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
September News Wrap
"Deaths, promotions, and other tidbits from the religion world"
Current IssueManga Mania
Subscriber Access Only
Manga Mania
The Japanese Bible series has sold more than the Jesus Storybook Bible. So why is it not taking off in Japan?
RecommendedHow Methodists Invented Your Kid's Grape Juice Sugar High
How Methodists Invented Your Kid's Grape Juice Sugar High
The weird story behind the church's go-to communion wine substitute.
TrendingOld Hollywood’s Abortion Secret
Old Hollywood’s Abortion Secret
What a culture of death tells us about a culture of life.
Editor's PickHow Science Became a Weapon in the Mommy Wars
How Science Became a Weapon in the Mommy Wars
Peer-reviewed research intensifies parenting debates… and can leave us even more confused.
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.