Jesus ossuary’ promoters unfazed by forgery arrest

The Jerusalem Post (Israel), July 24, 2003

The arrest of antiquities dealer Oded Golan, owner of the ossuary bearing the Aramaic inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” hasn’t put a damper on those trying to promote the find as inscription as genuine.

A screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque of James, Brother of Jesus, a documentary tracking the controversial discovery, is still scheduled to take place next Sunday evening at 7 p.m., followed by a panel discussion of experts.

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The Antiquities Authority last month declared that both the Jesus inscription and the “Joash Tablet,” another biblical artifact owned by Golan, were fakes after conducting extensive tests on them.

Golan, who was arrested this week after an elaborate archeological forgery lab was discovered at his home, is suspected of selling scores of “antiquities” of religious, historical, and national significance to museums and collectors here and abroad in a huge scam that is likely to have earned him millions of dollars.

That doesn’t deter the film’s director, Canadian-Jewish filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, who stands by the authenticity of the ossuary inscription.

“Golan hasn’t been charged as yet,” Jacobovici said. “I can’t tell you what Golan has done in his life, but the one thing I do know about is the ossuary. I was there when the Israel Geological Survey first tested it and found it genuine. I was there when it arrived broken at the Royal Ontario Museum, which provided the museum with the opportunity to perform checks that ordinarily can’t be done. Normally the opinion of Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne, the world expert on Aramaic inscriptions who first declared the inscription real, would be enough – there would be no need to call in another rabbi.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Antiquities Authority is conducting a disinformation campaign against the ossuary. It sees collectors as drug addicts and dealers as drug dealers, because it believes that antiquities should be found in their archeological settings.”

Dr. Gabi Barkai of Bar-Ilan University, another backer of the Jesus ossuary, acknowledged that archeologists don’t like findings “without a context,” but notes that since that is how much material is found, “in itself this is not a reason to ignore the find.”

Barkai speculated that because the ossuary got so much publicity, the Antiques Authority found itself under pressure to come out with a clear-cut position. As regards the authenticity of the ossuary, Barkai is most swayed by the authority of Lemaire.

“The various arguments put forward are not enough to declare the inscription a forgery,” he said. “The inscription was certainly tampered with – cleaned with modern tap water perhaps, or otherwise touched up – but the general impression is that it could be a genuine inscription. The ossuary itself is genuine; the only question is whether the inscription was added later, and the shape of the letters suggests that it was not.”

Dr. Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the Antiquities Authority, said that that the initial IGS tests done on the Jesus inscription were not extensive enough to detect the forgery. A subsequent IGS definitively proved that the patina covering the ossuary was fake, as it revealed a ratio of oxygen isotopes 16 to 18 which does not correspond to the ratio found in the Jerusalem area.

“The isotope test is 100 percent foolproof,” Dahari said.

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