Ossuary Box

Ossuary, first century C.E. 

An ossuary is any container used for the burial of human bones: it can be an urn, box, chest, or vault. During the Second Temple period (516 B.C.E – 70 C.E.), Jewish burial customs in Israel called for human remains to be interred in sepulchers (cave-like rooms) to decompose. After a few years, the bones were placed in box-like ossuaries, usually made of limestone. This “secondary burial” called for a day of fasting in the morning and feasting in the afternoon. Some ossuaries found in and around Jerusalem include beautiful geometric inscriptions identifying the deceased. One with the inscription “Yehohanan ben Hagkol” contained an iron nail embedded in a heel bone, implying death by crucifixion.

The "James Ossuary" shown here was at the center of a high-profile forgery scandal. Once thought to be that of James, the brother of Jesus, this ossuary was later determined a forgery. The ossuary itself dates from the first century C.E. and has not been disputed. The inscription, however, has been judged a fraud. The inscription reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The Israeli Antiquities Authority announced in 2003 that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date. In 2004, Oded Golan, an Israeli antiquities collector and owner of the ossuary, was charged with forgery of its inscription. In 2012 he was convicted of illegal trading in antiquities.

The James Ossuary inscription forgery, Royal Ontario Museum, on display November 15, 2002 to January 5, 2003.

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

Boxes used for the burial of human bones, often made of limestone or clay.

The structure built in Jerusalem in 516 B.C.E. on the site of the Temple of Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians seventy years prior. The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans responding to Jewish rebellion.

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