Jerusalem, June 18 (Reuters): Israeli archaeological experts today said an inscription on an ancient stone box suggesting it once contained the bones of Jesus’ brother, James, was a forgery.
The burial box and its Aramaic inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” had excited speculation that it could be the earliest physical reference to the founder of Christianity outside the New Testament.
But the director of Israel’s Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, called it a hoax.
“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,” Dorfman said after a news conference on the matter.
James, who was believed to have been stoned to death in 62 AD, is mentioned in the Gospels as Jesus’ brother. Jews and Protestants accept this but Catholics — who believe Christ’s mother Mary was a virgin all her life — say he was a cousin.
Dr Gideon Avni, the archaeologist who chaired a committee of archaeological experts investigating the find’s provenance since March, told reporters the conclusion was unanimous.
The committee concluded that “even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume the bones of Jesus’ brother were inside,” and the stone of the box was more typical of Cyprus and northern Syria than ancient Israel.
The committee’s report said the inscription of the “James Ossuary” cut through the stone’s patina, or natural fossilised sheen, and appeared to be in modern text, written by someone attempting to reproduce ancient biblical fonts.