The Troubled Return of the James Ossuary
Despite acquittal, IAA fights the return of Biblical artifacts to Oded Golan
Biblical Archaeology Society Staff
May 14, 2012
Collector Oded Golan and antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch were acquitted after a seven-year trial involving the alleged forgery of several sensational Israeli antiquities. Despite the extensive expert testimony leading to the acquittal, the Israel Antiquities Authority still fights against the return of the James Ossuary and other artifacts to owner Oded Golan.
Despite the March 14th verdict declaring collector Oded Golan not guilty on all counts of forgery, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) persists in its conflict with the defendant. Prosecutor Dan Bahat announced the IAA’s intention to fight the return of the artifacts to Oded Golan.
Golan and codefendant Robert Deutsch were acquitted after a seven-year trial involving the alleged forgery of several sensational Israeli antiquities including the first-century C.E. James Ossuary, a bone box bearing the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” and the Jehoash inscription, which may be the first known royal Israelite inscription.*
Now, two months after the verdict, the IAA is pursuing the permanent confiscation of the James Ossuary and other artifacts. Despite nearly a decade of scholarly inquiry that led to Golan’s acquittal on all counts of forgery, the IAA persists in referring to the artifacts as fakes, and Bahat went so far as to compare the return of artifacts to Golan with returning drugs to a dealer.
In 2007, Amir Ganor, the head of the IAA anti-theft unit, stated that the artifacts would be returned to Golan if he were to be acquitted. Even though the verdict ruled against any evidence of forgery, Bahat has suggested that the “fakes” be given to the Israel Police forensics laboratory rather than being put on display in a museum or returned to Golan’s collection. Oded Golan’s attorney Lior Bringer responded by stating that “the prosecution is asking the court to punish the defendant for crimes for which he was acquitted.”
In our free eBook James, Brother of Jesus: The Forgery Trial of the Century
, BAR editor Hershel Shanks explains why he believes the now-famous “James Ossuary” inscription is authentic along with behind-the-scenes analysis of the trial and its key players.
According to Oded Golan, he has owned the James Ossuary since the late 1970s but was unaware of the implications of the inscription and never once tried to profit from his ownership of the spectacular artifact. He described himself to BAS as “not an antiquities dealer. I have never sold any item of antiquity overseas and have never removed antiquities from Israel without a license. I have never considered my collection a source of profit or income. Out of my love for the field, I took steps to save thousands of artifacts discovered in the Judea and Samaria region, which are the territories of the Jewish people’s heritage and history.”
The James Ossuary with its inscription reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” was one of several artifacts involved in the “forgery trial of the century.” Despite the evidence against forgery, the IAA still considers the ossuary and other artifacts fakes.
Over the course of the ten-year investigation and trial, Golan has been subject to public criticism, financial losses, two periods of imprisonment and over 700 days of house arrest. Judge Aharon Farkash referred to the IAA attempt to confiscate the artifacts and push for maximum sentences on three minor charges as a “witch-hunt” against Golan. Antiquities dealer and scholar Robert Deutsch, who was acquitted of all charges, has already announced his intentions to sue the IAA for defamation of character.**
After the verdict, Oded Golan gave BAS editors a statement. “The hot-air balloon released by the prosecution and the IAA has finally popped. The court has said its word and unequivocally determined that all the attempts to label me and others forgers were refuted in entirety.”
Despite receiving a severely humiliating and conclusive hit with the verdict, the IAA has not wavered in its stance on Golan or the James Ossuary, which may be the only archaeological evidence with a direct connection to Jesus’ family. The spectacular importance of the antiquities and the massive scale of the case against Golan have led the case to be considered the “forgery trial of the century.” Perhaps the Israel Museum will follow a quip by Judge Aharon Farkash to put up a special display of the artifacts from the trial.
* Biblical Archaeology Review
and Bible History Daily have published an extensive collection of articles and blogposts on the forgery trial. Read BAR
editor Hershel Shanks’s authoritative post-verdict analyses in the BHD post “Verdict: Not Guilty.
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.
** Robert Deutsch to Sue IAA.