Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Israel Forgery Trial verdict

Antiquities collector acquitted of forgery charges in ‘James ossuary’ case

matthew kalman
Jerusalem— Special to Globe and Mail Update
Published Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012 7:30AM EDT

A Roman-era burial box inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” was reprieved from the scrapheap of history on Wednesday when a Jerusalem judge completely exonerated an Israeli antiquities collector who had been accused of forging it.

The verdict, delivered by Judge Aharon Farkash in a tiny, crowded courtroom in the Jerusalem District Courthouse, ended a seven-year ordeal for the accused, Oded Golan, 60, but it will do little to extinguish the decade-long scientific controversy over the authenticity of the limestone box which has raged since it was first displayed to the public at the Royal Ontario Museum in 2002.

If genuine, the burial box, or ossuary, is the first physical artifact yet discovered that might be connected with the family of the historical Jesus Christ.

Mr. Golan had been accused of adding the second half of the inscription linking it to Jesus, and then fabricating the patina, the bio-organic coating that adheres to ancient objects, to pass it off as genuine.

But Judge Farkash said the prosecution had failed to prove any of the serious charges against Mr. Golan and acquitted him on all but three minor charges of illegal antiquities dealing and possession of stolen antiquities. Robert Deutsch, a co-defendant, was acquitted on all charges.

The judge wisely emphasized that this was not a ruling on the authenticity or interpretation of the James Ossuary inscription, issues that can only be determined, if at all, by specialists.

So even after all these years of effort and all the expense, the existence of the "monster forgery machine" remains to be established. Nevertheless, I think we are still right to be very wary of unprovenanced artifacts. My comments in 2009 here still seem to hold up (cf. Schiffman's too-perfect principle). See also this post from September 2011.

UPDATE: Incorrect link now fixed. And actually it's Eisenman who used the phrase "too perfect," but it is applicable to Schiffman's formulation "The most exciting things are the things most likely to be forged."

UPDATE: Israel Antiquities Authority press release: Response of the IAA to the Verdict by the Jerusalem District Court in the Matter of the Forgeries. Excerpt:
According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the benefits of placing the issue on today’s agenda were immense and have led to a dramatic change in the conduct of archaeological research in Israel and abroad: there has been an almost complete cessation of publishing finds that come from the antiquities market without first knowing their exact place of discovery; the trade in written documents and seals derived from illicit antiquities excavations has almost been entirely halted also. This in turn has led to a dramatic reduction in the scope of antiquities robbery occurring at biblical sites in Israel. In addition, ethical practices concerning research have changed and rules have been formulated regarding the “dos and don’ts” of the publication of finds. Furthermore, new methods have been developed for checking archaeological finds, which rely on research methods drawn from the natural sciences, and many collectors have made their collections available to the State for examination and registration.

The Israel Antiquities Authority will continue in its battle against the robbers and forgers of antiquities in order to ensure that the historical truth of the three religions will be preserved for future generations.
The press release includes a high-resolution photo of the Jehoash Inscription, on which more here.

Todd Bolen comments on the verdict and the IAA press release here.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer.)