Monday, November 10, 2008

Prosecution Struggling at Forgery Trial

The San Francisco Chronicle reported about a week ago that the Israeli government’s case against alleged forger Oded Golan is near collapse.  The Israeli judge was rather harsh with the prosecution.

After all the evidence we have heard, including the testimony of the prime defendant, is the picture still the same as the one you had when he was charged?" District Court Judge Aharon Farkash pointedly asked public prosecutor, Adi Damti. "Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest.

The Daily Mail reported:

Jerusalem judge Aharon Farkash told prosecutors trying Israeli collector Oded Golan: 'Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artefacts are fakes as charged in the indictment?

The primary artifacts in question are the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has maintained that the inscription, or part of the inscription, reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” was added to an ancient ossuary.  These artifacts and others are alleged to have come out of the workshop of Oded Golan, or that of his Egyptian friend, Marco Samah Shoukri Ghatas.

I do not know if these two artifacts are ancient, though based on what experts have told me, I think they probably are genuine.  If one or both are proven to be fraudulent, it won’t affect anyone’s beliefs in the accuracy or non-accuracy of the Bible.

What bothers me and others is the attempt by some professionals and some non-professionals to silence discussion on the issues.  Because 60 Minutes did a report on the subject, the case must be closed.  Because the Israel Antiquities Authority produced a report on the items, scholarly interaction on the matters is apparently inappropriate.  Wrong!, says the judge. 

If the judge isn’t convinced after hearing far more evidence than you or I or probably any other expert not at the trial, then I dare say that any conclusions claiming these artifacts were forged were based on less than all of the evidence.  This makes it all the more disturbing that those who made those conclusions are the ones who would deny further discussion.  Some lessons:

  • Scholars have agendas.  Very few are unbiased.
  • The loudest ones usually have the most to lose.  Discoveries tend to confirm the Bible (name the last one that provided clear evidence that the biblical record was inaccurate), and with each (authentic) discovery, the ground is eroding from underneath them
  • Refuse to listen to those who say the case is closed.  Patience is a virtue.  There is no need to rush to judgment when important scholars dissent from the majority view.

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5 Comments:

  • Todd, there is a key difference though between the judge and the scholar. The judge is interested in whether the prosecution has proved the objects to be forgeries "beyond reasonable doubt". The scholar weighs the evidence (such as we have it) in a different balance of proof. For an unprovenanced artifact we might require the opposite - that those claiming it genuine demonstrate this "beyond reasonable doubt". This (also?) is probably case unproven. Or we might merely require it to be "likely" to be genuine - in which case our scholarship is afterwards founded on dubious evidence...

    I am not saying these objects are fakes - but it seems to me that there is sufficient doubt that I would not wish to see any significant scholarly decision made on the basis of their genuineness.

    By Blogger Tim, at Tue Nov 11, 08:49:00 PM  

  • >with each (authentic) discovery, the ground is eroding from underneath them<

    This is a vague comment that I would like to see fleshed out some. I'm not sure who you say the ground is eroding underneath.
    To say the least, recreating an accurate picture of the past is a difficult ting. I am of the opinion that if you weren't there, you should speak of it with great care.

    By Anonymous newkingjim, at Sat Nov 29, 06:48:00 PM  

  • Tim - to hear a few scholars talk, there is absolutely no doubt that these artifacts are forged. This judge is convinced that there is doubt. Other scholars are inclined to believe they are authentic. My point is that experts must be allowed to discuss the matter. (Burleigh's book and editorials seem to regard anyone who suggests these aren't laughable forgeries as a religious idiot.)

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Mon Dec 01, 10:55:00 AM  

  • newkingjim - my point is that those who deny that the Bible is an accurate record of history do so primarily on the basis of absence of evidence. Thus, anything that reduces that absence also reduces support for their view.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Mon Dec 01, 10:58:00 AM  

  • hi iahve followed the trial and eveidence,even goden which first assigned these as forgeries,no admits to ancient patina in the ossuary and in the ivory pomagrate as well as the tablet which has micros of gold burnt into the tablet(fire 1st temple) i believe this as well as many scholars that this is the iaa attempt to curb the antiqueties market and as such are doing a great disservice. int the end i bleieve the artifacts will speak fro themselves at true antiqueties and the judge is correct, may in the iaa nad such have lied and used names on reports the were niether cinsulted with or authorised....
    thanks for your time ...mike

    By Blogger MIKEBVW1, at Mon Aug 31, 08:44:00 AM  

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