Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Ossuary and the Need for Skepticism

An interesting and cogent article appears today on, taken from the Skeptical Enquirer. The whole article is of interest to those following the forgery scandal, but this paragraph is especially apt:
Another example of rushing to judgment and stonewalling against later evidence is Herschel Shanks, who has ardently promoted the James Ossuary and defended Oded Golan. He has engaged in personal attacks on IAA staff and attempted to cast doubt on IAA reports. Shanks has only grudgingly acknowledge[d] the possibility that the James Ossuary inscription is a forgery and that Oded Golan forged it and many other artifacts. While his magazine touted the James Ossuary as a great archeological find in 2002, its position now is that it does not know whether the artifact is forged or Golan is a forger.

A responsible approach to the James Ossuary would have been to start with skepticism and wait for a consensus of several independent experts. Instead, Shanks, BAR, and the ROM [Royal Ontario Museum]jumped at their opportunity for publicity before giving science its opportunity to arrive at the truth.
Read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

What ever happened to the notion of someone being "innocent until proven guilty"? I have been amazed since the news of the indictment at the number of people now publicly condemning Golan, others, and many ancient artifacts based on circumstantial evidence. Perhaps I just don't know enough of the evidence to make an informed decision. Is it truly the evidence, or are shame and social pressures now forcing people into making what seem like premature condemnations? What evidence was presented at the indictment that was not known before the indictment? Did I miss something? Should judgements not be more reserved until there is a conviction? Confused...

EMC said...

I'm not sure what evidence you've heard and what you haven't. But the case against Golan starts here:

1. The reported presence in his apartment of half-finished forgeries and samples of dirt from various sites in Israel with which to fake patina, as well as other instruments used to produce forgeries;
2. His recurring association with objects that, in the opinion of most experts, are forged: the Ossuary, the Jehoash tablet, and several others.
3. His inability to provide a convincing story about how he acquired the James Ossuary or the Tablet;
4. His reported association with a man who has stated that he produced forgeries on Golan's instructions.

Those are just off the top of my head. If I think of more, I'll add them to the list. This seems like a strong case, but it has to be backed up in court. In the event that Golan is exonerated of actual forgery, he still has to bear the obloquy of being the conduit by which fake artifacts reached collectors and scholars.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points. The 'need for skepticism' probably cuts both ways, however. Do phrases like 'half-finished forgeries', and I believe I have seen 'forgery workshop' elsewhere, most accurately describe the evidence? Did Golan ever give a reasonable response to/explanation of this serious allegation or any of the others? I read somewhere that there was a show on Israeli TV that portrayed Golan and his activities in a very negative light, if not outright calling him a forger. Is it strange that such a condemnatory public show would precede Golan's trial? Unfortunately, it seems there is just enough to be skeptical of nearly everyone and everything involved. Hopefully the trial will put everything straight.