The history of artifacts being manufactured or faked to appear to have religious significance is almost as long as religion itself. And yet now with more advanced methods of sniffing out fakes, the cases can be resolved with far more satisfaction than they once were. Such is the case with the five year trial over a box one antique shop owner says is related to the life of Jesus, but archaeologists say is a fake.
An ossuary is a box or container for the bones or ashes of a person to serve as their final resting place. So when word that the ossuary containing the remains of James, the son of Joseph and brother of Jesus was uncovered, the remarkable item was expected to be an artifact of incredible value. But when antique dealer Oded Golan was indicted for fraud over the object, it carried with it a black eye for his entire establishment. And the case would begin a five year battle over the true nature of the object and the Patina on its surface.
The patina an object acquires with time is the coating that eventually collects on its surface. It is virtually impossible to fake entirely under expert scrutiny, and serves as a major indicator in cases of this nature. The court ruled after the five year trial that Mr. Golan had inscribed on the object’s surface the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” on the surface in order to gain fame and money for the object, which would have been of major religious significance and sold for possibly millions of dollars. Instead it earned Oded only a five year court battle and accusations of fraud.
Eventually the most damning piece of evidence was the inscription itself. Archaologists called in to examine the relic determined that the patina was faked and painted onto the surface using a method involving marine fossils and baking the relic to make it look far older than it really is. Yuval Goren, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv’s University eventually declared the object a fake after discovering the microorganisms embedded in the patina itself.
Many objects have been suspected of being hoaxes created to appeal to the religious for money, fame, or the church’s favor for discovering it. The fact that the spear of Longinus has several counterparts each claiming to be the genuine article only goes to show just how far the hoaxing can go. And relics of the true cross have been in dispute for almost a thousand years as Jean Calvin wrote in 1543, “In brief, if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load. Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.” Still others contend that genuine pieces of the true cross are not as common as those claiming to possess such relics.
The historical significance would have been unquestionable, but would the box have even been of religious significance if it had indeed been genuine? That, of course, is a matter to be settled out of court.