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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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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.Read more ›
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.
"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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'd heard of the James Ossuary and knew it was an object of controversy. I had no real background into the strange world of antiquities in the Holy Land. Read morePublished 4 months ago by S. O'Toole
I couldn't get past the grade level of the story with thesaurus driven interjections, either it's an intellectually written book or grade school, the mixture is offensive. Read morePublished on June 16, 2014 by Marilyn
This book details the discovery of an old limestone box 2002. It was called the James Ossuary and was pitched as the burial box of James, the brother of Jesus Christ. Read morePublished on May 12, 2013 by Santeria
"the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple" (page 59)--they did??? "the Bible says that Golgotha, or Calgary.." (page 66) really??!! Calgary?!! Read morePublished on August 4, 2011 by S.S.
I was a subscriber to Biblical Archaeology Review during the whole James ossuary debacle. I grew wearly of Hershel Shanks one sided presentation of the debate and not allowing... Read morePublished on July 8, 2011 by The Movie Guy
Burleigh's account of fraud in Israeli antiquities is insightful and exciting. Hers is a fast-paced reporter's vision of a market where collectors and ideologues compete to control... Read morePublished on September 14, 2010 by Ryan Mease
Having just returned from the Biblical Archaeology Society's annual conference, this topic is fresh in my mind. Read morePublished on November 24, 2009 by FrKurt Messick
In Unholy Business, journalist Nina Burleigh uses the story of the James Ossuary, a purported relic supporting the historical existence of Jesus that is now widely believed to be a... Read morePublished on September 17, 2009 by Cynthia S. Froning
No point in competing with the many probing critiques of this book already posted here. Just want to express annoyance at Ms. Read morePublished on September 5, 2009 by Atlantico