A judge is set to throw out charges against experts accused of faking a stone box that claimed to offer the first physical proof of the existence of Christ - raising the possibility once again that it could be genuine.
The discovery of the 2,000-year-old ossuary, or bone box, bearing the words, ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus’, was regarded as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries when it emerged nearly a decade ago.
But other experts decided the inscription on the ‘priceless’ limestone artefact had been added at a later date.
It was dismissed as a fake and Israeli authorities began criminal investigations.
But yesterday a three-year forgery trial in Israel was close to collapse, reopening the possibility it might indeed be the only tangible evidence for the life of Jesus.
Jerusalem judge Aharon Farkash told prosecutors trying Israeli collector Oded Golan: 'Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artefacts are fakes as charged in the indictment?
The disputed inscription on the ‘Jesus Box’
'The experts disagree among themselves.
‘Where is the evidence to show that Oded Golan faked them?’
The 20-inch long empty box, apparently found near the Mount of Olives, was sold to Golan by an Arab antiquities dealer.
Golan was arrested and, with four others, charged in 2004 with 18 counts of forgery, fraud and damaging archaeological artefacts.
They were accused of taking valuable objects and adding inscriptions to massively increase their value.
Charges against two men were dropped and only Golan and antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch, the alleged leaders of the forgery ring, remain on trial. They deny all charges.