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The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus & His Family Hardcover – March 18, 2003

3.2 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Before lay readers can grasp the significance of this book, they’ll need a little historical reference. In the time of Jesus, the Jews of Jerusalem often buried their dead in tombs. After a year, when the flesh had disintegrated, it was customary to gather the bones and place them in a small limestone chest called an ossuary. Sometimes the name of the deceased would be inscribed onto the outside of the box. Flash forward to the spring of 2002 when Andre Lemaire, a specialist in ancient texts, was asked to read the Aramaic inscription on an ossuary that was owned by a collector in Israel. When Lemaire translated the inscription--"James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"--he knew he had just stumbled upon an artifact in the same caliber as the lost Ark of the Covenant.

Just as this artifact is now in safe hands, so is the amazing story of its discovery. Co-authors Hershel Shanks (The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Ben Witherington III (The Jesus Quest) are esteemed scholars as well as riveting storytellers. They expertly recount the exciting moments of discovery and the darker moments of despair (at one point the ossuary is improperly shipped and breaks into five pieces). They build a convincing case against its forgery and offer a flourishing finish in which they delve into the life of James, who was a linking force between the Jews and Christian of the first millennium, and could possibly continue that role into the second millennium. --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

Last October, biblical archaeologists stunned the world with news that a limestone ossuary with the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" had surfaced in Palestine and may have once contained the bones of James, the early church leader and brother of Jesus of Nazareth. While it may seem a startling claim for the unassuming and unadorned 20-inch box, numerous scholars who have examined the ossuary now vouch for its first-century origins, if not its theological significance. Jews employed ossuaries for a relatively brief historical period (approximately 20 B.C. to A.D. 70), which fits with the textual evidence of James's martyrdom around A.D. 62. This book is the first full-length treatment of the ossuary, and is written by a couple of big guns: Shanks is the editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review (which first broke the story), and Witherington is a seminary professor and author of a score of books on the Bible. Their collaboration is a well-argued and truly fascinating study of the ossuary and its importance. The opening chapters tell of the box's discovery and authentication, while the later chapters discuss its potential relevance and describe what is at stake if the ossuary is genuine. Particularly interesting is the book's discussion of what the ossuary does for Jewish-Christian relations: James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was known for encouraging Christians to retain aspects of their Jewish heritage instead of jettisoning that heritage as Paul had. This engaging book invites readers to ponder the numerous questions and possibilities raised by the ossuary's discovery.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 226 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (March 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060556609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060556600
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,230,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Shanks and Witherington present us with a gift in their book about the discovery of a 1st century ossuary that could contain the bones of James the Just, the brother of Jesus. There is far too little written about James, which is all the more paradoxical since he is one of the few people from that time period to actually have some historic validity.

The book provides a thorough discussion of the archeological circumstances surronding such a finding, which by itself is an interesting and informative read. But beyond that, Shanks and Witherington provide a detailed discussion of the life and death of James. Personally, I would have preferred more in depth discussions here, and I would have preferred a lengthy discussion of the ties with the Essenes and the Ebionites as well as some speculation on the death of James (Josephus simply says that he was stoned, not stoned to death. It was not uncommon for people stoned to death to be hung from a tree, and there is no indication that James was hung, hence, maybe he was stoned, but not to death - I don't want to belabor the point here, just to note that a few paragraphs about alternate theories of James' death would have been nice).

In addition, there is a section on ossuaries which is very educational, including information about the population in Jerusalem, the types of names found on ossuaries, the different types of inscriptions, etc.

This is a great book for anyone interested in Jesus or the time period, and it certainly is a must read for people interested in James the Just. It's also going to be of interest for people interested in ossuaries in general. The book can be read by beginning students as well as advanced scholars.

PS - I would give this book a 4+ but the ratings only allow a 4 or a 5.
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Format: Hardcover
In late 2002, the world learned that the first archaeological link to Jesus Christ may have been discovered in the form of an ossuary, or bone box, bearing the inscription - in Aramaic - "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." At least some experts believed, we were told, that this was indeed the ossuary of James, brother of Jesus and leader of the first Jerusalem church. Of course, there is plenty of historical evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but no tangible, solid, archaeological evidence had ever been found. The announcement of this possible link raised two immediate questions: is it really the ossuary of James? and, if so, what is the significance of the find? This book attempts to address those questions and others of a more theological bent. Hershel Shanks, well-known writer and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, describes the discovery of the ossuary and argues for its authenticity, and then Ben Witherington III embarks on a summary of James' life and significance in both Judaism and Christianity, reinterpreting his importance in light of the discovery of the ossuary.

The James ossuary is a very controversial find, as you might expect. Shanks does a good job describing just why it is so controversial, but his attempts to convince the reader that this is indeed the box that once contained the bones of James are less than completely convincing. There is no provenance for this discovery, as it was obtained by a private collector from the antiquities market - while the owner says he was told it came from the village of Silwan, there is absolutely no way we can know where the box actually came from.
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Format: Hardcover
Shanks wrote the first half of the book and he has the nasty habit of repeating certain phrases over and over. I really don't care if he ate at a restaurant where the wine was excellent and the fish was delicious. Fortunately, the discovery of James' apparent ossuary is interesting and worth reading. In the second half of the book, Witherington describes the historical significance of James' role in the church and how he has been overshadowed by Paul and Peter.

I don't know whether to believe in the authenticity of the ossuary, but I did get a better understanding of early Christianity.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is actually the story of the James ossuary as well as a description of who James was. Shanks writes first about the James ossuary. In the first 80 pages he, tells the story of the find and dispels many of the concerns about the ossuary's authenticity. There was no sign of a modern tool used to make the inscription. The inscription (including the second half) is covered with patina which adheres to the ossuary yet there is no sign of a modern adhesive. Altman's reason for thinking that there were two handwritings may be explained by the softness of the limestone upon which are written the words "brother of Jesus." Ben Witherington then writes a very interesting account of James, the younger brother of Jesus, his asceticism, and his rise to prominence in the early church.
What's the verdict? Being an attorney Shanks says it this way: the evidence can not prove the authenticity beyond a shadow of a doubt, but there is a preponderance of evidence that would win a civil case.
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