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Digging History

Forgery case of the century resolved: Decade-long war over biblical artifacts ends

  • Jehoash Inscription.jpg

    Although antiquities collector Oded Golan was cleared of forgery charges, the authenticity of the Jehoash Tablet remains undecided. (Geological Survey of Israel courtesy of Biblical Archaeology Society)

  • james ossuary

    The James Ossuary, a limestone box that held the purported bones of Jesus' brother, is one artifact at a forgery case that has spanned a decade in Israel. (Biblical Archaeology Society)

A 10-year legal battle has drawn to a close in the Holy Land over several astounding biblical relics, including a limestone box said to have held the bones of the purported brother of Jesus and the first-ever relic of biblical King Solomon's First Temple.

After a decade of debate, 12,000 pages of documents, and more than 100 hearings, a three-judge panel of Israeli Supreme Court justices ordered the Israel Antiquities Authority to return at least one item -- the controversial Yoash tablet that describes Solomon's temple -- to antiquities collector Oded Golan on Wednesday.

Golan, who spent the last seven years fighting forgery charges, called the decision "good news," according to Jerusalem-based journalist Matthew Kalman who has extensively covered the trial.

Last year, the IAA failed to prove in court that Golan forged the items. One year later, the IAA changed its tune and asked the Supreme Court to keep the items they had called fakes for 10 years.

"We understand the situation differently now," the state argued in court this August, Kalman reported. "It's ours ... and we have the right to do whatever we want with our property."

"They've been charging him [Golan] for a dozen years, making his life miserable, arresting him, confining him to his home, causing enormous expense."

- Hershel Shanks, editor-in-chief of Biblical Archaeology Review

The IAA's argument was that the stone itself was ancient, a modern forgery inscribed upon a real artifact -- and therefore a valid piece of history. Many argued that the IAA's spin was just a desperate attempt to hold on to the items.

"They've been charging him [Golan] for a dozen years, making his life miserable, arresting him, confining him to his home, causing enormous expense," Hershel Shanks, editor-in-chief of Biblical Archaeology Review told FoxNews.com in August.

The Solomon-era relic was at the forefront of the battle between Golan and the government. Called the Yoash tablet, it is a rectangular stone about the size of a hardbound book, inscribed with 15 lines of ancient script detailing repairs made to Solomon's temple, which echo a passage from the Old Testament.

According to the Bible, Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Zion where the modern Dome of the Rock currently stands. (King Herod built the Second Temple on the same site, of which the Wailing Wall is the last remaining part.) Said to have been destroyed in 587 B.C., there is no proof of the First Temple outside of the Bible -- save for the Yoash tablet.

The challenge in proving the Yoash tablet real is that it was found at an antiquities store, and not in the ground, explained Jonathan Rosenbaum, an expert in antiquities forgery and president emeritus of Gratz College in Pennsylvania.

Rosenbaum told FoxNews.com that although we have "no way of really knowing its background and where it came from," the Supreme Court decision is shows "how a democratic and just society works correctly."

"We live in a fascinating time where we cannot be sure what is authentic and what is not," he explained. "That is the 21st century challenge."