Biblical Archaeology Review 38:3, May/June 2012

Strata: Joe Zias: “Hershel Has No Sense of Humor”

A former employee of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) named Joe Zias has for years maintained that he saw the famous bone box (ossuary) inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” in a Jerusalem antiquities shop without the words “brother of Jesus.” If true, the addition of these words to the inscription is clearly a modern forgery.

At a scholarly conference in 2003, Zias told me about this—that he had seen the ossuary without the critical phrase “brother of Jesus.” I was hesitant to publish this on the basis of a relatively short conversation. But it turned out that I was not the only one to whom Zias had made this claim. Among the others was Eric Meyers, a distinguished archaeologist, former president of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and former editor of the scholarly journal Near Eastern Archaeology. Meyers published Zias’s claim.

Once the claim was public, I felt free to discuss it in BAR. Was Zias lying?a Apparently, he made the same claim to his former employer, the IAA, because that became the critical allegation of the criminal indictment admitting that the ossuary itself and the first part of the inscription were ancient but the last part, “brother of Jesus,” was a modern forgery.

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