lunes, 19 de marzo de 2012

World Reacts to Jerusalem Antiquities Forgery Trial Verdict

Accused forger is acquitted, but questions surrounding the authenticity of the high-profile antiquities remain open to further study and resolution.
Despite the recent verdict of Judge Aharon Farkash of the Jerusalem District Court acquitting accused Israeli forgers Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch, the jury is still very much out on the actual authenticity of the subject antiquities they were accused of forging. After a seven-year trial with 120 sessions where the judge heard 126 witnesses and dozens of experts, producing 12,000 pages of testimony with a final 475-page verdict, the world seems to be no closer than before to determining the truth about the antiquities in question. Among them, the James Ossuary inscription, the Jehoash Tablet inscription, and the diminutive Ivory Pomegranate inscription, await further research and testing before most or all experts can agree that they are, in fact, what they have been purported to be.

On the criminal side of things, witnesses in the trial revealed a dark portrait of the Holy Land antiquities trade, including the looting of burials and under-the-table West Bank exchanges of large amounts of cash. Aside from the acquittal on forgery, the judge's decision still found Golan guilty of three counts of violating the Antiquities Law and possession of suspected stolen property.

The scholarly world reacted in predictable fashion to the news, depending upon which side of the debate one favored before the verdict. Each side claimed a victory.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the Israeli government authority supporting the prosecution of the accused forgers, walked away with what it regarded as a positive result, namely, the slowdown of illicit trade of antiquities and inappropriate publication of finds that have been lifted from their proper archaeological contexts. Stated the IAA in a public pronouncement :

........the benefits of placing the issue on today’s agenda were immense and have led to a dramatic change in the conduct of archaeological research in Israel and abroad: there has been an almost complete cessation of publishing finds that come from the antiquities market without first knowing their exact place of discovery; the trade in written documents and seals derived from illicit antiquities excavations has almost been entirely halted also. This in turn has led to a dramatic reduction in the scope of antiquities robbery occurring at biblical sites in Israel. In addition, ethical practices concerning research have changed and rules have been formulated regarding the “dos and don’ts” of the publication of finds. Furthermore, new methods have been developed for checking archaeological finds, which rely on research methods drawn from the natural sciences, and many collectors have made their collections available to the State for examination and registration.

At the very least, it would seem that antiquities dealers and publishers of "biblical" artifacts have, in effect, been placed on notice that it will not be "business as usual" when it comes to selling antiquities for private gain. In this sense, the long-running trial may have been a boost to efforts at stopping or at least slowing down the illegal antiquities trade and the quick rush to publish finds before appropriate provenance can be determined.

However, regarding the IAA's determination that the subject antiquities were "unequivocally" forgeries, a central focus between prosecution and defense, the decision left many followers of the trial proceedings scratching their heads.

“The prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt what was stated in the indictment: that the ossuary is a forgery and that Mr. Golan or someone acting on his behalf forged it,” stated Judge Farkash before the court.

Golan, Deutsch, and scholarly supporters of the antiquities' authenticity, at least on the face of things, appeared to be vindicated in their claims that the now world-famous artifacts were indeed authentic. Maintained Hershel Shanks, Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review and a prominent commentator on the trial issues, "You have much looted material coming out of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). It has died down now but was once great. These finds can be important. Are you going to rescue them, or are you going to say you aren't going to learn from them because they were looted?" And as he stated in a recently released article: "Perhaps most damaged by the judge’s decision is deputy IAA director Uzi Dahari who chaired the IAA committee that found the ossuary inscription and the Yehoash inscription to be forgeries. He led a bevy of scholars by the nose to accept an allegedly unanimous committee decision finding that the two inscriptions were forgeries." Hanks has been a leader in the charge to support the findings of a number of highly respected scholars who, upon examination, have suggested that the ancient pieces and their inscriptions are indeed authentic.

Much of the argument has surrounded the authenticity of the ancient patina covering the inscriptions themselves. A patina is a natural tarnish that develops on ancient objects due to chemical processes on their surfaces over very long periods of time. Referring to the famous James ossuary inscription ("James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"), Hanks states that the "original ancient patina had been observed much earlier by Orna Cohen, one of the members of the Israel Antiquities Authority committee that examined the ossuary before the trial, but no one paid any attention to this; the IAA knew where it wanted to go."

There have been, of course, differing assessments and findings related to the research on the subject antiquities. But the trial verdict and the supporting reasons for the verdict have now opened the way for further scholarly investigation. Said Dr. James Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a noted scholar in biblical studies: "This also opens the way for Dr. Aryeh Shimron to complete his soil tests on the James ossuary....Oded Golan will have possession again of the ossuary and he has already said he would co-operate with us and Dr. Shimron on these tests. It will also now be possible to carry out DNA tests that we have long had in mind involving the significant quantity of bone fragments that were in the ossuary even as recently as 2002, which have been in safe keeping until after the trial."

Thus, regarding the truth about these antiquities, there may still be more questions than answers. While the criminal trial is over, scholars on both sides of the authenticity fence will continue to debate the data and test the "evidence".

"The judge’s decision doesn’t mean that the inscriptions are authentic," concludes Shanks. "It only means that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are forgeries. But at least the discussion can now proceed on a more academic basis."


No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario