An archaeological storm raised in Berlin last year has now reverberated in Jerusalem when in the course of a lecture here Pere Vincent, a Dominican Father of the Ecole Biblique et Archaeologique Francaise, one of Palestine’s leading archaeological scholars, discussed the inscription “Joshua, the son of Joseph,” which Dr. E. L. Sukenik, the archaeologist of the Hebrew University, had found on an ossuary, and which newspapermen jumped upon as relating to the tomb of Jesus.
Dr. Sukenik during a lecture in Berlin on “Tombs in the Time of Jesus” called attention to a particular inscription on which the words “Joshua, son of Joseph” were found. Dr. Sukenik refused to be drawn into a discussion on the connection of this ossuary with the name of the founder of Christianity, insisting that the name was quite common at the time. He went, however, so far as to say that had a record of Christ’s handwriting remained, it might have resembled the inscription.
In spite of Dr. Sukenik’s care, the press both in Europe and America spread a story which on the face of it suggested that Dr. Sukenik had, in fact, discovered an ossuary in which the bones of Jesus of Nazareth had been placed. When Dr. Sukenik returned to Jerusalem from Berlin, he again denied he had made or desired to establish any connection between his discovery and the journalists’ version of it.
Pere Vincent now declares that the actual writing on the ossuary was much later than that of the time of Jesus. He added that the writing might well be a modern forgery, about quarter of a century old. Paying tribute to the work of Dr. Sukenik, who had at one time been his pupil, as a good worker and a sound scientist, Pere Vincent declared nevertheless that on this whole question Dr. Sukenik had been mistaken.
“Dr. Sukenik is wrong in supposing that the words in question come from an ossuary of the time of Jesus. Two of the letters at least are not ancient at all and must have been written long after that period. I think they may even be very modern letters, written quite recently. In my own experience I have come across many forgeries, very well done….In European galleries you will find many statues which the best authorities consider to be fakes. The study of Hebrew caligraphy is taking on new forms every day and Dr. Sukenik cannot, therefore, say for sure that the writing he has found comes from that period.”
Pere Vincent is at present engaged on an important work dealing with the Third Wall of Jerusalem, on the question of which he also disagrees very firmly with Dr. Sukenik, who he believes is following a mistaken trail.
In 1925 during certain road repairs, a huge drafted block of stone was struck, considered to be of typical Herodian masonry. The old question was raised as to the course of the Third Wall, the wall standing at the time of Jesus. Dr. Sukenik and Mr. Mayer undertook the work of excavation for the Hebrew University and the results of their investigations, published recently, led them to believe that they had indeed discovered the northernmost wall of Jerusalem, which according to the historian Josephus was started by Agrippa I and finished by the people of Jerusalem about thirty years later, during the first revolt against the Romans.
Father Vincent, on the other hand, believes the wall uncovered by Dr. Sukenik and Dr. Mayer, is in no way identical with the Third Wall described by Josephus and would fit in much better with the period of Bar Kochba’s revolt in 131 A. D.