Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land

Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land

by Nina Burleigh
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Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Johnrguthrie More than 1 year ago
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, not surprisingly, 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, now on trial for antiquities fraud in Israel. 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. To take one example, 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. 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 purchases the intellectual chops, the willingness and the 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My interest in biblical archaeology was not well served by this rambling, anecdotal discourse. The subject of frauds and fakes in the world of middle eastern archaeology, especially Israel, certainly deserves a book, but this is not it. The author's personal lack of religion seems to lead her to conclude that all religious artifacts are necessarily fraudulent, and that the city of Jerusalem, for example, is rife with the fool's gold of religious zealots. Worse still, she doesn't even seem to grasp what religion is. (I was amused by her saying that Jesus was crucified at Calgary instead of Calvary.) Nevertheless, the book does give one some idea of the brisk trade in counterfeit antiquities that exists in Israel and elsewhere, and how profitable it can be. But overall, it wasn't worth the time or the money.