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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land » User review

Not a thriller, but some good journalistic digging

  • Aug 17, 2008
In the hands of another author, this could have been a very different book -- a sort of "C.S.I. Jerusalem" in which teams of scientists pore over the James Ossuary and other artifacts in a race to determine their authenticity, while theologians and journalists argue over what that authenticity might mean for Jewish and Christian history and faith.

That's not the book Nina Burleigh wrote, however. Indeed, you don't even have to crack the spine to know the James Ossuary is a forgery: the back cover says so. The point at which it's proven to be so, rather than being the climax of the story, comes in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of a chapter, with no accompanying bells and fireworks. That's because the author is far more interested in unraveling the international network of faked and forged antiquities and how it affects both the business of archaeology and our understanding of religious and social history.

The story is interesting enough if those issues attract you, but I debated whether to give this book three stars or four (I'd have gone with three point five if I could). I do not agree with the blurb on the back that describes this as "a real-life thriller," because while the book is well researched and decently if not spectacularly written, calling it "thrilling" is a stretch: readers hoping for a thriller may well find this as dry as the bones of St James himself. But then real-life criminal forensics isn't like you see it on TV either. A reader who approaches this looking for in-depth reporting on an interesting if obscure intersection of religion, business, and crime will, I think, find "Unholy Business" more rewarding than one who seeks the excitement and reward of a spiritual or historical whodunit.

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More Unholy Business: A True Tale o... reviews
review by . August 04, 2008
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 …
review by . August 03, 2008
I obtained this book because I am interested in the controversy surrounding the James ossuary, the inscribed limestone box that may have held the bones of James, brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem Christians after Jesus' death on the cross. I remember when the bone box came to the Royal Ontario Museum I considered going to see it, and, like millions of other people who found the box highly significant, I wondered if it really was genuine. I later learned the man who owned the box, Oded …
review by . July 27, 2008
. . . but many questions remain.    I'll be honest. I've never considered Nina Burleigh as anything more than a second-rate (at best) writer -- one whose credibility was seriously compromised by her untoward suggestion toward the former President, because of her approval of his "choice" policies. Further, her writing over the last several years has exhibited a decided "trend" toward a political and social point of view . . . whether realistic or not.     In …
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Andrew S. Rogers ()
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Starred Review. In November 2002, the public display of an ossuary (an ancient burial vessel) inscribed James, the brother of Jesus, sent ripples of excitement, doubt and consternation through both the religious and scholarly worlds. But when scholars took a close look, they declared the inscription a forgery based on the lack of provenance and a tremendous disparity between the physical writing of the word James and the rest of the inscription. In her captivating chronicle, veteran journalist Burleigh (Mirage) enters a dark world full of shady dealings, illicit collectors and monomaniacal archeologists. Along the way we meet an improbable cast of characters, including Oded Golan, the ossuary's owner; André Lemaire, an epigraphist who early on testified to the authenticity of the ossuary's inscription; Shlomo Moussaieff, a billionaire collector with a warehouse full of artifacts of uncertain value; and Israel Finkelstein, a maverick Israeli archeologist who questions the historicity of many biblical events. Burleigh draws readers in from page one and brilliantly captures the compelling debates about archeology's relationship to narratives of faith.(Nov.)
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ISBN-10: 0061458457
ISBN-13: 978-0061458453
Author: Nina Burleigh
Genre: Arts & Photography, Science
Publisher: Smithsonian
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