It was a surreal experience. My long-time colleague, Suzanne Singer, and I were in London this past July for the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (International Assyriological Congress) at the British Museum. Taking a break from lectures with titles like “Ishtar of Nineveh’s Collaboration with Ishtar of Arbela in an Assurbanipal Hymn” and “Trade Relations Between Mari and Hazor,” we decided to pay a visit to Shlomo Moussaieff, who has one of the world’s great collections of antiquities relating to the Bible and the ancient Near East. I know Shlomo well because I interviewed him for a profile in BARa and subsequently published several articles about objects in his collection. Shlomo graciously invited us to come over.
When we arrived, Shlomo introduced us to a guest who had preceded us—a pleasant young Israeli who appeared to be in his early thirties. He was Amir Ganor, the chief fraud investigator of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). I of course knew of him in connection with the investigation of the famous ossuary, or bone box, inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” that an IAA committee had just declared to be a modern forgery. I had never met Ganor, but he reminded me that, as a budding archaeologist, he had excavated some of the extraordinary Edomite idols from the Judahite site of ‘En Hatzeva.b Ganor had come all the way from Israel to talk to Moussaieff about his collection and also about his possible connection with Oded Golan, the owner of the bone box with the James inscription.
Shlomo quickly informed me, however, that I, too, was “under suspicion” of being part of a group that had foisted this forgery on an unsuspecting public. And that André Lemaire, the Sorbonne paleographer who was the author of the BAR article about the inscription, was also under suspicion.c I laughed. But Ganor confirmed that I was indeed under suspicion and that when I would next come to Israel, I would become part of the investigation and would be called in for questioning.
I didn’t know whether to go on laughing or to become outraged. In the end, I “confessed.” I told Ganor that I had originally received a call from the owner of 086the ossuary (Oded Golan) and that he had offered me a thousand dollars a month for ten years if I would publish the article about the ossuary and its inscription. I replied that that was not enough money. I then received a call from André Lemaire urging me to accept the offer because he, too, had been offered a thousand dollars a month for ten years and he would not get his money if I refused to take Golan’s money and publish the article. I told Lemaire that I would publish the article only if, in addition to the money I was to receive from Golan, Lemaire would give me half of the money he was to receive. Lemaire agreed—and that was how the article was published in BAR.
It was clear, even to Ganor, that I was joking. But he was convinced that Golan was a forger. That may be, I replied, but I would like to hear the evidence. Ganor said he had the evidence and was willing to tell me if I would keep it confidential. I declined the offer. (I’m a journalist who wants to deal only on-the-record; and especially in this case I don’t want to be accused of breaking confidences.) He nevertheless showed me some drawings of seals with ancient Hebrew writing that, presumably, Golan was preparing to forge. One of them was the seal of a Judahite king (Jotham, grandfather of Hezekiah, who ruled from 750 to 735 B.C.E.). The drawings had supposedly been seized from Golan.
Moussaieff had previously told me that the police had tried to humiliate Golan by handcuffing him in the presence of his elderly parents. I, too, wondered about this practice since, as far as I knew, Golan had not been charged with a crime and the investigators had no fear that he would try to escape or to injure them. Ganor explained that the IAA handcuffed Golan to “put pressure” on him to tell the truth and that they could also have put him in leg irons, but did not. The IAA had been questioning Golan for two months about the Jehoash inscription and found his answers to be unsatisfactory and evasive. (The so-called Jehoash inscription purports to be an account of repairs to the Jerusalem Temple by the ninth-century B.C.E. Judahite king, Yehoash, as related in 2 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 24.d This inscription was eventually seized from Golan’s possession, although he claims he does not own it, and declared a modern forgery by the IAA committee.)
The police have seized much material from Golan in addition to the plaque containing the Yehoash inscription—boxes of artifacts (Golan owns a major collection of Israelite pottery) and his computers. The computers contained e-mails between Golan and me—and that is how I became involved.
At this point, it was time for lunch, and Shlomo took us all out to an elegant London restaurant. During lunch Suzanne tried to explain to Ganor how journalists in the United States operate. Ganor suggested that I should submit a statement to the IAA explaining this, and in this way I might clear my name.
Ganor then asked me point blank: How much money did Golan receive from the book that Ben Witherington III and I had written about the ossuary (The Brother of Jesus, 2003)? I should have told him about the millions Ben and I would be sharing with Golan (and Lemaire), but momentarily went out of character and responded seriously: “Not a penny,” I said.
I then suggested that the real way to find out about my connections to forgers was to interrogate Suzanne Singer. Several years ago, she and her husband had become Israeli citizens (they also retain their American citizenship) and now live in Jerusalem half the year. She is the former managing editor of BAR. We have been working together on the magazine for more than a quarter of a century. She knows everything, I told Ganor. And she is subject to Israeli jurisdiction (whose law, Ganor insisted, is different from American law) in a way that I am not.
By this time Ganor was confused. He did not know whether to take the suggestion seriously or not, although in the end, he seemed to know that I was only joking. By this time, it was almost time for the Rencontre’s afternoon lectures to begin; Suzanne and I excused ourselves and headed back to the British Museum and the world of Assyriology.
In our previous issue, I wrote about the fact that the director of the IAA, Shuka Dorfman, would no longer speak to me and would not accept money for excavations that came through the Biblical Archaeology Society.e I asked Ganor if he knew why. Ganor replied that he did not know.
Is it because Shuka Dorfman suspects I am in cahoots with the forgers?
It was a surreal experience. My long-time colleague, Suzanne Singer, and I were in London this past July for the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (International Assyriological Congress) at the British Museum. Taking a break from lectures with titles like “Ishtar of Nineveh’s Collaboration with Ishtar of Arbela in an Assurbanipal Hymn” and “Trade Relations Between Mari and Hazor,” we decided to pay a visit to Shlomo Moussaieff, who has one of the world’s great collections of antiquities relating to the Bible and the ancient Near East. I know Shlomo well because I interviewed him for a profile in BARa and […]
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