Trial fails to end "brother" of Jesus burial mystery

Wed Mar 14, 2012 11:09am EDT
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By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The authenticity of a burial box purported to have been for the "brother" of Jesus Christ remained shrouded in mystery on Wednesday after a Jerusalem court acquitted an Israeli private collector of charges he forged the artifact.

The court, in finding Oded Golan not guilty, noted that expert witnesses could not agree on whether an inscription on the 2,000-year-old limestone box which reads: "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus", was genuine or had been forged.

The authenticity of the so-called "James ossuary" will likely "continue to be investigated in the archaeological and scientific arena, and time will tell", the court said.

The decade-long mystery has haunted archaeologists and religious scholars worldwide. It has focused on what could be the earliest, most concrete evidence of Jesus's life in Jerusalem and suspicions of the most sophisticated of forgeries.

The saga began in 2002 when Golan, supported by Andre Lemaire, a renowned French scholar of ancient texts, said the ossuary, a limestone box for storing bones of the dead, had on its side the inscription "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".

James, who was believed to have been stoned to death in 62 AD, is mentioned in the Gospels as Jesus' brother. But the Roman Catholic and other Christian churches believe Jesus had no siblings.

Around the same time, another of Golan's artifacts surfaced, the Jehoash Inscription. It is a stone tablet supposedly carved with a Hebrew text that describes renovation work on the first biblical temple by King Jehoash nearly 3,000 years ago.

The trial shed no light on where or how the artifacts were discovered. Golan said he obtained the ossuary and tablet from Arab traders in East Jerusalem.   Continued...

Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan shakes hands with his lawyer Lior Bringer (L) after he was acquitted by Jerusalem District Court March 14, 2012. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun