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The History Merchants

By the time the documentary ends, the viewer is convinced that for at least 15 years Oded Golan (and some others) has flooded the antiquities market with forgeries.

Reviewed By Rochelle Altman
February 2004


February 18, 2004
Channel 2 (Israel)
Oded Golan: Another Type of Trustworthy (na'aman ocher)
Uvda Documentary Special,
Moderator, Ilana Dayan

    This documentary is both factual and worth viewing, yet all the same, it is disappointing. The fuller story is buried in snippets lasting for one or two seconds each. As presented, the film turns a monster "forgery machine" involving media "gods," historians, biblical scholars, archaeologists, epigraphers, stupid or even corrupt laboratory scientists, and others who helped to make this monster into the dull story of just another "forger."

    Make no mistake: the documentary succeeds in one very important respect. Viewers are left with no doubt that what the "star" of the show can be trusted to do is to deliver forgeries. The insincerity that Mr. Golan himself displays in his many extended "sound-bites" reinforces the hard evidence displayed for us to see.

    The forged products are not unique in type; they are unique in extent. While this is a money machine on a magnitude that Wilhelm Shapira could never imagine in his wildest dreams, this is also a forgery machine geared to rewrite the history books on an equally vast scale. It is the enormous scale of the operation that is unique.

    When kings and emperors and governments rewrote their histories (as the winners always do), their primary purpose was to whitewash themselves. This is not the case here. Helena started the relics-machine rolling back in the fourth century, but she did not think in terms of money. Shapira, the best known of the 19th-century forgers, thought in terms of money. This time money, yes, but with an agenda aimed at the "creation" of biblical history; a fake history that lets the forgers turn legitimate scientists and scholars into whispering voices trying to be heard above the roar stimulated by the sensational finds and the agenda behind the "finds." And what an ugly agenda it is!

    In a snippet, a take lasting perhaps 4 seconds, Major Jonathan Pagis of the police states the ugly "hidden" agenda: "Antiquities looters tear pages from the book of our history, but this man [Golan] adds to them pages that read what he wants them to read."

    By the time the documentary ends, the viewer is convinced that for at least 15 years Oded Golan (and some others) has flooded the antiquities market with forgeries. These are not just any forgeries, mind you, but primarily Iron Age through Roman Period inscriptions in Hebrew – preferably inscribed in Paleo-Hebraic. And these forgeries are designer items. Each fake is carefully thought out and aimed at a precise target before being manufactured. Each item is designated for a specific "audience," for an audience he has.

    Shots of a procession of Roman monks carrying a cross on the route of the Via Dolorosa and Hassidic Jews praying at the Western Wall appear several times during the program to point to the target audience. Even in this, the producers fail to distinguish religious sects and fall into a trap that can be expected of people who, through lack of contact, are not knowledgeable about the differences among Christian sects. And this lack of knowledge was known to, and used by, the merchants of forged history.

    The target is the religious market. This is a market that Dr. Yuval Goren refers to as "The Jerusalem Syndrome" in his paper presented at the SBL in Atlanta in November of 2003; that paper is available for all to read right here on bibleinterp.com. And there are also most specific markets, one of which Ian Ransom exposed in his book Mary and the Ossuary: Beneath the "Brother of Jesus" Forgery. This market is the key to the entire series of sensational "finds."

    Golan, of course, did not do it all alone; he had help. A forgery ring needs a manufacturer, an authenticator, and a publicity machine. The viewer is treated to a revealing display of how the forgery machine worked. We are taken from when the items were invented and planned through the final production by an artist. One artist in particular is heard on tape discussing the manufacture of bullae with our "star," Oded Golan. The artist learned his trade in Egypt and knows no other. He is an artist who produced some of the bullae for Golan. He might be the "mysterious" Egyptian that Golan claimed made use of the roof above his luxurious apartment in a private apartment building located in an affluent, yet crowded, city neighborhood. We are treated to a demonstration by Amir Ganor of the IAA of how small fakes, such as bullae, are delivered -- hidden inside packs of cigarettes.

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