Catholic World News News Feature
Experts say inscription on "James' bone box" is fake June 18, 2003
Archeologists in Israel announced on Wednesday that the inscription on a burial box that proclaimed it once contained the bones of Jesus' brother, James, is a hoax. The scientists said that while the ossuary itself is real, the inscription itself is a forgery.
"The ossuary is real. But the inscription is fake. What this means is that somebody took a real box and forged the writing on it, probably to give it a religious significance," said Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, at a news conference.
The box and its Aramaic inscription had caused much tumult in recent months with speculation that it could be one of the greatest finds of biblical archeology as the earliest physical reference to Jesus. The carving proclaims, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." While the Gospels refer to Joseph as a close relation of Jesus, the Catholic Church interprets this to mean that he was a close male relation, but not a son of Mary. However, most Protestants interpret the passages more literally. James, who was the apostle granted care of Jerusalem, is believed to have been martyred in 62 AD.
Dr. Gideon Avni chaired a committee of experts who have been investigating the ossuary, or "bone box," since March. The committee concluded that "even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume the bones of Jesus's brother were inside," and that the stone of the box was more typical of Cyprus and northern Syria than ancient Israel. The committee's report said the inscription had been cut through the stone's patina, or natural fossilized sheen, and appeared to be in modern text, written by someone attempting to reproduce ancient biblical alphabets.
An Israeli collector said he purchased the ossuary in the 1970s, but had no idea of its significance until a French archeologist examined it last year. He has since said that he can't recall exactly from whom the box was purchased or where it originated.