Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch Acquitted

Oded Golan an Israeli collector accused of antiquities fraud in a complex trial that lasted seven years was acquitted on Wednesday, it has just been announced by the Times of Israel. Although not an unexpected verdict, this is a stunning reversal for the prosecution and I am sure many collectors will be happy for their fellow collectors - accused of being arch-forgers who falsified history for personal gain.
Oded Golan had been charged with faking biblical artifacts, including two finds that made international headlines: the “James ossuary,” a stone box bearing an inscription identifying it as containing the bones of James, brother of Jesus, and the “Jehoash tablet,” with an inscription supporting the biblical narrative about the Temple in Jerusalem.

The District Court in Jerusalem acquitted Oded Golan of all charges of forgery and fraud. The judge, Aharon Farkash, convicted him only of minor charges of selling antiquities without a permit and possession of items suspected to be stolen.

In his decision, the judge was careful to say his acquittal of Golan did not mean the artifacts were necessarily genuine, only that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Golan had faked them.
It was in 2004 that the Israel Antiquities Authority accused Golan of running a sophisticated forgery ring that had succeeded in planting fakes in museums worldwide. They threatened at the time that the original indictment was “the tip of the iceberg,” and police promised more suspects would be charged. As Judge Farkash read his ruling today it became clear that virtually nothing of the state’s case against Golan remained.
The judge took Golan to task for giving different accounts to authorities at different times, saying he “tried to create facts that were convenient for him.” But the judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove Golan had faked the ossuary, the tablet, or any of the other artifacts included in the indictment. He said police had badly bungled a forensic check and had possibly contaminated the ossuary, making it impossible to reach a clear conclusion about whether its Aramaic inscription had been forged. The trial stretched over more than 100 hearings and 12,000 pages of transcripts. The ruling presented Wednesday was 475 pages long.
It is worth stressing that the prosecution failed to prove their case, but neither does the evidence presented in the trial prove that the decontextualised artefacts presented as evidence actually are authentic in their present form. I must say that I personally - nasty old cynic that I am - still have trouble (despite some of the evidence which I have seen presented in their favour) believing in the authenticity of these finds, but accept that a court has decided that Mr Golan is not guilty of creating them.

The Biblical Archaeology Society reports:

The Biblical Archaeology Society has just learned that the District Court in Jerusalem exonerated Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch of all serious charges of forgery. Judge Aharon Farkash stated that there is no evidence that any of the major artifacts were forged, and that the prosecution failed to prove their accusations beyond a reasonable doubt. The allegedly forgeries include the famous James Ossuary, whose inscription reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Several other ancient artifacts, including the “Three Shekels” ostracon, the “Widow’s Plea” ostracon,and the Jehoash tablet, the first extant royal Israelite inscription, were cleared of charges by the “forgery verdict of the century.”

Wednesday’s verdict ruled that there is no evidence of forgery for the James Ossuary.

The debates on the artifacts’ authenticity will surely continue, but this verdict clears Golan and Deutsch. The academic discourse on the implications of the James Ossuary can now proceed without the impediment of the forgery trial. While all of the major charges were dismissed on grounds of lack of evidence of forgery, others were dropped due to the statute of limitations. However, Golan was found guilty of trading in antiquities without a permit and another minor charge. Deutsch was acquitted on all counts. Oded Golan will be sentenced on December 23, 2012.

Matti Friedman, 'Archaeology ‘trial of the century’ ends in acquittal of accused forger', The Times of Israel, March 14, 2012.

Breaking News: Golan and Deutsch Acquitted of All Forgery Charges, Bible History Daily March 14 2012.

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