Opinions and Viewpoints

Following you’ll find a list of people whose opinions matter to me and whose viewpoints I value (though not in such a way that I’m willing to slavishly follow them).  I offer said listing in response to a question I was sent on Facebook (itself responding to a posting from earlier today) .  To be precise the question was

If you don’t care about McGrath’s opinion, whose do you care about?

An excellent question.  I answer- the opinions of these:

God, my wife and daughter, my father-in-law and mother in-law, Bob Cargill, Chris Tilling, Israel Finkelstein, Antonio Lombatti, Giovanni Garbini, Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas Thompson, James Crossley, Maurice Casey, Steph Fisher, Philip Davies, and Keith Whitelam.  And that’s pretty much it.

The persons whose viewpoints I value (aside from the above who are all alive whilst these are dead) :

Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard von Rad, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Huldrych Zwingli.

To be sure, I value the opinions and viewpoints of others, but when it comes right down to it and everything is boiled to the essentials, these are the core group.  If you didn’t make the list don’t feel too bad.  First, you probably don’t care about my opinion anyway (so you can’t really be too hurt).  And second, you’re in the majority if your opinion isn’t all that important to me.  So there’s that.

Opinions and viewpoints.  If we’re all honest (a virtue virtually abandoned these days) we would all admit that some people mean more to us than others.

Israel Finkelstein Under Duress!

Bob Cargill posted this photo on the Azekah expedition page and claims that Israel approves of his tie-dye shirt.  But you can clearly see from Israel’s expression that he’s under duress.  I suspect that Cargill has a knife or some instrument of injury pressed to his back and has required him to smile or suffer….

Pray for Professor Finkelstein’s safe release from the hostage taking tie dye cult!

A Tiny Seed And The Tremendous Information it Can Provide: Megiddo

With thanks to Eric Cline for sending along word of this report:

Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein is leading his sweating guests to a corner of Tel Megiddo. He points to a black stain on a rock, which on closer inspection turn out to be charred seeds. “This,” he says, “is the most important find at Tel Megiddo.”

Further on

In one of the four excavation areas on the mound, each marked by its own flag, we come back to the charred crumbs Finkelstein says were the mound’s most important find. Here, under a rainbow flag, we are told they are tiny seeds that Megiddo’s inhabitants collected around 3,000 years ago. They went up in flames when the city was destroyed.  They are important because of their location in relation to finds above and below them. Organic material like this is especially valuable because it can undergo carbon-14 testing, allowing the level where it was found to be dated.

And this very interesting segment-

One of the black layers indicates destruction in the 10th century. Finkelstein’s detractors say David destroyed this city – an idea that Finkelstein rejects because he says the carbon-14 dating rules out the possibility that the city was destroyed suddenly. It shows a gradual process.  Finkelstein now believes that the 10th century destruction came at the hands of “mountain Israelites” from the region of Samaria, which led to the rise of the northern kingdom.

There’s a lot more to the report, and I’m hopeful to have photos of the flags mentioned in the report very soon.

Garfinkel’s Grumpy

With few scientific arguments to buttress their position, they [minimalists] proposed an imaginary, alternative history of biblical Israel and Judah. Instead of fostering a discussion between two competing paradigms based on the interpretation of data, the minimalists resorted to rhetoric and demagoguery, ignoring both the relevant archaeological data and the Bible.

Thus the abstract of a new essay in Bible and Interpretation penned by Yosef Garfinkel.  Among other things he suggests

The minimalists violated the conventional scientific procedure of moving in a logical progression from the data, to analysis and then to conclusions.

Ok let’s think about that for a moment, for who really violates the logic of scientific procedure?  Is it the ‘minimalists’ or the maximalists?   The maximalists begin with the conclusion (which they find in the Bible) and move to inference and then to declaration.  Their procedure is circular and so is their reasoning.  Is this scientific?  Which is more scientific, the insistence that there be evidence for a claim or a paper claim bolstered by another paper claim?

Garfinkel’s grumpy but his real target isn’t minimalism, it’s the so called ‘Low Chronology’.  He mistakenly believes, apparently, that the Low Chronology is a new manifestation of minimalism’s failed program.  There’s only one problem with that: Finkelstein isn’t a minimalist.

Hence Garfinkel has managed to do what the maximalists always manage to do: construct a man of straw, give him a good spanking, and then march off declaring ‘victory’ over the defeated foe.

‘Raiders of the Lost Relics’

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Matthew Kalman reports

On a hilltop overlooking the Elah Valley, about 15 miles southwest of Jerusalem, an ancient city is yielding archaeological finds that have reignited a debate about some of the Bible’s most colorful characters, including King David.

Qeiyafa, exaggerated claims, and the state of the field.  Give the piece a read.  Very nicely done.

More On the Mysterious Reappearance of the Megiddo Hoard in the News Today

Earlier I mentioned a press release which described something described months ago in a find at Megiddo.  There’s more, as the American Friends of Tel Aviv University point out (with thanks to Joe Lauer for the heads up) –

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have recently discovered a collection of gold and silver jewelry, dated from around 1100 B.C., hidden in a vessel at the archaeological site of Tel Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. One piece — a gold earring decorated with molded ibexes, or wild goats — is “without parallel,” they believe.

According to Prof. Israel Finkelstein of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, the vessel was found in 2010, but remained uncleaned while awaiting a molecular analysis of its content. When they were finally able to wash out the dirt, pieces of jewelry, including a ring, earrings, and beads, flooded from the vessel. Prof. Finkelstein is the co-director of the excavation of Tel Megiddo along with Professor Emeritus David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University and Associate Director Prof. Eric Cline of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The researchers believe that the collection, which was discovered in the remains of a private home in the northern part of Megiddo, belongs to a time period called “Iron I,” and that at least some of the pieces could have originated in nearby Egypt. Some of the materials and designs featured in the jewelry, including beads made from carnelian stone, are consistent with Egyptian designs from the same period, notes Ph.D. candidate Eran Arie, who supervises the area where the hoard was found.

A Trove of Jewelry Discovered at Megiddo

This appeared in the news today (even though it’s actually quite old news- having first appeared two months ago- see the link at the bottom of this entry).

Archaeologists digging at Tel Megiddo in northern Israel have unearthed what turns out to be one of the largest troves of Canaanite treasures ever found, buried in rubble from destruction 3,100 years ago.

The treasure was hidden inside a clay vessel that had been unearthed in the summer of 2010. The pot had been filled with dirt and sent for testing. It was only recently that the dirt was examined in a restoration laboratory and the treasure revealed to their great surprise.

The hoard includes a collection of gold and silver jewelry, beads, a ring and a pair of unique gold earrings with molded ibexes and wild goats that was likely made in Egypt.

“We find about 10 [whole] vessels every year. The only thing that was unusual was that the jug was found inside a bowl. It was put inside a bowl 3,000 years ago and was covered by another bowl and it was put in the corner of a court yard,” archaeologist Eran Arie told The Media Line.

The hoard is one of the largest and most intriguing ever found in Israel. The treasure likely belonged to a wealthy, perhaps royal, family and was found in the layer of settlement dating to 1,100 B.C., about 150 years prior to the Israelite conquest of Canaan, Arie says. 

Israel Finkelstein, a professor Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, who has been digging at Megiddo for nearly two decades, says the jug was discovered in the remains of a private home in the northern part of the site. It was dated to a period called Iron I.

There’s more, but it’s not very interesting.

Unsensational Qeiyafa

A new essay by Finkelstein, I. and Fantalkin, A., titled Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation has just appeared in Tel Aviv 39/1: 38–63.

The Abstract-

The article deals with the finds at the late Iron I settlement of Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site overlooking the Valley of Elah in the Shephelah. It points out the methodological shortcomings in both field work and interpretation of the finds. It then turns to several issues related to the finds: the identity of the inhabitants, their territorial affiliation and the possibility of identifying Khirbet Qeiyafa with sites mentioned in the Bible and in the Shoshenq I list.

With many thanks to Alexander for sending along a copy. It’s a very, very persuasive argument they offer.

Eilat Mazar and ‘The City of David’: The Interview

From our friends at The Jerusalem Report:

Mazar insists therein that (among other things) –

“I am not trying to deal with what other people say,” she tells The Jerusalem Report. “I don’t care about politics when it is directly connected to our archaeological work. We who do archaeology in Jerusalem have to deal with the principle that it is important to reveal the remains of ancient Jerusalem in the most scientifically accurate way.”

Her backers though, clearly do care about politics.

The report continues

Mazar insists her discovery puts to rest Finkelstein’s claim that David was a minor figure.  “In light of our excavations, what he thinks has no basis,” she says. “The evidence is very strong that the regime was powerful enough to construct such a building, leading me to conclude that this was indeed David’s Palace. It is not that I am bothered when Finkelstein claims that David was marginal. I think it needs to bother him.”

It needn’t bother him at all actually given the absolutely paltry to non existent nature of any evidence of the great ‘Davidic Kingdom’.  Rather, it ought to bother those suggesting the evidence supports such a kingdom.  It just isn’t there.

Her critics, interpreting ancient relics differently from Mazar, suggest that the palace that she discovered is from 300 years later.  “She is a good archaeologist and does good work,” says David Ussishkin, emeritus professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, “but our view is that her palace belongs to a later period.”  That view, if correct, could unhinge all of Mazar’s claims regarding King David.

That view [i.e., the much later date for the structures Mazar has found], it seems abundantly clear in light of the evidence presently at hand, is correct.  Further, her ‘Bible and Spade’ methodology just doesn’t work.  It’s circular reasoning.

Working with the Bible in one hand and her excavation tools in the other, she remains open-minded about finding new archaeological treasures. “I try to consider everything,” she says.

Read the whole interview.  It’s sharply done.

Has Joshua’s Altar Been Discovered on Mt. Ebal?

Adam Zertal thinks it well might have been.  And since he’s an actual archaeologist, he has to be taken more seriously than the discoveries displayed on Discovery.  Zertal has 6 interesting pages in which he discusses the possibility.  With thanks to Jack Sasson for pointing it out.

I’d be very interested to hear what Aren Maeir and Israel Finkelstein think of it.

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.

More Scholarship Opportunities at Tel Aviv University

Via Oded Lipschits

Scholarship Opportunities: 3 more at the International MA in Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible program Tel Aviv University

Due to the support of the Yad Hanadiv Foundation, the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures of Tel Aviv University is pleased to announce 3 more tuition assistance scholarships for the academic year of 2012-13. The 5,000 USD Scholarships will be granted to a limited number of excellent students who wish to broaden their knowledge and understanding of ancient Israel, as part of Tel Aviv University’s one year International MA Program in Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible.

The program is the only one of its kind in Israel, allowing students from a variety of countries across the globe to study the archaeology and history of the Land of the Bible – in the Land of the Bible. The program combines theoretical and methodological courses with the opportunity to gain fieldwork experience in some of the most exciting excavations conducted in Israel by TAU scholars, while providing the most up-to-date, modern and scientific tools to the area of archaeological and historical studies; teaching students cutting edge methods for individual, independent research. The scholarships will be granted to students chosen by an academic committee (Prof. Oded Lipschits, Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Prof. Oren Tal) based on an academic CV, final grades sheet from the last academic establishment and an abstract of the final paper submitted in the last academic establishment. Applications should be submitted no later than May 1st, 2012.

For more information please visit our website at www.archaeology.tau.ac.il/internationalMA or contact the program manager, Ms. Nadin Reshef, at MAarch@post.tau.ac.il.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: On the Verdict

Matthew Kalman has another report with more information and opinion in the wake of the verdict in The Chronicle of Higher Education including those asserting the authenticity of the inscriptions (in the middle of the essay) followed by those who don’t (at the end).  We pick up with the latter –

Across the Tel Aviv University campus, Yuval Goren, a prosecution witness and professor in the department of archaeology and ancient Near Eastern civilizations, was equally insistent in the opposite direction.

“I examined the materials covering the ossuary and the inscription, and we found out that the materials covering the inscription were not created in the natural processes typical of the Judean mountains area over the last 2,000 years,” said Mr. Goren.

“Since the verdict is not guilty, it means the accused had, first of all, very good lawyers but also there was no legal way to connect between them and the fraud. But it doesn’t really change much about the scientific conclusions because they are unrelated,” he insisted. “I think the scientific data still stands for itself.”

His view is supported by James E. West, adjunct professor of biblical studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology and moderator of an influential online forum on biblical archaeology.

“Golan has harmed the field of archaeology in incalculable ways,” said Mr. West. “Whenever real, and important, discoveries are made, the public will view them with skepticism because now there will always underlie them the potential that they too are fakes. It may have been a good verdict for Golan personally—but for the field of ‘biblical archaeology’, this is a sad day, a bad day, and in truth, a tragic day.”

Israel Finkelstein, another professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, was also a prosecution witness. He continues to believe the items are fakes and says archaeologists should avoid any item not found in a supervised excavation.

“A judicial procedure is one thing and an academic investigation—and debate—is another,” said Mr. Finkelstein. “As far as I can judge, there is enough evidence against the authenticity of the inscription on the ossuary and the Jehoash inscription.”

Eric M. Meyers, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Duke University, said the failure to prove the items were forged “in no way means that they are authentic. The burden of proof that falls on the prosecution in a criminal case must rise to a high level of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the defendants have been acquitted thus does not end the matter of the quest to decide authenticity. This leaves much opportunity for academic opinion to continue to believe that these artifacts are not authentic and to question their provenance.”

Antonio Lombatti, an Italian church historian, said he expected the debate to continue. “If the carbon dating of the Turin shroud in 1988 didn’t put the word ‘end’ to the debate, I won’t expect a trial verdict to have the last word on a Jewish ossuary,” he said.

Antonio, you’re right…

Post Doctoral Appointments at Tel Aviv University

Via Oded Lipschits, to whom all inquiries should be directed.

Two Post-Doc Positions at the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, in fields of Archaeology, Ancient Israel Studies, and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures  The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, will appoint two post-doctoral scholars for 2012-2013 in the fields of Archaeology, Ancient Israel Studies, or Ancient Near Eastern Cultures.

The highly competitive fellowships are offered to researchers across many disciplines, and will be awarded on the basis of academic excellence.  Applicants should have received their Ph.D. in a relevant field within the last five years from an institution other than Tel Aviv University. While appropriate training in archaeology, biblical studies, ancient Near Eastern cultures and/or biblical history is required, the nature of an applicant’s specific research interests and areas of expertise is open.

Successful candidates are expected to make substantive contributions to the ongoing development of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology by organizing a colloquium on a subject to be decided at the beginning of the academic year that will stimulate an intellectual environment in which research and new interdisciplinary connections are pursued and developed.

In addition to engaging in their own research, the successful candidates will be expected to teach one four-hour graduate level seminar during one of the two semesters (interdisciplinary offerings are desirable).  The fellowship period will begin October 1, 2012, and is for a period of one year. The appointment carries an NIS 80,000 (= approximately $21,000) stipend for each candidate.

Applicants are requested to submit a cover letter, a CV, a detailed statement of current research interests (up to 2000 words), and two letters of reference (to be submitted directly by the recommenders). In addition, post-doctoral fellows must state if they are applying for other sources of funding for the fellowship period.

The scientific committee includes Prof. Oded Lipschits, Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Prof. Oren Tal.  Application materials should be sent to: Professor Oded Lipschits (lipschit@post.tau.ac.il). Subject heading should read: Post-Doctoral Application.  Last date for acceptance of material: April 1, 2012.  Results will be published on April 15, 2012.