Pilgrims who travel to Israel to walk where Jesus walked may soon have something new to connect them with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Scholars have recently examined a box carved out of soft limestone, made to hold the bones of a first-century Jew. On its side is carved an Aramaic inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

The bone box, known as an ossuary, is in the hands of a private collector in Jerusalem. But its existence, revealed in a news conference today in Washington, D.C., has already generated a buzz among archaeologists and biblical scholars.

The news conference was convened by Biblical Archaeological Review, which reports "an archaeological landmark" in its November-December issue. The ossuary was not uncovered in an archaeological excavation, but apparently surfaced on the antiquities market. This means that potentially important evidence for evaluating the box is missing.

But experts consulted by BAR and Christianity Today seem satisfied that it really is a 2,000-year old artifact. BAR editor Hershel Shanks asked for an analysis by the Geological Survey of Israel. Retired Wheaton College professor John McRay, author of Archaelogy and the New Testament, says the survey's lab report was convincing. "Six different pieces of the patina of the stone were looked at through that laboratory," he said. "It was verified, by people who are not Christians, that the date on this is first century and there is no evidence of recent disturbances of the box."

"I have no question it is an ancient artifact from the first century," said Eric Meyers, the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies and Director of the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University. "It appears to be the oldest extra-biblical, ...

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