I wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail expressing concerns
about the difficulty provenance of this find presents to authenticating
it. I also gave Hershel Shanks a backhanded compliment. They chose
instead to publish a better, more focused letter, and one from a genuine
expert, as opposed to a sincere wannabe. Here's both letters:

[Toronto Globe and Mail, 23/10/02]

The published one:

Provenance problem

The article Burial-Box Inscription Could point To Christ  (Oct. 22)
highlights a problem of international proportions -- the antiquities
trade. The clouded provenance of this artefact devalues what may be one
of the most important biblical relics recovered.  Its authenticity will,
perhaps, never be confirmed.

Archaeological science relies on documented provenance to put such
artefacts into their proper  context. From this, we can evaluate their
authenticity and, more important, place them in their  broader cultural
context. Without proper provenance, these artefacts become objects of
art or mere curios.

The activities of looters, private dealers and auction houses often
hamper our understanding of the past, something that is crucial if we
are to understand our current condition. The ossuary is a case in point.
We have no idea where it came from; the bones it may once have contained
are gone and, with them, a chance to broaden our understanding of

Dougald O’Reilly
Faculty of Archaeology,
Royal University of Fine Arts,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

My somewhat more scattered offering:

Why can't journalists take basic arithmetic courses and spare us their
embarrassing innumeracies? In his otherwise excellent article about the
"new" find of James's ossuary ("Buried box inscription could point to
Christ," 22/10/02), Michael Posner quotes Hershel Shanks, of the
Biblical Archaeological Society, as saying that the odds of the 3 names
James, Jesus and Joseph appearing together were ".05 percent." No. The
probability is either .05 or it's 5% -- a mistake of two orders of
magnitude, akin to estimating Toronto's population at 50 000 instead of
5 million.

In any case, this find isn't new, it's just that Mr. Shanks, who has
done a lot of service to popularize the archaeology of the Ancient Near
East (witness his loosening up of the death grip the Ecole Biblique had
on the Dead Sea Scrolls together with Claremont College a decade ago),
is a good promoter. There is a major problem with the find which Posner,
to his credit, refers to, but does not give sufficient weight to, and
that's its provenance. Archaeologists are not out to prove anything with
respect to any sacred text, be it the Bible, the Qu'ran, the
Bhagavad-Gitas or anything else, and they insist on finding something
"in situ" which involves documenting its actual finding at the original
site. This is the problem which is one of "biblical" archaeology's dirty
little secrets (along with the reluctance of many dig leaders to write
up their finds); private collectors who on the one hand provide a value
to artefacts by providing a demand for them, and thus encouraging a
supply, but on the other hand they destroy the all-important in situ
link to provenance.

In any case, whether Jesus is the Christ is a conclusion an individual
believer must come to within his or her own heart, not in the "whitened
sepulchres" of archaeology.

Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland

“We do not think that there is an incompatibility between words and
deeds; the worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences
have been properly debated…To think of the future and wait was merely
another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just
an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a
question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.”
– Pericles about his fellow-Athenians, as quoted by Thucydides in “The
Peloponessian Wars”

Note: This communication represents the informal personal views of the
author solely; its contents do not necessarily reflect those of the
author’s employer, nor those of any organization with which the author
may be associated.

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