The boxes can be seen, with several others, through a 10-inch-wide tall slit of a window, along a wall on the left side of the main exhibit room, where fragments of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls are arrayed in a central circular set of cases.
The exhibit, which ends Oct. 14, downplays any New Testament connnection for the ossuaries, found with eight others in a family tomb in Jersusalem in 1980. Most other scholars are also skeptical.
But on Tuesday in Rome, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King announced the discovery of a fourth-century fragment of papyrus that suggests some early Christians thought Jesus had a wife, who may also have had disciple status.
The text includes a sentence that starts, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife'"; refers to a Mary who might be Mary Magdalene, and has Jesus defending her, saying "She will be able to be my disciple" and "I dwell with her."
No one is saying it's proof Jesus got married, but it raises new reasons for experts to take the possibility seriously, said Tabor, head of the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Mary Magdalene's role in Jesus' life has long intrigued Christians and others, since she attended the crucifixion with his mother and was the one who discovered afterward that Jesus was missing from his tomb.
Some texts ascribed to early Christians - including non-biblical "gospels" supposedly by apostles Phillip, Thomas and Mary Magdalene herself - speak of her as Jesus' companion and a disciple, but never say she was his wife.
Traditional Christian teaching is that Jesus was celibate and a divine being who left no physical remains, because three days after the crucifixion he ascended bodily into heaven.
The so-called Jesus family tomb, though, suggests otherwise - if its "Jesus son of Joseph" was the one in the Bible.
The tomb had 10 ossuaries, including ones for a "Mary mother of Jesus," a "Judah son of Jesus," a "Matia" (Matthew) and other names consistent with New Testament accounts. The first two are not in Philadelphia, but the Matthew one is.
For years, the similarities were largely dismissed as coincidence.
In The Jesus Discovery, Tabor and coauthor/filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici tried to revive the case, pointing to their 2010 discovery in a nearby tomb of a fishlike image and an inscription suggesting resurrection - evidence of early Christianity.
Many critics weren't persuaded, some seeing a wine jar or a tower instead of a fish.
In the display of ossuaries, the top center box has faint scrawl about "Jesus, son of Joseph," while the top left box, which refers to a "Mara," is the one Tabor suggests was possibly for Mary Magdalene.
DNA analysis of bones fragments inside found the two were not blood relations, according to The Jesus Discovery. That meant she had to be related to someone in the tomb by marriage, and "Maramene Mara," as the ossuary appears to say, is found in only two historical references, both of which pointed the biblical Mary Magdalene, Tabor wrote .
One argument against a married Jesus is the omission of such a seemingly important detail from other texts, including the entire New Testament.
But Tabor points out that no disciple's wives were mentioned, but Mary Magdalene was, suggesting she had an important role in Jesus' life.
For more, visit the Franklin Institute's website, www.fi.edu, and Tabor's blog, www.jamestabor.com.
The Cincinnati Museum Center is the next stop for the exhibit, which was created by the Israel Antiquities Authority and produced by Discovery Times Square and the Franklin Institute.
Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or firstname.lastname@example.org.