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Strata: Forgery Case Collapses

On October 29, 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle headlined a story by Matthew Kalman, datelined Jerusalem, “Case Involving Jesus’ Brother Burial Box Hoax on Verge of Collapse.”

The next day the Biblical Archaeology Society issued the following press release:

The reputation of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is in shambles. After a nearly four-year trial (and still counting), 75 witnesses and more than 5,000 pages of testimony, what has been billed as the “forgery trial of the century” is about to collapse. The Israeli judge who will decide the case has advised the prosecution in open court to consider dropping the case. The evidence isn’t there.

The story was reported by Matthew Kalman in the San Francisco Chronicle, and from there around the world. He described Judge Aharon Farkash’s evaluation as a “humiliating collapse” of the government’s case and “a major embarrassment ... for the [Israel] Antiquities Authority.”

The principal target of the case has been the bone box inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” that was brought to the world’s attention in 2002 by the Biblical Archaeology Review in an article by Sorbonne epigrapher André Lemaire. The inscription, it was charged in the criminal indictment, was a forgery, engraved on an authentic stone box of the kind that Jews used 2,000 years ago to rebury their dead when the flesh had decayed and desiccated—a year following the initial burial.

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