James ossuary collector sentenced to month in jail

Tel Aviv antiquities collector fined NIS 30,000 for three minor charges of illegal trading in antiquities and handling goods suspected of being stolen.

May 31, 2012 05:10
3 minute read.
burial box

burial box 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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The Tel Aviv antiquities collector acquitted in March after a seven-year trial for allegedly faking the burial box of Jesus’s brother, an inscribed tablet that may have adorned the First Temple, and dozens of other valuable antiquities was sentenced on Wednesday to a month in jail and fined NIS 30,000 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 police for more than a month after his arrest in 2003.

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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 supposedly 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.

Farkash rejected prosecution arguments that all the items connected to the 41 forgery charges on which Golan was acquitted should be confiscated, but he 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 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,” Farkash said in an eight-page 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.”

Farkash said the work of the 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 the antiquities laws and suggested that collectors, as well as dealers, should have to periodically provide the authorities with lists of the items in their collection.

Golan said he was studying the ruling and had not yet decided whether to appeal the sentence.

“I respect the decision of the court,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

“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 has failed to prevent he 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,” Golan said.

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