Scholar claims oldest Jesus evidence
A magazine editor announced yesterday that a newly-discovered inscription on a burial artifact in Israel is "the first appearance of Jesus in the archaeological record".
Writing in the new issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Andre Lemaire, a specialist in ancient inscriptions at France's Practical School of Higher Studies, says it is "very probable" the find is an authentic reference to Jesus of Nazareth and he dates it to A.D. 63--just three decades after the crucifixion.
But Kyle McCarter, a Johns Hopkins University archaeologist, said: "We may never be absolutely certain."
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 believes that has changed, though questions remain, such as where the piece with the inscription has been for more than 19 centuries.
The inscription, in the Aramaic language, appears on an empty ossuary, or limestone burial box for bones. It reads: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Lemaire dates the object to 63 A.D.
Lemaire says the writing style, and the fact that Jews practiced ossuary burials only between 20 B.C. and A.D. 70, puts the inscription squarely 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.
The Fr Joseph Fitzmyer, a Jesuit professor of scripture at Catholic University in Washington studied photos of the box. He agrees with Lemaire that the writing style "fits perfectly" with other first century examples and admits the joint appearance of these three famous names is "striking".
"But the big problem is, you have to show me the Jesus in this text is Jesus of Nazareth, and nobody can show that," Fitzmyer says.
Biblican Archaeology Review
Possible Earliest Reference of Jesus Found (Washington Post)
Stunning New Evidence that Jesus Lived (Christianity Today)
22 Oct 2002