The Other Shoe: Five Accused of Antiquities Fraud
Four Israelis and one Palestinian Arab were indicted in late December 2004 in Jerusalem on charges of running a massive forgery ring over several decades. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Israeli police claim the ring has created a host of Biblically-related fakes involving millions of dollars, some of which are exhibited in the prestigious Israel Museum.
Many of the alleged forgeries have also been featured in this magazine, including the James ossuary inscription, reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” and the inscribed ivory pomegranate reading “Holy to the priests, the Temple of [Yahwe]h.” The ivory pomegranate, once thought to be the only relic from Solomon’s Temple, was purchased by the Israel Museum in 1988 for $550,000.
The defendants include the owner of one of the country’s largest collections of Israeli antiquities (Oded Golan) and two of the country’s leading antiquities dealers (Robert Deutsch and Rafael Brown). (See below for bios on the defendants.)
Both Golan and Deutsch have responded with vociferous denials of all the accusations. Deutsch has threatened to sue the IAA for $20 million for damage to his reputation.
Brown was not identified as a defendant at the news conference the IAA called to announce the indictment, and the press reported that the indictment charged only four defendants. Brown was not named at the press conference because he could not be found, and the authorities did not want to include him without first notifying him. He was in fact in a rehabilitation center recovering from an operation. Within a week he was found and his status as a defendant was released.
Initially, the government attempted to serve the indictment on Brown’s lawyer Haggai Sitton, who declined to accept it because his client had not authorized him to accept service. When Sitton refused to accept the service, pushing and shoving ensued in an attempt to force the lawyer to accept the document, but ultimately the server decided to accept the lawyer’s position.
The defendants have been allowed to keep their passports only upon a monetary guarantee that they would not flee the country. They have not been arrested, however.
The indictment includes a list of 124 witnesses, including scholars, antiquities dealers, collectors and scientists. Oddly, the list includes Sorbonne professor André Lemaire and Israeli paleographer Ada Yardeni, both of whom believe that the James ossuary inscription is authentic. The IAA claims that thousands of pages of transcripts, notes and reports support the indictment.
The indictment recognizes that the first part of the James ossuary inscription is authentic but alleges that the words “brother of Jesus” were added in modern times. Emile Puech, a leading Jerusalem epigrapher and Dead Sea Scroll scholar, claims to have seen the ossuary in the mid-1990s without these words. There is considerable evidence, however, that he is lying, especially because before making this claim he emphatically wrote that the inscription was engraved by one hand, not two. Joe Zias, a physical anthropologist who previously worked for the IAA, has made the same claim as Puech and has given a sworn statement to the police. Zias and Puech are both listed as witnesses. Their testimony may be crucial. In a previous article, BAR has raised a question as to whether not only Puech, but also Zias is lying (Mahmoud Abushakra, the antiquities dealer in whose shop they say they saw the ossuary, claims it was never there and Golan claims to have owned it for over 20 years). Zias has threatened to sue BAR for questioning his veracity.
The inscription on the ivory pomegranate has only recently been declared to be a forgery. Its forgery is not attributed to any of the five defendants in the case. Word that the inscription was a forgery came not from the IAA but from the Israel Museum, which reported the results of a team of experts. There had been no previous announcement that the pomegranate was being studied. And the names of the members of the committee examining the pomegranate have remained a secret. BAR has learned, however, that the key member of the 059committee who determined the inscription was a fake was Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Goren, the same scientist who found the James ossuary inscription and most of the other items in the indictment to be forgeries. The committee that declared the pomegranate inscription to be a forgery issued no report, and no reasons for their conclusion have been given. The announcement did note, however, that the committee that studied the pomegranate was chosen by the IAA as well as the Israel Museum.
Other artifacts in the indictment alleged to be forgeries were:
1. A stele bearing a 15-line inscription purporting to be by the Judahite king Jehoash describing repairs to the Solomonic Temple, much like a parallel passage in the Bible.
2. The so-called Three Shekels ostracon (a receipt for a contribution to Solomon’s Temple) and the Widow’s Plea ostracon (claiming a share of her deceased husband’s estate).
3. A unique stone oil lamp with seven spouts and decorated with relief images of the seven species of the Holy Land. The count relating to this forgery is charged against Oded Golan only. In this respect it is like the James ossuary inscription. But in contrast to Count No. 1 involving the James ossuary inscription, Count No. 7 involving the stone oil lamp forgery names Golan’s co-conspirators, who are not charged in the indictment. The three co-conspirators—Golan and Eddy Shapira and George Weil—formed a partnership to increase the perceived value of the lamp by having it authenticated by experts, according to the indictment. Then Golan and Weil “concocted a false cover story, according to which the stone lamp was purchased by Weil approximately 30 years ago [to avoid post-1978 legal restrictions on such sales].” As recounted in the description of this object, later in this “Update” section, Weil submitted this lamp for publication in BAR, telling us that he had acquired it in 1968. If the indictment is correct, Weil was lying to us.
4. A seal of Menashe (Manasseh), son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, mounted in a gold ring. No one knows where this seal is at present. The indictment alleges that Oden Golan destroyed it to prevent its use as evidence.
5. Two bullae (clay seal impressions) of the seal of “Baruch son of Neriah the scribe” used to seal documents. Baruch son of Neriah is the name in the Bible of the scribe who recorded the prophecies of Jeremiah.
6. A bowl with a hieroglyphic inscription containing a reference to Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonq in Egyptian), who is mentioned in the Bible as invading Israel in about 925 B.C.E. and destroying a number of cities including Megiddo, an invasion confirmed by an inscription from the Bubastite portal of a Karnak temple. No one knows where this bowl is located. The indictment alleges that Oded Golan destroyed it.
7. A decanter with an inscription (“Belonging to Mattanyahu, ritual [or libation] wine, a quarter”) indicating it may have been used in a Temple ritual.
8. Seven Chalcolithic objects (four copper and three hematite, otherwise unidentified).
9. Unidentified ostraca and bullae.
To obtain a conviction, the prosecution must prove (1) that the items are forgeries, and (2) that the defendant(s) made them or conspired knowingly to attempt to defraud someone.
Many of the items—the Baruch bulla, the Three Shekel ostracon, the Widow’s Plea ostracon, the decanter inscription, in addition to the James ossuary inscription—are still widely regarded as authentic by experts, including some of the defendants.
But even if they can be shown to be forgeries, which the defendants doubt, the government must show that a particular defendant participated in making the forgery or in a knowing effort to sell the forgery.
The indictment discloses almost nothing about the making of the alleged forgeries. It simply asserts that the items are forgeries and were forged by particular defendants or unnamed others. Allegations of the defendants’ knowledge are also general, without any specifications or details.
The Alleged Forgers
Oded Golan has one of the largest, if not the largest, collection of antiquities in Israel. He has been collecting antiquities for 40 years. He is often referred to in the press as also an antiquities dealer. He denies this. He says he has sold only a handful of pieces in his entire life (the usual activity of a collector to upgrade his collection)—and none of these sales was to a buyer outside of Israel.
He lives in a middle-class apartment in Tel Aviv. A white piano sits in his living room, which he plays at nearly a concert level. He was an officer in the Israel Defense Forces and has made his living at a variety of businesses and real estate investments. The police say he may be in 060financial trouble, which drove him to engage in the business of forgeries.
In the indictment, Golan is said to be the ringleader of the forgery conspiracy. He does not have the expertise to do it, however, without a lot of help.
Golan immediately issued a statement asserting his innocence. “There is not one grain of truth in the fantastic allegations related to me,” he said.
Robert Deutsch immigrated to Israel from Romania in 1963 and is a licensed antiquities dealer, with shops in Jaffa and in two hotels in downtown Tel Aviv.
Since becoming an antiquities dealer, he has also become a scholar. He now has a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University and is studying for two Ph.D.’s, one at Tel Aviv University and the other at Haifa University, where he teaches while continuing to operate his antiquities shops, which feature twice-yearly auctions of important antiquities.
Deutsch has published a series of well-received, frequently cited books of important antiquities in private collections, most of which are unprovenanced—that is, no one knows where they were found or under what conditions. He has probably handled more bullae than anyone in the world. He scoffs at young scholars who pontificate about forgeries without ever having handled these objects. At Haifa University he teaches ancient inscriptions.
An expert in epigraphy, Deustch also developed an interest and expertise in archaeology. He was on the senior staff at Tel Aviv University’s excavation at Megiddo until quietly excommunicated because he was an antiquities dealer. Even while serving as an area supervisor on the dig, however, another area supervisor who is also a leading scholarly epigrapher would not even visit Deutsch’s area because he dealt in unprovenanced antiquities.
Deutsch would appear to have all the expertise that a forger would need. That is to say, he could be the forger. The question, of course, is whether he is. What evidence is there that he actually did participate in making or knowingly marketing forgeries? None—so far. No one knows what evidence the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has, which may not surface until the trial. In the meantime, the serious gap between “Could he?” and “Did he?” remains to be bridged.
Deutsch, asserting his innocence, has accused the IAA of filing “blatantly false accusations,” and “malicious … and intentionally false charges” against him that “distorted the truth.” The methods they have used, claimed Deutsch, “would not embarrass even a senior KGB agent.” Deutsch has threatened to file suit against the IAA and its agents personally. Whether Haifa University will oust him from his faculty position because of the indictment is now a paramount question for Deutsch.
Rafi Brown was for years the chief conservator at the Israel Museum. When he left he became a licensed antiquities dealer, with a shop across from the King David Hotel. Several years ago he sold his shop and acquired a second residence in Switzerland, where he spends much of his time. He says now he is a conservator, rather than an antiquities dealer.
Although Brown is in the indictment, he was at first not named with the others because the police could not find him and they did not want him to learn of the indictment from the press. After five days his name was released by the Justice Ministry, however. The New York Times quotes Yoni Pagis, in charge of the police investigation, as saying that he expects additional indictments to follow. Whether Brown is the only one he was referring to remains to be seen.
Strangely enough, among the ostraca Brown may be accused of forging is one—the Three Shekels ostracon—that Brown himself considered a forgery—or at least he said that it was a forgery. BAR editor Hershel Shanks was present at antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff’s residence in London when Brown and Sorbonne Professor André Lemaire were there examining the ostracon. Brown immediately declared the Three Shekels ostracon a forgery. Shanks asked him how he could tell. He told Shanks to put some saliva on the tip of his finger, then press it to the surface of the ostracon and feel that it stuck a little; this was the sign that it was a forgery, Brown claimed. Lemaire was not so certain; he thought it might be genuine. Moussaieff ended up purchasing the ostracon.
Photo Not Available
Shlomo Cohen took over Rafi Brown’s antiquities shop across from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem when Braun established himself in Switzerland. Cohen is now retired, and the shop has been closed. At this writing, Cohen’s telephone has been temporarily disconnected.
Photo Not Available
Fayez al-Amaleh is a West Bank Palestinian who brought to Oded Golan the Menashe (Manasseh) seal and 17 bullae. (For more on the Menashe seal, see the description below of the alleged forgeries.) Golan did not have the financial wherewithal to purchase these items, so he took al-Amaleh to see Sholomo Moussaieff, a wealthy London jeweler renowned for his fabulous collection of Jewish and ancient antiquities. Moussaieff ended up not buying the seal, fearing that it was a forgery. Today the seal’s location is unknown. The Israeli police claim that Golan destroyed the seal and only pictures are available.
The Alleged Forgeries
Among the items alleged in the indictment to be forgeries are the following:
James Ossuary Inscription
A limestone bone box (ossuary) inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” is the lead count with which the indictment begins. Only Defendant No. 1—Oded Golan—is named as the forger in Count No. 1. The other four defendants are not mentioned in Count No. 1; they are involved only in other forgeries.
The forgery was perpetrated, according to the indictment, by Defendant No. 1 “alone or with the assistance of others.” But no one else is mentioned.
The strange thing about this is that after an investigation lasting two years, costing thousands and thousands of dollars, and involving hundreds of witnesses, the government authorities have not been able to come up with a single name of someone else who was in the forgery conspiracy they have been talking about all this time in the press.
But that’s not the only strange thing about the allegations of forgery as regards the James ossuary inscription.
All agree that the ossuary itself is authentic and dates to the time of Jesus. It is the inscription on it that is said to be a forgery. Well, no, not quite.
This will take some explanation: The IAA committee that studied it found the whole inscription to be a forgery. The two geologists on the committee, Yuval Goren and Avner Ayalon, made no distinction between the first part of the inscription (“James, son of Joseph”) and the second part (“brother of Jesus”).
But in the recently filed indictment, only the last part of the inscription is alleged to be a forgery! According to the indictment, “To execute his [forgery] scheme Defendant No. 1 [Oded Golan] used an ancient ossuary from the Second Temple period that bore an engraved inscription of ‘James, son of Joseph.’ Defendant No. 1 added to the ossuary, either alone or with the assistance of others, the words ‘brother of Jesus.’”
So which is it? He forged the whole thing or only the last part?
As a matter of fact no experienced paleographer who has published inscriptions from this period has questioned the inscription on paleographical grounds (the shape and form of the letters). Sorbonne paleographer André Lemaire and prominent Israeli paleographer Ada Yardeni continue to maintain that the entire inscription is authentic, despite the finding of the Israel Antiquities Authority that it is a forgery. Israel’s leading paleographer, the frequently skeptical Joseph Naveh (and Yardeni’s teacher), has remained publicly mum on the inscription, in contrast to his readiness to express doubts in other cases (see the write-up on the Jehoash inscription, below, and on Nahman Avigad, in “Were These Experts Fooled?” later in this Update section).
If it is a forgery, it would take the hard sciences to detect it.
Tel Aviv University geologist Yuval Goren, the central figure in unmasking the alleged forgeries in the indictment, judged (with the help of Israel Geological Survey geologist Avner Ayalon) the ossuary inscription to be a forgery on the basis of an “inscription coating” that in their words is the result of an effort to conceal a modern forgery “OR” from a modern cleaning of the inscription. They do not further explore the latter possibility, which they themselves raise. BAR has had several Israeli cleansers tested that confirm the possibility that cleaning the inscription, perhaps by the seller to make the ossuary “show better” and/or by the owner’s mother who cleaned it while it stood on the balcony of the family apartment, is responsible for the “inscription coating.”
Other geologists of the Geological Survey of Israel (Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani), who also examined the inscription, continue to maintain it is authentic and that the work of Goren and Ayalon is deeply flawed. Edward Keall of the Royal Ontario Museum, who also studied the inscription first-hand, takes the same position. James Harrell, an officer of ASMOSIA (the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity) also finds the work of Goren and Ayalon defective. While the inscription may be a forgery, says Harrell, this has not been demonstrated by the flawed efforts of Goren and Ayalon.
No other geological scientists, in Israel or outside, have expressed their agreement with the work performed by Goren and 062Ayalon or with the announced results. Moreover, Goren and Ayalon have been unable to satisfactorily explain how the alleged forger created the “inscription coating” that they purport to identify. Their several successive explanations have all been shown to be wrong. And even according to them, this strange “inscription coating” can be removed with a toothpick (unlike real patina, which can be removed only with a metal scalpel) and is a different color from the real patina on the box.
From the indictment, it appears that the government is pursuing a different theory, however—that only the last words of the inscription, referring to Jesus, were added by the forger. To support this theory, two scholars, Joe Zias and Emile Puech report having seen the ossuary in Mahmoud Abushakra’s antiquities shop in the mid-1990s without the last part of the inscription. If true, it is damning evidence—the smoking gun all prosecutors look for.
Zias and Puech made this claim both to the BAR editor and to Duke professor Eric Meyers, both of whom published reports of their conversations. BAR then published an analysis that concluded that Puech strongly appeared to be lying, and that Zias’s statement was shaky as well.
Now it appears that Zias and Puech have backed away from these claims and so advised the Israeli authorities. Puech told the police, “I am not sure I saw the ossuary in Mahmoud’s shop. I remember it had a rosette [the rosettes on the back of the ossuary are almost invisible—Ed.]. I did not see any inscription on it.” Zias, who is not a specialist in ancient inscriptions, also has some doubts now.
The police managed to find Mahmoud Abushakra, who has moved to Germany. He gave them a clear, unequivocal statement: The James ossuary was never in his shop!
So what evidence does the government have that the words “brother of Jesus” were added to the inscription on the ossuary?
Certain external circumstances also indicate that all three names in the inscription were there originally. Two different ex-girlfriends of Golan have affirmed that about 20 years ago they saw the inscription with three names on it. They have quite clear memories of details, and identify other peculiarities of the ossuary itself. If the inscription was there so long ago, supporters say, it is very likely to be authentic.
The ivory pomegranate inscribed around the shoulder “Holy to the priests, Temple of [Yahwe]h” first surfaced in a Jerusalem antiquities shop, probably that of Kando, the same antiquities dealer who handled the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was there, in East Jerusalem, when it was seen in 1979 by Sorbonne epigrapher André Lemaire. Kando (or whoever) allowed Lemaire to take it to the antiquities shop of Rafi Brown, across from the King David Hotel, where he could examine it with a microscope. Regarding it as authentic, two years later, in 1981, Lemaire published a short report on the tiny (only a little over 1.5 inches high) pomegranate and its inscription in a scholarly French journal.
That might have been the end of it were it not for the fact that some time later, Lemaire’s item in the Revue Biblique came to the attention of the BAR editor, who saw its potential as a popular article. At editor Shanks’s request, in 1983 Lemaire wrote a more popular account of the pomegranate and its inscription for BAR. At this time, the pomegranate was apparently still in Israel because, at BAR’s request, Lemaire was able to arrange to have a color photo taken of it to accompany his article.
BAR also urged the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to investigate and attempt to find the artifact. But apparently the best sleuths in Jerusalem were unable to locate it.
A short time after the publication in BAR, the pomegranate turned up in France in the collection of a wealthy Paris collector (perhaps Paul Altman), who reportedly paid only $3000 for the artifact. Obviously it had been smuggled out of Israel. In 1985 it was displayed in an exhibition at the Grand Palais. After the exhibit, it again disappeared.
Then in 1987 tour guide Meir Urbach, son of Ephraim Urbach, one of Israel’s most distinguished scholars and author of the much admired The Sages—The World and Wisdom of the Rabbis of the Talmud, and a Talmudic scholar in his own right, approached the Israel Museum offering it for sale (although not disclosing the owner). A purchase price of $550,000 was negotiated, which was financed by a gift of a million Swiss francs (then $675,000) from a Basel benefactor whose name is supposedly unknown even to the museum.
Israel’s most distinguished epigrapher, Nahman Avigad, went to Switzerland to pick up the pomegranate and assure its authenticity. The purchase price was deposited in a numbered Swiss account.
Since 1988 it has been on display in the Israel Museum and touted as the only 063relic from the Solomonic Temple. There has been some scholarly debate about whether in fact it comes from Solomon’s Temple. It could come from another Israelite temple, some scholars argued. Moreover, only the last letter of the word Yahweh (the personal name of the Israelite God) is there. The rest is missing. Apparently three or four letters broke off. Some scholars have argued that the inscription originally referred not to Yahweh, but to the Canaanite goddesses Asherah or Baalah, both of which end in the same letter as Yahweh. But there was little question about the inscription’s authenticity—until 2004.
The rumors were rife that the inscription was a fake. When they reached print, BAR contacted Israel Museum director James Snyder, who had also heard the rumors, but he had no idea on what they were based. The pomegranate had never been out of its vitrine, so it had not been examined (except through the glass) by those spreading the rumors.
Then a day or two before the forgery indictment was handed down in late December 2004, the Israel Museum announced that a committee had been appointed in conjunction with the IAA to study the pomegranate inscription and that the committee had found evidence that it was a modern forgery.
This was the first the public knew that a committee had been appointed to study the pomegranate and its inscription. As of this writing, no report whatever has been released. There is no public information as to the basis of the finding. The names of the members of the committee are still secret. BAR has learned, however, that Yuval Goren is a member—the same Yuval Goren who has found all the other artifacts in the indictment to be forgeries. The basis of the committee’s (or Goren’s) finding of forgery is that a synthetic material was discovered in the letters of the inscription. Whether the committee (or Goren) considered innocent explanations of this material in the letters of the inscription is not known.
The Jehoash inscription is inscribed on a rectangular black stone about the size of a piece of typing paper and consists of 15 lines of Hebrew text. It purports to record repairs to Solomon’s Temple by King Jehoash in the ninth century B.C.E. This description closely parallels the description of Jehoash’s repairs to the Temple as recounted in 2 Kings 12:5–13.
The police found the black stele in the possession of Oded Golan, the owner of the James ossuary. Golan claims that the Jehoash inscription is owned by Abu Yasser, a Palestinian Arab antiquities dealer from whom he got it and who has since passed away. Golan disclosed Abu Yasser’s name to the police, who have since questioned his widow. She and other members of the family confirm that Abu Yasser did have the inscription. Golan claims his only purpose was to have it acquired by the Israel Museum, where he thought it should be exhibited. He delivered it to the museum, which took more than a year and a half to evaluate it, ultimately deciding that it did not wish to acquire it. According to the museum, no purchase price was discussed.
In this case, however, unlike the James ossuary inscription, many prominent epigraphists have pronounced the Jehoash inscription to be a forgery. Harvard University’s Frank Cross says that not only is it a forgery, it is a “poor forgery.” Johns Hopkin University’s Kyle McCarter agrees. So does Victor (Avigdor) Hurowitz of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Edward Greenstein of Tel Aviv University and Joseph Naveh of Hebrew University.
On the other hand, other scholars contend that we know so little about Hebrew inscriptions from this period that they do not believe that the Jehoash inscription can be condemned as a forgery. These scholars include Chaim Cohen of Ben-Gurion University and David Noel Freedman of the University of California, San Diego. Ada Yardeni also takes this position, as do Gabriel Barkay of Bar-Ilan University and André Lemaire.
A team led by Yuval Goren published an article in the scholarly journal Tel Aviv, concluding that the inscription is a forgery based on their scientific examination of the tablet. Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani of the Geological Survey of Israel had previously published an article reporting on their examination of the inscription concluding that it is authentic. They have now submitted an article to Tel Aviv detailing the flaws in the published report of Goren’s team.
When the police seized the Jehoash inscription from Oded Golan’s Tel Aviv apartment, they took it to Jerusalem. On the way, it broke in two along a large pre-existing crack. Supporters of the inscription’s authenticity note that letters of the inscription run across the crack, indicating that the text was inscribed before the tablet developed the crack. Could the alleged forgers have created the crack or is 064this a sign of authenticity?
The supposedly fake patina on the inscription contains globules of pure gold only one or two microns in size. A micron is a millionth part of a meter. Several scientists have expressed doubt that a forger could produce gold globules of this size.
It was the Jehoash inscription, however, that triggered the investigation that culminated in the forgery indictment at the end of last December. The IAA was suspicious of the fact that two such extraordinary inscriptions—the Jehoash inscription and the James ossuary inscription—came to public attention within such a short time from the same source: Oded Golan. Golan points out, however, that years elapsed from the time he took the Jehoash inscription to the Israel Museum and the time André Lemaire identified the James ossuary inscription in Golan’s apartment. To the IAA it seemed as suspicious as lightening striking the same spot twice within a few months. This led the IAA to appoint a committee to study these two inscriptions. On the basis of Yuval Goren’s analysis, the committee declared both inscriptions to be forgeries. Further investigation broadened the inquiry. The IAA’s Shuka Dorfman has declared that the items identified as forgeries in the indictment are just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Three Shekels and Widow’s Plea Ostraca
Also known as the Moussaieff Ostraca (an ostracon is an inscribed potsherd) because they were purchased by antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff, the two objects record a three-shekel donation to the Temple in Jerusalem and a widow’s petition for part of her late husband’s estate. The Three Shekels ostracon includes the name of a King Ashyahu, perhaps a variant of Jehoash or Josiah (both names of kings of ancient Judah). The two ostraca were first published by Pierre Bordreuil, of the Collège de France, Felice Israel, of the University of Genoa, and Dennis Pardee, of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in the scholarly journal Semitica in 1997; a BAR article followed later that year. BAR had consulted three leading specialists in paleography (the study of ancient writing)—Frank Moore Cross, of Harvard University, Kyle McCarter, of Johns Hopkins University, and Ada Yardeni, a highly regarded Israeli specialist—all of whom deemed the inscriptions authentic. Laboratory tests also supported the objects’ authenticity. However, the following year Israeli scholars Israel Eph’al and Joseph Naveh suggested the inscriptions might be fakes. If authentic, the ostraca would date to about the ninth-seventh centuries B.C.
Five other ostraca are also alleged by the indictment to be forgeries.
This well-preserved 7.5-inch-tall juglet is inscribed “Belonging to Mattanyahu, wine for cultic libation, one quarter.” The script dates to before 600 B.C. If the inscription is authentic, Mattanyahu, a common name that means “gift of Yahweh” (the personal name of the Israelite deity), may be the name of a Temple priest. The juglet was reportedly sold to Shlomo Moussaieff by Oded Golan, one of the recently indicted persons. It was first published in Forty New Ancient West Semitic Inscriptions, by Robert Deutsch, who was also indicted, and by Deutsch’s mentor, Professor Michael Heltzer of Haifa University.
A bulla (plural, bullae) is a small lump of wet clay that is impressed with a seal and is typically placed over string that has been 065tied around a document; once the bulla hardens, it serves to seal the document. Among the bullae that Israeli authorities recently charged with being forged are two inscribed with the names “Baruch son of Neriah the Scribe,” purported to have been the seal of the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah, and one with “Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah,” the late-eighth century B.C. monarch. In all, the indictment alleges that some 190 bullae were forged by the defendants.
This large round stone oil lamp features an unusual handle and has seven spouts extending from its round rim. It is heavily decorated with a number of Jewish symbols. The owner, Georges Weil of Herzliya Pituach, Israel, claims to have purchased it in 1968.
The lamp is in perfect condition. In 2001 or early 2002, Mr. Weil submitted the lamp for publication in BAR.
Stone lamps are extremely rare. Ancient oil lamps are normally made of clay. Moreover, there were no parallels to this lamp. In addition, Mr. Weil wished to remain anonymous and was in a hurry to have it published. All these circumstances led BAR to investigate further.
Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani, the same geologists who would later examine the Jehoash and James ossuary inscriptions (see above), examined the lamp and concluded that the authenticity of the lamp must in the end be decided “on the basis of stylistic interpretation.” But Varda Sussman, perhaps Israel’s leading expert on oil lamps, could not authenticate the lamp on that basis. She found it to have some stylistic features earlier than the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and other features typical of a later period. As she told BAR, it “falls between the cracks.”
BAR therefore declined to publish the lamp.
Weil also submitted the lamp for publication to Qadmoniot, a semi-popular Hebrew magazine then being edited by leading Israeli archaeologist Ephraim Stern, who also declined to publish it.
Manasseh (Menashe in Hebrew), son of Hezekiah, sat on the throne of Judah from 697 to 642 B.C.E. This seal, which purports to have belonged to Menashe, is set in a gorgeous gold mounting. A Palestinian Arab, Fayez al-Ameleh, brought the seal in its mounting to Oded Golan together with 17 bullae, all of which were said to have been found near Hebron in the West Bank. Golan knew that the price for these artifacts, especially the Menashe seal, was far beyond his financial capacity, so he suggested to al-Amaleh that he take Golan and the artifacts to well-known collector Shlomo Moussaieff, who owns a world-class collection of Biblical antiquities. Moussaieff was interested in purchasing both the bullae and the seal. Eventually a price was agreed upon—$150,000 for the bullae and $850,000 for the Menashe seal. Moussaieff gave al-Amaleh a post-dated check for the Menashe seal with the understanding that he would have it examined; if he decided not to buy it, he would return it to al-Amaleh and al-Amaleh would return Moussaieff’s check.
Moussaieff had the seal examined by a number of experts, including Robert Deutsch and André Lemaire, both of whom had doubts as to its authenticity. In London, Moussaeiff had another expert examine the gold and was advised that it, too, was not ancient. Mousaieff returned the seal; his check was never cashed.
Subsequently, Moussaieff had second thoughts. He wanted to see the seal again, this time to purchase it. Golan got in touch with al-Amaleh, who advised him that it was no longer available.
Golan has no idea where it is today. No one does. The Israeli police have been unable to locate it. All they have is a picture and charge that Golan destroyed it. It may have been sold to a collector outside of Israel and may never reappear.
When he was appointed director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Yehoshua “Shuka” Dorfman was a retired general without a job and without any background in archaeology. He proved to be a quick learner, however. He runs a competent, if somewhat vindictive, shop. A senior IAA archaeologist who favored the appointment of a professional archaeologist, rather than a general, as head of the IAA was squeezed out not long after Dorfman’s appointment and thereafter had difficulty obtaining an excavation permit. In another case Dorfman refused to allow the excavation of an important site in Jerusalem because the money for the dig came from this magazine, which has been critical of him.
Amir Ganor, the head of the IAA’s Fraud Unit, is an amiable 36-year-old student of archaeology studying for a master’s degree from Hebrew University. His chief job has been to catch looters. He spends much of his time with antiquities dealers and collectors looking for leads on looters. For two years, however, the forgery investigation centering on Oded Golan, which culminated in an indictment in late December, has been his almost sole preoccupation.
Major Yonatan (Yoni) Pagis of the Jerusalem police is in charge of the police investigation of the forgery conspiracy alleged in the indictment. A stern, no-nonsense modern police officer, Pagis has questioned more than a hundred witnesses and developed thousands of pages of reports, transcripts, etc. He and Ganor have interrogated Golan for more than 50 hours. They have taken him to the police station in shackles to question him, then released him. Hoping to get a confession, they again arrested him, this time jailing him for four days, but finally released him without charging him.
Were These Experts Fooled?
If the artifacts mentioned in the indictment are forgeries, they were done so skillfully they fooled the experts. As reported in the New York Times, the Israeli police are not sure whether the experts were fooled or whether they are part of the forgery ring. As the Times put it: “It is not clear whether any of the experts knew that they were examining forgeries, the police said.”
André Lemaire is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading specialists in ancient Semitic writing, including epigraphy, paleography, linguistics and philology, and serves as a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris. He initially published the ivory pomegranate inscription in French in Revue Biblique, the scholarly journal of the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Français in Jerusalem. Several years later, at the urging of the BAR editor, a popular version was published in this magazine. Lemaire also published the James ossuary inscription in BAR.
Lemaire says he is willing to look at the evidence that the ivory pomegranate inscription is a forgery, but no evidence to this effect has been released at this date. He believes that that the evidence adduced by the Israel Antiquities Authority that the James ossuary inscription is a forgery is unconvincing.
Lemaire is listed as a witness in the indictment.
Until his death in 1992, Hebrew University’s Nahman Avigad was not only a prominent archaeologist (he led a major excavation in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City), he was also Israel’s leading epigrapher and paleographer. Highly respected by all, he authenticated the ivory pomegranate inscription prior to the Israel Museum’s purchase of it for $550,000. Avigad is the author of the definitive Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals, published posthumously with the additional contribution of Benjamin Sass.
If Avigad was fooled by the ivory pomegranate inscription, it would not be the first time he was misled by a forgery. In 1968 he published a stone weight now widely acknowledged to be a forgery (see “A Sculptured Hebrew Stone Weight,” Israel Exploration Journal 18, p. 181.) Avigad 067would later omit this article from his bibliography. In a preface to Avigad’s Corpus, Israel’s current leading epigrapher and paleographer, Joseph Naveh, notes that rumors had questioned the authenticity of 49 seals in the Corpus, although “Avigad was confident that they are genuine.” The doubts implicit in Naveh’s comments have cast a dark shadow on these seals.
Quiet and unassuming, Ada Yardeni is one of Israel’s top two or three most highly regarded paleographers. She is one of the few who have studied the James ossuary inscription first-hand (she made the drawing of it) and still believes the inscription is authentic. As she told her colleague (and another expert) Bezalel Porten, “If this is a forgery, I quit.”
Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani
Amnon Rosenfeld and Shimon Ilani are the geologists with the Geological Survey of Israel assigned by the director, Amos Bien, to examine the James ossuary inscription before it was published in BAR. They found nothing suspicious about the inscription. They continue to maintain this position since the finding of the Israel Antiquities Authority that the inscription is a forgery.
Rosenfeld and Ilani also authenticated the Jehoash inscription and the controversial stone oil lamp, two other alleged forgeries cited in the indictment.
Ed Keall, now retired, was the senior curator at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum who studied the James ossuary inscription when it was exhibited there. He was also able to study a cross- section of the inscription because the ossuary broke in transit. It was subsequently restored, so Keall is the only scientist who has examined the inscription from the side at the place of the break through the inscription. Keall continues to maintain that the inscription is authentic, despite the decision of the Israel Antiquities Authority that it is a forgery.
Yuval Goren is a professor at Tel Aviv University and chairman of its department of archaeology. Essentially a petrologist, he has recently expanded his reach to detect all manner of archaeological forgeries. His initial success was in detecting the James ossuary inscription as a forgery based on oxygen isotope measurements taken by colleague Avner Ayalon of the Geological Survey of Israel (see below). The isotope evidence convinced Goren that the “inscription coating” over the inscription was “modern.” But he recognized that the inscription coating could have been applied to cover the forgery “or” it could be the result of cleaning. He never explored the latter possibility, however. Nevertheless his argument convinced the other members of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) committee to agree with him that the James ossuary inscription was a forgery. One committee member, Ronny Reich, said Goren’s evidence “forced” him to change his vote from “authentic” to “forgery.” Recently, however, Reich publicly recanted, admitting that the inscription is authentic, but nevertheless not of great significance.
It is Goren who has detected the other forgeries alleged in the indictment. This is true also of the inscribed ivory pomegranate, although at this writing his membership on the committee that found the pomegranate inscription to be a modern forgery has not been publicly disclosed. In his examination of the ivory pomegranate, Goren says he detected a synthetic substance in the engraved letters. So far as is known, he has not explained why a forger would do something this stupid. The same kinds of questions can be asked regarding some of his other forgery discoveries. For example, Goren claims that a layer of paraffin under the ink of the Three-Shekel ostracon proves it to be a forgery, but why would a forger put a layer of paraffin on a potsherd before inscribing it with ink? And why did the several investigators who previously examined the ostracon fail to find the paraffin that Goren saw so easily?
Goren hates the antiquities market. He strongly believes that scientists and scholars should not authenticate unprovenanced finds that come from the antiquities market. Long before he found the James ossuary inscription to be a forgery, Goren wrote a letter to the director of the Geological Survey of Israel objecting to its scientists ever studying unprovenanced artifacts to determine whether they are authentic or forgeries. He has no objection, however, to studying them to determine that they are forgeries. And he sees no contradiction in this.
It is not known whether Goren has concluded that any of the artifacts he looked at for the IAA are authentic. Some say that he never saw an unprovenanced artifact that he was unwilling to declare a forgery.
Mild mannered and self-effacing, geologist Avner Ayalon works for the Geological Survey of Israel. He performed the oxygen isotope studies of the James ossuary inscription, on the basis of which Yuval Goren found the inscription to be a forgery. Initially, Ayalon would not say that the inscription was a forgery. He would say only that his study produced the oxygen isotope results. Whether this indicates that the inscription is a forgery is another question to which his expertise did not extend, he said. More recently, however, he has concurred with Goren in concluding that the inscription is a forgery.
For the prosecution:
From the outset, a lawyer was assigned to participate in the police investigation who happens to have the same name as a prominent Jerusalem archaeologist who for many years worked at the Israel Antiquities Authority. The two people are not the same. This Dan Bahat was assigned to the investigation to direct it from behind the scenes, often supplying the interrogators with questions and in general to keep an eye on how it would all “appear in court,” in the words of Shaul Na’im, the head of the Jerusalem police Investigation Unit in testimony before a Knesset committee.
Bahat will now lead the prosecution.
For the defense:
Representing Oded Golan will be Lior Bringer, a Tel Aviv attorney who has been practicing law since 1992. He has handled antiquities-related cases before, however they have been minor compared to this one. When reached at press time by BAR, Bringer said he was still working his way through the vast numbers of documents relating to the indictment—some six or seven thousand pages’ worth. Of the items his client is charged with forging, Bringer said, “Even if some of the pieces are not authentic, that doesn’t mean Mr. Golan knew about it.”
Arnold Spaer and Haggai Sitton
The firm of Spaer and Sitton, which represents defendants Deutsch and Brown, is one of the most distinguished in Israel, 069representing such clients as Hebrew Union College. Spaer, now in his 80s but still active, is the doyen of the bar representing antiquities dealers. He is also a collector.
Is the IAA Out to Shut Down Israel’s Legal Antiquities Market?
Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), has described the antiquities market in Israel as a “free-for-all market.” “There is no control over something that doesn’t come from a proper [professional] excavation,” Dorfman told the British newspaper The Independent.
This may be the key to the IAA’s vendetta against Israel’s antiquities dealers. In Israel, antiquities dealers operate legally. Field archaeologist Eric Meyers of Duke University writes, “Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that legally allows the existence of antiquities dealers, one of the reasons for the crisis there today … It is now time for the Israeli government to change its outdated antiquities law.”
There are no legal antiquities dealers in Egypt or Jordan—or in Turkey. In these countries the trade operates underground. No one disputes, however, that a vast amount of looting and antiquities trading still occurs in these countries. Artifacts from these countries are widely available in international centers of antiquities trading.
Many scholars, especially field archaeologists who conduct professional excavations, would like to see the antiquities dealers in Israel put out of business by amending the law to eliminate the issuance of licenses to them. For example, the co-directors of the Meggido expedition, Israel Finkelstein, David Ussishkin and Baruch Halpern, recently posted a statement on the internet explaining that they terminated Robert Deutsch’s association with the expedition because he is an antiquities dealer. The three co-directors then state that they “strongly believe that trade in antiquities in Israel should be abolished by law.”
Some say that the ultimate purpose of the criminal indictment charging prominent Israeli antiquities dealers with participation in a forgery ring is not so much to jail them as to create an atmosphere in which Israeli law will be amended to outlaw the antiquities dealers.
Although an indictment is simply an accusation, many people regard it as tantamount to a conviction, a finding of guilt: If the police charge the defendant, he must be guilty—if not of the crime alleged, then of something nefarious. Lawrence Schiffman, a Dead Sea Scroll scholar at New York University, told the New York Jewish Week, “This [indictment] has opened up the need for a whole re-evaluation of virtually all the major discoveries of the last 25 years in the land of Israel.”
Either this re-evaluation was needed before the indictment or it may be needed after the conviction if there is one, but the indictment itself has not changed things. It does change things, however, in the minds of many people and makes more appealing the argument that antiquities dealers in Israel should no longer be permitted to operate legally.
Professor John Merryman of Stanford Law School calls it the “archaeological establishment’s … Crusade against museums, collectors and the antiquities trade.” Outlawing antiquities dealers would only have the “predictable result” of diverting antiquities 069traffic to the black market. “If one set out to encourage harm to the archaeological record, it might be difficult to contrive a more effective way of doing so,” Merryman writes. This argument has not gotten very far with the archaeological establishment, however. As Professor Merryman notes, “Like other Crusaders, these archaeologists are not interested in a dialogue. They know the Truth. There is nothing to discuss.” A number of archaeologists who excavate in Israel, especially field archaeologists, have enlisted in this Crusade to put antiquities dealers in Israel out of business. Is this forgery indictment against prominent antiquities dealers part of that Crusade—even if the indictment is later dropped or the defendants are acquitted?
In an internet posting, defendant Robert Deutsch accuses the Israel Antiquities Authority of going “beyond any limits of the law and basic decency, in an effort to destroy my reputation” and through him to “harass, intimidate and destroy all of the antiquities dealers that operate in Israel in full compliance with the law.” IAA director Shuka Dorfman, said Deutsch, is trying “to terminate the legal trade of antiquities in Israel.”
Learn more about the artifacts alleged to have been forged—and the alleged forgers:
André Lemaire, “Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus,” BAR, November/December 2002.
“Cracks in James Bone Box Repaired,” BAR, January/February 2003.
Edward J. Keall, “Brother of Jesus Ossuary—New Tests Bolster Case for Authenticity,” BAR, July/August 2003.
“The Storm over the Bone Box,” BAR, September/October 2003:
“Summary Report of the Examining Committees for the James Ossuary and Yehoash Inscription,” “Observations on the IAA’s Summary Report,” “Shuka Bars BAR” and “Is Oded Golan a Forger?”
André Lemaire, “Ossuary Update—Israel Antiquities Authority’s Report Deeply Flawed,” BAR November/December 2003.
James A. Harrell, “Final Blow to IAA Report—Flawed Geochemistry Used to Condemn James Inscription,” BAR, January/February 2004.
Hershel Shanks, “A Tale of Two Meetings,” BAR, March/April 2004.
Hershel Shanks, “The Seventh Sample,” BAR, March/April, 2004.
First Person, “Rumor Mill Goes into High Gear,” BAR, May/June 2004.
Hershel Shanks, “Lying Scholars?” BAR, May/June 2004.
“The Trial of Oded Golan,” BAR, May/June 2004.
“Update: Finds or Fakes?” July/August 2004:
“Three New Rumors” and “Unanswered Questions.”
“Update: Finds or Fakes?” BAR, September/October 2004:
“Duke University Professor Claims: A Third of Israel Museum’s Inscriptions Are Forgeries,” Ann Byle, “IAA: Too Much Booze Nabs Golan as Forger” and “Who Is Oded Golan?”
“Update: Finds or Fakes?” BAR, November/December 2004:
“Patina Contest: Fifth Graders Enter Where Goren Fears to Tread,” “The End of the Line,” “Prominent Paleographer Backs Ossuary Inscription,” “Goren Spreads a Rumor,” “A Lost Cause: A Response from Shimon Gibson on the James Ossuary Inscription” and “Shanks Replies to Gibson.”
“Update: Finds or Fakes?” BAR, January/February 2005:
“Was Cleanser Used to Clean the James Ossuary Inscription?” and “IAA Scientists Called Biased and Inept.”
André Lemaire, “Une inscription paléo-hébraïque sur grenade en ivoire,” Revue Biblique 88 (1981), pp. 236–239.
André Lemaire, “Probable Head of Priestly Scepter from Solomon’s Temple Surfaces in Jerusalem,” BAR January/February 1984.
Hershel Shanks, “Pomegranate: Sole Relic from Solomon’s Temple, Smuggled Out of Israel, Now Recovered,” Moment, December 1988, pp. 36–43.
Hershel Shanks, “Was BAR an Accessory to Highway Robbery?” BAR November/December 1988.
Nahman Avigad, “The Inscribed Pomegranate from the ‘House of the Lord,’” Israel Museum Journal 8 (1989), pp. 7–16.
Aharon Kempinski, “Is It Really a Pomegranate from the ‘House of the Lord?’” Qadmoniot 23 (1990)[in Hebrew], p. 126.
Nahman Avigad, “It Is Indeed a Pomegranate from the ‘House of the Lord,’” Qadmoniot 24 (1991) [in Hebrew], pp. 60–61.
Hershel Shanks, “The Pomegranate Scepter Head—From the Temple of the Lord or from a Temple of Asherah?” BAR, May/June 1992, pp. 42–45.
“Update: Finds or Fakes?” BAR, July/August 2004:
“The Plot Thickens—and Widens.”
Hershel Shanks, “Is It or Isn’t It?” BAR, March/April 2003.
“Assessing the Jehoash Inscription,” BAR, May/June 2003:
Hershel Shanks, “Demonstrably a Forgery” and Edward L. Greenstein, “Hebrew Philology Spells Fake.”
“The Storm over the Bone Box,” BAR, September/October 2003:
“Paleography—An Uncertain Tool in Forgery Detection” and “What about the Jehoash Inscription?”
David Noel Freedman, “Don’t Rush to Judgment,” BAR, March/April 2004.
“Update: Finds or Fakes?” BAR, July/August 2004:
Ronny Reich, “Edom or Adam? New Reading Bolsters Case for Jehoash Tablet.”
Three Shekels and Widow’s Plea Ostraca
P. Bordreuil, F. Israel and D. Pardee, “Deux ostraca paléo-hébreux de la collection Sh. Moussaïeff: I) Contribution financière obligatoire pour le temple de YHWH, II) Réclamation d’une veuve auprès d’un fonctionnair,” Semitica 46 (1997), pp. 49–76.
Hershel Shanks, “Three Shekels for the Lord,” BAR, November/December 1997.
P. Bordreuil, F. Israel and D. Pardee, “King’s Command and Widow’s Plea,” Near Eastern Archaeology, 61 (1998), vol. 1, p. 2.
Hershel Shanks, “The ‘Three Shekels’ and ‘Widow’s Plea’ Ostraca: Real or Fake?” BAR, May/June 2003.