- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

TORONTO (AP) The French scholar who discovered the purported burial box of Jesus' brother James strongly defended the artifact's identification yesterday against skeptical points raised at a convention of religion scholars.
Despite the doubts, Andre Lemaire asserted that "myself, I have been very cautious. I say it is very probable."
The animated panel discussion, attended by 800 people, involved mainly crucial technical points such as grammar and the forms of handwriting in the inscription, which reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
The words appeared on a first-century bone box known as an "ossuary," a form of Jewish burial that ended in A.D. 70. The New Testament identifies James as Jesus' brother and the leader of Jerusalem's early Christians.
Because of the implications for such Catholic doctrines as the perpetual virginity of Mary, the precise meaning of the phrase in the Bible has been debated for centuries.
If scholars decide the inscription refers to Jesus of Nazareth rather than some other Jesus, and is not a forgery, the box would rank as a monumental archaeological discovery.
Since Mr. Lemaire reported the box's existence last month in Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, some have suggested the Jesus phrase could have been added by a forger, more likely in ancient than in modern times.
Some scientific questions about the box, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum through Dec. 29, may be clarified when the Israel Antiquities Authority conducts further examination.
Two specialists with Israel's Geological Survey certified that the surface patina indicated that all the letters were inscribed in ancient times with no sign of tampering.
Eric Meyers of Duke University, who took his first look at the box last week, said at the meeting that he had "serious questions about authenticity" and urged caution, among other reasons because the "brother of Jesus" phrase could have been added.
University of Toronto archaeologist Peter Richardson told a separate panel at the Ontario museum that the inscription showed two different writing styles, but that the "character of the letters changes gradually" from one end to the other, making forgery less likely.
Mr. Lemaire said the more fundamental question is whether the inscription refers to the biblical James. On that, he estimated that in first-century Jerusalem only 20 males named James might have had a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus.
He reached his "very probable" identification because it was extremely rare to name a brother, so this particular Jesus must have stood out.
Oded Golan, the Israeli collector who owns the box, told the museum session that Tel Aviv University statistician Camil Fuchs has narrowed the odds to three persons by calculations, not yet published, that eliminate Jerusalem's non-Jews, children, the 85 percent who were illiterate and the 50 percent who could not afford ossuary burial.


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