Written by Matthew Kalman
The Media Line, Thursday, June 11, 2009
An Israeli antiquities collector accused of faking the burial box of Jesus’ brother and other priceless historical items says he is confident that new scientific evidence will prove that he is innocent.
Oded Golan, 58, has been on trial at the District Court in Jerusalem for the past four years, charged with forging an inscription on a Roman-era burial box or ossuary that says it contained the bones of “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
The discovery caused a sensation when it was first announced in 2002 and displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum. But on its return to Israel, the ossuary was seized by Israeli police and Golan was arrested.
He was accused of faking the ossuary and other items in order to trap gullible collectors. In December 2004, he was indicted with four other defendants and accused of being at the center of an international antiquities forgery ring.
“They took original antiquities and added inscriptions and decorations, which turned the artifact into something valuable – and some of the antiquities we’re talking about are worth millions of dollars. One example is the ossuary of Jesus’ brother,” said Commander Shaul Naim of the Jerusalem police.
“We have the basis to believe that there are many more fake artifacts circulating, both in private collections and museums in Israel and abroad that we haven’t found yet,” Naim said.
“We know there are antiquity forgeries – it’s not a new thing. But the extent and the drama in attempting to fake history didn’t allow us as a government body not to become involved,” said Shuka Dorfman, head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
“I believe we have revealed only the tip of the iceberg. This industry encircles the world, involves millions of dollars,” said Dorfman.
Golan and his co-defendants went on trial in the summer of 2005, but after more than 70 prosecution witnesses and 8,000 pages of testimony, Judge Aharon Farkash warned the prosecution that he was not convinced they had proved their case and advised them to consider halting the trial.
"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?" Judge Farkash pointedly asked the prosecution in October 2008. "Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest."
"Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment?” Judge Farkash said. “The experts disagreed among themselves. Where is the definitive proof needed to show that the accused faked the ossuary? You need to ask yourselves those questions very seriously.”
In an exclusive interview with The Media Line at his Tel Aviv home, Golan said he was confident that new scientific research undertaken by defense experts would finally exonerate him. Prosecution scientists had accused Golan of faking patina – a thin layer of biological material covering ancient items – in order to make the inscriptions on the artifacts seem old.
“No, I never faked any antiquity,” Golan told The Media Line. “During the last several years there were several tests and examinations of those items by prominent experts from different countries in different laboratories and I think we succeeded to prove that these inscriptions could not have been inscribed in the last century. There is a thin layer of patina – it’s a thin layer of crust made actually by a micro-organism that was developed inside the grooves of the inscription and this product made by the micro-organism could not have been developed in less than a hundred years.”
“It’s impossible to generate artificial patina, which takes a long, long time to be developed. It normally takes a hundred years in nature to be developed. Technology has not developed yet any technology to make it in a short time in a way that you will not be able to recognize it. You may do something similar, but this is not a forgery. This is like reconstruction of a building with similar materials,” said Golan.
“I am sure that most of the people who originally claimed that it’s a forgery recognized later on – just look at the articles and the researches that were done later on – that it should be ancient. I cannot guarantee that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ but it’s definitely ancient. I have no doubt about it,” he said.
The Israel Antiquities Authority and Justice Ministry refused to comment.