Friday, 28 December 2012
December 28, 2012
Were the final resting-places of the family and disciples of Jesus discovered 30 years ago and then hidden as part of a religious-political conspiracy?
The archaeological controversy swirling around two Roma-era burial tombs in Jerusalem refuses to die. Indeed, it has become something of an ugly academic slugfest.
In one corner stands the Israeli archaeological establishment represented by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Amos Kloner of Bar-Ilan University, backed by various respected archaeologists and scholars. In the other stands Simcha Jacobovici, the filmmaker and self-styled “Naked Archaeologist,” backed by another group of respected archaeologists and scholars.
Read the full story and discussion that follows (featuring James Tabor, Joe Zias, Todd Frederick, Yisrael Medad and Steven Fine) HERE
Friday, 20 July 2012
Monday, 18 June 2012
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
|CLICK HERE FOR KINDLE EDITION|
From The Jerusalem Report, issue dated July 2, 2012
Nearly 10 years have passed since the world learned of the discovery of a 1st century burial box bearing the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” and a black stone tablet with an inscription that brought to life a passage from the Second Book of Kings describing repairs to Solomon’s Temple by King Jehoash around 800 BCE.
Both items, if authentic, would be the first physical artifacts ever found from the family of Jesus and the First Temple. It’s no wonder they caused a worldwide sensation, and that their subsequent exposure as fakes and the arrest of Oded Golan, a Tel Aviv antiquities collector accused of forging them, sparked international interest, even outrage.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), with the Israel Police, gathered testimony around the world and seized hundreds of suspect artifacts. The treasure trove included ancient stone lamps, engraved jugs, pottery shards inscribed in ink, seals and seal impressions known as bulae. Golan, we were told when he was indicted with four others in December 2004 and accused of masterminding an international forgery ring, was falsifying history for personal gain.
|UNDER SUSPICION: Oded Golan at home with his treasures|
But it wasn’t true. No one else was arrested. The zealotry of the IAA came unstuck when the case against Golan and his remaining co-defendant, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch, collapsed in spectacular fashion at the Jerusalem District Court in March. Judge Aharon Farkash cleared them of all forgery charges and had some harsh words for the police, prosecution and the IAA.
The Israel Antiquities Authority came unstuck with the collapse of the case against Oded Golan and Robert DeutschFarkash said the police forensics laboratory had contaminated the ossuary by blundering through tests that proved nothing and left the inscription scientifically useless for future research. He said the prosecution had failed to prove a single one of the forgery or conspiracy charges brought with such fanfare against Golan and Deutsch. His jaw dropped in disbelief when prosecutor Dan Bahat refused to return the items to Golan, Deutsch and two more collectors. Now the prosecution and the IAA must present a detailed case for confiscating each item.
But Farkash was careful to say that the not guilty verdict did not mean the items were authentic.
The IAA continues to hold by its theory that they were forged by an Egyptian craftsman, Marco Ghatas, who worked with Golan in Tel Aviv. The IAA blamed their failure on the refusal of Ghatas to testify, but the judge said the prosecution evidence simply did not stand up to scrutiny.
The updated story is told in this issue for the first time. I was the only reporter in the courtroom throughout the 120 sessions of the seven-year trial. I heard most of the 12,000 pages of testimony, listened to most of the 126 witnesses and saw most of the 200 exhibits. But I still can not say for certain whether the items are genuine or not.
Even those who are convinced that the items are fake are distressed at the increasingly bizarre actions of the IAA and its publicity-seeking director Dorfman.
I was the only reporter in the courtroom throughout the seven-year trial. I heard most of the 12,000 pages of testimony and listened to most of the 126 witnesses. But I still can not say whether the items are genuineThe IAA’s most egregious mistake was the arrest in 2005 of Hanan Eshel, a Bar-Ilan University archaeology professor who rescued several parchment scroll fragments from the Bar Kochba era that he bought from a Bedouin trader. The IAA charged him with criminal conduct.
“Hanan discovered pieces of biblical Judean scrolls, acquired them, looked after their restoration in the Israel Museum, published them and presented them to the IAA,” says David Jeselsohn, a prominent collector and leading donor to Bar-Ilan who provided the purchase money. “It was the first and only time that the State of Israel was given such a gift. Instead of thanking Hanan, he was detained by the IAA, was presented to the media as a criminal and Shuka Dorfman even had the audacity to bring charges against Hanan at court.” Jeselsohn tells me he thought it was “a bad joke” when he heard that Bar-Ilan was giving its prestigious Guardian of Zion Award to the IAA and that Dorfman would be accepting the prize.
Jeselsohn believes that the Jehoash tablet is a fake, but he describes the prosecution as “a bizarre and hallucinatory trial” against “an imaginary ring of antiquities forgers.” He says the IAA “acted imprudently, senselessly, foolishly and regrettably, with malice.” He called on the IAA to compensate and apologize to Robert Deutsch, Golan’s co-defendant who was acquitted on all charges.
With the IAA still refusing to hand back the artifacts, the case could drag on for some time. I will continue to follow it.
Wednesday, 30 May 2012
May 30, 2012
JERUSALEM - 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.
Judge Aharon Farkash, vice-president of the Jerusalem District Court, ruled that Oded Golan will not have to serve a custodial sentence because he was held by Israeli police for more than a month after his arrest in 2003.
Judge Farkash, who had earlier threatened to order the destruction of the burial box, or ossuary, inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” a black stone tablet recording repairs to the Temple by King Jehoash in 800 BCE and other items seized from Golan, delayed a decision on the final ownership of the items, which could be worth millions of dollars.
Judge Farkash rejected prosecution arguments that all the items connected to the 41 forgery charges on which Golan was acquitted should be confiscated, but he also did not order their immediate return as requested by the defense.
Instead, 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.”
Judge Farkash said the work of the Israel Antiquities Authority in stopping the theft and forgery of historical items was essential in protecting the heritage of the holy land. He said the only way to cut down on illegal excavations and the robbery of historic sites was to discourage the illegal antiquities trade.
The judge also called for a reform of Israel’s antiquities laws and suggested that collectors, as well as dealers, should have to provide the authorities with periodic lists of the items in their collection.
Oded Golan said he was still studying the decision and had not yet decided whether to appeal the sentence.
“I respect the decision of the court,” Golan told this reporter. “However, the decision may be based on a mistaken interpretation of Israeli law. All three minor charges on which I was convicted, and to which I freely confessed in my first interview with the police in 2003, relate to antiquities found outside the borders of the State of Israel. Under Israeli law, the Israel Antiquities Authority has no jurisdiction over them and no authority in matters related to them.”
“My interest is to save, keep and document important antiquities found in Israel and the West Bank. Unfortunately, the Israel Antiquities Authority have failed to prevent the loss of some 1.5 million pieces discovered in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, which have left the country,” Golan said.
He added that the remarks by the judge had “implications for any antiquities collector, most of whom save valuable items for posterity and donate them to museums so the wider public can benefit from them.”
“The reforms suggested by the judge may even further harm the protection of antiquities found in Israel and encourage people to take them out of the country,” he said.
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
May 29, 2012
By MATTHEW KALMAN
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.
The stone burial box, or ossuary, dates to the first century CE and has an Aramaic inscription that reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The black tablet is inscribed with a passage recording repairs by King Jehoash around 800 BCE. Its surface is spattered with sub-microscopic globules of gold that suggest it might have survived a fire in which golden items melted into tiny airborne particles.
If genuine, the items are the only artifacts yet recovered that can be linked directly to the family of Jesus and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and could be of considerable historical significance.
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.
At a hearing in April, the prosecution demanded a tough sentence including jail time and said that the ossuary, the tablet and many other items should be confiscated by the court, even though Golan had been acquitted of all charges related to them.
“Maybe I’ll order them to be destroyed and neither side will have them,” said Judge Farkash in comments that were not recorded in the official court transcript.
It would be “the judgement of Solomon,” said Judge Farkash.
“Neither of you will have the ossuary or the Jehoash tablet. They broke once already, they can be broken again. Just destroy them,” he said.
The ossuary cracked into two pieces 2002 while it was being shipped to an exhibition in Canada and was repaired by restorers at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The Jehoash tablet broke along an existing crack in 2003 while it was being handled by investigators at the Israel Police forensic laboratory.
The judge also suggested that the items might be put on display for the public.
“Maybe they should be exhibited at the Israel Museum as items from this trial suspected of being fakes,” he said.
Experts who gave evidence for both sides last night urged Judge Farkash not to destroy the items.
Andre Lemaire, the Sorbonne scholar who published the first analysis of the ossuary in 2002 and has stood by its authenticity, said its destruction would be “scandalous” and “a manipulation of historical evidence.”
“It would be necessary from a scientific point of view to start a new suit, on a real basis this time, for voluntary destruction of historical evidence and tentative manipulation of history,” Professor Lemaire told The Jerusalem Post.
Christopher Rollston, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Emmanuel Christian Seminary who appeared as a prosecution witness, said “it is never prudent to destroy antiquities, regardless of the controversy surrounding them.”
“I would certainly not wish to see the Ya'akov ("James") Ossuary destroyed. Indeed, to destroy the ossuary would only fuel the controversy, effectively turning this ossuary into an archaeological martyr of sorts. I wish to see it returned to its legal owner,” he said.
Prosecution witness Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, agreed that the ossuary should not be destroyed, but said it should not be returned to Golan. “The Israel Antiquities Authority has a place for alleged forgeries in their storehouses – why not put this item there too for posterity?” Finkelstein suggested.
Defence counsel Lior Bringer said the items should be returned immediately to Golan, who said he has not yet decided what to do with them.
“The prosecution is asking the court to punish the defendant for crimes for which he was acquitted,” said Bringer. “Golan admitted to the three minor charges he was convicted of in the first police interview. On these charges there was no need for a trial at all.”
“He spent more than two years under house arrest and was in prison twice. He has suffered enough,” said Bringer.
Saturday, 12 May 2012
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.
Bahat compared it to returning drugs to a dealer acquitted on a technicality.
Oded Golan, 60, was cleared in March on 41 counts of forgery, fraud and other serious crimes related to what antiquities officials and police had described as a worldwide, multi-million-dollar network designed to falsify history and dupe museums and collectors into buying worthless fakes. Golan was convicted on three minor counts of handling goods suspected of being stolen and dealing in antiquities without a license.
The case attracted worldwide attention because of a stone burial box, or ossuary, inscribed with the Aramaic legend “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus.”
The prosecution was unable to prove its assertion that the words “brother of Jesus” were a modern addition and Golan was cleared of faking them.
If genuine, the ossuary is the only known artifact that could be directly connected to the family of the historical Jesus.
Golan was also acquitted on all charges relating to a black stone tablet inscribed in ancient Hebrew recording repairs to the Temple carried out by King Jehoash around 800 BCE. If genuine, it is the only item yet discovered that may have adorned the First Temple.
In December 2007, Amir Ganor, head of the antiquities authority anti-theft unit and the architect of the fraud trial, said the Antiquities Authority would return return more than 200 artifacts seized from Golan.
“I am holding the exhibits under a court order,” Ganor told the court. “When the trial is over, I imagine I will be happy to get rid of everything I have in the storeroom and return it to Oded Golan, including the ossuary.”
The trial has now ended, but even though Golan was acquitted on all charges related to the most important artifacts in the case, the prosecutor demanded the permanent confiscation of all the items. He also urged the judge to impose a maximum sentence for the three minor misdemeanors even though it was Golan’s first offense.
“I do not agree that there is an absence of a criminal history. There were illegal activities,” Bahat charged, prompting a sharp rebuke from Judge Aharon Farkash.
“You are trying to mount a new trial,” said the judge, who even referred to a “witchhunt” against Golan.
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.
GOLAN, WHO was imprisoned twice by police for short periods during the investigation and then held under house arrest for more than 700 days, as well as losing untold income over the 10-year investigation and trial, said he had expected the court to order the immediate return of the hundreds of items and documents taken by the police and hoped the judge would not impose further punishment.
Bahat presented two apparently contradictory arguments to the court. First, he said that since the judge had ruled the items were not fakes as charged in the indictment, they were in fact real antiquities and Golan was therefore not a collector but a dealer and so had an obligation to maintain a full inventory of his stock.
Judge Farkash pointedly reminded him that this accusation had not even been hinted at in any of the 44 crimes listed in the indictment.
“I don’t recall that in any of the charges you accused him of this crime of being an unlicensed dealer. How can you now ask me to consider this when deciding on the sentence?” asked the judge. “You are now asking me to take into consideration that he didn’t maintain an inventory. I don’t recall that was included in any of the 18 counts, either as a specific charge or within any of the charges on the indictment.”
Bahat then performed an abrupt about-turn, arguing that, despite Golan’s acquittal, the “likelihood” is that the items were fakes.
“In my opinion, it is inconceivable that the items should be returned to the accused,” said Bahat. “I say there is no choice.”
Bahat said it would be unacceptable for Golan to benefit from the ossuary or other artifacts.
“He can sell it, exhibit it. I cannot countenance that if the item is fake that he should get it back,” said Bahat, suggesting the items be given to the Israel Police forensics laboratory for educational purposes.
But Judge Farkash seemed unimpressed, particularly as he had singled out the forensics laboratory in his verdict for severe criticism for contaminating the ossuary inscription during testing, rendering it scientifically worthless.
“If the ossuary is a fake, it’s not an antiquity. How can I not return it to the accused?” he asked.
The judge suggested, only half-joking, that the items be put on display at the Israel Museum in special exhibition of artifacts from the trial. Golan himself says he has not yet decided what to do with them.
But Golan’s attorney Lior Bringer was scathing about the prosecution tactics.
“The prosecution is asking the court to punish the defendant for crimes for which he was acquitted,” said Bringer. “Golan admitted to the three minor charges he was convicted of in the first police interview. On these charges there was no need for a trial at all.”
“He spent more than two years under house arrest and was in prison twice. He has suffered enough,” said Bringer.
But 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.
The writer is editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report. His dispatches from the trial are at www.jamesossuarytrial.blogspot.com/
Sunday, 8 April 2012
SUNDAY EXPRESS, April 8, 2012
Oded Golan was acquitted of forgery chargesBy MATTHEW KALMAN
ODED Golan was just 10 when he stumbled across a small clay tablet inscribed with ancient lettering while walking with his parents near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. It proved to be the oldest dictionary yet unearthed, seven lines of a phrase book for merchants in two ancient languages, Akkadian and Sumerian, and nearly 4,000 years old.
Within days, Professor Yigael Yadin, the father of modern Israeli archaeology, came knocking at the door of the family home in Tel Aviv, asking to see “Mr Golan”, not realising that the learned scholar who had sent him a postcard describing the find was a schoolboy.
Golan escorted the professor to his bedroom to show him the artefact and agreed to let Yadin take it back to Jerusalem for analysis. His mother served tea and biscuits.
By the age of 50, after a lifetime of collecting antiquities, Golan was renowned among scholars for owning one of the finest archaeological collections in the world. His Tel Aviv apartment, lined with glass-fronted display cases crammed with ancient pots, weapons, cultic vessels and altars became a place of pilgrimage for academics and dealers. Thousands more pieces were stored in warehouses. However, his hobby was about to land him in jail and make him an object of international ridicule.
"It will remain part of my collection. I don’t intend to sell it"
In 2002, 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 a Roman-era burial box, or ossuary, made of limestone with the eye-popping inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” in ancient Aramaic.
Lemaire published the sensational find in the Biblical Archaeology Review. It made headlines around the world. Thousands of people flocked to the first public exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Golan was hailed as the owner of the only item ever discovered that might be connected with the family of Jesus Christ. Academic articles, books and documentaries debating the significance of the ossuary, whose value was conservatively placed at £1.2million, followed.
The celebrations were shortlived. The Israel Antiquities Authority seized the ossuary and subjected it to tests by two panels of experts. It also seized a black stone tablet with an inscription from King Jehoash in the 9th century BC that might be the only item recovered from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.
In June 2003 the experts declared both items fake. Golan was arrested and held in jail for a month. Police raided his home, office and warehouses around Tel Aviv, seizing hundreds of items along with tools, computer files and half-finished artefacts that led them to believe Golan was the mastermind behind an antiquities forgery ring that was milking museums and collectors around the world of millions of dollars.
Golan said he had bought the ossuary 25 years earlier from an Arab dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem. “I never faked an antiquity in my life,” he insisted.
In December 2004, he and four others were indicted on 18 counts of forgery, fraud and obtaining money by deception. Golan was placed under house arrest for two years, more than a year of which he had to spend at the home of his elderly parents.
When the trial opened in the Jerusalem District Court in September 2005, Golan faced 44 charges. His reputation was in ruins.
The Israel Antiquities Authority staked its reputation on the trial, recruiting experts from around the world who testified the items were fake. By the time Judge Aharon Farkash retired to consider his verdict in October 2010, he had presided over 120 sessions, examined 200 exhibits (some of them entire books) and heard more than 12,000 pages of testimony from 126 witnesses.
The case revealed furtive encounters with Arab tomb robbers, high finance, skulduggery, smuggling and transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars based on a handshake and paid in cash behind the apparently cultured facade of collecting priceless antiquities.
“This was the first time that a court was asked to rule on a question of antiquities forgery,” Judge Farkash said last month, summarising testimony from experts in archaeology, the Bible, chemistry and geochemistry, geology, paleography and more. The list of witnesses read like a who’s who of the world’s leading scholars but as the judge wryly noted in his verdict, even the professors appearing for the same side disagreed with one another and sometimes even with themselves, changing their minds as time passed.
“If you, the world’s leading experts in this field, cannot agree with each other on the authenticity or otherwise of these items, how do you expect me, a mere judge, to reach a conclusion?” he said, before delivering his 475-page verdict on March 14.
Golan was exonerated of forgery, acquitted on 41 of the charges and found guilty on just three minor counts of unlicensed antiquities trading and holding items suspected of being stolen.
Judge Farkash warned that the verdict did not mean the items were necessarily genuine or that the “Jesus” on the ossuary was Jesus Christ but his ruling rescued Golan’s treasures from the dustbin of history. “I was never worried about the ossuary or the Jehoash Tablet,” Golan said after the verdict, “I cannot guarantee that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ but it is definitely ancient. I have no doubt about it.”
Born into a wealthy Tel Aviv family, Golan studied engineering and became a serial entrepreneur with successful businesses in travel, architectural seminars, property development and educational software.
Back in his apartment, Golan said he last saw the ossuary two years ago in court. “It will remain part of my collection. I don’t intend to sell it. I will have to consider over the coming months about whether to lend it to a museum or other institution for public exhibition.”
He said he was surprised at the explosion of interest in the ossuary because he knew little about Christian history and had never connected the inscription to Christ. “I purchased it in the mid or late-Seventies in East Jerusalem from one of the dealers in the Old City,” he said. “I didn’t recognise either its importance or its value for a long time. I didn’t even know that Jesus had siblings.
“No one can say for certain it is connected to the family of Jesus but there is a very high likelihood it is. If it really is the burial box of Jesus’s brother, it is a very exciting artefact. It is truly a historic item with a strong emotional importance.”
Thursday, 15 March 2012
THE INDEPENDENT Thursday 15 March 2012
A burial box inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” was reprieved from the scrapheap of history yesterday when a Jerusalem judge exonerated the Israeli antiquities collector accused of forging it.
The verdict, delivered by Judge Aharon Farkash in a tiny, crowded courtroom in the Jerusalem District Courthouse, ended a nine-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 artefact 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 Golan and acquitted him on all but three minor charges of illegal antiquities dealing and possession of stolen antiquities. Robert Deutsch, a codefendant, was acquitted on all charges.
“The prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt what was stated in the indictment: that the ossuary is a forgery and that Mr Golan or someone acting on his behalf forged it,” Judge Farkash told the court, summarizing his 475-page verdict.
He noted that it was the first time a criminal court had been asked to rule in a case of antiquities forgery.
The spectacular collapse of the trial, nine years after Mr Golan was arrested and thousands of items were seized from his home, office and warehouses in Tel Aviv, was a severe blow to the Israeli police and Israel Antiquities Authority, who claimed they had exposed “the tip of the iceberg” of an international conspiracy selling fake artefacts to collectors and museums worldwide.
But Judge Farkash 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."
“The indictment... accused Golan of faking antiques in different ways. For certain items, I decided that it was not proven, as required in criminal law, that they were fake. But there is nothing in these findings which necessarily proves that the items were authentic,” said the judge.
“All that was determined was that the means, the tools and the science available at present, along with the experts who testified, was not enough to prove the alleged fraud beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.
Judge Farkash was particularly scathing about tests carried out by the Israel police forensics laboratory which, he said, had probably contaminated the ossuary, making it impossible to carry out further scientific tests on the inscription.
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,” he said.
“What we tried to do here has set an international precedent,” said Prosecutor Dan Bahat. “This is the first time someone has brought the issue of antiquities forgery before a court.”
In December 2004, Golan and four other defendants were charged with 18 separate counts of forgery, fraud and obtaining money by deception. They were accused of faking not just the James ossuary, but a huge number of antiquities including a stone tablet recording repairs by King Joash to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, an inscribed decanter apparently used in the Temple service, ancient seals, inscribed pottery and dozens of other items.
“We have grounds to believe that there are many more fake artefacts circulating, both in private collections and museums in Israel and abroad that we haven’t found yet,” Jerusalem police chief Shaul Naim said at the time.
“I believe we have revealed only the tip of the iceberg. This industry circles the world, involving millions of dollars,” said IAA director Shuka Dorfman. “Beside this, Indiana Jones looks small.”
In autumn 2005, the trial opened in the Jerusalem District Court of Judge Aharon Farkash. Mr Golan was indicted on 15 of the 18 counts, accused of a total of 44 separate crimes, the most serious of which carries a seven-year sentence. He spent the first 18 months under house arrest.
In sharp contrast to the worldwide publicity that accompanied the discovery of the ossuary and Mr Golan’s subsequent arrest, the trial attracted little interest. For five years, hearings were conducted in a tiny courtroom with just a dozen people in attendance, including only one reporter.
When Judge Farkash eventually retired to consider his verdict in October 2010, charges against two defendants had been dropped and one more had been convicted and sentenced on a minor count of deception. Farkash had presided over 116 sessions, heard 133 witnesses, examined 200 exhibits – many of them entire books and scholarly papers – and heard nearly 12,000 pages of witness testimony. The prosecution summation alone ran to 653 pages.
Throughout the lengthy proceedings, Judge Farkash kept returning to two central points: whether the items under suspicion were fakes, and whether the defendants or someone acting on their behalf had faked them.
The prosecution presented three main arguments to prove that Golan had faked the “brother of Jesus” part of the ossuary inscription: scholarly, scientific and circumstantial.
The scholarly evidence was provided by experts in palaeography and ancient inscriptions who testified that the words “brother of Jesus” appeared to have been inscribed by a different hand and were highly unusual in ossuaries from the period. The scientific evidence derived from an examination of the patina that showed it had a different oxygen isotope composition to the other letters and the surface of the box. The circumstantial evidence rested on tools, soil samples and half-finished objects seized from Golan’s home and warehouses that appeared to be the raw materials for faking antiquities and covering them with a false patina.
But what began as a worldwide conspiracy with more anticipated arrests and certain convictions slowly began to unravel. Despite the confident predictions, nobody else was arrested and no more fakes were found. Not a single forgery emerged from a museum. The “tip of the iceberg” was melting.
In court, lawyers for Mr Golan and Robert Deutsch, his codefendant, produced equally eminent experts to challenge the findings of each prosecution witness. Sometimes the opposing witnesses came from the very same university campus.
Professor Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University, a member of the IAA experts’ committee and the main prosecution witness, originally testified that the patina in the word “Jesus” could not have formed under natural conditions and must be a later addition. Under intense cross-examination, Professor Goren was forced to change his original testimony, agreeing with defence experts that there was indeed authentic patina in a groove of the final letter. Professor Goren suggested this was because an “ancient groove” had been incorporated by the forger into the newly-carved word.
“Scientific debates should be discussed and resolved in peer-reviewed literature and scientific conferences, not in court,” said Professor Aldo Shemesh, an isotope expert at the Weizmann Institute and expert defence witness, echoing the majority view among the long procession of world-renowned professors from Israel, America and Europe who joined the five-year progress through the modest courtroom.
Mr Golan, 60, made an unlikely criminal. One of Israel’s leading collectors of antiquities, his Tel Aviv apartment resembles a museum, lined with glass-fronted cabinets displaying hundreds of ancient items. Hundreds more are stored in several warehouses. He was born into the city elite. His grandfather founded one of Israel’s major insurance companies and the family purchased land in Israel’s early years that is now worth millions. His mother, now retired, is a world-renowned biochemist and his brother, who died during the trial, was a leading Israeli publisher.
Mr Golan trained as an engineer and became a serial entrepreneur with successful businesses in travel, architectural seminars and educational software. He is also an accomplished photographer and plays concert-level classical piano on the white baby grand in his living room. If he is guilty of masterminding an international forgery ring, it’s not because he needs the money.
“I never faked any antiquity,” said Mr Golan, who thinks he bought the ossuary in the 1980s from a dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem. A photograph he produced at the trial, dated by an FBI expert to the 1980s, shows the ossuary complete with inscription on the balcony outside his bedroom.
“I cannot guarantee that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ but it’s definitely ancient. I have no doubt about it,” he said.
A guilty verdict would have convinced most observers that the inscription is fake, and therefore historically worthless. But even though Mr Golan was found innocent, many of the experts will continue to doubt the authenticity of the James ossuary.
“My tests showed that the patina coating the ossuary was more or less homogenous, but the patina coating the inscription was completely different,” said Professor Goren.
“The entire patina that coated the inscription was obviously not the same as the patina coating the rest of the ossuary, which is highly suspicious… Somebody created or simulated an authentic patina but in modern times,” he insisted.
Matthew Kalman is editor in chief of The Jerusalem Report.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
"It began to look like a high school chemistry class," said Kalman, editor of The Jerusalem Report magazine.
- Daniella Cheslow, "Oded Golan, James Ossuary Proponent, Acquitted of Antiquities Fraud," AP, March 14, 2012
“The two simply speak different languages,” he said. “The verdict will not make a difference to the archaeologists arguing about the whether the artifacts are authentic.”
- Matti Friedman, “Oded Golan is not guilty of forgery. So is the ‘James ossuary’ for real?,” THE TIMES OF ISRAEL, March 14, 2012
By Matthew Kalman
CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
March 14, 2012
In a case that has roiled scholars around the world in a broad range of disciplines, the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday acquitted an Israeli antiquities collector, Oded Golan, of forging dozens of priceless archaeological artifacts, including an inscription on the burial box, or ossuary, of James, brother of Jesus.
"It is not every day that a court hears a case involving as many topics as this one," wrote Judge Aharon Farkash on the second-to-last page of his 475-page verdict.
"The complexity of the trial derived among other things from the fact that this was the first time that a court was asked to rule on a question of antiquities forgery, especially in the framework of a criminal trial," he said.
During the seven-year trial, the court heard testimony from experts in archaeology, the Bible, chemistry and geochemistry, geology, grammar and language, paleography, and more.
The list of witnesses—74 for the prosecution and 52 for the defense—that trooped through Judge Farkash's tiny courtroom reads like a who's who of the world's leading scholars in many of those fields.
But in transplanting their academic prowess from lecture hall to courtroom, the scholars swiftly became aware of the chasm separating scholarship from criminal law. For each world-renowned expert wielded by the prosecution, defense attorneys deployed an authority of equal eminence. Often, the experts taking up the cudgels on opposing sides came from the very same campus.
And, as the judge wryly noted in his verdict, even when the professors were appearing for the same side, they disagreed with one another—and sometimes even with themselves, changing their minds as time passed.At several points during the trial, the judge's frustration became clear. "If you, the world's leading experts in this field, cannot agree with each other on the authenticity or otherwise of these items, how do you expect me, a mere judge, to reach a conclusion?" he asked.
"My conclusion," Judge Farkash told the court, "is that the prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt what was stated in the indictment: that the ossuary is a forgery and that Golan or someone acting on his behalf forged it. This is not to say that the inscription on the ossuary is true and authentic and was written 2,000 years ago," he said. "This matter is expected to continue to be researched in the archaeological and scientific forum and the future will tell."
"I never doubted the authenticity of the whole inscription, even after reading carefully all the arguments presented against it. I am confident that further scientific tests will not change the situation," Mr. Lemaire told The Chronicle.
Meir Ben-Dov, a witness for the defense and the only archaeologist to attend most sessions of the trial, said the entire process had been "nonsense."
"These debates should be taking place in an academic seminar, not a court of law," Mr. Ben-Dov said.
"I myself am convinced that there is no evidence of forgery. If it was forged, maybe it was forged 2,000 years ago," said Joel Kronfeld, emeritus professor in the department of geophysics and planetary sciences at Tel Aviv University, who appeared for the defense. "There are just no compelling results that show us there is any forgery."
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.
Originally published here: http://chronicle.com/article/Jerusalem-Court-Acquits/131164/
The media are given a preview of The James Ossuary on display at the Royal Ontario Museum. Nov.14.2002 (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Jerusalem— Special to Globe and Mail Update
Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012
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 prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt what was stated in the indictment: that the ossuary is a forgery and that Mr. Golan or someone acting on his behalf forged it,” Judge Farkash told the court, summarizing his 475-page verdict.
He noted that it was the first time a criminal court had been asked to rule in a case of antiquities forgery.
The spectacular collapse of the trial, nine years after Mr. Golan was arrested and thousands of items were seized from his home, office and warehouses in Tel Aviv, was a severe blow to the Israeli police and Israel Antiquities Authority, who claimed they had exposed “the tip of the iceberg” of an international conspiracy selling fake artifacts to collectors and museums worldwide.
The verdict will be welcomed by those who hope that the ossuary will finally provide a physical connection to the historical Jesus.
But 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.
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.
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.
“What we tried to do here has set an international precedent,” said Mr. Bahat. “This is the first time someone has brought the issue of antiquities forgery before a court. Regarding at least one object, a decanter, the court found it was fake.”