Greek - ostwfagoi
Latin – ossuarium
Meaning – “For Bones”
Ossuaries were small clay or limestone chests that were used for the burial of human bones. They typically were 20-30 inches long, 12-20 inches wide, and 10-16 inches deep.
The common practice at the time of Christ was to bury a body in a cave or a tomb in the rocks until it decomposed enough for the bones to be gathered and placed in a small chest, ossuary, for reburial. The Jews used this procedure to make room for additional or new burials in their tombs.
Apparently hundreds of these “bone-boxes” have been found near Jerusalem and Galilee. They are dated prior to AD 70. E. L. Sukenik found several ossuaries in a family tomb outside of Jerusalem in 1945. One of the boxes had a coin of Herod Agrippa in the box dating it between A. D. 42-43.
An announcement was made on October 21, 2002 in the Washington press that reported the finding of James’ Ossuary. Great excitement ran through the archeology field which believed that they had found the box of bones of James the brother of Jesus. Cut into one side of the box was an Aramaic inscription (Ya'akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua) which when translated reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
However, authenticity of the inscription has been challenged. The Israeli Antiquities Authority in 2003 determined that the inscription was forged. They purport that the inscription was forged at a much later date.
Many of the discovered ossuaries have inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic, or in both languages of the deceased’s name and at times their profession. One ossuary was discovered with the inscription “Simon – one of the builders of the sanctuary.” Simon may have been a mason or engineer that worked on Herod’s temple. Another ossuary was inscribed “Herein were placed the bones of Ussia, the King of Judah. Do not open.”
Some of the bones discovered in these ossuaries contain evidence of violent deaths of the buried individual. Some show evidence of death by crucifixion, violent beatings, and starvation. One set of bones depicted a woman who probably died while giving birth.
It is interesting to read some of the inscriptions on these clay/limestone “bone boxes.” Many, who know me, know how much I love to read tombstones. The inscriptions are very telling. A few who know me, know that I have already written my epithet for my gravestone. It goes:
A husband, a father, a friend for a time
Now he has come to the end of the line
Our gracious God was merely a lender
Therefore, please return me to sender!