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Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  134 ratings  ·  36 reviews
In 2002, an ancient limestone box called the James Ossuary was trumpeted on the world's front pages as the first material evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ. Today it is exhibit number one in a forgery trial involving millions of dollars worth of high-end, Biblical era relics, some of which literally re-wrote Near Eastern history and which could lead to the incarcer ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 21st 2008 by Smithsonian (first published October 8th 2008)
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3.43  · 
Rating details
 ·  134 ratings  ·  36 reviews


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Colleen
Sep 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, reviewed
Though Unholy Business has the potential to be a riveting read, it falls far short with its disjointed approach to storytelling. The author bounces back and forth through time and introduces a dizzying array of similarly named characters in the process. In the beginning, I found myself flipping back to previous chapters just to track the chain of events and people involved. The complicated story of this massive fraud often seemed to take a back seat to the author's opinion of the reasons behind ...more
Grrlscientist
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
There are two different types of people in the world, those who want to know, and those who want to believe.
— Friedrich Nietzsche


In November 2002, an ancient carved limestone burial box designed to hold the disarticulated skeleton of a dead person was put on public display in Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum. Although common throughout Israel, this particular box, known as an ossuary, was unusual because it was inscribed. Even more remarkable, its ancient Aramaic inscription — “Ya’akov bar Yosef ak
...more
Wendelle So
interesting insight to the status of biblical archaeology in Israel, and the colorful personalities involved in the thriving 'holy relic' industry, be they billionaire collectors and dig-funders, secular scholars, police investigators, evangelical Christians anticipating the apocalypse, and others, told through the overarching narrative of the production and resulting investigation of two fraudulent relics: an ossuary supposed to contain the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, and a tablet fro ...more
Susan
Jan 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book tackles the difficult topic of biblical antiquities, forgeries, and deceit. It follows the trail of a man named Oded Golan as he sells artifacts for astonishing prices, is accused of forgery and deception, and is ultimately placed on trial. Along the way, the author interviews numerous scholars and others who figure into the investigation and trial. She provides fascinating detail about how antiquities come into the market, how difficult it is determine where any given item originated ...more
Roxanne
May 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, anthro
I don't know, this was an odd book. Maybe because Burleigh is a journalist? She's trying to write a captivating, exciting story about the underground artifact trade, but I don't know that she's going about it the right way. She skips back and forth in time, so that I don't feel I have a clear picture of who saw the artifact when and what the chain of events was--even though the chapters are ostensibly organized by date, I didn't get a sense of that as I read, and I'm only seeing now that most ch ...more
Deirdre
Feb 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
What's a museum curator to do? If items aren't found by archaeologists in a sanctioned dig, but are so deliciously historic that they turn whole religions on their heads, can the items be bought and displayed? To whom do these items belong? The country where they were found or the person or group who dug them up?

Collectors don't have the same restraint. Some, like the ones mentioned in Burleigh's absorbing new book, go by feel, buying the objects of their obsession. In the process they spend va
...more
J.S. Green
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-other, vine
Oded Golan became interested in archaeology when he found a piece of ancient pottery. He sent a letter to a prominent archaeologist of the time who came to see the piece and was surprised to find not only that it was discovered by a 10 year-old boy but that it was actually cuneiform, a type of ancient dictionary. In a nation where hunting for artifacts is a national pastime, Golan eventually became a well-known collector of antiquities. He was responsible for several items of extreme significanc ...more
Alger
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Not worth the effort, which was a surprise given that I liked the previous Burleigh book that I read (The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum: The Smithsonian), I enjoy books describing art fraud, have more than a passing familiarity with Biblical history, and I have had a questions since the revelation of the James Ossuary about its history and why it so quickly disappeared from view.

So imagine the disappointment as I dove i
...more
Socraticgadfly
Nina Burleigh gives us a story within a story in "Unholy Business." The shell, or outer story, is the trade in fraudulent and illicit genuine antiquities, with her focus being on the fraudulent ones.

That's the first "f" - the "forgery."

It's quickly united with "faith" and "fundamentalism." Fundamentalist and conservative evangelical non-fundamentalist Protestants, after centuries of their forefathers skewering the Catholic hankering for relics, are shown to be roundly hoist by their own petard.
...more
Steven
Mar 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
The title is a little broad but entirely true. This tale of faith, greed & forgery revolves around a couple of artifacts that surfaced in 2002: the so-called “James Ossuary” and the “Jehoash Tablet”. The first was international news, as it was touted as the first archaeological evidence of Jesus existence. The James Ossuary is a small limestone box which was used to contain the bones of James, the “brother” of Jesus. The ossuary has an inscription reading “Ya’akov bar Yosef achui Yeshua” (Ja ...more
Scotchneat
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, non-fiction
Very interesting investigation into the "James Ossuary" from Israel that was on exhibition here in Canada at the ROM - and then exposed as a forgery several years later.

Burleigh uses her journalist's eye and some pretty good connections in Israel to follow the antiquities industry from all sides - the collectors, the investigations, the tomb robbers...

She covers a lot of ground and characters, and shows how much major religions and churches (particularly god people from the Southern US) influenc
...more
Tammy
Apr 07, 2011 rated it liked it
This book provides an interesting but complex look at the unsavory world of Holy Land antiquities. It carefully follows the trail of the James ossuary – purported to be that of Jesus’ brother.

Like a detective mystery unraveling, this book reveals how the James ossuary and many other antiquities prove to be fakes. Nina Burleigh carefully explores the seedy underworld of this trade. Any antiquity that points to the historical existence of Jesus and/or the ancient kingdom of Israel is valuable bot
...more
Mankey
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing

Other than being a bit short, only 200 pages or so, I have few quibbles with "Unholy Business." Burleigh is a gifted writer and her first hand interviews with all the major players involved in "Unholy Business" give her book a certain gravitas. This book is a fascinating and unflinching look at the Israeli Antiquities Market and the now world famous forgeries that (like the James Ossuary) that are a part of it. Her writing truly captures the spirit of Jerusalem and following her on her journey i
...more
Liz De Coster
Dec 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
The "mystery" behind this book is interesting in its own right, but I think the story might have been better served in a New Yorker essay than a full-length book. The author gets distracted towards the middle of the book, introducing new characters and making tangential descriptions. While there was some relationship between the two stories being told in the book - that of attempted forgery and that of Biblical archaeology in the Middle East - the reader isn't well served by the author's choice ...more
ej cullen
Feb 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Despite the fact that the author could use a good editor, and that she gets lost wandering around in the middle of the book, still an interesting investigation of religious zealotry, chicanery, questionable scholarship, bumbling officials and police, and greed in search of middle eastern artifacts.
Andrew
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent and highly readable investigation into the antiquities trade in the Holy Land. The author does a good job of clearly explaining to readers the intricacies of the trade in the context of the tensions in contemporary Israel. There are a host of dubious but interesting individuals profiled too.
DJ
Apr 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
Sad to say, this one disappointed me. The subject matter is of great interest so perhaps this book is just poorly edited. It didn't seem to come to any great conclusions, or to reveal as much as I thought it would. It seems there are trials and ligitiation ongoing, and because the setting of the story is the Holy Land, there could be issues preventing the author from revealing more.
Kelly Proulx
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
An interesting and engaging read. After having seen the documentary on the ossuary, ten years ago, I was surprised to read about its apparent forgery. Nina gives enough history and description to keep the narrative moving.
JBEG
Dec 30, 2008 rated it liked it
A smart and fun read about the forgery and faith circulating around Holy Land relics. There were times I wish Burleigh would have told the story a bit more straight (chronology gets confused and the final courtroom chapters are a letdown), but on the whole I enjoyed the book a great deal. -- J
David R.
Feb 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Burleigh sheds light on the ultra-seamy side of the antiquities "business" in the Holy Land, focusing on collectors, dealers, law enforcers, and "manufacturers". The book is narrowly focused on one particular artifact, thus providing intense detail on the process, such as it is.
Kate
May 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Dad really liked this one. Though not very long, it covered not only the story of biblical relic forgeries but also the meddling of American evangelical Christians in all things Holy Land now-a-days. It seemed comprehensive, readable and interesting throughout.
Ruben
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Me personally I thought the book was very well written I enjoyed the read. It was very educational In that it was the first book I've read concerning archeology although like other readers agree that it did bounce around a little at least it felt as though it did.
Ed
Oct 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
It was an okay story, but I've read better true life forgery type mystery non-fiction stuff. There seemed to be too many tangential descriptions of people and things for my taste. I rapidly skimmed the last third of the book, so...
Patrick
Apr 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Good book about biblical antiquities and forgery. I will search more critically when hearing about "amazing" artifacts being found. The book tended to drag on in places and seemed to be restating the message after I got the point. Overall a good read though.
Rebecca
Jan 16, 2009 marked it as to-read
A very old library patron recommended that I read this when she is done with it. I doubt I will, but I wanted to make note of it, because I know I will see her again and she will ask. :)
Carrie
Nov 17, 2008 marked it as to-read
heard about on NPR
Darla
Nov 18, 2008 marked it as to-read
Saw this on Carries list. I love NPR suggestions and I love Biblical conspiracy theory, so I think I would probably love this :)
Arlene
Jan 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting read on how fundamentalists affect the world outside religion and how antiquities are not always what they seem and can be used for unholy purposes.
Gary Geiger
Apr 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Sometimes the narrative is hard to follow, but this is the book that I was looking for when I checked out The Bible Unearthed.
Kelly
Dec 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
Too much information without enough background in this subject. I turned it back in without reading the whole book.
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Can't wait to read this one!! 1 5 Dec 02, 2008 08:10PM  
25 followers
Nina is an award-winning author and journalist. She has written four books and has been published in the New Yorker, Time, New York and People, among many other journals and rags. She has occasionally shellacked her hair for television, including Good Morning America, Nightline, and various programs on CNN and C-Span, as well as flogged books on NPR and countless radio outlets.

The daughter of auth
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