Dispatches > The Buzz

In Brief: Golan depths?

So much for the so-called James box. Maybe.

Issue: "Capitol stampede in Texas," Aug. 9, 2003

So much for the so-called James box. Maybe.

Israeli police last month arrested antique dealer Oded Golan on charges of forgery and fraud, and they claimed he may be part of an international conspiracy to unload counterfeit antiquities for huge sums. Among the alleged hoaxes: the James box.

Mr. Golan, 52, is the owner of the ossuary, or ritual burial box, that purportedly once contained the bones of "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," according to an inscription on the box (WORLD, Nov. 2, 2002). The box came to light last autumn and made front-page headlines across the world. Many scholars and scientists who examined it vouched for its legitimacy. Mr. Golan insured the box for $1 million.

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The police arrested Mr. Golan after finding a storeroom on the roof of the apartment house where he lived. In the room, they said, were "inscriptions and antiquities that appeared to be in various stages of being counterfeited," along with stencils and related tools and equipment. The James ossuary also was there-perched atop the toilet seat in an unused bathroom nearby, secured by only a skeleton key, they added. They took it as evidence.

Mr. Golan denies the allegations and says foreigners used the workroom. The dealer also owns another recently publicized find that stunned the archaeological world: a stone tablet-since dubbed the Joash Tablet-with an inscription from 2 Kings 12 calling for repairs to the Temple. Police suspect that is a fake, too.

A 14-member panel of the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) in June labeled the inscription on the ossuary a forgery. Some scientists questioned the IAA panel's credentials, assumptions, and methodology, but other scholars defended the IAA's conclusion. The controversy promises to be long and, depending on the police investigation, perhaps inconclusive.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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