Saturday, September 05, 2009

Defense to Testify in James Ossuary Forgery Case

Time Magazine has an article this weekend on the continuation of the trial of Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch for forging the James Ossuary and other spectacular artifacts.  Matthew Kalman, the Jerusalem correspondent who has been the primary reporter on this case for the last couple of years, spends the better part of the article on a technical discussion on the issue of patina in the inscribed letters.  Here are a few portions of the report:

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority will soon take the witness stand for the first time since he declared, in December 2004, that the ossuary and other items seized in a two-year investigation were the "tip of the iceberg" of an international conspiracy that placed countless fakes in collections and museums around the world. He promised more arrests. But no other fake items have been seized, no-one else has been arrested, and Judge Farkash has hinted strongly that the prosecution case is foundering.

Next week, defense attorneys will present evidence suggesting that scientists testifying for the prosecution have disproved their own findings against the ossuary. The scientific evidence against Golan is largely based on measurements of the oxygen isotopic composition (in technical terms, d18O — Delta 18 Oxygen) of the thin crust — or patina — covering the ossuary inscription....

The trouble with this kind evidence is, of course, that the formation of patina isn't yet explainable in science everyone can agree on. The patina on one letter could be the result of one particularly wet winter that happened to leave its evidence on the ossuary — but perhaps not in a stalagmite in a cave. Or vice versa. "The analogy between the formation of cave deposits and the formation of patina on archeological objects is imprecise and more work is needed," says Professor Aldo Shemesh, an isotope expert at the Weizmann Institute who was also called as a defense expert. In the end, it is a numbers game — figuring on averages of statistics over which all the experts disagree. Says Shemesh: "Scientific debates should be discussed and resolved in peer-reviewed literature and scientific conferences, not in court."

The full article is here.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hazor and the James Ossuary

Gordon Franz has just posted three transcribed interviews with staff members of the Hazor excavations, including Amnon Ben-Tor, Sharon Zuckerman, and Orna Cohen.  

“Hazor is Number One...”: An interview with Amnon Ben-Tor

“Where is the Archive at Hazor?”: An interview with Sharon Zuckerman

“It is the Best Job in the World”: An interview with Orna Cohen

Cohen is a conservator, and she comments on the controversy of the James Ossuary.  She believes that the second half of the inscription is original, but the first part is forged.

I had the pleasure of looking at and checking the James Ossuary and I gave my comments on it.  I think the ossuary is authentic and a real one, but the inscription on it, I am convinced there are two hands that wrote the inscription.  To my opinion, part of the inscription is faked, part is original.  Of course, there are things that go on in trial now.  They are still trying to figure out what is faked and by whom it was made.  To my opinion, the name Joshua [on the ossuary] is real.  The inscription reads: “Ya’acov bar Yosef achi Yehoshua.”  [Translation: Jacob, or James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus].  So the first part, I think is added.  My professional opinion is almost against all the others that think the last name [on the inscription]; “bother of Jesus” (Joshua) is a fake.  So my opinion was against the others [at the trial].  I checked and it’s according to the patina in the letters.  There was a fake patina of just dirt that was put in these letters on purpose so I cleaned part of it and underneath there was the original, yellowish patina that based on my experience, was the original one.  It was not on the first part of the inscription but it was on the last part of the inscription.  That is what I gave as my opinion.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

James Ossuary Forgery Trial: New Year, Same Story

It must be a slow news day if the Jerusalem Post is reporting on the James Ossuary forgery trial without apparently any new developments in the last 8 months.  The judge rebuked the prosecution last October, saying “Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest.”  Shuka Dorfman therefore seems determined to convict the accused in the court of public opinion if he cannot do it after four years of trial.  "I believe we have revealed only the tip of the iceberg. This industry encircles the world, involves millions of dollars," said Dorfman.  That may well be true, and those who love the ancient world will be happy to see the forgery business destroyed, but this does not mean that Oded Golan forged the James Ossuary.  From the JPost:

Golan and his co-defendants went on trial in the summer of 2005, but after more than 70 prosecution witnesses and 8,000 pages of testimony, Judge Aharon Farkash warned the prosecution that he was not convinced they had proved their case and advised them to consider halting the trial.

"After all the evidence we have heard, including the testimony of the prime defendant, is the picture still the same as the one you had when he was charged?" Judge Farkash pointedly asked the prosecution in October 2008. "Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest."

"Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment?" Judge Farkash said. "The experts disagreed among themselves. Where is the definitive proof needed to show that the accused faked the ossuary? You need to ask yourselves those questions very seriously."

In an exclusive interview with The Media Line at his Tel Aviv home, Golan said he was confident that new scientific research undertaken by defense experts would finally exonerate him. Prosecution scientists had accused Golan of faking patina - a thin layer of biological material covering ancient items - in order to make the inscriptions on the artifacts seem old.

"No, I never faked any antiquity," Golan told The Media Line. "During the last several years there were several tests and examinations of those items by prominent experts from different countries in different laboratories and I think we succeeded to prove that these inscriptions could not have been inscribed in the last century. There is a thin layer of patina - it's a thin layer of crust made actually by a micro-organism that was developed inside the grooves of the inscription and this product made by the micro-organism could not have been developed in less than a hundred years."

More here.

UPDATE: As Jim notes in the comments, the above report is related to a video produced by The Media Line in which Joe Zias claims that he saw the ossuary with part of the inscription in an antiquities shop in the 1990s. 

Maybe it was the way that the producers edited the video, but I didn’t hear Zias make an unqualified assertion that he saw this exact ossuary and declare precisely what was inscribed at the time.  (Zias’s words on video: “I remember that I seen a thing in an antiquities dealer in the 1990s, so it couldn’t have been in the hands of Golan.”) Of course, he need not make such a claim to the media.  But one supposes that in the trial he would have made the strongest statements possible while under oath.  Apparently that, combined with the other evidence, was unconvincing to the judge.

As someone has noted in a comment on this blog before, exoneration in a criminal court will not prove that the ossuary’s inscription is authentic.  But it should serve to silence the mouths of the (failed) prosecuting parties and allow the matter to be discussed by the experts on the merits of the evidence.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

James Ossuary Trial Drags On

Matthew Kalman, writing for the Jerusalem Post:

One of Israel's best-known antiquities dealers said this week he was the innocent victim of a "witch-hunt" initiated by the Antiquities Authority aimed at destroying his career and reputation.

Robert Deutsch, 58, has been on trial at the Jerusalem District Court since September 2005 on six charges of faking and selling priceless antiquities. He is the owner of the Archeological Center, with shops in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and runs twice-yearly antiquities auctions that attract the world's top collectors of ancient Judaica.

Deutsch's co-defendant, leading antiquities collector Oded Golan, is charged with faking the burial box of Jesus's brother and an inscribed stone attributed to King Jehoash that once adorned the First Temple, plus dozens of smaller items.

As Deutsch took the stand this week for the first time after more than three years in court, 120 witnesses and 8,000 pages of testimony, he said the charges against him were "lies and hallucinations."

The story continues here, and the author does a good job of presenting both sides of the story.  Kalman has a blog dedicated to the trial.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Norman Golb’s Son Arrested on Charges of Impersonation

Having been the victim of unwelcome, sometimes lengthy, and usually inflammatory comments on posts on this blog related to the Dead Sea Scrolls, I’m happy to see that New York police have arrested a man for allegedly creating many false identities, impersonating scholars, and slandering Dr. Lawrence Schiffman.  The guilty party, whether he is the accused or someone else, had a single agenda: to promote the widely panned theories of Dr. Norman Golb.  I have long been curious what sort of person would be so committed to such an endeavor as to spend countless hours to promote this view in places that have little real significance (this and other blogs, Wikipedia).  The answer, if NY prosecutors are correct, makes some sense: the perpetrator was Golb’s son.  That son, however, was not 14 years old, but 49.  One scholar who has wrangled extensively with the multiple-aliased offender is Bob Cargill.  A scholar at UCLA, Cargill has posted an extraordinary catalog of the campaign of this individual (be he the accused or someone else).  A few hours after Cargill posted his catalog, NY police announced the arrest.  From the NY Times:

For decades, the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been intensely debated.

The prevailing theory is that these ancient documents, which include texts from the Hebrew Bible, were written over the three centuries before 100 A.D. by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, who were based in Qumran, a settlement at the northwest shore of the Dead Sea near the caves where the scrolls were found between 1947 and 1956.

An alternative theory, passionately proffered by a University of Chicago professor, is that the scrolls’ authors were not Essenes, and that the scrolls themselves were kept in various libraries in Jerusalem until they were hidden in the caves around Qumran for safekeeping during the Roman war of A.D. 67 to 73. Qumran, he has said, was not an Essene monastery but a fortress, one of several armed defensive bastions around Jerusalem.

The professor, Norman Golb, has stood behind his theory despite significant criticism. His son, Raphael Haim Golb, has been one of his greatest allies.

But prosecutors said on Thursday that Raphael Golb took defending his father’s theory too far. Mr. Golb is accused of using stolen identities of various people, including a New York University professor who disagreed with his father, to elevate his father’s theory and besmirch its critics, Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, said at a news conference.

Mr. Golb, 49, was arrested Thursday morning and charged in Manhattan Criminal Court with identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors said Mr. Golb opened an e-mail account in the name of Lawrence H. Schiffman, the New York University professor who disagreed with Mr. Golb’s father. He sent messages in Professor Schiffman’s name to various people at N.Y.U. and to others involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls debate, fabricating an admission by Professor Schiffman that he had plagiarized some of Professor Golb’s work, Mr. Morgenthau said. Raphael Golb also set up blogs under various names that accused Dr. Schiffman of plagiarism, Mr. Morgenthau said.

NYUNews has posted one of the emails that Golb is alleged to have forged. (HT: Joe Lauer)

Unfortunately dad’s response is not altogether encouraging.

Reached at his office in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, Professor Golb said he was shocked at the allegations leveled against his son, who is a real estate lawyer and has a Ph.D in comparative literature from Harvard.

“My son is an honorable person,” Professor Golb said. “He could not have done such a thing.”

Professor Golb said that opposing scholars had tried to quash his views over the years through tactics like barring him from Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions. He said he saw the criminal charges as another attack on his work.

“Don’t you see how there was kind of a setup?” he said. “This was to hit me harder.”

I’m not sure that this is the best time for Professor Golb to be complaining of the same thing that led the impersonator to carry out his campaign.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ivory Pomegranate Inscription Not Forged, Says Scientist

The Biblical Archaeology Society has posted a new study by Professor Yitzhak Roman of Hebrew University in which he concludes that the inscription was carved before the ivory pomegranate was broken.  This agrees with the previous study of André Lemaire of Sorbonne University, against the conclusion of Yuval Goren and the Israel Museum that the inscription was forged in modern times.  You can get the original report in Hebrew, or an English translation, as well as various related materials at the BAS website.  There’s been quite a bit of discussion in the ANE-2 list, largely attacking the experts or explaining why now it doesn’t matter.  If Roman’s and Lemaire’s arguments are invalid, hopefully someone will step up and refute the evidence.  You can do your own analysis of the photographs here.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Jehoash Inscription: Five Scholars Claim Authentic

The Jehoash Inscription is a total fraud and everyone knows that, according to some people.  Apparently these five scholars didn’t get the memo, as they conclude that the inscription is authentic.  The Bible and Interpretation has the article.  Here is the abstract:

A gray, fine-grained arkosic sandstone tablet bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew from the First Temple Period contains a rich assemblage of particles accumulated in the covering patina. Two types of patina cover the tablet: a thin layer of black to orange iron-oxide-rich layer, a product of micro-biogenic processes, and a light beige patina that contains feldspars, carbonate, iron oxide, subangular quartz grains, carbon ash particles and gold globules (1 to 4 micrometers [1 micrometer = 0.001 millimeter] in diameter). The patina covers the rock surface as well as the engraved lettering grooves and blankets and thus post-dates the incised inscription as well as a crack that runs across the stone and several of the engraved letters. Radiocarbon analyses of the carbon particles in the patina yield a calibrated radiocarbon age of 2340 to 2150 Cal BP. The presence of microcolonial fungi and associated pitting in the patina indicates slow growth over many years. The occurrence of pure gold globules is evidence of a thermal event in close proximity to the tablet (above 1000 degrees Celsius). This study supports the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic. 

This isn’t the last word, but that’s the point.  Scholars must be allowed to study this inscription without desperate-sounding people trying to silence those they disagree with.

The best indication of the inscription’s authenticity that I know and understand (which doesn’t include archaeometric evidence) concerns the “obvious” linguistic error in the inscription.  It doesn’t make sense that someone brilliant enough to do so many things right on this inscription would make such an obvious mistake.  Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know everything about how Hebrew was used in the 8th century.

The Bible and Interpretation has published much more on this inscription in previous years.

UPDATE (11/17): The more scientific version of this article was mentioned previously here.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Prosecution Struggling at Forgery Trial

The San Francisco Chronicle reported about a week ago that the Israeli government’s case against alleged forger Oded Golan is near collapse.  The Israeli judge was rather harsh with the prosecution.

After all the evidence we have heard, including the testimony of the prime defendant, is the picture still the same as the one you had when he was charged?" District Court Judge Aharon Farkash pointedly asked public prosecutor, Adi Damti. "Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest.

The Daily Mail reported:

Jerusalem judge Aharon Farkash told prosecutors trying Israeli collector Oded Golan: 'Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artefacts are fakes as charged in the indictment?

The primary artifacts in question are the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has maintained that the inscription, or part of the inscription, reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” was added to an ancient ossuary.  These artifacts and others are alleged to have come out of the workshop of Oded Golan, or that of his Egyptian friend, Marco Samah Shoukri Ghatas.

I do not know if these two artifacts are ancient, though based on what experts have told me, I think they probably are genuine.  If one or both are proven to be fraudulent, it won’t affect anyone’s beliefs in the accuracy or non-accuracy of the Bible.

What bothers me and others is the attempt by some professionals and some non-professionals to silence discussion on the issues.  Because 60 Minutes did a report on the subject, the case must be closed.  Because the Israel Antiquities Authority produced a report on the items, scholarly interaction on the matters is apparently inappropriate.  Wrong!, says the judge. 

If the judge isn’t convinced after hearing far more evidence than you or I or probably any other expert not at the trial, then I dare say that any conclusions claiming these artifacts were forged were based on less than all of the evidence.  This makes it all the more disturbing that those who made those conclusions are the ones who would deny further discussion.  Some lessons:

  • Scholars have agendas.  Very few are unbiased.
  • The loudest ones usually have the most to lose.  Discoveries tend to confirm the Bible (name the last one that provided clear evidence that the biblical record was inaccurate), and with each (authentic) discovery, the ground is eroding from underneath them
  • Refuse to listen to those who say the case is closed.  Patience is a virtue.  There is no need to rush to judgment when important scholars dissent from the majority view.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Jehoash Inscription: Geologists Think Authentic

Five years ago, a big stir was created with the announcement of the existence of the Jehoash Inscription.  The tablet was so exciting because it appeared to come from the Jerusalem temple, dating to approximately 800 B.C., and paralleling 2 Kings 12:12.

The inscription, however, had problems.  The chief one was that it surfaced in the hands of an antiquities collector, not in a controlled archaeological dig.  That by itself is enough for some to deny the authenticity of the artifact, even though many demonstrably authentic objects were recovered illegally.

Another problem was the stone itself and the patina (sheen produced by age).  Though the first geologists to study the inscription said it was ancient, the Israel Antiquities Authority issued a report concluding that the inscription was a modern forgery.  60 Minutes aired a horrible report (regardless of conclusion, the report was dishonest) which included an interview with a man claimed to have created the inscription.

To me, the most interesting part of all of this has been the way one side has acted on the matter. And I don’t mean the 60 Minutes crew (who merit only the lowest of expectations anyway).  There are some professionals who have acted as if they have a lot to lose if this inscription is authentic.  On the other hand, those who think the inscription may be ancient appear to me to desire simply that the proper studies be done.  Some professionals apparently think that a few tests are sufficient, after which all discussion must be silenced and all tests denied.

Which means their dander is up after another study was published this summer in the Journal of Archaeological Science.  The conclusion of the five geologists who wrote the article is that the inscription is likely ancient.  The pdf is available for a fee, but the abstract is online:

A gray, fine-grained arkosic sandstone tablet bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew from the First Temple Period contains a rich assemblage of particles accumulated in the covering patina that includes calcite, dolomite, quartz and feldspar grains, iron oxides, carbon ash particles, microorganisms, and gold globules (1–4 μm in diameter). There are two types of patina present: thin layers of a black to orange-brown, iron oxide-rich patina, a product of micro-biogenetical activity, as well as a light beige patina mainly composed of carbonates, quartz and feldspar grains. The patina covers the rock surfaces and inscription grooves post-dating the incised inscription as well as a fissure that runs across the stone and several of the engraved letters. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) analyses of the carbon particles in the patina yields a calibrated radiocarbon age of 2340–2150 Cal BP and a conventional radiocarbon age of 2250 ± 40 years BP. The presence of microcolonial fungi and associated pitting indicates slow growth over many years. The occurrence of pure gold globules is evidence of melting (above 1000 °C) indicates a thermal event. This study supports the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic.

Let the studies continue!  When there is a “reasonable doubt” about authenticity, it is anti-scientific and anti-academic to try to prevent further investigation.

(Note: the trial against the alleged forgers is going on three years and running, which suggests, to me at least, that the evidence is not as iron-clad as the prosecutors and their fans have insisted.)

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Forgery Trial, 3 Years Going (and Going)

Haaretz gives an update of the forgery trial against Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch.  Most of what is "new" here seems to be taken from the courageously honest 60 Minutes report.  I'm always reluctant to analyze a news article written by a journalist because I know how skewed facts can get between the interview and the printed page.  But I'll make a few comments on the assumption that the record is generally accurate.

1. The prosecution has been presenting its case for three years.  Israel doesn't have constitutional protections like the United States, but some judge should intervene to tell them that there's something humane about a speedy trial, and if the prosecution can't present its case in short order, it's over.

2. The "silver bullet" in the case is an Egyptian artist.  The article says that he "confessed to manufacturing many items for Golan, including the Jehoash inscription."  I need more evidence than the reporter's word (or the prosecution's statement).  Note that 60 Minutes, who interviewed him on TV, did not have a statement from him that he forged it.  Maybe he did, or maybe the prosecution wants to make you think he did.  That's why there's such a thing called cross-examination.  (For those of you new to the case, it's simply incredible that a guy with a shop in an Egyptian market has the necessary skills to make an object of this nature that has fooled many experts into thinking it is authentic.  Scholars have told me that there's not a single person alive with all of the knowledge necessary to make the Jehoash Inscription.  Maybe five scholars collaborated, each contributing their own specialized knowledge.  But one artist in Egypt?)

3. The article says:

Among the evidence presented by the prosecution in court: photos and exhibits taken from the labs in Golan's home, where, according to the indictment, the forgeries were made; various sketches and other materials that were used in the preparation of the forgeries.

Now this sounds convincing to the reader at home.  Open-and-shut case.  If so, then why all of the delay?  Why do they need to bring the Egyptian artist to testify?  Again, this is why this case cannot be decided in the media alone.

I've said it before, but I'll note it again: I don't know if any of these items are authentic or not.  And I don't care.  It doesn't change my view of the Bible or archaeology if the James Ossuary or the Jehoash Inscription are forgeries.  But there are very significant problems with the way that these matters have been handled by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the prosecution, and some scholars.  There are other agendas.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

60 Minutes on the James Ossuary

The Easter story for "60 Minutes" this year is about the bonebox inscribed with "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."  The 13-minute video segment and a written transcript is available online.  In terms of production, the video is outstanding.  They have beautiful footage, dramatic interviews, and a clear storyline.  This 13-minute story will make understandable to millions what five years of scholarly debate has not.  But I'd recommend watching this for entertainment value than for factual analysis.  There are many problems with this "reporting."

The first issue is the lack of scholarly testimony.  Only a few scholars are interviewed and only one is allowed to give his verdict about inscription's authenticity.  Witherington and the Pfanns are quoted only about the excitement and possible value of the inscription.  Silberman gets double the airtime, and his statements about authenticity (or lack thereof) seem to be carefully crafted for dramatic effect.  The story does not give the background for any of these individuals, so it's worth noting that Silberman is not an archaeologist nor a paleographer.  He is a popular writer about biblical and archaeological subjects.  He has co-written several books claiming that the Bible is a fraud, so it's not surprising that he thinks that an inscription that supports the Bible is also a fraud.  Unfortunately none of the scholars who specialize in this area were interviewed (or included), and most of them think the inscription is likely authentic.

While the story's title would have you believe that this is a story about the James Ossuary, only the first half of the story discusses the bonebox.  From that point on, the producers try to condemn the ossuary using guilt by association.  This is the only way they can make the story work, because most scholars think the inscription is authentic.  The argument against the inscription is that 1) the ossuary came from the collection of Oded Golan; 2) Golan had tools that could be used for making forgeries; 3) an Egyptian claims that he made other forgeries for Golan (but not this one).

What they insinuate and omit is more significant than what they report.  1) Did Golan forge the inscription or did the Egyptian?  It doesn't matter, as long as they can create doubt in the viewer's mind. 2) Is Golan and/or the Egyptian capable of creating such a perfect inscription?  Most scholars say they could not.  60 Minutes misleads by quoting a policeman who says that the Egyptian is a skilled craftsman. They don't quote Ada Yardeni who says that if Golan faked it, "he's a genius.  But I don't believe it."  3) There is no mention of the old photograph that Golan has of the ossuary with the inscription.  The authenticity of the photograph is disputed, but if authentic, it is compelling evidence that the inscription was not forged. 4) Did Golan pass a polygraph?  I don't know, but it seems like a simple test that would be of relevance.  5) Why is such an open-and-shut case taking the Israeli police more than three years in court?  6) Was the inscription forged or only part of the inscription?  Like several components of the story, they want to have it both ways. 

In 13 minutes, one cannot expect all of the evidence to be presented, but it is noteworthy that CBS has given us a glimpse of the prosecution's case rather than an even-handed treatment.  Even the multiple uses of an interview with Golan is intended to support their case.  I haven't read of anybody who supports or trusts Golan.  He certainly doesn't exude credibility on screen. But the issue isn't about him.  Even if he forged 1,000 pieces, that doesn't prove that the ossuary inscription is fake.  Sitting on a toilet doesn't prove that it is fake either.  Maybe it is, but it is certainly better to analyze the artifact itself rather than its circumstances.  But this they do not do.  The fact is that many scholars believe that the entire inscription is very likely authentic, including Ada Yardeni, Bezalel Porten, Gabriel Barkay, and Andre Lemaire.  The inclusion of the toilet photograph and the failure to include even one specialist of ancient inscriptions proves that this story is about entertainment and not facts.

One final note: Forgery of antiquities and looting of antiquities are major problems in Israel and around the world.  These crimes should be prosecuted aggressively.  But when a majority of the specialists believe an alleged forgery to be authentic, it is time to pursue other cases.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Shanks' Thoughts on Forgery Trial

Shanks has posted his current perspective on the forgery trial, including his reason for believing that the prosecution is doomed, and a list of reasons why he thinks the Jehoash Inscription is authentic.  Some of this is old new, but there were some things that I hadn't heard before.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Forgery Trial Update (Feb 2008)

Some years ago the Israeli government began trying a case of antiquities forgery against five individuals, including Robert Deutsch and Oded Golan.  The latter is/was the owner of the James Ossuary and was accused of creating the inscription (or part of it) in order to greatly increase the object's value.  Hershel Shanks now writes on the Biblical Archaeology Society website that the prosecution is winding its case down and may be finished in a few weeks.

Previous posts on this blog related to this include:

Forgery Conference Report (June 2007)

Forgery Trial Update (May 2006)

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

'Ancient' Forgeries

If you're interested in forgeries of ancient works, this article in Spiegel, "False Gods: 'Ancient' Forgeries Fool Art Markets" has some interesting facts.  Among the claims is one that the collection of Elie Borowski, founder of the Bible Lands Museum, consisted of many forgeries.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Forgery Conference Report

At the beginning of this year, Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeology Society sponsored a conference in Jerusalem on the matter of recent alleged forgeries. This was a private, by-invitation-only meeting for scholars to speak freely on very controversial matters. I knew about it but expected to never see anything about it, because of the subject's sensitivity. But Shanks has just released a very detailed report from the conference that is, in my opinion, absolutely fascinating. The subject is of interest to me because 1) everyone loves a good cat fight; 2) some of the challenged inscriptions have biblical relevance; 3) you learn about a lot of other things in the process; 4) the way in which the IAA handled the issue was deplorable; 5) the most vocal on this subject have been the nay-sayers. Thus some have declared that "everyone" thinks all of the questioned artifacts are fakes. I don't personally care if any or all are fakes; they don't change my view of the Bible or archaeology. But I have been disturbed by those who claim to know scholarly opinion but who do not. This record gives a more balanced perspective, showing where there is broad agreement (James Ossuary inscription is authentic) and where there is not (Jehoash Inscription).

You can get this report for free, and I consider this a nice present from BAS, which went to no small expense to hold the proceeding and then to compile the report. You have to submit your email address in order to get the link, but you can always unsubscribe to the newsletter later. There are three separate items available.

1. The Report: This 30-page document gives the background of the conference, including who came, who wanted to, and who didn't respond. Then five inscriptions are reviewed, with relevant comments from the attending scholars.

2. The Report's Appendix: At 84 pages, this work primarily consists of abstracts by conference participants (plus a few who couldn't make it). Another section looks at a photoGabriel Barkay at Ketef Hinnom, tb042705891 of the alleged forger (Oded Golan) from the 1970s which shows the inscribed ossuary in his home.

3. A 30-minute talk by Gabriel Barkay on ten points scholars should agree on. This is also available in printed form at the end of the Appendix. The mp3 file does not require registration.

This isn't the final word on the subject, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. There are many good nuggets in the report, but since the report is free and time is short, I'll let you discover them for yourself. Perhaps some other bloggers will discuss the report at greater length.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Forgery Trial Update

The Boston Globe has the latest on the ongoing trial of Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, and Rafi Brown for the forgery of ancient antiquities, including the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription.

One expert I spoke with recently suggested that all three of the most well-known alleged forgeries (the above two and the Ivory Pomegranate) may well be authentic. It's more than just Hershel Shanks who doubt the committees' conclusions, but there are difficulties in voicing that opinion given today's climate.

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