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Given the ongoing (and sometimes heated) debate taking place here about the
rights and wrongs of collecting and dealing in antiquities and the value of
reproductions, I'm surprised that nobody seems to have brought up the sorry
affair of Oded Golan and the "James brother of Jesus" ossuary.

Some weeks ago, the Israel Antiquities Service declared it a fake (see
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3000040.stm), although the
editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, Herschel Shanks, continued to defend
its genuineness (see http://www.bib-arch.org/bswb_BAR/bswbba2904f2.html).
However, on Tuesday, the collector/dealer who announced the discovery was
arrested.

Oded Golan has now been charged with forging the ossuary and an 'inscribed
tablet' that was supposed to have been in the First Temple at Jerusalem (the
so-called 'Jehoash inscription'). It is alleged that equipment that could
have been used to forge these items was recovered from his home (see:
http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/320940.html,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-2937536,00.html and
http://www.canada.com/toronto/story.asp?id=648631E0-245F-465E-86E8-317C24FF9
495).

There are no points to be scored by any side in the debate here: the whole
affair seems to have been characterised by self-seeking (a collector/dealer
out to make a vast profit, historians and archaeologists out to make a name
for themselves, museums out to attract more visitors, journal editors
looking for a scoop).

Whilst off-topic to British archaeology, the story nevertheless reveals a
complex web of motives that have universal applicability. I think we all
have a lot to learn from the affair, but I'm not sure that many will want to
learn the rather sad truths about human nature that it shows us.

Keith J Matthews
http://www.kmatthews.org.uk