Israel Antiquities Authority Tries to Keep Ossuary Return a Secret

The 'James Ossuary' was returned to owner Oded Golan (right) on November 10, 2013. Did the Israel Antiquities Authority try to keep this news a secret? Photo: Yuval Pan, NY Daily News, courtesy of Oded Golan.

A few days ago in this space, I argued that an article in the New York Daily News erred in claiming that some experts, on the one hand, thought the ossuary inscribed with the name of the brother of Jesus was a fake and other experts, on the other hand, thought it was genuine. I said that the article erred in that no expert paleographers or scientists had found that the inscription was a forgery. If I was wrong, I called on the paleographers or scientists who thought the inscription was a forgery to identify themselves and give the reasons for their conclusion. So far no one has come forward.

But as I continued to ponder the matter, a strange fact jumped out at me. The occasion for the New York Daily News article was that the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) had returned the ossuary, or bone box, to its owner, Tel Aviv antiquities collector Oded Golan, after seizing it ten years ago and charging Golan in a criminal indictment with forging the inscription. After a lengthy trial, Golan was acquitted and there was no longer any basis for the IAA to continue to confiscate the ossuary.

Since I was commenting here on a New York Daily News story about the ossuary’s return to Golan, I thought I should also look at what the Israeli press had to say about this dramatic culmination of the IAA’s decade-long attempt to condemn the ossuary inscription.

After more than five years, the “forgery trial of the century” concluded in a Jerusalem courtroom and defendants Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch were acquitted of all forgery charges. In our free eBook James, Brother of Jesus: The Forgery Trial of the Century, Hershel Shanks explains why he believes the now-famous “James Ossuary” inscription is authentic. Plus, he provides behind-the-scenes analysis of the trial and its key players.

But I couldn’t find anything. What I found was that not a word about the ossuary’s return to Golan had appeared in the Israeli press, despite the fact that they had extensively covered the criminal trial and Golan’s acquittal. How could this be?

No expert paleographers or scientists have found the inscription on the 'James Ossuary' to be a forgery.

A little more investigation uncovered the reason: Before the IAA returned the ossuary, it attempted to extract conditions from Golan. The only one he agreed to was the IAA’s demand that no media were to witness the return of the ossuary. In short, the Israeli press didn’t report the ossuary’s return because they didn’t know about it. And they didn’t know about it because the IAA was so embarrassed by its multi-million-dollar failure to condemn the ossuary inscription that it extracted a promise from Golan not to invite any media to witness the return of his ossuary.

So how did veteran journalist Matthew Kalman, who wrote the New York Daily News article, know about it? Kalman is the only journalist who has attended almost every session of Golan’s criminal trial. Kalman, as other media personnel, did not witness the return of the ossuary, but some of Golan’s experts and a photographer did. Kalman managed to get the facts from them.


Read about the IAA’s return of the “Jesus Brother” bone box to its owner.

Get the complete picture of the verdict through Bible History Daily’s “James Ossuary Forgery Trial Resources Guide.

Download a FREE eBook “James, Brother of Jesus: The Forgery Trial of the Century” featuring BAR editor Hershel Shanks’s post-trial analyses along with the original scholarly publications on several of the alleged forgeries.


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  • Eldad says

    Thanks, Hershel; I wonder whether you can tell us something new regarding the IAA?

  • Gary says

    Hershel, after all these years of the hassle, your thoughts were proven correct.

  • Krzysztof says

    Super interesting

  • Bradley B. says

    Hershel – what were the other conditions “requested” by the IAA?

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