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Israeli antiquities collectors acquitted of ossuary forgery

March 14, 2012 |  3:29 pm

Jerusalem burial box
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- A Jerusalem court acquitted an Israeli antiquities collector of forging a stone burial box with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

But the decade-long legal drama left open the archaeological and historical mystery concerning the ossuary, allegedly uncovered in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem. If authentic, it would be the oldest known archaeological record of Jesus.

The Israel Antiquities Authority suspected that  the so-called James Ossuary and other items held or sold by Oded Golan were forgeries, including another artifact known as the Jehoash Tablet that described renovations done on the First Temple. Experts deemed the findings forgeries and Golan was indicted along with several other people.

But after seven years of trial that included 138 witnesses, 12,000 pages of transcripts and 52 experts in fields such as archaeology, Semitic languages, forensic science, geology and carbon dating, Judge Aharon Farkash ruled it was impossible to unequivocally prove the artifacts were forged. Saying that their authenticity also was unproven, he acquitted Golan of forgery but convicted the collector on lesser charges, including unlawful possession of antiquities.

Golan expressed satisfaction over being acquitted of the more serious charge and told reporters he and a few colleagues had “saved hundreds of thousands of archaeological artifacts,” mostly from the West Bank, from being smuggled out of the country and disappearing. He accused the Antiquities Authority of “inflating a balloon that blew up in their face, and now they will have to explain how they lost 1.5 million archaeological artifacts since 1967.”

Prosecutor Dan Bahat partly blamed geopolitics for his inability to prove forgery. One of the key witnesses is from Egypt and Israeli authorities did not let him into Israel to testify. Local news media described the mystery man as a master forger.

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-- Batsheva Sobelman

Photo: Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan, right, speaks with reporters in a Jerusalem court on Wednesday. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / AP  

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