The date is 63 AD, three decades hence from the Crucifixion of Christ. The hot sun beats down on the city of Jerusalem as a mourning party gathers to finally lay to rest the bones of their relative. His body has been left in a cave to decompose for a year after his death, and now his bones are gathered and placed into a limestone ossuary. The box is 1 1/4 feet wide, and 2 1/2 feet long. The box is now placed into a cave near the Mount of Olives, where it shall remain for nearly two millenia. Such was Jewish custom at the time1.
On the side of the box is an inscription. It reads, in Aramaic, Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua, or, in plain English -
"James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"
How unusual for a brother to be mentioned on an ossuary2. But then, Jesus was a very unusual man.
Fast forward nearly 2000 years. About fifteen years ago, an Arabic dealer sold the ossuary to an Israeli collector. It was empty but for a few fragments of bone, and it is likely that it was removed from the area around the Holy City sometime in the past. The bones will have been removed because of the view that Islamic authorities take on the sale of human remains. In this collector's stash it remained up until now, and he never thought anything of the inscription because he "didn't think the Son of God could have a brother".
Scripture strongly hints that Jesus did have a half-brother, and he was called James. But is it the James that once rested in this ossuary? Andre Lemaire, who first revealed the existence of the artifact writing in Biblical Archaeology Review, thinks so. In proving this he has used statistics - Jesus, James and Joseph were very common names in Jerusalem at this time. Lemaire reckons that there would be 20 Jameses in Jerusalem at this time who would have a brother called Jesus and a father named Joseph. However, it is very unusual for a brother to be mentioned on an ossuary. The brother would have had to have been very noteworthy - and Jesus of Nazareth certainly fits this bill.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that "the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James by name" was stoned to death in 62 AD. Allowing for a year for the bones to decompose, this James would well have been placed in the ossuary in 63 AD, exactly when the ossuary has been dated to.
As to the question of authenticity, the Israeli Geological Survey have conducted detailed tests on the ossuary and found no mark of modern tools, as well as found the existence of a patina, which would form from many centuries sitting in a cave. The Aramaic has been regarded as authentic by the vast majority of scolars who have viewed it (most having seen it on a photograph), and fits with this time period perfectly.
We will never know for sure if this is the ossuary of James, brother of that Jesus. If it is, then we've found the earliest evidence of Jesus' existence outside of the Bible. And if it is, what of the DNA lurking in those bone fragments...?