Monday, October 21, 2002

Scholar claims oldest Jesus evidence

An inscription on a burial artifact that was recently discovered in Israel appears to provide the oldest archaeological evidence of Jesus Christ, according to an expert who dates it to three decades after the crucifixion. Writing in Biblical Archaeology Review, Andre Lemaire, a specialist in ancient inscriptions at France's Practical School of High Studies, says it is very probable the find is an authentic reference to Jesus of Nazareth. The archaeology magazine planned to announce the discovery at a news conference Monday. That Jesus existed is not doubted by scholars, but what the world knows about him comes almost entirely from the New Testament. No physical artifact from the first century related to Jesus has been discovered and verified. Lemaire believes that has changed, though questions remain, such as where the piece with the inscription has been for more than 19 centuries. The inscription, in the Aramaic language, appears on an empty ossuary, or limestone burial box for bones. It reads: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Lemaire dates the object to 63 A.D.

Much more detail from the Washington Post

Lemaire said the ossuary currently contains no bones. It is about 20 inches long, made of porous limestone and slightly trapezoidal in shape. It closely resembles a flower box like those mounted in windows.Lemaire told the owner that his ossuary was "interesting," but he knew the box posed immediate and serious questions. How likely was it that the names James, Joseph and Jesus--all popular names in New Testament-era Jersalem -- referred to the family of Christ?Was the Aramaic inscription as old as the box, or had it been etched in later to enhance its value? Did the cursive lettering used in the inscription match characters used in contemporary scripts?Yet even if these questions were answered satisfactorily, scholars understood that the ossuary's mongrel pedigree would ensure that it would never acquire legitmacy among scholars:

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