Christianity Today, Week of July 21,2003

James Ossuary Owner Arrested on Fraud and Forgery Charges

Compiled by Ted Olsen | posted 07/23/2003

Israeli police arrest owner of the James ossuary and Joash tablet
After a six-month investigation, Israeli police on Monday arrested antiques collector Oded Golan on charges of fraud, forgery, using forged documents, and perverting the course of justice. In recent days, investigators searched Golan's home and storerooms, including a workroom on his roof where they say he forged antiquities. "A number of other 'antiques' in various stages of production were uncovered," reports the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha'aretz.

Also on Golan's Tel Aviv roof, "without any security or protection from the elements," was Golan's most famous possessionan ossuary that apparently once held the bones of "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

Is this treatment of the ossuary another indication that the ossuary is a fraud, or that Golan is merely careless? After all, when he shipped the ossuary for display and testing at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, he packed it so poorly that it crackedright in the middle of the inscription.

Now even the ROM's Ed Keall, who has been one of the main scholars saying the ossuary is authentic, says Golan might have intentionally damaged the bone box to make testing harder. "I'm afraid at this stage I can't discount anything," he toldThe Ottawa Citizen. "The story's so bizarre."

Keall said Golan, who was remanded for four days while police continue their investigation, seemed trustworthy: "He really came across as a very innocent, almost gullible person. Aside from all our investigation, scientific analysisthis guy seemed to be a very genuine item. He didn't come off as a fast car salesman who was trying to deceive you. That's why it is all the more puzzling to have this notification that the police arrested him."

But Keall said he still hopes that the ossuary can be proved to be authentic. So do several other scholars, including Biblical Archaeology Review editor Hershel Shanks and Asbury Seminary New Testament professor Ben Witherington III, coauthors of a book about the ossuary. On his magazine's website, Shanks lays out several problems he has with a report from the Israel Antiquities Authority calling the ossuary a fake.

But even Shanks has called one of Golan's other major "finds" a forgery. The ninth-century B.C. "Joash (or Jehoash) Tablet," which corroborates the biblical account of Solomon's Temple, was also dismissed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The mountain of evidence against the tablet caused at least some scholars to doubt the authenticity of the James ossuary.

The last nail in the coffin (or bone-box) may be Golan's explanation. According to Ha'aretz, "Golan said the [rooftop] workroomis actually used by an Egyptian friend who stays at his home for lengthy periods." Has the "I was just holding it for a friend" excuse ever worked?