A 2,000-year-old burial box believed by some to contain the remains of James, the brother of Jesus Christ, is set to go on public display in Israel, though it is stirring debate among Roman Catholics who reject that Christ had biological siblings.
Oded Golan, the Israeli antiquities collector who owns the limestone burial box, insists that "this is the oldest evidence that mentions the name of Jesus Christ," according to a report in The Guardian, written by journalist Matthew Kalman, who maintains the James Ossuary Trial Jerusalem blog.
"There is no doubt that it's ancient, and the probability is that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ," he added.
Golan was cleared by the Israeli Supreme Court of having forged the inscription that mentions the name of Jesus after a 10-year investigation, though the Israeli officials who analyzed the evidence have been accused of vandalizing the box.
"It's not in the same condition as before the trial. The inscription was defaced, contaminated. They poured red silicon into the inscription and they let it dry and when they took it out they took the patina. It's ruined," Golan said.
"I have to evaluate the damage, see if it can be restored and if there is the possibility of carrying out further tests on the inscription in the future that will allow us to show its authenticity. The government said the second half of the inscription was forged – the words 'brother of Jesus' – and that's where the major damage has been done."
People will soon be able to see the inscription for themselves for the first time since it was briefly exhibited in Toronto in 2002. Despite the finding by the Israeli judges that the inscription was not forged, the authenticity of the box remains in question. Meanwhile, Roman Catholics deny that Jesus had biological siblings.
According to Catholic Online, biblical scholars have said that in Jesus' time, cousins and close friends were often referred to as "brothers." At the same time, the Catholic news website added that if the inscription could be verified "beyond doubt," it could cause even greater controversy for atheists who deny that Jesus actually existed.
"While the scholars debate, the public will be free to view the relic so they can decide for themselves. The relic will soon be put on public display," the Catholic website wrote. "Of course, for most of us the ossuary and its inscription matters little. The reality of Christ and his present-day influence on our lives, as well as the future he offers us, is hardly influenced by scholarly wrangling over a 2,000 year-old box."
Kalman offers updated news on the fallout of the trial and the future of the disputed box on his James Ossuary Trial Jerusalem blog.