Ancient Pitcher


The History Merchants





    "Nobody has made any money on this James Box," to quote Ben Witherington III's statement in the Lexington Herald-Leader of Friday, June 27, 2003. "Nobody has made money on it," to quote Mr. Hershel Shanks in his part of the book co-authored with Witherington -- which book sold 76,000 copies in hardcover. "I have not made any money on it," to quote Oded Golan himself in this documentary. "No, he hasn't made any money on it; just millions of dollars," said Major Jonathan Pagis in charge of this investigation.

    Now we have a flashback to Andre Lemaire early in November 2002. Lemaire, who as a seminary student, completed the equivalent of a Ph.D. in the history of the church ministry in the late 1960's -- a specialist in James-era Christianity. Lemaire, who overnight became an "expert" epigrapher by virtue of his find of the fake pomegranate in 1979, the first of the fakes heavily promoted in the Biblical Archaeological Review -- the BAR. Lemaire whose claim in 1979 to being an expert with many years of experience as an epigrapher was based on the publication of his thesis, a small volume published in 1977 (Hebraic inscriptions, introduction, traduction, commentary) in a field he conceived a sudden "passion" for in 1972. (A field your reviewer entered in 1954.) Here we see and hear Andre Lemaire babbling on about how he suddenly made the connection between the forged names on the bone box and James of the church. As if he would not know all about his own seminarist specialty.

    Next comes the "Joash" Tablet offered to the Israel museum for $4,500,000 U.S. -- an offer written on letterhead (shown) through the same law firm that had offered the "Temple Receipt" ostracon, also publicized in the BAR. The "Joash" Tablet was such a poor forgery that it was denounced the same day a photograph of the artifact appeared. (Your reviewer was informed that the tablet was owned by Golan the day after the photograph appeared.) This is the same tablet that we see shown on the cover of the BAR. This is the same magazine whose publisher announced a "Make a Fake" contest; this announcement also flashes by. Perhaps the only amusing scene in the entire documentary is of the real experts looking at the tablet, touching it, and laughing at the obvious fakery.

    It is not, however, amusing that many people knew about the forgeries yet simply laughed at anyone gullible enough to buy them -- or into them. Next we move to the workshop on top of Golan's apartment building, a building that nobody familiar with this type of structure, or Tel-Aviv, will believe could have been used by a mysterious Egyptian without Golan's active participation. This scenario is the equivalent of some mysterious person entering and making use on his own of a private rooftop in an expensive apartment building in mid-town Manhattan. We are treated to a passing view of the dirty, unused toilet chamber in which the "most spectacular find in Biblical archaeological history," insured (after Golan said he would not insure it) for $1,000,000 U.S., was found "enthroned."

    We return to Moussaieff and a fake for which he paid $800,000 U.S. (the approximate cost of Golan's "tiny" apartment). We move back to one artifact, a really beautiful oil lamp shown at intervals for good reason -- a reason we learn when we finally see and hear Mr. George Weill, the duped collector talk about his purchase of the item. The scene flashes to Officer Pagis, who blandly announces that the owner paid cash, $100,000, without a receipt or supporting documentation. We return to the unveiling of the artifact where we watch the owner carefully unwrap the item after taking it from its specially made carrying case. And, along with the owner, we are shown where the patina is fake.

    It is a fitting epithet on the entire business when Mr. Weill vehemently states: "I have collected for 40 years in many fields and I have never seen such monkeys and cowboys and swindlers and liars and money-hungry bums as I find in this field!"

    The final scene is the ossuary being wheeled into a huge storage shed -- if a place can be found for it among the masses of artifacts -- all fakes.

    Will this documentary stop the frauds? Perhaps from this other "type of trustworthy" who can be trusted to deliver fakes; but if the pattern typical of announcing new "sensational" finds in the BAR is any indication, we are in for another media frenzy.

    After milking the question of who conquered Meggido for an artifact stolen all it was worth, the BAR and its publisher went silent for a long time. The public knows from Boaz Gaon's fact-based article in the Ma'ariv of March 28, 2003 that a so-called Shishak-Megiddo bowl was sold, according to Gaon, by Oded Golan to a collector. The bowl now has a forged inscription on it: a dedication written in hieroglyphics purportedly from Pharoah Shishak to the general who "conquered" Megiddo.

    Suddenly, after this long silence on the "Megiddo" question, Mr. Shanks published an article in a very recent BAR entitled, "Who conquered Megiddo of the 10th century BC?" Was it David or Shishak? Should we be amazed and surprised if the question of who conquered Megiddo be "settled" by the fortuitous appearance of this bowl in the BAR?

    The hovering danger of the Megiddo bowl must not permit serious scholars to be deflected. This is not what archaeology, epigraphy, and biblical history are about. These forgeries are peripheral; they are not the core and heart of our disciplines. Because of the publicity the forgery machine can engender, we can no longer afford to laugh at human magpie tendencies and obvious fakes. We cannot tolerate this deliberate destruction any longer. We have to stand together and show that we can be trusted to fight for the truth and the integrity of our work.

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