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Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land Hardcover – October 21, 2008

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Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land + The "Dead Sea Scrolls": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books) + The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian (October 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061458457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061458453
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,204,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In November 2002, the public display of an ossuary (an ancient burial vessel) inscribed James, the brother of Jesus, sent ripples of excitement, doubt and consternation through both the religious and scholarly worlds. But when scholars took a close look, they declared the inscription a forgery based on the lack of provenance and a tremendous disparity between the physical writing of the word James and the rest of the inscription. In her captivating chronicle, veteran journalist Burleigh (Mirage) enters a dark world full of shady dealings, illicit collectors and monomaniacal archeologists. Along the way we meet an improbable cast of characters, including Oded Golan, the ossuary's owner; André Lemaire, an epigraphist who early on testified to the authenticity of the ossuary's inscription; Shlomo Moussaieff, a billionaire collector with a warehouse full of artifacts of uncertain value; and Israel Finkelstein, a maverick Israeli archeologist who questions the historicity of many biblical events. Burleigh draws readers in from page one and brilliantly captures the compelling debates about archeology's relationship to narratives of faith. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

Shrewd and piquant journalist Burleigh, whose last book, Mirage (2007), offers fresh insights into the discovery of the Rosetta stone, tells the full story behind one of the “greatest hoaxes of all times,” the ancient stone box that was presented to the world in 2002 as the ossuary that held the bones of Jesus’ brother, James. With brio and acumen, Burleigh follows the trail of antiquities fraud in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, visiting collectors’ lairs, biblical sites, and archaeological digs. She wryly profiles Oded Golan, the man responsible for the fraudulent ossuary, and Amir Ganor, the Israel Antiquities Authority investigator who broke the case, as well as a motley crew of scholars, tomb looters, dealers, true believers, and antiquities forgers. But Burleigh is most intrigued with the mix of science and wishful thinking that characterizes biblical archaeology as Israel struggles to preserve evidence of this bloodied land’s Jewish heritage, and Christians seek Holy Land artifacts that allegedly offer “physical proof of biblical stories.” In all, a provocative inquiry into the age-old pairing of faith and folly. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

Nina Burleigh is the author of five books including the New York Times bestseller, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox. To research the definitive story of the Amanda Knox trial, Burleigh lived in Perugia, corresponded with the three defendants, interviewed Italian authorities and dozens of close friends and families of the accused. She and her husband photographer Erik Freeland enrolled their two children in the town school, and had many adventures.
Her other books include Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land; Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt; The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams and the Making of America's Greatest Museum, the Smithsonian; and A Very Private Woman: The Life and Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer.
Mirage, published in 2008 by Harper Collins, was selected by the New York Times as an editors' choice and won the Society of Women Educators' Award in 2008.
Burleigh was born and educated in the Midwest, has traveled throughout the United States and extensively in the Middle East and lived in Italy and France. As a journalist, she has covered American politics, the White House and Congress for Time and reported and wrote human interest stories at People Magazine from New York. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
She writes a column for the New York Observer and her feature articles on a wide variety of topics have been published in the New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, New York and Bloomberg's Businessweek, Elle, and many other journals. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, CBS 48 Hours, various programs on CNN, C-Span, as well as NPR and countless radio outlets.

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Customer Reviews

The author also seemed too be trying to write two different types of books at the same time.
M. A. Ramos
Just about every other page, my friend was stopping me and saying things like "that is a major inaccuracy" or "that simply is not true."
K. Corn
I enjoyed the book because I was obsessed with the ossuary story when it came out and talked to Dr. James Tabor about the discovery.
The Movie Guy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Bay Gibbons VINE VOICE on July 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
(Review is based upon Uncorrected Proof)

While reading this book I felt at times like a field archaeologist, sifting through piles of rubble and dirt to find a few precious artifacts of gold. The gold is there, to be sure, in small nuggets. You just have to be willing to dig for it.

Part travelogue, part human interest story, part crime report, part reporter's notepad, the genre of this book is difficult to pin down. It reminded me in many ways of Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses (P.S.) (without the religious insight) or Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy(without the recipes). My initial annoyance and disappointment with "Unholy Business" was ultimately tempered when I realized that I was not reading a scholarly work on archaeology, history, linguistics or even criminal forensics, but a kind of breezy and highly personalized travelogue. In hindsight this is not surprising, as Nina Burleigh is listed as a staff writer for "People" magazine, which I dip into briefly during almost every visit to my doctor. The writing of "Unholy Business" fits precisely within the human-interest story found in "People." As a history, I would give the book a single star. As human-interest story cum travelogue, it deserves two stars, possibly the three awarded here.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Sires on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read this book because I wanted a journalist's eyeview of the trade in looted and forged artifacts as well as the full story of the James ossuary that disappeared from the press after making such a splash in the early part of this century. In my opinion Nina Burleigh does a very good job of introducing the reader to the characters of the drama-- the scholars, the dealers, the buyers and the agents who are supposed to police them all. Far from finding them distracting, I thought the details she provided about the various people are entertaining and give good visual references. If this doesn't become a documentary then I will be very surprised.

She clearly showed the interests that individuals had in the various sites and the finds that might (or might not) connect them to the Bible-- monetary, reputation, political and religious. And then she brings her story back around to the detective work that led to the discovery of the hidden items, the scientific investigation of the various items that led to the prosecution.

She isn't terribly unkind to anyone, not even Hershel Shanks-- who I first read about when a misguided friend gave me a subscription to Biblical Archaeology Review-- a publication that is indeed quite shiny. Mr. Shanks at the time was being sued by Elisha Qimron, a scholar working on the Dead Sea Scrolls, for publication of his copyrighted work without permission. Mr. Qimron won, I later learned.

Anyway, I found this book informative and entertaining without sliding into the shrillness that can be found in a lot of discussions about religious claims on the Near East and its history. I can safely predict a few hackles will be raised anyway.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Erik Olson VINE VOICE on August 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
During my twenty-four years as an evangelical Christian I devoured anything remotely validating the Bible's authenticity, such as the Noah's Ark expeditions and other key archaeological findings in the Middle East like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Two recent discoveries came to light as I was leaving my faith: The James Ossuary and the Jehoash Tablet. After much debate and analysis it turned out that these controversial items were sophisticated fakes, and their rise and fall is smartly documented in this fascinating book.

"Unholy Business" takes us into the seamy underbelly of the Middle East antiquities trade, specifically within Israel and the Palestine territories. Nina Burleigh covers the recent period when the above finds were unearthed, tested, and found wanting. The James Ossuary, a stone burial box, was inscribed with a phrase that made it the first archaeological object to substantiate Christ's existence (not to mention his father Joseph and brother/cousin James). As for the Jehoash Tablet, it was touted as proof of Solomon's Temple, thus augmenting the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount.

Both artifacts generated religious and political firestorms while being subjected to the scrutiny of reputable scholars. After rigorous analysis, the experts came to the conclusion that both items were bogus due to various inconsistencies and anachronisms. The persons held responsible for the frauds were charged with "creating a series of forgeries and scheming to sell them," and were subjected to a drawn-out legal ordeal that further tainted the situation, thus enabling some quarters to still claim that the items are genuine. Indeed, the title "Unholy Business" is an apt description of the entire affair.
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