Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

IAA scandal

Edward M. Cook, blogging at Ralph the Sacred River, has published an article at SBL Forum: The Forgery Indictments and BAR: Learning From Hindsight,
Cook would like to think that the James ossuary scandal is somehow the fault of the magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and its editor, Hershel Shanks. Ed Cook is not alone in his criticism. Under the view of these critics, responsible journalists would engage in a kind of self-imposed censorship. This to me is unrealistic. Furthermore it does not address the real problem.

The IAA scandal reminds me of the story of the Mormon Salamander forgery. The Church of the Later Day Saints was the biggest purchaser of Mormon artifacts, much like the Catholic Church was in the years before the Reformation. When you have institutional buyers, you create a market opportunity for crooks. Part of the problems is that the institutional buyers have not done a good job of vouching for the authenticity of their purchases.

I suspect that the Israel Antiquities Authority has replaced the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church as the largest purchaser of religious artifacts. The IAA is responsible for the enforcement of the Law of Antiquities (1978). The Department of Antiquities and Museums, which is part of the IAA, acquired the Johanna ossuary in 1984[i] and undoubtedly made numerous other acquisitions. This combination of functions in one entity is problematical. IAA has lent and created credibility for all the key players in the scandal and in effect gave them the keys to the checkbook.

A number of people who have vouched for the James ossuary and reported its existence are now belatedly saying the inscription is not authentic. Defense lawyers love the numerous contradictions already known. This in my opinion is one of the reasons why the case will fail. The trial will however not establish the authenticity of the artifacts nor will it establish responsibility for the creation of the scandal.

It is interesting to me that there is no urgent call for the IAA to examine all of the artifacts it has purchased over the last thirty years to determine which ones are fakes and of course, publish the results of their findings. Unfortunately this review would probably demonstrate how closely some of the indicted conspirators have worked with the IAA over the years.

The extent to which we, by our interest in “signs”, help create an interest in the market, we too are also participants.

[i] As readers of my blog know, I have cited the inscription on this ossuary in my writings. James VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas: high priests after the Exile, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press), 2004, 442-443, and Richard Bauckham, Gospel women: studies of the named women in the gospels, (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans), 2002, have also cited this ossuary.


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