Mixed ruling on major antiquities forgery case

Antiquities dealer acquitted of forging inscription on burial box of Jesus’s brother, convicted on other charges.

March 14, 2012 16:25
2 minute read.
Forged Yehoash inscription

Forged Yehoash inscription. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The authenticity of a burial box, or ossuary, said to have been that of Jesus’s brother James, remained shrouded in mystery on Wednesday after Jerusalem District Court Judge Aharon Farkash acquitted antiquities dealer Oded Golan of charges that he forged the artifact.

The court, at the end of a seven-year trial, stated that in light of the contradictory testimonies of numerous expert witnesses, it could not determine whether an inscription on the 2,000-year-old limestone box that reads “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” was genuine or had been forged.

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The saga began in 2002 when Golan, supported by Andre Lemaire – a renowned French scholar of ancient texts – said the ossuary had that inscription on its side.

James, believed to have been stoned to death in 62 CE, is mentioned in the Gospels as Jesus’s brother. But the Roman Catholic and other Christian churches believe Jesus had no siblings.

Around the same time, another of Golan’s artifacts surfaced: the Jehoash inscription, a stone tablet supposedly carved with a Hebrew text that describes renovation work King Jehoash carried out on the First Temple nearly 3,000 years ago.

In his verdict, the judge said the prosecution was unable to prove that the findings were fabrications beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the court also ruled that it was unable to conclude that the finds were authentic, and at least one of Golan’s associates confessed to aiding the antiquities dealer in a fabrication conspiracy.

The Antiquities Authority noted that Golan was found guilty of three counts of violating the Antiquities Law and possession of suspected stolen property, and according to the judge, “the absolute truth was not a guiding light for Golan.”

Responding to the ruling, the Authority said that the highprofile case had had many positive results, including almost completely stopping the antiquities market from publishing finds without first knowing their place of discovery; almost entirely halting the trade in written documents and seals from illicit excavations; and dramatically reducing the scope of antiquities robbery.

The ossuary was first displayed in an exhibit in a Canadian museum and garnered worldwide acclaim through the media due to its alleged connection to the family of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Jehoash inscription, supposedly dating to the ninth century BCE, would have been the only surviving item of the First Temple, constituting proof of that temple’s existence and of the biblical text appearing in the Book of Chronicles.

The appearance of the two items in late 2002 and early 2003 fired the imaginations of millions of Christians around the world, who believed that they had received tangible proof of Jesus’s family, as well as thousands of Jews who ostensibly now had physical evidence from the First Temple and archeological verification of the biblical stories. After an extended investigation, the Authority concluded that the items had been fabricated for the purpose of achieving financial gain by misleading antiquities collectors.

“I am glad that I was found innocent of all the very serious allegations that I had to face during the last seven years,” Golan told Reuters after the final court session.

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