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'Jesus ossuary' story resurfaces during Easter
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Coinciding with much of the Christian world's observance of Easter, a filmmaker and an archaeologist, both in Israel, claim more evidence supporting the notion Jesus was married, had a son and his bones were buried. Skepticism abounds, however. - photo by Mark A. Kellner
New geological evidence supposedly linking two disputed ancient Jerusalem ossuaries burial boxes for bones has resurrected a debate over whether the boxes labeled as containing the remains of a first-century "Jesus" and his brother "James" are relics of the messiah and his family.

The news began appearing in Israel and the United States on Easter Sunday, when much of the Christian world celebrates Christ's resurrection.

Although the "Jesus ossuary" was first discovered in 2003 and quickly challenged by critics, the latest news suggests soil evidence from the so-called "Talpiot family tomb" links that ossuary with another inscribed in Aramaic, "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus." The "James ossuary" was not found in the Talpiot location, however.

According to The Jerusalem Post, "After 150 chemical tests, Canadian-Israeli filmmaker-journalist Simcha Jacobovici and geoarcheologist Aryeh Shimron claim theyve reached a scientific breakthrough with theological implications."

The discovery, according to The New York Times (paywall), is the Rendzina soil covering both ossuaries is "characteristic of the hills of East Jerusalem," and carries a "unique geochemical signature" on each.

"I think Ive got really powerful, virtually unequivocal evidence that the James ossuary spent most of its lifetime, or death time, in the Talpiot Tomb," the newspaper quotes Shimron as saying. The Times said Shimron has been studying the question for the past seven years.

Not everyone has lined up with Shimron. Another Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist, Shimon Gibson, told The Times of his doubts.

"I myself have excavated a handful of tombs that were open and filled with soil," Gibson told the newspaper. "Personally I dont think the James ossuary has anything to do with Talpiot."

Discovery of a soil-based connection between the two boxes could shake the foundations of Christian belief, scholar James Tabor of the University of North Carolina told The Jerusalem Post.

"If in fact Jesuss tomb is found, the procedures would be no different than the discovery of any other tomb," Tabor told the newspaper. "But in the case of Jesus everything changes, because he is such a lightning rod figure for so many people because if you find the bones of Jesus in a tomb then he did not rise from the dead."

In an English-language TLV1-FM Israeli radio interview, Shimron said "he is aware of the implications of his research on the beliefs of the Christian religious community, but (said) there was no outside pressure on his research." Shimron also said his studies were scientific and not theological.

According to Britain's Independent newspaper, not everyone is convinced the new discoveries are truly groundbreaking.

"The collector who owns the James ossuary (said) Shimrons work determines nothing 'conclusively,' while other Jerusalem archaeologists say they await its publication in a peer-reviewed journal," the newspaper reported.

Regardless of what is ultimately decided, looking for artifacts related to Jesus remains a popular pursuit because of what the relics do to clarify or strengthen faith, said Religion News Service national reporter David Gibson, who is a co-creator of CNN's "Finding Jesus" series.

He wrote, "Artifacts and archaeology can be a way to take us out of ourselves, to transport us to a time and place not our own, in hopes of discovering something about Jesus that is not filtered through the lens of our own desires."
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