Sunday, May 29, 2011

Archaeological find gives light to biblical stories

They may turn out to be among the most significant few words in modern archaeology: The inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus", written in Aramaic, and found on an ancient stone box, may be the oldest historical evidence of Jesus Christ. The box was an ossuary, a stone casket for the bones of the dead.

It's believed the bones it contained were those of James, the brother of Christ, mentioned occasionally in the Gospels. Researchers have dated the box to the first century AD, as Nick Grimm reports.

NICK GRIMM: It's a discovery certain to stir the imaginations of believers and non-believers alike.

Ancient historian, Dr. Chris Forbes, from Macquarie University:

: This is a marvellously exciting discovery, even if it doesn't tell us anything fundamentally new, it's direct contact with those first century people.

NICK GRIMM: If this archaeological artefact is the genuine article, then there was no gilt or inlay of precious stones for the brother of Christ. Rather, the bones of James lay inside a very plain stone box shaped rather like a house brick. But it's perhaps befitting that of the son of a carpenter, and for all its plainness, the discovery has been described as "dazzling" by researchers. This is how the American ABC network described the discovery.

AMERICAN NEWS PRESENTER: It is an ossuary; a stone box used in the first century to bury people's bones. On the side, an inscription in the ancient language of Aramaic.

HISTORIAN: The inscription is [Aramaic phrase].

AMERICAN NEWS PRESENTER: James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.

HERSHEL SHANKS: It is the first appearance of Jesus in an archaeological discovery.

NICK GRIMM: Hershel shanks is the publisher of the journal The Biblical Archaeological Review, which has published the research supporting a discovery which is the stuff of an archaeologist's dreams.

HERSHEL SHANKS: This is the first archaeological attestation of Jesus, plus also of Joseph and James, which is kind of mind-boggling.

NICK GRIMM: This might not exactly be the holy grail, but the box may be the first ever archaeological discovery to corroborate biblical references to Jesus. The box currently belongs to a private owner in Israel who wishes to remain anonymous, and who bought it from an Arab dealer in antiquities 15 years ago. It's believed the box was probably looted from its original position somewhere in a cave.

Hershel Shanks again:

HERSHEL SHANKS: It's very rare, and in only one other case is the brother mentioned on the ossuary. The usual formula is "Dick, so of James", something like this, not the brother.

NICK GRIMM: Efforts so far to expose the box as a fake have been unsuccessful. Dr. Chris Forbes says it appears to verify other historical references to the brother of Jesus.

CHRIS FORBES: Well, I think it seems a pretty good chance that we're dealing with those people, the ones mentioned in the New Testament.

NICK GRIMM: Chris Forbes, what evidence do we actually have that James was the brother of Christ?

CHRIS FORBES: Well, there's the evidence in the New Testament itself that describes someone called James as being Jesus' brother, but there's also the evidence of Josephus, the Jewish historian, probably writing in the 90s AD, and in his Jewish Antiquities, Book 20, Section 200, he says as follows:

"Annanias the High Priest convened the charges of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and delivered them up to be stoned".

And it goes on to talk about how Annanias, the High Priest, got into trouble as a result.

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