For 2,000 years
we've gone without
of Jesus and his family . . .
until now . . .
This is the dramatic inside story of what may well be the most momentous archaeological discovery of our time: the first-century ossuary of Jesus' brother, James, the head of the Jerusalem church. Reportedly found just outside ancient Jerusalem, the fragile limestone burial box bears the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The ossuary and its inscription are now regarded as authentic by top scholars in the field; they represent the first visual, tangible, scientific evidence of Jesus' existence. The implications are monumental for understanding Jesus, his family, and the Jewish Christian movement during the formative years of Christianity.
Hidden for centuries, the ossuary was purchased many years ago by an Israeli collector of ancient artifacts who never suspected its importance. Only when the renowned French scholar AndrÉ Lemaire saw the Aramaic inscription (Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus and his earliest followers) in April 2002 was its significance discovered.
In October 2002, Lemaire announced the news to the world, asserting that it was almost certain that the inscription referred to Jesus of the Bible, his father Joseph, and his brother James. Controversy immediately erupted over the age and authenticity of the inscription. The discovery also rekindled an ancient debate over whether Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin throughout her life -- a doctrine that still divides Catholics and Protestants.
Hershel Shanks, a central figure of biblical archaeology, who led a forceful campaign to make the Dead Sea Scrollsavailable to the world, recounts the story of the ossuary's discovery and authentication. Ben Witherington III, a leading New Testament scholar, shows how the discovery reveals surprising facts about a story people thought they knew: How Jesus was raised in a large, religiously conservative Jewish family; how his brothers and sisters were skeptical about his claims -- until he died; how Jesus' brother James went on to head the Jewish Christian movement in Jerusalem, becoming the leader Peter and Paul looked to for guidance and approval; how James brokered the major church controversy of the first century and wrote a book of the Bible; how he was martyred and soon written out of history by the Church of Rome. The dramatic discovery of the ossuary allows us to get reacquainted with the towering historical figure the apostle Paul called a "pillar of the church."