Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones!
Time magazine has a great followup article on the ossuary that is purported to contain the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. The article discusses James background and the scientific testing of the 2000 year old box. Plus, they have some new pictures of the box as well. The reporters, Matt Rees and Matthew Kalman, got to see it "up close and personal" in the apartment of its owner. The coolest thing about the article is that it reveals there are bone chips in the ossuary! For my money, this is the coolest part of the whole deal. Here's what the article says about them:

"The bone fragments lie in the dirt at the bottom of the box like the dots and dashes of some infuriating code. They were there, says the owner, when he bought it. Whoever sold it to his dealer would have removed anything larger, since Israeli collectors and looters alike know that the rabbinical authorities are sensitive about human remains. What is left is these off-white bits. The largest is half an inch wide and three inches long, its inner surface an intricate honeycomb. A reporter holds it gently — who knows whose DNA it might contain?

"It need not have belonged to James. Ossuaries often held the bones of several family members. Looters could have used the box as a handy receptacle while emptying others. Radiocarbon dating might be able to determine whether the chips date to the same approximate period as the box. As for genetic tests, James Chatters, a Seattle-based archaeologist with forensic expertise, says it is "entirely possible" that DNA could be extracted from such fragments. Most likely to be recovered would be the mitochondrial variety, which can provide a catalog of maternal traits. Of course, if the ossuary was biblical, the mother (by the Gospels' most literal interpretation) would be Mary.

"But that testing won't happen. The owner has refused to share the fragments with the world. When the ossuary goes to Toronto next month, the bone fragments will be sitting in a Tupperware container in his Jerusalem-area apartment. "Who needs trouble with the rabbis or with Israeli customs?" The ossuary has delivered enough mystery into the world for now."

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