Does James's bone box destroy Roman Catholic teaching of Mary's perpetual virginity?
With the Washington sniper case, a U.N. declaration on Iraq in the works, and other major stories, the discovery of James's ossuary doesn't get much press today. But where it does, the issue seems to be its implications on Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox teachings of Mary's perpetual virginity.
"The theological implications really turn on interpretation of 'brother' in the New Testament," Biblical Archeology Review editor Hershel Shanks said on PBS's Newshour (audio) last night. "If James was the son of Joseph and Mary, and a younger brother of Jesus, this has implications for the perpetual virginity of Mary. If he was an older brother, there are some scholars who say that the virgin birth was a symbolic virginity and a metaphor for purity. That's another question. And then you have the Orthodox tradition that James was the son of Joseph by a previous marriage. That would fit in with this. That's okay."
Ben Witherington explains further in a Beliefnet column:
The Aramaic word used on the ossuary, akhui, certainly means brother. The order of the words in the inscription does not indicate that Jesus was the son of Joseph. The inscription intends to make clear the two closest male blood relatives of James. It is not commenting on Jesus' relationship with Joseph, but on James' relationship to Joseph and Jesus. There is some evidence, for example in Tobit, that occasionally the word 'brother' might mean something other than full brother, but without any qualification in the inscription the presumption must be that James was related to Jesus in the same way he was related to Joseph.
Both Aramaic and Greek have a separate word for male cousins. ...1