The Justice Ministry has been given six months to decide how to proceed in the trial of an antiquities dealer suspected of forging a purported reference to Jesus on an ancient burial box and a stone tablet with biblical passages.
Both items were hailed as major archaeological finds but subsequently deemed clever forgeries.
The ministry has been forced to reevaluate the case after the Jerusalem District Court judge in the case advised the prosecution to reassess its position in the three-year-old trial because it failed to prove that the key suspect, Tel Aviv antiquities collector Oded Golan, had indeed faked the biblical-era artifacts.
The Justice Ministry would not say whether it plans to drop or amend the charge sheet against Golan and another suspect.
"We will state our position - whatever it will be - in court as is the accepted practice," a ministry spokeswoman said Sunday in a statement.
Golan, owner of the James ossuary and the Yoash tablet, was arrested by Jerusalem police in 2003 following a two-year probe after an elaborate forgery lab was discovered at his home.
He was charged the following year along with three others on 18 counts of forgery, fraud and damaging archeological artifacts. Charges against two of the men were subsequently dropped, while a third pleaded guilty to a minor charge.
The burial box, or ossuary, bears the inscription, "James, son of Joseph brother of Jesus," leading some scholars to believe it was used to store the remains of James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. The 15-line inscription on the tablet was thought to have described First Temple "house repairs."
In concluding both inscriptions were forged, a team of experts from the Antiquities Authority said in 2003 that the inscription on the ossuary cut through the ancient limestone box's patina, a thin coating acquired with age, proving the writing was not ancient.
The officials also found that the writing on the black sandstone tablet was carried out by someone thinking in modern Hebrew.
Even though the committee's unanimous findings were released five years ago, Golan has continued to insist that the inscription on the ossuary was genuine and that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
When news of the ossuary first emerged, Golan said publicly that he bought it in the mid-1970s from an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem's Old City for about $200, though he could not remember the dealer's name.
The earlier piece from the Chronicle (below) gives the impression that even the notion that the box is a forgery has not been accepted ... this one seems a bit more 'conservative' in that regard.