Not a single experienced paleographer (someone who has published an inscription from this period) has questioned the authenticity of the inscription on paleographical grounds.

            One of the world’s greatest Aramaicists, Father Joseph A. Fitzmyer, retired from Catholic University of America, has no question about the unusual locution of the Aramaic in which the inscription is written. Indeed, this unusual construction confirms in his mind its authenticity.

            The Geological Survey of Israel, after conducting its own scientific tests, also found no ground whatever to question the authenticity of the ossuary or its inscription. 

Most recently, a team from the Royal Ontario Museum independently studied the ossuary and its inscription. They, too, found it to be authentic.

            Of course, it is still possible that all these people were fooled, or that they are in some kind of conspiracy to cover up a forgery.  The ossuary is presently being studied by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and they may find some reason to doubt the authenticity of the inscription. But we all must judge the matter on the evidence available to us when we write.

            Professor Grossman maintains that the media failed to consult experts other than those we made available at our press conferences.  “Doing so,” she editorializes, “would have made clear that every one of Lemaire’s assertions was grounded in more speculation than the in-house critics at the initial press conference indicated.”

            To demonstrate this, Professor Grossman relies on a professor from the University of Wyoming quoted in the Rocky Mountain News to the effect that this ossuary could date to the second or third century A.D and come from Galilee.  Would anyone agree with this (except the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle--which hardly gives added weight to the claim)? The Geological Survey of Israel identified the ossuary stone as coming from Jerusalem.  All scholars agree that the use of ossuaries ended in Jerusalem with the Roman destruction in 70 A.D. The few ossuaries that have been found from a later period in Galilee are clay, not stone.

            Professor Grossman also cites Rochelle Altman, who has attained fame for her contention that the last two words of the inscription are a modern forgery.  She is simply unknown to all the leading paleographers I have spoken to.   Her expertise is said to be medieval illuminated manuscripts. She has not published any Second Temple inscriptions. She is also certain that the inscription is excised, not incised.  This is obviously untrue, as anyone who has actually seen the ossuary can attest. Does she carry weight against the unanimous views of senior paleographers?

            In her article, Professor Grossman also cites University of Dayton professor Daniel Eylon, who, like Altman, has managed to get considerable press from his claim about the ossuary. He contends that so-called  “scratch marks” on the face of the ossuary do not run through the letters in the first half of the inscription, thus showing it is a forgery. (Unlike Altman, Eylon focuses on the first half of the inscription; Altman makes her claims with respect to the second half.)  Researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum studied Eylon’s claim and found that he was misled by the fact that the first part of the inscription had been vigorously (and improperly) cleaned, in the process of which the “scratch marks” were eliminated; they are there in the second part of the inscription.

            Then Grossman cites Professor Eric Meyers of Duke University, whose views are said to be shared by “many scholars”--namely, that unprovenanced artifacts like this “should not be examined by scholars because doing so only encourages archaeological looting and theft.”  I strongly disagree with this (and so do all paleographers; if they agreed, they would simply go out of business). But that’s beside the point.  The point is that Meyer’s position says absolutely nothing about the authenticity of the inscription.

            In short, Grossman writes as if the arguments for and against authenticity were equally weighted--even that the inauthenticity side had the better argument. This is simply untrue and unfair. Your readers deserve to know the full story.

                                                                               Hershel Shanks
                                                                              Biblical Archaeology Review

Maxine Grossman replies:

Hershel Shanks observes in his letter that the opinions of experts are what matters in evaluating the authenticity and historical value of the James ossuary. In June, a committee of scholars put together by the Israel Antiquities Authority determined that the inscription on the ossuary was a modern forgery. In July, the ossuary’s owner, Oded Golan, was arrested by Israeli police on suspicion of forgery. It seems, then, that the excitement over the ossuary has been misplaced, and that the real story is to be found in the issue of unprovenanced artifacts.

Artifacts that are discovered in situ provide a wealth of historical information to archaeologists and historians. Artifacts that merely appear on the antiquities market do not. Even when such artifacts are not forgeries, and even when they are not the product of theft or looting (as they often are), unprovenanced finds can never be more than dramatic and sometimes beautiful but entirely uncontextualized manifestations of past cultures. While they might provide splashy copy, they offer little in the way of historical insight. And as recent events show, the excitement of an unprovenanced find is often followed by the embarrassment of disconfirmation.

Journalists reporting on antiquities discoveries need to be alert in their reliance on pre-packaged stories such as the one Shanks arranged for the ossuary last October. To buy into the excitement of an orchestrated media event without seeking outside evaluation of the story is to become a mouthpiece for someone else’s agenda.

Raelians Unhappy with “UnRael!”

To the editor:
          On behalf of His Holiness RAËL, Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, and the 60,000 Raelians living in 84 countries, I want to express our outrage regarding the article by Susan Palmer in the article “UnRael!” in the Spring 2003 issue of Religion in the News. Since Palmer was identified as a teacher and an author, we expected from her an article that would reflect the reality of the media coverage of the Clonaid event.

Instead, we read a one-sided article in which she quoted only the media that were negative and disrespectful. Out of the 11,835 media treatments (paper, electronic, audio and video) that our PR team found which covered the Birth of Baby Eve and the four other clones between Dec. 26, 2002 and March 31, 2003, how come she didn’t find one positive and respectful quotation? We respectfully suggest that she go back to her homework.

By quoting only journalists who disrespect us, Palmer contributed to discrimination toward members of our New Religion. Not to mention that some of them, such as Diane Francis, published our letter of complaint in which we corrected her false allegations, or others, like De Maisonneuve, who is being sued for illegally airing, out of context, a private conversation between RAËL and Dr. Boisselier, in order to discredit them.

Therefore, we expect from Palmer public apologies toward our spiritual leader RAËL, who deserves to be respected, and Dr. Boisselier, who, unfortunately, because of the risks for the parents of the cloned babies to be separated from them, has so far not been able to prove their existence. Hopefully, we will soon read a more objective and professional article about us in Religion in the News.

                                                                                            Nicole Bertrand
Raelian Bishop

Susan Palmer replies:
I am sorry if the Raelians found my article unfair. I certainly do not wish to contribute to public intolerance of new religions, and I personally have found much to admire about the Raelians.

After the birth of Baby Eve was announced there were many news reports that noted the positive values that the Raelians stand for, including tolerance, nonviolence, and respect for racial, religious, and sexual minorities. I agree that the article would have been more balanced had I mentioned these, but its purpose was to show how, after the Baby Eve announcement, the media first lavished attention on the Raelians, and then pilloried them when Clonaid failed to provide falsifiable evidence for their claim.

I am by no means convinced that Baby Eve was the shortsighted hoax the media made it out to be, and expect to receive new insights into the modus operandi of the largest UFO religion in the world when the mystery of the disappearing clones is finally cleared up.






















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