Inscribed on a stone box are the words at the center of more than a decade of religious and scholarly controversy: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
These words etched into a burial box spurred a 10-year investigation that would ultimately end in a man cleared of forgery accusations. But discussion as to whether this is the earliest reference to Jesus Christ and the validity of the last three words — “brother of Jesus” — continues.
The box, an ossuary where Jews would place the bones of a body after it laid a year in a cave, was purchase in the 1970s by collector Oded Golan, The Guardian reported.
Paris Sorbonne University Professor Andre Lemaire, several decades while the ossuary was in a Toronto museum exhibition in 2002, sparked controversy when he published his belief that the inscription was the earliest mention of Jesus.
Upon this claim, the Israel Antiquities Authority had an expert evaluate the box and its inscription. It was deemed a fake at the time by the authority, resulting in Golan’s arrest on the charges of forgery.
Ten years later, a judge found Golan innocent of this charge, and the box was returned to him in November 2013.
“The inscription is written in the Jewish script, it was done with a sharp instrument and I think it was done by the same hand. It is an authentic inscription,” Bar-Ilan University Professor Gabriel Barkay told The Guardian.
“There is no doubt that it’s ancient, and the probability is that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ,” Golan said, according to the newspaper.
Although acquitted of forgery charges, the judge in the case did not rule either way if the inscription was authentic: he only ruled that forgery could not be proven. Those skeptical about the inscription remain.
“Because of the differences in the depth and the clarity and the kerning between the first half of the inscription that mentions James son of Joseph, and the second half, I’d be willing to wager that the second half was added in modern times,” Albright Institute of Archaeological Research Professor Christopher Rollston told The Guardian.
The box, if valid, would present concrete evidence as to the existence of Jesus Christ and his family, something Catholic Online stated would turn “the atheist world upon its head.” But the publication also noted that if the controversy was more settled, it could also raise issues within Christian denominations as well.
“…it also would have raised questions for the Catholic Church as well as other faiths that believe Jesus had no brothers, as in born of Mary,” Catholic Online stated.
Other scholars might interpret the use of the word “brothers” to mean friends or cousins.
Watch this news report about a documentary film being made about the ossuary discovery before the judge’s ruling on the forgery case was issued in 2012:
While debate regarding the engraved words continues, Golan will soon put the ossuary on display to aid in scholarly discussion.