AP, Nov. 15, 2002
The 20 by 11- inch box, known as the James ossuary, has an inscription that reads, from right to left, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
Museum officials unveiled the repaired ossuary Thursday, giving journalists a view of the artifact that drew global attention when its existence was made public last month Biblical Archaeology Review.
A beige box sits in a glass case in the center of a red-painted room on the third floor of the museum. A crack that runs through “brother” and “of” in the inscription is visible by the lighter beige filling.
Informational text written in black on the walls contains historical, biblical and archaeological details. For example, the text notes an inventory of almost 900 ossuaries showed 19 have the name of a Joseph and 10 of a Jesus, with one known to have the name of Jesus, son of Joseph, inscribed on it.
“Statistically, the combination of the three names in the James ossuary increases considerably the possibility that this was James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth,” the text reads.
Dan Rahimi, the museum’s director of collections management, said extensive work on the ossuary left it in “great shape” for the public exhibition scheduled to run until Dec. 29.
He said the repairs were left unpainted so that viewers could see them, and were reversible.
Curators said they saw what they believed were fossils of plant roots and bacterial staining during the repair. They also discovered an incised star-circle and minute flecks of red paint on the back of the box, common decorations on ossuaries dating between 50-70 A.D.
“It was very exciting to make this discovery when the ossuary had already received such intense scrutiny because of the inscription,” said Edward Keall, the museum’s director of Near Eastern and Asian civilizations. “Others did not see it because they were mesmerized by the inscription and did not look at the back side.”
Experts date the ossuary, a Latin word for bone box, to 63 A.D. If, as some scholars maintain, the box and the inscription are authentic, it would be the first physical artifact from the first century related to Jesus.
Keall said it was unlikely anyone will ever prove scientifically it held the bones of the brother of Jesus.
“It won’t stand up in a court of law,” he said. “Believing is an act of faith.”
Some experts have said the box might be a forgery, or that it might have been the burial box of a different James, unrelated to Jesus Christ. The names James, Joseph and Jesus were popular during the period.
Museum officials said they expected the ossuary to be a popular attraction, and additional security was in place. The museum paid US$25,000 for the exhibition.
The owner of the artifact, a 51-year-old engineer from Tel Aviv, said he bought the ossuary in the mid-1970s from an antiquities dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem for several hundred dollars. It’s now estimated by some to be worth millions.