Ossuary of James the Just: The First Archaeological Evidence of the Existence of Jesus of Nazareth?
The Ossuary of James was the archaeological find that triggered the most sensational cover up of the 21st century.
From the first charges of forgery in 2002 to the absolute silence of the media at the end of the trial in 2013 attesting its authenticity, the modern story of the first archaeological evidence of the existence of the master of Nazareth and his flesh brothers, as taught in the gospels. Why so much opposition from the main religions and the highest Israeli academic institutions and Government?
A Complicated Puzzle
To recompose this intricate affair, important and delicate as it constitutes the earliest epigraphic attestation of Jesus of Nazareth, it is necessary to take a step back to the year of the discovery of the Ossuary of James: in 2002 Oded Golan, known collector and expert in Israeli antiquities, contacted professor André Lemaire, the greatest Semitic epigraphist in the world, based at Sorbonne University, Paris, to show him a series of valuable pieces and in particular to get some expert advice on a small ossuary dating back approximately to the first century, which he had purchased many years earlier.
Lemaire, was quite impressed noticing the inscription on the ossuary: "Yaakov bar Yoseph achui de Yeshua" or: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. According to philologists, scholars of ancient Hebrew and archaeologists who studied the ossuary, it actually dates back to the first century. For the inscription there was some doubt only about the last part, brother of Jesus.
The inscription on the James Ossuary. (Finavon / Public Domain)
Camille Fuchs, professor of statistics at Tel Aviv University, and other researchers who joined the investigation, estimated a very strong possibility of identification based upon the fact that while the mention of the father is common on these kind of ossuaries, the mention of the dead’s name, the patronym, or the name of the brother all together is extremely rare in literary tradition, appearing only in one of the recorded epigraphs, Rahmani 570.
This meant that there was a very high probability that the three cited characters were the ones mentioned in the Gospels. Simply speaking, it was the first archaeological and not simply textual proof of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, an extraordinary discovery, the only one of its kind ever to emerge in the world of biblical archaeology.
It is noteworthy that the Jews only used this method of burial between 30 and 70 AD. After death, the corpse was placed in a catacomb for about a year, the bones were then settled in medium-sized ossuaries, decorated with inscriptions and carved details.
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Burial tradition at the time, after death the corpse rested in a catacomb, then after one year the bones placed in an ossuary. (Mulderphoto / Adobe Stock)
Intrigued by this news, at that time I was writing a book on this subject: over the years I contacted André Lemaire several times for specialist advice and the French scholar always remained of the same opinion, supported in this by other experts in the field.
But the world of biblical archaeology suffered an earthquake of unusual proportions: this discovery caused such an uproar that ecclesiastical authorities and security services of some nations intervened and, finding nothing else to challenge, focused their accusations on the final part of the epigraph: "(...) brother of Jesus", which was thought to have been falsified and artificially aged with a chemical patina.
Why So Much Opposition?
If the ossuary is indeed the container of the apostle James’ bones, one of Jesus’ brothers, this undermines the Catholic dogma of Maria sempre vergine (the ever virgin Mary), and would have renewed interest in the figure of the master of Nazareth, something that Judaism and Islam would prefer avoided, and as some specialists told me, there were other political and ideological reasons.
However, on December 31, 2002, on the occasion of the exhibition organized at the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada), when the ossuary was being freed from its packaging, shortly after its arrival, the museum's technicians realized that it had some cracks, one of which was on the inscription itself which had caused so much controversy.
The Ossuary of James was cracked in shipment. (ActsNewsNetwork / YouTube Screenshot)
An attempt to discredit Oded Golan was almost simultaneously made, accusing him of falsifying the epigraph; a trial was instituted in which the IAA (the Israeli Archaeological Authority) and the Israeli Government supported the part of the accusation, while Oded Golan, his collaborators and the ossuary were the accused. In fact, Golan had already previously been indicted and convicted for forgery and this contributed to clouding the waters.
One of the Most Incredible Cover-ups in History
In the twelve years of the trial, the media, both on TV, press and on the web, disseminated incorrect information explaining how the ossuary had now been unmasked as a well-made forgery and the counterfeiters now close to conviction.
Yet, more and more scholars over the years, and these are the best specialists in the world, following tests and scientific investigations, have been convinced that the prosecution had no basis to support the thesis of the well-made forgery.
To find out the truth, I again contacted professor Lemaire, who wrote to me: "(...) the ossuary is absolutely authentic but there are political and religious forces interested in making the find disappear.” A cover-up of unprecedented proportions, whose drama took place right before our eyes.
At the end of the trial the suspects of the Oded Golan group were acquitted, the court dropped one charge after another as more and more clarifying evidence emerged.
On June 24, 2009, while my novel IL SETTIMO SEPOLCRO was about to be published in Italy, the plot of which revolves around the James Ossuary, Oded Golan invited me to call him in Israel: I phoned him and he told me with extreme kindness how things really were.
While some scholars initially supported the prosecution's thesis, now all the scientists were in agreement: the patina deposited on the inscription had been found to be authentic by a chemical analysis. In addition, a microorganism was found on the inscription and on the ossuary, a fungus that takes at least a hundred years to expand by a few inches.
It covered a vast area of the ossuary and in particular its presence was detected over the entire inscription. This meant that its dating had to be forcibly backdated to many centuries ago, approximately to the 1st century AD, and the same applies to the entire epigraph.
In testing the James Ossuary, a fungus was discovered proving the ancient artifact was authentic. (ActsNewsNetwork / YouTube Screenshot)
I asked Golan the same question that I posed at the time to Lemaire, why there was so much opposition to the ossuary, and he gave me the same answer as the French specialist: "(...) This is a very delicate question because the Vatican does not admit the existence of brothers of Jesus. Moreover, the IAA and the government that had supported its parties had raised such a fuss that now a real question of image had been created: the IAA lobby is very powerful and admitting a resounding mistake would have been detrimental to its public credibility.
In addition, several scholars at first were afraid to go against the highest authority for the control of archaeological heritage and then decided at first to support the assessments. But now everything is clear, the trial goes on and the court is less and less convinced of the initial theses. The trial could be over in a few months, but the IAA and the Israeli government do not want to lose face and continue undaunted a battle they have already lost.”
An extraordinary mystery under the eyes of all: in time the truth has come out clearly and clearly, except for most of the big audience, influenced by the view offered by the media, totally wrong about the issue, the find has remained a fake. Only recently has some of the online encyclopaedias updated the information concerning the Ossuary of James, definitely closing the case.
The fundamental problem is that everything on the topic remains specialized information reserved to a very selected and restricted audience, that of the specialists of biblical archaeology, however you can see the latest news here on the magazine BAR (Bible Archaeology Review).
The magazine BAR, in its many articles dedicated to the trial of the century, has always consistently argued that the Ossuary of James is not a fake: the judge has definitively closed the trial by stating that "the find is authentic. The certification is now verified and out of any reasonable doubt. Oded Golan is acquitted of all charges."
The Ossuary of James and inscription was found to be authentic. (syyenergy7 / YouTube Screenshot)
Recently I had the opportunity to contact professor Lemaire again and he told me that he had always remained of the same opinion: I perceived clearly from his words a strong bitterness, probably due both to the lack of interest on the part of the media and the strong opposition received while over the years he supported his thesis which finally was proved to be correct.
Anyway, as often happens in history, one of the most important archaeological finds ever, the only evidence of Christ’s existence, disappears into a curtain of silence, in the effective fog of misinformation and fake news.
Who Was James the Just?
Son of Joseph and Mary, and flesh brother of Jesus, James was the writer of the Book of James. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he seems to be one of his nonbelieving brothers when they commented: “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mr 3:21) However, after the death of Jesus and prior to Pentecost 33 AD, James is told to be with his mother, brothers, and the apostles in an upper chamber in Jerusalem to pray.
Jesus appeared personally to James, as reported at 1 Corinthians 15:7, thus convincing this onetime nonbeliever that he was indeed the Messiah. James eventually became a highly respected member of the church of Jerusalem, being regarded as an apostle, or one sent forth, a disciple personally taught and trained by Jesus, with an important leading role in the Christian congregation.
The Acts and the Letters of Paul give us as a clearer view of the man James several years later, as an elder of the Jerusalem congregation and part of the Governing Body of the Christians.
Paul implies in his letter to the Corinthians, written about the year 55 AD, that James was married, as most of the apostles and elders (1Co 9:5).
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Mary Magdalena and the twelve apostles. (Stig Alenas / Adobe Stock)
James is known also as James the Just, referring to his known way of life. Unfortunately we do not have much news about James’ life and even less about his death: only Josephus (Titus Flavius Josephus born Yosef ben Matityahu) reports in his Jewish Antiquities, XX, 200 (ix, 1) that James’ death occurred during the interval between the death of Governor Festus, about 62 AD and the arrival of his successor Albinus.
The passage reads: “(…) High priest Ananus (Ananias) convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned”.
The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus and The Dogma of the Eternal Virginity of Mary
On 1 November 1950 Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, who as representative of the Vatican had signed the Concordat with Hitler (1933), established a new dogma that the believers should accept as a mystery of faith, not demonstrable, the so-called dogma di Maria sempre vergine (dogma of Mary always virgin). It defined the state of perpetual virginity of the Mother of Jesus even after her marriage to Joseph.
The explanation given by the Catholic authorities to support the dogma, does not coincide with the testimonies of the Gospels. The Greek term for brothers and sisters of Jesus used in the Gospels (even in subsequent translations where there was an original Aramaic/Jewish) never indicates cousins or relatives in the generic sense, as the Church teaches, but indicates fleshly brothers from of the same uterus or same mother.
Moreover Matthew 1:24,25 clearly states: "Then Joseph woke up from sleep and did as the angel of Jehovah had told him and brought his wife home. But he did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son and named him Jesus.”
The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus and his brothers and sisters. ( t0m15 / Adobe Stock)
Then, after the birth of Jesus, Joseph had a normal sexual life with his wife that led to the birth of several children. The four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and two of Paul's letters mention the "brothers of the Lord", "the brother of the Lord", "his brothers", "his sisters", indicating by name four of these "brothers": James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. (Mt 12:46; 13:55, 56; Mr 3:31; Lu 8:19; Jn 2:12; Acts 1:14; 1Co 9:5; Gal 1:19).
Scholars generally agree that the family of Jesus was composed of two parents and at least four brothers and sisters, all-natural sons of Joseph and Mary, maybe more.
During the ministry of Jesus, the Gospels tell us that "his brothers did not exercise faith in him", and this certainly excludes that they were his brothers in the spiritual sense. (Jn 7:3-5): as we have seen before, James was among these. The Catholic thesis that the word brother has the broader meaning of cousin is not correct as we consider the syntactic evidence of the Greek New Testament: when in the Gospels one speaks of the flesh brothers of Jesus it is used the Greek adelfòs (son of the same mother), while in the case of a relative the term syggenòs is used, or in the case of a cousin anepsiòs. Ultimately there is no doubt, Jesus had several brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Joseph and Mary.
Top image: Ossuary of James. Source: Finavon / Public Domain.
Pierluigi Tombetti is an historian and author of Il Settimo Sepolcro ( The Seventh Grave)
Visit his website at www.pierluigitombetti.com