The State of Israel v Oded Golan is certainly a most extraordinary case.
Jerusalem District Court, criminal case docket number 482/04, it pits the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) against a Tel Aviv antiquities collector Oded Golan (pictured, left, with the box) who claims to have the 10x20x12-inch burial box of James Christ, Jesus' brother (son of Joe Christ), in 2002.
The box had apparently been bought by Golan in the 1970s for $200 and it was only later that he realized what he had. As a Jew, Golan later said that he knew little about Yeshua (Jesus).
Dubbed The Ossuary of James, it was revealed in a 2002 article in Biblical Archaeology Review, written by respected biblical archaeologists Hershel Shank (he later wrote a book on the find called The Brother of Jesus). At a 2002 press conference, a BAR official declared "it seems very probable that (Galon's find) is the ossuary of the James in the New Testament".
Other experts called BAR's story "tabloid archeology".
The archaeological items contain the Aramaic inscription:
"Ya'akov bar Yosef, ahuei de Yeshua"
In English, that translates to:
"James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".
Rather than play to IAA's arch-conservative tune, Golan took his items on a road trip, exhibiting at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. This angered conservative archaeologists and provoked the IAA. Charges were laid in Israel on December 29, 2002, the exhibit repatriated and the box now held as evidence. Investigators found materials in Golan's apartment that could be used to create fake antiquities such as charcoal and engraving tools.
For Da Vinci Code enthusiasts, this one has all the hallmarks of a religious intrigue. The Roman Catholic Church is grounded in the dogma that Mary was a lifelong virgin. So how, then, could Jesus of had a brother ... unless the Man himself paid another nocturnal visit to the Virgin?
IAA's declared the find forgery and Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fabrication and attempt to sell fake antiquities.
The trial of Mr. Golan started in September of 2005 in Jerusalem. Wheel-chair bound, Mr. Justice Aharon Farkash presided over 116 sessions of court, over 133 witnesses, 200 exhibits and a transcript which, by the end of the trial, had reached 12,000 pages. The trial ended on October 3, 2010.
As of February 3, 2011, Justice Farkash is reserving a decision expected any time now.
The judge must now play God as he wrestles with highly technical evidence regarding the legitimacy of the archaeological find (or hoax). A key witness for the prosecution, a one Marco Ghatas, was supposed to testify that he was the main forgerer on Golan's hoax. But he was never able to leave Egypt to attend the trial. However, the court did hear his pretrial confession (the informer unknowingly gave a complete interview to the CBC-TV news program "60 Minutes").
It may all come down to the authenticity of the inscriptions. According to Golan, the find confirms what the Bible speaks of at 2 Kings 12. If authentic, this would yield the only direct archaeological link to Jesus as well as the only physical evidence from the legendary Temple of Solomon, And if true, the conclusion would add fuel to burning hot politics as it would impact upon competing Jewish-Arab claims to parts of Jerusalem.
The books of Mark and Matthew speak of Jesus having siblings but nothing more. A 13th Century mosaic in St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice, Italy, inspired by the writings of St. Hegesippus, shows "St. James" being beaten to death. in about 62 A.D. ACcording to the then-custom, James Christ would of been buried in a stone ossuary just long enough to accommodate a human femur, as was the custom.
Golan's ossuary is littered with bone fragments. Do they contain Jesus' DNA?
So sensational is the trial in Israel that it has a dedicated blog, done by Time Magazine and USA Today reporter Matthew Kalman, at jamesossuarytrial.blogspot.com.
For many Israelis, the verdict is already in. Nina Burleigh has published a book on the trial called Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed And Forgery In The Holy Land. Another journalist, Nadav Shragai entitles a recent story about the trial: The Art Of Authentic Forgery.
Golan is represented by Lior Bringer, who claims that his client's finds are authentic. And amongst the very few who have been present for the entire trial, Kalman suggests that the prosecution failed to make its case. Even Justice Farkask mused mid-trial that it would be a challenge to rule where the experts themselves have disagreed. The Discovery Channel has featured the find in an episode boldly called James Brother of Jesus.
The minutia of that expert evidence involves a thin brittle layer of hardened dust which cakes all such legitimate archaeological finds, and gives them a blackened look. The IAA experts say that the layer, known to archaeologists as a patina, is fake. Golan's experts say that the patina proves the authenticity of the find because its content is at least 200 years old.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Isreal, wheel-bound, a lonely Justice Farkash agonizes over his decision. In the result, he is between a rock box and a hard place: damned if he legitimizes a forged artifact of his God or damned if he doesn't and he finds out as much from the Court of Appeal at St. Peter's gate.
- Shragai, Nadav, The Art of Authentic Forgery, Haaretz.com, February 3, 2011 (retrived on Feb. 3, 2011 from http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/the-art-of-authentic-forgery-1.243934)
- Van Biema, David, The Brother of Jesus?, Time Magazine, October 27, 2002 (retrieved on 3 FEB 2011 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,384797-1,00.html)