This morning (Wednesday, March 14) the verdict was published in the prosecution’s case—the State of Israel vs. Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, et alia—Criminal Case 482/04. [This post is taken from the IAA website and re-posted on the ASOR Blog]
In response to the decision by Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court, the Israel Antiquities Authority announces the following: The Israel Antiquities Authority respects the court’s decisions. The Israel Antiquities Authority praises the efforts of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office in the case and is proud of the State’s determination in looking out for the broad public interest in the country and abroad, which states it is forbidden to meddle in the history of the peoples that lived and live in the Land of Israel.
The prosecution’s efforts resulted in the conviction of one defendant in this case in the past, and today the court acquitted Oded Golan of forgery and fraud charges on a basis of reasonable doubt, and found him guilty of three counts of violating the Antiquities Law and possession of suspected stolen property. The charges in some of the offenses were cancelled due to the statue of limitations. According to the judge, “The absolute truth was not a guiding light for Golan”.
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. Because a person’s guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal trial, Golan was acquitted. However, the judge did emphasize that it was not possible to determine that the finds presented in the trial – including the ossuary and the “Jehoash inscription” – are not forgeries.
According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the benefits of placing the issue on today’s agenda were immense and have led to a dramatic change in the conduct of archaeological research in Israel and abroad: there has been an almost complete cessation of publishing finds that come from the antiquities market without first knowing their exact place of discovery; the trade in written documents and seals derived from illicit antiquities excavations has almost been entirely halted also. This in turn has led to a dramatic reduction in the scope of antiquities robbery occurring at biblical sites in Israel. In addition, ethical practices concerning research have changed and rules have been formulated regarding the “dos and don’ts” of the publication of finds. Furthermore, new methods have been developed for checking archaeological finds, which rely on research methods drawn from the natural sciences, and many collectors have made their collections available to the State for examination and registration.
The Israel Antiquities Authority will continue in its battle against the robbers and forgers of antiquities in order to ensure that the historical truth of the three religions will be preserved for future generations.
The affair began following the surprising appearance of two archaeological exhibits of historical, religious and political importance, which were exposed to the public through the media and left the archaeological world in a state of consternation.
The first exhibit that was revealed is a standard ossuary (a ceramic coffin) that was used for gathering bones in the Second Temple period. What was unique about this particular ossuary was the inscription engraved on its front, according to which it belonged to “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. The ossuary was first displayed in an exhibit in a Canadian museum and garnered world-wide acclaim through the media due to it alleged connection to the family of Jesus of Nazareth.
The second item was a building inscription engraved on a stone in ancient Hebrew script, which was attributed to renovations carried out by King Jehoash on the First Temple in the late ninth century BCE. Hence, this is supposedly the only surviving item of the First Temple ever, thus constituting proof of the First Temple’s existence and authentication of the biblical text appearing in the Book of Chronicles.
The appearance of the two items in late 2002 and early 2003 fired the imaginations of millions of Christians around the world, who received tangible proof of Jesus’ family, and of thousands of Jews who ostensibly now had physical evidence from the First Temple and archeological verification of the biblical stories.
The Israel Antiquities Authority, in its capacity as the governmental agency responsible to treat and manage all matters regarding antiquities in the State of Israel, convened two committees of experts to examine the two exhibits. The committee members were selected from amongst the foremost experts in the fields of archaeology, epigraphy and ancillary sciences from the Israel Antiquities Authority and all of the leading universities in Israel.Several months later the experts published their opinion, which stated that both items are modern forgeries: new and modern lettering had been added to the original ossuary; while the Jehoash inscription is an utter forgery.
In the wake of these findings the Israel Antiquities Authority filed a complaint with the Israel Police on suspicion the items were forged for the purpose of damaging archaeological research, and creating a false impression of the historical evidence, which influenced the belief of millions of people throughout the world – and all of it was done capriciously, in order to achieve financial gain.
The principal suspect was an antiquities collector by the name of Oded Golan, who was in possession of the two objects. The other suspects were antiquities dealers and intermediaries who aided him in the work of marketing and selling the items.
An intensive inquiry conducted for more than one and a half years by a joint team of investigators from the Jerusalem District Fraud Unit of the Israel Police and members of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery uncovered suspicions of the existence of an industry specializing in the forgery of antiquities. The industry operated in the Israeli antiquities market for at least fifteen years. The investigation has raised suspicion that hundreds of supposed archaeological exhibits were forged, altered and marketed in the country and around the world to collectors and other entities in exchange for large sums of money.
The network was run by Oded Golan, with the assistance of an Egyptian citizen who is an artist and produced the exhibits for him.The items were marketed and sold by antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch and other intermediaries. Some of the victims were wealthy antiquities collectors from Israel and abroad, such as Shlomo Moussaieff and George Will. Scientists and academics from Israel and abroad, as well as various members of the media, aided Oded Golan without realizing it and without understanding his intentions. After a prolonged investigation, the Jerusalem district attorney’s office decided to file an indictment against the suspects.
Already at the start of the trial, one of the defendants, Faiz Al-Amlah, was convicted under a plea bargain agreement in which he admitted his guilt in the offenses attributed to him. Faiz Al-Amlah disclosed he was one of the antiquities intermediaries who acted on behalf of Oded Golan when, for the purpose of marketing and selling, the latter asked that he misrepresent a stone seal with a gold handle, purported to be a seal belonging to Manasseh, king of Judah. The seal was sold for the sum of one million dollars together with a group of seal impressions to the antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff. Al-Amlah was asked by Golan to state that the seal was discovered in illicit antiquities excavations at a biblical site together with a group of bullae, and thereby dispel any suspicion the collector might have had that the object was a recent forgery.
During the investigation the involvement of an Egyptian citizen by the name of Marco became apparent, who acted together with Oded Golan.Marco, a craftsman and jeweler by training, created several of the items for Golan. Nevertheless, all attempts by the state to bring the Egyptian to Israel in order to testify in court in Jerusalem were unsuccessful. A team from the CBS television program 60 Minutes did succeed in obtaining photographic evidence of the artist in which he spoke of his relationship with Golan and of producing some of the forged items for him.
Even before the publication of the trial results, the exposure of suspicions of antiquities forgery brought about a dramatic change in the conduct of archaeological research in Israel and abroad. Scientists realized that they had been deceived when they were asked for their professional opinion concerning different archaeological finds and to publish them in scientific journals without a proper examination of the so-called artifacts. As a result of the beginning of the trial in Israel, there has been an almost complete cessation of publishing finds that come from the antiquities market without first knowing their exact place of discovery, and the trade in written documents and seals derived from illicit antiquities excavations has been halted almost entirely. This in turn has led to a dramatic reduction in the scope of antiquities robbery occurring at biblical sites in Israel. In addition, ethical practices concerning research have changed and rules have been formulated regarding the “dos and don’ts” of the publication of finds.
New methods have been developed for checking archaeological finds that rely on research methods drawn from the natural sciences, and many collectors have made their collections available to the State for examination and registration, etc.
The Israel Museum re-checked a number of artifacts it acquired over the years from the antiquities market. The examination has resulted in the “ivory pomegranate”, which bears the inscription “holy to the priests” and was attributed to the First Temple, being removed from the exhibition as an authentic item and its new presentation as a forgery.Texts books were changed which referred to artifacts that after re-examination turned out to be modern forgeries.
Due to the great importance of the subject, and the fear that an attempt was made to misrepresent history by ordering up the manufacture of objects that could authenticate historical, political and religious issues, through fraud and aggravated forgery, the State of Israel has devoted significant resources in the investigation and pursuing the subsequent criminal trial.