The first physical evidence of Jesus may be contained in a limestone burial box with the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
For 2,000 years, followers and archeologists have sought physical evidence of Jesus or his family without success.
An Israeli antiquities collector, Oded Golan, now has plans to exhibit the box after he was cleared of forgery by an Israeli court.
James the Just, said to be a brother of Jesus, was among the first leaders of the newly-formed Christians in Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus. He was executed for heresy by a Jewish rabbinical court.
The box, known as an ossuary, is said to contain his bones. It has not been seen in public since it caused a huge stir in Toronto in 2002.
In the tradition of the time, Jews were not buried but laid in caves. After a year their bones were placed in an ossuary. Thousands of such boxes have been discovered. One other inscription mentions a brother of Jesus.
"This is the oldest evidence that mentions the name of Jesus Christ," Golan told The Guardian newspaper.
He bought the ossuary box in the 1970s and the importance of the inscription only became clear when a Sorbonne professor Andre Lemaire noticed it as he was studying the collection.
Lemaire published his findings, and the box was briefly exhibited in a Toronto museum creating a sensation.
But its authenticity was soon challenged by the Israel Antiquities Authority, who called it a fake, and Golan was arrested and charged with forging the name of Jesus.
However, after a ten-year investigation, Golan was found innocent of forgery by a panel of experts.
Some experts still insist it is a forgery.
"Because of the differences in the depth and the clarity and the kerning [spacing] between the first half of the inscription that mentions James son of Joseph, and the second half, I'd be willing to wager that the second half was added in modern times," Prof Christopher Rollston of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem told The Guardian.
But other experts say it is genuine.
"The inscription is written in the Jewish script, it was done with a sharp instrument and I think it was done by the same hand. It is an authentic inscription," Prof Gabriel Barkay of Bar-Ilan University stated.
Golan, the collector, points to expert evidence showing the patina - a biological crust formed on ancient objects - inside the grooves of the inscription.
"There is no doubt that it's ancient, and the probability is that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ," said Golan.
The ossuary was returned only a few weeks ago to Golan by the Israeli authorities.
Golan plans a public exhibition of the ossuary and the conflicting evidence from the trial, so that the public decide themselves whether the ossuary really contains the bones of the brother of Christ - a truly remarkable breakthrough if it does.
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