When I was 15 years old, my friend invited me to her house to celebrate the Passover Seder with her family. Her dad was a rabbi, my dad was a pastor, and it seemed like an interesting way to spend an evening. Plus, I would get to eat gefilte fish. I loved gefilte fish. The aspect that sticks out most vividly in my mind about the evening was her father wildly gesticulating about how recently discovered archeological evidence pointed to the provable existence of the High Priest Caiaphas, who presided over the temple in Jerusalem at the same time Jesus would have been active. This was exciting to him because it would have been verifiable proof that someone mentioned in the Gospels actually existed.
And it’s all in the proof for a lot of people. On Monday, the staff of the “Biblical Archeological Review” announced the discovery of an ossuary box on which is inscribed in Aramaic “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” According to the Bible, James was one of the brothers of Jesus Christ, and hugely influential in the spread of Christianity in the first century A.D. The ossuary box is dated to 63 A.D., which is a mere year after the traditional date cited for James’ death. This is particularly exciting for the Christian world because those three names hold a fair amount of cach/. James was the head of the church in Jerusalem as depicted in the biblical book of Acts. A pillar of the faith.
According to ABC News, scientists affiliated with the Israeli government’s Geological Survey have “conducted a detailed microscopic examination of the surface patina and the inscription. They reported last month that there is ‘no evidence that might detract from the authenticity.'”
And of course, there is no proof that the ossuary, a box that contains the burial remains, is actually the ossuary of the James mentioned in the bible. According to the estimates of Andre Lemaire, who published the article in the “Biblical Archeological Review,” there could have been as many as 20 Jameses with fathers named Joseph and brothers named Jesus hanging around Jerusalem at that time. It could be from any of these Jameses, though the naming of a father and a brother on an ossuary inscription was apparently extremely rare. The additional names inscribed would have to be people of exceptional fame or notoriety. Jesus of Nazareth would’ve fit this bid.
This type of discovery is always, in a way, non-monumental. For people seeking to verify the truth of their beliefs, something like this can offer definitive justification that they, in fact, are not fools. For the cynics, there will never be enough proof. Jesus actually shaking their hand would not hold sway in their minds.
Because when it comes down to it, the scientifically grounded matters of any faith will never be enough to convince the world of the authenticity of deity. Even though Christianity has a huge amount of evidence to support its claims, people will always make fun of the preachers on the Plaza. I am sure that Muslims, and any other organized religion that claims hold of absolute truth, have data that support the assertion of that truth.
At any rate, the ossuary box will not be revealed for public scrutiny. It may take its place among tantalizing relics from the past, but will, like the Shroud of Turin, not be the sticking point for most people’s belief. The owner of the box wants to maintain anonymity to avoid the irrevocable hoopla that accompanies the universal search for truth. Because we are a curious lot of people, desperately seeking the assertion that what we might believe is true. But it rarely works like that. Most of us will have to wait a few years for that definitive proof.