Boy, That’s A Right Stinging Slap to the Claims of Eilat Mazar

I can feel the burn all the way over here.

Benny Ziffer writes

A breathtaking Jewish archaeological discovery? Give me a break. That one little gold plate bearing Jewish symbols amid some sort of package that perhaps fell out of someone’s pocket in Jerusalem of the 7th century C.E. does not prove anything.

No news there to anyone who knows the subject. And then

… an obsessive pining for a glorious past serves as a form of therapeutic compensation for nations suffering from a problem of low self-esteem in the present.

So, now we come to us Israelis and to the invention of our past. It is unpleasant to admit that archaeology here contains far too many identifying signs of a science that has been enlisted on behalf of a national obsession. In the state’s early years, there was still something quaint about the so-called “enlisted” archaeology and the national enthusiasm over each new ancient finding. No more. That enthusiasm has become a caricature.

Interesting evaluation from an insider, isn’t it? But there’s more:

And there was indeed something utterly ridiculous about the naive excitement with which archaeologist Eilat Mazar recently presented to all and sundry a round, gold plate that had been discovered in excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount, which bears the symbol of a menorah. Dr. Mazar declared it “a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime discovery.” This, of course, delighted our prime minister, who was quick to react with the comment: “This is historic testimony, of the highest order, to the Jewish people’s link to Jerusalem, to its land and to its heritage.” Blah, blah, blah.

And now the best part (and the bold print is mine for emphasis) –

In my opinion, a serious scientist ought to hang his head in shame when his findings are given a vulgar interpretation like that. But it turns out that the archaeologists excavating in East Jerusalem and the territories have already accustomed themselves to not being ashamed of tainting pure science with the dust of national-religious ideology. It brings them donations from right-wing organizations for additional excavations. It makes the public take an interest in archaeology. What’s wrong with that? Be happy for them.


I am not an archaeologist and not the son of an archaeologist. But I was not convinced in the least by what I saw. That one little gold plate bearing Jewish symbols amid some sort of package that perhaps fell out of someone’s pocket in Jerusalem of the 7th century C.E. does not prove anything: It is simply a little gold plate bearing Jewish symbols.

Indeed it does not.  Except that archaeology with little else than an eye for donations is alive and well.  And that’s really something to be ashamed of.

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7 thoughts on “Boy, That’s A Right Stinging Slap to the Claims of Eilat Mazar

  1. Jordan Wilson 21 Sep 2013 at 5:48 pm

    The only burn will be when you hear the roster crow three times…


    • Jim 21 Sep 2013 at 5:50 pm

      i look forward to the crowing ‘roster’. zechariah mentions it along with the ‘flying scroll’, doesn’t he. 😉


  2. joeziasJoe Zias 22 Sep 2013 at 2:08 am

    We, in the profession have brought this tragedy upon ourselves, through our silence.
    This has been going on for years, people posing as archaeologists and now the silence in the universities, bogus Cannes Film Festival Awards, more in the realm of Con Film Festival Awards has brought what one journalist called sleaze, to a new low.


  3. Robert Deutsch, Ph.D. 22 Sep 2013 at 4:10 am

    Indeed, is not a menorah with a Torah scroll but a crescent with a star, in Braille.


    • joezias 24 Sep 2013 at 7:18 am

      …or an amphora, photoshopped into a fish 🙂 for which one wins the Con (sic) Film Festival award. 🙂


  4. Barnea Levi Selavan 24 Sep 2013 at 2:53 am

    Benny Ziffer was not careful this time, which is surprising for a historian of his stature. Perhaps he relied on the press reports with only a light skim and assumed the same careless and news-donor driven sensationalism as in other recent announcements. I can hardly blame him.
    Professor Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University published a book with a detailed initial report. Benny could not have made most of his comments if he read it.
    For example: The archaeological process and the HU preservation laboratory show there were two caches, each wrapped in materials, which have left traces. The one with the medallion was placed under the flooring deliberately-not dropped. The second with the coins was not as deep and the excavators assume they had less time-but also not “dropped”.
    Each cache had a number of objects. Experts in iconography and Judaica were called in and searched throughout the world for parallels in the Byzantine period, which are presented with images, reasoning, and academic documentation, and caution.
    The coins include 4th century solidi which escaped a later colection and restriking. They were together with 6th century coins which showed wear. A thorough presentation of the images, dates, and detailed descriptions is accompanied by suggestions of the owners and reasons for the hoard. Again, these were not dropped.
    Remember the room with the menorot found near the southwest corner of the Temple Mount back in the 70’s? Benjamin Mazar suggested it was a Jewish presence after the Persian invasion in 614 which for a time treated the Jews favorably. This is only a three minute walk from tjere and is from the same period.
    The various gold,silver, and copper objects, including small medallions beaitifully connected with a well braided chain, are presented as ornamentation for a Torah scroll, aengain with parallels. They were buried together and some were physically connected. You have to explain that.
    The scientific and academic rebuttals can come. You do not think the find shows a Jewish community presence in the 6th century with objects that show a reverence for the Temple and Jewish tradition? You have a lot of explaining to do.


    • Jim 24 Sep 2013 at 6:01 am

      just one question- if a putative ‘jewish’ symbol from the 6th century gives modern israeli’s the right to jerusalem (as is the implication in all this), then why doesn’t a 9th century canaanite artifact give the supposed descendants of that group the same right?


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