Artifact of 'Brother of Jesus' Discovered
Bone container carries Aramaic inscription 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus'; archaeologist certifies first-century date.
BY: Richard N. Ostling
WASHINGTON (AP) - A burial box that was recently discovered in Israel and dates to the first century could be the oldest archaeological link to Jesus Christ, according to a French scholar whose findings were published Monday.
An inscription in the Aramaic language--"James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"--appears on an empty ossuary, a limestone burial box for bones.
Andre Lemaire said it's "very probable" the writing refers to Jesus of Nazareth. He dates the ossuary to A.D. 63, just three decades after the crucifixion.
Above: Artists' rendering of the ossuary inscription.
Lemaire, a specialist in ancient inscriptions at France's Practical School of Higher Studies, published his findings in the November/December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
The Rev. Joseph Fitzmyer, a Bible professor at Catholic University who studied photos of the box, agrees with Lemaire that the writing style ``fits perfectly'' with other first century examples. The joint appearance of these three famous names is ``striking,'' he said.
``But the big problem is, you have to show me the Jesus in this text is Jesus of Nazareth, and nobody can show that,'' Fitzmyer said.
Lemaire writes that the distinct writing style, and the fact that Jews practiced ossuary burials only between 20 B.C. and A.D. 70, puts the inscription squarely in the time of Jesus and James, who led the early church in Jerusalem.
All three names were commonplace, but Lemaire estimates only 20 Jameses in Jerusalem during that era would have had a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus.
Moreover, naming the brother as well as the father on an ossuary was ``very unusual,'' Lemaire wrote. There's only one other known example in Aramaic. Thus, this particular Jesus must have had some unusual role or fame - and Jesus of Nazareth certainly qualified, Lemaire concluded.
However, Kyle McCarter, a Johns Hopkins University archaeologist, said it's possible the brother was named because he conducted the burial or owned the tomb.
The archaeology magazine said two Israeli government scientists conducted a detailed microscopic examination of the surface and the inscription, reporting last month that nothing undercuts first century authenticity.
Lemaire's claim was attacked by Robert Eisenman of California State University, Long Beach, who unlike most scholars thinks that ``Jesus' existence is a very shaky thing.'' Since Eisenman is highly skeptical about New Testament history, he considers the new discovery ``just too pat. It's just too perfect.''
Virtually all that is known about Jesus comes from the New Testament. No physical artifact from the first century related to him has been discovered and verified.
James is depicted as Jesus' brother in the Gospels and head of the Jerusalem church in the Book of Acts and Paul's epistles.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus recorded that ``the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James by name,'' was stoned to death as a Jewish heretic in A.D. 62. If his bones were placed in an ossuary the inscription would have occurred the following year, around A.D. 63.