Archaeology as an Instrument of Politics and Policy in Israel

There’s a very finely written essay here which focuses on the misuse to which archaeology is put in Israel in the service of ideology and politics.

Comme le rappelait le Professeur Thomas Römer dans un récent article consacré à la reconnaissance de son travail biblique par l’Université de Tel-Aviv, «l’archéologie nécessite un travail d’interprétation». Or cette interprétation, dans le contexte extrêmement complexe du conflit israélo-palestinien, court le risque de dépendre des objectifs politiques du gouvernement qui la finance.

Depuis la création de l’Etat d’Israël en 1948, le discours historique et identitaire d’Israël met en avant la présence du peuple israélite en Judée et Samarie bien avant celle d’autres peuples, qui seraient, eux, arrivés ultérieurement. Certaines écoles d’archéologie se sont ainsi attelées à fouiller la terre afin de redécouvrir ces vestiges de l’époque biblique, une tâche somme toute légitime du travail archéologique. Dans le contexte d’occupation actuel, l’archéologie se voit parfois cependant instrumentalisée par le politique afin de justifier non seulement la présence historique du peuple juif en terre sainte, mais bien davantage l’occupation de la Cisjordanie, considérée par une partie des Israéliens comme appartenant au Grand Israël, Eretz Israel. Au-delà des vestiges bibliques, les fouilles archéologiques sont alors menées dans l’intention d’acquérir des terres convoitées.

Etc.  Enjoy.

Already Too Much is Being Claimed for the Eshba’al Pot from Qeiyafa

Which is why it’s nice to see Peter van der Veen write on ANE-2

Frauke Gröndahl already argued in her „Personennamen der Texte aus Ugarit“ (1967) the name already occurs as isi-baal at Ugarit during the Late Bronze Age („man (or my man) is Baal“). Several explanations have been offered, some taking the element „esh“ or „ish“ as verbal, most prominently so with the connotation „to exist/live“. Several parallels from the ancient onomasticon can be offered for the latter.

In other words, the pot with the name scratched on it is nothing special.

The London Home of the PEF

Eric Cline is there in London and he snapped this photo of the Palestine Exploration Fund building.  I imagined it to be something quite different.  In fact, I pictured it as something akin to the British Museum.  Nonetheless, it’s nice to see the place.

photo by Eric Cline

photo by Eric Cline

A New Historical Site Worth Visiting: Kanaan

Découvrir les vestiges historiques palestiniens, c’est désormais possible sur un smartphone. Une nouvelle application, «Kanaan», permet de se rendre à Jérusalem, en Cisjordanie, et à Gaza. Sa conception a été possible grâce à des financements débloquées par l’Union européenne et grâce à une association palestinienne de conservation du patrimoine. – See more at:

Kanaan est disponible depuis le 23 avril dernier. L’application permet de découvrir les sites historiques qui se trouvent à Jérusalem, en Cisjordanie et à Gaza. L’outil les localise et offre un tour à 360 degrés du site tel qu’il est. Il y a aussi tout un tas d’indications et d’informations sur les lieux, des vidéos. L’équipe derrière cette innovation indique qu’elle veut mettre en valeur les richesses qui se trouvent en Palestine, montrer que l’histoire est incroyable dans la région, et pourquoi pas inciter les touristes à venir visiter la région… En savoir plus sur

Visit the link above for the site in English.

Eric Meyers on Scholars and the Media

We’re in the middle of our colloquium with Eric and Carol Meyers and Eric was asked –

If you were grading the media what grade would you give them, in general, for their portrayal of archaeology? And what grade would you give academics for their interactions with the media? (a far too broad question but I hope you get my point).

To which he sagely replied-

Regarding the media and grading them I would certainty give out a few A’s, first to John Noble Wilford of the New York Times whose reporting on archaeology through the years has been nothing short of wonderful. He has truly been responsible and has educated the public. But reporters like him are few and far between and most would go for the more sensational aspects of individual finds rather than overall context and significance. Ethan Bronner’s essay in the book is an excellent case study for someone who lived in Jerusalem during some of the most contentious years of the maximalist/minimalist debate.

There is an excellent article in today’s New York Times about the Herod the Great exhibit at the Israel Museum, which points to problems about international antiquities law in war zones and raises the issue of Israel’s rights to exhibit or possess archaeological material excavated over the Green Line, albeit mostly in area C.

So there are some good reporters out there but few are trained in the field or take the time to truly learn about a subject under the pressure of deadlines, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I have been called about a subject or discovery and the reporter says “Well I have a deadline at 5:00 PM today, I really can’t take time to check this out.”

The worst of these types are the media types who make those Christmas or Easter specials for cable and call out of nowhere and start asking questions and don’t even ask if you are busy, and then into the discussion say “Hope you don’t mind that I am recording this.” Then of course they say we are way over budget and have no funds for a fee and most colleagues just go along with this even though they have no idea how the editorial process will work out or what the end product will be like. This was the case with the recent ABC show with Christian Armanpour and her son. Though she interviewed some heavyweights and obviously got some good material to work with, the show exhibited an embarrassing naivete with respect to the Bible and ANE history and archaeology and was a setback for the field. Had some of the advisers to the show been more insistent that their words and views were taken seriously and would not be used for promoting sensationalist claims, perhaps it would have come out better. The show gets a D from me.

Now for my colleagues: Their mistaken belief that being on TV or getting interviewed in the press will advance their career needs to be questioned as being a good strategy. When you are as old as Dever or me you can get away with a lot but I must say I would urge everyone to be a bit gun shy and be careful of reporters and media types whom you know will take your comments out of context and use them for their own purposes and then you are stuck with it. Usually, I am certain what our colleagues say is good but by not being careful enough the way it comes out on TV or in the press is often not helpful. So I would simply urge my colleagues to be specific with the individuals who interview them and say they want to see copy or script before it goes out or appears and hope for the best. Several schools have good programs for journalists in religion and the media, NYU is tops, and maybe we ought to try and do more with them or with other schools of journalism. I therefore give my colleagues an “I” or Incomplete, more needs to be done.

I hope everyone takes Eric’s advice seriously. More harm is being done to the public’s understanding of ‘biblical archaeology’ by poorly formulated TV specials like Amanpour’s than can be undone by 10 scholarly conferences.

And, since I know a number of ‘religion’ reporters read here I would urge them, in the strongest possible terms, to seek out actual scholars before they air ‘Bible themed’ or ‘biblical archaeology’ specials and honestly consult with them and not simply or merely snip and cut and paste them.

Eisenbrauns ‘Deal of the Weekend’

The fine folk at Eisenbrauns are running their ‘deal of the weekend’ to coincide with the previously mentioned colloquium.  Here’s their Facebook page announcement:

Another special Deal of the Day(/Weekend) from Eisenbrauns. From February 11-17, Jim West is hosting a colloquium centered on the Eisenbrauns title below on his Biblical Studies List . Order today—with a special discount—and have your copy in time to be ready!  DOTD: Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media $39.55 (20%)

And here’s the book’s description:
Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media
Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24, 2009
Edited by Eric M. Meyers and Carol Meyers
Duke Judaic Studies – DJS 4
Eisenbrauns, 2012. Cloth. English.
ISBN: 9781575062372
List Price: $49.50
Your Price: $39.55

Archaeological discoveries relating to the Bible are prominent in the public square. Even archaeological controversies normally confined to the pages of obscure journals are considered newsworthy when they touch on biblical themes, people, or places. However, scholars are not always equipped to handle this sort of attention. Thus, the conference published in this book was organized to bring scholars into conversation with representatives of the media and to help them become better prepared to address the general public. Participants included the print media and the visual media as well as academics. The relation between archaeological controversies and Middle East politics emerged as a fraught subject in several essays, with the situation of the City of David in Jerusalem as a case in point. Other essays consider looting in Iraq and in other regions in the Middle East and highlight the legal and moral issues involved—for when legal norms recognized in international law and archaeological standards are violated, chaos reigns.

This volume opens a dialogue between scholars and the media, providing both with perspectives that will enable them to become better at communicating what they do to a wide audience. And it offers lay communities who learn about archaeology and the Bible through the popular media information that will make them more sensitive to the way discoveries and issues are presented.

Even if you don’t intend on taking part in the discussion, you can, and should, still get this volume at the discounted price this weekend only.

Aren is Dissatisfied (or Disgruntled)

Aren’s reaction to Burleigh’s aforementioned essay is soundly negative.  It seems to me on the basis of her using the term ‘archaeologist’ of Jacobovici and Zias.

He’s entitled to his reaction and I do understand it.  Truly.  But it raises questions for me which I’ve posed to Aren and which I reiterate here in hopes that actual dirt archaeologists will answer them:

So, to Aren and all:

Don’t you think that to the extent that Jacobovici portrays himself as an archaeologist (albeit naked), in the view of the larger public he is perceived as such?  And, consequently, worth refuting on the basis of his claims to such knowledge?

I’m not trying to start a feud, just interested in how arcaheologists think Simcha and other non experts ought to be dealt with- or do they think they should just be ignored?  And if so, then isn’t the public just left with a false impression and misinformation?   And isn’t it the job of actual archaeologists to say something to disabuse the public of falsehood?

What i’m really interested- genuinely interested in knowing is – what is their view concerning archaeology’s obligations to the public which funds it?

Eric Meyers has already offered his reasoned viewpoint in Nina’s piece.  Anyone else?

Kloner Strips the Naked Archaeologist

At 12 noon today, before an audience of several hundred at Bar Ilan, Kloner basically stripped the naked Archaeologist. In the words of one observer, he ‘owned’ him (much as Cargill did at SBL

Oh to have been there to see Kloner do what he does so well.

Critical Archaeology in Practice: An Essay by Raphael Greenberg

You can download it here.

Critical archaeology is founded in critical theory,and thus, at a primary level, refers to an intellectual approach that seeks to identify the social and political coordinates of the production and reproduction of cultures and institutions, and of knowledge, with particular reference to structures of domination andto the possibility of resistance. As such, critical archaeology is relevant to all facets of archaeological research and practice, and has a rich tradition.More specifically, however, critical archaeology sees itself as a de-colonizing emancipatory praxis,an ethical intervention directed at complacency and complicity in archaeological teaching and practice,and thus takes on a more prescriptive or proactive role in the specific circumstances where it is applied.In the following paragraphs, I consider mainly the latter aspect, with the implication that critical archaeology is what critical archaeologists actually do.

Click the link above to read it all.

From the Introduction…

Of the soon to appear Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24, 2009, edited by our friends Eric and Carol Meyers —

The editors hope that this collection of essays and responses will provide valuable insights to scholars who seek a better relation with and understating of the media and who hope to avoid the pitfalls of sharing their expertise with the general public. We also hope that journalists, reporters, and documentarians might come across this book and become sensitive to the concerns of those whose expertise is essential to them when they deal with biblical and archaeological subjects. Finally, we hope that all readers will be made aware, if they aren’t already, that the discoveries of both biblical studies and archaeology are all too easily distorted and misrepresented by the religious or political agendas of others.

Here’s the extensive Table of Contents:

Qumran Focus Month at ASOR is Over

And it was a very, very good series.  Here’s the wrap up.  I appreciate Jack Sasson mentioning it on Agade because I had forgotten to check in on it.

It has been a successful month here on the ASOR blog, with posts by many leading scholars on all aspects of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls! We have had seven posts covering everything from the archaeological evidence for a sect inhabiting the site of Qumran, to translations and interpretations of portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to evidence for changes in scripture over time. In case you missed any of them, the posts in order are:

Go on over to ASOR to see them all handily located in one super-post.

Whatever Happened to the Publication of “Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference”?

It was supposed to be out in May.  May has come and gone.  The conference from which the papers sprang was held back in April of 2009… so it seems that by the time the volume actually comes out (if it ever does) it may have lost a good bit of its relevance.

Here’s the Eisenbraun’s page… which still lists it as still not published.  Will it ever be?

Honoring Flinders Petrie

Matti Friedman reports

More than a hundred people gathered in Jerusalem to remember Sir Flinders Petrie, one of the fathers of modern archaeology, in the lovely, little-known cemetery on Mt. Zion where most of him was buried 70 years ago this week.

A towering figure in the study of Egyptology and biblical history, the brilliant, driven and eccentric Briton is no longer a household name. But a memorial for Flinders organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Monday at the Protestant Cemetery, just outside the walled Old City, nonetheless drew a capacity crowd of local archaeologists, Bible scholars and aficionados of the ancient past.

Petrie’s modest grave — which houses all of his body except for his head — is marked simply with his name and an ankh, the Egyptian hieroglyph for “life.”

It’s a great essay. Read it all.

LCM Newsletter

Via Yuval Goren, the latest LCM Newsletter from Tel Aviv University.  It includes

An International Congress in Timna in Memory of Professor Beno Rothenberg, First Notice. — The Graduate Program in Archaeology and Archaeomaterials, together with the Dead Sea and Aravah Science Center, the Timna Park, and the Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies (IAMS) on behalf of the University College London (UCL)2, will carry-out an international congress in the copper mining sites of Timna and Feinan in April 2013.

And many other items of interest! Enjoy!

ASOR and BAR: Jerusalem and Athens?

I’m sure the rest of you got this email today:

Find out how Jerusalem became ancient Israel’s capital at the ASOR/BAS Seminar

And then followed an advert for the aforementioned joint seminar.  This, I have to say, troubles me.  It seems a very odd coupling, a strange marriage.  What has ASOR to do with BAR?

ASOR rejects any essays for publication which contain unprovenanced ‘discoveries’ (rightly, in my view) while BAR is festooned regularly with adverts for artifacts genuine and otherwise.  ASOR is a learned society of professionals. BAS is not.

I understand the mission of ASOR and I understand the purpose of BAR.  My pondering centers on the propriety of their blending.

Why is ASOR partnering with BAR?  It’s as though the National Enquirer has entered into a partnership with Vetus Testamentum in an attempt to legitimize the one and to popularize the other.

What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?  And who decided the marriage would take place?  And what kind of unnatural offspring can such a merger produce?

Robert Cargill on Simcha’s Suit

Bob left the following in comments to the earlier post but I’m elevating it to a posting of its own since it is vintage Cargill: intelligent, sage, and precise.

Simcha Jacobovici is suing Joe Zias. *Suing* him…in court…for money.


I guess arguing a case on the merits of the argument is just not Simcha’s strong suit. Apparently Simcha prefers *lawsuit.* (It’s simpler, there’s more money in it, and you don’t have to mess with all those pesky archaeological *facts*.)

There *really* must be a *lot* of money at stake if Simcha is claiming $1 million dollars in damages. I don’t know of any legitimate archaeologist in the sciences and/or humanities who makes that amount of money per project. Oh wait…

It just goes to show why Simcha does what he does. When scholars ask, “Why does Simcha continue to make unsubstantiated claims about religiously-based archaeology to the public when scholars have vociferously opposed every claim he’s made for a decade?” we now know the answer: money. BIG MONEY. MILLIONS OF DOLLARS money. And Simcha will resort to suing his critics to protect his money.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. For Simcha, it is, and always has been, about the money. Not scholarship. Not facts. Remember, this is an entertainer who fully admits: “For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic.” (- Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the Criticisms of the Film,” p. 45.) It has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. Nothing to do with faith. Nothing to do with the advancement of the study of archaeology, Judaism, Christianity, or for that matter, sound reason, rationality, or logic. It is, and always has been, about the money. It is about profits for his business, Associated Producers, Ltd., as evidenced by this lawsuit. As we now see, when Simcha’s profits are lost in a down economy with a TV market that is becoming saturated with fake documentary shows making sensational archaeological claims about aliens and conspiracies, in Simcha’s mind, it simply *can’t* be the market saying, “No more. We’ve had enough. The demographic is saturated with Indiana Jones wannabes,” or a network saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” It *has* to be someone’s fault. Someone has to be blamed, and the money must be recouped. So, Simcha sues a vocal critic. It is, and always has been, about the money.

How much do you want to bet that this law suit was filed a couple of months before the release of Simcha’s ‘next big thing’? Wouldn’t it be something if this lawsuit was simply part of a media strategy to intimidate critical scholars by suing someone just prior to the release of some crazy new claim. The cherry on top would be another ossuary claim, because the world doesn’t have enough sensational ossuary controversies. Just watch. Let’s see if this is what happens. If so, Simcha will have proved me correct, and the world will know precisely what this is all about.

Exploiting the masses using rampant speculation to make a profit for a corporation – now *there’s* an Occupy movement I can get behind. “Occupy Simcha”. I am part of the 99% of scholars who are tired of the unsubstantiated speculation, circular arguments, and damage to the discipline of archaeology.

Robert Cargill, PhD

Truly well said Robert.  I hope the judge in the case is as wise.

One Week Ago Today the Hanan Eshel Memorial Volume was Presented

At a special session at SBL and it’s titled – ‘Go Out and Study the Land’ (Judges 18:2) : Archaeological, Historical and Textual Studies in Honor of Hanan Eshel. A copy can be yours for a mere $196.

Hanan Eshel (z”l) was a prolific scholar in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls, Classical Archaeology of the Near East and many other topics. During his terminal illness, friends and colleagues got together to present him with a collection of studies on topics that were close to his fields of interest, as an expression of deep friendship and admiration. The volume contains the 22 papers presented to Hanan before his death, covering topics in archaeology, history, and textual studies, with a particular emphasis on aspects relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls, spanning the late Iron Age through late Antiquity.