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Forgeries

Five men charged in Jerusalem forgery case

They stand accused of faking an inscription on an antiquity for financial gain

Five men, including the former head of the antiquities laboratories at the Israel Museum, have been indicted in a Jerusalem court as collaborators in the forgery of an inscription on an ivory votive pomegranate. The inscription was forged to make it appear that the object was an artefact from the first Temple which was destroyed in 586 BC. The object had been bought by the Israel Museum in highly secretive negotiations in 1988 for $600,000.

The five men are: Rafael Braun, who was the head of the antiquities laboratories of the Israel Museum until the early 1980s and is now working in Switzerland as a restorer; the antiquities collectors Oded Golan and Shlomo Cohen; Robert Deutsch, an epigrapher who teaches at Haifa University; and Faiz al-Amaleh, a West Bank Palestinian antiquities dealer.

It was the publicity that greeted the exhibition of another artefact owned by one of the men, the so-called James ossuary in 2002, that roused the suspicions of Amir Ganor, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority detective unit. The ossuary, purportedly the burial box of Jesus’s brother James, belonged to Mr Golan, and was unveiled in Washington, DC, in October 2002 and later exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada.

Mr Ganor launched an investigation of the ossuary and other items, as well as a stone tablet of instructions written by King Joash, another purported relic of the first Temple.

The artefacts were tested by Yuval Goren of the archaeology faculty of Tel Aviv University and all were proved fakes. Subsequent investigations revealed the connections between the five men. The indictment lists 124 witnesses, including officials from Sotheby’s, and representatives of the British Museum and Brooklyn Museums, who have been affected by the forgers’ work over the past 20 years. All five men deny the charges.

Correction

The Israel Museum’s ivory pomegranate does not feature in the case of the five men indicted for forgery as we incorrectly reported in the last issue (p.3). It was acquired through gift in 1988 for $550,000 with funds donated to the museum. Rafael Braun was not head of the antiquities laboratory at the museum until the early 1980s, but a member of staff in the Objects Conservation Laboratory from 1963 to 1979.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Five men charged in forgery case'