Tag Archives: Hershel Shanks

Joe Zias on BAR- Uncensored

On the cover of the latest edition of Biblical Archaeology Review, 38:04, July/Aug 2012, the BAR Crowd declares the inscription on the James son of Joseph Brother of Jesus ossuary is authentic! Shanks’ claim reappears on page one and again on page 26 in the article’s title . However, tucked away in the 4th paragraph Shanks concedes , “The court held only that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the inscription was a forgery.” Is there no “consumer protection law” in the world of biblical archaeology? Much like the tabloids, readers will purchase the article on newsstands not because of a sentence on page 26, 4th paragraph down, but because of the large, attention-grabbing marketing caption on the cover– thus, caveat emptor.

And more.  Classic Zias.  You’ll either be outraged and informed or amused and informed when you read it.  Joe’s one of those guys you either love or hate but you can’t ignore.

The Folly of Dilettantism and the Unfortunate People Who Believe the Ignorant and Deceptive

via Oded Lipschits on FB

It occurs to me that just as this piece occurred in some ridiculous pseudo-news rag like the National Enquirer or the Star so too should lots of the stuff bandied around these days.  The Talpiot Tomb, the ‘James Ossuary’ and the ‘Jehoash Inscription’ all would find fitting homes on the pages of the Enquirer.  Which is, in some sense, exactly where they did in fact end up.

I used to feel sorry for the unfortunate people who believed the ignorant and the deceptive, but no longer.  It’s just too easy to check these things out and it’s just to easy to look up, locate, and inquire of an actual scholar concerning these matters.

The ignorant are without excuse.  They could discover the truth if they wanted to but their preference is ignorance and falsehood, so they continue to wear their aluminum foil hats and believe that all the world is out to cover up some secret truth which will prove false what sensible and informed people know to be the truth.

‘Crucify Him, Crucify Him’ – The Biblical Archaeology Review Cries for Zias’ Blood

I wasn’t at the trial so I don’t know what Joe Zias said on the stand.  I do know two things, though and they’re brief observations:

1- BAR hasn’t gone to such lengths to crucify someone (or at least destroy their reputation) since the 90’s when Hershel Shanks showed utter contempt for Keith Whitelam, Niels Peter Lemche, and Thomas Thompson.

2- I don’t really believe BAR is reporting all the facts or all the facts fairly.  I don’t trust BAR to do so as it has shown itself more than willing in the past to skew the evidence to its own advantage.

What this hatchet job shows, though, in my estimation, is that BAR and its editorial staff are a mean-spirited, vicious gang of thugs.  But I already knew that.  I’ve known that since the 90’s.

If, however, BAR has offered the facts as they really are two more things are worth saying:

1- I have been and will remain Joe’s friend.  I’m loyal to my friends and if they happen to fall beneath the weight of human frailty I don’t care- I remain loyal to them.


2- I still have absolutely NO respect for BAR, for Hershel Shanks, for his editorial staff, or for those who support their money-driven archaeology, and that won’t change either unless Shanks is fired and the magazine takes on a wholly new character by adopting a more scholarly and less greedy direction (which means ending advertisements for antiquities).

Hershel Shanks Claims the Trial of the Century PROVED the James Ossuary Inscription Authentic

In an email (which I’m sure most of you received)- BAS writes

A new analysis and new evidence proves that the controversial “Brother of Jesus” inscription on an ancient bone box, or ossuary, is authentic, according to the July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), the world’s largest circulation magazine devoted to Biblical archaeology.

And, after breaking its own arm patting itself on the back, the email continues

In a post-verdict analysis, former U.S. Department of Justice lawyer and BAR editor Hershel Shanks explains why it can be said beyond reasonable doubt that the inscription is authentic, and he presents new evidence not available at the trial to support this conclusion.

Three things.  1) The fact that BAR has a giant circulation has nothing to do with the accuracy or reliability of its reports.  The National Enquirer has a larger circulation and both publications share one purpose: money-making from questionable stories.  2), Shanks is a lawyer, not a scholar.  So ’nuff said on that score.  He’s not competent nor equipped to render judgment on an ancient inscription.  Others, better and wiser and more informed than himself, have made contrary claims and when it comes to deciding on the word of a dilettante and the word of a scholar (like Yuval Goren) I’ll take what the scholar says as truth.  And, finally, 3) his ‘new evidence’ can’t be used to prove anything.  ‘New evidence’?  After all this time?  And we’re supposed to accept it at his word when he clearly has more than a financial interest in the whole sordid affair?  Not a chance.

You are, of course, free to believe everything that spews from the pages of BAR, but as far as I’m concerned its a toxic dumping ground and the society which supports it a society driven by concerns other than archaeological.

Hershel Shanks Has Done it More than Once

The other day I mentioned that Shanks has been lifting, without permission, evidently by means of a ‘mole’, materials from a closed (which means inaccessible to the general public) discussion list.

Evidently he didn’t just lift something from Niels Peter Lemche (which wasn’t a quote of Lemche at all but of Oestigaard- no matter, Shanks still used it in BAR to malign Lemche), he’s also lifted something from Joe Zias-  A friend emails-

The May June BAR has a piece on page 22 titled: “Joe Zias ‘Hershel Has No Sense of Humor.'” which then quotes from a Jan 12, 2012 message to the biblical studies list:

Re: [biblical-studies] on talpiot

BAR publishing anything which goes against the James Ossuary. Dreaming, Phillip, remember what happened when one of the DSS editors and I told Shanks and his assistant quietly and discretely that we had seen the James ossuary independently of one another, decades after Golan claims to have published it? Not ‘having a sense of humor’ he retaliated with the ‘Lying Scholars ‘ article and published a 6-7 page article accusing us of lying. When my photo alongside the dealer who ‘knoweth not Zias’ appeared in the article, he then mentioned in a one sentence note in the next issue, ‘apparently the said dealer knows Joe Zias’. Like I’ve always maintained theres a BAR Crowd behind much of this, its a type of mentality in which ones career is placed before the profession. The fact that it’s ‘biblical’ raises a lot of questions…particularly when some of the Talpiot crowd have to date, found 4 tombs of Jesus and U-Haul that ossuary from valley to valley, cave to cave. If you are a member of the BAR crowd you get ‘diplomatic immunity’ from the magazine at least and an opp. to lecture at those ArchFests each year. I don’t know of any other academic discipline which tolerates such behavior, certainly not in the world of anthropology here in IL. As one colleague told me it’s not what you write but how many times you appear on the History Channel, Discovery etc that counts at some universities.

Evidently Mr Shanks and/or his representatives really do have no problem at all ignoring rules to which they assent. I suppose if it serves a purpose, any act is justifiable, including quoting out of context and/ or taking and distributing what you don’t have the right to take and distribute. I’m more disappointed with Shanks’ methodology now than I’ve ever been before. It’s just simply wrong.

Nina Burleigh on the Trial of the Century: Golan, Shanks, A Smear Campaign and Money

Nina, who famously wrote a book on the trial, has an op-ed in the LA Times this morning.  She observes

Israeli prosecutors were badly underfunded (the nation has its eye on bigger problems than relic forgery), and its investigators never mounted the kind of international, follow-the-money detective work that would have bolstered their case by showing a pattern of criminality involving a number of lesser-known objects that were also part of the case — allegedly ancient lamps and Old Testament-era royal seal impressions that scientists said were fakes.

Prosecutors relied on a parade of archaeologists and other scholars. These men and women were accustomed to addressing respectful colleagues and students. They had no experience defending their conclusions against the highest-paid lawyers in Tel Aviv.

Like scholars and scientists everywhere, their work doesn’t reach a level of precision that can withstand legal cross-examination. They acknowledge doubts. Their opinions don’t always agree in the particulars, even when they arrive at a consensus.

And while the scientists for the state conducted their investigations and testified for free, the defense paid for-hire scientists, who were willing to say the objects at issue were entirely authentic.

And of course she’s on the money too when she observes

Supporters of the ossuary and the other objects that had been discredited by the state’s investigation hailed the acquittal as a legal stamp of approval.

The ossuary’s loudest supporter is American lawyer and publisher Hershel Shanks, whose magazine Biblical Archaeology Review first revealed the object. Shanks has spent the last seven years attacking the “pack of scholars” at the Israel Antiquities Authority and one in particular, an archaeologist named Yuval Goren who found modern silicone glue in the carved ossuary inscription.

Goren, a vice dean of the faculty of humanities at Tel Aviv University, is a mild-mannered expert in materials that ancient craftsmen used to make pottery and art. He testified that a simulated patina had been applied over the inscription, a substance containing powdered calcite and limestone, charcoal and corroded bronze particles and adhered with modern glue he dubbed “James Bond.” That testimony was discredited partly because the test Goren carried out removed the substance from the surface of the box.

Goren’s findings were hardly the only evidence against Golan. Eventually an Israeli police officer tracked down an Egyptian who admitted having worked for Golan, creating objects that were meant to look ancient.

And brilliantly

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.”

Indeed.  So read her whole essay. She’s right.

Golan and his team bought acquittal the same way OJ did.  Make no mistake about it.

The Royal Ontario Museum Will Not Display the ‘James Ossuary’ Again

There will not be a 10th-anniversary showing of the James ossuary later this year at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.  “We’d need something new to say about [the ossuary],” said Dan Rahimi, the ROM’s vice-president of gallery development. “If we have nothing new to say about it, it would just be sensationalism. … I don’t really think we’re in a more advanced position than before so I wouldn’t bring it back.”

Aww… Shanks will be very disappointed.  After all, it was his doing to drag it there in the first place.

Mr. Rahimi, the ROM’s director of collections management at the time, said the museum was first approached as a possible exhibitor of the ossuary by Hershel Shanks, the U.S.-based editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, described by The New York Times as “the world’s most influential amateur biblical archaeologist.” Mr. Shanks was (and remains) an advocate for the ossuary’s authenticity. He felt the ROM would be the perfect place to present it because Toronto was on tap to host conventions of three major organizations, including the Biblical Archaeological Society.

I wonder where Shanks/Golan/Simcha/Tabor will take it since they don’t want it in Toronto.  It will make the perfect companion display for the ‘Jesus Discovery’ ossuary because they’re both bookends.  Bookends of exaggeration and misrepresentation that is.  Two for the price of one!  Come one, come all, see what people can do when they put their minds to it (and there’s money to make from it).

‘Archaeology’s Rebel’? Christianity Today’s Worst Headline Ever

For Christianity Today to call Eilat Mazar an archaeological rebel is like calling Pat Robertson a left wing activist.  Mazar has a Bible in one hand and a spade in the other but, Christianity Today, that isn’t being a rebel, that’s being a throwback to a now long abandoned archaeological Sackgasse.

When the ribbon was cut to dedicate Jerusalem’s newest archaeological attraction last summer, Eilat Mazar stood among the dignitaries like a proud parent.  The 56 year-old Israeli archaeologist didn’t just direct the final excavation that prepared the Ophel City Wall site for visitors. She also linked the silent stones with one of the Bible’s most eminent and holy kings: Solomon.

There’s nothing of a rebel in Mazar’s work.  Her’s is conservatism in its most blatant form: archaeology to ‘prove’ the Bible, not archaeology for the sake of science.  But apparently the readers of Christianity Today can’t be expected to know just how inaccurate a headline the story’s been given.  Mazar’s fundamentalist claims provoke CT to opine

Such a bold biblical connection from a modern Israeli archaeologist is rare. It provokes other archaeologists (except for evangelical ones), but it also exposes how the discipline has changed over the past several decades. Biblical archaeology has become a field of scientists who are self-conscious about the biblical pursuits that guided—and sometimes misguided—the discipline during earlier years.

It’s rare among Israeli archaeologists because they know better.

In the July/August 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), editor Hershel Shanks chided Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich for asserting that hypothetical biblical connections should be saved until after the archaeological evidence has been properly sorted out. Shanks believes that Mazar, in her willingness to make the biblical hypothesis sooner rather than later, is not wrong. Speaking of another excavation that Mazar suggests is King David’s palace, Shanks wrote that Mazar was simply following the scientific method: “Eilat had a hypothesis, and she wanted to test it by digging.”

That Shanks is among Mazar’s supporters says everything that needs to be said.  That Mazar has a hypothesis she wants to prove clearly colors her reading of the evidence she discovers.

Mazar calls the Bible a historical document. But she also says that it needs to be tested and examined. While evangelicals can appreciate her vigorous defense of the Bible as an independent narrative in the field of biblical archaeology, she does not view it as holy writ.  “I’m not religious,” she said. “The only interest we share is interest in historical sources, either the Old Testament or the New Testament. Everything [in the Bible] is important to me in order to be examined or studied.”

Maybe that’s her problem.  She thinks the Bible is historical in its interests.  It isn’t, it’s theological in its interests.  Read the rest if you want to.  I’m sure you already know what it says.

Quote of the Day

Wow … Bible History Daily is turning very much into a ‘promote Hershel Shanks’ unconventional views’ daily … BAR is becoming more and more ‘fringe’ material … – David Meadows

BAR’s New Object of Smear: Yuval Goren

First, look at the email which I just received from Biblical Archaeology Review:

Notice how scholarship is in scare quotes, implying that Professor Goren is either sloppy or untrustworthy.  I find such an accusation aimed at one of Tel Aviv’s finest academics utterly despicable and completely intolerable.  Goren’s work is above reproach and BAR’s interest in peddling more books on the so called James Ossuary or Miriam Ossuary or whatever it is that they’re presently pushing isn’t a legitimate reason to smear him.

Shanks, et al, are merely angry at Goren because his findings don’t support their claims to the authenticity of bogus finds.   Shanks and his crew may well accuse me of crimes against humanity (like not being a field archaeologist or specialist in ancient epigraphy) but I can spot scholarly nonsense at 1000 yards and that’s what out of proportion claims for these fraudulent artifacts is.

In short, I would take Goren’s word before I would take Shanks’ on just about anything except how to publish sensationalistic rubbish.

BAR has a history of smear-‘scholar’-ship and I just cannot conceive as to why anyone in academia would have anything to do with it.  It’s quite befuddling.

[And no, I didn’t read the entire Shanks article which the email advertised and no I won’t link to it because I’m not willing to promote it or help him sell copies; nor am I willing to pay a cent to see what he has to say].