Saturday, January 08, 2005

Forgery Roundup: Moussaieff to Testify Against Golan, Deutsch

The UK Telegraph reports that Shlomo Moussaieff will testify against Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, Rafi Brown and the others indicted in the forgery scandal:
Shlomo Moussaieff, 82, who owns Moussaieff Jewellers at the London Hilton and is considered the world's leading private collector of biblical antiquities, confirmed that he would give evidence against the five alleged forgers: Oded Golan, a major Israeli collector and dealer; Robert Deutsch; Shlomo Cohen and Rafi Brown, who are all Israelis; and Faiz al-Amaleh, a West Bank Palestinian. All deny the charges against them.
The article continues:
Mr Moussaieff says that he bought about £2.67 million-worth of antiquities, including bullae, or seals of ancient Jewish kings, but he rejected claims by the Israeli police that the artefacts were bogus.

"Every dealer experiences a common battle against the faker: sometimes they win, sometimes you win," he said from his home in Tel Aviv, where many works from his collection are displayed.

"Listen, I'm a big boy. In my business, if I bought a fake, I can only blame myself. If I fail, I fail. I do not think that these are fakes. Since the age of 40, I think I've had enough knowledge to avoid buying fakes."

Even though Mr Moussaieff believes that he has not been duped, the indictment alleges that during one transaction he grew suspicious of the authenticity of a gold bulla and, after checks showed it to be a fake, refused to pay the $1 million (£535,000) asking price.

Prosecutors said that this raised doubts about the authenticity of other items he bought from the alleged conmen. Major Jonathan Pagis, who is leading the Israeli police investigation, said: "People want very much to believe that what they bought is genuine. The buyers' faith is unshakable, as they want to believe that they have a genuine piece of history."
The article is confused; bullae are seal impressions, not seals. It is unlikely that there exists a "gold bulla"; but one could easily imagine an actual seal with a gold setting. Another witness is also named:
Dr Nigel Strudwick, an Egyptologist at the British Museum, has also been listed as an expert witness, although the museum said last week that he had not been informed.

Amir Ganor, the head of Israel's Antiquities Authority detective unit, who launched the investigation, claims that one forged item, a "gold object which had connections to Egypt" was bought and displayed by the British Museum.

He would not give more details, saying that the matter was still under investigation, but he added that he would be seeking help from Scotland Yard in the run-up to the trial later this year.
The article concludes:
[Amir] Ganor said that the trial would be the biggest ever seen in connection with forged artefacts. "It is important because it is connected to the sinister exploitation of religion, of the Jewish and Christian beliefs," he said.

"We hope it will also have an impact on academic studies by experts around the world, so that in future they base their research on real items, not forged items."
Read the whole thing.

I don't understand exactly what Moussaieff will say against Golan et al., if he still believes, for instance, that eponymous Moussaieff Ostraca and other artifacts are genuine. Does he feel that he has been cheated, or not? Watch this space.

UPDATE: The gold item (not "gold bulla," as the article states) that Moussaieff initially considered to be a forgery was described in Biblical Archaeology Review:
Another item casting suspicion on Golan is a seal inscribed “Belonging to Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah.” If genuine, the Menashe (the monarch’s Hebrew name) seal would be an extraordinary object, the rarest of the rare. Hezekiah was an important eighth-century B.C.E. king of Judah, and his son Manasseh ruled from 697–642 B.C.E. The seal is especially treasured because it purports to be in its original gold setting. According to Golan, a Palestinian brought it to him on behalf of an unknown owner. Unable to handle a purchase of that magnitude (the original asking price was $2 million), Golan took it to Moussaieff, who, after much deliberation and consultation, decided that it was likely to be a forgery and declined to buy it. The formation of the letters on the seal was not elegant enough for a king, Moussaieff felt (a judgment shared by others). Besides, the first letter of the monarch’s name looked too much like a Moabite mem rather than a Hebrew mem. But, still, this was not enough to definitely declare it a fake.

Moussaieff later changed his mind about buying the seal and asked Golan to bring it back. When Golan contacted his connection, however, he was told that the seal was no longer available. Apparently, someone else had purchased it and perhaps smuggled it out of the country. No one, including Golan, knows where it is today.
From H. Shanks, "Is Oded Golan a forger?" BAR 29.5 (Sept./Oct.) 2003.

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