Chemical analysis on ancient stone bone box reignites debate over alleged family of Jesus
Nothing seems to stir controversy in the historical, archaeological and theological research fields more than relics associated with Jesus. A weathered limestone box found in the 1970s and said to have contained the alleged bones of Jesus of Nazareth is at the heart of a decades-long argument. The contentious box has undergone chemical analysis and the findings have reignited debate.
Live Science reports that geologist Dr. Arye Shimron completed an extensive chemical analysis of the soil found on the bone box, known as the James Ossuary, as well as several dozen other first century Jerusalem bone boxes as selected by the Israel Antiquities Authority, including those from the Talpiot tomb.
Scrapings from the box and tomb, and approximately 40 other ossuaries were analyzed for trace elements: aluminum, magnesium, potassium, chromium, iron and phosphorus among others, writes The New York Times .
The sample results reportedly match cave-in soil which had filled the East Talpiot tomb in Jerusalem upon its opening in 1980. These findings seem to link the bone box with the tomb where the remains of people carrying names of Jesus' family members are buried.
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It is speculated that the box may have been pulled from the tomb which had been open since antiquity. It is thought after an earthquake in Jerusalem in 363 A.D., reddish soil buried the remaining ossuaries. The tomb itself then remained untouched until it was rediscovered and excavated in 1980.
The James Ossuary, if proven authentic, would be the first physical link and archaeological evidence to Jesus. The burial box contains an Aramaic inscription that reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Many names found in the Talpiot tomb correspond with names found in the Bible relating to Jesus.
Shimrom tells Live Science, “If this is correct, that strengthens the case for the Talpiot or Jesus Family Tomb being indeed the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.”
The box was carved from a single piece of limestone, which was typical of burial boxes used by Jews of first-century Palestine. Dead bodies at that time were left in a cave for a year before the bones were collected and put in a box.
Ossuary of "Jesus son of Joseph", found in Talpiyot in Jerusalem, Ossuary from the 1st Century. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Wikimedia Commons
The Jewish inscription Yeshua` bar Yehosef ("Joshua/Jesus son of Joseph"), found on a 1st century Jerusalem grave, that was the base for the purported "lost grave of Jesus" debate. The Thadman /CC-BY-SA-3.0.
The research and findings create controversial ramifications. If it can be shown that Jesus was an historical reality—a real man who potentially had wed and had a child, and then died and left behind bones—then scientists argue that a physical resurrection as featured in Christian belief wherein Jesus died and three days later rose to heaven leaving nothing behind, did not seemingly occur.
Many Christians believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection simply implies a spiritual ascension to heaven, whereas others believe in a more physical resurrection, wherein Jesus left the tomb physically and ascended to heaven bodily.
Other historians and scholars suggest that Jesus wasn’t even a real person, but the result of a blend of moral teachings and stories of other historical figures from the time, combined to create an allegory.
The front of a papyrus fragment from an early Christian codex on which is written the Gospel of Jesus's Wife. Photo credit: Karen L. King
Adding fuel to the fire is the research on a faded fragment of Egyptian papyrus, which has come to be known as 'The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife' . The eight century artifact reportedly was found to contain an explicit reference to Jesus being married. Additionally, an ancient manuscript known as the “Lost Gospel” unearthed at the British Library and dating back nearly 1,500 years says that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had two children, with their names and descendants reportedly given in detail in the text.
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‘Jesus as a friend of children’ (1845), by Marie Ellenrieder ( Wikimedia)
The burial box, or ossuary, has been at the center of the most controversial forgery cases in decades. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) had tried to prove in court that the items were forged by antiquities collector Oded Golan, but they failed in their ruling and subsequently tried, unsuccessfully, to gain ownership of the item . It is also alleged, that the item was vandalized by the Israeli government before being returned to its owner.
Golan originally bought the box, for a pittance in the 1970s from an East Jerusalem antiquities dealer. He had it for more than 25 years before Professor Andre Lemaire pointed out the incredible significance of the letters etched into the side. It is therefore unsurprising that the object immediately became the center of a high-profile legal case. In fact, the moment word of the object reached the IAA, Golan was immediately arrested and put on trial. If it is in fact authentic, as the court ruled, it provides convincing evidence that Jesus had a brother and would be the first object ever found from the family of Jesus.
Historians remain skeptical over the scientific analysis findings, and await its publication to a peer-reviewed journal, notes Live Science.
Much is hinging on the authenticity of the ossuary, and certainly the box will remain at the center of debate and future analysis.
Featured Image: The James Ossuary, a first-century limestone box used for containing the bones of the dead is now reportedly connected to the “family tomb of Jesus” in Jerusalem. The James ossuary was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum from November 15, 2002 to January 5, 2003. Wikimedia Commons
By Liz Leafloor