Is the “Brother of Jesus” Inscription on the James Ossuary a Forgery?

The burial box of James, the brother of Jesus

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015.—Ed.

James Ossuary

Although the famous “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” inscription on an ancient ossuary (bone box) has been authenticated by two world-class paleographers, not everyone is convinced that the inscription is authentic.

The purported ossuary (bone box) of James, the brother of Jesus, is back in the news, as questions concerning its authenticity continue to plague the world-famous relic. The James Ossuary, as it’s come to be known, is a limestone bone box that bears an Aramaic inscription reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Controversy—including charges of forgery—has surrounded this ossuary since the Biblical Archaeology Review first reported on the artifact in 2002. The saga of the James Ossuary culminated in 2012 with the acquittal of Israeli antiquities collector (and owner of the ossuary) Oded Golan in a seven-year “forgery trial of the century,” but the story isn’t over yet. In “Predilections—Is the ‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription a Forgery?” in the September/October 2015 issue of BAR, Hershel Shanks reviews the latest argument against the authenticity of the inscription.

The antiquity of the 20-inch-long James Ossuary itself is not questioned—it dates between the first century B.C.E. and 70 C.E., a period when the practice of ossilegium (the collection of the bones of a deceased person) was prevalent among the Jewish population. It is the inscription on the James Ossuary—a mere 20 letters written in Aramaic—that has incited years of debate. If real, the inscription would be the earliest written reference to Jesus. Because the ossuary was purchased with an unknown provenance from an antiquities dealer, the authenticity of the “brother of Jesus” inscription needed to be verified by experts.

After more than five years, the “forgery trial of the century” concluded in a Jerusalem courtroom and defendants Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch were acquitted of all forgery charges. In our free eBook James, Brother of Jesus: The Forgery Trial of the Century, Hershel Shanks explains why he believes the now-famous “James Ossuary” inscription is authentic. Plus, he provides behind-the-scenes analysis of the trial and its key players.


The Aramaic inscription on the so-called James Ossuary reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Drawing by Ada Yardeni.

The inscription, reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” has been authenticated by two eminent paleographers (specialists in dating, interpreting and authenticating inscriptions): André Lemaire of the Sorbonne and Ada Yardeni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2003, however, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) appointed a committee of scholars to study the “brother of Jesus” inscription and report its findings. The committee concluded that the inscription was a forgery.

According to Dutch scholar Pieter van der Horst, who published an analysis of the IAA committee’s report in his new book,1 the IAA “appointed almost exclusively committee members who had already expressed outspoken opinions to the effect that the inscription was a forgery.” Van der Horst observes that the committee members didn’t abide by the IAA guideline “to arrive at the truth based on pure research only—without taking into account any other related factors regarding the collector, current gossip, rumors or prejudices,” nor did they follow the directive that each scholar “should work in his own discipline.”

The “forgery trial of the century” charging five people of running a massive forgery ring lasted seven years and included 138 witnesses, more than 400 exhibits and over 12,000 pages of testimony. Three paleographers were called to testify: André Lemaire, Ada Yardeni and Christopher Rollston, now of the George Washington University. When Rollston took the stand, he refused to give an opinion on the authenticity of the “brother of Jesus” inscription because he did not specialize in Second Temple inscriptions (the time of the ossuary).

“I only talk about what I am sure of,” Rollston said in court. “That is not my field.”

The trial concluded with the acquittal of antiquities dealer and James Ossuary owner Oded Golan and the other defendants on all charges of forgery (though Golan was convicted of minor charges, including trading in antiquities without a license).

“I thought that this was the end of the matter until the Easter season in 2015, when I watched an hour-long TV program on CNN regarding the ossuary and its ‘brother of Jesus’ inscription,” writes Shanks in his BAR article. “Only one scholar addressed the question of the authenticity of the inscription—the same Christopher Rollston who could not express an opinion at the trial. Now he was prepared to opine on the authenticity of the inscription—for all of 33 seconds.”

What is Rollston’s reasoning for why the “brother of Jesus” inscription is a forgery? Is his judgment based on his predilection against unprovenanced inscriptions, as Shanks suggests? Learn more by reading the full article “Predilections—Is the ‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription a Forgery?” by Hershel Shanks in the September/October 2015 issue of BAR.


BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Predilections—Is the ‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription a Forgery?” by Hershel Shanks in the September/October 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 31, 2015.

For more on the “forgery trial of the century,” visit the BAS Library to see a collection of BAR articles highlighting the various scholarly and scientific arguments that have been made both for and against the authenticity of the James Ossuary, the Yehoash tablet and other ancient artifacts.



1. Pieter W. van der Horst, Saxa Judaica Loquuntur: Lessons from Early Jewish Inscriptions, Biblical Interpretation Series 134 (Leiden: Brill, 2015), pp. 67–87.


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  1. Earl says

    100 % Phony….. Just how many “Brother of” or “Sister of” obits have shown up in antiquity????

  2. Robert says

    Does the inscription read James Or Jacob? The King James bible renamed Jacob to James.

  3. BERT says

    If it takes several experts to say it is the real thing.and several experts to say it not the real thing, well, that makes the so called forger a better expert then all of them.
    I don’t think so!!. No I don’t think so

  4. James says

    James is the English translation of the Hebrew name Jacob (I assume Jacob in English is just a change a pronunciation without translation?). And it’s in Aramaic so that’s another translation I’m not qualified to speak to (my name is James, that’s how I know about the other one) suffice to say though that the experts who examined it would have been able to, and since Israel spent around 10 years trying to discredit the box I’m sure they would have pointed it out if it was the wrong name.

  5. Al says

    In Spanish, Yaaqov is Diego. and Santiago is St James. Go figure.
    In Spanish too, Isabela is Elisabeth (otherwise Elishevaa Aaron’s wife I would think ) not Izevel -wife of Ahab. The antiquities industry (industry, just that) in Israel, is unfortunately teeming with charlatans.

  6. Ryan says

    It wouldn’t read “Jesus” either, in Aramaic His Name is Y’Shua, and Hebrew is Yahwshwa, so it would read Yaaqob achi Yahwshwa. Not “James, brother of Jesus.” Jesus is from Latin, not English or Hebrew.

  7. david allen says

    if the inscription says jesus or james it is a forgery… James comes from king james who fostered the KJ version;
    the brother of our Messiah was named Yaacov you say jacob, and ‘issous’\’jesus’ comes from “issue of Zeus” and has nothing to do with scripture or the congregation [it is the headway to the great deception, i.e. changing names, times, holy days etc… daniel 7]
    Messiah’s name is the same name as was translated Joshua, please, actually look at the book of Joshua and see the hebrew spelling of the name to break free from the false moniker forced clandestinely upon us…Yahushua is his name, remember Messiah comes in the fathers name Yahuah is the fathers name Yahushua means Yahuah saves\redeems/rescues etc…
    this will help you in your search for the truth…
    also; the top comment is my most recent research post…
    please enjoy and share if you find it acurate and enlightening

  8. Bishop Cephas says

    It is surprising is the the Holy scriptures were written through inspiration of the holy Spirit but today’s deniers of the holy Spirit or neither Spirit filled would champion the cause. No wonder the ditch is the outcome. Simple using the heavenly standards this is true and you will discover. James or Jacob the elder in the congregation was proud to be a brother of Jesus and good testimony to speak to generation to come through his bones . Bishop Cephas Mangi, D.D

  9. Eliezer says

    Um, it says “Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua”. As this is ancient Israel, I would expect the English translation to be “James, son of Joseph, brother of Joshua”. “Jesus” is Greek.

  10. Eliezer says

    Or Latin. What do I know about “Jesus”.

  11. Eliezer says

    Whoops. My bad. “Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua” would be JACOB, son of Joseph, brother of Joshua. (Not that I believe for ONE SECOND that this is the ossuary of “James the brother of Jesus”.)

    I wish there was an editing function here. Oh well. I shouldn’t be typing on Shabbat anyway.

  12. edward says

    If this is real, it makes Yakov more important compared to Saul. (Paul means small in Latin. What would be the name in Aramaic?) This would corroborate with Josephus concerning Yakov.
    We don’t here anything about Saul from secular sources until much later.

  13. Herbert says

    The pictured inscription reads phonetically:
    “Iyacov ben Yoseph, achi Yeshua.”
    In English: “Jacob son of Joseph, brother of Yeshua.”

    King James I was an anti-Semite, who required that there could never be a “Jacob the Just,” so that the KJV would always read “the brother of our Lord” to be named “James” (after King James himself, and not by the name Jacob). Remember that King James I’s mother was Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots (Bloody Mary), who Christened her son as Roman Catholic.

  14. Herbert says

    I have a dispute with the insistance that the inscription is in Aramaic. We often hear that Yeshua (Jesus) and his Jewish disciples, along with most of their Hebrew fellows, all spoke Aramaic rather than Hebrew. Why is that? It seems that European cultural bias against “the Jews” was such that European academia embraced the posture of denigrating the Hebrew culture that existed during the days of Roman occupation. And that would come to include thinking and teaching that the Jews no longer even spoke or read Hebrew, even though there is no evidence of such a condition in the New Testament texts.

    The text is in the Hebrew letters used during the period of time in question. It is a more modern version thatn the alphabet used during the times of King David. But, as a Hebrew reader of some limitations, I can tell you that I can read the inscription on the picture of the ossuary with no difficulty whatsoever. The New Testament refers in several places to the Jewish people speaking their own language, which of course would be Hebrew. Why then do western scholars keep insisting that it was Aramaic, unless those who began that academic “tradition” wish to use that remark to serve as a “mild denigration” of the Jewish people if Judea, Samaria, The Gallil (Gallilee), the Shomron, etc., as thought the Hebrew People were so downtrodden that they no longer knew nor used their own native language.

    After many long years of study, research and thought,,I have decided that this pattern of western “scholarship” (originating from promonent European universities) has been a result of the wishes of European royalty giving preference to Roman Imperial wishes from the days of the Caesars to the times of Vatican supremacy over all,of Europe. The total and abject dissolution of all Jewish culture included academic distortions of actual history to preserve the Roman rewriting of history.

    In the Book of Acts we see the Apostle Paul speaking Greek to the Roman soldiers who were trying to stop a great disturbance caused by those Hebrews who were opposed to Paul (because of false rumors spread about him). And then Paul turns aside and speaks to his people in their own language, in Hebrew. Why? Because they are all Hebrews, who are trained from age 5-10 to read and write the Hebrew language, so as to be able to study the Scriptures and to begin to prepare for their Bar Mitzvah at 13. Such things were required of them since the days of Moses. They were not like the European peasants kept in ignorance by those who ruled over them. The European pattern model of dominion over the masses through restriction of access to reading and knowledge did not exist in Hebrew culture, because that would entail a direct command of God to all the Cildren of Israel: “… you shall teach them (the Scriptures) dilligently to your children…” from Deuteronomy 6 v 4 and the following passage. God did not want any Israeli to be ignorant of what God wanted them to know, including what their heritage was.

    But, ancient Eurpean rulers (after the Romans faded from power) wanted the vast majority of their vassals and peasants to be helplessly ignorant as a tool for population control. And so, they also required that churches and schools teach that that was the common way of the whole world. Therefore, eventually, that mode of thinking also tainted what European scholatship taught about Israel, the Hebrew People (then referred to by the European pejoritive term as “Jews,” which became the European synonym for “scoundrel,” “thief,” etc.).

    In any case, the Hebrews were not residents of “Palestine.” No, they lived in the areas of former Israel (which Roman occupiers renamed to suit themselves,,and to insinuate that Judah and Israel were Roman property now, ad not the homeland of the Hebrew People). That area would not be named “Palestine” until Europeans did so centuries later. Why? To honor and perpetuate Roman cultural trumphalism over the “Jews,” and the Roman actions to obliterate the name of Israel from history after the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 CE/AD). Did the Jews have the right to stage such a revolt? Yes! It was their own land! Was Rome entitled to gain control over whoeer they wished to dominate. They thought so; but that did not make it so. Did it now?

    Just as in the case of all ancient and modern forms of tyranny: the tyrant grants to himself the “right” to rule over whomever he envies and wishes to control for selfish purposes. Why? All tyrants are bullies who take all authority unto themselves. The same is true of persons like Russia’s Putin, the Ayatollahs of Iran, and the leaders of the EU which push for a global power that they wish to exercise anf control. It is that same human factor of political greed for control of everyone around themselves.

    Ao, such motivations were the root cause of academic patterns of denigration of the Hebrew People (“the filty rotten Jews”), to facilitate a permanent oppression of a dispised group of fellow human beings. Why? Resentment for their efforts to kick Roman control/ oppression out of their own land (“how dare they oppose us!”). It was all about human pride, arrogance and power. The tyrant grants himself prerogatives that are disallowed to all others. Why? The tyrant wants to be a god! “How dare the lowly, treacherous Jew try to prove himself equal to me!”

    But, the Jewish People almost liberated themselves from Roman dominion. Had they done so it would have been the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire, and the leaders of Rome knew that. So, the resentment was enormous. The penalty for such an attempt must be so high that no other peoples would make any similar attempt. Rome ordered the eternal destruction of the existance of Israel, like they did to their rival empire, Carthage.

    After 135 CE/AD the Romans renamed the region “Syria-Paelestina,” after the two nations / colonies which were on either side of theformer Israel and Judah. Jerusalem was replaced with a Roman city named “Alea Capitolina,” and the names of Jerusalem and Israel were banned from being spoken or written. Later on, when Christian scholars began writing more openly about the days of Jesus, they were only permitted to refer to the geographical region by the shortened version of the Roman decreed name of “Paelestina,” or as the English called it, “Palestine.”

    And so, even today that Euro-centric gentile “tradition” refuses to give way to modern life and reality: Israel has been reborn as a nation (which God revealed to His prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others that He would do at the appointed time). But again, European leaders are at the forefront of that ongoing gentile rejection of the State of Israel, and its being the legitimate home of the Hebrew People. Hmm! It appears that God Himself will have to spank the recalcitrant and rejectionist leaders of Europe, and all who choose to side with them against Israel.

  15. Herbert says

    Sorry for the typos that appeared in the above remarks. Tablet Keyboard has gone a bit “touchy” and the auto-spellcheck was shut off due to some bizzare behavior. Hope that you can read thru the several mis-spellings to see what I was saying. Happy New Year, by the way.

    And Happy Jubilee Year to Israel and all the Hebrew / Jewish People worldwide; also, to all who believein the God of Abraham, Yitzak (Isaac) and Iyacov (Jacob)!

    B-T-W: The Jubilee Year requires that all properties be returned to those who are deemed by God to be the rightful owners of the lands in question.
    Two Jubilees ago, in 1917-18, the Balfour Declaration was made and Jerusalem was liberated from pagan Ottoman Empire control.
    One Jubilee ago, in 1966-67, the Old City of Jerusalem and the balance of Judah (Judea) and Samaria, as well as the ancient Heights of Bashan (the Golan), plus anciet Philistia (Gaza Strip) were all restored to Israeli control. How? Because Israel was threatened with distruction by her national neighbors. Why? Because it was time for a restoration that the “powers-that-be” in this world didn’t want to see happen. So, war was planned, but God turned the tables on those hostile to Israel. Now, it appears that pattern will repeat.
    When will gentiles finally reconcile with Israel and the God of Israel? But, as it says in the Bible, “God has a dispute with the nations (the ‘Goyim’ / gentiles).” Since Israel’s enemies are very adament in their hatred and intransigence, it appears that God’s Word will come true again in our present day. God will use Israel (again) to smack-down His enemies (all those who refuse to believe Him and His Word).
    So, we wait and watch to see that part fulfilled between now and next Yom Kippur (Jubilee Years are the longest in the Hebrew calendar cyce of years).
    All the best to you,and may your faith in Adonai Aveenu (God our Father) increase.

  16. Jashub says

    This artifact has heen proven to be authentic,and all the linguistic arguments are pointless no one cares about the transliteration the aramiac script complies with the names mentioned in the historical account.

  17. William says

    Even from the greek “Iacobus” you would know Yeshua’s brother is named Jacob/Ya’akov. Preference for the King – James – in reporting I guess, even though historically incorrect… likewise with the name “Jesus” should be transliterated to Joshua in English. just like in the many other verses about Moses’ successor and other similar named individuals in the bible, but replacement theology takes a hold.

  18. Dougo says

    Herbert, sorry, but you’re a bit confused. And went on an unrelated rant!

    There are two clear indications it’s in Aramaic rather than Hebrew:
    ד before brother to indicate belonging
    בר instead of בן (son – the same Aramaic word used for son in Psalm 2 interestingly!)
    Furthermore, to be pedantic, Hebrew is written in Aramaic script, which the Jews picked up in exile. Same number of letters in both languages, and they share a common ancestor, so it was easy to transfer from Phoenician to Aramaic script.

    You mentioned your own limitations in Hebrew – hope this helps clarify.

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