Evidence of Jesus Said To Be Found On Bone Box Artifact
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A limestone bone box, which has spent the past 15 years in the hands of a private collector, may provide the first major non-biblical corroboration of the existence of Jesus.
Recently discovered artifact rocks scientific community
by Lori Arnold
The 20-inch box, called an ossuary, bears the Aramaic inscription Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui diYeshua, which translates "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
The Biblical Archaeology Society, which monitors digs worldwide, made the announcement of the discovery in an Oct. 21 news conference. Full details of the ossuary are featured in the November-December edition of the society's magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review.
The Review's Managing Editor Steve Feldman-while acknowledging that the finding is not definitive-said the box could become one of the most important findings in New Testament archaeology.
"There are few artifacts that could be linked directly to a New Testament figure," he said.
Citing the book, "Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts," by authors John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, Feldman said the authors ranked the 1990 finding of an ossuary belonging to Joseph the son of Caiaphas-the high priest who turned Jesus over to Pilate-in the No.1 slot in its Top 10 list of artifacts.
"There is no question that this ossuary would jump to the top," Feldman said.
Because the artifact was discovered in the hands of a private collector and not in an excavation site, scientists and scholars are cautiously optimistic the ossuary is a legitimate artifact authenticating the biblical accounts of Jesus and his brother, James, a leader of the early New Testament Christian church.
"It's important that whenever you find something in the antiquities market, rather than in an archeological excavation, you have to ask yourself, 'Is it a forgery?'" Feldman said. "You lose the archeological context, but it still has very important value on the religious front and on the academic front."
Collectors shunned by scientists
The box's significance emerged this summer after the unnamed owner approached Andre Lemaire, a noted French paleographer, about authenticating the artifact. According to the Review, the man purchased the box through an Arab antiquities dealer 15 years ago.
Many scientists and scholars shun the practice of such purchases saying they contribute to the practice of grave digging, which destroys vital archaeological evidence.
"All of the scholars that I know of have accepted that it's not a forgery," Feldman said.
"We may never be absolutely certain," said Kyle McCarter, an archaeologist from Johns Hopkins University, in an interview with CNN. "In the work I do we're rarely absolutely certain about anything."
McCarter said although the finding was probable, he had "a bit of doubt."
Before releasing the information to the public, the 27-year-old magazine subjected the artifact to several tests, which are outlined in the article, written by Lemaire. As a result of those tests, the specialist writes that he believes it is "very probable" that the box belonged to Jesus' brother.
Last month, the box's surface patina was tested. Results showed that the patina is at least 19 centuries old and, according to the Geological Survey of Israel which conducted the laboratory tests, the box's limestone is consistent with samples found in Jerusalem, particularly in the area of the Village of Silwan, a ridge south of Jerusalem that contains ancient burial caves.
Other clues yielded by the ossuary include its actual customs. According to the article, the boxes were commonly used by Jewish families between 20 B.C and 70 A.D. The practice was to unearth the remains after a year, placing the bones in the ossuaries. The practice was discontinued after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.
Inscription practices yield clues
While the use of ossuaries was quite common at that time, the inscriptions, the expert said, were not.
In addition, a microscopic study of the inscription, written on the box's side, showed that the cursive writing used on the box was rare and limited to about 10 to 70 A.D.
"Ancient inscriptions are typically found on royal monuments or on lavish tombs, commemorating rulers and other official figures," reads an article summary posted on the magazine's Web site. "But Jesus, who was raised by a carpenter, was a man of the people, so finding documentation of his family is doubly unexpected."
Based on these findings and several other cultural clues, Lemaire, a professor at Sorbonne University in Paris, dates the box to 63 A.D.
Among the cultural customs cited by Lemaire was the inclusion of James' brother's name on the box.
"Although all three names were common in ancient times, the statistical probability of their appearing in that combination is extremely slim," the Web summary read. "In addition, the mention of a brother is unusual-indicating that this Jesus must have been a well-known figure."
According to a statistical study by Lemaire, it was estimated that there were only about 20 such name combinations existing in the region during that era.
Feldman, the managing editor, said that since the ossuary news conference, another statistician provided information suggesting the combination was even less common, perhaps one-third fewer possibilities than those suggested by Lemaire.
Regardless, Feldman said that he believes the inscription is the crowning jewel of the artifact.
"To me, the clincher is the mention of Jesus, the brother," the editor said. "The idea of mentioning the brother was not common at all."
Feldman said he's optimistic that the discovery will breathe new life into archaeological efforts in the Holy Land.
"I'm hoping this gives a boost to archeology in general in Israel, but it's a very hard time because of the political climate in Israel," he said. Still there are skeptics.
Damage incurred on trip to Canada
The box sustained serious damage while being shipped during late October to Toronto, Canada, where it was to be featured at an international archaeological conference. According to the Associated Press, the ossuary incurred large cracks during the trip, but remained whole.
"The box was badly damaged, but still intact," Dan Rahimi, director of the Royal Ontario Museum, told AP. "It's very serious damage, but not unusual for a limestone box of this age."
The Israel Antiquities Authority, which monitors archaeological finds, granted an export license several weeks ago before the possible significance of the item was revealed. It will now have to wait until early next year before examining the ossuary.
For more information, log on to its Web site at bib-arch.org.