Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reflections on Israel Forgery Trial verdict

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS (really this time): Oded Golan is not guilty of forgery. So is the ‘James ossuary’ for real? (Matti Friedman, The Times of Israel). Excerpt:
[The judge's] decision to clear Golan of forging the inscription on the James ossuary, he wrote, “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago. This will continue to be studied by scientists and archaeologists, and time will tell.

“Moreover,” he wrote, “it was not proven in any way that the words ‘the brother of Jesus’ necessarily refer to the ‘Jesus’ who appears in Christian writings.”

This applies to all of the artifacts in question, he added several hundred pages later in the lengthy text of his decision: “All that has been established is that the tools and the science currently at the disposal of the experts who testified were not sufficient to prove the alleged forgeries beyond a reasonable doubt as is required by criminal law.”

In short, the case’s conclusion does not establish whether or not the James ossuary, the Jehoash tablet, or any of the artifacts in questions are historic discoveries or slick fakes. The only clear conclusion to be drawn from the trial, perhaps, is a frustrating one: Where ancient artifacts are concerned, that distinction is nearly impossible to make.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to identify fakes, which is one reason to treat unprovenanced artifacts with skepticism, especially if they seem to have a direct connection to biblical people or stories. My own view, on philological grounds, is that the Jehoash tablet is a fake. The James Ossuary is a genuine ancient ossuary and the first part of the inscription may be genuine as well. The real question is whether the second part, "the brother of Jesus" is genuinely ancient and, if so, as ancient as the first century. I don't have a strong view myself, except that on principle I am very skeptical.

Background on the trial is here and on the James Ossuary is here, and just keep following those links back to 2003.

UPDATE: James McGrath comments on the story and collects reactions from the biblioblogosphere: Verdict in the James Ossuary Trial: Not Guilty on All Counts.

UPDATE: Bible History Daily: Oded Golan Speaks Out on Forgery Trial Verdict and Robert Deutsch to Sue IAA.