The James Box:
Was It His Tomb
That Was Empty?
According to an article in the November-December issue of the journal Biblical Archaeology Review and reported by Reuters, there is near contemporary, non-Biblical evidence of the existence of Jesus. A stone box used for burials, inscribed in Aramaic, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus", has been dated to 63 C.E. The story does not say how it was dated. The empty box -- the bones were not inside -- is now in the hands of a private collector in Jerusalem.
It's circumstantial and tangential evidence, but I hope it's real and not another "Shroud or Turin" type hoax. The more verifiable facts we have about Jesus, assuming such a man existed, the more likely it is that his supernatural edifice can be torn down.
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Evidence of Jesus, the man?
Date: October 22, 2002 2:36 PM
How comes the "private collector in Jerusalem" won't let anybody see it? I mean, a single photo of it would amplify its value exponentially, right on the spot.
Coughing up the skeleton wouldn't convince most True Believers. At worst, some would justify continued belief "because it's good for you." Way too many, though, would look directly at it and still call it "a lie of Satan."
Besides, how many others would simply switch to Islam? You want that? I'm serious!!
Meanwhile, I don't expect Roman Catholicism or the Eastern Orthodox to take kindly to suggestions that Jesus had siblings.
Try to track down the Australian pulp paperback The Jesus Scroll. Jesus the Hasmonaean Heir fooled Pilate by drinking Nard, a powerful narcotic, while on the cross (the "sop" in the Gospels, one of which says he refused it but the other of which says he accepted it and forthwith died [with forth, even]). He then hangs with the Essenes (of course) and is the last survivor of the Masada suicide, killing the last of his troops and then taking his family to a remote cave, killing his family (wife: Mary Magdelene, of coeurse) and then falling on his own sword. His skeleton is discovered in 1964 along with a scroll containing a letter in which he identifies himself (as the one who, unbeknownset to him at the time, would later become the object of much mythology). His skeleton was given a proper burial by archaeologists (yeah, right!) in 1966 (proper? after two years?) but the scroll was stolen by (none other than) Russians and whisked off to Moscow (where we could never find it, of course!).
Assuming it's real (and not medieval fakery or even a modern Howard Hughes Hoax or something else, quite less sophisticated than that thing was, even):
First, find the very loosest time frame (CE 30 to CE 90?) that anybody is giving for the death of this individual.
Next, be aware that Jesus, James, and Joseph were very common names. How many of each do you find in the New Testament alone? enough that they had to use the surname or other description of each except when the context was obviously Jesus Christ. Find out how many people died within 50 miles of the city during your time frame. Find out (by reading Josephus) how common this name is.
Then for enlightenment, go to your library and get the Brooklyn phone book. Find a single, very common Jewish surname (e.g., Schultz) and then grab the top ten first names. How common are they? That is probably how common "Jesus" and "Joseph" were back then. Anglos avoid Jesus and Jews are probably not as overly fond of the name as they once were, for obvious reasons, but by doing a "concordance of names" on the works of Josephus (or even the Gospels, for that matter), you can get a probable frequency and find out how common those names were.
Now: I don't know the exact equation, but it's something along the lines of taking first the figure of the per-capita of Jesuses that you estimate died during this time span times the per-capita of Josephs to get the per-family-capita (for want of a term) of Jesus ben Joseph families (independent of whether there is a James involved, here). Then take the per-capita of Jameses times the per-capita of Josephs to get the per-family-capita of James ben Joseph families (independent of whether there is a Jesus in the picture). By multiplying the per-family-capita of Jesus ben Josephs by the per-family-capita of James ben Josephs, you would get the approximate number of possible Jesus and James ben Joseph families (probably quite a few even if there were only a million in the vicinity of Jerusalem, which I'll bet there were more who would want to call Jerusalem "home").
Or something like that.
What I'm getting at is that this couldn't have possibly been the only Jesus and James brothers whose father (or grandfather, etc.) was named Joseph, who lived during the very loose time span that this thing could have been built -- even if it's real.
Again, take the Brooklyn phone book and pick a common last name (as ben Joseph was then). Now, pick two common first names (as Jesus and James were back then. It won't be too hard to see how many families might have both first names as brothers, just in Brooklyn. I pick Brooklyn because it's very limited in its ethnicity and you'll have much more of a chance for common last names (like you would in Jerusalem, where almost everybody, back then, was from one of five or six races, if that).
In any event, it doesn't look as if they'll be able to tie this any closer to the mythological Jesus than they already have, which appears to be quite dubious. It's just a box and it doesn't look as if they have any other links than just the existence of the box. At least the Masada tale, were the archaeology part verifiable, had a whole system of mythos behind it.
If I were you, and wanted for there to be evidence that Jesus was just a man (me, I'd rather simply know the truth: I can handle it), then I'd want for this to come up fake. Why? Because if it were real, it wouldn't say anything as to whether the Gospel stories are true (with Jesus being born of a Virgin). However, if it's phony, then we're back to Square One with no reasons to believe that a historical Jesus lived whose life story might have been grist for the Gospel mill.
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Proof of Jesus? Atheist Scholar Says "No"
A French scholar has rushed into the limelight with what may be the most contentious archaeological claim of the new century. Andre Lemaire suggests that a limestone ossuary box from Israel is the first verifiable relic of Jesus Christ datable to the period when the founder of Christianity and his family are said to have lived. Despite a flurry of media coverage, though, some experts are highly skeptical. One is Frank Zindler, an authority on ancient languages and the American Atheists Science Adviser. He calls the story "extremely suspicious," and adds, "Not only is the precise origin of the find unknown, but the owner of the box insists on anonymity and will not open this artifact for public inspection. It's possible that at this point, other scholars will not be permitted to closely examine this 'find' for evidence of fraud."
Zindler questioned whether proper peer review was followed prior to the news of the alleged discovery being released by a popular Biblical history publication which has an exclusive on the story.
"This sounds an awful lot like the hoopla over cold fusion," said Zindler. "Good science and good archaeology is predicated on access to information and a thorough review of the evidence by qualified academic peers prior to rushing a story into print for popular consumption." Zindler added that even if further study of the artifact should prove it to be authentic, "there is no good reason to suppose it is evidence of a historical Jesus." He noted that names such as Joseph, James (Jacob) and Jesus (Yeshua) "were popular names from the period, and that no buildings have ever been excavated at present-day Nazareth that can be dated to the first century.
"Despite the burial box in dispute," said Zindler, "there is still no credible evidence that Jesus or even his disciples ever existed as men of flesh and blood."
Media is invited to contact Frank Zindler through firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone or fax at (614) 299-1036
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