Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Israel Forgery Trial appeal latest

THE AFTERMATH OF THE ISRAEL FORGERY TRIAL JUST GOES ON AND ON: Supreme Court says Israel cannot hold Jehoash Tablet but challenges antiquities trade (Matthew Kalman, Bible and Interpretation).

The ruling says that Golan can have the Jehoash Tablet back, but the really important element of the ruling is that the Israeli Supreme Court seems to be laying the groundwork for a sustained campaign against the antiquities trade:
In an 8,000-word ruling handed down on September 29, a panel of three Supreme Court Justices rejected Golan’s appeal against his conviction and sentence on three minor charges and used the opportunity to declare war on the antiquities market. Branding the trade in antiquities “damaging” and motivated by “avarice,” the ruling authored by Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez depicts “a world of collectors exchanging treasures teeming with trembling hands and heart - often within the law, and sometimes without,” and notes with approval that “in most countries of the world there is a general ban on the trade in antiquities, because of their recognition as a national resource.” She further observed, that this "conception also serves as the basis for the antiquities law” in Israel.

The ruling places the Supreme Court on a potential collision course with the Israel Museum and other major archaeological collections in the country, which all display items purchased from the market. Israel Museum curators and experts have described a complex and well-oiled procedure of verification and testing carried out in the museum laboratories to determine the significance and authenticity of items offered by dealers. Many of the Israel Museum’s most notable archaeological exhibits, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, royal seal impressions and coins were purchased on behalf of the museum from the antiquities market and not discovered in authorized archaeological excavations.

Barak-Erez excoriates the “loopholes” in the existing Antiquities Law, using the bully pulpit of Israel’s highest court, citing material not in evidence during the original trial, to propose a dramatic tightening of Israel’s antiquities trade. Her ruling should not be dismissed as the star-struck enthusiasm of an amateur touched by the magic of a rare antique treasure. Appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012 at the extraordinarily young age of 47, Barak-Erez is widely regarded as a legal genius, the leading Israeli juror of her generation and a future president of the court. If she has marked the antiquities trade as the target of a personal legal crusade, she has the authority and the stature to inspire extensive legal reform.
The issues are summarized pretty clearly near the end of the essay:
But Professor Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, Director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, says the benefits of a general ban far outweigh the risks. “Illicit digs destroy archaeological sites,” he says, adding that the existence even of the regulated market fuels the robbery that is stripping antiquities from their context and greatly reducing their scientific value.

“One of the main reasons you have to deal with many of the inscriptions that are found on the antiquities market with suspicion is because we’ve been excavating non-stop for the last 150 years. In controlled excavations, very few inscriptions have been found. All these astounding inscriptions always appear on the market. That’s what rings the warning bells,” says Maeir. “Also we know that when something is found in excavations, very soon after, all kind of things like it start appearing.”

But Golan says the Israeli market is not the problem – it’s simply not large enough to make a difference. The demand for Middle Eastern antiquities comes from abroad. Banning the trade in Israel will merely ensure the immediate exodus of any important items. Nor will an Israeli public awareness campaign about “picking” treasures resonate with Palestinians in the West Bank, where the vast majority of antiquities are found. Golan says the best way forward is for the authorities to work alongside the collectors in a joint effort to preserve the natural heritage and ensure the most important discoveries remain in Israel.
This is a very complicated situation that Kalman lays out quite lucidly, so read it all.

On suspicion concerning the multitude of Iron Age Hebrew inscriptions, see here. I have very mixed feelings about the situation. I agree that unprovenanced artifacts create serious problems for archaeology and epigraphy and am on record saying that unprovenanced inscriptions should be regarded as fakes unless there is significant positive evidence for their authenticity. At the same time, adopting a zero tolerance stance toward the antiquities trade is likely only to create a thriving black market into which genuine antiquities disappear and never come to the attention of specialists.

For background on the Israel Forgery Trial, go here and follow the many years worth of links.