The Purported ossuary of St. James
- The Apostle James (Iakovos), Brother of God, whose memory the Church celebrates on October 23/November 5 was the son of Righteous Joseph the Betrothed. From his early years James was especially dedicated to God. When our Saviour was born Saint James witnessed the miraculous birth and accompanied St. Joseph (his father), the Theotokos and the Saviour to Egypt. All his life he was a struggler and laboured mightily with fasting and prayer. When our Saviour began to teach the Israelites about the Kingdom of God, Saint James believed in Christ and became His Apostle. All the Apostles revered St. James and he was chosen first bishop in the Church at Jerusalem.
Saint James presided over the First Council of the Apostles at Jerusalem and his word was decisive (Acts 15; Also see St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Acts, Homily 33). All the Apostles spoke at this Council concerning the manner in which Gentiles should be accepted into the Church. St. James was the last to speak: Men and brethern, hearken unto me... my sentence is, that... (Acts 15:13-21). His words were accepted by all the Apostles: Then pleased it the Apostles and elders, with the whole Church (Acts 13:22). In his thirty years as bishop, the Apostle James led the Church in Jerusalem with great wisdom and righteousness. He was respected by both Jews and pagans. St. James brought many of the Jews of Jerusalem into the Church. Annoyed by this, the Pharisees and the Scribes plotted together to kill the Saint. Having led the Saint up on the roof of the Jerusalem Temple, they demanded that he renounce the Saviour of the world. Instead, the holy Apostle James began to bear witness that Christ is the true Messiah. Then the Jewish teachers shoved him off the temple roof. The Saint did not die immediately, but gathering his final strength, he prayed to the Lord for his enemies while they were stoning him. St. James' martyrdom occurred about 63 AD.
The holy Apostle James composed a Divine Liturgy, which formed the basis of the Liturgies composed by Saints Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. The Church has preserved an Epistle of the Apostle James which is among the books of the New Testament of Holy Scripture. St. Justinian the Great dedicated a Church in Constantinople to the memory of St. James. His holy relics were deposited in this Church. In the year 1853 the Patriarch of Alexandria, Hierotheos, sent to Moscow a portion of the relics of the holy Apostle James. The Church makes a distinction between the holy Apostle James, Brother of the Lord, James the son of Zebedee (April 30) and James the son of Alphaeus (October 9).
Recently, much has been written about the inscribed Jerusalem ossuary (bone casket) supposedly holding the holy relics of St. James. Significant reporting can be found in the Biblical Archaeological Review for November/December 2002. This "new discovery" was also covered by The National Geographic, CNN, Discovery Channel, the Toronto Star and others.
The Royal Ontario Museum plans to exhibit the ossuary in Toronto from November 16 to December 29 in conjunction with a Biblical Archaeology Conference in Toronto, November 22-24, 2002. Much has been written on the authenticity of this ossuary but I personally believe that it never contained the holy relics of St. James. St. James was venerated by the Church of Jerusalem and all the early Churches as a great Saint. His relics were preserved by the Church and if they were kept in an ossuary the inscription would reflect the great veneration which the Christians of Jerusalem had for their first bishop.
The Jerusalem ossuary, which carries the inscribed name (in Aramaic) of "Ya'akov bar Yohosef akhui di Yeshua" [that is: "Jacob, son of Joseph, brother of Joshua"], is not a new discovery. It has been reported by the press and media several times since it first came to light in 1926, while ossuaries citing the name of Jesus are mentioned in the 1978 Manual of Palestinian Aramaic Texts and the 1994 Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries. The Hebrew Union College and Ben Gurion University confirm that the James ossuary has no known archaeological provenance. It was originally found in a museum basement by Prof. E.L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Many scholars have since voiced their belief that there is no evidence to link this ossuary to the relics of St. James.
From 1986, the James ossuary - 20 inches (51 cm) by 11 inches (28 cm) - has been owned by an anonymous private collector in Jerusalem, who bought it at auction for around $500. He was advised that it came from a tomb in the Silwan suburb of Jerusalem but, whatever its pre-1926 origin, it was clearly the product of looting since it is not recorded as an archaeologically excavated artifact from Silwan or anywhere else. Since the box had no historical provenance and was not related to any particular archaeological dig, it was regarded as of dubious origin by the museum authorities who released it into the antiques market some decades ago.
Ikon (HTM) of The Flight into Egypt showing St. James following the donkey