The Ossuary
of James, the Brother of Jesus

Photo from N.Y. Times DESCRIPTION
Language Aramaic
Medium limestone
Approximate Size 35 centimeters high
50 centimeters long
Length 1 line of writing
Genre Ossuary Inscription
Date 1st century CE
Place of Discovery Silwan, West Bank
(village on the edge of Jerusalem)
Purchased from anonymous Palestinian
antiquities dealer
Purchased by Oded Golan
Israeli antiquities collector
Approximate Date of Purchase 1987
Date of Public Announcement October 21, 2002
Current Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Yacaqob bar Yosef ahwi Yeshuac
James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus
Note that the Semitic name Yacaqob (Jacob) came into English as "James"; and the Semitic name Yeshuac (Joshua) came into English through Greek (Iêsous) and Latin (Iesu) as "Jesus."


"It seems very probable that this is the ossuary of the James in the New Testament. . . . [however,] nothing in this ossuary inscription clearly confirms the identification."
Prof. André Lemaire
Epigrapher at the Sorbonne, Paris
(quoted in New York Times)

"...the first appearance of Jesus in the archaeological record."
Hershel Shanks, publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review
(quoted on

"We may never be absolutely certain. In the work I do, we're rarely absolutely certain about anything."
Prof. P. Kyle McCarter Jr., epigrapher and biblical scholar
Johns Hopkins University
(quoted on

The rarity of this configuration of names occurring, especially the inclusion of a brother's name, "lends a sense of credibility to the claim."
Prof. Eric M. Meyers, archaeologist and biblical scholar
Duke University
(quoted in New York Times)


1. How would one go about authenticating such an inscription?

2. How common were the names Jacob/James, Joseph, and Joshua/Jesus in first-century Palestine?

3. What reasons did the ancient Judeans have for "secondary burial" in ossuaries (bone boxes)?

4. In which of the four New Testament Gospels is James mentioned? How is he depicted in each?

5. How is James depicted in the Book of Acts? With what issues is he associated?

6. In what contexts is James mentioned in the letters of Paul? How would you describe Paul's relationship to James?

7. What is the likelihood that James, Jesus' brother, wrote the Epistle of James in the New Testament? What objections or cautions concerning his authorship have been raised? How would you answer them? What lines of argumentation would you use?

"'Jesus Box' Exposed as Fake." June 18, 2003.

Bauckham, Richard. James. London: Routledge, 1999.

Bauckham, Richard. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990.

Bernheim, Pierre-Antoine. James, Brother of Jesus. Translated by John Bowden. London: SCM, 1997.

Chilton, Bruce, and Jacob Neusner, editors. The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.

Crossan, John Dominic, and Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Dibelius, Martin. James. Revised by Heinrich Greeven. Translated by M. A. Williams. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964.

Greenhut, Zvi. "Discovery of the Caiaphas Family Tomb." Jerusalem Perspective vol. 4.5-6 (July/October 1991) 6-12.

Hagner, Donald A. "James." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by D. N. Freedman, 3:616-18. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Hanson, K. C., and Douglas E. Oakman. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.

Jeremias, Joachim. "Paul and James." Expository Times (1960/61).

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Letter of James. Anchor Bible 37A. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Legon, Jeordan. "Scholars: Oldest Evidence of Jesus?" (Oct. 22, 2002).

Lemaire, André. "Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus." Biblical Archaeology Review 28.6 (Nov/Dec 2002) 24-33 + 70.

Painter, John. Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Personalities of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.

Rahmani, L. Y. "Ossuaries and Ossilegium (Bone Gathering) in the Late Second Temple Period." In Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, edited by Hillel Geva, 191-205. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994.

Reed, Jonathan L. Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Reassessment of the Evidence. Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2000.

Reich, Ronny. "Ossuary Inscriptions from the Caiaphas Tomb." Jerusalem Perspective vol. 4, nos. 5-6 (July/October 1991) 13-21.

Rousseau, John J., and Rami Arav. Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Sheler, Jeffrey L. "A Discovery and a Debate: Who Was Jesus' Brother?" U.S. News and World Report (Nov. 4, 2002).

Wilford, John Noble. "'Jesus' Inscription on Stone May Be Earliest Ever Found." New York Times (October 22, 2002) A, p. 14, col. 1.

Woodward, Kenneth L. "A Clue to Jesus?" (Nov. 4, 2002).

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Last Modified: 2 April 2007