An ossuary is a bone box. The James Ossuary is allegedly the bone box of James the brother of our Lord Jesus. On its side is written, in aramaic, "James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus".

In first century AD in Israel when someone died they were laid in a place of burial, such as a cave, and a heavy stone rolled across the entrance, just as in the case of Jesus. Then about one or two years later the stone was rolled back: at that stage all that remained of the dead body was bones. These bones were then collected up and placed in an "ossuary". The largest bone in the human body is the femur, the thighbone. So ossuaries are not especially large: in length they are just slightly longer than the thighbone. Thousands of ossuaries from the first century AD and the first century BC have been found in Israel.

In October 2002 it was announced that the Ossuary of James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, had been found. It is pretty important archaeologically speaking because if it is genuine then it is the first, and so far the only, direct archaeological evidence that Jesus even existed.

My question is simply: what is the evidence, for and against, that this ossuary was truly the ossuary of James, Jesus's brother?

  • This question is not a good fit for this site.
    – Kris
    Oct 19, 2020 at 18:15

2 Answers 2


Paleographic and epigraphic examination of the ossuary by the Israeli Division of Identification and Forensic Science clearly indicate this is a forgery.

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First, the inscription of James (above) is dissimilar to the inscription of the sentence "brother of Jesus":

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The second is visibly shallower than 'James son of Josef'. The difference in depth is almost double. Character depth in the first part of the inscription is uniform, but in the second half the engraving depth varies. An extreme example of this is the Aramic letter “Khet” in akhui (brother) in which the upper portion is deeply engraved and the lower portion is shallow.

When examining the letter forms in each portion of the inscription, two script systems were identified. The letters forming 'James son of Josef' are more stylized, uniform depth of stamping and ornate than those in the second portion. For example, the Aramic letter “Ayin” in Yeshua and in Yakov (James) are superficially similar; however, a microscopic examination of the letter “Ayin” in James revealed a circular embellishment engraved at the top edge of the letter and a lower line that is finer and shallower than the upper lines forming the letter. The letter “Ayin” in Yeshua lacks all these elements, which were common during the Second Temple period.

Further examination by microscope showed other significant differences in the way the letters were engraved. In the first half of the 'James son of Josef' inscription, the craftsman used circular motions in carving the stone and created letters with circular edge-points, but the engraving strokes in the 'brother of Jesus' portion are visibly linear and lack the circular edge-points. This significant difference in engraving method between the two parts of the inscription seems to indicate the existence of two artisans, i.e. the text 'brother of Jesus' was inscribed by a different person.

Abstracts of Findings: Writing Committee – The Yehoash Inscription

Prof. Shmuel Ahituv

The inscription was written by a speaker of modern Hebrew who borrowed segments from the original sources, composed a text that seemed biblical to him/her but failed. Therefore, the text is a forgery.

Prof. Avigdor Horowitz

The Yehoash inscription appears to be a combination of elements collected from various sources and pasted together … each element attests to a lack of understanding of ninth century BCE Hebrew. All the elements together clearly prove that the text is a forgery.

Dr. Hagai Misgav

From the paleographic aspect, it appears that the inscription was written by someone not living in the First Temple times, but who wrote according to samples from that period. In other words, the inscription does not appear authentic.

Prof. Roni Reich

It appeared to me at first that the inscription was authentic, as I wrote in my report. For one reason, it was difficult for me to believe that a forger (or group of forgers) could be found that would be expert in all aspects of the inscription… and could produce such an object. But I was convinced, in the end, that it is a forgery after being shown the committee’s data and material.

The Ossuary Inscription Committee

Prof. Amos Kloner

It is clear that the engraving on the bone box dates from a different period than its original installation. The inscription appears new. The writer tried giving the letters an ancient appearance by using samples from contemporaneous inscriptions.

Dr. Tal Ilan

Even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume that the deceased was actually the brother of Jesus. But I am of the opinion that the inscription is a forgery.

Prof. Roni Reich

The inscription does not exhibit a combination of configurational or substantial effects that would imply forgery. But I was convinced that the inscription is a forgery when presented with the findings by the Materials Committee.

Dr. Esther Eshel

From my examination of the inscription and the data I received, it appears to me quite clear that the inscription is not authentic, and was added at a much later date (possible in two stages).

The Materials Committee

Jacques Neguer

The ossuary is authentic. Its inscription is a forgery. All the various scratches on the ossuary are coated in the original patina and only the inscription and its immediate surroundings are coated with an artificial “patina’-like material of round crystalline granules. The inscription cuts through the original patina and appears to have been written by two different writers using different tools.

Orna Cohen

Ossuary: The first part of the inscription is new, cuts through the original patina and is coated with a granular patina that appears to have been produced from chalk dust mixed with water and spread on the inscription. The end of the inscription “brother of Jesus” appears authentic, in some places there seems to be remains of old patina, but in order to produce a uniform effect, this too was spread with the same granular substance.

Inscription: The “patina” on the inscription side was dissolved in water and therefore looks like earth rather than patina. When the letters were cleaned, the manner of inscription was exposed. The technique appears new and does not match the original wear on the stone. The manner in which the letters were scratched does not resemble any form of ancient stone inscription.

In summary, both inscriptions are false.

Prof. Yoval Goren

Ossuary: The ossuary itself is authentic based on the accumulation of patina and varnish (varnish = patina from a biological source).

The inscription was inscribed or cleaned in a modern period. Its coating is not a result of nature, and was probably accomplished by crumbling and dissolving chalk (or perhaps the powder falling from the engraving process) in hot water and spilling the suspension on the inscription and surrounding area in order to blur the freshly carved inscription.

Inscription: The stone is greywake, an exotic stone for Israel, originating in north Syria or western Cyprus.

The original silicate patina exists on the reverse side of the tablet. hard and firmly attached to the stone. The engraved letters did not appear to have undergone any corrosive process as would be expected from an ancient inscription.

The inscription coating has a different composition than that of the patina on the back of the stone, and appears to be an artificial mixture of clay, crumbled chalk, carbon, and microscopic granules of inert metal. It appears that this mixture was dissolved in hot water before being spread on the inscribed side, after which the stone was heated to a temperature of no higher than 4000C in order to harden the new coating and give it the appearance of patina.

Method: The “patinization” is similar in both cases but on the ossuary, chalk powder only was used, and on the Yehoash inscription a mixture of clay or red soil, chalk powder, carbon and metal granules.

  • Sorry Codosaur, you need to give the names of the people who reached this conclusion. Oct 19, 2020 at 17:43
  • Could you please provide a few links to your supporting statements as well as your images used in your answer?
    – Ken Graham
    Oct 19, 2020 at 20:40

Is the bonebox called the “James Ossuary” authentic? Is it truly the bonebox of James, the brother of Jesus Christ?

The James ossuary

The James Ossuary

The James Ossuary itself seems to date back to the correct time period of St. James, the brother of Jesus. However, the inscription is seriously doubted by many. Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

The James Ossuary is a 1st-century limestone box that was used for containing the bones of the dead. An Aramaic inscription in the Hebrew alphabet meaning "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" is cut into one side of the box. The ossuary attracted scholarly attention due to its apparent association with the Christian holy family. However, while the ossuary itself is accepted as authentic to the time period, the inscription itself could be a modern forgery.

The existence of the ossuary was announced at an October 21, 2002 Washington press conference co-hosted by the Discovery Channel and the Biblical Archaeology Society. The owner of the ossuary is Oded Golan, an Israeli engineer and antiquities collector. The initial translation of the inscription was done by André Lemaire, a Semitic epigrapher, whose article claiming that the ossuary and its inscription were authentic was published in the November/December 2002 Biblical Archaeology Review.

In 2003, The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) argued that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date. In December 2004, Oded Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception, including forgery of the Ossuary inscription. The trial lasted seven years before Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict. On March 14, 2012, Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. The judge said this acquittal "does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago". The ossuary was returned to Golan, who put it on public display.

The James Ossuary came from the Silwan area in the Kidron Valley, southeast of the Temple Mount. The bones originally inside the ossuary had been discarded, which is the case in nearly all ossuaries not discovered by archaeologists. The first-century origin of the ossuary is not in question, since the only time Jews buried in that fashion was from approximately 20 BC to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The dispute centres on the date of origin of the inscription.

Wikipedia also evidence, for and against the authenticity of the James Ossuary.

Scholarly analysis

According to André Lemaire, the Parisian epigrapher initially invited by antiquities dealer Oded Golan to view the ossuary in Golan's apartment, the cursive Aramaic script is consistent with first-century lettering. He determined that the inscription was not incised with modern tools, as it contains no elements not available in the ancient world. The first part of the inscription, "James son of Joseph," seems more deeply incised than the latter "brother of Jesus." This may be due to the inscription being made at a different time, or due to differences in the hardness of the limestone.

The fragile condition of the ossuary attests to its antiquity. The Israel Geological Survey submitted the ossuary to a variety of scientific tests, which determined that the limestone of the ossuary had a patina or sheen consistent with being in a cave for many centuries. The same type of patina covers the incised lettering of the inscription as the rest of the surface. It is claimed that if the inscription were recent, this would not be the case.

On June 18, 2003 the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) published a report concluding that the inscription is a modern forgery based on their analysis of the patina. Specifically, it claimed that the inscription was added in modern times and made to look old by addition of a chalk solution. In 2006, Wolfgang Elisabeth Krumbein, a world's renowned expert in stone patinas called by the defense counsel, analyzed the ossuary, and concluded that "the inscription is ancient and most of the original patina has been removed (by cleaning or use of sharp implement)". He further noted in his report, "any forgery of three very distinct types of patina, if ever possible, requires the development of ultra-advanced techniques, in-depth knowledge and extensive collaboration of a large number of experts from various fields".[19] According to his analysis, the patina inside the inscription took at least 50 years to form; thus, if it is a forgery, then it was forged more than 50 years ago.

In 2004, an analysis of the ossuary's petrography and oxygen isotopic composition was conducted by Avner Ayalon, Miryam Bar-Matthews and Yuval Goren. They compared the δ18O values of the letters patina from the James Ossuary, with the patina sampled from the uninscribed surfaces of the same item ("surface patina"), and with surface and letters patinas from legally excavated ossuaries from Jerusalem. Their study undermined the authenticity claim of the ossuary. However, Dr James Harrell, professor of Archaeological Geology at the University of Toledo, provided an explanation for this δ18O discrepancy. He suggested that a cleanser may have been the source of the low δ18O readings, which antiquities dealers and collectors often use to clean the artifacts to increase value. He tested the most popular cleanser sold in Israel and confirmed that the δ18O value of the cleanser was consistent with the δ18O value of the patina in the inscription.

A later study done with a different isotope found that the δ13C values of the surface patina and the inscription patina were almost identical.

In 2007 Finnish theologian Matti Myllykoski (Arto Matti Tuomas Myllykoski) summarised the current position thus: "The authenticity and significance of the ossuary has been defended by Shanks (2003), while some scholars—relying on convincing evidence, to say the least—strongly suspect that it is a modern forgery."

In 2008, an archaeometric analysis conducted by Amnon Rosenfeld, Howard Randall Feldman, and Wolfgang Elisabeth Krumbein strengthened the authenticity contention of the ossuary. It found that patina on the ossuary surface matched that in the engravings, and that microfossils in the inscription seemed naturally deposited.

Limor Livnat, Israeli Minister of Culture, mandated the work of a scientific commission to study the suspicious finds. IAA began an investigation into the affair. The James Ossuary was authentic—albeit unusual in shape—but they claimed the inscription was a fake.

However, in an external expert report, dated September 2005, Wolfgang E. Krumbein entered the controversy. His conclusions contradict those of the IAA stating "Our preliminary investigations cannot prove the authenticity of the three objects beyond any doubt. Doubtlessly the patina is continuous in many places throughout surface and lettering grooves in the case of ossuary and tablet. On the other hand a proof of forgery is not given by the experts nominated by the IAA."

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has failed to offer any report explaining why it concluded the ossuary is a forgery. Unsurprisingly, international experts are unable to give their opinions on the ossuary's authenticity until the IAA allows scholars to review its findings.

Edward John Keall, the Senior Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Near Eastern & Asian Civilizations Department, continues to argue for the ossuary’s authenticity, saying "the ROM has always been open to questioning the ossuary's authenticity, but so far no definitive proof of forgery has yet been presented, in spite of the current claims being made."

The Biblical Archaeology Review also continued to defend the ossuary. In articles in the February 2005 issues, several paleographic experts argue that the James Ossuary is authentic and should be examined by specialists outside of Israel. Another article claims the cleaning of the James Ossuary before it was examined may have caused the problem with the patina. On June 13, 2012 a Biblical Archaeology Review press release announced the first major post-trial analysis of the ossuary, discussing the plausibility of its authenticity and using statistical analysis of ancient names to suggest that in contemporary Jerusalem, there would be 1.71 people named James with a father Joseph and a brother named Jesus.

Here is what Kyle Harper has to say about the ossuary. (He is the senior vice president and provost at the University of Oklahoma. He is a historian of ancient Rome and the author, most recently, of The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire):

The search for Christianity’s earliest material remains is mirrored in the hunt for manuscripts, which continues unabated today. The oldest physical traces of a Christian text are probably the scrap of papyrus known to textual critics as “P52.” Bought on the antiquities market in 1920, it is housed today in a library in Manchester, England. The scrap preserves a few precious words from the 18th chapter of the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John was probably written toward the very end of the first century or the opening decades of the second. The papyrus fragment belongs to the second century, sometime between AD 125–175 or perhaps a bit later. The dating of this fragment, and others like it, is dependent on the imperfect science of paleography, and remains hotly contested. These early crumbs of otherwise richly attested textual traditions can stir passions because of their possible proximity to the autograph — the romantic idea that only one or two sets of hands lay between us and the very first copy. These passions were agitated in recent years, as word rumbled that a new first-century papyrus fragment of Mark’s gospel was imminently to be made public. The fragment in question was just published, and it is, predictably, “merely” a text of the later second or early third century. There is still uncertainty and intrigue about the circumstances behind the rumor, amplified by the possibility that the Green family, the evangelical craft-store magnates and parvenu collectors from Oklahoma, may have had a hand in the affair. But we still lack a Christian text that can be dated to within one or two generations of the autograph. This circumstance is utterly unsurprising and holds for every author from the ancient world. Only in the case of Christian texts is this fact something like a recurring source of disappointment.

Forgers have often been tempted to fill this vacuum. Many of them are quite clever. The so-called “James Ossuary,” announced in 2002, bears an inscription claiming that it held the bones of “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The box is undoubtedly authentic, but strong doubts have been cast on the inscription, which is probably the work of an expert hand trained to mimic first-century Aramaic. Textual forgeries are even more common. The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” a text purporting to represent Jesus saying the words, “my wife,” hoodwinked an eminent Harvard professor in recent years. Inevitably, it has been asked whether the Nazareth inscription might be a forgery. But the Nazareth inscription is at once too good, and not good enough, to be a fake. It is virtually impossible that anyone in the 19th century would have had the ability to conjure a passing imitation of something as little understood at the time as the Roman law on tomb robbing — into ancient Greek, with perfect Palestinian paleography no less. And, if someone had been that astute, they should have created a document that does just a little more to convince us of its links with the Christian story. The authenticity of the Nazareth inscription has never been seriously doubted by the scholarly community. - The Emperor and the Empty Tomb: An Ancient Inscription, an Eccentric Scholar, and the Human Need to Touch the Past

Here follows the inscription that is in question!

Close-up of the Aramaic inscription: "Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua" ("James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus")

Close-up of the Aramaic inscription: "Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua" ("James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus")

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