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.”
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
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
single experienced paleographer (someone who has published an inscription
from this period) has questioned the authenticity of the inscription on
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.
Geological Survey of Israel, after conducting its own scientific tests, also
found no ground whatever to question the authenticity of the ossuary or its
Most recently, a team from the Royal Ontario
Museum independently studied the ossuary and its inscription. They, too,
found it to be authentic.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.