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Cite as: Johnson, Emma. 2007. The Players, the Problems, and the Persistence of Forgeries in Biblical Archaeology. PARA Research Paper A-01.

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The Players, the Problems, and the Persistence of Forgeries in Biblical Archaeology


Emma Johnson

May 6, 2007


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            When Moses Shapira realized in 1884 that the academic community had rejected his greatest discovery, a parchment that contained an alternate version of Deutoronomy, as a forgery, he was so distraught at the news that he committed suicide within a year (Allegro 1965: 64).  By the 1960s, however, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the authenticity of Shapira’s parchments was again questioned, and the debate continues even though the original fragments are lost (Barker 1990: 27; Allegro 1965).  Such a dramatic story begs questions about the conduct of the individuals involved: where did Shapira find his parchments?  Why was the academic community so quick to dismiss them?  And why do we now question the validity of their verdict on the authenticity of Shapira’s artifacts?  Such questions are particularly relevant when we realize that they can be applied to all potential forgeries, particularly those that purport to prove some aspect of biblical history.  The recent events surrounding the so-called James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription can similarly tell us a great deal about the nature and status of forgeries, and how individuals from both academic and nonacademic backgrounds can impact forgeries in biblical archaeology.  While there is often only one individual responsible for the production of the forgery itself, how it is accepted or rejected by various groups creates a complex web of motivations, emotions, and ideologies that either consciously or unconsciously promote the continued production of forgeries.  While there may not be a universal solution to this problem, certain changes can and must be made in order to eradicate this practice and prevent it from contaminating the archaeological record, for “all forgeries are potentially dangerous” (Kurz 1967: 319). 


Setting the Scene: Art, Archaeology, and Forgery


“Allegations of forgery are not the scholarly fashion of the moment.”

– Joseph Naveh (1968: 317)


It is important before embarking on a discussion of forgery in biblical archaeology that we define the exact scope of the topic.  Terms such as ‘forgery’, ‘fake’, and ‘biblical archaeology’ can have multiple meanings in different contexts, and there appears to be no universal language with which such concepts are expressed.  It is therefore essential that we set the scene by creating a set of definitions in order to discuss this topic on, in a sense, a level playing field.  First and foremost, we must examine the current status of forgeries and fakes and how they are viewed by the academic community.  Forgeries have been a particularly relevant topic in the art world, and a great deal of the scholarship on the subject derives from art historians and art museum workers (see Jones 1990; Hoving 1967; Kurz 1967); however, studies of the concept of forgery are less likely to appear in archaeological scholarship, which often chooses to focus on a specific artifact whose authenticity is uncertain rather than discuss the issue as a whole (see Naveh 1968, 1982; Brent 2001).  Art historians and museum workers, however, have frequently debated over the value of forgeries in the study of art; in fact, they find many examples of situations in which the definition of a fake might become blurred.  For example, the long-standing tradition of restoration in museum work raises the question of the context in which artifacts are altered: is a restoration sanctioned by a museum necessarily more authentic than the alteration of an artifact in an independent setting (Jones 1990: 14)?  For archaeologists John C. Whittaker and Michael Stafford, the question is further complicated by the recent popularity of professional and amateur replica production for both educational and entertainment purposes (1999).  Many scholars argue that it is in fact only with the “outright act of deceit” that one can call an artifact or piece of art a fake (Hoving 1967: 243), suggesting that instances of mistaken identity do not fit in such a category.  In one of the most liberal definitions of the word, “[e]very relic displayed in a museum is a fake in that is has been wrenched out of its original context” (Lowenthal 1990: 17); although an interesting critique of museum exhibition, such a deconstructionalist view does not adequately account for the intentional production of forgeries in such a context.  Finally, some have called into question the negative value and immediate dismissal of fakes in the art world: perhaps they do have a place, not as historical relics, but as indications of modern perceptions of the past: “[a forgery] translates the ancient work of art into present-day language and serves the same purpose as translations and modernizations in literature” (Kurz 1967).


Such a wide variety of definitions and considerations make it difficult to formulate any universal definition of what exactly constitutes a forgery; it is clear that “what is fraudulent in one context is quintessentially genuine in another”, depending on how it is displayed and the ways in which academic and nonacademic communities choose to interpret it (Lowenthal 1990: 17).  It is also clear that forgeries in archaeology have different consequences than those in the art world.  Such forgeries have the possibility of contaminating the archaeological record when they are integrated into a dataset with artifacts whose provenience is certain – that is, with artifacts whose archaeological context is well known (Whittaker and Stafford, 1999: 204).  Keeping in mind the differences between artistic and archaeological forgeries, and the problems inherent in defining the concept in its entirety, for the purposes of this paper alone I propose the following definition for an archaeological forgery: the intentional production or manipulation of an object for the purposes of deceiving both academic and nonacademic communities into believing that it is a legitimate part of the archaeological record.


Setting the Scene: Biblical Archaeology


“Each society, each generation, fakes the thing it covets most.”

 -- Mark Jones (1990: 13)


 Secondly, in addition to defining and understanding the concept of forgery, a brief definition and explanation of so-called biblical archaeology is necessary before we attempt to link the two concepts; understanding the unique situation of forgeries in the biblical archaeological world can hardly be possible without first understanding the status and scope of such a world, and perhaps the difficulties inherent in defining it.  There is a long history of attempting to prove the historicity and accuracy of the Bible through something other than a religious venue (Silberman and Goren 2006: 49); ancient texts and material culture have been incorporated into this goal by both professional and amateur archaeologists.  Such attempts have also taken on political connotations, as various nationalistic movements in the region could use a confirmation of certain events in the Bible to their advantage.  Interpretations of the archaeological record for religious or political purposes are certainly not without precedent, but the “emotionally laden” subjects of religion and territoriality in the Near East have created a biased and often inaccurate portrayal of the past for the purposes of the present (Dever 1998: 39). 


Although many professional archaeologists have attempted to remove themselves from this trend by detaching themselves from modern politics (Dever 1998: 40), they have either consciously or unconsciously become “the authors of a modern Creation myth” (Silberman 1989: 248), developing a “new scripture of potsherds, cuneiform tablets, and architectural plans” (Silberman 1989: 6).  The work of professional archaeologists in the 1920s and 30s constituted a truly academic biblical archaeology “movement” (Dever 1998: 40), and such work has been continued by new revisionist scholars and amateurs who use an increasingly ideological rhetoric.  The quest for a biblical past, or an ancient Israel, hinges on the use of the Bible as an accurate historical document; even though there is a place for the application of text-based archaeological methods in the Near East, many scholars have specifically noted that the Bible is a later construction of the past that cannot be used as an unbiased or independent primary source (Dever 1998: 41). 


The importance of potentially biblical artifacts, and the artifacts that biblical scholars have chosen to ignore, constitute a significant part of the material record in the Near East.  Many scholars have called for a complete abandonment of the search for a biblical or even Israeli “history”, and suggest that greater care should be taken to create a more neutral archaeological tradition in the region (Dever 1998: 41).  It is important to note that the goal “should be not to eliminate [our] ideologies, since that is impossible, but to try to unmask them in ourselves and others” (Dever 1998:50).  Since professional and amateur archaeologists, ancient historians, and collectors have their own biases and opinions about the religious and political significance of Near Eastern artifacts, there is great diversity in what has been termed biblical archaeology; this makes it particularly difficult to define and evaluate. 


Thus, for the purposes of this paper, I define biblical archaeology as the following: any academic, professional, or amateur archaeological endeavour, whether an excavation, land survey, or examination of an artifact, that seeks to prove the literal historicity of the Bible, thus using the Bible as a primary source historical document.


Forgeries in Biblical Archaeology: A Case Study


            Bearing in mind that so many individuals, organizations, and institutions have a vested interested in the discovery of potentially biblical artifacts, it is not surprising that a large number of forgeries have been produced, especially in recent years, that cater to those who wish to prove the historicity of the Bible.  The frequency of these forgeries is further compounded by the growing popularity of the antiquities trade in Israel, where many unprovenienced artifacts make their way into private or museum collections (Silberman 1989: 130).  Even authentic artifacts are frequently illegally removed from their archaeological setting to be sold to whoever might be interested (Silberman 1989: 117).  The worlds of the scholar, the amateur, the antiquities dealer, and the museum worker collide when the production, sale, and display of a forged artifact takes place.  The tensions between these groups often increase when the state becomes involved, and can be even more dramatic when they take place under the watchful eye of the public through various media outlets.  Thus it is important to study any forged “biblical” find by looking at the ways in which these various groups interact.  The most recent story of large-scale biblical forgery, that of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription, reveals persistent flaws within the motivations, policies, and actions of every individual involved.  As Neil Silberman and Yuval Goren stated in their article that summarizes the events of recent years, the following narrative offers “an instructive Sunday school lesson to anyone who would at any cost, try to mobilize archaeology to prove the Bible “true”” (2006: 50).


            The story of the James Ossuary first surfaced in October 2002: the small container designed to hold the bones of the deceased bore an Aramaic inscription that read “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”.  Based on biblical evidence, Hershel Shanks, the editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, determined with his colleagues that this ossuary might provide the first archaeological evidence for the existence of Jesus (Lemaire 2002[1]).  The exact provenience of the artifact was unknown, but it was said to belong to an anonymous antiquities collector (Silberman and Goren 2006: 50).  Initial studies by epigrapher Andre Lemaire and scientists from the Geological Survey of Israel determined that the artifact was a first century AD ossuary with a genuine inscription.  The declaration of the ossuary’s authenticity was published in the subsequent issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review by Shanks and Lemaire, and the artifact was hailed as one of the most important biblical finds in recent years (Lemaire 2002).  A large-scale publicity campaign ensued, including a documentary on the Discovery Channel, a book deal for Shanks, and an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (Silberman and Goren 2006: 52).  Within weeks, major newspapers and network television headlined the artifact and discussed its biblical and historical implications (Shanks 2003a).


            With all the attention from the media and the public, it came as a shock when the James Ossuary arrived in Toronto in a cardboard box displaying some new cracks (Shanks 2003a; Silberman and Goren 2006: 52).  When the Royal Ontario Museum conservationists attempted to repair the artifact they found a series of rosette decorations that had previously gone unnoticed, questioning the detail with which it had been studied; the Biblical Archaeology Review did not publish these findings when they reported on the ossuary’s damage and repair (Shanks 2003a).   Around the same time, the anonymous owner of the artifact was revealed to be Oded Golan, an engineer and well-known antiquities dealer in Israel (Shanks 2003a). 


Only a few months later the Biblical Archaeology Review revealed another artifact, this time a stone slab that described repairs made to the Temple in Jerusalem by Jehoash (Silberman and Goren: 53).  Shanks immediately recognized the importance of this find as well: “it would support the historicity of the Book of Kings” (Shanks 2003b).  He even acknowledged the political ramifications: “it may provide evidence for Israel’s claim to the Temple Mount” (Shanks 2003b).  Shortly thereafter, a series of events occurred that bore striking similarity to the story of the James Ossuary: the anonymous owner refused to present himself to the public, and the Geological Survey of Israel quickly authenticated the artifact.  The same two geologists who studied the James Ossuary immediately published their findings on the Jehoash Inscription in an academic journal, and presented a discussion of the epigraphy despite their lack of training in the subject (Silberman and Goren 2006: 55).


            The response to the Jehoash Inscription was much more critical than that of the James Ossuary.  Scholars and experts began to question the methods by which these artifacts were authenticated.  When the owner of the Jehoash Inscription was revealed to be none other than Oded Golan, suspicions were aroused and the two artifacts were placed in the care of the Israel Antiquities Authority (Silberman and Goren: 58).  The IAA set up two committees, one for the artifacts and the other for their inscriptions, in order to reassess their authenticity (Shanks 2003c).  Based on their unanimous findings, both committees called the two artifacts forgeries.  The epigraphy committee noted that the inscriptions appeared to be written by several different people, and presented a cut-and-paste style that would only occur on a modern forgery using scanning technology (Silberman and Goren: 59).  The artifact committee recognized that the rosettes on the James Ossuary were carved centuries before the inscription, and that on both artifacts the patina – a naturally formed layer that would build up over time – was clearly fabricated to appear authentic (Silberman and Goren: 60).  In a press conference in June 2003, the IAA announced that both artifacts “were modern fakes, engraved on authentic artifacts and covered with a carefully prepared mixture to imitate patina and to make them look centuries old” (Silberman and Goren: 60).  Within the next year, the IAA and the state of Israel indicted a total of five people for involvement in the creation and promotion of the forgeries (Vaughn and Rollston, 2005: 61).


Why We Keep Faking It: The Players and the Problems


            The James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription are not only connected by the same forger, Oded Golan, but also by a similar narrative that displays the pitfalls of the current ways in which we attempt to deal with forgeries.  What is perhaps more surprising than the swiftness with which these artifacts were deemed authentic is the fact that many still refuse to accept the IAA’s findings.  Clearly there are different factors that contribute to the various opinions about this issue; each group appears to have its own underlying motivations for supporting or refuting the authenticity of these artifacts.  We must examine how all of them, whether intentionally or unwittingly, contribute to the continuing creation and promotion of biblical forgeries.  While this is in no way intended to be an exhaustive list, the following groups, along with their various motivations and actions, should be taken as reminders of the part we all play in the production of forgeries.  To vilify the forger, the buyer, the expert or the entire antiquities trade does not do justice to the complexity of the issue: the roles of everyone involved guarantee not only the improper treatment of this forgery but the emergence of more in the future.


            The Antiquities Dealer.  Israel presents a particularly extreme case of the prevalence and popularity of the antiquities market.  The demand for biblical-era artifacts by the professional, the amateur collector, and the tourist is high (Vaughn and Rollston 2005: 62), resulting in the illegal collection of artifacts from sites in the region in order to cater to their wishes.  Some have even gone so far as to systematically excavate areas for the sole purpose of selling the finds to the general public (Silberman 1989: 103).  This new form of relic hunting not only prevents archaeologists from performing legitimate excavations on many sites, but also works to increase the supply and demand of the antiquities market with artifacts whose provenience is unknown.  This creates a perfect atmosphere in which a forgery can work its way into museum and archaeological collections without arousing suspicion.   The increasing interest in biblical artifacts also creates a situation in which some antiquities dealers feel forced to produce or promote forgeries in order to meet the demand. 


Some have called for the complete eradication of the private antiquities trade altogether, suggesting that the academic use of artifacts from such a market only increases their value and thus produces more artifacts whose authenticity is in question (Silberman and Goren: 61).  Others suggest that the act of private collecting itself should be discouraged, as it provides the most lucrative market for the antiquities trade (Vaughn and Rollston 2005: 64).  However, some have a more lenient view of the private sale of artifacts: Hershel Shanks called for a series of “market-based solutions”, including the government-authenticated sale of items and more efficient and better funded excavation of artifacts by professional archaeologists (2003a).  However, the excavation of sites without leaving unexcavated areas for future research, and the continuing support of a market that values potential historical importance over authenticity, can only continue to lend itself to the production of forgeries.  The antiquities dealer has a vested interest in selling and promoting “important” artifacts, and thus is willing to defend his or her artifacts from state-run facilities and any claims of forgery that might arise from the experts.


            The Expert.  The role of the expert provides an interesting glimpse into the interaction between the academic community and the general public.  Many of these scholars, such as Andre Lemaire and the two geologists who originally studied the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Inscription, are legitimate members of the academic community who have obtained appropriate training in their fields.  However, the emergence of a politically, socially, and historically significant artifact presents motivations that often run contrary to the quest for genuine and unbiased accuracy in their work.  Experts begin their evaluation of artifacts with a set of assumptions and a theoretical background that lends them to certain interpretations; while this is true of all academic scholarship, forgeries in biblical archaeology present a particularly dangerous situation in which to have “tunnel vision” (Wilson 1990: 9). 


The expert might also find her- or himself in a difficult position when their finds are contested during the evaluation of particularly important or popular artifacts.  Lemaire, for example, continued to defend his original position on the authenticity of the artifacts even after the IAA committees ruled against him, complaining that many committee members ventured out of their original disciplines to comment on aspects of the artifacts that they were not qualified to assess (Lemaire 2003).  However, this appears to be a common trend: Lemaire himself is guilty of the same thing when he discusses the patina on the James Ossuary (2002) without the knowledge that geologists have long considered the possibility that patina can be easily manufactured (Kurz 1967).  The two geologists from the IAA similarly published epigraphic information without the appropriate training, and “presented [it] in a style more dramatic and speculative than usual for a geological journal” (Silberman and Goren 2005: 55).  This presents an interesting problem when evaluating the work of academics in the assessment of potential forgeries: if even the most trusted and well-trained experts resort to pseudoscientific and pseudoarchaeological tactics of speculation and sensationalism in certain circumstances, how are they to be trusted to adequately provide a neutral analysis of artifacts? 


While it is true that any expert, no matter their training, can make a mistake, the high-profile status of certain artifacts and the desire to maintain professional credibility can often produce a fear of changing positions.  This has created a certain skepticism about the ability of an expert to detect a forgery: the Biblical Archaeology Review went so far as to start a contest wherein readers were asked to send in their forgeries to see if they could “fool the experts” for a reward of $10,000 (“Assessing”, 2003).  Such skepticism actually supports the continued production of forgeries, especially if the work of an expert is either immediately distrusted or becomes pseudoscientific under the pressure of media attention and public interest.  This leaves us without a relatively neutral body that can evaluate a forgery without fear of incrimination.  No one will be willing to assess a potential forgery if such an act is considered tantamount to professional suicide.


The Museum.  While museum workers often fall under the category of the expert, the museum itself represents an entirely independent institution that has its own interest in artifacts and maintaining their authenticity.  The speed with which the ROM jumped at the chance to display the James Ossuary, even when its provenience was unknown and the name of its owner still anonymous, is surprising but understandable: such an exhibit would attract the public and provide a new source of income for the museum.  Despite the fact that the museum’s own definition of authenticity is “[a]n authoritative statement, oral or written, about an artifact with respect to its alleged origin, style, purpose and/or maker” (1982: 85), they appear to have accepted the James Ossuary without such qualifications.  Even after the arrest of Oded Golen in connection with the forgeries, the ROM continued to maintain the artifact’s authenticity in order to maintain its reputation in both the academic community and the tourist industry (see their press release, 2003).  Even artifacts permanently displayed in museums have occasionally been discovered to be forgeries, forcing some scholars to admit that a museum must occasionally “clean its own house” (Hoving 1968: 246) and not jump to any conclusions about the authenticity of an artifact.


The Editor.  Hershel Shanks, the editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review and founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society, certainly has a vested interest in the authenticity of the James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription; his work in biblical archaeology is well known and well read, he was the first to break the story to the public, and by 2003 he had already written a book with Ben Witherington III on the subject.  His support of the antiquities trade has already been noted, as has his skepticism of the work of the experts who determined the artifacts to be forgeries.  He even went so far as to claim that he was being persecuted by the IAA for his involvement in the affair, in his 2003 article “First Person: Israel Antiquities Authority Suspects BAR Editor of Colluding with Forgers: A report form Kafka-land” (2003c).  He also questioned the qualifications of the earliest critical experts, calling California State University professor Robert Eisenman a marginalized scholar (2003a) while refusing to print his name or institution in connection with his critical remarks (Silberman and Goren 2006: 53).  Such a defensive stance and an unwillingness to admit error on the part of his reporting is understandable considering his ideological, professional, and economic motivations.  As a highly visible figure in biblical archaeology and the editor of one of the few biblical archaeology journals in wide circulation, he is responsible for casting doubt on the findings of the IAA, experts, museum workers, and professional archaeologists.  His sensationalist articles and continuing insistence of the James Ossuary’s authenticity have coloured the public’s perception of how forgeries are identified and the historicity of the Bible from an archaeological perspective (Silberman and Goren 2006: 61).


            The Media.  Connected to the role of the editor of a journal is the wider involvement of the media and their ability to sway public opinion and create a sensationalist view of artifact discovery and interpretation.  In an attempt to create a headline-grabbing story, newspapers, network television, and cable documentaries around the world called attention to the potential importance of the finds while not acknowledging the equally potential pitfalls of trusting an anonymous donor with an artifact without provenience with the popular subject of the historicity of the Bible.  The influence of the media and their ability to promote a story, especially a scandal, should not be underestimated.


Ending the Cycle: New Solutions for an Old Problem


“It is indeed an error to collect a forgery, but it is a sin to stamp a genuine piece with the seal of falsehood.”

 – Art Historian Max Friedlander (in Hoving 1967: 241)


            It would be misleading and inappropriate to claim that there is a universal “answer” to the question of forgeries in biblical archaeology.  It might even be overly optimistic to believe that we can limit the production of forgeries at all.  It has been demonstrated that the continuing production and acceptance of fakes that relate to the historicity of the Bible produce and are produced by a complex web of individuals, organizations, and institutions working at the local, regional, and international levels in both academic and nonacademic settings.  They also appear to generate a wide range of personal emotions, ideological interests and professional motivations that are impossible to combat with any guarantee of universal success.  The conspicuous absence of scholarship on the subject of forgeries in the field of archaeology, despite the fact that the subject has long been dealt with in the art world, suggests an inability on the part of archaeologists to develop any kind of treatise on the topic.  On the other hand, the virtual nonexistence of any formal arena in which such a dialogue might take place could indicate the academic community’s disinterestedness in the topic as a whole.  While a variety of articles can be found discussing the authenticity of individual artifacts, once labeled as fakes they are immediately struck from the record and rarely discussed in future scholarship: once the case is closed, it is almost never reopened.  This is, perhaps, our greatest failing in this endeavour.  While it is clear that artifacts under suspicion should not be included in the archaeological record in order to prevent the contamination of the dataset, they should not be ignored or, even worse, discarded in their entirety.  Reopening the case of a potentially forged artifact, or perhaps never closing it to begin with, might be our best and most realistic defense against the cycle within which we now find ourselves.


            However, suggesting that we keep our options open and avoid generalizations is not an effective prescription for the status of biblical forgeries.  In 1968, Thomas Hoving created a set of instructions for “how to look at art” in order to demonstrate how forged paintings should be detected (245).  In 2005, Andrew G. Vaughn and Christopher A. Rollston provided a similar set of guidelines for forgeries that derive from the antiquities market (64).  In a similar vein, I would like to call attention to some of the most important themes in the James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription cases, and provide some alternatives to the obviously failed attempts to deal with them.  While it would be unrealistic to suppose that such alternatives could be embraced in their entirety, the following is simply a series of suggestions, any number of which could improve our reaction to biblical forgeries.


            Archaeologists, museum workers, and other scholars must work with various media outlets to produce a more cautioned, responsible form of journalism that does not sensationalize or jump to conclusions about the authenticity or significance of an artifact.  Communication between the academic community, the media, and the public must be repaired and trust must be regained so that each group can rely on each other for accurate information, even if such information is inconclusive or ambiguous. 


In the interest of collecting accurate information, artifacts without provenience, while not being wholly discarded from academic scholarship, should be regarded with extreme suspicion and should be properly evaluated before complete incorporation into the archaeological record; even after their incorporation, unprovenienced artifacts should be regularly reevaluated using new technologies and interpretations in order to confirm that their place in the dataset is valid.  The advancement of artifacts through an antiquities trade should be reconsidered considering the dangers it poses to the production of an accurate and trustworthy archaeological record, and steps should be taken to limit the irresponsible collection of artifacts in both public and private settings.


In an atmosphere of open dialogue, every group involved in the authentication of an artifact must feel capable of giving their honest opinion; at the same time, however, criticism must be accepted and encouraged.  Ultimately, few people are pleased with the state of forgeries in biblical archaeology, and no one openly encourages their incorporation into the archaeological record; instead, a variety of motivations inspire people to attest to their authenticity or forgery without considering alternative evidence.  A recognition of the common goal to eliminate forgeries will allow seemingly opposing groups to agree on a variety of formal and informal arenas in which they can publicly discuss their findings.


On a more personal level, each individual involved in the authentication process must learn to “stop [and] take stock” (Hoving 1968: 246).  What was your initial reaction to the artifact’s discovery, and why do you think you had that response? What evidence do you have that your opinion is correct?  What potential criticisms might others level at your interpretations?  Is there anything that particularly stands out or bothers you about the artifact, its origins, or its current situation?  Consider personal, professional, and ideological motivations.  If there is any doubt, open or continue a dialogue about that artifact, and hold off drawing any conclusions about its authenticity or significance.


Ironically, Hershel Shanks provides a more practical and perhaps more realistic suggestion for the detection of forgeries; this must have been unwittingly, since the successful use of this system would, in conjunction with other improvements, eliminate his role in the proceedings:


“What the profession should do is hone its skills in detecting forgeries…  Are there other tests for detecting a forgery of various kinds of artifacts and inscriptions?  What should be the protocol for testing for forgery?  The profession should be at least as smart as the forgers – and certainly better organized.” (2003b)


Thus, through increasingly standardized methods of detection, more responsible communication between various groups involved in the authentication process, an ongoing dialogue that recognizes the constantly changing nature of the discipline, and a healthy skepticism of one’s own motivations and the motivations of others might provide us with the tools to better evaluate potential forgeries, and discuss new and innovative ways in which to discourage their production.


These new approaches with which we can confront the issue of forgery in biblical archaeology could also be applied to the more general concepts of forgery and biblical archaeology.  While most biblical archaeology labours under false assumptions, and has many ideological, political, and religious motivations that colour its interpretations of the past, the history of the Bible and of the Near East is a legitimate field of study that requires attention and expertise.  Perhaps, then, a discussion of forgeries in biblical archaeology opens up a dialogue about biblical archaeology as a whole.  Such a discussion might also provide a case study from which we can learn how to deal with forgeries in all academic disciplines.  Forgeries constitute a serious threat to the conservation and interpretation of the past, yet such issues have rarely been confronted in the academic world, particularly in that of archaeology.  Despite their dangers, however, artifacts must not be discarded as soon as they are considered forgeries.  Archaeology relies upon the continuing development of new theories and methods that will improve the archaeological record, and thus requires a constant reevaluation and discussion of every artifact.  Finally, forgeries can be useful in helping us understand flaws in current archaeological interpretations by providing a tangible representation of our biases, ideologies, and desires.  To dismiss any artifact in its entirety, or to wholeheartedly embrace any artifact, is to deny the existence of an open dialogue that allows academics and nonacademics alike to share information, consider alternatives, and reevaluate conclusions.  Like the excavation of a site, the study of forgeries in the archaeological world should be an ongoing process that never presumes to be completed.


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Silberman, Neil Asher and Yuval Goren. “Faking Biblical History” in Archaeological Ethics. 2nd Ed. Eds. Karen D. Vitelli and Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh.  Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2006. pp.49-63.


Vaughn, Andrew G. and Christopher A. Rollston. “The Antiquities Market, Sensationalized Textual Data, and Modern Forgeries”. Near Eastern Archaeology 68:1-2 (2005), pp.61-68.


Whittaker, John C., and Michael Stafford. “Replicas, Fakes, and Art: The Twentieth Century Stone Age and Its Effects on Archaeology”. American Antiquity 64(2) (1999), pp.203-214.


Wilson, David M. “Preface” in Fake? The Art of Deception. Edited by Mark Jones. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. pp.9.


[1] The following sources (Lemaire 2002, Lemaire 2003, Shanks 2003a, Shanks 2003b, Shanks 2003c, and “Assessing”, 2003) are from the Biblical Archaeology Review, a journal whose latest issues are not available online or carried by McGill University; I had the opportunity to look at issues from 2002 and 2003 on a CD-ROM, and thus while all citations and page ranges included in my bibliography are accurate, I am not able to give specific page numbers for direct quotes at this time.