There will not be a 10th-anniversary showing of the James ossuary later this year at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.
“We’d need something new to say about [the ossuary]” said Dan Rahimi, the ROM’s vice-president of gallery development. “If we have nothing new to say about it, it would just be sensationalism. … I don’t really think we’re in a more advanced position than before so I wouldn’t bring it back.”
Mr. Rahimi was speaking in the wake of an Israeli judge’s ruling, announced Wednesday in Jerusalem, that efforts by Israeli prosecutors to prove, in a five-year trial, that the James ossuary is a forgery had failed.
The ossuary came to the world’s attention in October, 2002, when supporters of its authenticity announced that the box once contained the remains of James, the brother of Jesus, largely on the basis of an Aramaic inscription on one of its sides.
The Ontario museum was the first public showcase for the ossuary, touted by advocates as “the only archeological artifact found to date with a possible link to the family of Christ.” Displayed for seven weeks, starting in November, 2002, the exhibition drew close to 100,000 visitors. A few months later, the ossuary was declared a fake by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and antiquities collector Oded Golan was arrested.
Mr. Rahimi, the ROM’s director of collections management at the time, said the museum was first approached as a possible exhibitor of the ossuary by Hershel Shanks, the U.S.-based editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, described by The New York Times as “the world’s most influential amateur biblical archaeologist.” Mr. Shanks was (and remains) an advocate for the ossuary’s authenticity. He felt the ROM would be the perfect place to present it because Toronto was on tap to host conventions of three major organizations, including the Biblical Archaeological Society.
“The ROM was cautious,” Mr. Rahimi recalled, but thought: “It’s a really interesting inscription and a very provocative kind of point of discussion. So we wanted to display it and raise the question about ancient artifacts.”
He added: “Here’s an object with these interesting names on it … which may or not be Jesus [of Nazareth]and his brother. ‘Let’s discuss it. What does science have to tell us about it? What do you think?’ ”
The ossuary’s arrival in Canada generated a spate of headlines internationally even before it was displayed. The limestone box, it turned out, had been poorly wrapped for an artifact that some claimed to be worth $2-million and by the time it arrived in Toronto in early November (after first being shipped to New York from Tel Aviv, then flown to the Hamilton airport, whereupon it was trucked to ROM), it had developed several fissures, including one running through the “brother of Yeshua” portion of the inscription that the IAA would later claim had been added by forgers.