An inscription on an ancient burial artifact found in Israel, may provide the oldest archaeological evidence of Jesus Christ, according to an expert who dates it to three decades after the crucifixion. Writing in Biblical Archaeology Review, Andre Lemaire, a French academic specialist in ancient inscriptions, says it is possible the find is an authentic reference to Jesus of Nazareth. The inscription, in the Aramaic language, appears on an empty ossuary, or limestone coffin for bones. It reads: 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.' Lemaire dates the object to 63 AD. That Jesus existed is not doubted by scholars, but what the world knows about him comes almost entirely from the New Testament. No physical artifact from the first century related to Jesus has been discovered and verified. Lemaire says the writing style, and the fact that Jews practiced ossuary burials only between 20 BC and AD 70, puts the inscription exactly in the time of Jesus and James, who led the early church in Jerusalem. All three names were commonplace, but he estimates that only 20 Jameses in Jerusalem during that era would have had a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus. He adds that naming the brother as well as the father on an ossuary was "very unusual," and says there is only one other known example in Aramaic. Thus, this particular Jesus must have had some unusual role or fame, and Jesus of Nazareth certainly qualified, Lemaire says. James is depicted as Jesus' 'brother' in the Gospels and head of the Jerusalem church in the Book of Acts and Paul's epistles. The first century Jewish historian Josephus also recorded that 'the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James by name,' was stoned to death as a Jewish heretic in AD 62. If his bones were placed in an ossuary that would have occurred the following year, dating the inscription around AD 63. The magazine says two scientists with the Israeli government's Geological Survey conducted a detailed microscopic examination of the inscription and reported that there was no evidence to detract from its authenticity. Lemaire said the ossuary is in a private collection and the owner does not want to be identified.
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