Alleged Forger of Holy Land Antiquities Held

Antiquities dealer Oded Golan has been arrested on suspicion of forging artifacts linked to Jesus and the Jerusalem Temple. He is being investigated for fraud, forgery, using forged documents, and perverting the course of justice.

Golan was arrested Monday at his Tel Aviv home during a probe into his dealing in fake antiquities. These included the Jehoash inscription, a shoebox-sized tablet inscribed with Biblical-style Hebrew instructions on caring for the Jewish Temple, and an ossuary, or ancient burial box bearing the inscription, "James, brother of Jesus."

The "finds" - especially the ossuary with its supposed first ever direct archaeological link to Jesus of Nazareth - stirred a global sensation before scholars proved them fake.

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court yesterday agreed to remand Golan in custody until Friday to give police time to complete their inquiries and question other witnesses.

Golan was arrested after the Jerusalem fraud squad made extensive searches of his home and storerooms. During the searches, Golan led investigators to a room he had built on the roof of his Tel Aviv home where they found equipment and materials Golan is believed to have used to "forge" antiquities. A number of other "antiques" in various stages of production were uncovered.

During yesterday's court hearing, detectives expressed their "surprise" that the James ossuary, briefly insured for more than $1 million, was being stored on Golan's roof without any security or protection from the elements.

Police suspect Golan has sold millions of dollars worth of forged antiquities over the years to various museums and institutions abroad. They say he inscribed stones dating back to the First Temple period (1006-586 BCE), making it very difficult for institutions to identify them as fakes.

Golan denies all allegations and says he was never involved with forgeries. His attorneys say that since he was freed in March after being arrested in connection with the forged Jehoash inscription, he has not hidden any of the alleged evidence although he knew police were still probing the case.

Golan said the workroom he showed police is actually used by an Egyptian friend who stays at his home for lengthy periods.

The Antiquities Authority last month declared both the Jehoash inscription and the James ossuary to be fakes. The authority said the 20-inch by 11-inch human bones vessel was indeed ancient, but the James inscription was not.

The telltale sign was that the letters had been cut through the patina, a thin coating acquired only by age. "The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters," the statement said.

Regarding the Jehoash stone, the body found that "the patina on the written side of the Jehoash inscription is made of bits of chalk that contain foraminifers, clay, coal and bits of gold all mixed together. In nature, a mixture such as this is a virtual impossibility."