Tag Archives: Oded Golan

Forged in Faith: Matthew Kalman’s Detailed Report of the ‘Trial of the Century’ – Its Background and Outcome

First, there’s a brief editorial on the subject of the trial titled “Archaeology in a hole” online here. The main story, ‘Forged in Faith’ is currently behind The Jerusalem Report paywall here. Matthew has sent along a copy of the full essay and below I excerpt brief snippets which I find intriguing and have been given permission to share.

By way of background the essay opens with a description of the appearance of the ‘James ossuary’ and ‘Jehoash Tablet’ and the eventual arrest of Golan and his co-defendants. Then Kalman writes

In March 2012, Golan was acquitted on all 41 of the most serious crimes and convicted of just three minor misdemeanors unrelated to the to the ossuary or the tablet. … But despite Golan’s acquittal, the IAA continues to regard him as a crook, refusing to return any of the items they seized in 2003. Back home at his apartment in Tel Aviv … containing dozens of ancient artifacts, Golan says the IAA seems determined to punish him even though he is innocent. He is just as determined to get the artifacts back and put them on public display.

Further

Judge Farkash is expected to rule in August on the fate of the artifacts. In the eyes of the archaeological establishment, despite his complete exoneration by the judge after an exhaustive seven year trial, Golan remains a crook. At the time of his arrest, the police and the IAA believed they had caught a master criminal and major forger. “We still do,” a senior IAA official tells The Report. “We know that he produced the artifacts.”

The essay includes a good bit about Golan’s background and his interest in ancient artifacts as well as his acquisition of the ossuary and the interest which Andre Lemaire had in it when he saw a photograph of it in one of Golan’s albums:

Andre Lemaire, a visiting professor of ancient languages from the Sorbonne, was leafing through the albums of Golan’s collection when he came across a photograph of the ossuary with the eye-popping inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Golan was surprised by Lemaire’s interest. He had thought the ossuary worthless.

It was, then, Lemaire’s interest which brought the ossuary to light in the pages of BAR.

Kalman also describes the ‘Jehoash Tablet’ and the path – rather amazing- which these artifacts took to arrive finally in an Israeli courtroom. Then he remarks

Golan’s acquittal and the Judge’s penetrating criticism of the prosecution case do not appear to have discouraged IAA officials who continue to refer to the items as fakes, and to Golan as a forger.  They say they only lost because Marco Ghatas, his alleged Egyptian co-conspirator, refused to testify.  Indeed, the IAA appears to have a broader agenda: to shut down even the legal trade in antiquities altogether.

The essay turns next then to the debate between those who think the antiquities trade hurts archaeology or preserves items which would otherwise be lost.  It concludes with a description of Golan’s sentence and the Judge’s comments about the case (along with one final word about the Jehoash Tablet’s acquisition by Golan).

Kalman’s essay is an extremely well written, fair, and intelligent piece and unlike BAR doesn’t screech and scream and clap gleeful hands in childish self-congratulatory tones.  I recommend that those who have an interest in the topic read it straightaway.

Oded Golan Sentenced and the Fate of the ‘James Ossuary’ Decided

Matthew Kalman reports

The Tel Aviv antiquities collector acquitted in March after a seven-year trial of faking the burial box of Jesus’s brother, an inscribed tablet that may have adorned Solomon’s Temple, and dozens of other valuable antiquities was sentenced Wednesday to a month in jail and fined 30,000 NIS for three minor charges of illegal trading in antiquities and handling goods suspected of being stolen.

And

[Judge] Farkash ordered the prosecution to present detailed arguments by July 1 justifying the confiscation of each item, including dozens of ancient seals and seal impressions, inscribed pottery, lamps, decanters and other artifacts seized on suspicion of being fakes.

Farkash also revealed that he had been petitioned by two other collectors – Shlomo Moussaieff and George Weill – for the return of items belonging to them.

“Antiquities theft in the land of Israel has become a national plague,” Judge Farkash said in an eight-page written decision that he read out to an almost empty courtroom. “Antiquities theft damages various sites spread out across the land of Israel, sites which are an inseparable part of the history and culture of this land and its inhabitants, who lived here from thousands of years ago until the present day. Antiquities theft also damages the ability of experts to document the history of the people of Israel in its land.”

There’s a lot more but that’s the core of the matter.

Fingers Crossed, The Jehoash Tablet and the James Ossuary Might be Destroyed

Then maybe the madness would end.

A Jerusalem judge will announce on Wednesday whether he has decided to order the destruction of a burial box that could have held the bones of the brother of Jesus and an inscribed tablet that could have come from the First Temple. At a Jerusalem District Court hearing in April, Judge Aharon Farkash said he might exercise “the judgement of Solomon” and order both items to be destroyed.

I hope, I sincerely hope, that he does order them destroyed. Fraud begets fraud and when the forgers and the fraudsters see that their nonsense may well end up destroyed it may – just may – help to curtail the lunacy.

Moreover

Last March, at the end of a trial lasting nearly seven years, a Tel Aviv collector was acquitted of faking the two artifacts and other antiquities by Judge Farkash, vice president of the Jerusalem District Court. But Judge Farkash reserved judgment on whether the ossuary or the stone tablet were authentic because of disagreements between the world’s leading experts. On Wednesday, Judge Farkash will pass sentence on the defendant, Oded Golan, who was acquitted on 41 charges of forgery, fraud and other serious crimes, but found guilty of three minor misdemeanors of trading in antiquities without a license and handling goods suspected of being stolen.

Perhaps prison awaits him as it awaited Raphael Golb (whenever I think of one, I think of the other: they are linked in my mind to forever be together).

Read the rest of the JP article, it’s by the gifted Matthew Kalman.

Oded Golan Isn’t Getting His Stuff Back (if the IAA Has Its Way)

The Jerusalem Post (Matthew Kalman to be specific) reports

Antiquities Authority determined not to return dozens of items to Israeli collector accused of faking burial box of Jesus’s brother.

Specifically

The Antiquities Authority, backed by State Attorney Moshe Lador, has launched a desperate rearguard action to reverse its humiliating defeat in a seven-year trial that ended with the acquittal of an Israeli collector accused of faking the burial box of the brother of Jesus and an inscribed stone tablet that may have hung on the wall of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.  The latest twist came during a routine sentencing hearing at the Jerusalem District Court last Tuesday, two months after the stunning collapse of the high-profile prosecution.  Prosecutor Dan Bahat revealed that the Antiquities Authority was determined not to return dozens of items, including the burial box and the stone tablet to their owner, despite his acquittal on all the relevant charges.

This bit is priceless:

Bahat compared it to returning drugs to a dealer acquitted on a technicality.

In other words, everyone knows he’s OJ guilty but the court wasn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt (or whatever the Israeli equivalent is). Indeed

The Antiquities Authority has shown no sign that it accepts the not guilty verdict. Its spokesmen continue to describe the items in the trial as fakes and the authority appears to be determined to punish Golan despite losing the case. Bahat said the decision to seek confiscation of the property and a harsh sentence had been taken personally by the state attorney.

And finally

… the Antiquities Authority seems determined to enforce its will through the courts rather than academic discussion – and to pursue legal action against anyone who dares to challenge its diktat. The authority ordered the unprecedented prosecution of the late Prof. Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University for buying important artifacts and studying them before handing them over to the state. Last week, the authority was back in court in Nazareth, prosecuting a resident of Zipori for “damaging” an ancient tomb that he discovered and was trying to preserve.

Read the whole, well written, piece.

Oded Golan Still Believes…

But of course he does.  Of course he does.  But it doesn’t matter what he believes because 1) he isn’t an archaeologist; 2) he isn’t a biblical scholar; and 3) he isn’t a theologian.

Further, there are lots of tinfoil hat wearing people who believe everything under the sun, from alien abductions to moon landing conspiracies to tiny children who wait for Santa to come down their chimneys at Christmas.  None of them are true but loads of people manage to assert them.

Golan has to believe.  His reputation, and his income, are on the line.  What’s he going to do, take up another trade?  That he believes what he believes just doesn’t matter.  And if he persuades others (like Shanks and Witherington) to believe so what?  He can’t convince people who know the subject.  He has no evidence.  He has no proof.  He has a box without provenance with a clearly forged phrase.  If that convinces people like Shanks and Witherington it’s only because they want to believe it too.

As Nina Burleigh has shown so convincingly, Golan wasn’t found innocent of forgery.

Oded Golan Admits He’s a Liar

Buried deep in an essay by Ha’aretz which appeared at the end of last week (which I missed and which I thank Mark Elliott for pointing out), Golan admits that he’s not an honest person-

Golan admits his hobby is one that involves not telling the entire story all the time − and sometimes lying − in order to obtain an artifact at the desired price. “You can’t always tell 100 percent of the truth,” he admits.

Nice to know…  Or rather, nice of him to admit it.

Nina Burleigh on the Trial of the Century: Golan, Shanks, A Smear Campaign and Money

Nina, who famously wrote a book on the trial, has an op-ed in the LA Times this morning.  She observes

Israeli prosecutors were badly underfunded (the nation has its eye on bigger problems than relic forgery), and its investigators never mounted the kind of international, follow-the-money detective work that would have bolstered their case by showing a pattern of criminality involving a number of lesser-known objects that were also part of the case — allegedly ancient lamps and Old Testament-era royal seal impressions that scientists said were fakes.

Prosecutors relied on a parade of archaeologists and other scholars. These men and women were accustomed to addressing respectful colleagues and students. They had no experience defending their conclusions against the highest-paid lawyers in Tel Aviv.

Like scholars and scientists everywhere, their work doesn’t reach a level of precision that can withstand legal cross-examination. They acknowledge doubts. Their opinions don’t always agree in the particulars, even when they arrive at a consensus.

And while the scientists for the state conducted their investigations and testified for free, the defense paid for-hire scientists, who were willing to say the objects at issue were entirely authentic.

And of course she’s on the money too when she observes

Supporters of the ossuary and the other objects that had been discredited by the state’s investigation hailed the acquittal as a legal stamp of approval.

The ossuary’s loudest supporter is American lawyer and publisher Hershel Shanks, whose magazine Biblical Archaeology Review first revealed the object. Shanks has spent the last seven years attacking the “pack of scholars” at the Israel Antiquities Authority and one in particular, an archaeologist named Yuval Goren who found modern silicone glue in the carved ossuary inscription.

Goren, a vice dean of the faculty of humanities at Tel Aviv University, is a mild-mannered expert in materials that ancient craftsmen used to make pottery and art. He testified that a simulated patina had been applied over the inscription, a substance containing powdered calcite and limestone, charcoal and corroded bronze particles and adhered with modern glue he dubbed “James Bond.” That testimony was discredited partly because the test Goren carried out removed the substance from the surface of the box.

Goren’s findings were hardly the only evidence against Golan. Eventually an Israeli police officer tracked down an Egyptian who admitted having worked for Golan, creating objects that were meant to look ancient.

And brilliantly

Despite widespread knowledge of that stunning transcript and the damning workroom evidence reported by police, Golan’s supporters made Goren a whipping boy at the courthouse and in biblical archaeology websites. Because he dared to cast doubt on the ossuary — and therefore on the literal truth of the Bible — his professionalism was trashed and he was variously called a religion-hating atheist, a hater of Israel and a self-hating Jew.

Attacking scientists is increasingly common as religious and ideological zealots flatly reject data that offend their creeds. Recently a pro-mining consortium threatened legal action against academic journals about to publish studies linking mining-related air pollution and lung cancer. Climate scientists whose work indicates that global warming is caused by humans’ burning of fossil fuels now routinely receive hate mail and have had their emails systematically hacked by those who disagree, mostly on faith.

The methods used to discredit the best archaeologists in Israel — by seizing on minor data points or a minority of dissenters who deviate from the consensus — is exactly what happens in the debate about climate science. The non-expert public is then forced to choose which view makes the most sense.

For those who seek to prove that the Bible is literally true, the particulars of science matter little. They want tangible artifacts, and the details be damned. Israel Finkelstein, dean of archaeology at Tel Aviv University (whose work in Solomonic-era archaeology does not fit with Bible stories about Solomon) told me that if the state lost the ossuary case, we should expect a bumper crop of shady Bible-proving finds: “Inscriptions from the time of Solomon, from the time of David, the T-shirt of Moses, the crown of King Solomon, the sandals of Abraham. That’s the future, if there is an acquittal.”

Indeed.  So read her whole essay. She’s right.

Golan and his team bought acquittal the same way OJ did.  Make no mistake about it.

The ‘James Ossuary Trial’ – From the Perspective of the Danes

Er Jakobskisten, der nævner Jesus, alligevel ægte? That’s the question posed- and the essay commences

I sidste uge faldt der dom i den retssag, der skulle afgøre, om Jakobskisten er et falskneri. Dommen lød: Ikke skyldig
Foran rullende kameraer blev en måbende verdenspresse den 21. oktober 2002 præsenteret for en lille benkiste af sten, der på siden har indskriften: ”Jakob, søn af Josef, bror til Jesus”. Dagen efter ryddede den nyhed alverdens forsider om, at der var fundet en genstand, der gik direkte tilbage til Jesus. Ejeren af kisten var Oded Golan, en jødisk antikvitetssamler. Han påstod at have købt den i 1970’erne og havde aldrig tænkt over, at indskriften kunne have noget med Bibelens Jesus at gøre. Som han sagde: ”Jeg vidste ikke, at Guds søn kunne have en bror”.

By Morten Hørning Jensen. With thanks to him for pointing it out. It’s interesting that the trial has generated interest around the world.

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…

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.

Indeed.

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.

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

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.

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.

Further

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.

What the Press Isn’t Saying About the ‘Trial of the Century’

It seems that in the recent reports concerning the trial of Oded Golan the press is acting as though he’s only on trial for the ossuary.  But this is false.  He is on trial because he’s accused of forging a range of ‘artifacts’.

The press has focused on only one object, keeping it and it alone in view of the public.  One has to wonder why.  And one has to wonder who gains by focusing only on this one item and not on the many suspect pieces.

It seems that a campaign of misinformation is being waged…

The Verdict in the ‘James Ossuary’ Trial in the News

The Globe and Mail reports this evening (and Joe Zias and Yuval Goren are featured in this Channel 4 video)

Although everyone loves a mystery, museumgoers generally attend exhibitions expecting they’re getting the real-meal deal – be it a Picasso, a 13th-century Mayan artifact, Champlain’s astrolabe, or a collection of moon rocks from Apollo 11.  Close to 10 years ago, though, 100,000 visitors braved Toronto’s winter cold to visit the Royal Ontario Museum to look at something that this week may be determined to be nothing more than a fake.

The box is genuine, the inscription may be as well, up to the second part- which is a fake.   Then a bit further

For others, the ossuary set off alarm bells as a hoax – a modern-day forgery. Indeed, Israeli authorities arrested the ossuary’s owner, Tel Aviv engineer and antiquities collector Oded Golan, in 2003; in December, 2004, he was indicted on 44 charges of forgery, fraud and deception related to the bone box as well as to other alleged ancient artifacts.  It’s these charges – and another 13 lesser counts against a Golan associate, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch – that a Jerusalem District Court judge, Aharon Farkash, will rule on Wednesday morning.

Whether or not Golan is found guilty won’t change the facts of the case.  Incorrect verdicts are rendered all the time.  And if he is found guilty it won’t change anything.  As I mentioned previously, no one will have anything to do with him (out in the open) and his ‘antiquities’ will have to find a different route to market.  A route that won’t include him.

One has to wonder at the timing of the verdict though, coinciding, as it does, with the release of the ‘Discovery of Jesus’ nonsense and the upcoming tv special of the same name. It’s either a bizarre coincidence or a carefully timed publicity stunt.

I wonder how long the judge has known Tabor and Jacobovici…

Oded Golan’s Counterclaim

Golan, (or more likely one of his lawyers) writes, in counterclaim to Joe Zias’s insistence that Rahmani testified-

  1. An official IAA document entitled “Summary Report of the Work of the Committees Testing the Inscription Known as the Jehoash Tablet and the Ossuary Known as the Yaakov Bar Yosef Ahui d’Yeshu Ossucary” (the James Ossuary) dated June 20, 2003, prepared by the deputy managing director of the IAA at the time, stated (p. 2, lines 17-18 of the Hebrew report):
    “It has been determined that the committee members shall consult with Prof, Yosef Naveh (expert in ancient Hebrew script) and with Dr. L. Y. Rahmani (expert in ossuaries), as they see fit.”
  2.  Y. L. Rahmani, one of the oldest members of the IAA, examined the ossuary at the Rockefeller Museum (IAA offices) in 2003. Rahmani did not issue any written document on the inscription. There is no report that Rahmani discovered anything suspicious that might indicate that the inscription or part of it is a forgery.  There is also no report from any of the committee members who spoke with Rahmani at the time (and/or from any of the IAA members who spoke with him) of any claim that Rahmani found anything suspicious in the inscription which would indicate that it is forged.
  3. During the trial, the IAA and the Prosecution presented as witnesses all the researchers who they believed might contribute, even slightly, to the argument that the ossuary inscription is a forgery in part (Recall that the charge stated that the first half of the inscription is ancient while the words “Ahui d’Yeshu” were added in modern times). When it discovered that Rahmani could not support this position, the State decided not to call him to the witness stand as a witness for the prosecution. This, in contrast to what Zias states, Rahmani never testified in court. And in contrast to what Zias states, I never stated that Rahmani testified.
  4. I did not call Rahmani to testify since most of the prosecution witnesses (including Dr. Ada Yadeni, Prof. Hagay Misgav, Prof. Ahituv, Prof. Andre Lemaire, Prof. Ronny Reich, Orna Cohen, and others) testified that to the best of their judgment, the entire inscription on the ossuary is ancient, and since I had a long list of additional experts including patina experts, who examined the inscription and agreed to testify  that the entire inscription is ancient (including Prof. W. Krumbein, Dr. Shimon Ilani, Dr. Amnon Rosenfeld, Prof. Yoel Kornfeld, Prof. James Harrell and others).

Whether Golan correctly represents the facts may or may not be the case. One thing is certain, he has a vested interest in insisting that the ossuary inscription is legitimate and with the verdict to be rendered this week it makes sense that he would try to put his own spin on things.

Whether or not he and the others are found guilty is at this point totally irrelevant. No one in the archaeological community is going to have anything to do with any Golan ‘artifact’. His reputation as an honest antiquities broker/dealer is thoroughly undermined. He may be able to sell things in the future, but he will have to do it through third parties.

Oded Golan, And Todd Bolen, and the Misrepresentation of Rahmani’s Reading of the ‘James Ossuary’ Inscription

Antonio Lombatti writes

I asked L.Y. Rahmani’s opinion (via Joe Zias) on the inscription on the James ossuary, considering that the verdict will be issued next week. I did it, because I found out yesterday that he supported in court the authenticity of the inscription. This at least what a certain Todd Bolen wrote, and he quoted a letter by Oded Golan. But this is false. Rahmani had said in court that the ossuary was authentic but not the inscription. I’d also like to check the other scholars mentioned by Golan… One more thing: why didn’t Tabor et al. ask the world leading authority on Jewish ossuaries about the so called “Jonah and fish” iconography?

What won’t people do to appear right?  Rahmani says the ossuary is real and the inscription is fake.  Who benefits from claiming he said otherwise besides Golan, who has more than a little to worry about in the matter?

Antonio illustrates why it’s important to ask scholars their own opinions instead of asking people with a financial interest in a matter what some scholar did or didn’t say.  Ad fontes!   It’s not just important for biblical interpretation.