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Archaeological Finding May Be Earliest Record of Jesus’ Life

By Thomas H. Maugh II
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- A French scholar has discovered what may be the earliest archaeological evidence of Jesus -- a 1,940-year-old, limestone burial box bearing the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

The 20-inch-long box for holding the bones of the deceased, known as an ossuary, dates from A.D. 63 and all evidence suggests that it is genuine and not a forgery, said paleographer Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne University in Paris, who discovered it in a private collection.

The discovery, which so far has survived the scrutiny of a variety of scholars and scientists, could be one of the most important finds in New Testament archaeology, said Hershel Shanks, publisher of the Biblical Archeology Review, which is reporting Lemaire’s findings in its November/December issue. Until this find, the oldest existing text with the name “Jesus” was a papyrus fragment of the New Testament dated about a century after Jesus’ death.

One of the major questions facing historians is whether the James mentioned in the inscription is actually St. James, who headed the church in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, or whether the inscription refers to another family entirely.

Although Lemaire said at a Monday news conference that it is “very probable” that the box once held the bones of St. James, P. Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University told the same gathering that “we may never be absolutely certain.”

“In the work I do, we are rarely absolutely certain about anything,” he said.

“It is real,” said John McCray of Wheaton College in Illinois. “The big question is, are we 100 percent sure that the reference is to Jesus (Christ)? The answer is no, we are not 100 percent certain, but the probabilities are very strong that it is.”