After a Decade, Israel Court Acquits Collector of Forging Jesus' Brother's Tomb

Oded Golan was originally indicted for selling forged antiquities, including a tablet inscribed with instructions on caring for the Jewish Temple and an ossuary bearing the inscription, 'James, brother of Jesus.'

Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson

A Jerusalem Court acquitted an antiquities collector on most counts of forgery on Wednesday, eleven years after the case was first opened.

Oded Golan, along with four others, was originally indicted for selling forged antiquities, including 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."

An ossuary, or ancient burial box bearing the inscription, "James, brother of Jesus."Credit: Paradiso

Judge Aharon Farkash, of the Jerusalem District Court, was careful to not rule that the items were authentic. He did rule, however, that after years of discussions and professional investigations, Israel was not able to prove that the artifacts were forged.

The court’s decision came after two professional committees on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority ruled that the items were indeed forged. According to the state attorney, Golan did not forge the items themselves, but he did add inscriptions that increased their worth significantly. Golan claimed that the inscriptions were authentic, and brought various experts to testify.

According to Farkash, Golan was able to raise “reasonable doubts regarding his indictment” as the state attorney was unable to prove that he added the inscriptions himself.

Golan was convicted on several relatively minor charges, including on two counts of illegally trading antiquities without a permit, and two charges of storing property suspected of being stolen. A deliberation regarding his punishment is set to take place after Passover.

Oded Golan.Credit: Nir Kafri

Upon hearing his verdict, Golan stated that he was “very happy with the full acquittal." The Israel Antiquities Authority released a statement saying it respects the court’s verdict, and praises the efforts of the state attorney and the Jerusalem District Court in “caring for the public interest both in Israel and in the rest of the world.”

Golan was originally arrested in 2002 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.

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 suspected Golan has sold millions of dollars' worth of forged antiquities over the years to various museums and institutions abroad.

Read this article in Hebrew