Scrutiny Continues on a Burial Box Linked to Jesus' Kin

Israelis Studying Ancient Ossuary

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

JERUSALEM, MARCH 20, 2003 ( The box purported to have once held the bones of «James, brother of Jesus» is now facing scrutiny by Israeli officials.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has set up two commissions of archaeologists, geologists and language specialists to study the box, which bears the Aramaic inscription, »James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,» the Associated Press reported.

Israeli and French scholars believe the box dates between A.D. 50 and 70. Jews used burial boxes, or ossuaries, up until about 70.

Depending on the translation of the New Testament, St. James (the Less) appears as part of Jesus’ «brethren» or his «brother,» and according to tradition he was the first bishop of Jerusalem. reports that Israeli Oded Golan bought the box from an antiques dealer in the 1970s and didn’t realize the significance of the box until recently, when it was examined by Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne.

Lemaire, a paleographer or expert in ancient writing, recognized the potential connection to the family of Christ. Lemaire published the finding in the November issue of the Biblical Archaeological Review magazine.

According to Biblical Archaeological Review’s Web site, «Laboratory tests performed by the Geological Survey of Israel confirm that the box’s limestone comes from the Jerusalem area. The patina — a thin sheen or covering that forms on stone and other materials over time — has the cauliflower-type shape known to develop in a cave environment; more importantly, it shows no trace of modern elements.»

Paleographer Rochelle Altman stated in her «Final Report on the James Ossuary» at that while the first part of the inscription («James son of Joseph») dates to the first century, the second part («brother of Jesus») shows signs of being written by a different hand at a later date, which she estimated to be the third or fourth century.

Early Christians recorded their belief that James was Jesus’ stepbrother in the «Protoevangelium of James,» which was written in A.D. 120 — within 60 years of James’ death. According to the Protoevangelium, Joseph was an elderly widower at the time he was betrothed to Mary. He already had a family and thus was willing to become the guardian of a virgin consecrated to God.

The stepbrother hypothesis was the most common explanation of the brethren of the Lord until St. Jerome popularized the cousin hypothesis just before the year 400. Aramaic has no word for «cousin,» so the word «brother» was used in its place.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation