An ancient stone box that purportedly once held the bones of Jesus’ brother is a fake, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said Wednesday in a press conference.
If authenticated, the inscription “James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus” on the box would have been the earliest known reference to Jesus outside of the Bible.
Experts said the container called an ossuary, which was used in ancient times to bury bones after they decomposed in tombs like the ones mentioned in the Bible, is authentic. The inscription, however, cuts through a patina covering the box, indicating it was added later.
”The inscriptions, possibly inscribed in two separate stages, are not authentic,” the Antiquities Authority said in a statement. ”The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters.”
Rochelle Altman, an expert on ancient scripts, examined the ossuary and wrote last fall that the box actually contains two inscriptions. The first, “Jacob son of Joseph” is authentic, while the second half of the inscription, “brother of Jesus” is “a poorly executed fake,” she wrote for the newsmagazine Israel Insider.
Altman said the forged inscription probably dates to the third or fourth century.
Oded Golan, the Israeli owner of the ossuary, which had been valued at $1 million to $2 million, dismissed officials’ findings and insisted the artifact is authentic.
Discovery of the James ossuary two years ago created a stir. Editors of Biblical Archaeology Review dated it to approximately 63 A.D., about the time tradition says James, founder of the New Testament church in Jerusalem and described in Galatians 1:19 as “the Lord’s brother,” died by stoning.
While James, John and Jesus all were common names of the era, scholars said it is unlikely that all three would have occurred together unless they in fact refer to the biblical characters. While mentioning the deceased’s father was common in such inscriptions, naming the brother was rare, implying he was an individual of importance.
Most of what is known of Jesus is through Scripture. He was mentioned briefly by non-Christian historians of the time, but archaeologists have never found any physical evidence to corroborate those writings.
Only a few ancient artifacts mention figures from the New Testament. One is the ossuary of Caiphas, the high priest whom the Bible says turned Jesus over to the Romans, which was uncovered in 1990. An inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate was discovered about 40 years ago.
Israeli officials Wednesday also pronounced another archaeological marvel, the “Joash inscription,” a stone tablet written in Hebrew detailing improvements to the Temple, was a forgery.