Sunday, August 03, 2003

MORE ON ODED GOLAN. Excerpts from an article, with my commentary interspersed.

Relic's owner under cloud of suspicion (Boston Globe, sent by Stephen Goranson)

By Dan Ephron, Globe Correspondent, 8/3/2003

JERUSALEM -- Oded Golan shunned publicity when a 2,000-year-old artifact he owns was made public last year and dubbed one of the most striking archeological finds of the 20th century.

In fact, for a short time, the Israeli antiquities collector managed to keep his name out of the many newspapers and journals that wrote about the relic -- a burial box with an inscription indicating it once contained the remains of Jesus' brother, James. But nearly a year later, Golan is being investigated, not only on suspicion of forging the inscription, but also for allegedly counterfeiting a series of other artifacts that fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars on an antiquities black market.

Police allege he did it not just for the money, but for public exposure.

''He has aspirations in the field of archeology and maybe even religion. He wants to make a name for himself,'' said Yoni Pagis, the Israeli police officer leading the investigation.

The 52-year-old collector has not been indicted and denies any wrongdoing. And although a team of specialists assembled by the Israel Antiquities Authority ruled last month that the ''James ossuary'' inscription is a forgery, many distinguished archeologists and experts still believe it is genuine.

One of them, Gabriel Barkay of Hebrew University, said at a panel discussion last week that all great archeological finds are disputed for a time, and that questions about their authenticity are resolved only through the scholarly discourse in scientific journals.

I made the same point the other day.

He says he bought the ossuary with the James inscription in the early 1970s from a Palestinian dealer in the Old City for a few hundred dollars. Police believe Golan acquired the ossuary more recently and is lying about its origins.

As I mentioned the week before last, Shimon Gibson thinks it was looted from the "shroud tomb" in 1998. (This is not to say that he made any accusation about who took it. The tomb was looted, but we don't know by whom.)

Pagis, who dabbles in archeology, says his team confiscated tools from Golan's warehouses that could be used to create forgeries, along with relics he described as sophisticated counterfeits. Another official involved in the investigation said other burial boxes were discovered in Golan's collection with sham inscriptions.

Now that is the most interesting paragraph in the whole article. More details, photographs, etc., please!

But in an interview screened alongside the documentary this week, the director of the Geological Survey, Amos Bein, said the chemical tests did not necessarily prove the ossuary was a fake, because even something as simple as a rigorous cleaning of the box over the years could have skewed the results.

''I don't think these things should be decided on by a committee,'' said Barkay, who took part in the panel discussion after the film. ''In due time, people come to the proper conclusions and they are convinced either by one side or another in the debate.''

In due time. This is a good point that we all need to keep in mind.

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