An inscribed ancient ossuary being examined by archaeologists in Israel might be that of St James, the brother of Jesus.
Analysis of the casket, which contained fragments of what could be his bones, had suggested on epigraphical grounds that the inscription was genuine but now researchers at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto have come to the same conclusion using scientific evidence.
"After doing a number of tests using microscopy we are satisfied that the artefact, and the inscription on it, are genuinely ancient," said the leader of the team, Dr Ed Keale, head of the museum's Department of Near Eastern and Asian Civilisations.
The inscription is in Aramaic and, translated into English, reads: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
All three of these names were common in 1st century Judea. But circumstantial evidence, featured together with the new scientific data in a Discovery Channel documentary, suggests the ossuary belonged to one of the biblical characters called James.
A rigorous analysis of 1st century population data and name frequencies – using statistical techniques and carried out at the University of Tel Aviv – has concluded that, taking social, literary and other factors into account, only an estimated three individuals called James in 1st century Jerusalem could have had a father called Joseph and a brother called Jesus.
"The new information makes it likely that the inscription refers to Jesus of Nazareth. I think there is little doubt we are dealing with an authentic 1st century AD inscription," says Dr Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review and co-author of a new book called The Brother of Jesus.