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
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
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
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 Farkash, the vice president of the Jerusalem District
But Farkash reserved judgment on whether the ossuary or the stone
tablet were authentic because of disagreements between the world’s leading
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.
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
“Maybe I’ll order them to be destroyed and neither side will have
them,” said Farkash in comments that were not recorded in the official court
It would be “the judgement of Solomon,” said Judge
“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 in 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
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
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
“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, a 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 archeological martyr of sorts. I wish to see it returned to its legal owner,”
Prosecution witness Israel Finkelstein, a professor of
archeology at Tel Aviv University, agreed that the ossuary should not be
destroyed, but said it should not be returned to Golan.
Authority has a place for alleged forgeries in their storehouses – why not put
this item there too for posterity?” Finkelstein suggested.
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,”
“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 continued.
“He spent more than two years under house
arrest and was in prison twice. He has suffered enough.”