Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The geek lives!

Even though I'm not a believer, I have, as I've mentioned before, an interest in the figure of Jesus, the, as I put it then, "real historical person, not the phony created God." Because of that, I find this an interesting story.

For those who've not heard of this business before, an ossuary (an ancient limestone burial box, intended to hold the bones of the deceased after the flesh had rotten away) with the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" recently appeared on the antiquities market. The box itself undoubtedly comes from the time of the Biblical Jesus; the question is, Does the inscription? Or is it a modern forgery?

If it's real, it's of great historical importance: A demographic analysis of the time and place indicates that there should be no more than two people named James who had both a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus. It would mean that there is at least a 50-50 chance that the "Jesus" of the inscription is the Biblical Jesus, and it would be the oldest reference to him known, dating from around 62-65 CE. The oldest reference known now is from about 125 CE, nearly a century after his death. (CE stands for "Common Era" and it's what most archaeologists use in preference to AD, or "Anno Domini," which means "Year of our Lord." Similarly, BCE, "Before Common Era," replaces BC, or "Before Christ.")

Some studies by experts concluded the inscription is genuine. However, a study by the Israeli Antiquities Authority recently denounced it as a modern fake, prompting calls for further examination. So the matter stands now.

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