“Brother of Jesus” Proved Ancient and Authentic

Biblical Archaeology Society Press Release

WASHINGTON D.C. (June 13, 2012)—A new analysis and new evidence proves that the controversial “Brother of Jesus” inscription on an ancient bone box, or ossuary, is authentic, according to the July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), the world’s largest circulation magazine devoted to Biblical archaeology.

After a 5-year trial, Jerusalem judge Aharon Farkash recently acquitted the defendants of all charges of forgery. But his verdict doesn’t mean the Aramaic inscription on the bone box, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” is authentic. It only means that the prosecution failed to present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the inscription is a forgery.

In a post-verdict analysis, former U.S. Department of Justice lawyer and BAR editor Hershel Shanks explains why it can be said beyond reasonable doubt that the inscription is authentic, and he presents new evidence not available at the trial to support this conclusion.

In the latest issue of BAR, Hershel Shanks argues that the "brother of Jesus" inscription on this bone box is authentic.

First and foremost, two world-acclaimed script experts, known as paleographers, have analyzed the inscription and pronounced it authentic. They are Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne and Ada Yardeni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Several other prominent scholars have supported their findings. More importantly, not a single paleographer of repute has challenged their analysis. Paleographically, there is no other side.

The government’s case was based on information provided by Joe Zias, a now unemployed anthropologist formerly employed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, who claimed he had seen the bone box in Mahmoud Abushakra’s antiquities shop without the final phrase, “brother of Jesus.” This became the basis of the government’s case; the government admitted that the bone box itself was ancient, as was the first part of inscription. Only the last phrase, it claimed, was a forgery.

At the trial, however, Zias admitted that he had seen the inscription for a few seconds at most, and even if he had seen it, he wouldn’t have been able to read the ancient letters. That was not his expertise, he said.

Since the trial, BAR has located the bone box that was in Mahmoud Abushakra’s antiquities shop. It looks much like the James/Jesus bone box. It even has an inscription of similar length and includes three names. To anyone who does not read ancient Aramaic it looks much like the inscription on the James/Jesus bone box. But the names are “Joseph, Judah and Hadas,” not “James, Joseph and Jesus.” This bone box with the names “Joseph, Judah and Hadas” is published for the first time in the July/August issue of BAR.

Moreover, the government’s chief scientific witness, Professor Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University was forced to admit on cross-examination that there was original ancient patina in the word “Jesus.”

Whether the “Jesus” on the bone box refers to the founder of Christianity is a separate question. Jesus, James and Joseph were all common names at the time. Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University has made a little-known statistical analysis of the occurrence of these three names in ancient Jerusalem and concluded that at the time there were 1.71 people named James with a father Joseph and a brother named Jesus; and Professor Fuchs says he can say this with 95 per cent assurance that it is a statistically accurate conclusion.

Professor Fuchs also points out that it is very rare to find the brother of the deceased named in a bone-box inscription. In fact, in only one other case of the thousands of recovered bone-boxes is the brother of the deceased listed. In one other case the son of the deceased is named. Fuchs concludes that “there is little doubt that this [naming a brother or son] was done only when there was a very meaningful reason to refer to a family member of the deceased, usually due to his importance and fame.”



Read the full article online as it appears in the July/August 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.



After five years, the “forgery trial of the century” has concluded. In our free eBook James, Brother of Jesus: The Forgery Trial of the Century, Hershel Shanks provides behind-the-scenes analysis of the trial and its key players alongside the essential scholarly articles discussing the artifacts from the trial.

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