Surprising Archaeological Find: Proof of Jesus' Existence?

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Surprising Archaeological Find

Proof of Jesus' Existence?

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First it was the name of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate found in a monument in Caesarea, Israel, in 1961.

Then came the discovery in 1990 in Jerusalem of an ossuary, a burial box for bones, bearing the name of Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Jesus. Just recently it appears the most spectacular of all archaeological finds relating to Jesus has surfaced.

Another ossuary has come to light, this one bearing the names of Jesus, James and Joseph, three of the most prominent people in the New Testament. The ancient Aramaic words inscribed on the limestone box state that it belonged to "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

In late October Andre' Lemaire, a specialist in ancient inscriptions and professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, announced the discovery of the stone container with the extraordinary script. An Israeli collector, Oded Golan, had purchased the box from an Arab antiquities dealer more than a decade ago. Mr. Golan had not thought the artifact important until Professor Lemaire examined it. In fact, although Mr. Golan had read the inscription, he hadn't connected it with the biblical Jesus.

The dealer told Mr. Golan that the box had come from a burial site in southern Jerusalem where a bulldozer had accidentally uncovered a site containing tombs and bone boxes dating to the time of Jesus and James.

Much to the disappointment of archaeologists and scholars, the box was not excavated by a trained archaeologist from the spot where it had rested for the last 2,000 years. Instead it was surreptitiously removed and sold on the antiquities market (as is the case with a high percentage of archaeological finds in the Holy Land). Regrettably, this prevents the examination of the box in its proper archaeological context and the elimination of any possibility of fraud.

Strong evidence for authenticity

Yet fraud seems rather unlikely. Before the announcement of the discovery, the limestone box was subjected to rigorous scientific tests to rule out the possibility. A team of experts from the Geological Survey of Israel examined the box and the inscription under a microscope and found no evidence of modern tools or tampering. Like the rest of the box, the inscription, though wiped clean in parts, has a thin sheen of particulate matter formed on it called a patina. This particular patina shows that it developed in a cave environment and that it is consistent with an age of 2,000 years.

By its very nature the artifact can be dated to within a few decades. Such bone boxes were in use from about 20 B.C. to A.D. 70, when according to Jewish custom the dead were first sealed in caves or rock-cut tombs, then their bones later transferred to a limestone bone box after the body had decayed.

Professor Lemaire further narrowed the dating by verifying that the inscription was in a cursive style used only in the few decades before A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Thus the inscription fits the style used around A.D. 62, when James, Jesus' half brother, died.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, which announced the discovery, explained that the inscription was reviewed by Joseph Fitzmyer, one of the world's foremost experts on first-century Aramaic and a preeminent Dead Sea Scrolls editor. Professor Fitzmyer was at first troubled by the spelling of the word for brother, because it was a plural form used centuries later. But further research yielded the same form in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls and on another first-century ossuary. "I stand corrected," Professor Fitzmyer said.

A putative forger would have to know Aramaic better than Professor Fitzmyer, which seems rather unlikely. "To my mind," wrote Mr. Shanks, "this is one of the strongest arguments for the authenticity of the James inscription" (Biblical Archaeology Review, November-December 2002, p. 33).

Many factors pointing in one direction

"It seems very probable," Professor Lemaire concludes, "that this is the ossuary of the James in the New Testament" (ibid.).

What makes the case that this is indeed the ossuary of Jesus' half brother so convincing is the combination of factors that point in the same direction. Dr. Lemaire notes that Joseph (Hebrew Yosef) and Jesus (Yeshua, or Joshua) were common names in the A.D. 60s and James (Ya'akov or Jacob) less so, but a brother would not ordinarily be named in an inscription unless he were prominent.

Dr. Lemaire says the likelihood of more than one person named James with a father named Joseph and a prominent brother named Jesus in that precise time period is minuscule.

"It is one thing to have scattered probabilities," explains John Meier, professor of New Testament at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and an authority on first-century Palestinian Judaism; "it's another thing to have lines of probabilities all converging at one point" (UPI report, Oct. 25).

Mr. Shanks stated that the "clincher" for him was the naming of the brother of the deceased. Of some 800 bone boxes discovered, 233 have inscriptions on the outside. Of these, few are inscribed with the name of a brother—only one other in Aramaic. Mr. Shanks said if one accepts the theory that the deceased was a prominent person associated with him—rather than simply associated because the brother presided over the secondary interment—the probability that the inscription refers to Jesus of Nazareth seems overwhelming.

The life of James

Who was James? Let's consider the intriguing story of this half brother of Jesus.

We first read of James in the New Testament as one of Jesus' half brothers (Jesus was born of Mary, miraculously begotten of God the Father through the Holy Spirit while Mary was a betrothed virgin, as explained in Matthew 1:18-25). Yet Mary and her husband, Joseph, later had other children. In Matthew 13:55-56 we see that some residents of Nazareth asked: "Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?" (emphasis added throughout).

During Jesus' life, the Bible candidly reveals that His half brothers did not believe in Him as Savior and Messiah (John 7:5). Yet, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His half brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7), who then became a prominent believer. In Acts 1:14 James is pictured, along with his other brothers and his mother,Mary, as original members of the Church. This was the same group that received God's Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

James later became an apostle and leader of the Jerusalem congregation. He played a prominent role in the conference of Acts 15 (Acts 15:13-21). Paul later visited James in Jerusalem where he oversaw the elders there (Acts 21:18). In Galatians 2:9 Paul refers to James as a "pillar" of the Church, and in 1 Corinthians 9:5 he mentions that "the brothers of the Lord" were married, which apparently included James. (More of James' life is detailed in "James: Half Brother of Jesus".)

James also wrote the New Testament epistle that bears his name (James 1:1). Another brother, Judas or Judah (Matthew 13:55), wrote the short epistle of Jude (Jude 1).

The death of James

The death of James, the Lord's brother—not to be confused with the two original apostles named James (see Matthew 10:2-3)—is not mentioned in the New Testament. But Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, does record it.

He writes: "Festus [the Roman procurator] was now dead, and Albinus [his successor] was but upon the road; so he [Ananas II, the high priest] assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, chap. 9, sec. 1).

Eusebius, a fourth-century church historian, records even more of the details of James' death: "Conducting him [James] into a public place, they demanded that he should renounce the faith of Christ before all the people; but contrary to the sentiments of all, with a firm voice, and much beyond their expectation, he declared himself fully before the whole multitude, and confessed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, our Savior and Lord.

"Unable to bear any longer the testimony of the man, who, on account of his elevated virtue and piety was deemed the most just of men, they . . . slew him . . . But, as to the manner of James's death, it has been already stated in the words of Clement, that he was thrown from a wing of the temple, [to be stoned] and beaten to death with a club" (Ecclesiastical History, 1995, pp. 75-76).

Names of other biblical figures found

Although the evidence so far points to the listing of Jesus, James and Joseph on the newfound ossuary as being the same persons mentioned in the New Testament, it cannot be proven with absolute certainty. Perhaps testing methods yet to be developed will be carried out that can further confirm the find.

In the meantime, the find nevertheless appears to be powerful evidence for the accuracy of the Gospel accounts and the literal existence of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and His earthly family.

And by no means is this find unique; the existence of many biblical figures has been proven by archaeological finds. So far biblical names that have been positively confirmed include Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, David, many of the kings of Judah and Israel, and even Jeremiah's scribe, Baruch. Many of these finds have been discussed in our 24-part series "The Bible and Archaeology."

Jesus once said, "If these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:40). He spoke of His disciples' testimony, but it is interesting that, through the discoveries of archaeology, there are stones that are now figuratively crying out as witnesses to the authenticity of the biblical account.


  • uriyel ben israel
    Craig Scott, what scriptures do you claim to prophecy of Christ?
  • KathrineBennett
    As I grow older God's Word grows even more precious to me. His word lives in my heart, and for 50 years has encouraged and sustained me. But it is not just the Bible I am referring to but the sweet words of encouragement down through years' most lonely and painful times.. If any have had health problems and chronic pain your nurse or doctor will ask, "On a scale of 1-10 how bad is the pain". I think that is really too subjective to base a patient's need but that is the best they have for now. Pain, joy, happiness, sadness, anxiety, etc. cannot be measured by instruments that now exist. Except for God no one knows me. He created Adam and Eve...and he knit me together in my mother's womb. And through His death and resurrection I know I will get to continue in His prescience after death. Can I tell you on a scale of 1-10 how sure I am of this I will tell you 10. But that is not proof is it: you just have to accept that I believe it. Oh, and I must say before I run out of words that if you do not know the God who gives you this "off the scale" JOY as we often hear the angels' words at Chritmas: Joy to the world, we bring you tidings of great joy. SEARCH FOR HIM, FOR JOY.
  • Norbert Z
    stuckinthemiddl, The Big Bang theory can not be said to be true. Humankind has no way to measure the first few billionths of second after the assumed Big Bang. Scientists base this theory on what they can observe today. They have no way to get back to the initial instant of their Big Bang theory and make the observations necessary to prove it. Similar goes for the theory of Evolution. These theories are highly persuasive but they are assumptions.
  • stuckinthemiddlewithyou
    of course evolution exists. and of course Jesus existed. its all about the specifics. Four and a half billion years is simply not enough time to account for the vast selection of varied lifeforms that have inhabited this planet to have all mutated off of each other from A SINGLE SOURCE. This is where Darwin gets it wrong. Big bang is now proven, but in no way does this disprove the possibility of God and Heaven. And this question of did Jesus exist? is silly...Roman record keepers, Dead Sea Scrolls and centuries of shared histories and lore have lasted into today. Of course there was a Jesus, but there is much more to be unveiled in the truths of his time. There are many inaccuracies in the bible. and there are many truths, which they keep digging up out of the dirt. I am not suggesting that my doubts in Darwinian evolution means that humans are created in the image of God. But I am willing to consider it. I am mostly intrigued in the study of the historical accuracies of that period. & I am thankful for forums to encourage such healthy and vital argument on such a seemingly contentious topic. I do not separate my study of science with my study of the spirit. same thing.
  • bigstatic
    Evolution does not state that we evolved from monkeys. Rather, it surmises that apes and humans share a common ancestor. You should really read up on evolution instead of hearing about it from the pulpit, bible study or Sunday school.
  • Isabella McGiff
    I also wonder weather it's possible that corruption from higher authorities had a little helping hand in destroying all evidence of our wonderful man called Jesus and this is the way it remains even to this day !! Corruption and power is the reason ....... Still the word of god is here with us and after 2000 years that is Devine power in it self ....
  • Isabella McGiff
    Hi , First of all the evolution theory I only have one question Why do we still have apes and monkeys etc and why do t they evolve ???? . That should answer all !!!! Secondly .... Why after 2000 years is Jesus still the most famous person in the world .... Thirdly .... Bible the most famous book In the world .... Yes I believe it's faith and this is why and how we don't have hard evidence it's just the way it's meant to be ...
  • TruthSeeker7
    Clara, Jesus was in fact a real person on this earth, whether or not he is the son of God is something you have to figure out, its something as believers in God to figure out if Jesus was the son of God. The Bible teaches that Jesus was the Son of God, but teachings can be rejected as we have seen in the past historical accounts of fallen leaders. So as to ask ourselves if Jesus is the son of God is to ask the question of what our faith looks like. We, the human race, must seek the truth. For the truth will be shown to those that seek. But you must go with an open mind for if you reject what you find, then that contradicts seeking truth. Truth is not an opinion, it is a fact. Religious leaders will try to force things upon you and try to teach you but faith cannot be taught, it has to be experienced, so i urge you, search for God and then search for the answers of your questions. take baby steps of first and then tackle the bigger and harder questions.
  • Norbert Z
    gayle10239, scientists have a way of guessing when it comes to making claims about what the science reveals. It's similar to how people read things they imagine in their own head into the scriptures because it suits their version of the truth. So when someone says evolution is a fact, it's not. What it is; is a very logically constructed fable. I know of no scientist that was around at the beginning who documented the scientific proof necessary that life evolved. They just see a bunch of fossils and "guess" at what happened. Just like in the scriptures where the apostle Paul tells his readers "Do not go beyond what is written." The taking of the fossil record and telling evolution is a fact is going beyond what can be observed.
  • gayle10239
    Norbert 2: If you follow the scientific method for dating the ossuary and believe that science can show such things, then you have to believe in evolution, for the SAME scientific methods are used to demonstrate evolution as are used to authenticate the ossuary. You cannot allow one and fdeny the other or your brain will explode with the obvious contradiction. We all know that the Bible is not a scientific document. And those who use it to deny evolution are not using the brains that God gave them. The Bible is a series FAITH documents written over a thousand years by people who were faithful to God. It is wrapped in the allusions of many different cultural periods. To truly understand this wonderful book, you MUST read it the way it was written and not what you believe it to be in the 21st century.
  • Webelieve
    Shalom. This is the Greek name of Jesus: Kyrios Kyrios denotes the creative powers and the wisdom of the Creator. Please pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. Shalom and shalom.
  • Tammy Walston Vaught
    Mr. Ashley, God has given me deep faith, and I didn't know the name Jesus means Hail Zeus from the Greek god. Thank you Ms. Nova. Mr. Ashley, could we have a article about that? Should we continue to call Him Jesus? Tammuz is one of the names in the Jewish calendar, and we know that it is condemned in Ezekiel 8:14, would that be the same Tammuz being used in their calendar? I like the Jewish name Yeshua or any Hebrew rendering for what His name was supposed to be translated into. I have to get it right because we may be breaking the third commandment. I know the emotional attachment to the name Jesus, but is God happy about it?
  • Craig Scott
    MsNova, The Aramaic inscription on the ossuary reads: Ya'akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua So the inscription on the ossuary does not use the popular Greek/Roman rendering of His name "Jesus" but rather the Hebrew/Aramaic version "Yeshua".
  • MsNova
    What forgers & fakes seem to be unaware of, is the name Jesus means Hail Zeus. It was used to convert the Roman populace in the early days of the church & is NOT a Jewish name. So anything that claims to be in period that uses the name Jesus is a wrong.
  • Craig Scott
    Clara, Regarding your secondary question about Jesus being “just a normal human being”… The place to start looking for your answer is with Jesus detailed fulfillment of prophecies written hundreds of years prior to His birth. You can get more information about that here: Based on fulfilled prophecy Jesus is far from just an ordinary person. Jesus was (and is) the Son of God just as He said when He lived on earth. If Jesus claimed to be the Son of God or God made flesh while actually being “just an ordinary person” we would have to assume He was either a liar or insane. It simply does not make sense that multiple prophets over hundreds of years were given prophecies of Jesus coming only to have them fulfilled in great detail by a liar or man who was insane. The prophecies of Jesus coming were recorded and fulfilled to provide proof and authority that Jesus was (and is) exactly who He said He was. You should take the time to carefully review the book on this subject available free on this website:
  • Craig Scott
    Clara, I’m not sure if you are doubtful of the historic reality of Jesus or not. If so, you can get additional information about non-biblical historic references and so forth here: If you don’t consider the bible itself as a credible witness then consider that the sources listed above are from people who were highly critical of or opposed to Jesus and His followers yet acknowledged the existence of an actual person named Jesus. Obviously a great deal more has been recorded by those who were sympathetic to Jesus and His followers beginning with (but not limited to) the scriptural record found in the New Testament. Neither of us have ever met, seen, touched or talked to Napoleon Bonaparte... because he lived over 200 years ago. But, we believe that he existed as a person based on what has been written about him… both from his admirers and detractors. The same goes for many historic personalities small or great. We can deny something or someone existed because we wish it to be so… but that does not make it so. There are people out there who deny the holocaust
  • Clara
    Hey guys, don't think I'm trying to question your faith but even if it is proved that Jesus existed, we can't prove that he was Son of God, can we? I mean, yeah, people does exist and the article itself says that these were common names. So, what if he was just a normal human being? I mean just think about it, that's all. But please friends don't think I'm trying to offend you.
  • Justgotsaved
    Thank you Joshua Infantado...that's exactly what I was thinking.
  • Joshua Infantado
    @CLA student, I do not see how developing immunity proves evolution. Immunity does not prove evolution. It does not mean that when we develop immunity we evolve from monkeys. Just doesn't seem logical.
  • Tee1up
    Norbert, This article describes a patina on the James ossuary and the results were conclusive that the chemical make-up of that patina was identical to that of a cluster of ossuaries that were removed from the Talpiot tomb. In that tomb they found ossuaries belonging to Jesus Son of Joseph, Maria, Joseph, Mariamne, Jose, Matya and several others that had no inscriptions. Once you add in James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus to that list you are left with history's most spectacular coincidence or indeed the first century family tomb of Jesus. The importance of this discovery is huge and has led many archeologists to back away as it almost seems too good. Ultra orthodox jewish segments in Jerusalem block additional study of tombs in the area but there is hope this may change. So, in reference to your point, a 'Jesus bone box' has been found but if you read the new testament the way Paul would like you too, this discovery need not shake anyone's faith. Jesus was to have cast off his crucified, earthly body in favour of a heavenly one. Read Shimon Gibson and James Tabor.
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