by Björn Schöpe
April 12, 2012 – It was to be the case of the century against a unscrupulous art trade that does not even shrink from forging. For the first time the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) had tried to blow the cover of an art forgery ring. They accused the collector Oded Golan of having forged many of his collected objects and then having sold some of them to museums. Other four persons were accused also, one of them Robert Deutsch, art dealer and once lecturer at Haifa University. In 2004 the case was opened, indeed it grew to the dimensions of a century case, yet with an ending not intended by the prosecutor.
After over seven years, 138 witnesses and more than 400 artefacts examined the industriousness of the interested parties is documented by over 12,000 pages of files, but nevertheless judge Aharon Farkash stated that it was exactly the extensive expert testimony that hindered ascertaining the truth. The conflicting claims of all the experts of various fields ranging from papyrology to microbiology and from archaeology to biblical history, led the judge to the conclusion that the question whether the artefacts were fakes or not has yet to be resolved by future research. He could not do anything else than pronounce the verdict of not guilty.
The story began when in 2002 the collector Oded Golan presented to the world an ossuary, a miniature coffin, that once contained the mortal remains of James, Jesus’ brother, according to an inscription on it. When the object was exposed in an exhibition in Toronto it caused a sensation – and aroused suspicion. Little afterwards the IAA depicted Oded Golan as leader of an international forgery ring that had fraudulently introduced numerous objects into the art trade. These artefacts comprised with others a 15 line inscription allegedly from the times of King Yoash of the 9th century BC.
However, all the experts were not able to establish clearly whether the artefacts were really antiques or modern fakes. Hershel Shanks, editor of the journal Bible History Daily, cited furthermore a psychological argument in favour of the inscription’s authenticity: a rule of forgery, “make it short”. The uncommon length may be an argument against the text being a modern forger’s product.
The 60-year-old engineer Golan is visibly relieved about the case’s verdict nevertheless he was sentenced in four minor charges including unlicensed antiquity trading. After the initial investigations he had been placed under house arrest for nearly two years. But the dealer Robert Deutsch considers himself harmed, too. He claims that the prosecutors tried to destroy systematically his reputation as researcher because he was not only dealer but researcher at the same time. Mr Deutsch was acquitted of the charge of forgery as well. Now he plans to sue the IAA.
After this monstrous case strangely the IAA considers itself being victor. According to their point of view the world has been made aware of the art trade situation and the many forgeries in circulation – forgeries which, however, apparently have not led to the accused persons’ conviction in court. How much this case costs the (Israeli) tax payer has not been made known.
To read an extensive article on the law suit and the verdict by Hershel Shanks, please click here.
As for the IAA’s strange point of view you may read something here.