- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

JERUSALEM The reclusive owner of an ancient burial box broke his silence yesterday to say he never will sell what may be the oldest archaeological link to Jesus, but that he is willing to have it exhibited in Israel.

The inscription on the limestone box, or ossuary, reads "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," leading some scholars to believe it contained the remains of James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. Others have said it might be a forgery, or that it might have been the burial box of a different James, unrelated to Jesus Christ.

The existence of the ossuary was revealed last month at a news conference in Washington by the Biblical Archaeology Review. At the time, the editor of the magazine, Hershel Shanks, said the owner insisted on not being identified.

The owner, Oded Golan, 51, an engineer from Tel Aviv, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview yesterday that he has refused to come forward until now because he is a private man. "It's a character issue. I don't like publicity," he said.

Mr. Golan said he agreed to a limited number of interviews after an Israeli daily published his name this week.

Mr. Golan has been questioned by inspectors from the Israel Antiquities Authority who wanted to know more about the origin of the ossuary, both to help with the scientific inquiry and to determine whether laws had been broken.

Mr. Golan insisted yesterday that he bought the James ossuary in the mid-1970s from an antiquities dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem for about $200 and that he could not remember the dealer's name.

Israel's antiquities law was passed in 1978, and it would be difficult to prosecute transactions made before then.

Mr. Golan said he did not remember the exact year he bought the ossuary. He said he was certain that by 1976, when he received an engineering degree from Israel's Technion Institute, it was in his possession.

Mr. Golan's father, Eliezer, said the box was stored on the balcony of the family's Tel Aviv apartment for years, and that his son took it with him when he found his own place 15 years ago.

Mr. Golan said he was unaware of the potential importance of the find because he knew little about Christian tradition. "I certainly didn't tie it to the family of Jesus of Nazareth," he said.

Several months ago, Mr. Golan said, he invited French scholar Andre Lemaire to his apartment to examine a different ossuary in his collection and that Mr. Lemaire also took a look at the James ossuary.

The ossuary, a box to hold bones removed from a grave, is to go on display, starting Nov. 16, at the Royal Ontario Museum. It was cracked in several places in transit to Canada, with one crack running through the inscription.

The Antiquities Authority, which had issued a temporary export permit, insisted the ossuary be returned to Israel by the end of February. At that time, it will be investigated more thoroughly by Israeli specialists.

Mr. Golan said he has no plans to return the ossuary to his apartment because it would cost too much to insure. However, he said, he would not sell it. "This is part of my collection," he said.

The box "can sit in a safe, or in a museum that will do the insurance, or in another protected place that is open to the public," he said, adding that the artifact would have to remain in Israel.

Amir Ganor, head of the anti-theft unit in the Antiquities Authority, said that if it turned out the ossuary was traded recently, it could be seized by the authorities.

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