Owner of James Ossuary says box could have held bones of only three people

Canadian Press, Nov. 22, 2002

TORONTO (CP) – When Oded Golan was eight years old he found several stone objects on a hill behind his parents’ home near Tel Aviv. They turned out to be artifacts from 900 BC.

At age 10, he found a piece of stone with etchings on it, buried in a pile of rubble behind the hotel where he was vacationing with his parents in northern Israel. That piece is considered the oldest known dictionary.

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Speaking to about 300 religious scholars in Toronto on Friday night, Golan told the stories of his youth to try to explain how he came to own what might be the oldest archeological link to Jesus of Nazareth.

As a university student, he bought three burial boxes, called ossuaries, to add to his growing collection of antiquities, he said.

The 51-year-old soft-spoken engineer said he never “considered (one of them) an important piece.” In fact, he chose the two lesser known boxes to display in his home and put the least attractive Biblical Archeology Society’s annual weekend conference.

The James Ossuary made headlines around the world in October after a report in the Biblical Archeology Review.

Golan, who owns one of the most extensive private collections of antiquities in Israel, bought the ossuary 25 years ago in Jerusalem for a few hundred dollars.

“I have more than 3,000 pieces in my collection,” he said in broken English when the crowd pressed him about how he could have overlooked such an important piece for 25 years.

The Biblical Archeology Society arranged for the ossuary to be displayed at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum to coincide with several religious conferences being held in the city in November.

En route to the museum from Israel it suffered several cracks which have since been repaired.

Now that the ossuary is in the public eye, many are trying to link it to Jesus. Others, however, believe the 2,000-year-old item might be a forgery, or that it might have been the burial box of a different James, unrelated to Jesus Christ.

Golan has also been trying to figure out the mystery of the ossuary.

He said he’s been working with Camil Fuchs, an eminent Israeli statistician, who analyzed birth rates, life expectancy, family size and the popularity of the names Jesus, Joseph and James.

Fuchs has figured out that there were “not more than three people” to have the name James, their father Joseph, their brother Jesus and also be wealthy enough to be able to purchase an ossuary themselves or by the community, Golan said.

“It was a big surprise to me because I had in my mind that there were hundreds of people who could have the combination of names,” he said.

Adding to the argument is the fact that brothers “were rarely named on ossuaries unless they were a very famous person,” he said.

He said the results of the study were expected to be published and subjected to a peer review in the next few months.

Golan admitted that while he recognizes the significance of ossuary, he’s not a religious person.

“But I have very strong emotions to antiquities in Israel . . . to Jewish tradition and for me James, if this is the James, is Jewish so I feel also connected to him.”

Golan went to great lengths to remain anonymous when the ossuary became known, but decided to come to Toronto and speak about the treasure because he wanted to see the repaired relic.

“I came to make a reunion with James,” Golan joked to media after his lecture.

“I’m really interested to see (repairs) and I want to make sure it goes back to Israel safely.”

The box will be displayed at the museum until Dec. 29.

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