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For the first time in history, a criminal court has ruled on a case of antiquities forgery. One antiquities collector has been acquitted of all charges and another has been acquitted of all but several minor charges. The verdict is still out on the validity of an inscription that ties an ancient relic to the family of Jesus of Nazareth, although many Bible scholars say they have made their own decision.

In 2002, Christianity Today and other major news outlets carried the announcement of the discovery of an ossuary bearing an Aramaic inscription, "James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus." This carved stone box, typical of those used in Jewish burials of the first century, was suggested to be the repository of the bones of the brother of Jesus Christ. After Jesus' death, James led the early church in Jerusalem until his death by stoning in A.D. 62.

The ossuary itself was undoubtedly authentic. But within months the Israel Antiquities Authority charged that the last part of the inscription, the portion mentioning Jesus, was fabricated. Scientific investigators reported that the patina, the aging of the surface, had been tampered with.

The owner of the ossuary, Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan, proclaimed his innocence as forgery charges were brought against him related to the ossuary and other relics, such as what is known as the Jehoash tablet. The dark stone tablet flecked with very tiny pieces of gold contains a 15-line inscription which appears to describe repairs to the ancient temple carried out by King Jehoash (2 Kings 11-12).

Charges were also brought against four others. Three of the defendants settled. Only Golan and Robert Deutsch maintained their innocence and endured the entire legal proceeding, living under a ...

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March 2012

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