Jesus and the Ossuaries -- By: Craig A. Evans

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 13:1 (NA 2003)
Article: Jesus and the Ossuaries
Author: Craig A. Evans


Jesus and the Ossuaries

Craig A. Evans

Acadia Divinity College

The recently publicized “James” ossuary is only one more remarkable archaeological find that may have significance for research into the life of Jesus and early Christian history. Further scientific study of this ossuary is needed before its authenticity and the controversial “brother of Jesus” portion of the inscription can be accepted. Review of other ossuary inscriptions, as well as three nonossuary inscriptions, will provide perspective and context for assessing the importance of this new find.

Key Words: Jesus, ossuaries, inscriptions, Caiaphas, Pilate, James brother of Jesus

The recent announcement of the existence of the James ossuary, a bone box that may have contained the skeletal remains of the brother of Jesus, has created yet another media sensation focused on Christian origins.1 It is but one of seven ossuaries2 that may have direct

bearing on the life, ministry, and death of Jesus, and the origins of the Christian movement. The six previously discovered and publicized ossuaries have advanced our knowledge of first-century life (and death) in the land of Israel. As amazing as it may seem, these ossuaries may have contained the remains of the high priest Caiaphas, who delivered Jesus to the Roman authorities; the remains of Alexander, the son of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross; the remains of a man who had been crucified at about the same time Jesus was executed; and the remains of a first-century descendant of King David.

It will be helpful to review together all seven of these ossuaries and their inscriptions. Three other archaeological finds—the Pilate stone from Caesarea Maritima, Caesar’s edict against grave robbery, and the Jerusalem Temple warning—though not ossuaries, also deserve review in this context.3 Let us consider these ten items in the order of their discovery and publication.

The Jewish Temple Warning Inscription—1871

In 1871 Charles Clermont-Ganneau found a limestone block (about 85 cm in length, about 57 cm in height, and about 37 cm thick), on which was inscribed a warning to Gentiles to stay out of the perimeter surrounding the sanctuary.4 A fragment of a second inscription was found in 1935 outside the wall around Jerusalem’s Old City.5

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