Unholy Business by Nina Burleigh

51bttVy7G+L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Nonfiction — print. Harper Collins, 2008. 371 pgs. Library copy.

Set amidst the mysterious origins of and fraud case surrounding the James Ossuary, which supposedly provides proof of Jesus’ brother James’ and therefore Jesus’ existence, and Jehoash Inscription, which supposedly provides proof of the First Temple and the basis for Jews taking back Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary/Mount Moriah from Muslims, Burleigh’s book discusses the rise of Biblical archaeology and the importance Israel’s 30,000 archaeological digs crammed with biblical-era artifacts have for not only Christianity and Judaism, but also for Israel’s existence as a nation and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Subtitled “A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land,” Unholy Business also delves into the world of private collectors and how some, like the ones mentioned in Burleigh’s book, go by feel when buying the objects of their obsession. In the process, they spend vast amounts of money, encourage illegal digging, and get duped by forgers.

An absorbing book, Burleigh follows the antiquities industry for all sides — the collectors, the investigators, the diggers, academia — and manages to cover quite a bit of ground without becoming bogged-down. According to Burleigh, most archaeological digs in Israel/Palestine are influenced by those who fund the money for them, particularly Christian fundamentalists in the United States, and therefore their findings should be taken with a grain of salt as these financial backers are hoping to prove the existence of Jesus and other Biblical stories with material goods dug up from the ground.

For the world’s other two main religions, Islam and Judaism, archaeology is a contested field in the Holy Land as Israeli Jews claim Muslims are using archaeology to erase the existence of Jews and Muslims claim Jews are using archaeology to steal land from the Palestinians and erase the existence of Muslims. In addition, the book covers not just the forgeries, but the destruction of genuine artifacts, the plundering of archaeological sites, and scale of deception and fraud involving ancient artifacts from the Middle East. Quite interesting indeed.


  1. That does sound very interesting. I’d never thought that archaeology would play a role in justifying both the Jewish people’s and the Muslim’s claim to the land, but that makes sense.


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