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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Jesus artefact 'a fake'
Box bears the inscription
Authenticity of the James Ossuary is in doubt

An ancient burial casket, claimed by its owner to contain the bones of Jesus' brother, has been declared a fake by Israeli antiquities experts.

The small ossuary, inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" in Aramaic, was hailed as the oldest archaeological link to the New Testament.

But after studying the first century artefact, Israel's Antiquities Authority says the inscription is not authentic.

The ossuary, which is about 50 centimetres (20 inches) long, was revealed to the world last November at a Washington press conference held by the Biblical Archaeology Review.

A number of experts who inspected the small limestone box at the time said they found no reason to doubt its authenticity.

Ancient written characters

But Israel's Antiquities Authority said its own investigation carried out by several committees of experts concluded the inscription was fake.

 Israeli Consul General Meir Romem inspects damage to the James Ossuary during its media unveiling at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada
It was damaged on its way to an exhibition in Canada last year
"The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters," it said in a statement.

The ossuary's owner, Israeli collector Oded Golan, dismissed the authority's findings.

"I am certain the ossuary is real," he said. "I am certain the committee is wrong regarding its conclusions".

Mr Golan said he bought the ossuary from an antiques dealer in Jerusalem in the mid-1970s for around $200.

However, police are interviewing dealers in Jerusalem's Old City following suspicions that the ossuary was bought only a few months ago.

'Evidence of Jesus' damaged
03 Nov 02  |  Middle East
Artefact 'may be evidence of Jesus'
22 Oct 02  |  Middle East

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