Father Joseph Fitzmyer, one of the world’s leading specialists in Aramaic, a prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar and the author of highly praised New Testament commentaries, has joined the call for a re-study of the controversial first-century ossuary, or bone box, inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” A committee of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) last June declared the inscription a forgery. Two other scientific studies, however, one by the Geological Survey of Israel and another by Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, disagree.

An article in the January 11, 2004, issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic newspaper with a circulation of more than 60,000, quotes Fitzmyer as saying that the IAA tried “to give the impression that the [sub-]committees that were set up came out with a unanimous decision, and it’s not unanimous at all.” Fitzmyer noted that one member of one IAA sub-committee found the inscription authentic but changed his mind only after another sub-committee studying the patina on the inscription said it had been forged.

Another member of the IAA committee said the latter part of the inscription, “brother of Jesus,” may be genuine.

The article in Our Sunday Visitor noted that “the IAA team has yet to publish its results in a scholarly journal.” Its conclusion was announced to the press on June 18, 2003. In the meantime, the IAA statements released at the time of the announcement have been heavily criticized by American and French scholars.a Neither the IAA nor the members of its committees have responded to the criticism.

Even if authentic, however, Fitzmyer has doubts as to whether the inscription refers to Jesus of Nazereth. All three names—James, Joseph and Jesus—were quite common in the first century.