Judge to rule on ‘James ossuary'

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Although everyone loves a mystery, museumgoers generally attend exhibitions expecting they're getting the real-meal deal – be it a Picasso, a 13th-century Mayan artifact, Champlain's astrolabe, or a collection of moon rocks from Apollo 11.

Close to 10 years ago, though, 100,000 visitors braved Toronto's winter cold to visit the Royal Ontario Museum to look at something that this week may be determined to be nothing more than a fake.

That something is the so-called James ossuary, a 33-kilogram, trapezoid limestone box, measuring 51 by 25 by 31 centimetres, dated to circa 60 AD, and excavated from a cave near Jerusalem around 1987.

Used in ancient times to store human bones, it's a plain, singularly unprepossessing artifact – save for the Aramaic inscription scratched into one of its sides: “Ya'akov [James], son of Yosef [Joseph] brother of Yeshua [Jesus].”

For some, the inscription is evidence of the ossuary's authenticity as the repository of the remains of Jesus's brother, James the Just, who led the Jerusalem church after Christ's death and was himself martyred around AD 62. In fact, in late 2002, when the ROM began its seven-week show, the burial box had, for believers at least, the heady status of being “the only archaeological artifact found to date with a possible link to the family of Christ.”...

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