- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Smithsonian (October 21, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061458457
- ISBN-13: 978-0061458453
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 43 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,441,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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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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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
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I bought this book on kind of a whim and am really glad I did.
by Nina Burleigh
There are two different types
of people in the world,
those who want to know,
and those who want to believe.
--Attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche
Quite possibly the James Ossuary had a bigger audience that first day at the Toronto Museum than Jesus himself on his triumphal return to Jerusalem for that long ago pass over. Ossuaries, stone boxes, were used to contain the bones of the Hebrew dead from about 30 C.E. to 70 C.E. Corpses were allowed a year in a cave or sepulcher to allow soft tissues to decay, then the bones placed in an ossuary for economy of storage space. This ossuary was touted as being that of Jesus' brother, James. The inscription on the side of the box reads, in Aramaic, "Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua" ("James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"). If genuine, it would have been the only material relic from the time of Jesus that mentions him. (References to Jesus by Flavius Josephus, for instance, are known to be forgeries, written by Christian redactors around 400 A.D.)
Carved of limestone, the James Ossuary arrived at the Canadian Museum on October 31 2002. It was packed "like a discount toaster oven" (131). Wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a cardboard box, it was badly broken. It was also insured with Lloyds of London for a million dollars, leading Canadian authorities to suspect insurance fraud on the part of shipper, antiquities dealer Oded Golan. Emergency repairs were made, and the stone box went on display. The ossuary was on display from November 15, 2002 to January 5, 2003. "On the first day, ten thousand people filed past, some in silent prayer" (132).
Yet even before the display began, experts knowledgeable in the field were denouncing the ossuary as a fraud. Epigrapher Rochelle Altman published a devastating critique, stating the first half of the inscription was in a different hand than of the last half and that "of" in "brother of" (Jesus) was in a form not used until the 9th century CE (132). Altman was not alone in her critique. Israeli Antiquities Authorities called it "the fraud of the century." It was one among many fakes passed off as archaeological finds with biblical ties.
Since at least the mid eighteenth century, higher criticism has been applied to Bible texts. This involves comparison with known documents from biblical times, word frequency analysis and related techniques. The growth of scientific analysis often evoked dismaying results for true believers. Perhaps because of this, higher criticism has been paralleled by a curious determination among some people of faith to validate Bible stories through scientific investigation; paradoxical because they are people of faith, not of reason.
Nina Burleigh traces the story of the James Ossuary and two other purported relics, the so called Jehoash tablet and an ivory pomegranate "from the Temple of Solomon" starting with their origin, eventual celebration and then dismissal as frauds.
The manufacture of fake patinas proved to be remarkably creative. Archeologist/chemist Yuval Goren noted that, "The fake inscription of both the ossuary inscription and the Jehoash Tablet were similar. (It) appears to be an artificial mixture of feruginous clay powdered chalk, carbonized matter and particles of metal (gold?). It appears that this mixture was first dissolved in hot water before the inscribed surface was heated in an oven in order to solidify the inscription coating...." Goren characterized the mixture, whimsically enough, as, "James Bond" (185).
Masada, the ancient desert fortress where legend has it the ancient Jewish garrison committed suicide rather than surrender to the Roman legions, is of importance to Israeli politics and national identity. It's alleged site was shown to be false, visiting an exceptionally vicious organized letter writing attack on youthful Barnard College Ph. D. candidate, American citizen Nadia Abu Al-Haj wh ose doctoral thesis presented evidence that the Masada story was false (148).
Billionaire Shlmo Moussaieff, jeweler and collector of antiquities, had funded archeological digs, though his funding was contingent on the digs providing biblical results.
"Among Holy Land diggers, there is a long and proud tradition of religious `Indiana Joneses' who leave the pastoral safety of their parsonages in rural Texas or Tennessee and, with wallets bulging from targeted colletions, head over to the Holy Land to do their own digging" (73). They discover such wonders as the Ark of the Covenant or the DNA of the red heifer used in ancienty Jewish sacrifices) with surprising regularity.
Joe Zias, Israeli forensic pathologist and exposer of hoaxes. "Obsessed with ferreting out and exposing the myriad shady characters digging in the Holy Land whom he calls `Ark-eologists'" (75). Zias proved to be, "Eager to expose the 'moneymaking juggernaut'" of those who searched for antiquities (77).
One such character called out by Zias is the late Ron Wyatt. Trained as a nurse, he was a self-anointed antiquities expert. The founder of Wyatt Archeological Research, he discovered not only the Ark of the Covenant, but the blood of Jesus (!). "Jesus' blood" exhibited only 24 chromosomes, 23 from mom and one from his heavenly father. His findings were originally put on display in a museum/gas station in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. (Reviewer's note: While in Gatlinburg, those who enjoy Ron Wyatt's museum, now housed in a more propitious building, may also wish to tour the original Grimsby and Streaper Casket Company. There one is guaranteed to experience the screams of the dead and smell rotting flesh as one feels their way through dark and convoluted corridors. ) Wyatt-type projects and other similar ones are supported through the donations of the faithful.
Holy Land antiquities have been the wellspring of massive fraud since the time of Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad and before. All too often, the victims have often been those who could least afford it, the parishioners of Televangelists and online preachers, ministers who solicit funds to finance and perpetuate their abuses.
Burleigh handles numerous complex characters deftly in her narrative including: Amir Ganor, Israeli Antiquities Authority agent; Robert Deutsch, Romanian-born antiquities dealer. Hershel Shanks the publisher "lawyer, crank, P.T. Barnum and Indiana Jones all rolled into one" (p.33). Said to be responsible for much of the current Biblical hype in general, he referred to debunking scholars as "Lying scholars" (133).
Author Nina Burleigh was raised in a religion-free home in Michigan, yet also "... learned that there are some very decent people who live every waking minute in a state of unshakable faith in an otherworldly power (19)."
Whether one love or hates "Unholy Business" often seems to depend on their belief system. But like what she says or not, there's no denying she says it well, telling a complex story with numerous multi-faceted characters in an understandable and interesting way. She proves to be that rara avis among journalists who possesses the intellectual chops, objectivity and independence to pursue a story to its logical conclusion.
Nina Burleigh has traveled to the Middle East many times during her writing career. She has written for the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and Time. Previous books include: The Stranger and the Statesman, A Very Private Woman and Mirage. She resides in New York City and is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
(This Review appears in a somewhat modified form in the June, 2009, Chickasaw Plum.)
Finally, the real experts and scientists follow the trail of mysterious , fraudulent authorities, and illegal collectors through the shady and sometimes illicit Antiquities underground business.The author profiles many of the personalities connected to the case and to the antiquities trade.
The Israeli authorities have hailed the events as "the fraud of this century" .It has led to a high profile forgery trial involving millions of dollars worth of important Biblical relics,many wealthy individuals , and major institutions such as a famous Museums as well as Sothebys.
It is possible you may have seen some documentaries that cover part of the James Ossuary story, but this book covers much more, and it is a riot of a ride, an excellent buy.