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Thursday, 17 October 2013

The final verdict

Supreme Court says Israel cannot hold Jehoash tablet but challenges antiquities trade
Return of disputed Temple treasure ordered over objections of Israel Antiquities Authority - confirms total collapse of decade-long prosecution
THE JEHOASH TABLET: Scholars and the public will finally get to see it for themselves

By Matthew Kalman
Foreign Correspondent In Jerusalem
October 2013

The Israel Antiquities Authority has failed in its last-gasp attempt to confiscate the controversial Jehoash Tablet from Israeli collector Oded Golan. In a verdict handed down on Wednesday, the three-judge appeal panel of Supreme Court justices decided by 2-1 that the inscribed tablet must be returned to Golan, who was acquitted last year of forging after a ten-year prosecution and trial.

The Supreme Court ruling caps a crushing defeat for the Israel Antiquities Authority following the sweeping 2012 acquittal of Golan and dealer Robert Deutsch on multiple charges of archaeological forgery. Israeli prosecutors advised by the Israel Antiquities Authority had argued that even though they continue to believe the inscription is a modern forgery, the reverse of the stone had been “dressed” in ancient times and was therefore classified as an antiquity that should belong to the state. But those arguments were rejected by the majority decision of the court. Oded Golan is now poised to reclaim both the tablet and the more famous item, the James ossuary, along with dozens of pieces confiscated by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israeli police at the time of his arrest in 2003. Golan greeted the decision as “good news.” He says he plans to put both the ossuary and the tablet on public display.

The latest about-turn could be the final twist in a nail-biting finale to the decade-long pursuit of Golan. However, a sternly-worded ruling by the same court in September suggests that the battle over the future of the antiquities trade is just beginning.

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

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



  1. Dear Mr. Kalman, Hi!!! Thank you so very much for your continued great work in covering all of this. I read on Dr. Jim West's blog where Mr. Yitzhak Sapir challenges your understanding of the verdict and thinks that it will be overturned in a civil trial in Israel. To me this does not make any sense. How can a stricter criminal trial which proved that Mr. Oded Golan purchased the Jehoash Tablet from a licensed by the State of Israel antiquities dealer, and his ownership was accepted by the Supreme Court of the State of Israel, be overruled by a civil court of Israel, which is supposed to accept a lower standard of evidence according to Mr. Sapir. How does this make any logical sense? With Much Gratitude and Admiration, Sincerely Yours, Michael Welch, Deltona, Florida

  2. I disagree with Mr Sapir's reading of the verdict. I think the discussion of a civil suit is largely theoretical and the IAA would be crazy to pursue it - MK