The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story and Significance of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus and His Family
By Hershel Shanks and Ben Witherington III
254 pp.; $24.95

In spite of the fact that it split into several pieces before the museum exhibit opened and it had to be glued back together, the ancient bone box (or "ossuary") managed to pack in the crowds. The Royal Ontario Museum was so impressed that it extended the limestone container's stay to accommodate more paying customers. This unusually large attendance did not signal a renewed popular interest in the discipline of archaeology. Rather, the motivation was religious. The crowds believed they were viewing a relic.

Only a handful of months after its discovery (in early 2002) in the hands of an Israeli antiquities collector, an ordinary burial box had reached the status of prized religious object. This was not due to its beauty or rarity but to the writing etched onto the side, which identified the bones that it used to contain. The Aramaic inscription read "Ya'cob son of Yosef brother of Yeshua." In modern English: James son of Joseph brother of Jesus.

Of course, the find didn't publicize itself. Biblical Archaeology Review, by far the most widely circulated journal of Middle Eastern archaeology in the world, ran a picture of the box on the cover of the November/December issue. The article, by André Lemaire, discoverer of the ossuary, argued that this was in fact the Jesus. Of Nazareth.

Lemaire reported that a battery of tests had been conducted to determine that the ossuary likely originated in first-century Palestine. The writing style and grammar were consistent with the early first century. And statistical analysis based on inscriptions and ...

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