For six hours on September 4, the government’s first witness in the Israeli forgery trial, internationally famous, 82-year-old antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff, testified, surprisingly asserting he believed that all the pieces in his vast collection are authentic. The government’s purpose in calling Mr. Moussaieff as a witness remains unclear. The court set aside two days in early November for cross-examination of Moussaieff.
The government claims that the five defendants are part of an international forgery ring. Among the many artifacts alleged to be forgeries are a bone box with an inscription referring to Jesus’ brother James, an inscribed ivory pomegranate once thought to be the only surviving relic from Solomon’s Temple and a receipt for a gift of three shekels to the Temple.a
Since there are no juries in Israel, the case will not be tried continuously. Judge Aharon Farkash has set aside two days in each of the first six months of 2006 in which to hear additional government witnesses. The indictment against the most prominent antiquities dealer in Israel (Robert Deutsch), the former chief conservator of the Israel Museum (Raphael Brown), the owner of the James ossuary (Oded Golan) and two others lists 124 government witnesses. At this rate, if all listed witnesses are called, it is estimated that the government will take between 10 and 15 years to present its case. Then it will be the defendants’ turn to present their evidence.