Is the “James Ossuary” authentic and from the Talpiot Tomb?
Updated April 9, 2012
The report from the initial recovery clearly shows that ten ossuaries were recovered and cataloged. However, there are
only nine Talpiot Tomb ossuaries to be found at the IAA storage facility. It is the position of the IAA that the tenth
ossuary was unremarkable and that it probably went into an abandoned general storage area and can no longer be
found. Others who looked at the sequence of events see a possibility that the ossuary was stolen or lost, perhaps
during or shortly after the recovery operation.
In 2002, an Israeli antiquities dealer, Oded Golan, made known that he was in possession of an ossuary that bears the
inscription “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus”(click here).
Most scholars accept that Jesus had a brother (or perhaps a half-brother) that we know of as James. It is also
generally accepted that sometime after the death of Jesus, this brother James took up leadership of the Jewish
followers of Jesus in the area of Jerusalem. James is thought to have died at the hands of the Jewish religious
authorities sometime around 60-65 CE.
So, if the ossuary brought forward by Golan could be shown to be that of this James, it would be a find of major
historical and religious significance in its own right. But the story became even more intriguing in 2005 with renewed
interest in the Talpiot tomb. The Talpiot tomb investigators revisited the events surrounding the recovery operation at
the Talpiot tomb and saw the possibility that the so-called “James Ossuary” could be the missing 10th or perhaps an un-
cataloged 11th ossuary from the Talpiot tomb.
The investigators argued that if the “James Ossuary” could be shown to be authentic and placed in the Talpiot tomb,
then it would be a virtual certainty that the Talpiot tomb was the family tomb of Jesus.
This Line of Argument is broken into two parts. First, is the “James Ossuary” authentic and the ossuary for the brother
of Jesus? Second, is the “James Ossuary” from the Talpiot Tomb? The reader will notice immediately that there is a
degree of circularity in these two questions; if it can be shown by physical means that this ossuary can be placed in the
Talpiot tomb, then it is more likely to be judged authentic. If it is judged to be inauthentic, then it matters less where it
Part I: Is the “James Ossuary” authentic and can it be associated with James the brother of Jesus?
The manner, location and timing in which the “James Ossuary” was recovered can not be documented. All that can be
confirmed is that it arose out of the antiquities marketplace, perhaps by illegal means. Therefore many scholars
dismiss the “James Ossuary” out of hand because it did not arise from a legitimate archeological source.
Building on that objection the IAA (Israeli Antiquities Authority) has taken the position that the inscription is at least
partly a forgery and therefore is of no historical value. They assert that Oded Golan is not a legitimate antiquities
dealer, but rather is part of an antiquities forgery ring.
The IAA asserts that physical testing of the inscription confirms that it is a forgery. Others who have studied the way in
which the inscription is written claim that it is clear that the inscription was written by two different people. It is often
asserted that the “James son of Joseph” portion is likely to be legitimate, while the “brother of Jesus is added”.
Some scholars have built on the two author scenario by claiming the second supposedly added portion uses Aramaic in
a way that one would not expect to find in use at the time of James’ death.
Given that naming brothers on ossuaries is very uncommon, it reinforces the likelihood that the latter portion of the
inscription is a forgery.
Critics then say that if the only legitimate portion of the inscription is “James son of Joseph” then the ossuary is nothing
special, because that name could easily have appeared by chance, given the commonness of the names James and
The proponents of the James Ossuary point out that the manner in which the inscription was written has been accepted
by several, highly respected epigraphers and therefore there is no reason to suspect it authenticity. Furthermore, the
proponents assert that the IAA has misunderstood the physical testing which actually supports that the inscription is
from the time of James. In fact, the IAA has recently largely backed-off from its original claims.
While naming brothers on Ossuaries is uncommon, it has been observed and it would have been highly appropriate in
If the entire inscription is correct, then the combination of the names and familial ties would have been very unusual and
probably not due to chance.
Oded Golan was being tried in Israel for forgery in connection with this matter. He was recently acquitted.
Part II: Can the “James Ossuary be associated with the Talpiot tomb”?
It is clear from the notes written during the Talpiot tomb recovery that the 10th and missing ossuary was plain and
broken. Therefore it was almost certainly discarded at the IAA facility and can not be recovered. Furthermore, these
notes show that the 10th ossuary was not the same size as the “James Ossuary”, therefore making it impossible that
they are the same one.
Some scholars have pointed to the other written histories and oral traditions which clearly show that James was buried
somewhere other than Talpiot.
The recovery operation was performed under trying circumstances. As a result, the tomb was left unguarded during
critical periods. It would have been a simple matter for one of the ossuaries to have been stolen or lost. The “James
Ossuary” could be the missing 10th ossuary from the IAA catalog or it could even be a missing 11th ossuary from the
There is reason to believe this for three reasons.
First, more careful re-measurement of the “James Ossuary” shows that it is clearly within the probable range of
measurement error when compared to the measurements found in the excavation notes. The “James Ossuary is of a
sufficiently unusual size that this would not necessarily have occurred by chance.
Second, an elemental spectrum analysis of the patina from the James Ossuary matches closely to the profile of
elements found on other ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb, but does not match that of several other randomly selected
tombs. Additional, unpublished chemical testing shows that the chemistry of the surface of the James Ossuary matches
well with the Talpiot Tomb, but less well with other tombs.
Third, the James Ossuary exists and it came from some family tomb, almost certainly from the Jerusalem area. If it
came from a family tomb, we should not be surprised if it came from a tomb containing the names Jesus and Joseph.
There are only a few tombs were these two names occur together and the Talpiot tomb is far and away the best
candidate from amongst these tombs to be the source of this ossuary.
The short discussion given above can not do justice to the complexity of the questions surrounding the “James
Ossuary”. For example, bones which are thought to have come from the “James Ossuary” seem to have gone missing
or at least out of view. One would dearly love to see what a comparison of the DNA from these bones would show when
compared to the DNA from the “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuary.
Both sides of this argument have offered strong evidence in support of their positions. Therefore, until new information
is forthcoming, it is the editorial position of this site that is likely that the James Ossuary is authentic and that it is
possible that it comes from the Talpiot tomb. However, there is enough uncertainty attached to these conclusions that
we should push of more evidence in the matter.
Please see the Bibliography section for the following selected references: 8,25, 28,29,34,35,36,38
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