Archive for March 23rd, 2008

60 Minutes does the James Ossuary

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

The James Ossuary, the bone box inscribed “James son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus” that made the news 5 or so years ago when it was “found” by antiquities dealer Oded Golan, and then found by the Israel Antiquities Authority to be a forgery, is back in the news again.

60 Minutes did a story on the ossuary. They even track down an Egyptian craftsman who has forged tablets for Golan in the past.

An interesting side-note:

The question [of whether the inscription was forged] comes up because the ossuary was not dug up at an authorized excavation, where every shard is scrutinized by scholars. Like most so-called antiquities, it just turned up in the shop of an antiques dealer, which is another way of saying it was looted.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has a special unit of archaeological detectives trying to stop this trade. They spend their nights burrowing underground on the trail of tomb-raiders, like those who may have stolen the ossuary from the tomb of James. The trouble is, no one has any idea when that happened, or where.

But we do know where it turned up: in the Tel Aviv apartment of Oded Golan, an Israeli entrepreneur, amateur pianist, and one of the world’s biggest collectors of biblical antiquities.

Here’s a good example of another aspect of the looting trade. The traffic of illicitly excavated antiquities is peppered with forgeries — a little fakeration can add value to a sale, and it’s a lot easier to sell fakes when you don’t have to trouble yourself to prove provenance — and there’s a very fine line between “collector” and launderer/fence.

The 60 Minutes segment:

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