Investigating the Authenticity of the James Ossuary

Some linguistic experts agree that two different people carved the inscription on the James ossuary.

Reprinted with permission from Crosswalk.

There is no way to prove or disprove the authenticity of the ossuary. In the first installment of this topic we did affirm that the ossuary box is an authentic first century ossuary. There is no debate about this fact. The issue for us is whether or not this is the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. There is no way we can prove whether or not this burial box is related to James the brother of Jesus. However, there is circumstantial evidence to support one side of the debate. But here we will consider the evidence that the inscription is not authentic.

The entire case against the authenticity of the James ossuary box is rooted in the inscription found on the side of the box. There are essentially three issues associated with questions about the inscription.

First of all, some experts feel that the second portion of the inscription is not authentic. The inscription reads, "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Scientists who examined the ossuary concluded that two different people etched the two phrases, "James son of Joseph, and brother of Jesus." In part one, the script is formal. Some of the letters contain a distinctive oriental writing style. The yods (Hebrew/Aramaic y's) are consistent in size and cannot be mistaken for the vavs (Hebrew/Aramaic v's).

The person who carved the first part of the inscription, "James son of Joseph," was most likely a surviving member of the deceased's family. He was educated and fully literate and clearly familiar with the formal script of 1st century Aramaic.


The second half of the inscription is informal. The two `ayins' are completely different from each other and differ yet again from the ayin in part 1. When we compare the yods, we can also immediately see that this is a different person writing. First of all, the yod in 'brother of' and the first yod are written as vavs. With the model of the correct way to write the yod-ayin right in front of his nose on 'Jacob', there is no reason at all for the extended vav or the extra vav. None of the forms in the second part agree with the script of the first part.

The person who wrote the second part may have been literate, but it is doubtful that he was literate in Aramaic or Hebrew. Again, aberrant spelling is dismissed as dialectic. True, there are dialectic variants, but there is always some linguistic logic behind these variants. There is nothing logical about these misspellings. They smell of someone guessing how the words "brother of" and the name "Joshua" would have been spelled a few hundred years earlier. Once again, the writing in this part is internally consistent in its semi-literacy. Part 2 has the characteristics of a later addition by someone attempting to imitate an unfamiliar script and write in an unfamiliar language.

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