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Resurrecting the Brother of Jesus

Resurrecting the Brother of Jesus: The James Ossuary Controversy and the Quest for Religious Relics

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    Resurrecting the Brother of Jesus
    Book Description:

    In 2002 a burial box of skeletal remains purchased anonymously from the black market was identified as the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. Transformed by the media into a religious and historical relic overnight, the artifact made its way to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where 100,000 people congregated to experience what had been prematurely and hyperbolically billed as the closest tactile connection to Jesus yet unearthed. Within a few months, however, the ossuary was revealed to be a forgery.Resurrecting the Brother of Jesusoffers a critical evaluation of the popular and scholarly reception of the James Ossuary as it emerged from the dimness of the antiquities black market to become a Protestant relic in the media's custody.The volume brings together experts in Jewish archaeology, early Christianity, American religious history, and pilgrimage to explore the theory and practice couched in the debate about the object's authenticity. Contributors explore the ways in which the varying popular and scholarly responses to the ossuary phenomenon inform the presumption of religious meaning; how religious categories are created, vetted, and used for various purposes; and whether the history of pious frauds in America can help to illuminate this international episode.Resurrecting the Brother of Jesusalso contributes to discussions about the construction of religious studies as an academic discipline and the role of scholars as public interpreters of discoveries with religious significance.Contributors:Thomas S. Bremer, Rhodes CollegeRyan Byrne, Menifee, CaliforniaByron R. McCane, Wofford CollegeBernadette McNary-Zak, Rhodes CollegeMilton Moreland, Rhodes CollegeJonathan L. Reed, University of La Verne

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0478-7
    Subjects: Religion, Archaeology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Thus ran the cover of the popular newsstand magazineBiblical Archaeology Review(bar) in the autumn of 2002.¹ In a private antiquities collection, Sorbonne professor Andre Lemaire had discovered an Aramaic inscription on an ancient Jewish ossuary—a burial box for skeletal remains—that read, ‘‘Jacob [James] son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.’’ The find was heralded as the final resting place of James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.² TheNew York Times,the Guardian,the Washington Post,Le Monde, and other newspapers around the world acclaimed the ossuary as perhaps the greatest archaeological find of all time. The...

  5. Archaeological Context and Controversy The Bones of James Unpacked
    (pp. 19-30)

    The October 2002 issue of the popular magazineBiblical Archaeology Reviewfeatured a cover story on the James Ossuary, in which epigrapher André Lemaire asserted: “It seems very probable that this is the ossuary of the James in the New Testament. If so, this would also mean that we have here the first epigraphic mention—from about 63 CE—of Jesus of Nazareth.”¹ This highly extraordinary claim was immediately met with skeptical responses from many archaeologists, who considered the so-called James Ossuary interesting and potentially significant but expressed concern that it had come to light from the antiquities market and...

  6. The Brother of Jesus in Toronto
    (pp. 31-58)

    At the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Ontario, officials regularly receive “all sorts of strange inquiries,” according to Ed Keall, former head of the museum’s Department of Near Eastern and Asian Civilizations. Thus, Keall initially regarded the call he received in October 2002 from Hershel Shanks, editor and publisher of theBiblical Archaeology Review(BAR) as just another ‘‘crank call.’’¹ But as he listened to the caller’s proposal, Keall’s curiosity grew. Shanks offered to arrange for the ROM to be the first institution to display the James Ossuary, a newly discovered artifact of great archaeological and religious significance. Although...

  7. Finding True Religion in the James Ossuary The Conundrum of Relics in Faith Narratives
    (pp. 59-72)

    An ossuary is a religious relic due to its function in a religious ritual involving the domestic care of the remains of a dead loved one by Jews and Jewish Christians in Jerusalem in the first century. Performed on the first anniversary of death, the ritual was a form of secondary burial in which the bones of the deceased were gathered from a temporary grave and deposited into an ossuary that was then placed for permanent interment in the family burial cave. For its practitioners, the ritual was intimately tied to the construction of memory. As early Christian historian John...

  8. Christian Artifacts in Documentary Film The Case of the James Ossuary
    (pp. 73-136)

    On July 4, 2003, I sat in my yard watching fireworks, enjoying food and casual conversation with my neighbors. I had moved into the neighborhood only a week prior, so this block party was a prime occasion for conversations to turn to origins and occupations. ‘‘Where are you from?’’ and ‘‘What do you do?’’ were the inevitable questions. This is a precarious moment. When I answer the occupation question, the ensuing conversation often turns to recent television documentaries about the quest for Noah’s Ark, the ‘‘historical Jesus,’’ or the Shroud of Turin. Despite the acrimonious feelings that arise within me...

  9. Anatomy of a Cargo Cult Virginity, Relic Envy, and Hallowed Boxes
    (pp. 137-186)

    The box reads, “Ya‘qob son of Yosef, brother of Yeshua.” The epigraph is a statement and, like most statements, is vulnerable to what Roland Barthes described as the ‘‘death of author.’’ The James Ossuary has entered into our popular lexicon not only for what it says, but also for what its interpreters say it says. When the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) hurriedly designed its display, the duress of time required the stagers to focus on the inscribed words. The ossuary’s words, painted stark white and translated into different languages, adorned the walls encircling the central altar on which the heavily...

  10. Overcoming the James Ossuary and the Legacy of Biblical Archaeology
    (pp. 187-206)

    Like the other archaeologists and biblical scholars, I had to seethe greatest archaeological discovery everon display in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). We were in Toronto for the 2002 annual meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research and Society of Biblical Literature, and we all made the pilgrimage. Coming up the stairs from the Toronto Transit Commission’s metro station, I saw a throng of people and darted to queue at the end of a line snaking around the corner from the museum’s entrance. Hoping that tickets were still available, I began to notice a surprising number of...

  11. Epilogue Objects, Faith, and Archaeoporn
    (pp. 207-210)

    Six years after its display in Toronto, the James Ossuary phenomenon remains a unique case study for scholars of religion, a cautionary tale for archaeologists, and a point of contention among some faith communities. What makes ossuaries resonant as artifacts with potential religious power or insight is not merely the fact that many bear biblical names from the biblical period. It is the possibility, however remote, that these are tangible, accessible objects with the prospects of housing the literal human remains of biblical characters. It is thebody, or what the body once touched, that tantalizes the imagination of the...

  12. Index
    (pp. 211-215)