'The Most Important Extrabiblical Evidence of Its Kind'

A Bible expert explains the meaning of the inscription 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus' on the newly-discovered bone box

What's the importance of this find?

If, as seems probable, the ossuary found in the vicinity of Jerusalem anddated to about A.D. 63 is indeed the burial box of James the brother ofJesus, this inscription is the most important extrabiblical evidence ofits kind. It would confirm that James existed, was someone important, and was the brother of another early Jew who was very important--Jesus.




Above: Artists' rendering of the ossuary inscription.

Could the inscription be a forgery?

The inscription in cursive Aramaic sets a limit on the periodwhen it could have been written, and the careful checking of the characterssuggests the inscription is from the appropriate time period, not a laterforgery.

The inscription reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus", not"James, brother of Jesus, son of Joseph." We might have expected the latterif this was a forgery. Also, if we had the latter inscription it would raise some questions about Jesus' relationship with Joseph. As it is written, it simply tells us James' relationship to two of his close relatives--his father and his brother.

Could it be another Jesus and James? Weren't the names common?

What is unusual about the inscription is not the patronymic "son ofJoseph," but the reference to James's brother. This alone suggests that theJesus in question was someone well known and important, since it was not the usual practice to put one's brother's name on one's own ossuary.

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Biblical Archaeology Review on the frequency of the names: "The names James (Jacob), Joseph, and Jesus were all fairly common among Jews at the turn of the era. ...Rachel Hachlili has studied names used at this time in all types of inscriptions. Joseph appeared in 14 percent, Jesus in 9 percent, and James/Jacob in 2 percent of the cases. ...in Jerusalem during the two generations before 70 C.E., there were therefore about twenty people who could be called 'Jacob son of Joseph brother of Jesus.'" --Editor's note

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Do the Aramaic words for "brother" and "son" confirm that Jesus was a blood relation of both James and Joseph? Does the language leave room for the interpretation that they could have been half-brothers or stepsons?

The Aramaic word used on the ossuary, 'akhui,' certainly means brother. The order of the words in the inscription does not indicate that Jesus was the son of Joseph. The inscription intends to make clear the two closest male blood relatives of James. It is not commenting on Jesus' relationship with Joseph, but on James' relationship to Joseph and Jesus.

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