Update: Finds or Fakes?
Forgery Trial May Last a Decade
For six hours on September 4, the government’s first witness in the Israeli forgery trial, internationally famous, 82-year-old antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff, testified, surprisingly asserting he believed that all the pieces in his vast collection are authentic. The government’s purpose in calling Mr. Moussaieff as a witness remains unclear. The court set aside two days in early November for cross-examination of Moussaieff.
The government claims that the five defendants are part of an international forgery ring. Among the many artifacts alleged to be forgeries are a bone box with an inscription referring to Jesus’ brother James, an inscribed ivory pomegranate once thought to be the only surviving relic from Solomon’s Temple and a receipt for a gift of three shekels to the Temple.a
Since there are no juries in Israel, the case will not be tried continuously. Judge Aharon Farkash has set aside two days in each of the first six months of 2006 in which to hear additional government witnesses. The indictment against the most prominent antiquities dealer in Israel (Robert Deutsch), the former chief conservator of the Israel Museum (Raphael Brown), the owner of the James ossuary (Oded Golan) and two others lists 124 government witnesses. At this rate, if all listed witnesses are called, it is estimated that the government will take between 10 and 15 years to present its case. Then it will be the defendants’ turn to present their evidence.
It’s called “Finds or Fakes?” on our Web site (www.bib-arch.org) and we claim that it is the most comprehensive Web listing in the world relating to the forgery crisis now gripping Israel. Authorities in that country have declared some of the most important Biblically related inscriptions to be forgeries, including the James ossuary inscription (which includes a reference to “the brother of Jesus”), the ivory pomegranate inscription (thought by many to be the only relic from Solomon’s Temple) and the Jehoash inscription, which purports to record repairs to the Temple a little more than a century after it had been built.
Each of these inscriptions was declared to be a forgery by a committee appointed by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), with Yuval Goren, a petrologist with Tel Aviv University, acting as forensic scientist. In each case the decision was announced to the press without, however, releasing a scientific report. Later, sometimes as much as nearly two years later, a scientific report was published in a technical venue—in the case of the ossuary inscription, in the Journal of Archaeological Science (JAS); in the case of the pomegranate inscription, in the Israel Exploration Journal; and in the case of the Jehoash inscription, in the journal Tel Aviv, published by Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology.
Naturally we wanted to put these reports up on our Web site.
Each of these journals has denied permission.
Copyright laws prohibit copying (even making a photocopy) without the permission of the copyright owner.
Each of these journals has a minuscule circulation. And these reports are, as of now, not available on the journals’ own Web sites (in the case of JAS, the article is available online—for $30!). So there is no practical way you can read the reports unless you subscribe to the three journals (unfortunately, none is available on your local newsstand) or go to a major university library.
So much for making scholarship available to the public.
He has published eight books of ancient Semitic inscriptions, two co-authored with Professor André Lemaire of the Sorbonne and four co-authored with Professor Michael Helzer of Haifa University. He was an area supervisor at the excavation of Megiddo. For six years he taught at the University of Haifa. He was studying for two Ph.D.s, one at Tel Aviv University and the other at Haifa University. He gave lectures at scholarly conferences.
His sin, however, was that he was an antiquities dealer—a licensed antiquities dealer with shops at several locations in Tel Aviv. Robert Deutsch was dropped from the Megiddo dig (of course, a different reason was given for dropping him). Then he was indicted for forgery, although no evidence has surfaced involving him in either forgery or in knowingly selling forged objects. And he was fired from Haifa University (again, a different reason was given for firing him).
He is left with his business. He claims that what has happened to him has not hurt his business. He cheerfully circulates to his customers via the Web (Archeonews@archaeological-center.com) archaeological contests: Can you identify this object? Where was it found? Who found it?
The most recent contest concerned a cuneiform tablet that he pictured on the Web. No one was able to come up with the answer to all three questions. The person who came closest was Alexander Schick, a well-known archaeological and Bible writer in Germany.
The tiny, broken tablet of only five lines had been found at Hazor, where the famed Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin had been digging. Despite its size and condition, however, it was an important lexicographical text, so important that Israel’s most distinguished cuneiformist, Hayim Tadmor, wrote an article about it in the Israel Exploration Journal.1
The text demonstrates literacy at Hazor at a very early period, when it was still a great Canaanite city. (According to the Bible, Hazor was “the head of all those kingdoms” and it alone did Joshua burn [Joshua 11:10–11].) The text is a list of exchange rates; for what, we’re not sure.
The tablet was not found by the excavators, however. It was discovered by an 11-year-old boy while walking the site. In a footnote, Tadmor gives “credit to the finder … for his most helpful cooperation.” His name is given as Mr. O. Golan of Tel Aviv—the same Oded Golan who has now been indicted for forging the famous James ossuary inscription, which reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Golan denies that he forged the inscription. It is acknowledged by all that the ossuary itself is ancient.
IAA Rejects 1,500 BAR Readers
BAR’s Web site includes a petition for readers to sign urging the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to appoint an outside panel of independent experts to study the controversial James ossuary inscription (“James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”).
When 600 people had signed the petition, together with their affiliations, we sent this information to the IAA, but the IAA never even acknowledged receiving it. Readers continued to sign the petition, however. Now the number has climbed to nearly 1,500.
We recently sent a letter to Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the IAA, asking whether, in light of the earlier lack of response, he wanted a list of the additional 900 names. Dr. Dahari was not impressed with the number, however. “I am so happy for your success in arranging 1500 names out of five billion people in the world … I don’t need this list.”
Readers who still wish to sign the petition may do so at www.bib-arch.org/bswbPetition.html.
Academics Not Accustomed to Public Scrutiny?
A recent posting on the ANE (Ancient Near East) Web listserve claims that BAR “Turns a journalistic lens on the work of archaeologists and other Biblical scholars. It looks for our disagreements, our shortcomings, our weaknesses and broadcasts them to the wider world. Just look at the controversy BAR generated over internal professional debates [on] the Dead Sea Scrolls or biblical minimalism.
“Politicians are used [to] this kind of scrutiny and red herrings. So are professional athletes, media stars, business leaders. But academics are so accustomed to being ignored that they clearly don’t have the coping strategies to handle being dealt with journalistically, particularly from a source that seeks to foster controversy and expand it in order to sell off the newsstand. Sounds like the profession needs to learn how to ‘spin.’”
The posting is signed by Mitch Allen of Walnut Creek, California.
We wonder what our readers think. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Update, Biblical Archaeology Society, 4710 41st Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20016.
There’s More on the Web
The debate over alleged forgeries changes almost daily. Keep up with the latest on our Web site: Go to www.bib-arch.org and click on the “Finds or Fakes?” section. Since our previous issue, we’ve put up a critique by geologist James Harrell of a recent scholarly article that claims that the inscription on an ancient ivory pomegranate is a fake, as well as an exchange between other scientists, on both sides of the issue, over that inscription. Also new to the Web page is “Do Isotopes Results Prove Forgery?” which examines the key scientific test that has supposedly exposed numerous fakes. And we’ve just added “Why Is the IAA Trashing the Ivory Pomegranate?” an op-ed piece by BAR editor Hershel Shanks that recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Keep watching our Web page for continuing updates on this ongoing controversy.
Forgery Trial May Last a Decade