Only Existing First Temple Relic May Be Forged

Amiram Barkat
Haaretz Correspondent
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Amiram Barkat
Haaretz Correspondent

Investigators for the Israel Antiquities Authority have been informed that a precious Ivory Pomegranate, on display at the Israel Museum since 1988, is a forgery.

On the basis of an inscription it had been dated from the period of the First Temple, 10th century BCE. However, it is information on the origin of the inscription that has raised doubts about the authenticity of the item. The Antiquities Authority refused to reveal the origins and nature of the information it holds.

The inscription, completed by archaeologists, is translated as "Belonging to the Temp[le of Yahweh, holy to the priests." The expert who confirmed the authenticity of the inscription is Andre Lemaire, who also recently asserted the authenticity of the "James Ossuary" which had an inscription attributing reference to the brother of Jesus - which proved to have been a forgery.

The Ivory Pomegranate was bought in 1988 for $600,000 from a contribution made by a Swiss donor. The sum spent and the circumstances of the find resulted in severe criticism, rejected by the museum that argued that the find is unique.

Then director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Amir Drori, who authorized the purchase, was accused of encouraging, by this action, antiquities theft. Drori responded that the item is a national treasure.

Current director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, asked the Israel Museum recently to deliver the item for examinations by experts of the Antiquities Authority.

Sources at the Israel Museum expressed confidence in the item's authenticity. The Pomegranate is the final and most important of a number of items whose authenticity is doubted by the Antiquities Authority.

The investigation into suspected forged antiquities began following the discovery of the item known as the "Yehoash Inscription." Subsequently dozens of forged items have been discovered.

It is not believed that the forgers of these items are related to the Ivory Pomegranate. Members of the Antiquities Authority assigned to protecting antiquities from thieves and officers from the Jerusalem District Fraud Squad, are handling the investigation. According to the investigators, for the past 15 years a group of forgers has been identified as running a "factory" for forgeries.

The investigators maintain that at the center of the ring is the collector Oded Golan, the owner of the "James Ossuary" and the "Yehoash Inscription." Golan rejects all accusations, but the investigators say that they have many items that originated with the suspect and were sold through intermediaries.

One of the common denominators of all the items, investigators say, is that they were presented as originating from the First and Second Temple periods.

Amir Ginor, head of the Theft Prevention team at the Antiquities Authority, say that the forgeries were systematic. "The modus operandi was to create items of historical value on the basis of the assumption or knowledge that collectors will wish to purchase them."



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