Skip to comments.NYT: Israel Indicts 4 in 'Brother of Jesus' Hoax and Other Forgeries
Posted on 12/30/2004 10:01:34 AM PST by OESY
JERUSALEM, Dec. 29 - The Israeli police filed criminal indictments on Wednesday against four antiquities collectors, accusing them of forging biblical artifacts, many so skillfully that they fooled experts. Some were even celebrated briefly as being among the most significant Christian and Jewish relics ever unearthed.
The police and the Israel Antiquities Authority said their investigation had focused on several major forgeries, including a limestone burial box, or ossuary, bearing an inscription that suggested that it held the remains of Jesus' brother James. The Antiquities Authority declared the ossuary a forgery last year.
The authorities also described as counterfeit a small ivory pomegranate and a tablet known as the Yoash stone, both bearing inscriptions referring to the First Temple in Jerusalem. The tablet had been hailed by some as the first archaeological proof of the Temple's existence.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Shuka Dorfman, head of the Antiquities Authority, told a news conference. "We believe this is happening worldwide and has generated millions of dollars."
The indictment alleges that Oded Golan, a major Israeli collector and dealer, was the leader of a forgery ring that operated for more than two decades and included at least three other men: Robert Deutsch, Shlomo Cohen and Faiz al-Amaleh. Jonathan Pagis, a member of the police department's Jerusalem fraud division, said he expected additional indictments to follow.
Mr. Golan firmly denied the accusations against him, saying in a statement, "There is not one grain of truth in the fantastic allegations related to me."
The suspects produced their counterfeits using a single, well-honed method, the Israeli authorities said.
First, the authorities said, the ring obtained genuine artifacts. For instance, the ossuary was indeed ancient, of a kind commonly used in Jewish burial ceremonies 2,000 years ago. Then they painstakingly engraved markings on the relics that linked people or places of great significance, the authorities said, adding a coating to match the patina that would accumulate over the centuries.
The suspects presented their counterfeits to antiquities experts for authentication. It is not clear whether any of the experts knew that they were examining forgeries, the police said.
Eventually the items were circulated on the international market, accompanied by forged paperwork intended to dispel any doubts about their murky origins, the authorities said.
The doctored artifacts sold for tens of thousands of dollars or, sometimes, hundreds of thousands, according to the authorities. In some cases the suspects asked for millions, though the authorities did not cite any instances in which they received such sums for a single item.
Word of the supposed burial box of James caused a big stir in archaeological circles two years ago, with some experts giving credence to its authenticity and others expressing doubts. The ossuary - bearing, in Aramaic, the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" - was tremendously popular when it exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
At the time, Mr. Golan said that he bought the ossuary in the mid-1970's in Jerusalem's Old City but that he did not know the name of the seller, the place where the box was excavated or, until later, the significance of the piece.
The Yoash stone, named after a ruler of the ancient Hebrew kingdom of Judah, was cited as possibly the strongest historical evidence of the biblical account of the First Temple, built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. and destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century B.C. The stone's inscription gives instructions in ancient Hebrew for maintaining the Temple.
The Israeli authorities said Wednesday that Mr. Golan, working through intermediaries, had been behind both the burial box and the Yoash stone.
Israeli officials received a tip questioning the authenticity of the Yoash stone two years ago and began an investigation that kept expanding, according to Mr. Dorfman, the Antiquities Authority head. The authority announced in June 2003 that James's burial box and the Yoash stone were forgeries.
The criminal charges filed Wednesday were the first in the case, and they came just days after the Israel Museum said an independent panel had concluded that the ivory pomegranate, which it bought in 1988 from an unknown seller by depositing half a million dollars in a Swiss bank account, was not authentic.
The pomegranate is believed to date back 3,400 years, but its inscription was added recently, the museum said. The Wednesday indictments cited the pomegranate as an example of a high-profile forgery, but did not charge any of the four suspects with counterfeiting it.
The Israeli authorities have been in contact with law enforcement in other countries and with Interpol, but they would give no details of any cooperation.
Asked about the four who were charged, Mr. Pagis, of the fraud division, said, "They helped us, but they did not confess."
Aren Maeir, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, said that "due to the astronomical prices that collectors are willing to pay, a huge industry of fraud has developed over the past 20 years, and it is getting more and more sophisticated."
Another growing problem in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East is illegal digging at archaeological sites.
"It's time to realize that collecting antiquities is destroying our archaeological heritage and is driving a market for fraud," Dr. Maeir said. "This is a game where we are all losing."
The Temple Pomegranate
The Joash Tablet
Recently, the press and media have been discussing another inscribed tablet that was discovered in the summer of 2000 at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The find was made by Islamic Trust renovators of the El-Aqsa mosque which occupies part of the Haram el Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) site, and the tablet is know held by an Israeli collector.
Partially broken, the Arkosic Dead Sea sandstone tablet measures 31 x 24 x 7 cms, and carries 15 lines of text written in ancient Hebrew with elements of Aramaic and old Phoenician. It describes repairs to Solomon's Temple as ordered by Solomon's descendant, King Joash of Judah in the 9th century BC.
Joash (Jehoash) reigned about 839-799 BC and, in accord with this, carbon-14 dating by Israel's Geological Institute, under Shimon Ilani, has authenticated the inscription as being around 2,800 years old. The Institute's director, Amos Bean, reported that they had discovered flecks of gold burnt into the stone, indicating that it was probably in the Temple when the building was destroyed by invading Babylonians in about 586 BC.
In line with the Bible text of 2-Kings 12:1-6 and 11-17, the tablet describes how the King instructed the priests to "take holy money to buy quarry stones and timber and copper and labour to carry out the duty with faith."
I've got an old Phoenician oil lamp that's dated 500 B.C. If anyone's interested, let me know; I'm short of cash right now and am forced to sacrifice.
I have one dated from about 500 B.C. also. I didn't realize until I bought this one that even the Phoenicians bought a lot of stuff from China.
What do you know about the House of Yahweh, if anything? My sister and brother in law are very involved with them. It worries me quite a bit.
Do you think other artifacts like the shroud of tourin is a fake as well?
Sorry, bad news for you. I just took one to the "Antiques Road Show" and had it appraised for $19.95.
I have some Roman coins stamped "527 BC" I'm willing to trade for them. ;)
"Maybe many of the christianity arifacts could be faked."
You mean like the hundreds of bone fragments etc of saints and "pieces of the True Cross?"
Religious people would NEVER fake stuff! Just ask Benny Hinn. ;)
So many people desperately wanted to believe it was the real deal.
Rub it real hard first, you might change your mind about selling it.
Check with AAA.
Maybe you are the fake one.
I am as true and fake as you my brother.
lol..Jacques De Mol
Damn! Now if General M'boto of Nigeria doesn't come through I'll have to continue working for a living!
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