Five charged over Jesus artifact forgery
Israeli police have charged five people - including the owner of the so-called "James ossuary" - with 17 counts of antiquities forgery and fraud. The charges, listed in a 27-page indictment in a Jerusalem court, include forgery, receiving fraudulent goods and damaging antiquities.
The indictment is based on a two-year investigation involving the Jerusalem police and the Israel Antiquities Authority. According to a report in the Catholic Weekly, more than 100 witnesses are listed in the indictment.
And, says Shuka Dorfman, Israel Antiquities Authority director, if the suspects are found guilty they will face "many years" in prison; each count carries the possibility of seven years' jail.
The five suspects, including Oded Golan, owner of an ossuary that he alleged was linked to a brother of Jesus, are suspected of running a sophisticated forgery ring that has operated in various configurations for more than 20 years.
Golan, an antiquities dealer and Haifa University inscriptions expert, is also suspected of procuring antiquities in an illegal manner. He has denied all charges.
The Ha'aretz newspaper reports he has said the charges are an attempt by the authority to "destroy the local antiquities trade".
Jerusalem police commander Shaul Naim says the suspects added inscriptions to authentic artifacts to increase their value. They forged a substance to resemble the patina, a thin organic layer that forms on buried antiquities, to further disguise the forgery.
They also forged authenticity and ownership documents to circumvent the antiquities law, which requires ancient artifacts discovered after 1978 to be turned over to the antiquities authority, he said.
"Their forgeries were so successful that they were even able to fool some professionals who would give their opinion attesting to their authenticity, thus further increasing their value," Naim said.
This was the case with the "James ossuary", which hit the headlines when its 'discovery' was announced in 2002. The ossuary - which was later deemed to be original by an authority-appointed committee - bears the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".
The committee found the first part of the inscription to be original, but the words linking it to Jesus as a forgery. Others have disputed the committee's findings.
Jesus forgery: five charged (Catholic Weekly 16/1/05)
The James Ossuary
Israel Antiquities Authority
Final Reports on the Yehoash Inscription and James Ossuary from the Israeli Antiquities Authority (The Bible and Interpretation)
Scholar claims oldest Jesus evidence (CathNews 22/10/02)
Scholar says Jesus' brother artefact may be genuine (CathNews 19/11/03)
Experts call ossuary of Jesus' brother a fake (CathNews 19/6/03)
13 Jan 2005