Archaeologists have come to believe the remains that have for centuries been attributed to two of the earliest Christians and Jesus's apostles, St. Philip and St. James, are not really theirs. Their findings have been published in the journal Heritage Science.
As Christianity became the dominant religion by the sixth century, when Roman Emperor Constantine declared it the state religion while on his deathbed, churches were increasingly built all over the Roman Empire, with the remains of early Christian martyrs moved from their graves to designated places of worship in a process called "translations".
The remains of the two apostles in question, St. Philip and St. James were no exception, as they were thought to have been moved to Rome around the same time to glorify its landmark church Santi Apostoli.
St. James the Younger, in particular, was one of the 12 apostles who followed Jesus Christ, according to the Bible.
Also known as St. James the Minor, he has been deemed by some bibliologists as Jesus's stepbrother, from Joseph's previous marriage, or cousin.
The researched skeletons are incomplete, the scientists pointed out, saying the only fragments remaining are those of a tibia, a femur, and a mummified foot. The tibia and foot have hitherto been attributed to St. Philip, while the femur – to St. James.
The researchers, led by professor of chemistry and archaeometry, Kaare Lund Rasmussen from the University of Southern Denmark, viewed the remains of St. Philip as too challenging to de-contaminate and radiocarbon date, and their age thus remains unkown.
But the femur, believed to belong to St. James, underwent an array of different analyses and testing. The most important of them being the radiocarbon method, which determines an object's age by studying the decay of radioactive carbon-14 in it, and found the relic dated to 214-340 AD.
"Thus, the preserved relic, the femur, is not that of St. James. It originates from an individual some 160-240 years younger than St. James", explained Rasmussen, adding:
"Though the relic is not that of St. James, it casts a rare flicker of light on a very early and largely unaccounted for time in the history of early Christianity. Who that person was, is of course impossible to say".
He went on to state that the same is likely true about the purported remains of St. Philip, with the researcher noting that whatever the assumption, the remains certainly belong to an early Christian, "apostle or not".
"One can imagine that when the early church authorities were searching for the corpse of the apostle, who had lived hundreds of years earlier, they would look in ancient Christian burial grounds where bodies of holy men might have been put to rest at some earlier time", the researchers write in Heritage Science.