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This ancient burial box contains the earliest known reference to Jesus

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After a 10-year investigation and criminal trial, an Israeli antiquities collector has been cleared of forgery charges. That means the modest limestone burial box pictured above — an ossuary inscribed with the earliest-known reference to Jesus – is the real deal.

Back in 2003, skeptics questioned the authenticity of the box, claiming that the owner, Oded Golan, had forged the mention of Jesus. He was arrested and charged with forgery. He's now been cleared of those charges after a thorough analysis of the artifact. Golan plans to put the box on display in Israel. It has not been seen in public since it was briefly displayed in Toronto in 2002.


Chiselled on the side are the words, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The inscription is written in Jewish script and was done using a sharp instrument.

The Guardian explains:

James the Just was the first leader of the Christians in Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. He was executed for apostasy by the local rabbinical court.

At that time, Jews were not buried but laid in a cave. The bones were collected after a year and placed in an ossuary. Thousands have been discovered, some of them inscribed with names to identify whose bones they contain. One other ossuary mentions a brother.

"This is the oldest evidence that mentions the name of Jesus Christ," said Golan, who bought the box in the 1970s but did not realise its significance until Sorbonne professor Andre Lemaire noticed it in Golan's collection. Lemaire published his findings in 2002 and the ossuary was briefly displayed at a Toronto museum, causing a worldwide sensation.


So yes, this 2,000-year-old box belonged to Jesus's brother, James. If it's legit — and some experts still think it's not — it's an extremely rare piece of physical evidence of Jesus and his family.

Related: Papyrus fragment mentions Jesus's wife