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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Cracker

The Guardian home

Ancient burial box claimed to have earliest reference to Jesus

Limestone burial box is typical of first century Jerusalem and has chiselled on side "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"
Matthew Kalman in Tel Aviv

The Guardian, Wednesday 25 December 2013 16.41 GMT

Tel Aviv antiquities collector Oded Golan with the stone burial box bearing the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Photograph: Matthew Kalman/
For 2,000 years, pilgrims and archaeologists have hunted for physical evidence of Jesus and his family, without success. But now an ancient burial box claiming to contain the earliest reference to the Christian saviour is about to go on public display in Israel after its owner was cleared of forgery. It has not been seen in public since a single, brief exhibition in Toronto in 2002.
The modest limestone burial box, known as an ossuary, is typical of first century Jerusalem, and is owned by Oded Golan, an Israeli antiquities collector. Chiselled on the side are the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
James the Just was the first leader of the Christians in Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. He was executed for apostasy by the local rabbinical court.
At that time, Jews were not buried but laid in a cave. The bones were collected after a year and placed in an ossuary. Thousands have been discovered, some of them inscribed with names to identify whose bones they contain. One other ossuary mentions a brother.
"This is the oldest evidence that mentions the name of Jesus Christ," said Golan, who bought the box in the 1970s but did not realise its significance until Sorbonne Professor Andre Lemaire noticed it in Golan's collection.
Lemaire published his findings in 2002 and the ossuary was briefly displayed at a Toronto museum, causing a worldwide sensation.
But sceptics questioned its authenticity. In 2003, the Israel Antiquities Authority seized the ossuary and appointed an expert committee who dubbed it a fake. Golan was arrested and charged with forging the mention of Jesus.
After a 10-year investigation and criminal trial, Golan was found innocent of forgery in 2012. Despite the verdict, doubts remain.
"Because of the differences in the depth and the clarity and the kerning between the first half of the inscription that mentions James son of Joseph, and the second half, I'd be willing to wager that the second half was added in modern times," said Professor Christopher Rollston of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.
But others disagree.
"The inscription is written in the Jewish script, it was done with a sharp instrument and I think it was done by the same hand. It is an authentic inscription," said Professor Gabriel Barkay of Bar-Ilan University.
Golan cites expert evidence from the trial showing the patina - a biological crust formed on ancient objects - inside the grooves of the inscription.
"There is no doubt that it's ancient, and the probability is that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ," said Golan.
Although Golan's trial ended last year, the ossuary was returned only a few weeks ago by the Israel authorities. Golan plans to put it on public display, together with the expert opinions from the trial, so that scholars and the public can decide for themselves whether this box did truly contain the bones of the brother of Christ – a unique piece of concrete evidence of the family of Jesus.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Deutsch Files $3 Million Suit Against Israel Antiquities Authority

Suit says that the police investigation, lengthy trial and public denunciation by officials nearly dealt a death-blow to Deutsch’s academic career and caused the loss of millions of dollars in past and future business.

By Matthew Kalman

December 2013

Nearly two years after the spectacular collapse of the Jerusalem archaeology forgery trial and his sweeping acquittal on all charges, Robert Deutsch, proprietor of the Archaeological Center in Old Jaffa, has filed suit demanding more than $3 million in damages from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jerusalem District Attorney and individual officials behind the 10-year prosecution. Deutsch, one of the most prominent antiquities dealers in Israel, was acquitted in March 2012 on all six charges against him after being accused of “forgery with the intention of aggravated fraud” of various artifacts together with Tel Aviv antiquities collector Oded Golan and others.

Deutsch filed suit on 28 November in the Tel Aviv District Court against the Israel Antiquities Authority, its director Shuka Dorfman, the head of its anti-theft unit Amir Ganor, the Jerusalem District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney Dan Bahat who led the prosecution. He is seeking 12 million shekels ($3.4 million) in damages – an astronomical sum for Israel. In an interview, Deutsch said the multi-million-dollar damages demanded were “a drop in the ocean” compared to the wreckage wrought to his reputation and business by the affair. Deutsch was never accused of any involvement with the alleged forgery of either the James Ossuary or Jehoash Tablet, but when those items propelled the sprawling, 18-count indictment sheet into the headlines, as the main co-defendant his name was yoked to the allegations against Golan.