Not Guilty: James Ossuary Trial Ends
A judge in Jerusalem today declared defendants Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch not guilty of charges that they forged an inscription on the James Ossuary. The court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove that the inscription was forged and denounced the Israeli police forensics laboratory for contaminating the ossuary. Matthew Kalman has been covering the trial for the last 7 years. He reports:
Mr. Golan had been accused of adding the second half of the inscription linking it to Jesus, and then fabricating the patina, the bio-organic coating that adheres to ancient objects, to pass it off as genuine.
But Judge Farkash said the prosecution had failed to prove any of the serious charges against Mr. Golan and acquitted him on all but three minor charges of illegal antiquities dealing and possession of stolen antiquities. Robert Deutsch, a co-defendant, was acquitted on all charges.
“The prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt what was stated in the indictment: that the ossuary is a forgery and that Mr. Golan or someone acting on his behalf forged it,” Judge Farkash told the court, summarizing his 475-page verdict.
He noted that it was the first time a criminal court had been asked to rule in a case of antiquities forgery.
The spectacular collapse of the trial, nine years after Mr. Golan was arrested and thousands of items were seized from his home, office and warehouses in Tel Aviv, was a severe blow to the Israeli police and Israel Antiquities Authority, who claimed they had exposed “the tip of the iceberg” of an international conspiracy selling fake artifacts to collectors and museums worldwide.
Kalman’s full report is here. The judge’s verdict does not prove that the inscription is authentic, but that the 100+ witnesses of the prosecution failed to prove that it was forged. Dan Bahat appears to have been the one behind the 60 Minutes charade to condemn Golan on the basis of testimony of an Egyptian craftsman.
A humbled Israel Antiquities Authority immediately issued a press release.
During the trial the judge was presented with the conclusions of an expert committee of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the universities, which unequivocally established that the finds are forgeries. The court had to decide professional issues in the field of archaeology, which are not frequently heard in a court of law.
In other words, the judge is not competent to decide the case. Their claims that forgery were “unequivocally established” is a slap in the face of the court and indicates that their desperate measures have not ceased.
The release then continues to explain just how this case was a “win” for them and why seven years and significant resources spent was worth it for the public.
Hershel Shanks has written a brief but helpful report with some behind-the-scenes details about the investigation of the ossuary and other disputed artifacts.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the verdict does not prove that (1) the inscription is ancient or (2) the ossuary belonged to someone mentioned in the New Testament or (3) forgeries do not abound in the antiquities market.
The James ossuary was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum from November 15, 2002 to January 5, 2003.