Of brothers and bones
Who were Jesus's siblings? Although little is known about them, the Gospel of Mark names four brothersJames, Joses, Judas, and Simon, and early Christian tradition identifies two sisters, Mary and Salome. But developing church dogma, particularly the fourth-century idea of Mary's "perpetual virginity," gave rise to ingenious interpretations of these figures, one being that brothers really meant cousins.
In his book, The Jesus Dynasty, James Tabor argues that the men Jesus designated as his dynastic successors were his half-brothers, fathered not by Joseph (who disappears in Gospel accounts after the Nativity) but by Joseph's brother, Clophas, who was obliged by Jewish law to marry his brother's widow.
So what does it mean if James, killed in A.D. 62 after more than 30 years as leader of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem, was the son of Clophas and Mary? Well, for one, it further complicates a fascinating controversy over a limestone burial box purporting to contain the bones of James.
The ossuary, supposedly found near the Old City of Jerusalem, excited wide interest in 2002, when Biblical Archaeological Review Editor Hershel Shanks announced that paleographic examination of the box's Aramaic inscriptionJames, son of Joseph, brother of Jesusproved it was an authentic first-century engraving. A subsequent investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority, focusing on the age of the inscription's patina, declared it a forgery. But leading epigraphers, including the Sorbonne's André Lemaire, have challenged the IAA finding, and both Shanks and Tabor hint that forthcoming findings will establish the authenticity of the inscription.
Yet if James is indeed the son of Clophas, as Tabor argues, would that mean that someone called the son of Joseph could not have been Jesus's brother? Not necessarily. Even though fathered by Joseph's brother, James, Tabor writes, "legally becomes known as the 'son of Joseph' after his deceased brother in order to carry on his name." Whether that proves that James was Jesus's dynastic successor, the inscription alone cannot say.