At the time of the last update regarding the James Ossuary, several co-defendants had pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and the trial of Oded Golan -- owner of the James Ossuary -- had begun. (It should be noted that the co-defendants who plead guilty to fraud were apparently not involved in the possession or presentation of the James Ossuary and most were not connected to Mr. Golan). An expert witness for the prosecution had caused a stir by testifying that the James Ossuary was authentic. There was also talk of a picture of the James Ossuary dating from the 70's showing the inscription on it.
Now that almost ten months have passed, where does the trial stand?
The rumor about pictures dating from the 70's appear to be true. At least, copies of the pictures were given to the press and they will be submitted as evidence during the trial. However, can you see the inscription on the pictures and are they themselves authentic? Here is how Haartez describes the pictures:
In the defense's photographs, dated 1976, the ossuary is shown on a shelf, apparently in Golan's home. In an enlargement, the whole inscription can be seen with great difficulty. The photo was examined by Gerald Richard, a former FBI agent and an expert for the defense. Richard testified that "Nothing was noted that would indicate or suggest that they were not produced in March 1976 as indicated on the stamps appearing on the reverse side of each print."
So, the pictures may be authentic. But if they are, how do they help Mr. Golan's case? The argument is that no one would forge the inscription in 1976 and then wait almost 30 years to try and profit from it. This makes some sense and may play havoc with the prosecution's time line. This is all the more problematic because the indictment accuses Mr. Golan of forging part of the inscription "recently."
It should also be noted that there may be an extra incentive for forging pictures of the purported forged inscription. Not only does it help Mr. Golan's case, but the law in Israel states that any antiquities found after 1978 are the property of the state.
Pantina is a chemical compound that is often found on ancient artifacts and can be useful in dating objects or testing their authenticity. It has become an issue in the James Ossuary trial because the prosecution admits that most of the inscription on the ossuary is genuine, but alleges that Mr. Golan added, "brother of Jesus" to make the connection to the biblical James. If this is true, one would expect the pantina formation on "brother of Jesus" to be of more recent origin. Apparently, a prosecution witness -- Prof. Yuval Goren -- admitted on cross-examination that there is "genuine ancient patina" on two letters of the name "Jesus" on the ossuary. This would count against a modern forgery.
A Connection to the Jesus Tomb?
Perhaps the most remarkable but least trustworthy news lately about the James Ossuary is that it actually came from the sensationalized Jesus Tomb. James Cameron's "special" made this allegation. In fact, the Jesus Tomb theory itself has fallen apart and is not taken seriously by the academic community and the connection with the James Ossuary is even more tenuous. In short, there is nothing to the claim. For more, just search for Jesus Tomb and BK's posts on the subject will bring you up to speed.
Why is it Taking so Darn Long?
Oded Golan was indicted in December 2004. Trial was supposed to begin on May 19, 2005, but was delayed until September 4, 2005, after the defense complained that the prosecution produced evidence on the eve of trial. So we are two years plus five months from the indictment and over a year and a half from the beginning of trial. In the United States, once a trial starts, it generally continues more or less consecutively and rarely lasts more than a few weeks. Not so in Israel.
Probably the key factor in the length of this trial is the lack of a jury. The judge will decide the issue (as is the rule in Israel). In my experience, this leads to longer trials not shorter (in calendar days, not necessarily in court hours). With a jury there is always the pressure to get it done so the 14 jurors (usually there are two alternates) can get back to there lives. Not so with judges. Especially this judge, apparently. The trial plan was for the judge to hear witnesses on two days for each of the first six months. The initial plan called for 126 prosecution witnesses, which at the rate they were proceeding would have put the trial at lasting between 10 and 15 years. No one expects it to take that long, but that should give you an idea of why this is taking so long.