James Ossuary Surfaces in Jerusalem -- By: Michael Ireland

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 15:4 (Fall 2002)
Article: James Ossuary Surfaces in Jerusalem
Author: Michael Ireland

James Ossuary Surfaces in Jerusalem

Michael Ireland

The discovery of an inscription which seems to mention James, the brother of Jesus Christ, was announced at a news conference in Washington DC October 21, 2002. “It may not change the way most of us perceive the personalities of early Christianity, but a University of Wisconsin-Madison archaeologist calls it a major discovery, nonetheless,” said Gordon Govier, executive producer and host, The Book and the Spade radio program, in a copyrighted story in Christianity Today (www.christianitytoday.com). The inscription is in Aramaic, one of the languages of the New Testament period, and says, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” It is etched on the side of an ossuary, a box carved out of soft limestone, typically used as a bone container in the tombs of the first century AD Jews.

The news conference was convened by Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), which reports on what it calls “an archaeological landmark” in its November-December issue. “This discovery fits in well with the increasing understanding of scholars that the Christian faith is deeply rooted in the Judaism in which Jesus and His early followers were participants,” says Professor Keith Schoville, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies and author of the textbook Biblical Archaeology in Focus. “This is the most recent indicator of what is evident already through a close reading of the New Testament documents, but an indicator often overlooked. It was in the aftermath of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70 that the rift, between Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah and those who did not, widened into a seemingly irreparable chasm,” he added.

Limestone ossuary (bone box) with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” There can be little doubt that this was the ossuary for the remains of James, the brother of Jesus, mentioned in the New Testament (Mt 13:55, etc.). The inscription is remarkable in that it is the first time the name of Jesus, any of his family or early followers, has been found in an inscription from the first century.

BAR editor Hershel Shanks, in a phone interview, said the ossuary had been in the private collection of an Israeli citizen for about 15 years. “I asked the owner why he didn’t recognize it. He said, ‘I never thought that the Son of God could have a brother.’” Shanks became aware of its existence in June after the owner had contacted French epigrapher André Lem...

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