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A Short Note on Recent Forgeries

We now know that the James Ossuary was the proverbial "tip of the iceberg" in the spate of modern forgeries.

Dr. Joseph R. Cathey
Adjunct Professor
Dallas Baptist University
July 2005

In the past few months, Israel has taken a decidedly hands-on approach in rooting out forgeries. We now know that the James Ossuary was the proverbial "tip of the iceberg" in the spate of modern forgeries. The Israel Exploration Journal has taken the initiative in what one hopes to be an ongoing series in seeking to determine the authenticity of some exciting artifacts. I have written a short piece on the IEJ article entitled "The Ivory Pomegranate." My essay reflects on an article written by eight reputable scholars with an eclectic background in both physical science (e.g., chemistry, geology, forensic science) and Syro-Palestinian archaeology/epigraphy. In this article, the authors examine the perennial popular Ivory Pomegranate to ascertain its authenticity. Scholars such as Lemaire, Avigad, Bar-Matthews, Goren, and Millard have been at the forefront of ascertaining the provenance of Israeli antiquities. However, I believe that academia can no longer afford to provenance an antiquity solely on epigraphy. The critical methodology presented in this article should be the standard for how we do antiquity authentication. Detractors will claim that the expense of this methodology is exorbitant. Yet, the damage done to museums (e.g., loss of capital in paying for these forgeries not to mention reputation) and to those who authenticate these antiquities demands that we rethink our evaluation of artifacts. The authors of the article argue that while the pomegranate itself is ancient, the inscription is a clever modern forgery. Chemical and epigraphical analysis reveal that "the inscription and the patina-like material on the inscription and around it are a recent forgery" (19).

Similar investigations into two Iron Age ostraca from the Moussaieff collection have revealed that they too are a recent forgery. I have written a small essay entitled "Exposing Iron Age Forgeries" in which I again congratulate Goren, Bar-Matthews, Ayalon, and Schilman for their examination. The authors give an unstintingly well-detailed explanation of their critical methodology as well as how the forgery was accomplished. They argue that "the micromorphologic, petrographic, and isotopic examination of the two ostraca indicate without a doubt that these are modern forgeries" (32).

Upon reflection of these two essays, one is struck with two immediate observations. First, forgeries in the Middle East are carried out at different levels. For instance, the Ivory Pomegranate forgery was carried out with precise science and quite possibly in a laboratory. The forger was obviously skilled in physical chemistry and possibly in epigraphy. This combination made it difficult for scholastic epigraphers to ascertain the falseness of the antiquity. However, the two ostraca were forged either hastily or by one with limited experience in chemical composition. The authors state, "It should be noted that the forgery technique is not very sophisticated and that expert laboratories can readily notice the presence of the irrelevant materials (paraffin and lime)" (32). Yet even in this instance, one needs not only date the find epigraphically but also with the help of modern chemical analysis. Second, unfortunately with the advent of collectors, museums, and other interested parties, the influx of capital makes it imperative that scientists play an increasingly dominant role in determining the age of an antiquity. I am not arguing against traditional critical methodology (e.g. epigraphy and palaeography) of unprovenanced antiquities. A marriage between chemical/geological and epigraphical/palaeographical analysis will take more time and capital to accomplish what takes less time today. The articles in IEJ demonstrate that this methodology is as close to "forgery proof" as the academy can ascribe to in the current climate.