Biblical Archaeology Review 30:3, May/June 2004
Ossuary Update

The Trial of Oded Golan

State of Israel vs. Oded Golan—You Be the Judge

This is the imaginary trial of Oded Golan, the Tel Aviv antiquities collector who owns the ossuary, or bone box, inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” He is charged with forging the inscription. You be the judge (there are no juries in Israel): Don’t assume that the Judge’s courtroom rulings on objections and the like are all correct or all incorrect.

CLERK OF COURT: The State of Israel vs. Oded Golan, Criminal Case Number aleph, beth, gimmel, dalet.

PROSECUTOR: Call Professor Frank M. Cross to the stand.

PROSECUTOR: Professor Cross, please state your affiliation.

CROSS: I am professor emeritus at Harvard University.

PROSECUTOR: Is one of your specialties paleography?

DEFENSE COUNSEL (D.C.): Your Honor, we will stipulate that the witness is one of the two or three most eminent paleographers in the world.

COURT: Perhaps you ought to tell us what paleography is, Professor Cross.

CROSS: It is the study of the shape and form of letters, which change over time. This often enables us to date an inscription. It often also enables us to detect forgeries because each of the letters must be accurately drawn and correctly cohere for the appropriate time period. Each letter must also be appropriate for the dialect of the inscription, such as Aramaic, Moabite or Edomite. The forger often unmasks himself by paleographic errors.

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