Biblical Archaeology Review 28:6, November/December 2002

Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus

Earliest archaeological evidence of Jesus found in Jerusalem

By André Lemaire

Amazing as it may sound, a limestone bone box (called an “ossuary”) has surfaced in Israel that may once have contained the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. We know this because an extraordinary inscription incised on one side of the ossuary reads in clear Aramaic letters: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

But is this the same James who was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, or was this another James, whose father happened to be called Joseph and who happened coincidentally also to have a brother named Jesus?

The ossuary is one of many now in a private collection in Israel. I have been permitted to study and photograph it. Very likely, it was found in Jerusalem or its environs. We know of hundreds of such ossuaries that have been recovered in the Holy City. Unfortunately, as is almost always the case with ossuaries that come from the antiquities market rather than from a legal excavation, it was emptied. What happened to the bones that were once inside it we do not know.

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