by Acharya S/D.M. Murdock
(NB: This article was published in a three-part series in the magazine Secular Nation, at the suggestion of Dr. Robert Price, who called the series “fine articles.” Secular Nation had never published a three-part article before.)
In the week of October 21, 2002, headlines around the world screamed that evidence of Jesus Christ had been found in the form of an ossuary, or bone-box, supposedly once containing the bones of “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” as was inscribed on the box in Aramaic. The original scholar who reported this spectacular find, the Sorbonne’s biblical expert Andre Lemaire, “born a Catholic,” concluded it was “very probable” that the inscription referred to Jesus of Nazareth, i.e., Jesus Christ. The ossuary, therefore, would supposedly be that of the biblical “James the Just,” who is referred to as Jesus’s “brother” at Matthew 13:55 and Galatians 1:19. Naturally, Christian apologists and fanatics rubbed their hands together, and gleefully and smugly bombarded nonbelievers with the news via email. But was there really some wondrous “new proof” of Jesus that would set the record straight once and for all, or was it all another bit of faithful flotsam?
In actuality, it seems to be time once again for the world’s religious handlers to pull out another holy relic in order to bolster up the flagging faith. Such shenanigans have been behind the incessant news releases regarding the Shroud of Turin (a more bogus relic there never was), the recent “depiction” of what Jesus would have looked like (a Neanderthal), and the never-ending slew of books concerning the “real Jesus,” who invariably resembles the authors of said books. To those who have been around a while and have developed a jaundiced eye, this latest “find” is yet more of the same “evidence.”
The original Biblical Archaeology Review article that scooped this story was blatant and injudicious in its pronouncements, flatly stating that “This container [ossuary] provides the only New Testament-era mention of the central figure of Christianity and is the first-ever archaeological discovery to corroborate Biblical references to Jesus.”
Hillary Mayell, writing for the National Geographic (10/21/02), said, “Researchers may have uncovered the first archaeological evidence that refers to Jesus as an actual person and identifies James, the first leader of the Christian church, as his brother.”
The article on MSNBC’s website regarding the ossuary stated, “No physical artifact from the first century related to him has been discovered and verified.”
CNN’s Jeordan Legon, in an article entitled, “Scholars: Oldest Evidence of Jesus?” writes, “While most scholars agree that Jesus existed, no physical evidence from the first century has ever been conclusively tied with his life.”
Newsweek‘s Kenneth Woodward opens his article, “A Clue to Jesus?” (11/4/02) by stating:
“Although Jesus of Nazareth is a universally recognized figure, no one has ever found any evidence for his existence apart from texts.”
Rossella Lorenzi’s article in Discovery News is entitled “First Proof of Jesus Found?” This title allows for a couple of interpretations, including that the bone box is the earliest evidence yet discovered. However, in the initial sentence Lorenzi says, “The first archaeological evidence of Jesus’ existence has come to light…,” and she repeats that “the new find would be the first archaeological discovery to corroborate Biblical references to Jesus,” indicating the proper interpretation of the headline to be that there was no prior evidence.
Moreover, Dan Rahimi, the “director of collections” for the museum where it is being housed, stated, ”A lot of people accept the reality of Jesus as a historical figure but don’t accept him as Christ, and to use the words ‘before Christ’ is really quite ethnocentric of European Christians…” The article reporting this comment also relates, “Even the date of Jesus’ own birth has been disputed for centuries, with many scholars asserting it took place between 4 and 7 B.C., in the autumn months.”
On their face value, such headlines and comments imply that there has never been any other proof of Jesus ever found. Such an assertion is quite astounding, considering that Jesus Christ was supposedly a man who shook up the world and purportedly has been supernaturally in charge of the cosmos for the past 2,000 years! What these remarks regarding the “only New Testament-era mention,” “first-ever archaeological discovery,” “first archaeological evidence,” “oldest evidence,” and “first proof” reflect is that there has previously been no direct evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed. Moreover, the comment that “a lot of people accept the reality of Jesus as a historical figure” implies that many people recognize this dearth of evidence and do not accept him as “historical figure.” In addition, the admission that Jesus’s birth date is basically unknown further undermines his “historical reality.”
Ossuaries Not Uncommon
Sending thrills through the Christian community, Lemaire dated the ossuary and inscription to 63 CE, which places it squarely in the time of active Christian church-building. Although the faithful believe that this astonishing pronouncement was rooted in science, Lemaire’s precise dating is based on the a priori assumption that the find is indeed the bone-box of James the Just, the disciple whose death is assigned by Christians to the year 62 CE. Nevertheless, it is not the case that the ossuary contains an inscribed date or is conclusively dated by other means to exactly 63 CE and must therefore represent the burial box of James the Just. In other words, the dating is based on circular reasoning: Since James died in 62 CE, and since this is apparently his ossuary, it must date to 63 CE, when his bones would have been placed in it. There is no proof, however, that James died in that year or that this is his ossuary. Yet, triumphant apologists will falsely claim that this ossuary has conclusively been proved to be that of James and to date to exactly the right time! As is well known to those who have scientifically investigated so many previous Christian claims, apologists constantly use this type of flawed logic. To repeat, even though news reports make it seem the box itself contains this very date, in reality the dating of 63 CE attached to this particular ossuary is based on the tradition of James’s death, not because the box possesses a dated inscription or there is some other precise dating method.
According to CNN, the “Israeli government’s geological survey test” concluded that “the object is more than 19 centuries old,” but the author cites BAR as the source, and this particular statement does not appear on the BAR website article. Jewsweek.com’s Debra Berman reports, “The Geological Survey of Israel conducted electron-microscope tests on the box that proved the inscription was not added at a later date; no traces of modern elements were found.” Apparently, however, this claim is erroneous, as another Jewsweek writer, Rochelle Altman, debunks the last part of the inscription. Hence, such “scientific” tests are questionable; even if the entire inscription were genuine, electron-microscope dating could not pinpoint the exact year. Even carbon-dating, which is used to date organic remains, not stone, has an error factor of + or -150 years. Hence, this limestone box, which is nevertheless apparently fairly old, based on the fact that it cracked severely during transport, could date from another century altogether, particularly the two to three following Jesus’s purported advent. Supposedly also the box was heavily damaged specifically by a crack in the inscription. The ossuary’s handlers have been surprisingly careless, especially considering how priceless would be this artifact, were it and/or its inscription genuine.
In “First Proof of Jesus Found?,” Lorenzi uses another tactic that is convincing at first glance: She states that during the first century these ossuaries were used in “the second of a two-stage burial process, when bones of the deceased were transferred from burial caves.” By saying “In the first century,” the writer is implying that such a use is unique to that century, thus giving the find even more credibility as deriving from the correct era.
Although these enthusiastic newsbites make it seem otherwise, the James ossuary is not unusual, nor is it necessarily dated to the convenient year of 63 CE. In giving his contrived date a professional flourish, Lemaire also claimed the box must date from the first century because it fits in with when “Jews” used ossuaries, between 20 BCE and 70 CE. While it may be argued that “Jews,” i.e., members of the tribe of Judah and territory of Judea, used ossuaries “only” between those dates, it is quite clear that their predecessors, Canaanites, Israelites and Hebrews, utilized them for centuries prior to that. The site of Hederah in northern Israel, for example, yielded numerous fragments and complete ossuaries, some of which were in the exact square shape as that of James’s. There were other shapes as well, including one that resembled a house, with a peaked roof. These finds were dated by their discoverer, E.L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University, to the fourth millennium BCE. (Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, II, 496.) Sukenik concluded that these house-shaped vessels were akin to the “soul-houses” of the Egyptians and “house urns” of the Europeans. Finds at other sites that confirm these dates include those at Azor, Bene-Berek and Tel Aviv. (EAEHL, II, 496.) As we can see, this type of vessel is not uncommon and does not necessarily date to the first centuries BCE-CE.
In actuality, the use of ossuaries even in the Palestine/Judea area dates back to at least the Second Temple Period and continued for several centuries into the Common Era. In other words, even “Jews” used ossuaries well beyond the fall of the Temple, i.e., 70 CE. Based on findings from the Jerusalem necropolis of the Second Temple Period (6th cent. BCE-70 CE), the editor of the Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations of the Holy Land, Michael Avi-Yonah, says, “The custom of re-internment of the bones (in ossuaries) was widespread among Jews at the end of the Second Temple Period and for several centuries afterwards. Numerous laws in the Mishnah and Talmud deal with the modes of burial and the form and size of tombs.” (Emphasis added.) These burials refer specifically to ossuaries, which were used once the flesh had decayed, leaving the bones alone. (EAEHL, II, 628.) Obviously, the ossuary-burial did not end in 70 CE, so Lemaire’s terminus a quem is erroneous, as is his terminus a quo. Hence, this ossuary and its inscription could date from any of several centuries, including the Constantinian era, when bogus relics and forged texts were all the rage. As can be seen, ossuaries in Jerusalem were fairly common as well, so that, if the James ossuary is bogus, its creator would have plenty of examples upon which to draw.
Furthermore, as Avi-Yonah states regarding the numerous bone-boxes found in the Tombs at Dominus Flevit, which contained “122 ossuaries of the usual type [square],” common names included Jeshua or Yeshua (Jesus) and Maria (Mary). (EAEHL, II, 636.) In one of the surviving family tombs in Jerusalem are 18 ossuaries with Greek inscriptions, one of which contains the names “Joseph” (twice) and “Maria.” (EAEHL, II, 635.) By the typical media and religious standards this tomb should have been exalted as that of Jesus’s family.
In another example, in the “Tomb Cave in the Talpiot Quarter, discovered in 1945,” are found large charcoal crosses on one of the ossuaries, while “two other ossuaries had Greek inscriptions reading IhsouV iou. IhsouV alwq,” a phrase that contains the name Jesus twice. “The excavator interpreted the crosses and the inscriptions as expressions of sorrow at the crucifixion of Jesus, an interpretation not accepted by other scholars.” The tomb itself dates to the beginning of the first century and demonstrates the commonality of the name Jesus before the purported time of the Christian messiah. (EAEHL, II, 635.) If this Jesus tomb had dated to a few decades later, no doubt the media and faithful would have had a field day in presenting it as the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, thus “proving” the biblical fable, although these two tombs mentioned herein would certainly infuriate the keepers and believers in the “Holy Sepulchre,” yet another profitable tourist attraction. It would be surprising that no such incautious and mirthful rush to judgment has occurred concerning this particular Jesus tomb. In reality, at least one sloppy sensationalist author has claimed this tomb to be that of “Jesus of Nazareth,” asserting that the tomb also contained the ossuaries of not only a Jesus, but also a Joseph, two Marys and a Jude. The excavation report, however, does not mention these other burials, leaving the question as to whether or not this particular author is prone to fiction, as is suggested by his other writings as well. As is evident, looks can be deceiving, such that caution should be utilized in regard to artifacts.
In Jerusalem there is even a “Tomb of Jason,” complete with an ossuary and a scratched image of a warship, which could lead to the conclusion that this is the tomb of the Jason of Greek mythology. “On the walls of the porch are charcoal drawings of ships, a Greek inscription, and several Aramaic inscriptions, the longest of which consists of three lines lamenting Jason, the deceased.” (EAEHL, II, 630) Using coins and pottery, the tomb is dated to having been used between the Hasmonean (2nd-1st cent. BCE) and the Herodian eras (37 BCE-70 CE). Although it is evidently the tomb of a real person of that era, true believers in the demigod Jason of Argonaut fame could attempt in the same manner as Christians to “prove” the existence of Jason and his Argonauts, such as Hercules, as “real people.”
The name or epithet “Jason,” meaning “healer” was commonly utilized in describing “Pagan” gods such as Asklepios, whose cult extended far and wide in the ancient Mediterranean world. As stated by Bronsen Wickkiser, fellow of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Asklepios was “known as a healer since Homer,” and his cult spread rapidly at the “beginning of the late fifth century B.C.” “So popular was he,” says Wickkiser, “that his sanctuaries spanned the ancient world, from Hispania in the west to Ecbatana in the east.” Hence, we have for several centuries prior to the Christian era a healing god–called “Iasios,” “Iesios,” i.e., Jason or Jesus–whose sanctuaries were widespread around the Mediterranean. A healer associated with these gods might be called a “brother of Jason” or a “brother of Jesus,” long before the Christian era. Indeed, all roads point to Christianity as an expose of the secret Pagan rituals that concerned a healing god with long curly hair who rose from the dead, etc. This particular designation of the “brother of Jesus” has been one of four that have been bandied about since early times. The news reports regarding the James ossuary mention only three: 1. James was Jesus’s blood brother, born of the Virgin Mary; 2. James was one of Josephs’s children by another marriage; or 3. James was Jesus’s “cousin.” These reports ignore what is likely the most appropriate, i.e., that “James” was a member of a brotherhood such as the Nazarites or Nazarenes.
As Frank Zindler points out, the “brother of Yeshua” (Joshua/Jesus) could also be translated “the brother of the Savior,” which would indicate a title of someone involved in a specific society or cult, rather than a familial bloodline. The fact that James is cited in this inscription as the “son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” creates suspicion since it is by no means agreed within all the Christian sects that Jesus had any blood brothers, despite the assertions in the New Testament. The wording on the James ossuary, if it is to be interpreted as referring to a blood brother born of Mary, would indicate that of the many sects one particular was involved in its apparent forgery. A Protestant minister at the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, Ben Witherington III, argues that the phrase “brother of Jesus” refers to a blood brother, giving etymological reasons for his assumption. However, in an article from Believenet.net and reproduced by ABCNEWS.com, Witherington ironically uses a passage from Acts 15:13-21, in which James is made to address a group of men using the word “Brethren.” The word in the original Greek for “brethren,” i.e., brothers, is adelphoi, which is the plural of the word, adelphos, used to describe James at Galatians 1 and elsewhere. Witherington argues that this word adelphos, as in Philadelphia, “City of Brotherly Love,” probably refers to blood brothers. Yet, in the passage at Acts, James is clearly not referring to blood brothers but to “brothers” in the sense of the word as used by the clergy and members of other brotherhoods and fraternities into modern times. The proper usage concerning James is in reality the fourth interpretation, which is that to be called a “brother” means you are a member of a male-based society, church, organization, secret or otherwise. In another instance, Witherington points out the phrase in 1 Cor. 15:3-9, which discusses “500 brethren.” Now, if that refers to Jesus’s blood family, he certainly had many brothers! It is quite clear that the phrase “500 brothers” refers to members of the community, not a family, so why has this meaning been ignored constantly over the centuries? Matthew 13:55-56 also mentions Jesus’s “sisters,” but this phrase too is usually ignored. As we know, such Christian communities as the Quakers refer to their female members as “sisters,” while their male members are “brothers.”
Unbeknownst to the masses, tombs of gods are common around the world and are part of well-established priestcraft. The mention of a character on such a tomb or ossuary does not prove that the person really existed. No doubt many Indians, for example, have recorded the names of their various gods on their own epitaphs–by this “logic,” all these gods would have to have existed as “historical characters.” Certainly in ancient Egypt Osiris and Isis were included in all solemn events, especially burials, and Osiris’s numerous tombs may be found all over Egypt–they therefore must have been real people!
Aramaic for an Orthodox Jew?
A scan of the ossuaries dating from the Herodian period reveals that many, if not most, were inscribed in Hebrew and Greek, not Aramaic. It would seem unusual for an orthodox Jew such as James, as he has been shown to have been by Robert Eisenman, et al., to have his epitaph written in Aramaic, which is Syriac, the language of the northern kingdom, as opposed to Hebrew, which was that of Judea and of “true” Jews. Educated Jews may have settled on Greek, but possibly not Aramaic. The Aramaic inscriptions on the “Jewish” ossuaries seem to be mainly warnings, advising “Do not open it.” It is possible that inscriptions written in Aramaic were designed for the common people, the speakers of the vulgar lingua franca, rather than for the elite, for whom the Greek and Hebrew inscriptions were written. Having this identification written in Aramaic might also be a bit suspicious, even though there were some ossuaries in family tombs with Aramaic writing. Yet, again, for an orthodox Jew? It is possible that a forger supposed, as have millions of Christians, that historical Jesus spoke Aramaic, as would his purported sibling, James; therefore, in order for the inscription to appear “authentic,” according to Christian tradition, it should be written in Aramaic.
BAR reports that, according to Lemaire, the cursive style of Aramaic in which the inscription appears occurred only from 10-70 CE. Lorenzi also writes that the inscription’s cursive Aramaic “would date the ossuary to the last decades of 70 A.D.” This latter statement is meaningless, as it is undoubtedly a typo. In any case, it should be noted that epigraphy is an inexact science and that clever forgers have been able to replicate just about any style imaginable. That the style “fits perfectly” with the writing of the era, as stated by Lemaire and Catholic University’s Joseph Fitzmyer, proves little, since, again, forgers are often well skilled in reproducing styles. In the end, Fitzmyer honestly concluded that nobody can show that the box’s “Jesus” is really Jesus of Nazareth.
The study of such ossuaries reveals that, as is claimed by Lemaire, et al., it is true that the inscriptions usually ran something like: “Judah son of Johanan, son of Jethra,” rather than including a brother’s name. This fact concerning the James ossuary would actually cast doubt as to its genuineness; indeed, it seems contrived in order to prove a point., i.e., the existence of Jesus. Indeed, in an article “Ossuary was genuine, inscription was faked,” for Jewsweek magazine, “expert on scripts and historian of writing systems” Rochelle I. Altman has pronounced the ossuary genuine, as well as the first part of the inscription. However, the last part, “brother of Jesus” is unquestionably a sloppy fake. Says she:
The bone-box is original; the first inscription, which is in Aramaic, “Jacob son of Joseph,” is authentic. The second half of the inscription, “brother of Jesus,” is a poorly executed fake and a later addition. This report has already been distributed on at least two scholarly lists.
Altman also notes that the phrase is certainly not written in Aramaic and “You have to be blind as a bat not to see that the second part is a fraud.” Altman is no naysaying slouch: She has “a great deal of experience at spotting ancient frauds and forgeries.” As such an expert, Altman was able to determine that the James ossuary inscription was clearly written by two different people. The inscriber of the first part was a member of the family and “fully literate,” says she, while the “person who wrote the second part…may have been literate, but it is doubtful that he was literate in Aramaic or Hebrew.” Also, Altman points out that the original excised frame around the first part of the inscription had to be removed to fit the last, faked part, i.e., “brother of Jesus.” Even to the untrained eye, it is obvious that the latter part of the inscription, i.e., “Brother of Jesus,” was written by a different, less skillful hand than the first part.
According to the Ottawa Citizen, another expert, Eric Meyers, professor of Judaic studies at Duke University, also has a “bad feeling” that the inscription is a forgery, noting that its owner is being investigated by authorities for theft of “an object now worth between $1-million and $2-million dollars if its authenticity holds up under scrutiny.” Meyers relates Altman’s conclusion that “the brother of Jesus” part of the inscription is in a different hand from the rest and dates to centuries later. Obviously, such a potential payoff would provide–and has provided–motive for fraud.
The James ossuary is suspicious not only for the lack of its provenance, a development frequently indicating a forgery, but also for the tidiness of its inscription, which seems to have been written not by an early “innocent” Christian but by a propagandist such as those who created so many bogus relics over the centuries. Unfortunately, the news reports, which include conclusions that the ossuary is “genuine,” never mention the countless forgeries and fraudulent Christian artifacts of centuries past, a fact that would surely provoke caution in more prudent observers.
Too Many Jesuses
Although the reports claimed that the odds of the combination of the three names James, Joseph and Jesus appearing together on an ossuary are “very slim,” even Lemaire admits that there could have been about “20 Jameses in Jerusalem during that era [who] would have had a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus.” (MSNBC) Zindler also remarks that there were many individuals in Judea and Palestine by the names of James, Joseph and Jesus, such that, even if “the brother of Jesus” part of the inscription were genuine, the odds of having these particular relationships are far greater than what has been designated by believing scholars such as Lemaire. Indeed, we have already seen examples of such names on various tombs and ossuaries from the “Holy Land.”
The believing argument runs that, because it is unusual to include the name of a brother in one’s epitaph, this brother must have been a “well-known figure.” There are, in fact, “too many Jesuses” of renown, as Harold Leidner shows in his book The Fabrication of the Christ Myth. These Jesuses, as found in the works of the Jewish historian Josephus and in biblical texts, include the following (list quoted from Leidner, 19-20):
Jesus son of Naue
Jesus son of Saul
Jesus, high priest, son of Phineas
Jesus son of the high priest Jozadak
Jesus son of Joiada
Jesus, high priest, son of Simon
Jesus, high priest, son of Phabes
Jesus, high priest, son of See
Jesus the Christ
Jesus son of Damnaeus, became high priest
Jesus son of Gamaliel, became high priest
Jesus son of Sapphas
Jesus, chief priest, probably to be identified with 10 or 11
Jesus son of Gamalas, high priest
Jesus, brigand chief on borderland of Ptolemais
Jesus son of Sapphias
Jesus brother of Chares
Jesus a Galilean, perhaps to be identified with 15
Jesus in ambuscade, perhaps to be identified with 16
Jesus, priest, son of Thebuthi
Jesus, son of Ananias, rude peasant, prophesies the fall of Jerusalem.
Among these many Jesuses is Jesus, son of Naue, also known as Joshua, son of Nun, the Old Testament messianic figure who supposedly led the Israelites into the Promised Land after Moses failed to do so. It has been demonstrated over the past couple of centuries, and confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls, that there was a sort of “Joshua” cult long before the Christian era, revolving around this important Israelite “hero.” Apparently, however, “Joshua” or Yeshua (“Savior”) was an ancient Canaanite god usurped by the followers of the volcano god Yahweh. In any case, Joshua’s position in the Old Testament is one of high estimation: He is the heir to Moses as God’s spokesman and will on earth. Joshua is essentially the messiah, and it would seem that members of the northern kingdom, such as those Israelites who eventually became called “Samaritans,” virtually worshipped him. Interestingly, the name Joshua or Yeshua is rendered in the the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, as JESUS. Hence, a reader of that all-important text would see the name Jesus a couple of hundred times for centuries prior to the Christian era. To repeat, while the articles regarding the James ossuary state that there are only three lines of thought concerning the phrase “brother of Jesus,” i.e., James was a blood brother, a stepbrother or a cousin, a more likely explanation is that he was a member of a secret Joshua/Jesus society, i.e., a “brother in the Lord,” a phrase commonly used to this day, to describe not blood brothers but members of the Church.
Did Jesus Exist?
“That Jesus existed is not doubted by scholars,” writes Associated Press’s Richard Ostling, an assertion that is entirely incorrect. The existence of Jesus Christ, the wonderworker and son of God depicted in the New Testament, has been doubted by the scholarly and sensible since the earliest days of Christianity. This skepticism has not waned to this day, and many current scholars, including mythologists, in whose field of study this subject truly falls, are quite certain that Christ is a mythical character based on the numerous gods and heroes of the ancient world. The doubt–arrived at through extensive and exhaustive research–is evident in Ostling’s very statement itself: Why, if no scholar doubts Jesus’s existence, need it be reiterated? Guy Gugliotta’s remark in the Washington Post is more honest: “Scholars almost universally believe Jesus existed…” The “almost” is a key word here, in that, again, there are a number of scholars who simply do not believe Jesus existed, a conclusion based on intense study untainted by blind belief. And again, why is it necessary for Gugliotta to make such a statement, unless there exists such a doubt?
CNN’s Legon feels compelled to write that “…most scholars agree that Jesus existed,” while stating that there is no evidence for such a belief! Hence, these scholars who believe in a “historical Jesus” do so without any reason or evidence whatsoever, except that they have been told he did and have seemingly fearfully followed consensus.
Although Ostling claims that “no scholar” doubts the existence of Jesus, Lorenzi quotes one such notable scholar, Robert Eisenman, one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts on “James, the Brother of Jesus.” Eisenman states categorically that he believes the James “artifact” is a forgery. His reasoning is as follows: “…the line of custody is insecure, and the inscription is too perfect. They would never have written ‘brother of Jesus’ in the first century.” Eisenman also called the existence of Jesus “a very shaky thing” and said that the ossuary find was “too pat.” (Zindler)
Hillary Mayell writes, “…historians don’t doubt the existence of either James or Jesus; both are mentioned frequently in early historical records.” This statement is extremely misleading. In reality, numerous scholars, historians and archaeologists over the centuries have doubted the existence of both James and Jesus, with good reason, since the two characters certainly are not “frequently mentioned in early historical records.” The only place Jesus can be found is in the New Testament, despite claims regarding the forged passages in Josephus or the dubious and/or possibly forged statements of Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus–these four are the only out of dozens of historians of the first to early second centuries to make any mention that could be remotely construed as referring to Jesus. James is also found mainly if not exclusively in the New Testament, although Robert Eisenman’s voluminous work may demonstrate whence the New Testament writers derived their fictionalized James the Just character. The other “early historical records” are merely the polemical writings of the church fathers of the second century and on. Nothing whatsoever exists from the actual era of either Jesus or James.
In attempting to establish the ossuary inscription as “authentic,” reporters have faithfully reproduced the “James” passage from Josephus’s Antiquities (XX, iv, 1), in which Josephus is made to write that James was “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ” or other translation. For various reasons, this latter “Christ” clause, along with the more infamous “Testimonium Flavianum,” has been shown to be a forgery. The Josephan James passage is as follows:
…when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.
Critics such as Gordon Rylands, author of The Beginnings of Gnostic Christianity, argue that the “who was called Christ” clause is an interpolation. Rylands suggests that “the brother of Jesus” is an original identifying clause by Josephus and that the Jesus referred to is likely the Jesus made high priest after Ananus, mentioned in proximity to this Josephan James. (Rylands, 266fn.) In The Christ: a critical review and analysis of the evidences of his existence, John Remsburg agrees that “who was called Christ” is an interpolation, and quotes numerous Christian authorities who likewise reject it as such. Also, Remsburg states that Christian tradition places James the Just’s death at 69 CE, not 63. Remsburg further asserts that this Josephan James is not the Christian James at all. In any event, the James passage in Josephus certainly does not verify the gospel story in any way, shape or form. As Arthur Drews relates in The Christ Myth, “eminent theologians such as Credner, Schrer, etc.” evinced this Christ clause a forgery, but Drews also points out that even if it were genuine it does not prove a historical Jesus. (230-231.) The same can be said of the inscription on the ossuary in question.
Rush to Judgment
Linguist Frank Zindler, who does not believe in a “historical Jesus,” writes that the conclusion that the James ossuary represents “proof” of such a Jesus is a “rush to judgment.” Zindler argues that the bone-box “may have nothing to do with the alleged Christian messiah.” Zindler also says, “The history of the ossuary box and how it was discovered is a pale imitation of ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or an Indiana Jones saga.” He further reports that “there are already indications, though, that many scholars are skeptical that the artifact is authentic.” And, Zindler continues to reason that even if the bone-box showed a “historical Jesus” it certainly does not provide evidence that he was divine or did miracles. In other words, even if genuine the inscription does not prove the existence of the New Testament Jesus Christ. Another factor that makes the find suspicious is that it was never given proper peer review, with examination of the ossuary and its inscription by a variety of experts, before being released with great fanfare to the media. Zindler also points out that, in consideration of the plethora of hoaxes and forgeries dating from the early centuries of the Christian era, one may rightly assume that this “find” would likewise be spurious. He concludes, “The burial box may well turn out to be just the latest in a long line of hoaxes and other questionable evidence. There is still no good, credible proof that Jesus or even his disciples really existed as men of flesh and blood.”
Despite the hoopla, it remains to be seen if the ossuary and its inscription in toto are “genuine,” although mythologists know that there is no chance of such a development. The Church forgery mill is notorious for cranking out thousands of fakes over the centuries, from saints’ bones (relics) to Veronica’s kerchief to at least 20 Shrouds to enough pieces of the “true Cross” to build a large ship. Members of the priestcraft even tried to pass off several shriveled foreskins as the one holy one of Christ. The list is endless and includes countless “documents,” including ridiculous correspondence between the Lord Jesus and King Agbarus, letters from the Virgin Mary, the Lentulus forgery, and hundreds of others. The James ossuary, the provenance of which is conveniently unknown, may very well prove to be yet another of these bogus artifacts. As Lorenzi says, “Nothing is known of its history prior to the current ownership…” This assertion would remain true even if the limestone did indeed come from the “Holy Land.” Forgers are at times very clever, as we have seen in modern times. The patina of the writing may suggest that it was inscribed many centuries ago, perhaps at the time when the ossuary was carved; however, that does not mean that it dates to the first century CE. Again, that date is ascribed circularly because, if James died around 62-63, then his ossuary must be from that time. To repeat, despite the claims regarding the Israeli government’s geological survey tests, the James ossuary could well be from the era of great Church forgery following the “conversion” of Constantine.
Such spectacular finds as the James ossuary frequently cement their discoverer in history, which certainly qualifies as motive for fervently presenting dubious or even clearly bogus “artifacts” as authentic, as does the million-dollar price tag. Time and again, overzealous scholars and pseudoscholars have popped up with sensational finds, such as “The Hitler Diaries,” only to have them revealed as forgeries. The suspicion regarding this ossuary leads one to such unfavorable conclusions.
Illustrating the depths stooped to over the years when faith outweighs reason, a cover story for that bastion of journalistic accuracy, the Weekly World News (11/5/02), claims “JESUS’ SANDALS FOUND! STEP IN THESE SHOES & FEEL HIS MIRACLE HEALING POWER,” complete with a picture of ratty old leather sandals. Inside, it is explained that the sandals were found by “an intrepid Vatican treasure hunter!” The article’s author, Vincenzo Sardi, relates, “Hundreds of devout pilgrims are flocking to see the holy relics…” According to Sardi, the astounding discovery has been making headlines all over Italy, and the faithful are receiving miraculous healing powers merely by standing on the newspaper photos of the sandals! The Weekly World News‘ expert is a “Vatican-affiliated archaeologist,” Dr. Roberto Savici, who declared, “There is no question that these sandals, once worn by Our Lord, have some kind of extraordinary aura.” Says Sardi, “Dr. Savici is 100 percent sure that the sandals, which have been scientifically dated to the early part of the First Century A.D., are the genuine article.” Savici says, “We compared tread marks on the bottom of the sandals to the only known footprints of Jesus, on a rock near the Sea of Galilee–it was a perfect match.” The method used to “scientifically date” these sandals seems to be the same as that which was used with the James ossuary. Although, thousands of readers doubtlessly will believe that such a method exists, in reality it does not. The claim regarding the matching of the treads with those found on a rock is a nice touch for the extremely gullible. In actuality, these “footprints” of the gods or demigods, such as Buddha, exist all over the world and are priestcraft artifacts.
Savici further claims the sandals, stripped from Jesus by the Romans during his crucifixion, have been in the possession of a “Venetian family” for generations, to be discovered by “the expert” after “11 years of detective work.” While even believing Christians may find this article laughable, what makes it any less credible than the stories released by the mainstream press? The expert archaeologist Savici is presented as having “Vatican-affiliated” credentials, which surely gives him as much credibility as Lemaire, if not more. So important are Savici and his find that the Pope Himself has requested the sandals be brought to Rome, “to the vault where they’ll join the Holy Robe and all the other Christ relics.” Now, if we can’t believe the Pope, who can we believe?! Even the Holy Robe is there, “in the vault,” with “other Christ relics!” Surely these must all be authentic; yet, why haven’t all these finds been shouted the world over, like the so-called James ossuary? Could it be because they are bogus? Why, that would make liars of the Pope, God’s Holy Emissary on earth, and his cronies! If we admit that these “relics” are phonies, then we may also be suspicious of the James ossuary, which could be fake, or at the most, useless in establishing a “historical Jesus.”
The Jewish collector who possessed the ossuary, Lemaire claims, did not recognize its value because to him, “Jesus was known as the son of God, so he had no brother,” an unusual attitude for a Jew. The antique dealer who sold the box to the anonymous collector for $500-700, per CNN, also apparently had no clue as to its value, which is difficult to believe. This person could not have been much of an antiques dealer, or perhaps he knew it was bogus. One would think that the dealer would have tried to sell it to the Vatican, had he believed it was a genuine artifact. There is a precedent for such ignorant behavior, however: In the 1950s, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were advertised in a New York newspaper for a paltry sum. Nevertheless, such a lax attitude does not instill confidence in the dealer, provenance or the artifact itself.
In any event, the inscription on the James ossuary will leave Orthodox and Catholic Christians with a bad taste in their mouths, since Jesus was supposedly the only child of the Virgin Mary. Protestants believe that Jesus had siblings, but that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to her first-born, Jesus. A forger, therefore, would most likely be of the Protestant mentality. Yet, this suggestion does not assert that the ossuary was not forged until after the Protestant Reformation; it is possible that earlier Christians of the same doctrine (such as some of the early Church fathers) may have been the culprits. Or, some recent scalawag has taken an ancient ossuary belonging to Jacob ben Josef and very poorly scratched in “brother of Jesus” at the end.
The facts surrounding the appearance of the ossuary, the pronouncements concerning the inscription by doubting experts, its unknown provenance, etc., cast doubt onto its authenticity and value as an artifact proving anything from the era of Jesus’s advent. In reality, the conclusion that the ossuary is the “first proof” or “earliest evidence” or “only evidence” of Jesus dating to his purported era is a startling admission that there is, after 2,000 years, no unquestionable evidence of Jesus Christ’s existence. Whenever some “artifact” or “evidence” of this sort appears, it is wise to express amazement that it has taken 2,000 years to find proof of Jesus, a demigod who supposedly shook up the world. Especially since he, as God Almighty, has purportedly been supernaturally in charge of everything. Since Jesus is claimed to be omnipotent, one would think that he would be able to prove himself and his existence on earth many times over. Yet, such is not the case, as this pitiful box, with its inconclusive inscription, is the only “proof” we have after two millennia. It’s just not to be–it would not be smart to hold one’s breath. The proof of a fictional character having lived on earth will simply never appear.
Evidence of Jesus Written in Stone: Ossuary of Jesus’ Brother Backs Up Biblical Accounts – Biblical Archaeology Review
Proof of Jesus: Burial Artifact May Be the Oldest Evidence of Christ by Richard N. Ostling
Burial Box May Be That of Jesus’s Brother, Expert Says by Hillary Mayell, National Geographic News
First Proof of Jesus Fraud? by Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
Scholars: Oldest Evidence of Jesus? by Jeordan Legon, CNN
“Inscription May be Earliest Reference to Jesus” by Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post
Archaeological evidence of Jesus? – MSNBC
Important Evidence: Bible Expert Explains Meaning of the James Inscription Find by Ben Witherington III
PROOF OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS, OR RUSH TO JUDGMENT? by Frank Zindler
Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. II, Michael Avi-Yonah, Ed., Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1976.
The Fabrication of the Christ Myth by Harold Leidner
The Beginnings of Gnostic Christianity by Gordon L. Rylands, Watts & Co., London, 1940.
The Christ: a critical review and analysis of the evidences of his existence by John E. Remsburg.
The Christ Myth by Arthur Drews, Prometheus, Amherst, NY, 1998.
“Tracing the Spread of the Asklepios-Cult” by Bronsen Wickkiser, koue, Newsletter of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Summer 2002, No. 48.
Jesus’ Sandals Found! by Vicenzo Sardi, Weekly World News, 11/5/02.
Ossuary was genuine, inscription was faked by Rochelle I. Altman, Jewsweek.
‘Jesus box’ museum goes PC by dumping B.C.
Expert has a ‘bad feeling’ about ossuary by Bob Harvey of the Ottawa Citizen.
Forgers ‘tried to rewrite biblical history’ from the Guardian, 12/31/04
Dealers accused of unholy fraud in Israel from the Herald Sun, 12/31/04
Israeli dealers accused of antiquity fraud by Eric Silver, 12/30/04