Bone Box Probably Held Remains of Jesus' Brother James

Archaeological experts say that a limestone burial box, almost 2,000 years old, may provide the oldest record of Jesus of Nazareth.

The ossuary, as bone boxes are known, dates almost certainly to A.D. 63 and has an inscription in Aramaic which translates to: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," said Andre Lemaire, an expert in ancient writing who identified the box in Jerusalem last spring.

The boxes commonly were used by Jewish families between 20 B.C. and A.D. 70 to store the bones of their loved ones.

(Editor's note: author J. Grant Swank notes that Josephus, first century Jewish historian, wrote that "the brother of Jesus...James by name" was martyred by stoning in A.D. 62. "If his bones were stored in a box, such could date to A.D. 63," Swank commented.)

CNN noted that Aramaic, was the lingua franca of the Middle East for many centuries. At the time of Jesus' life, Aramaic was the common language of the Jews.

Writing about his findings in the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Lemaire, who teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris, called it "very probable" that the box belonged to Jesus' brother James, who by Christian tradition was the leader of the early church in Jerusalem.

Some scholars expressed doubt that the box, which is 20 inches long by 11 inches wide, could be definitively linked to Jesus. "We may never be absolutely certain. In the work I do we're rarely absolutely certain about anything," said Kyle McCarter, a Johns Hopkins University archaeologist, who said that the finding was probable, but that he had "a bit of doubt."

While most scholars agree that Jesus existed, no physical evidence from the first century has ever been conclusively tied with his life.

Lemaire said out of hundreds of such boxes found with Aramaic writing only two contain mentions of a brother. From this, scholars infer that the brother was noted only when he was someone important.

Lemaire estimates there could have been as many as 20 Jameses in the city with brothers named Jesus and fathers named Joseph. But it is unlikely there would have been more than one James who had a brother of such importance that it merited having him mentioned on his ossuary, Lemaire said.

Two scientists from the Israeli government's geological survey tested the box last month, inspecting the surface patina and inscription under a microscope. They concurred that the object is more than 19 centuries old, the archaeology magazine reported.

"It's hard to avoid the conclusion that these three names refer to the personages so identified in the New Testament," said Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The owner is reported to be a collector of ancient Jewish artifacts. The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought the box some 15 years ago from an antique dealer for $200 to $700, Shanks said.

Plans are under way to exhibit the box at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, during the annual meeting of Bible scholars in November, Shanks said.

Adapted from Jeordan Legon's article for CNN

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