Despite widespread knowledge of that stunning transcript and the damning workroom evidence reported by police, Golan's supporters made Goren a whipping boy at the courthouse and in biblical archaeology websites. Because he dared to cast doubt on the ossuary — and therefore on the literal truth of the Bible — his professionalism was trashed and he was variously called a religion-hating atheist, a hater of Israel and a self-hating Jew.
Attacking scientists is increasingly common as religious and ideological zealots flatly reject data that offend their creeds. Recently a pro-mining consortium threatened legal action against academic journals about to publish studies linking mining-related air pollution and lung cancer. Climate scientists whose work indicates that global warming is caused by humans' burning of fossil fuels now routinely receive hate mail and have had their emails systematically hacked by those who disagree, mostly on faith.
The methods used to discredit the best archaeologists in Israel — by seizing on minor data points or a minority of dissenters who deviate from the consensus — is exactly what happens in the debate about climate science. The non-expert public is then forced to choose which view makes the most sense.
For those who seek to prove that the Bible is literally true, the particulars of science matter little. They want tangible artifacts, and the details be damned. Israel Finkelstein, dean of archaeology at Tel Aviv University (whose work in Solomonic-era archaeology does not fit with Bible stories about Solomon) told me that if the state lost the ossuary case, we should expect a bumper crop of shady Bible-proving finds: "Inscriptions from the time of Solomon, from the time of David, the T-shirt of Moses, the crown of King Solomon, the sandals of Abraham. That's the future, if there is an acquittal."
Fighting legitimate science to provide proof for religious faith is a relatively victimless pastime. A few scientists' reputations get burned and believers get another object for the reliquary.
But when faith trumps reason as the whole world gets hotter, scientists aren't the only ones paying the price.
Nina Burleigh is the author of "Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land." She is working on an e-book on Islamists and women after the Arab Spring.