Guest / Limited Access /

The aramaic inscription on the ancient limestone burial box says simply, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Unveiled a year ago, those few words on a prosaic 2,000-year-old ossuary launched a media frenzy and ignited a political row among archaeologists and Bible scholars. They've also made the ossuary's owner, a self-described collector of antiquities, into a polarizing international figure.

Owner Oded Golan, 52, is a quiet engineer from Tel Aviv. He says he bought the ossuary from an antiquities dealer in the 1970s for a few hundred dollars. Last year, Golan invited one of the world's leading experts on ancient inscriptions to examine the ossuary.

The scholar, André Lemaire of the Sorbonne in Paris, quickly became convinced that the ossuary—21 inches by 12 inches by 10 inches—was a fixture from the grave of James, "the Lord's brother," the leader of the Christian movement in first-century Jerusalem after the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Biblical Archaeology Society in Washington asked the Geological Survey of Israel to analyze the ossuary. The GSI found no reason to doubt its authenticity. Last October, the BAS presented the bone box as authentic. It published the findings of Lemaire and the GSI in its flagship publication, Biblical Archaeology Review. Hershel Shanks, BAR's editor, called the ossuary "the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology."

But some archaeologists immediately questioned the bone box because it was reportedly bought from an antiquities dealer and not excavated by professional archaeologists under controlled conditions. In June the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), with a history of hostility toward collectors such as Golan, called the inscription a fabrication. Director ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only
The Joy of Suffering in Sri Lanka
How Christians thrive in the land where ethnic and religious strife is always just around the corner
Current IssueLearning to Love Our Gut Bacteria
Subscriber Access Only
Learning to Love Our Gut Bacteria
Trillions of foreign creatures in and on our bodies shape our health, desires, and behavior. Here's why they matter.
RecommendedThe Real History of the Crusades
Subscriber Access Only
The Real History of the Crusades
A series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics? Think again.
TrendingSpeak Truth to Trump
Speak Truth to Trump
Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump's blatant immorality.
Editor's PickThe Year of Living Hopelessly
The Year of Living Hopelessly
2016 tempted us toward nihilism. We don’t have to go there.
Christianity Today
Biblical Archaeology's Dusty Little Secret
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2003

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.