Monday, October 28, 2002

A convicted criminal being escorted to jail in St. Petersburg, Florida, somehow managed to escape and go on the lam. During his escape, however, he suffered several deep cuts to his feet, but even with the loss of blood the criminal was able to vanish into thin air, and the authorities didn?t have a clue as to his whereabouts. They got their break from the most unexpected of places - the local hospital. The authorities at the hospital got suspicious of their most recent patient - not because of his wounds but because of his words. When asked to fill out the standard hospital forms, on the line about the cause of the injury our escapee wrote, "Escape from jail."

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Earliest reference to Jesus reported on limestone bone box from 63 A.D.
Oct 22, 2002
By Art Toalston

'James ... the brother of Jesus'
Called "the first-ever archaeological discovery to corroborate biblical references to Jesus," a limestone box that may have carried the bones of James, Jesus' brother, is the subject of an article in the Biblical Archaeology Review. Photo courtesy of the Biblical Archaeology Review

WASHINGTON (BP)--A limestone bone box dating to approximately 63 A.D. is being heralded as "the only New Testament-era mention of the central figure of Christianity," according to the Biblical Archaeology Review.

It is "the first-ever archaeological discovery to corroborate biblical references to Jesus," the journal states.

The existence of the box, roughly 20 inches long, 10 inches wide and 12 inches high, was announced Oct. 21 at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

It apparently once contained the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. An inscription on the box reads, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

An extensive article about the limestone box, called an "ossuary," appears in the November-December issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, published by the Washington-based Biblical Archaeology Society. The article is titled, "Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus."

The journal's website notes in part:

"The family relationships contained on the new find helped experts ascertain that the inscription very likely refers to the biblical James, brother of Jesus (see, for example, Matthew 13:55-56 and Galatians 1:18-19). Although all three names were common in ancient times, the statistical probability of their appearing in that combination is extremely slim. In addition, the mention of a brother is unusual -- indicating that this Jesus must have been a well-known figure."

Of the ossuary's authenticity, the website notes:

Laboratory tests performed by the Geological Survey of Israel note that the "thin sheen ... that forms on stone and other materials over time ... shows no trace of modern elements." As stated in a letter from the Israeli agency, "No signs of the use of a modern tool or instrument was [sic] found. No evidence that might detract from the authenticity of the [covering residue] and the inscription was found."

James has been widely regarded in Christian history not only as Jesus' brother, but as the leader of the church at Jerusalem once he became a believer in one of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances. James also is widely regarded as the author of the New Testament Book of James. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, James was killed by Jewish authorities around A.D. 62.

The burial box of James was purchased about 15 years ago for $700 or less by a private collector in Jerusalem who wishes to remain anonymous, according to news reports. The collector was told at the time it had been unearthed near the Mount of Olives. The collector, a Jew, had no idea of its significance until a conversation last spring with Andre Lemaire, a specialist in ancient inscriptions at the Sorbonne University in Paris, who subsequently authored the Biblical Archaeology Review article.

"Like many ossuaries obtained on the antiquities market, it is empty," the journal's website notes. "Its history prior to its current ownership is not known."

Of the use of limestone boxes containing bones of the deceased, the website states:

"In the first century A.D., Jews followed the custom of transferring the bones of their deceased from burial caves to ossuaries. The practice was largely abandoned after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D. No one knows for certain why the practice started or stopped, but it provides a rare period of self-documentation in which commoners as well as leaders left their names carved in stone."

The website also notes, "Ancient inscriptions are typically found on royal monuments or on lavish tombs, commemorating rulers and other official figures. But Jesus, who was raised by a carpenter, was a man of the people, so finding documentation of his family is doubly unexpected."

The inscription is in Aramaic, the common language among Jews of the first century.

Steven M. Ortiz, assistant professor of archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press, "Based on initial reports, the find appears to be authentic. Dr. Lemaire is a noted paleographer of distinction and is familiar with authenticating actual epigraphic finds and possible forgeries.

"This chance find is going to have a tremendous impact on New Testament scholarship," Ortiz stated.

"This is not going to impact the scholarly community in regards to whether Jesus was an actual person, as most scholars acknowledge the historicity of Jesus," he noted. Rather: "The find will have its greatest influence/impact on placing Jesus back in his first century B.C. Jewish context," he said, countering "a trend to interpret Jesus within a non-Jewish environment and reevaluate the nature of the Jewish Galilean community."

It also is important for the church because "it helps refocus the context of Jesus," Ortiz said. "There is a tendency to create Jesus in our 21st-century image. The church tends to mold the teachings of Jesus within the context of the issues facing the church, instead of molding the issues facing the church to the message and teachings of Jesus."

Mark F. Rooker, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., told Baptist Press, "There are already some who doubt the validity of this archaeological find, and I am sure it will be thoroughly examined by archaeologists.

"If it is not a hoax," Rooker said, "one interesting thing about the description of James is that in addition to mentioning his father -- the normal way to identify yourself in biblical times -- it is also mentioned that his brother was Jesus. This would make a great deal of sense if, in fact, this was the James, son of Mary and Joseph, who was from the same family of the God incarnate, Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit when Mary (James' mother) was still a virgin."

Prior to the Oct. 21 announcement of the bone box, the earliest historical mention of Jesus was in a papyrus fragment from the Gospel of John, written in Greek in about A.D. 125.

Hundreds of ossuaries have been found in recent years, according to Christianity Today, including one likely containing the bones of the high priest Caiaphas from the Gospels. Researcher Lemaire from the Sorbonne estimated there may have been as many as 20 Jameses with brothers named Jesus and fathers named Joseph among Jerusalem's 40,000 residents at the time, according to a CNN report. But, Lemaire noted, it is unlikely there was more than one Jesus meriting the distinction of a reference on his brother's ossuary. Only one other existent ossuary has a reference to a deceased person's brother and father, Lemaire reported.

"The James ossuary may be the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology," said Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. "It has implications not just for scholarship, but for the world's understanding of the Bible." The journal's website is

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

The weekend's only other new wide release, "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie," opened solidly at No. 6 with $6.5 million. It was the first theatrical installment based on the series of home-video releases that use talking vegetables to retell Bible stories, in this case the tale of Jonah and the whale.