Ancient Pitcher


The History Merchants





    Only glancing attention is paid to gullible or corrupt scholars who lead others to believe in the authenticity of this parade of items for religious, political, and personal reasons. We see only glimpses of publications in pseudo-scientific magazines. We find superficial mention of the fakes appearing in an authenticating and price-elevating process through exhibitions at museums and in catalogues published by home-grown vanity presses -- distributed by gullible respectable houses. Although the international aspects were already clear by November of 2002, we are informed, once again by Major Pagis, that what was at first thought to be only a few items has turned into the opening of "Pandora's Box." These fakes, numbering in many hundreds of pieces, as Eric Meyers has noted, are spread throughout the world in museums and private collections. Epigraphically, they are a disaster area which will entail years of work to clean out the fakes from among the real entries in the data base. Yet such points are totally ignored.

    If, as the saga of Oded Golan unfolds, the story appears to be reduced to black and white, it is because this is a story of extremes. There are white hats and black hats -- with the fools and the gullible in the middle.

    The contrast between the good guys, who risk their lives to protect the sites of antiquities from thieves, and the bad guys, who have made millions of dollars from the fools and the gullible who buy or believe in these doctored stolen artifacts, is the motif. The movement between the extremes, with the gullible and fools as a middle stop, is repeated throughout the documentary.

    The program opens with members of the field force of the IAA doing their dangerous duty of arresting antiquities thieves by night. The scene shifts to where Mr. Shlomo Moussaieff, the gullible collector of unprovenanced items, such as innumerable fake seals and bullae (bought at $10,000 per bulla) and the forged ostracon purporting to be a receipt from the First Temple, is celebrating his 80th birthday -- surrounded by 50 archaeologists and other "friends" -- in his apartment on the top two stories of a hotel. Moussaieff is said to be the largest collector in Israel; but, is he? Although this is precisely what Moussaieff wants to be known as, no, he is not. Contrary to the statements made by Mr. Hershel Shanks, Oded Golan is by far and away the largest collector of these artifacts in Israel, possibly in the world -- if we include the massive number of large cartons filled with artifacts of questionable origin and the shelves lined with larger items in his warehouses and in what had been stored in the rooftop workshop.

    Mr. Oded Golan enters, seated at his blonde grand piano set in the middle of a spacious room and surrounded with tiers of glass shelves, packed with artifacts, set against the distant walls. Golan's apartment, with its rooms running back the length of the building and spanning roughly 25 meters across the frontage, is an apartment with a price tag of at least $800,000 in US currency. Wait! What happened to Golan's "tiny" apartment in Tel-Aviv where he was visited by the reporters from Time magazine?

    Gone is the "handsome" Oded Golan of the media frenzy with his "soft doe-eyes" and his "trustworthy gaze" and his "sincere" demeanor. Here is the real Oded Golan with his beady-brown eyes, bat-wing ears, fleshy nose, and flabby lower lip. Lines of discontent and avarice make grooves in his face. Sincerity is singularly lacking in his demeanor now; this film is shown in Israel, not in the United States or Canada. Here is Oded Golan, who probably would have been better cast as a piano teacher of beginning and intermediate students – at least he displays that he is competent on the instrument for the camera, though he is by no means on a par with a professional concert pianist. Certainly as a piano teacher he would have done less harm to Biblical studies, archaeology, epigraphy, and a history that affects hundreds of millions of believers around the world.

    We now return to the white hats where Ganor of the IAA displays a collection of stolen antiquities, forgers’ tools, and boxes of earth found at one of the warehouses used by Oded Golan. (Golan's claim, which he reiterates in the program, that all antiquities collectors have such tools may be correct; no collector, however, also has boxes of earth from different parts of Israel -- which boxes we are shown -- with which to make fake patinas.) Ganor picks up another item found among the collection – a figurine on which an assortment of heads can be fitted, and he wonders how many of these have been sold. Flashbacks are shown; in one we see and hear the breathless announcement of the bone box given on CNN on October 22, 2002. There is another flashback: this time we go to the SBL and the museum display in Toronto -- where more than 100,000 people saw the box at $20 Canadian a head.

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