Eric Meyers’ reaction to the verdict in the forgery trial in Israel

Reaction to Golan Acquittal, Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University

The verdict announced today, March 14, by Judge Aharon Farkash in Jerusalem, acquitting Oded Golan and Robert Deustch of all major charges comes as no surprise. The James ossuary first came into public view some ten years ago in Toronto when a special exhibition was mounted at the Royal Ontario Museum coterminous with the conventions of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Research. I was among the very first to question the wisdom or such an exhibition after the artifact had a questionable provenance and had come to the public’s attention with such hoopla, which is not the normal way for important artifacts or subjects to be vetted. Speaking at a plenary session of SBL I also drew attention to portions of the inscription which seemed questionable at best and to the rush to judgment that this was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Secondary burial in an ossuary was a common form of inhumation in late Second Temple times that continued on for some time after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE in the Galilee. It was the dominant form of burial at the Jewish necropolis of Beth She`arim near Sepphoris where Rabbi Judah the Prince was buried in the 3rd c. CE.

It is significant that Judge Farkash quoted this from his 475-page verdict: “The prosecution failed to prove beyond 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.” He went on to add: “This is not to say that the inscription is true and authentic and was written 2,000 year ago. We can expect this matter to continue to be researched in the archaeological and scientific worlds and only the future will tell. Moreover, it has not been proved in any way that the words ‘brother of Jesus’ definitely refer to Jesus who appears in Christian writings.’ “The prosecutor Dan Bahat said the case had been weakened by the refusal of a key witness to travel from Egypt to testify, the same person who had appeared on Sixty Minutes. Golan was convicted on several relatively minor charges, including on two counts of illegally trading antiquities without a permit, and two charges of storing property suspected of being stolen.

I would therefore emphasize that because the government, in this case, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Police, failed to prove that the artifacts in question were inauthentic in no way means that they are authentic. The burden of proof that falls on the prosecution in a criminal case must rise to a high level of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the defendants have been acquitted thus does not end the matter of the quest to decide authenticity. This leaves much opportunity for academic opinion to continue to believe that these artifacts are not authentic and to question their provenance. This lack of certainty is another demonstration of why the Israeli antiquities law, which allows the trade in artifacts obtained before 1978, leaves open a loophole for trading in artifacts that may be recently looted or that may be inauthentic. This shortcoming in the law contributes to the ongoing destruction of the archaeological, historical, and cultural record through looting and possible corruption of the historical record through the acceptance of antiquities that may not be genuine in the corpus of historical artifacts that illuminate the cultural heritage of the land of the Bible.


15 thoughts on “Eric Meyers’ reaction to the verdict in the forgery trial in Israel

  1. Prof. Meyers,

    True, Judge Farkash focused only on the criminal aspects of the case. He also said that the present methods of testing the ossuary are insufficient to prove the forgery accusation beyond reasonable doubt. But as we all remember, these were the same mothods employed to “formulate” the accusation. When one is using insufficient metods - this is the resonable result. Judge Farkash also mentioned the experts of the IAA, who firmly declared: “forgery”. Now, that three lab reports have confirmed that the James ossuary came from the Talpiot Tomb(a), it seems that the burden of proof has found different shoulders.

  2. Eric, is it not the case that in the trial it was determined by the tests Yuval Goren administered that original patina was in fact confirmed in the letters of “Yeshua”? This was reported by Matthew Kalman and Amnon Rosenfeld who attended every session of the trial…have to give them a medal and a new pair of pants for that! My understanding was that Yuval confirmed this. Oded aside, was that not the main issue with the charge that the inscription was forged. At least that was the case asserted in the original indictment, and confirmed by Zias’s claim, as he told you and me in Atlanta at the SBL, that he had seen the ossuary years ago with only “Jesus son of Joseph” inscribed. Maybe you know something on this point I do not know. Doesn’t prove it is Jesus of Nazareth, or make Oded innocent of other charges, but would it not indicate the inscription is authentic and not forged?

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  4. Thanks, James,

    Somehow I am not surprised that someone else, except for Golan, saw the James ossuary years ago. This idea keeps me busy here and there. I wonder where could Zias see it “years ago”. But since he did, he could well be a key witness in Golan trial. It’s odd he wasn’t.

  5. There’s a landmark principle emerging here though: what happens, as we began to apply the legal standards of honesty and fairness, to religion?

    What if for example, we demanded that those who promise huge physical miracles, “all” and “whatever” we “ask,” actually produce them in a timely way … or else be sued for fraud?

  6. My mistake; Zias did testify in Golan trial. Yet no doubt, he wasn’t a key witness, when we consider the results.

  7. Eric,

    I just heard briefly from Yuval Goren who is traveling in the UK right now, but briefly, he confirmed there was original patina in part of the last letter of the word Yeshua. He says it might have been already there, if I understand him correctly, meaning the “forger” added a word that happened to connect into an ancient scratch or mark that had ancient patina. I am hoping he might weigh in here or elsewhere in time, which I am sure he will do at some point.

  8. Pingback: TaborBlog » Blog Archive » Keeping up with the James Ossuary Issues

  9. Pingback: ‘James ossuary’ verdict adds to burial box furor | Hubrise News

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  11. I was wondering if the chemical signature from the Talpiot tomb is characteristic of only that tomb or is it representative of other tombs in the area? I think this is a significant question because I have repeatedly read that the James Ossuary came from the Kidron Valley before 1980. The “Jesus Tomb” supporters claim this is a way for Golen to get around the IAA regulations for artifacts found before 1978, but that seems too convenient for their case. Maybe archaeologists should be looking in the Kidron Valley for the real resting place of James if this ossuary and inscription turn out to be real. It would likely discredit their theory the the Talpiot Tomb is the “Jesus Family Tomb” if James and Simon (2 leaders of the early Church and relatives of Jesus) are not buried in the “family tomb”.

  12. K. Samuel, there was quite a discussion of the Kidron Valley location in BAR some years back, and particularly the location of our Tomb of the Shroud that Zissu, Gibson, and I published and studied in 2000. You might want to look that up. It is interesting that the charge in the IAA case states that sometime around 2000 Oded obtained the ossuary. So far as Jesus brothers being in the Talpiot tomb, it would only include, of course, the ones who died before 70CE, thus Jesus, Yoseh, and James…if James was put there later. I discuss this in my book in an entire chapter, including the burial accounts of James that we have. The chemical tests compare many tombs in the area of course, that is the point, and there are also now soil tests that are even more telling, in that the soil itself in each tomb, especially if there is terra rosa, steeps into the limestone. Thanks for your comment here.

  13. That is some kind of witness that the prosecution “said” they had. 60 Minutes has been known to advertise these type of witnesses and build a fable on one specter.

    But the authenticity of the ossuary is hardly questionable and that it originated in the Talpiot Tomb, is beyond doubt.

  14. Pingback: TaborBlog » Blog Archive » “Brother of Jesus” Inscription is Authentic! by Hershel Shanks

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