For nearly 2000 years the significance of a small, stone box remained hidden from human history.

 

But 12 months ago - within days of Easter - the world awakened to a concrete truth carved in limestone: Jesus did rise from the dead, and now it was possible to "touch" his resurrection as well as talk about it.

 

When Andre Lemaire first happened upon the "James ossuary" last April, he did not know just how important the burial box would become. The owner of the box, a Jew from Tel Aviv whose hobby was collecting ossuaries, mentioned to Lemaire that he had a box that might be of interest.

 

Lemaire, who is an authority on Semitic script, took one look at the carving on the box - which at one time held the bones of James – and determined that it could be the first archeological proof that Jesus did actually live - and that he had a brother.

 

The words on the ossuary read in Aramaic "Ya`akov bar Yosef achui d'Yeshua," which translates to "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus."

 

There is little doubt, even among non-believers, that Jesus actually walked the earth in the first century. But seeing it set in stone somehow makes the truth seem all the more real.

 

As Lemaire told Time magazine last year, "The written word is a bit airy. Listen, you can talk about Egyptian civilization, but the day you visit the pyramids, it speaks to you in a different way."

 

More importantly, the resurrection itself becomes even more tangible.

 

"James was in the box and Jesus was on the box because of the resurrection," said Ben Witherington III, co-author with Hershel Shanks of The Brother of Jesus, a new book that explains the story and meaning of the first archeological link to Jesus and his family.

 

Witherington, who is Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Lexington, Ky., explained that the inscription shows how James ultimately switched from cynicism toward Jesus to believing that his brother was the Messiah and, ultimately, to becoming the head of the church in Jerusalem.

 

"James was put in the box because of the sure hope that he would be resurrected," Witherington said. "And he only becomes the head of the Jerusalem church because he saw his brother raised from the dead."

 

Until that happened, James was like the rest of his siblings in thinking Jesus was nothing more than a strange-minded messianic pretender who had a knack of embarrassing his own family, (Mark 3:20, 31-35) Witherington said.

 

And if not for the resurrection, James' ossuary never would have included the reference to Jesus.