The Sordid Tale of the Aussie Looter

I’m sure this kind of thing has always been going on and probably still is-

Joan Howard, the wife of a UN diplomat, used her travel to the region to join archaeology digs in the 60s and 70s. But a recent profile in The West Australian newspaper, showcasing her extensive collection, prompted outrage. Archaeologists have called for an investigation into her collection of cultural artefacts. The Australian Associated Press reports that the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs is now looking into the matter.

Shaaban Abdel Gawad, the director-general of the Retrieved Antiquities Department at Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the Sydney Morning Herald that Egypt’s foreign ministry had requested the investigation.

“We want to investigate how these pieces made it out of Egypt illegally,” he told the newspaper. Despite the controversy, it is not clear if Mrs Howard broke any national or international laws. The original profile piece, published in early November by The West Australian, nicknamed Mrs Howard “Indiana Joan” after Harrison Ford’s fictional globetrotting archaeologist.

It called her Australia’s “real life tomb raider” who had “a mischievous twinkle” in her eye when talking about her collection – which it said is worth more than A$1m (£571,000). Objects in the collection include a funeral mask from an Egyptian mummy, Neolithic axe heads dating back 40,000 years, Roman weapons, and coins and jewellery from ancient Egypt.

If it doesn’t have provenance, don’t have anything to do with it.

A Truly Useful and Important Resource for Old Testament Studies

Just published, “The Old Testament in Archaeology and History” is a volume with which I am intimately familiar, having read through most of it in early editorial stages.  I can recommend it to you for courses in Old Testament and for courses in Archaeology.  The essayists are all top notch and the editors are the cream of the Old Testament crop.

I received my copy today and I’m quite thrilled with the results of all that labor over all those months.  I think you’ll be quite impressed with it yourselves.

The Bible in the Light of Archaeology: A Public Lecture by Michael Langlois

This will be very much worth your time, if you are able to attend.

What do archaeological discoveries teach us about the Bible? Do biblical narratives convey historical reality? What do we know about the world of Abraham, Moses, and David? What are the oldest biblical manuscripts?

This conference is organized by Culture & Heritage Association and will take place in the Museum of Natural History auditorium (Allée René Ménard, 18000 Bourges).

The number of seats is limited, so I advise you to call 0676753954 in order to book your ticket.

It won’t be like a BAR Arch-Fest.  It will actually be educational.

Lenny Wolfe on Antiquities Dealing

This is an interesting piece.

Wolfe says that the market for antiquities is far smaller than it once was. The primary buyers of antiquities in the 1970s and ’80s were Jewish collectors. Now, he says, the principal customers for antiquities are Christian evangelicals who are interested in items connected to the Bible and the New Testament, along with a cross-section of international buyers who come from different backgrounds and different interests. While there are sons of dealers that are going into the antiquities business, he reports, “It is not what it used to be.”

He has two words of Latin advice for anyone who wants to go into the world of antiquities dealing. “Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware,” he says. “Today the market is flooded with fakes.”

Read the whole.

Have They Found Peter’s Bones?

Bones attributed to St. Peter have been found by chance in a church in Rome during routine restoration work, 2,000 years after the apostle’s death.

The relics of the saint, who is regarded as the first Pope, were found in clay pots in the 1,000-year-old Church of Santa Maria in Cappella in the district of Trastevere, a medieval warren of cobbled lanes on the banks of the Tiber River.

The bones were discovered when a worker lifted up a large marble slab near the medieval altar of the church, which has been closed to the public for 35 years because of structural problems.

He came across two Roman-era pots with inscriptions on their lids indicating that inside were not only bone fragments from St Peter but also three early popes – Cornelius, Callixtus and Felix – as well as four early Christian martyrs.

The workman immediately notified the deacon of the church, Massimiliano Floridi. “There were two clay pots which were inscribed with the names of early popes – Peter, Felix, Callixtus and Cornelius. I’m not an archaeologist but I understood immediately that they were very old,” he told Rai Uno, an Italian television channel. “Looking at them, I felt very emotional.”

It had been known for centuries that the relics might exist – they are recorded on a stone inscription in the church, which claimed they were kept alongside a fragment of a dress worn by the Blessed Virgin.  But until now, the relics had never been found.

The remains have been handed to the Vatican for further study. Without proper analysis, it is impossible to say whether they belong to St Peter. “We’re waiting for a detailed study to be undertaken,” said the deacon. “A DNA comparison between these bones and those kept by the Vatican would shed light on the issue.”

A Vatican spokesman said it was too early to comment on the discovery.

Here’s a couple of photos.  I’m going to go ahead and express serious doubts concerning the inscription.  It does not have the appearance of antiquity.  Chances are 90% it’s a modern forgery.

A Festschrift for Israel Finkelstein

Few are more deserving of such an honor. Finkelstein has done great things and made brilliant contributions to archaeology.

Rethinking Israel

Rethinking Israel
Studies in the History and Archaeology of Ancient Israel in Honor of Israel Finkelstein

Edited by Oded Lipschits, Yuval Gadot, and Matthew Adams
Eisenbrauns, Forthcoming, November 2017
Pp. ca. 600, English
Cloth, 6 x9 inches
ISBN: 9781575067870
List Price: $89.50
Your Price: $80.55

The Old Testament in Archaeology and History

One hundred and fifty years of sustained archaeological investigation has yielded a more complete picture of the ancient Near East. The Old Testament in Archaeology and History combines the most significant of these archaeological findings with those of modern historical and literary analysis of the Bible to recount the history of ancient Israel and its neighboring nations and empires.

Eighteen international authorities contribute chapters to this introductory volume. After exploring the history of modern archaeological research in the Near East and the evolution of “biblical archaeology” as a discipline, this textbook follows the Old Testament’s general chronological order, covering such key aspects as the exodus from Egypt, Israel’s settlement in Canaan, the rise of the monarchy under David and Solomon, the period of the two kingdoms and their encounters with Assyrian power, the kingdoms’ ultimate demise, the exile of Judahites to Babylonia, and the Judahites’ return to Jerusalem under the Persians along with the advent of “Jewish” identity. Each chapter is tailored for an audience new to the history of ancient Israel in its biblical and ancient Near Eastern setting.

The end result is an introduction to ancient Israel combined with and illuminated by more than a century of archaeological research. The volume brings together the strongest results of modern research into the biblical text and narrative with archaeological and historical analysis to create an understanding of ancient Israel as a political and religious entity based on the broadest foundation of evidence. This combination of literary and archaeological data provides new insights into the complex reality experienced by the peoples reflected in the biblical narratives.

I did some proofreading of most of the essays in the early stages of the project and I have to say, they’re quite useful.  It’s taken a while to get the thing done, and I’m not sure if the projected New Testament companion volume addressing the same subject will ever come out, but I hope so.  At any rate, you’ll want to take a look at this.

Have Archaeologists Found the Home of Peter, Philip, and Andrew?

Nope.  It’s just another one of the many exaggerated claims that fly around.  Indeed, the story doesn’t match the headline.  Here’s the headline:

The Lost Home of Jesus’ Apostles Has Just Been Found, Archaeologists Say

Here’s the opening of the story:

Archaeologists think they may have found the lost Roman city of Julias, the home of three apostles of Jesus: Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44; 12:21). A multi-layered site discovered on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the Bethsaida Valley Nature Reserve, is the spot, the team believes.  The key discovery is of an advanced Roman-style bathhouse. That in and of itself indicates that there had been a city there, not just a fishing village, Dr. Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College told Haaretz.

Speculation in the guise of reporting.

The Bible Museum Has Some High Profile Defenders

Alex Joffe, an archaeologist and historian, said scholars “loathe the Greens, because they are evangelicals and because they are antiquities collectors, in that order. … The real targets are their conceptions of their faith, the Bible and America.”

Joffe, who has participated in and directed archaeological research in Greece, Israel, Jordan and the United States, said it is indisputable that the artifacts were imported illegally and seemingly intentionally. But he said the broader question that isn’t being discussed sufficiently is who gets to build museums “around the sacralized space of the National Mall.”

“Should a private family create a ‘national museum’ with a religious bent in the secular, religious space of central Washington? If not, why not?” he said. “Or are only approved topics, like the Holocaust and American Indians, as well as ‘art,’ acceptable?”

Joffe believes that the question of who gets to design national (albeit quasi-national), fundamental commemorative spaces is at the root of many of the objections to the museum project at large.

Lawrence Schiffman, professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, thinks many people jump the gun to indict a collection and a museum they have yet to experience. “It may be more suspicion that evangelicals are always out to convert everybody,” he said.

Not only does the museum insist it will deal in history rather than evangelization, but Schiffman has observed that many of the periods the museum plans to cover will be from the post-biblical era. “The notion that it’s some kind of church in disguise is not really what they are doing,” he said.

And as damning as a $3 million settlement with the New York Eastern District attorney is, Schiffman, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, notes that evaluating antiquities can be very complicated.

“It’s pretty easy to get duped,” he said.

Read the whole piece.

The ‘Comprehensive Report’ on the Jordan Lead Codices

Jim Davila has it.  He writes

It is lengthy: over 1100 pages, although that includes many images. It addresses the issues that need to be addresed and does so thoughtfully and in great detail. Rather than coming to a final conclusion, Dr. Zinner explores the evidence for what he understands to be the full range of possibilities.

I have read the (long!) introductory sections and the conclusion and have read and skimmed some of the core chapters. That took up most of a day of my vacation. I’m not ready to comment yet, but I will post some comments once I have time to look at it a little more and to digest the material.

I should also note that the Lead Book Centre has published a number of films on the codices. I will respect their wish that the videos not be embedded, but you can go to their YouTube site here to view them.

Background here and many, many links. Cross-file under Fake Metal Codices Watch. I acknowledge that various elements of the current discussion may point to some of the codices being something other than fake, but I remain to be convinced. I will have more to say in due course. In any case, I continue to include this cross-file rubric so that readers can search it to find all my posts on the subject.

I’m definitely not convinced that the codices are either ancient or meaningful.  But I appreciate Jim’s keeping track of the thing.

The IAA May Seek to Ban ALL Antiquities Dealing

Arrest of Jerusalem antiquities dealers opens a smuggling Pandora’s Box

Use of Israel as a way station to legitimize sale of looted artifacts to Hobby Lobby prompts Antiquities Authority to seek ban on all dealing

A few paragraphs in-

During Sunday’s operation, which involved the Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel Police and Israel Tax Authority, the East Jerusalem homes and businesses of five antiquities dealers were raided, garnering previously unreported antiquities including ancient parchment pieces written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, as well as ancient weapons, sculpture from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, pottery and bronze, silver and gold coins.

A report by NPR this week also listed among the items confiscated by police papyrus fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the bust of an Etruscan woman, and a fresco from Pompeii depicting swimming fish dating back thousands of years.

Israel Police spokeswoman Luba Samri confirmed the additional seizure of two black luxury Audi vehicles and more than $200,000 in cash on Sunday. Samri said the raid followed a joint investigation with American law enforcement agencies that had been informed of Israeli antiquities dealers who had issued fake receipts and invoices over the past seven years, sparking an undercover operation that exposed the scheme.

In a conversation with The Times of Israel, Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Looting, said the case is significant in that it highlights the fraudulent use of Israeli law in the dealing of artifacts looted across the Middle East.

Read the whole.

That Anonymous Letter of Complaint Has its Object Confused

Brigham Young University Greek expert Lincoln Blumell is baffled by an anonymous letter to the university that alleged he is preparing to publish a translation of ancient Iraqi artifacts illegally obtained by arts-and-crafts retailier Hobby Lobby.

Hobby Lobby president Steve Green earlier this month agreed to forfeit thousands of cuneiform tablets and pay a $3 million fine. Soon afterward, a letter purportedly from eight past and present BYU scholars accused Blumell of violating professional standards by translating some of the tablets and preparing them for publication.

“Adding value to these artifacts and legitimizing their seizure by publishing them, even in reputable presses by trained scholars, contravenes professional standards of ethics,” the letter stated. BYU’s reputation would be damaged if Blumell did so, the authors wrote.

However, Blumell said he can’t read cuneiform, never looked at the Iraqi tablets and isn’t preparing anything about them for publication.

He did visit the Museum of the Bible, which Hobby Lobby and Green plan to open later this year in Washington, D.C., but he visited a different collection.

“I looked at some Greek paypri from a different find and provenance,” he said. “The larger question, of course, is if Hobby Lobby obtained an Iraqi collection under dubious circumstances, what else has been obtained under dubious circumstances in the museum, which is a fair question to ask. My involvement in it was looking at some Greek texts, nothing involved with the scandal about Iraqi material and cuneiform texts. I looked at a totally different find and language.”

The anonyous letter, first sent to the Salt Lake Tribune, called for BYU to conduct an investigation of Blumell, an associate professor of Ancient Scripture.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what you’d investigate,” he said. “All I’ve done is gone and looked at some Greek documents.”

On the anonymous complaint, see here.

Anonymous Archaeologists Lodging Public Complaints: Shooting From the Dark and Under Cover

An anonymous group of “scholars of archaeology” is calling on Brigham Young University to investigate ties between an assistant professor of ancient scripture and Hobby Lobby, which recently become ensnared in allegations of antiquities smuggling.

In a letter sent to The Salt Lake Tribune and to BYU’s administration and Office of the General Counsel, faculty member Lincoln Blumell is accused of violating professional standards by preparing to publish documents obtained through Hobby Lobby President Steve Green’s Museum of the Bible.

“It is unclear whether or how much Dr. Blumell knows about the potential legal and ethical issues raised by his association,” the letter states. “Adding value to these artifacts and legitimizing their seizure by publishing them, even in reputable presses by trained scholars, contravenes professional standards of ethics.”

The coordinator of the letter declined to speak on the record, due to fear of retribution for himself and eight co-authors who have current or previous associations with BYU.

The writers are urging the Provo school to conduct an “impartial inquiry” into Blumell’s work with Hobby Lobby and the Green family.

Anonymous complaints… that’s a big no. At least own your words.

Something to Add to Your Bookmarks: Jerusalem- Fall of a City

In 586 BCE, the city of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army and to its king, Nebuchadnezzar. Though Jerusalem was just one of many capital cities destroyed by the Babylonians, its destruction triggered significant changes in the intellectual, cultural, religious and political identities of the people associated with the city. The effects of these changes continue to reverberate in the modern Middle East and among the global Jewish, Muslim and Christian populations. This virtual exhibition about the city is designed to explore how Jerusalem, a small Iron Age city state, became the world’s religious capital and an ethereal symbol of the theological imagination.

Check it out.  Many fantastic images and much information are included.

More Interesting Thoughts on Hobby Lobby and the Green Family

Dispelling the Myths Around the Hobby Lobby Antiquities Case.

The author makes these important points:

1. Claiming a connection between Hobby Lobby and ISIS to score points against against the conservative organization trivializes a very serious situation.

2. This may actually be something of a victory for Hobby Lobby.

Most importantly,

3. These looted artifacts are above all the cultural heritage of Iraq and Iraqis, not of American and European scholars.

And of equal importance,

4. Scholars who work on looted, smuggled, or otherwise undocumented material play an indirect but pivotal role in the process of destroying cultural heritage.

Read it!