The front line of biblical archaeology in Israel has moved from the excavation to the courtroom.

On December 29, Israeli authorities charged four Israelis and a Palestinian with creating and selling fake or enhanced antiquities. The ringleader is alleged to be Oded Golan, the owner of the James ossuary.

Police say the accused took authentic ancient relics and inflated their value by adding counterfeit inscriptions that link them to the Bible. The 18-count indictment includes charges of forgery, receiving fraudulent goods, and damaging antiquities. Golan and Robert Deutsch, another of the accused, both deny wrongdoing.

Israeli authorities charge the forged inscriptions were covered with a coating designed to mimic an ancient patina, a mineral layer that accumulates over the centuries. The authorities say many antiquities sold for grossly inflated amounts of money.

The James ossuary—with the inscription "James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus"—has been the center of controversy for the past two years while the Israel Antiquities Authority investigation proceeded. It symbolizes to many archaeologists the kind of artifact that fits too neatly into the biblical picture.

The iaa announced in June 2003 that the James ossuary inscription was a fake. However, critics say the iaa has not made a strong case, and its conclusions lack substantiation (ct, May 2004, p. 20).

Many of these critics contend that the case against the ossuary represents an overreaction by the archaeological establishment, some of whom are skeptical about the historicity of the Bible.

"You definitely have people on both sides of the issue," said Larry Geraty, president of La Sierra University and president of the American Schools of Oriental Research ...

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