What’s What Regarding the Controversial James Ossuary, Part 1

The recent CNN “Finding Jesus” special  titled “Secret Brother of Jesus,” that dealt with with the question of whether Jesus had brothers and sisters as well as the controversies surrounding the “James ossuary” has put the latter back in the news. For those a bit rusty on the background of all this here is a primer in two parts, that expands upon my previously published “Reader’s Guide to the Unfolding James Ossuary Story.”

On October 21, 2002 the dramatic headline news flashed around the world—First Evidence of Jesus Written in Stone! Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, the flagship magazine of the non-profit Biblical Archaeology Society, held a press conference packed with journalists at the Marriot Hotel in Washington, D.C. He revealed that a limestone “bone box,” called an ossuary, reliably dated to the 1st century CE, had recently surfaced in Israel in the hands of an unnamed private collector. It was inscribed in Aramaic, Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui di Yeshua. English translation: James son of Joseph brother of Jesus. Shanks announced that scientists at the prestigious Geological Survey of Israel had verified the authenticity of the ossuary itself, and world-renowned Sorbonne epigrapher André Lemaire—an expert in ancient scripts—had also authenticated the inscription. Based on these verifications, and the statistical improbabilities of these names and relationships referring to anyone else in that time, Shanks asserted that this ossuary had once held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. If correct, this would be the first and only archaeological artifact from the time of Jesus to mention his name.


Credit: Lori L. Woodall

Major media throughout the world, including the New York Times and virtually every other newspaper in the world, the major wire services, and all the major TV networks, picked up the story immediately. Shanks released photographs, passed out press releases, and the full story, including Lemaire’s analysis, and that of the geologists, was published in the November/December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.[1] Shanks and his co-author, professor Ben Witherington also released a book, The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story and Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus and His Family to coincide with the press conference.

Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici was present throughout these dramatic events as he had contracted with Shanks to produce a TV documentary on the James ossuary that aired on the Discovery Channel, in over seventy countries, the following Easter, 2003. This much overlooked documentary is one of the best and most basic treatments of the controversial ossuary. I highly recommend it.[2]

Shanks then dropped another bombshell—the ossuary itself was being flown from Israel and would be on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, beginning November 15, 2002—just over a month away. The city and the date had been chosen to coincide with the annual professional meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Schools of Oriental Research that would be gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving in Toronto. These meetings would bring together over 10,000 of the world’s biblical scholars, professors of religion, and biblical archaeologists.

The orchestration of all of these related publications and activities could not have been more effective. The James ossuary was already being hailed as perhaps the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.

The exhibition was an overwhelming success drawing nearly 10,000 visitors to the ROM to see the ossuary. I almost crossed paths in Toronto that November with Simcha Jacobovici–whom I had never met. I was attending the annual meetings and had been invited by Shanks to join him and a group of about thirty professors for a private after-hours viewing of the exhibit. Simcha was there to document the gathering and get the first live reactions of the scholars. A who’s who of biblical scholars, experts in ancient inscriptions, and historians, filled the exhibit hall that evening. Fortunately my wife Lori was with me and took some professional photos that captured the spirit of the event and have been subsequently published in Biblical Archaeology Review magazine.

Everyone present seemed genuinely moved by the ossuary itself and impressed with its authenticity, including the renowned epigraphers Frank Moore Cross of Harvard, Joseph Fitzmyer of Catholic University of America, and Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University–all of whom said in my presence that they found the inscription to be authentic from a paleographic examination. In addition to the viewing, there was a special plenary session with a panel discussion at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting that weekend. The only objection expressed on a panel that included André Lemaire, and several leading historians and archaeologists, was that giving such attention to an artifact that had been purchased on the antiquities market, and thus lacked any archaeological context that could serve to inform its interpretation, was less than ideal. One has to remember that this was the case for many of the Dead Sea Scrolls that first came to public view in 1947 because they were being offered for sale by the Bedouin who claimed to have found them in caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Sometimes the value of such archaeological finds, no matter how they end up coming to the attention of competent scholars for evaluation, outweighs these less than ideal circumstances. This is simply the reality of things in the Middle East. The archaeologists do not make some of the most important discoveries in licensed and controlled settings, but rather circumstance and luck, or even looting play their roles. Because of this lack of context one has to always be cautious, since possibility a convincing forgery is always present.[3]


Credit: Lori L. Woodall

By the time of the Toronto exhibit the name of the owner of the ossuary, Oded Golan, had been leaked. The IAA launched an investigation and by the summer of 2003, just a few months after Simcha Jacobovici’s Discovery TV documentary had been released, a team of Israeli experts issued a report that concluded that although the James ossuary itself was authentic, Golan had forged all or part of the ossuary inscription in order to increase its value. Golan and four other co-conspirators, including Robert Deutsch, one of Israel’s leading antiquities dealer, were indicted on 44 charges of forgery and antiquities trafficking, not only of the James ossuary, but another inscribed artifact that had appeared on the black market in January of that year.[4] The criminal trial (482/04 State of Israel v. Oded Golan), began in December, 2004. In the meantime charges were dropped against all but Golan and Deutsch[5]

Once the indictments were announced and the trial began in Jerusalem, a virtual bandwagon of opposition to the authenticity of the James ossuary inscription followed. This included articles in the New Yorker and Archaeology magazine, a segment on 60 Minutes and stories in most major newspapers around the world, as well as countless blog and internet posts—all concluding that Oded Golan had was part of an extended forgery ring and there was conclusive physical evidence that the James ossuary inscription was a forgery.[6] Since then two major books have been published, one popular, the other scholarly, purporting to document the entire scandal and weighing in on the side of forgery.[7] The academic response on the whole has been harsh and final: “the archaeological fact [is] that the inscription is a modern forgery.”[8]

The general public appears to have been convinced by this tsunami of criticism, so most of the original excitement and enthusiasm for this biblical artifact has dissipated. Hershel Shanks, an experienced lawyer, and his co-author Ben Witherington, have stood their ground but reserved final judgment. Their current position is that a convincing case for forgery has not been made. A few scattered academics have agreed but by far the mainstream would chuckle at any serious mention of the James ossuary inscription as an authentic find from the time of Jesus.[9] Likewise, the scientists at the Geological Survey of Israel have not retracted their initial judgment as to the authenticity of the inscription and the ancient patina covering the ossuary, based on their initial physical tests.

Drawing by Shimon Gibson

Drawing by Shimon Gibson

On October 3, 2010, both the prosecution and the defense concluded their cases. The trial that had lasted seven years came to an end.  Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict on March 14, 2012.  Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. The judge said this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic.” The ossuary has since been returned to its owner, Oded Golan, who plans to put it on public display, see here.

It should be noted, despite the widespread perception that the inscription was forged so far not a single epigrapher has disqualified the ossuary inscription on paleographic grounds in legal testimony—that is, the style of the writing and its integrity. See Hershel Shanks’s summary of the overall case for authenticity here. Expert epigraphers can usually spot forgeries by examining the form and style of the letters and comparing them with inscriptions of the period in question that are known to be authentic from the archaeological contexts in which they were found. The Dead Sea Scrolls have been authenticated in this way, even though many of them also surfaced on the black market without any verifiable archaeological context. The IAA case for forgery was partly circumstantial, but primarily based on physical tests conducted by Yuval Goren. He concluded that the letters of the inscription cut through the original patina of the ossuary—the natural growth of chemical deposits that builds up over time on stone—showing that the incisions were made later—in modern times.[10] The indictment further charged that Golan had clumsily tried to apply a fake patina over the inscription, once he had carved it, applying a pastiche he created and mixed with hot water. The case of the prosecution suffered a tremendous blow when it was shown by experts that although the ossuary inscription had been cleaned by its owner, there was nonetheless original, authentic patina in the grooves of the letters—showing it could not have been added later. The chief witness for the prosecution on the patina authenticity, once all the testimony was out, admitted under oath that this was the case.[11]  Based on all the trial evidence presented I think the case in favor of authenticity has become quite compelling.

Statistician Prof. Camille Fuchs had examined the prevalence of names of deceased Jewish male individuals in Jerusalem in the first century CE. He determined that it is possible to determine at a very high probability, close to 99%, that between the years 45-70 AD not more than one adult male Jew with the name James who had a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus is likely to have lived in Jerusalem.[12]

A Missing Ossuary

Early on in our investigation Talpiot tombs, we began to consider the possibility that the unprovenanced James ossuary might have come from the Garden tomb. It was speculation at first, a hypothesis that if proven would substantiate the mounting evidence linking the Garden tomb with Jesus of Nazareth.   If the mystery of the origin of the James Ossuary was somehow settled, and it did come from the Talpiot Jesus tomb, its tie to Jesus of Nazareth could hardly be questioned and of course that probability statistics based on the names found in the tomb would go through the roof. Along with the new finds in the Patio tomb, so clearly connecting these tombs to faith in Jesus’ resurrection, we would be in a position to advance our understanding of the faith of Jesus’ first followers in a most significant way.

Joseph Gath’s initial report on the Garden tomb’s excavation clearly states that there were ten ossuaries originally in the tomb. Presumably all ten were transported to the IAA lab at the Rockefeller for cataloguing and analysis. Here are Gath’s own words:

During the archaeological dig at the site 10 ossuaries were found in the different niches. No primary burial was found in the niches and only one niche was found without ossuaries (Niche no. 4). On the floor of the main room there were remains of bones, including skulls and limb bones below the burial shelves.[13]

In 2005, when I first visited the IAA storage warehouse in Bet Shemesh outside Jerusalem to examine the Talpiot Jesus tomb ossuaries, I was accompanied by Shimon Gibson, who had been the surveyor for the excavation in April, 1980. We were both astounded when the curator informed us that everything was ready, handing us an inventory list, and offering to bring out all the ossuaries, but explaining that only nine of the ten ossuaries from this tomb were listed on his tally. He apologized, explaining that they had searched for the tenth but had no idea what had happened to it, even though it had been given a cataloguing number in 1980. His precise words were, “The tenth ossuary has gone missing.” Shimon rechecked the map he had drawn of the tomb at the time of the excavation—there was no doubt, the tomb had originally contained ten ossuaries.

Shimon and I spent hours searching through the archive files of the IAA. There were clear photos of only nine ossuaries, but nothing in the records about a tenth. We checked the 1996 published report on the tomb prepared by Amos Kloner, who was supervisor over Gath and had overseen the excavation. Kloner described each of the first nine ossuaries in detail along with the original photographs. At the end of his roster he listed the tenth, but with a one-word description and no photo:

  1. IAA 80.509: 60 x 26 x 30 cm. Plain

From this one line we knew that at least it had been given a catalogue number but no one seemed to have any idea what happened to it and the curator explained that it should have been photographed as part the routine registration process. He and his staff had searched and had found nothing.

Later we noticed that the Rahmani catalogue of ossuaries in the Israeli state collection also included only nine (nos. 701-709), with the comment that the tenth was plain and broken and was not retained. Its catalogue number: 80.509 is simply not included–with the list of ossuaries jumping from 80.508 to 80.510.[14] I was finishing my book, The Jesus Dynasty, that summer I had noticed that the dimensions of the James ossuary were officially published as: 56.5 x 25 x 30.5—close but not exactly the same as the missing tenth ossuary. Simcha Jacobovici subsequently was able to re-measure the James ossuary under IAA supervision, using the standard template indicating where to take length, width, and height measurements. It was 56.5 x 25.7 x 29.5—a bit closer to the dimensions Kloner had published. Where Kloner got these dimensions we have no idea. They are not in the IAA official files on the excavation of this tomb. Apparently he has his own records of the excavation that he has not made public.

It should be noted that the James ossuary was not rectangular in shape but trapezoid, so that its dimensions, depending on which side or end measured, would vary slightly.[15] For us there was enough of a “fit” that we did not think the possibility that the James ossuary was the missing tenth from the Talpiot tomb should be dismissed. Obviously, there would need to be much more evidence but I decided to mention this possibility in my book, The Jesus Dynasty, published in 2006[16]

After the book was out I was in Jerusalem and I met with Joe Zias, a close friend who was the anthropologist at the IAA in 1980. I wanted to know what Joe thought might have happened to the tenth ossuary, based on how materials were catalogued and handled in those days. Joe said he had no specific recollection of that particular tomb or ossuary but he suggested three possibilities: 1) It was simply misplaced in storage rather than being shelved where it should be with the other nine; 2) it had been put outside in the courtyard of the Rockefeller because of lack of space and lost its tag and would now be unidentifiable; or, 3) it was discarded during one of the moves of the IAA collection since 1980—from the Rockefeller, to a warehouse in Romena, and finally to Bet Shemesh. Joe explained that things regularly go missing, with millions of artifacts from thousands of excavations, but often they show up again. Joe was quite sure the missing tenth ossuary had nothing to do with the James ossuary and told James he thought his speculation in that regard was irresponsible and misleading. That is how things stood in 2006.

To be continued…Part II will explore in more detail the question “Did the James Ossuary Come from the Talpiot Tomb?”

  1. André Lemaire, “Burial Box of James, the Brother of Jesus: Earliest Archaeological Evidence of Jesus Found in Jerusalem,” Biblical Archaeology Review 28:6 (2002): 24-33, 70. The SEM-EDS geological analysis conducted by Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani was also summarized in this issue, p. 29. []
  2. James: Brother of Jesus, Holy Relic or Hoax. It was shown over the course of the next month in over eighty additional countries. []
  3. See the observations of Yuval Goren on-line at: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Goren_Jerusalem_Syndrome.shtml. []
  4. The other inscription, the Yohoash tablet, was a stone artifact with a Hebrew text that was purported to come from the reign of King Jehash in the 9th century BCE (see 1 Kings 12). See Uzi Dahari, ed., Final Report of the Examining Committee for the Yehoash Inscription and James Ossuary (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2003) for the results of the IAA investigation. The reports are conveniently posted on-line: http://bibleinterp.com/articles/Final_Reports.shtml. A summary of this report with comments also appears in the revised edition of Shanks’ and Witherington’s book, The Brother of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2004), pp. 227-237. []
  5. Correspondent Matthew Kalman serially reported on the entire trial for Time magazine and his articles are archived on his web site: http://jamesossuarytrial.blogspot.com/. Oded Golan has recently released his own account of the trial proceedings titled “The Authenticity of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Tablet Inscriptions—Summary of Expert Trial Witness,” available here: http://bibleinterp.com/articles/authjam358012.shtml. His summary appears to provide convincing evidence that he was falsely accused and that both artifacts and their inscriptions are authentic. []
  6. Neil Asher Silberman and Yuval Goren, “Faking Biblical History,” Archaeology 56:5 (2003): 20-29; David Samuels, “Written in Stone,” New Yorker, April 12, 2004, pp. 48-59. []
  7. Nina Burleigh, Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greek, and Forgery in the Holy Land (New York: Harper-Collins, 2008) and Ryan Byrne and Bernadette McNary-Zak, eds., Resurrecting the Brother of Jesus: The James Ossuary Controversy and the Quest for Religious Relics (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009). []
  8. Byron R. McCane, “Archaeological Context and Controversy,” in Resurrecting the Brother of Jesus, op. cit. p. 20; http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/West_reply.shtml; http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Ossuary_Again.shtml. []
  9. See the comments of Craig Evans on-line at: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Evans_Thoughts.shtml. []
  10. See Goren’s report at http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Goren_report.shtml. []
  11. See Oded Golan’s summary of the trial testimony cited above. []
  12. Camil Fuchs: “Demography, literacy and names distribution in ancient Jerusalem: How many James/Jacob son of Joseph, brother of Jesus were there?” in The Polish Journal of Biblical Research 4:1 (2005): 3-30. []
  13. Gath published this short preliminary report in Hebrew in 1981, but before the ossuary inscriptions had been deciphered (Hadashot Arkheologiyot 76 (1981), pp. 24-26. Translation is by Noam Kusar. The Jesus tomb has two ledges or “primary burial shelves,” (arcosolia) on the northern and eastern walls upon which corpses were laid out for the first year so they would decompose. []
  14. See Rahmani, Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, p. 222. []
  15. It should also be noted that Rahmani’s catalogue often gives two differing measurements for individual ossuaries, recording initial measurements as well as subsequent lab measurements that were more precise. It is also possible, since the James ossuary was broken and restored in November, 2002, when it was flown to Canada to be put on display, that its measurements today might tend to be slightly less than when it was first measured. []
  16. See James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 73-83. []

Masada Saga Hits Prime-time Television

Masada 2015Don’t miss the “Masada” special to air this Friday night on the Smithsonian Channel, March 27 at 9pm (ET), see details here. The program will be repeated Saturday March 28th at 12am and 6pm. This program was done in conjunction with the upcoming CBS Special “The Dovekeepers,” based on Alice Hoffman‘s best-selling novel by that name that airs March 31 and April 1, 9pm (ET). I highly recommend both programs. I participated in the Masada program and I think it is quite well done. It had the advantage of drawing upon some of the footage from “The Dovekeepers” rather than rely upon less professionally produced “reenactments” that are the standard fare of most TV “Bible” shows. Among other things you get to see me rappell down the steep southern side of the fortress. You can watch some previews of the Dovekeepers on the link above. On the whole, given its genre as a dramatic prime-time TV drama, I think it is quite well done with meticulous care for historical detail.


Southern Cliffs of Masada with Caves Visible

Here are two links to posts (with further links) on Masada dealing with the controversial skeletal remains discovered in Cave 2000/2001 of the 25 or 26 individuals, C-14 dated to the time of the siege, on the southern cliff of the fortress–pictured above.

Masada Mysteries: What Do We Know About the Bones?

Whose Bones? Getting the Facts Straight at Masada

An Authentic 1st Century Jerusalem Burial Shroud

My latest article in the Huffington Post with a new gallery of photos, some previously unpublished, related to the “Tomb of the Shroud,” discovered in the year 2000 in Akledama, in the Hinnom Valley just south of Jerusalem.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.48.43 AM

CNN focused on the question of the authenticity of the controversial “Shroud of Turin,” in the first episode of its new pre-Easter series “Finding Jesus.” Those challenging the authenticity of this ancient relic point to carbon dating tests done at three independent labs in 1988 that dated samples of its cloth to AD 1260-1390, which coincides with the first appearance of the shroud in France in the 1350s. Believers in the shroud’s authenticity have questioned the authenticity of the tests.

What many do not know is that we do in fact have an unquestionably authentic burial shroud from a tomb in Jerusalem that has been carbon dated to the 1st century. Any consideration of the “Shroud of Turin” should begin with a comparison of what we know rather than what we might want to believe. How this shroud was discovered, tested, analyzed, and with what results is a fascinating chapter in the history of recent Jerusalem archaeology in which I was privileged to play a small but “accidental” part….

Read the rest of the story here, with links to the scientific reports, and view the gallery below.






Crucifixion: “That Most Wretched of Deaths” What Do We Know?

So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies. (Jewish War 5:446-451)

The Crucifixion of Jesus and His Royal Attendants on the Mt of Olives

Joseph bar Matthias, better known to English readers as Josephus (b. 37 C.E.), the 1st century Jewish historian, is our best literary source for the practice of crucifixion in the land of Israel during the 1st century CE. At one point he describes the practice as “that most wretched of deaths” (War 7. 203). As a general in command of the Jewish forces of Galilee in the Great Revolt against Rome (66-73 C.E.), he subsequently surrendered to the Romans and befriended himself to the Roman general Vespasian and his son Titus, both of whom who became emperors of Rome in a successive father-son dynasty. Josephus ended up living in Rome, a patron of the royal family, where he wrote his Life, his account of the Jewish War, an apologetic work defending Judaism against the attack of a Greek author, Against Apion, and his massive multi-volume work, The Antiquities of the Jews.

However, Josephus is not our only source for the practice of crucifixion in the ancient world. John Granger Cook has now published his massive 500 page work, Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014) that puts before us for the first time all significant literary references to the practice of crucifixion with critical analysis. Cook provides the original texts in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic with translation and commentary. One overall conclusion of Cook’s monumental contribution is that there is no single method of crucifixion–broadly defined as “execution by suspension.” The type of cross, the terminology used, and the various ways in which human bodies were attached were variable.

Fortunately, with regard to crucifixion in the land of Israel in the 1st century CE we do now have some significant archaeological evidence.  In 1968, in the suburb of Givat Havmitar, just north of the city of Jerusalem, builders discovered a tomb with the skeletal remains of a Jewish male–Yehochanan–who had been crucified. Full discussion of this find and its implications are on-line at the Biblical Archaeology Society site here and the PBS Frontline “Jesus to Christ” series here.

Replica of the heel bone with crucifixion nail on display in the Israel Museum. The original is at the lab at Tel Aviv University.

Replica of the heel bone with crucifixion nail on display in the Israel Museum. The original is at the lab at Tel Aviv University.

But there is additional new evidence that has recently come to light. Few have heard anything about the “Abba Cave,” discovered in 1971 in the north Jerusalem suburb of Givat Hamivtar–not far from the tomb of “Yehohanan,” The Abba cave held the remains of another “crucified man,” with three nails–not just a single one in the heel bone–that clearly pinned the hands (not the wrists, as some have argued) in hook-like fashion to a cross beam. It was assumed back in the 1970s that these bones were buried and no longer available for analysis–but it turns out this is not the case. Tel Aviv University anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz discovered the remains, untouched in his lab for years, and has recently presented his own conclusions. What is even more intriguing, the victim was arguably none other than Matitiyahu Antigonus–the last of the Hashmonean kings–who was both beheaded and crucified by Marc Anthony. in 37 BC. You can read more of this important discovery here.

Despite recent nay-saying, by those who are apparently not aware of all the facts, including the available skeletal remains and nails mentioned here, the case that the tomb held the remains of a crucified/beheaded male, as Nicu Haas first indicated, is a convincing one, given this latest analysis from Prof. Hershkovitz. Also those who have argued that crucifixion nails went through the wrist not the hands, and that these nails are too “short” to be for crucifixion, are just mistaken. Hershkovitz has definitely clarified this issue. The nails are driven through the backside of the hand and through the palm, then either angled or bent into a hook, not to hold up the body but to keep the hands and arms in place–thus “tacking” or pinning the hands to the wood behind. The arms themselves were likely then tied to hold the arms in place and bear some of the body weight–thus lengthening the time on the cross to several days. The victims died from dehydration, trauma, fatigue, and shock, not from loss of blood. Given the latest analysis it turns out that the hypothesis that this individual was the Hasmonean royal priest/king Antigonus is a likely possibility.


Professor Hershkovitz has also recently proposed that the type of cross most likely used in Jesus’ crucifixion–and thus the Roman practice in the Land of Israel from 63 BCE to 135 CE, was on an X shaped cross. He is convinced that this shape best fits the forensic evidence from both the Yehochanan and Abba tombs. In the recent documentary “Secrets of the Crucifixion,” produced by Associated Producers for Discovery Science Prof. Hershkovitz argues his case, using human models who are fixed to various shaped crosses to determine which is the most likely given our archaeological evidence.


This type of cross might account for one of our earliest Christian symbols–the Chi Rho, long before the standard T-shaped Latin cross began to prevail after Constantine’s time.


Despite this archaeological and iconographic evidence Josephus remains our primary literary witness to Roman crucifixion in the Land of Israel in the time of Jesus. I thought it might be helpful to pull together all the references in Josephus’s works in one place so I present the results here. I have used the rather outdated translation of Whiston to facilitate keying in these passages, and because it is a translation in the public domain. For this reason I have included the old referencing system found in Whiston as well as the Loeb system that is now the standard:

Josephus attempt to save three of his acquaintances from crucifixion:
And when I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cerealins, and a thousand horsemen, to a certain village called Thecoa, in order to know whether it were a place fit for a camp, as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered. Life 77 [420-421]

The invasion of Palestine by Antiochus Epiphanies c. 167 B.C.E. giving rise to the Maccabean revolt (Hanukkah). Josephus graphic and bloody account mentions crucifixion — not clear just what it implies in this context but certainly some kind of hanging.
3. King Antiochus returning out of Egypt for fear of the Romans, made an expedition against the city Jerusalem; and when he was there, in the hundred and forty-third year of the kingdom of the Seleucides, he took the city without fighting, those of his own party opening the gates to him. And when he had gotten possession of Jerusalem, he slew many of the opposite party; and when he had plundered it of a great deal of money, he returned to Antioch.

4. Now it came to pass, after two years, in the hundred forty and fifth year, on the twenty-fifth day of that month which is by us called Chislev, and by the Macedonians Apelleus, in the hundred and fifty-third olympiad, that the king came up to Jerusalem, and, pretending peace, he got possession of the city by treachery; at which time he spared not so much as those that admitted him into it, on account of the riches that lay in the temple; but, led by his covetous inclination, (for he saw there was in it a great deal of gold, and many ornaments that had been dedicated to it of very great value,) and in order to plunder its wealth, he ventured to break the league he had made. So he left the temple bare, and took away the golden candlesticks, and the golden altar [of incense], and table [of shew-bread], and the altar [of burnt-offering]; and did not abstain from even the veils, which were made of fine linen and scarlet. He also emptied it of its secret treasures, and left nothing at all remaining; and by this means cast the Jews into great lamentation, for he forbade them to offer those daily sacrifices which they used to offer to God, according to the law. And when he had pillaged the whole city, some of the inhabitants he slew, and some he carried captive, together with their wives and children, so that the multitude of those captives that were taken alive amounted to about ten thousand. He also burnt down the finest buildings; and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel in the lower part of the city, for the place was high, and overlooked the temple; on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians. However, in that citadel dwelt the impious and wicked part of the [Jewish] multitude, from whom it proved that the citizens suffered many and sore calamities. And when the king had built an idol altar upon God’s altar, he slew swine upon it, and so offered a sacrifice neither according to the law, nor the Jewish religious worship in that country. He also compelled them to forsake the worship which they paid their own God, and to adore those whom he took to be gods; and made them build temples, and raise idol altars in every city and village, and offer swine upon them every day. He also commanded them not to circumcise their sons, and threatened to punish any that should be found to have transgressed his injunction. He also appointed overseers, who should compel them to do what he commanded. And indeed many Jews there were who complied with the king’s commands, either voluntarily, or out of fear of the penalty that was denounced. But the best men, and those of the noblest souls, did not regard him, but did pay a greater respect to the customs of their country than concern as to the punishment which he threatened to the disobedient; on which account they every day underwent great miseries and bitter torments; for they were whipped with rods, and their bodies were torn to pieces, and were crucified, while they were still alive, and breathed. They also strangled those women and their sons whom they had circumcised, as the king had appointed, hanging their sons about their necks as they were upon the crosses. And if there were any sacred book of the law found, it was destroyed, and those with whom they were found miserably perished also. Antiquities 12. 5. 3-4 [12. 246-256]

Alexander Jannaeus, the Maccabean king (103-76 B.C.E.), turns against the Pharisees and has hundreds crucified.
2. Now as Alexander fled to the mountains, six thousand of the Jews hereupon came together [from Demetrius] to him out of pity at the change of his fortune; upon which Demetrius was afraid, and retired out of the country; after which the Jews fought against Alexander, and being beaten, were slain in great numbers in the several battles which they had; and when he had shut up the most powerful of them in the city Bethome, he besieged them therein; and when he had taken the city, and gotten the men into his power, he brought them to Jerusalem, and did one of the most barbarous actions in the world to them; for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes. This was indeed by way of revenge for the injuries they had done him; which punishment yet was of an inhuman nature, though we suppose that he had been never so much distressed, as indeed he had been, by his wars with them, for he had by their means come to the last degree of hazard, both of his life and of his kingdom, while they were not satisfied by themselves only to fight against him, but introduced foreigners also for the same purpose; nay, at length they reduced him to that degree of necessity, that he was forced to deliver back to the king of Arabia the land of Moab and Gilead, which he had subdued, and the places that were in them, that they might not join with them in the war against him, as they had done ten thousand other things that tended to affront and reproach him. However, this barbarity seems to have been without any necessity, on which account he bare the name of a Thracian among the Jews (40) whereupon the soldiers that had fought against him, being about eight thousand in number, ran away by night, and continued fugitives all the time that Alexander lived; who being now freed from any further disturbance from them, reigned the rest of his time in the utmost tranquillity. Antiquities 13. 14. 2 [379-383]

The Nahum Pesher found in Cave 4 of the Dead Sea Scrolls appears to refer to him and his cruelty in a cryptic manner:
4Q169 (Nahum) “He fills his cave with prey and his den with game. This refers to the Lion of Wrath…vengeance upon the Flattery Seekers, because he used to hang men alive, as it was done in Israel in former times…”

Following the death of Herod in 4 B.C.E. there were outbreaks of revolt throughout Judea. Varus, the Roman legate of Syria took two legions and brutally pacified the country, particularly in Galilee.
10. Upon this, Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; and when they were discovered, he punished some of them that were most guilty, and some he dismissed: now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand. After which he disbanded his army, which he found no way useful to him in the affairs he came about; for they behaved themselves very disorderly, and disobeyed his orders, and what Varus desired them to do, and this out of regard to that gain which they made by the mischief they did. As for himself, when he was informed that ten thousand Jews had gotten together, he made haste to catch them; but they did not proceed so far as to fight him, but, by the advice of Achiabus, they came together, and delivered themselves up to him: hereupon Varus forgave the crime of revolting to the multitude, but sent their several commanders to Caesar, many of whom Caesar dismissed; but for the several relations of Herod who had been among these men in this war, they were the only persons whom he punished, who, without the least regard to justice, fought against their own kindred. Antiquities 17. 10. 10 [17. 295-298]

Josephus mentions the crucifixion of Jesus in passing. The passage is judged authentic by most scholars once the obvious Christian additions (marked here in brackets and italics) are removed. See “Josephus on Jesus” for more details.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, [if it be lawful to call him a man;] for he was a doer of wonderful works. [a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure,] He drew many after him [of the Jews and of the Gentiles. He was the Christ.] And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; [for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.] And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. Antiquities 18. 3. 3 [63-64]
In the very next paragraph Josephus recounts the crucifixion in Rome of the priests of Isis, ordered by the Emperor Tiberius himself, for their misdeeds in arranging the sexual seduction of a virtuous woman.
4. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome . . . When he had said this, he went his way. But now she began to come to the sense of the grossness of what she had done, and rent her garments, and told her husband of the horrid nature of this wicked contrivance, and prayed him not to neglect to assist her in this case. So he discovered the fact to the emperor; whereupon Tiberius inquired into the matter thoroughly by examining the priests about it, and ordered them to be crucified, as well as Ide, who was the occasion of their perdition, and who had contrived the whole matter, which was so injurious to the woman. He also demolished the temple of Isis, and gave order that her statue should be thrown into the river Tiber; while he only banished Mundus, but did no more to him, because he supposed that what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love. And these were the circumstances which concerned the temple of Isis, and the injuries occasioned by her priests. I now return to the relation of what happened about this time to the Jews at Rome, as I formerly told you I would. Antiquities 18. 3. 4 [18. 65, 78-80]

The sons of Judas the Galilean, who had led a revolt in 6 C.E. over the Roman taxation census, were crucified by the Roman procurator Tiberius Alexander (46-48 C.E.), who was the nephew of the philosopher Philo.
2. Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries, both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these procurators that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already. And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified. But now Herod, king of Chalcis, removed Joseph, the son of Camydus, from the high priesthood, and made Ananias, the son of Nebedeu, his successor. And now it was that Cumanus came as successor to Tiberius Alexander; as also that Herod, brother of Agrippa the great king, departed this life, in the eighth year of the reign of Claudius Caesar. He left behind him three sons; Aristobulus, whom he had by his first wife, with Bernicianus, and Hyrcanus, both whom he had by Bernice his brother’s daughter. But Claudius Caesar bestowed his dominions on Agrippa, junior. Antiquities 20. 5. 2 [20. 100-104]

Josephus reports on the Jewish custom of taking down the bodies of those crucified by the Romans during the Great Revolt and burying them, if permitted, before sundown. This was in response to the Torah commandment found in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”
2. But the rage of the Idumeans was not satiated by these slaughters; but they now betook themselves to the city, and plundered every house, and slew every one they met; and for the other multitude, they esteemed it needless to go on with killing them, but they sought for the high priests, and the generality went with the greatest zeal against them; and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Jesus with his speech made to them from the wall. Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun. I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city. Jewish War 4. 5. 2 [4. 314-318]

Josephus reports that the Romans crucified many before the walls of Jerusalem during the siege of 70 C.E. The idea was to terrorize the population and force a surrender. The number reached 500 a day at one point until there was no wood left in the area for this purpose.
5. Now it happened at this fight that a certain Jew was taken alive, who, by Titus’s order, was crucified before the wall, to see whether the rest of them would be aftrighted, and abate of their obstinacy. But after the Jews were retired, John, who was commander of the Idumeans, and was talking to a certain soldier of his acquaintance before the wall, was wounded by a dart shot at him by an Arabian, and died immediately, leaving the greatest lamentation to the Jews, and sorrow to the seditious. For he was a man of great eminence, both for his actions and his conduct also. Jewish War 5. 6. 5 [5: 289-290]
1. So now Titus’s banks were advanced a great way, notwithstanding his soldiers had been very much distressed from the wall. He then sent a party of horsemen, and ordered they should lay ambushes for those that went out into the valleys to gather food. Some of these were indeed fighting men, who were not contented with what they got by rapine; but the greater part of them were poor people, who were deterred from deserting by the concern they were under for their own relations; for they could not hope to escape away, together with their wives and children, without the knowledge of the seditious; nor could they think of leaving these relations to be slain by the robbers on their account; nay, the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that, when they were concealed from the robbers, they should be taken by the enemy; and when they were going to be taken, they were forced to defend themselves for fear of being punished; as after they had fought, they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more: yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment. So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies. Jewish War 5. 11. 1 [5:446-451]