November 16, 2002
"Brother of Jesus" Box Creates Stir
by Donald G. Mashburn

Herschel Shanks, publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review, has announced what he called, "[T]he first archaeological attestation of Jesus."

Biblical archaeologists are excited about a limestone box, or ossuary, about 20 inches long. There are indications it may be authentic. Authentic or not, the "Brother of Jesus box" is generating a lot of discussion about the historical Jesus.

Tests by the Geological Survey of Israel reportedly confirm the chisel marks in the inscription are original. The inscription reads, "James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus (Yeshua)," according to numerous media accounts.

Experts date the ossuary's inscription at about A.D. 63. The historian Josephus fixed the date of James' death at A.D. 62.

The find fits the common burial practice of that time, of placing bodies in niches in caves, and letting them dry for a year, after which the bones were placed in a stone box. Only boxes of prominent figures, or their close relatives, were inscribed, according to scholars. An article in The Washington Times reports that only one other ossuary is known to have a brother's name carved on it, suggesting that the Jesus mentioned on the current ossuary was a famous figure.

The Times article added that statistical analysis estimated that when James died, approximately 40,000 men resided in Jerusalem, and that "only three sets of men named Joseph, James and Jesus had father-son relationships." An informal extension of the analysis, taking into account the dates of the inscription and James' death, strengthens the case that the box once held the remains of James, who was the brother of Jesus, according to Gospel accounts.

Several scholars believe the stone box proves the historical existence of Jesus. Others are uncertain about the meaning of "brother," which can have varied meanings in Aramaic. Some, including most Roman Catholics, embrace the belief that Jesus had no half-brothers -- that is, Jesus' mother Mary bore no other children, and remained a virgin throughout her life. The Gospels do not support this view.

Some believe that Biblical references to brothers of Jesus refer to cousins, or to children of Joseph by an earlier marriage. But such claims are in conflict with Scriptures that mention four brothers of Jesus: James, Joses (or Joseph), Judas and Simon, along with unnamed sisters (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3).

Scriptural evidence indicates that Jesus had brothers, one of them named James. In I Cor. 9:5, the Apostle Paul mentions "other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas," in discussing the rights of ministers. And in Gal. 1:19, Paul calls James "the Lord?s brother."

So what does all this speculation mean to Christians today? Very little, for those whose faith is grounded in the Christ of the New Testament. For where a half brother's bones were buried has nothing to do with salvation. The empty tomb has everything to do with it!

The angel at the tomb affirmed Jesus for Believers of all time, when he proclaimed, "He is not here! He is risen!" Neither the existence of Jesus Christ nor His teachings and claims to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world are affirmed by a box making its way from the antiquities market to a researcher's laboratory in 2002.

Jesus appeared to hundreds after His resurrection. He appeared multiple times to groups of believers -- sometimes coming and going suddenly, unhampered by walls and doors.

The "attestation of Jesus" is seen in the lives of all who believe the promise set out in John 3:16 (NKJ): "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

The complete transaction is summed up neatly in John 5:24: "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life."

The "Brother of Jesus Box" may have once held the bones of James, Jesus' brother. But the eternally important thing is that we don't try to put the Son of God in a "box," as something that can be "authenticated" by man.

The Creator is not defined by the thing created, but the created has its beginning, its existence and its salvation in the Creator.