JERUSALEM (June 18) - An ancient burial box purported to have held the bones of Jesus' brother, James, is a fake, Israel's Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.
The ossuary, which bore the inscription ''James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,'' had been touted by some scholars as the oldest archaeological link to New Testament figures.
But Israeli officials said its inscriptions ''date from modernity'' and called them ''forgeries.''
''The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters,'' the officials said in a statement.
''The inscriptions, possibly inscribed in two separate stages, are not authentic,'' the statement read.
The officials reached their conclusions after intensive exams by several committees of experts.
Oded Golan, the Israeli owner of the ''James ossuary,'' insists the item is authentic, but Uzi Dahari, a member of the committee that examined the stone box said Tuesday that Golan ''spoke to us and didn't convince anyone.''
Golan said he had problems with the committee, which he said had ''preconceived notions.''
The officials also declared the ''Yoash inscription,'' another item tied to Golan, as a forgery on Wednesday.
That item was a shoebox-sized tablet inscribed with fifteen lines of ancient Hebrew with instructions for maintaining the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem police launched separate investigations into the two items after Golan offered one for sale.
When first disclosed two years ago, the Yoash inscription caused a stir in the archaeological world, with some experts dating the stone to the 9th century B.C. and calling it a rare confirmation of biblical narrative.
The existence of the James ossuary was revealed last November at a news conference in Washington by the Biblical Archaeology Review. At the time, the editor of the magazine, Hershel Shanks, said the owner insisted on not being identified.
The inscription on the limestone box reads ''James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,'' leading some scholars to believe it contained the remains of James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Other experts have said the item might be a forgery, or that it might have been the burial box of a different James, unrelated to Jesus.
Golan insists that the box is authentic. ''With regard to the ossuary, I am 100 percent certain,'' he said Tuesday.
Golan said he bought the James ossuary in the mid-1970s from an antiquities dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem for about $200, but he said he couldn't remember the dealer's name.
However, antiquities inspectors, who have questioned several Old City dealers, were also checking suspicions Golan bought the ossuary only a few months ago. In such a case, those involved in the sale could be prosecuted for dealing in stolen goods.
The police investigation into how the box was acquired will continue regardless of the committee's findings.
Robert Eisenman, who wrote a book on Jesus' brother, studied the box and said the writing on the box, written in two different hands, along with the artifact's sudden appearance, made its authenticity questionable.
''I always considered the timing of the James ossuary very odd and worrisome. There was a spate of books on James and his importance in 1997 and 1998, then the box appeared,'' he said.