Daily Archives: 14 Mar 2012

The Royal Ontario Museum Will Not Display the ‘James Ossuary’ Again

There will not be a 10th-anniversary showing of the James ossuary later this year at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.  “We’d need something new to say about [the ossuary],” said Dan Rahimi, the ROM’s vice-president of gallery development. “If we have nothing new to say about it, it would just be sensationalism. … I don’t really think we’re in a more advanced position than before so I wouldn’t bring it back.”

Aww… Shanks will be very disappointed.  After all, it was his doing to drag it there in the first place.

Mr. Rahimi, the ROM’s director of collections management at the time, said the museum was first approached as a possible exhibitor of the ossuary by Hershel Shanks, the U.S.-based editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, described by The New York Times as “the world’s most influential amateur biblical archaeologist.” Mr. Shanks was (and remains) an advocate for the ossuary’s authenticity. He felt the ROM would be the perfect place to present it because Toronto was on tap to host conventions of three major organizations, including the Biblical Archaeological Society.

I wonder where Shanks/Golan/Simcha/Tabor will take it since they don’t want it in Toronto.  It will make the perfect companion display for the ‘Jesus Discovery’ ossuary because they’re both bookends.  Bookends of exaggeration and misrepresentation that is.  Two for the price of one!  Come one, come all, see what people can do when they put their minds to it (and there’s money to make from it).

The Chronicle of Higher Education: On the Verdict

Matthew Kalman has another report with more information and opinion in the wake of the verdict in The Chronicle of Higher Education including those asserting the authenticity of the inscriptions (in the middle of the essay) followed by those who don’t (at the end).  We pick up with the latter –

Across the Tel Aviv University campus, Yuval Goren, a prosecution witness and professor in the department of archaeology and ancient Near Eastern civilizations, was equally insistent in the opposite direction.

“I examined the materials covering the ossuary and the inscription, and we found out that the materials covering the inscription were not created in the natural processes typical of the Judean mountains area over the last 2,000 years,” said Mr. Goren.

“Since the verdict is not guilty, it means the accused had, first of all, very good lawyers but also there was no legal way to connect between them and the fraud. But it doesn’t really change much about the scientific conclusions because they are unrelated,” he insisted. “I think the scientific data still stands for itself.”

His view is supported by James E. West, adjunct professor of biblical studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology and moderator of an influential online forum on biblical archaeology.

“Golan has harmed the field of archaeology in incalculable ways,” said Mr. West. “Whenever real, and important, discoveries are made, the public will view them with skepticism because now there will always underlie them the potential that they too are fakes. It may have been a good verdict for Golan personally—but for the field of ‘biblical archaeology’, this is a sad day, a bad day, and in truth, a tragic day.”

Israel Finkelstein, another professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, was also a prosecution witness. He continues to believe the items are fakes and says archaeologists should avoid any item not found in a supervised excavation.

“A judicial procedure is one thing and an academic investigation—and debate—is another,” said Mr. Finkelstein. “As far as I can judge, there is enough evidence against the authenticity of the inscription on the ossuary and the Jehoash inscription.”

Eric M. Meyers, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Duke University, said the failure to prove the items were forged “in no way means that they are authentic. The burden of proof that falls on the prosecution in a criminal case must rise to a high level of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the defendants have been acquitted thus does not end the matter of the quest to decide authenticity. This leaves much opportunity for academic opinion to continue to believe that these artifacts are not authentic and to question their provenance.”

Antonio Lombatti, an Italian church historian, said he expected the debate to continue. “If the carbon dating of the Turin shroud in 1988 didn’t put the word ‘end’ to the debate, I won’t expect a trial verdict to have the last word on a Jewish ossuary,” he said.

Antonio, you’re right…

Must See TV: How God Made the English

The first in a three-part series in which Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of Church History at Oxford University and presenter of the award-winning BBC series A History of Christianity, explores both what it means to be English and what has shaped English identity, from the Dark Ages, through the Reformation to modern times. Professor MacCulloch identifies three broad traits commonly associated with the English: the idea that the English think they’re better than others; the idea that they are a specially tolerant people; and the idea that to be English, quintessentially is to be white, Anglo-Saxon and Church of England Christian. He investigates whether these stereotypes are accurate and looks at what forces have shaped English identity – secular or religious?

In this first episode, Professor MacCulloch chronicles the roots of the idea that the English think themselves better than others and duty-bound to play a leading role in world affairs. He argues that the roots of this attitude lie in a tangle of religious motives. He traces its origins to the notion of a ‘chosen people’ – a Biblical idea which the monk and historian, the Venerable Bede, took lock, stock and barrel from the Jewish scriptures and applied to the early English.

If you’re in Britain you must watch this Saturday at 8 PM.  You must.

Support Real Archaeology: At Gath

The folk at Azekah recently deployed an online donation option (I hope you’ve done so by now) and now the folk at Safi have as well.

Just so that you should know, there is now another way to take part in the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, even if you can’t join the team with your actual physical presence.  I have added a PayPal option for donations to the project. For an overview of why donations to the project are so important, and examples of the many costs that must be covered to keep the project running, see here.

Help out.  I guarantee, if they find an ossuary with the name of some famous biblical personage, it will be legit!

Betrayal of The Humanities: The University During the Third Reich

That’s the title of a Symposium being held April 15-16, 2012 and led by Bernard Levinson up in Minnesota. The ‘about’ section of the website notes

Israel's Department Store in Berlin on April 1...

The university is traditionally seen as a safeguard of the values of Western civilization. It stands as a beacon for such fundamental principles as critical thought, free inquiry and ethical research. Yet, history tells us that this was not always so. Under National Socialism in Germany (1933-1945), the universities and the academic disciplines themselves became in many cases all-too-eager accomplices in the perpetration of Nazi ideology. Not only did the normal administrative structure of the university become corrupted, but learning itself betrayed its own mission as prestigious disciplines propagated Nazi racial science and beliefs.

In order to investigate the process whereby critical thought was replaced by blind obedience, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies will host a symposium to examine the moral role of the university in today’s society. The symposium, co-organized by Bernard Levinson, Berman Family Chair in Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible, and Bruno Chaouat, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, will explore the mutation of academic ideals under National Socialism, when the German university system promoted Nazi ideology and helped the state eliminate its diverse community. Thirteen scholars from across the U.S. and abroad will examine core academic disciplines, including anthropology, philosophy, classics, Assyriology, theology, law, and music.

The Third Reich’s relation to the University will serve as a case study to understand the role of the transmission of knowledge in Western civilization and the importance of free inquiry to sustain democratic societies. Although a Nazi-like ideology may never resurface in the West, it remains critical to understand what kind of ideologies could today or tomorrow stifle an ethical quest for the truth and human striving for intellectual and artistic accomplishment.

If you’re around the Twin Cities you should definitely make plans to attend. It’s a fascinating period of Church History and it looks like it’s going to be a grand conference.  Go to the conference page for the schedule, speakers, etc.

Eric Meyers’ Forthright Reaction to the Verdict of the Golan Trial

Eric notes, among other sage things

I would therefore emphasize that because the government, in this case, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Police, failed to prove that the artifacts in question were inauthentic in no way means that they are authentic. The burden of proof that falls on the prosecution in a criminal case must rise to a high level of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the defendants have been acquitted thus does not end the matter of the quest to decide authenticity. This leaves much opportunity for academic opinion to continue to believe that these artifacts are not authentic and to question their provenance. This lack of certainty is another demonstration of why the Israeli antiquities law, which allows the trade in artifacts obtained before 1978, leaves open a loophole for trading in artifacts that may be recently looted or that may be inauthentic. This shortcoming in the law contributes to the ongoing destruction of the archaeological, historical, and cultural record through looting and possible corruption of the historical record through the acceptance of antiquities that may not be genuine in the corpus of historical artifacts that illuminate the cultural heritage of the land of the Bible.


Christopher Rollston: On Forgeries and The Trial of Oded Golan

Chris writes in concluding his interesting historical survey of forgeries-

At the end of the day, regardless of the guilt or innocence of those individuals charged and tried for forging inscriptions in this case, the fact remains that forgeries have been produced for more than two millennia and I do not forsee this changingIndeed, it never will…after all, the motives for forgeries are numerous, from venality, to sour grapes, to a Witz, and from antiquity to the modern period even extend to realms of motivation in the realm of political and religious.. I have an article coming out in a Brown University Symposium volume on the history of forgeries…and I have an academic monograph on this subject that will be sent off to a publisher this coming summer….so the saga continues…

Indeed it does.  Sadly.  But I anticipate with a lot of joy Chris’s continuing thoughts on the topic.

Quote of the Day

Bart Ehrman’s work has a feisty flavor that makes it interesting, but the author is far too impressed by his own skepticism. – D.A. Carson

Word…  Ehrman suffers from the same disorder that the angry atheists suffer- they’re so far up themselves they can’t see anything but their own colons.

The Israel Antiquities Authority Reaction to the Golan Verdict

The Antiquities Authority said in a statement that it “respected” the ruling. “The Antiquities Authority will continue to fight those who steal or forge antiquities in order to ensure that the historical truth of the three religions is preserved for future generations,” the statement said.

Golan certainly has to be glad it’s over, since he was reportedly under house arrest for a good portion of the trial for attempting to influence witnesses.

May such deeds never be repeated as have been done by Golan.  Of course, they will be.  BAR has advertising space to sell after all…  And as long as there’s a market for ‘ancient’ trinkets, there’s incentive to invent them.

Here’s the full response of the IAA (with thanks to Antonio Lombatti for pointing it out).  And here’s the fuller context of the quote above-

This morning (Wednesday, March 14) the verdict was published in the prosecution’s case – the State of Israel vs. Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, et alia – Criminal Case 482/04.

In response to the decision by Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court, the Israel Antiquities Authority announces the following:

The Israel Antiquities Authority respects the court’s decisions. The Israel Antiquities Authority praises the efforts of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office in the case and is proud of the State’s determination in looking out for the broad public interest in the country and abroad, which states it is forbidden to meddle in the history of the peoples that lived and live in the Land of Israel.

The prosecution’s efforts resulted in the conviction of one defendant in this case in the past, and today the court acquitted Oded Golan of forgery and fraud charges on a basis of reasonable doubt, and found him guilty of three counts of violating the Antiquities Law and possession of suspected stolen property. The charges in some of the offenses were cancelled due to the statue of limitations. According to the judge, “The absolute truth was not a guiding light for Golan”.

During the trial the judge was presented with the conclusions of an expert committee of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the universities, which unequivocally established that the finds are forgeries. The court had to decide professional issues in the field of archaeology, which are not frequently heard in a court of law. Because a person’s guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal trial, Golan was acquitted. However, the judge did emphasize that it was not possible to determine that the finds presented in the trial – including the ossuary and the “Jehoash inscription” – are not forgeries.

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.

Related articles

The 200th Anniversary of the German Bible Society

Via the DBG

Professor Dr. Hermann Ehmer schildert in der Zeitschrift, wie sich am 11. September 1812 unter Beteiligung der Britischen und ausländischen Bibelgesellschaft die Württembergische Bibelanstalt in Stuttgart gründete. Sie entwickelte sich zur größten Bibelgesellschaft Deutschlands und gab unter anderem neben  der Lutherbibel die wissenschaftlichen Ausgaben des Alten und Neuen Testaments in Hebräisch und Griechisch heraus. Die Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft übernahm später diese verlegerischen Aufgaben. Die bibelmissionarischen Aufgaben in der Region übertrug man der Württembergischen Bibelgesellschaft.

Ehmer, ehemaliger Leiter des Landeskirchlichen Archivs in Stuttgart, erläutert zudem, wie der Begriff „Privilegierte Württembergische Bibelanstalt“ entstand. König Friedrich I. von Württemberg bewilligte der Bibelanstalt kurz nach der Gründung das Privileg der Portofreiheit. Der Begriff der „Privilegierten“ wurde dann auch noch im 20. Jahrhundert geführt.

Read the rest, and happy anniversary, DBG!

Matthew Kalman’s Report on the Trial Verdict

In the Globe and Mail, Kalman writes

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.

I’m not so sure the ossuary has been reprieved.  It still lies under a shadow and always will.  He continues

… Judge Farkash, who said he had heard from 126 witnesses and sat through 120 sessions that produced more than 12,000 pages of testimony, acknowledged that the collapse of the criminal trial did not signal the end of the scientific debate over the authenticity of the ossuary.

“This is not to say that the inscription on the ossuary is true and authentic and was written 2,000 years ago,” he said. “We can expect this matter to continue to be researched in the archaeological and scientific worlds and only the future will tell. Moreover, it has not been proved in any way that the words ‘brother of Jesus’ definitely refer to the Jesus who appears in Christian writings.’

Judge Farkash was particularly scathing about tests carried out by the Israel police forensics laboratory that he said had probably contaminated the ossuary, making it impossible to carry out further scientific tests on the inscription.

So while the Judge isn’t buying Golan et al’s claims, he simply wasn’t sufficiently convinced that Golan had acted in a criminal manner.  That hasn’t stopped Golan from trying to spin it to his advantage-

Mr. Golan, who was accompanied to court by his elderly parents, said he was “delighted at the complete and total acquittal I have received here today.”  “We brought experts from all over the world who testified that the inscriptions on the items that were suspected of being fakes are completely authentic, following research work by dozens of experts,” he said.

Rubbish.  The inscriptions on all the artifacts in question have been proven beyond doubt by the best minds in the field to be secondary.  Golan has to defend them, he has more to sell.

Prosecutor Dan Bahat said the case had been complicated by the refusal of a key witness, who was suspected of helping to forge many of the items, to come from Egypt to testify.

The entire episode is a sad example of what happens when financial interests surpass historical research.  When money is the motive, people will do anything for it- even peddle frauds and never admitting them to be so.

What Volume Will Appear Next in Biblia Hebraica Quinta?


With the availability of Judges announced this week I asked the editor in chief of the edition what was up next and he informed me that it would be Genesis.  This is excellent news!

If you aren’t familiar with the BHQ series, here’s a bit of background.

My Reaction to the Golan Verdict

Simply put

I’m dismayed that the court wasn’t able to see or that the prosecution wasn’t able to prove that Golan’s activities not only defrauded people by means of his promulgation of fraudulent artifacts, but that Golan has harmed the field of archaeology in incalculable ways.  The appearance of faked artifacts is the equivalent of ‘the boy who cried wolf’, meaning that whenever real, and important, discoveries are made, the public will view them with skepticism because now there will always underlie them the potential that they too are fakes.

It may have been a good verdict for Golan personally- but for the field of ‘biblical archaeology’, this is a sad day, a bad day, and in truth, a tragic day.

If you have thoughts on the verdict, drop Matthew Kalman a note at matthewkalman@gmail.com.  He’s soliciting viewpoints.

Oded Golan Found Innocent

Golan had been accused of forging the “James ossuary” and “Jehoash tablet.” Trial lasted 7 years. Judge’s verdict this morning: Innocent.  — Matti Friedman (Jerusalem journalist)

Matti’s full report is found here.

An Israeli collector accused of antiquities fraud in a complex trial that lasted seven years was acquitted Wednesday — a stunning reversal for the prosecution and a victory for a defendant maligned as an arch-forger who falsified history for personal gain.

Oded Golan had been charged with faking biblical artifacts, including two finds that made international headlines: the “James ossuary,” a stone box bearing an inscription identifying it as containing the bones of James, brother of Jesus, and the “Jehoash tablet,” with an inscription supporting the biblical narrative about the Temple in Jerusalem.

The District Court in Jerusalem acquitted Oded Golan of all charges of forgery and fraud. The judge, Aharon Farkash, convicted him only of minor charges of selling antiquities without a permit and possession of items suspected to be stolen.

In his decision, the judge was careful to say his acquittal of Golan did not mean the artifacts were necessarily genuine, only that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Golan had faked them.

Indeed- there is no doubt that the artifacts are faked.  Not guilty isn’t the same as not a forger.


It became clear as Farkash read his ruling Wednesday that nearly nothing of the state’s case against Golan remained.

The judge took Golan to task for giving different accounts to authorities at different times, saying he “tried to create facts that were convenient for him.” But the judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove Golan had faked the ossuary, the tablet, or any of the other artifacts included in the indictment.

He said police had badly bungled a forensic check and had possibly contaminated the ossuary, making it impossible to reach a clear conclusion about whether its Aramaic inscription had been forged.

Bungled police work…  how disappointing and how damaging to the field of archaeology.  It’s a sad day.

The Amazing Stone Which Forecasts the Weather!

I’m going to pass this on to all my meteorologist friends…

via Google+

Total Depravity: The ‘Rapture Pet Care’ Edition

Greed.  That’s the word to describe the totally depraved ‘rapture pet care’ business ‘Eternal Earth Bound Pets’.

When doomsday prophet Harold Camping conceded last week that his failed May 21 end-of-the-world prediction was “incorrect and sinful,” the average American probably shrugged, perhaps even snickered. But for Bart Centre, Camping’s mea culpa could have real impact on his bottom line. The co-owner of a business that promises to care for the pets of Christians who are swept up in the Rapture saw a jump in business last year ahead of Camping’s prediction.  Now he’s sorry to see Camping get out of the predictions business. “It was obviously a mistake,” said Centre, who runs Eternal Earth-Bound Pets from New Hampshire. “I’m just sorry that he’s not going to be doing any more predictions because it’s good for business.”

Look here’s the facts:  1- there’s no such thing as a ‘rapture’.  The notion is unscriptural and untheological.  And 2- that this ‘business’ cares more about the bottom line than the truth illustrates the fact that the people involved are utterly depraved, greed driven, vile and wicked reprobates.  They wish Camping to lie so they can profit from those lies.  Sick.

With Camping saying he’s done with making predictions, the co-owners of Eternal Earth-Bound Pets are banking on other prognosticators.  “Now the next thing we’re gearing up for is this Mayan calendar end times, which we still believe is going to bring us some substantial business,” Centre said, referring to some interpretations of an ancient Mayan calendar that the world will end in late 2012.  “After the Mayan calendar doesn’t happen there will be somebody else who comes up with a prediction.”

May God grant them some good old fashioned Old Testament judgment right away…

If You Have to Have a Gun, Lock It Up

Come on people.

An 8-year-old girl nearly died when a classmate accidentally discharged a gun he brought to school, her doctor said Tuesday, describing the trajectory of a bullet that narrowly missed the child’s vital organs but tore a liver and a major vein.  The bullet shattered Amina Kocer-Bowman’s elbow, tore through her torso and lodged near her spine, said Dr. Eileen Bulger, her surgeon at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. The girl lost 30 units of blood, or her entire blood volume, she added.

How’d she get shot?  You know the answer-

Police say Amina’s classmate, a 9-year-old boy, took a gun he found at his mother’s home and brought it to their elementary school in Bremerton, where it accidentally discharged when he slammed his backpack on a desk on Feb. 22. He struck a plea deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to probation and counseling, and ordered to write a letter of apology to Amina and testify against his mother.  The boy’s mother, Jamie Lee Chaffin, and her boyfriend, Douglas L. Bauer, were charged Tuesday with third-degree assault, a felony.

Some people shouldn’t have guns in their homes – especially if they don’t have the sense to keep them put away.