Biblical Archaeology Review 36:3, May/June 2010

Strata: Forgery Trial Ends

Testimony in what has been dubbed the “forgery trial of the century” ended last February in a Jerusalem courtroom.

The trial went on for more than five years. The transcript of the testimony exceeds 11,000 pages. More than 130 witnesses testified and supported their testimony with more than 300 exhibits.

The indictment charges that some of Israel’s highest-profile archaeological relics are modern forgeries, including the ossuary or bone box inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”; a plaque that, if authentic, would be the only known royal Israelite inscription; a small inscribed ivory pomegranate allegedly used in Solomon’s Temple; an inscribed pottery sherd recording a donation of three shekels to the Temple; and many more.

Duke University professor Eric Meyers has opined that between 30 and 40 percent of the inscriptions in the Israel Museum are forgeries.

The trial opened with charges of a vast conspiracy, including the five defendants in the case. Then two defendants were simply dropped. Another was dismissed when he pleaded guilty to a minor charge unrelated to forgery. This left only two defendants, Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan and antiquities dealer and scholar Robert Deutsch (he taught at Haifa University and has published numerous volumes of ancient seals).

Israel has no juries. The verdict will now be rendered by the presiding judge, Aharon Farkash. But first he will hear oral argument by the parties. He has scheduled three days of oral argument for each of the parties, the last of which will be in October. Thereafter he will presumably prepare a written opinion in support of his verdict.

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