Burial box may be
oldest find linked to Jesus
Seattle Times Oct. 22,
The Washington Post and The Associated
WASHINGTON ‑ A limestone
burial box dating to the first century, looted from a Jerusalem cave
secretly in a private collection in Israel, could be the oldest
link to Jesus Christ, according to a French scholar whose findings were
An inscription in the
language ‑ "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" ‑
appears on the empty ossuary, a burial box for bones.
Andre Lemaire said
it's "very probable" that the
writing refers to Jesus of Nazareth. He dates the ossuary to 63 A.D., just three decades after the crucifixion.
Examinations by other scholars and scientists supported his conclusions
the age of the box and authenticity of the inscription.
However, because the
looted, it's impossible to know for certain where it came from, and
known about its history over the past 19 centuries.
specialist in ancient Aramaic and Hebrew at the Sorbonne,
was invited by the ossuary's owner to examine it this spring. His
published in the November/December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
visit, other scholars and scientists have examined and analyzed the
seeking to expose it for a fake or otherwise show that it could not be
ossuary that once held the bones of St. James, founder of the Christian
of Jerusalem and, in the words of St. Paul to the Galatians, "the
So far the ossuary
withstood scrutiny, but even those who have studied it, such as the
Fitzmyer, an emeritus biblical studies and
expert at The Catholic University, concede that "it will always be
"The problem is how
you determine that the people involved are the people in the New
Testament?" Fitzmyer said. "It's certainly
possible that they are, but I can't see going beyond that."
The Jewish custom of
ossuaries to collect the remains of the deceased lasted from about 20 B.C. until the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Corpses lay in long caves for a year until
soft tissue fell away, after which the bones were placed in a box and
Historians say St.
stoned to death around 62 or 63 A.D. for
divinity of Christ.
Until the ossuary's
appearance, the earliest known artifact mentioning Jesus was a papyrus
of the Gospel of John, dated about 125 A.D.
discovered in Egypt in 1920.
While James is
"brother" of Jesus not only in St. Paul's epistles but also in the
Gospel of Matthew, there are three different interpretations of the
that James is a full blood brother of Jesus, while the orthodox
him as the son of Joseph by a previous marriage. Roman Catholic
suggested that "brother" is an idiom, and that James was Jesus'
Shanks said the James ossuary was looted and sold to the owner 15 years
between $200 and $700. "The Arab dealer told the owner it came from Silwan," Shanks said, a Jerusalem suburb
with ancient tombs.
the owner of the ossuary "didn't know about Christian traditions" and
had little interest in them.
his attention because of its length," which could indicate that the box
held the remains of a titled person, he said.
The ossuary is about
long, slightly trapezoidal in shape and with a slightly convex lid.
the owner that his ossuary was "interesting," but he knew the box
posed immediate and serious questions: How likely was it that the names
Joseph and Jesus ‑ all popular in New Testament Jerusalem ‑
referred to the biblical family?
Was the Aramaic
old as the box, or had it been etched in later to enhance its value?
cursive lettering used in the inscription match characters used in
scripts from the same era?
And even if these
were answered satisfactorily, could scholars ever overcome the fact
box was looted and that nothing is known about its history over the
centuries? Probably not.
"If it's looted,
archaeologists would say it's useless, because we have no idea where it
from, and it has no context," said Glenn Schwartz, a specialist in Near
Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University. "Also, the object, if
would be hugely valuable, so anybody interested in forging it would
make it as
believable as possible."
ossuary passed all its tests. Scientists from the Geological Survey of
confirmed that the limestone ossuary was typical of biblical Jerusalem.
Survey also said its surface patina matched patina in the grooves of
inscription characters, indicating that the box and inscription were
at first puzzled by some of the Aramaic characters but found them used
book of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
calculated that there statistically could have been perhaps 20 people
Jerusalem's population of 80,000 at the time who fulfilled the
being "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
And while mentioning
father of the deceased on an ossuary is relatively common, a brother's
appears only if the brother paid for the funeral, "or if the brother is
famous," Shanks said. "That certainly would be the case here."
empty ossuary, (picture has
been removed for simple e-mail
format) or limestone burial box for bones,
has been dated to the era of Jesus
Aramaic inscription on the
ossuary reads, 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. " The burial
artifact that was recently discovered in Israel has been dated to 63 A.D. It apparently was looted from a Jerusalem
then sold, which mars its archaeological authenticity.
BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW / THE ASSOCIATED