Winners and Losers in the Emmanuel Christian Seminary Scandal

Dr. Christopher Rollston is kicked off the sinking Emmanuel Christian Seminary ship. Image by Daniel O. McClellan (http://danmcclellanart.wordpress.com)

Image by Daniel O. McClellan (http://danmcclellanart.wordpress.com)

It’s finally over. The Emmanuel Christian Seminary tenure scandal, stemming from Emmanuel’s attempt to fire (the very tenured) Dr. Chris Rollston, has been resolved.

Dr. Rollston has voluntarily resigned his position at Emmanuel Christian Seminary after completing the Fall 2012 semester. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Dr. Rollston had accepted a Visiting Professorship at George Washington University in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations beginning in the spring of 2013.

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Sweeney, President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, announced that Emmanuel is taking steps toward being wholly acquired by neighboring Milligan College, but only after a donor forks over a substantial sum to alleviate Emmanuel’s existing debts.

All of this has caused me to reflect upon Emmanuel’s self-inflicted wounds in the form of an old Newsweek-style (remember them?) “Winners and Losers” post.


Winners

Chris Rollston – Some will spin argue that Dr. Rollston lost because Emmanuel ultimately got what it wanted: his departure. But those with eyes will see that this is a HUGE win for Dr. Rollston. He ended up with a better job at a much more prestigious university (had you ever heard of Emmanuel before the scandal?), with a faculty and administration that will protect, defend, and promote him, and, he won’t miss a day of teaching during the transition. He’ll have colleagues like Dr. Eric Cline with whom he can discuss his discipline, and he won’t have to worry about duplicitous “colleagues” on the thought police questioning his scholarship or divulging confidential personnel matters on Facebook. Dr. Rollston landed at better school, didn’t miss a day of work, and I’m guessing got paid for his troubles. (Again, please correct me if no cash was paid to Dr. Rollston as part of this “amicable resolution“). This is definitely a win for Chris Rollston.

George Washington University – What a steal! GWU got to hire an excellent professor the way that other ball clubs sign talented free agents out of Oakland or Miami. (Sorry, baseball joke.) AND, Eric Cline gets credit for stepping up with a great offer, which will earn him many points (as well as a few beers I’m guessing) with the academy. Big win for GWU!

Academic Freedom – It’s actually nice to see academic freedom win one every once in a while. With the deplorable treatment of excellent scholars by confessional schools over the past few years, it’s nice to see academic freedom, critical scholarship, and fundamental concepts like academic tenure come out on top now and then. It was nice to see Inside Higher Education get involved when Libby Nelson’s article broke the story onto the national scene. It was also nice to see the multitude of scholars line up to lend their voice and support to Dr. Rollston. It demonstrates that scholars must stick together to protest the underhanded workings of many confessional schools, who only hope that the academy will stand idly by and silently hold the coats of those attempting to dismiss good scholars because of their academic speech. This was a win for academic freedom.


Draw

Milligan CollegeMilligan will get to pick up the remaining Emmanuel assets during the forthcoming fire sale, and some quality professors to boot (if they choose to stay, but I’m guessing a few have updated their resumes and, let us say, have perhaps had some quiet conversations with colleagues at other schools during SBL last month). However, Milligan now has to deal with a fiscally problematic seminary with a tainted reputation. Will students will want to attend a place that fires their favorite (and very tenured) professors because said professors won’t toe a denominational line? Will students want to pay big private tuition dollars for a degree from a school now associated with the far right and the suppression of academic theological thought?

Still, the acquisition of the property across the 359 from Milligan (presently Emmanuel) should be seen as a opportunistic acquisition.


Losers

Emanuel Christian Seminary – Some will surely argue that Emmanuel won this standoff, and Emmanuel may attempt to spin this as a victory because they got what they ultimately wanted: the departure of Chris Rollston. However, the price they paid both in attempting to fire a tenured professor, and the price of the clumsily orchestrated and completely botched administrative handling of this scandal is so great, they must be characterized as losers. This is more than cutting off your nose to spite your face: this is sinking your own ship to spite your best professor.

Emmanuel may have avoided a law suit by paying off Rollston (allegedly), but the damage done to the Seminary’s reputation, coupled with their existing financial woes, ultimately doomed the school.

When all is said and done, Emmanuel Christian Seminary will cease to exist as an independent entity. It is desperately trying to get itself acquired by Milligan.

So sure, they got rid of a professor that a couple of people thought wasn’t doctrinally conservative enough, but in doing so, the school went under, and will have to be absorbed by Milligan College.

Ironically, that’s usually what happens when the good professors leave a school: it suffers and ultimately ceases to be. And this is probably not a bad thing, as the “Emmanuel brand” is so toxic right now, they essentially need to do like Philip Morris did and just change their name to Altria (or in this case, “Milligan”), start over, and hope no one notices (or at least that everyone forgets). The school will cease to be independent, they sullied their academic reputation, and they lost Chris Rollston. Three HUGE losses for Emmanuel.

Paul Blowers – Hardly anyone outside of Emmanuel had ever heard of Paul Blowers prior to the scandal. And now that the scandal is over, he’ll be forever known as the thought policeman who tried to get Chris Rollston fired. Lowlights include an awful article at Bible and Interpretation, in which he attempted to wiggle out of the mess he helped create (AKA trying to dig himself out of a hole), which generated a plethora of puns and the ever-puzzling “cheap seats” refrain, as well getting into an online shouting match with an undergraduate (and having it handed to him.) He disclosed confidential disciplinary proceedings on Facebook (proceedings some say he helped start), and was exposed for doing so. What’s more, it took Blowers far too long to put down the shovel and stop talking online. In trying to clean up his own mess and defend himself, he only made matters worse, and placed Emmanuel in a precarious legal position (which fortunately was “amicably re$olved”). BIG time loss.

Michael Sweeney – From attempting to fire a tenured professor, to not knowing how to handle a simple press release, this was an abject failure for President Sweeney and the Emmanuel administration. Dr. Sweeney successfully oversaw the demise of his seminary. It was an utter mess – one that will end with Milligan College having to step in and bail out what’s left of the school.


In the end, Dan McClellan‘s editorial cartoon captures it all in a single frame: Dr. Rollston improved his career, and Emmanuel will cease to be.

When all is said and done, it’s a victory for critical scholarship, tenure, and academic freedom. And for once, it’s nice to see the good guy win.

Thank you to all who sent letters in support of Chris Rollston

Thank you noteI’d like to offer a very big THANK YOU to all who sent letters in support of Dr. Chris Rollston.

According to Professor Rollston, the case involving his attempted termination has been “amicably resolved”. (I’m guessing there was a substantial cash settlement involved that kept Emmanuel from a further embarrassing and certainly losing effort in court. Please correct me if there was no cash payment involved in said “amicable resolution”.)

I want to thank my colleagues who sent letters to this blog and/or posted them elsewhere in support of Dr. Rollston. It was wonderful to see so many members of the academy, graduate and undergraduate students, alums, and friends, from such a wide spectrum of religious, doctrinal, and disciplinary perspectives, from around both the county and around the world, all rally behind academic freedom and the gross mistreatment of one of their own.

Dr. Rollston has voluntarily resigned the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professorship of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, and has accepted an offer at George Washington University in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations beginning in the spring of 2013, where he can work with our colleague, Dr. Eric Cline, and the remarkable faculty there. This, too, is wonderful news!

Thank you again for standing up publicly, especially for matters as important as academic freedom, tenure integrity, and for someone as gracious, poised, and humble as Chris Rollston. Thank you.

eric cline reviews richard freund

Dr. Eric Cline has “reviewed” Richard Freund’s “Digging through the Bible” for Biblical Archaeology Review:

Two words: caveat emptor. In the introduction to this book, modestly titled “A Crash Course in Biblical Archaeology,” one finds 46 pages of rambling text but not even the bare rudiments of a crash course in Biblical archaeology. Instead, there is a stream-of consciousness mishmash that lurches from an initial 26-page discussion of the Bible, its redaction and the Documentary Hypothesis, with a twopage aside on the minimalist-maximalist debate, to a nine-page discussion of possible forgeries, including stories of George Washington and some lady who thought she had a Dead Sea Scroll in her sock drawer, then back again for another four pages on minimalists and maximalists, and a final six pages titled “The Three Roles of Archaeology in the Study of the Bible” but which have nothing to do with archaeology and everything to do with Freund discussing the Zohar, plus a paper that he presented in Rome in the early 1990s, and, for some reason, baby Moses in a basket of bulrushes. There is a lot of writing on these 46 pages, but nobody reading them will come away with any more knowledge about how to conduct Biblical archaeology than they had before they began. The same holds true for the bloated first-person narrative in the rest of the volume, which seems to include just about every waking thought that Freund has ever had about archaeology, religion and the Bible. While readers may not actually learn anything useful about digging through the Bible, they will learn a lot about Freund, his life, his thoughts, the “personal and intellectual connection to Qumran” that he apparently feels, his meeting with the Pope, every single TV documentary he has ever been in, etc., etc., etc. Who knew that Rowman & Littlefield had turned into a vanity press?

Actually, it’s less of a review and more of a Surgeon General’s warning label:

WARNING! THE FOLLOWING BOOK MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR INTELLECTUAL HEALTH. MAY CAUSE HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER, DISGUST RESULTING IN VOMITING, BROKEN HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS RESULTING FROM THROWING IT ACROSS THE ROOM, RASH RESULTING FROM USING IT AS TOILET PAPER, AND DEEP, DARK DEPRESSION AND REMORSE FROM ACTUALLY PURCHASING THIS BOOK.

Two notes via Joe Zias:

  • the author and his colleague have been excavating what they call biblical Beth Saida, but few biblical archaeologists accept this identification
  • the author and his colleague are the ‘archaeological advisers’ for Simcha Jacobovici and the series The Naked Archaeologist (which is neither naked nor archaeology).

Ya, neither of those facts help the author, and only reinforce Cline’s review.

 

shattered dreams of archaeology students

Archaeology Cat is sad he chose the wrong career.

Archaeology Cat is sad he chose the wrong career.

If you’re up for a laugh, then check out Timothy McSweeney’s blog, where author Scott C. Reynolds walks you through “Dream Jobs That You’re Glad You Didn’t Pursue.” In the segment, Reynolds describes up what many people list as their “dream jobs,” and then painfully and hilariously explains why you’re glad you didn’t choose that particular profession.

This particular episode, entitled “So You Wanted to Be an Archaeologist…” made my both laugh and cry (the crying being mostly at my choice of career). Please give it a read.

(PS: This is the expression I keep imagining Megiddo archaeologists Dr. Eric Cline and Israel Finkelstein keep having when they’re not on camera :). Coincidentally, it’s the same expression (inspired by Dr. Jim Linville) that I believe Dr. Jim West has when he reads about dilettante archaeologists, and coincidentally the exact same expression that other top 50 bloggers (well, 2-50) have when they read Jim West’s blog. ;-)

NOVA special on King Solomon’s Mines highlights Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon

Quest for Solomon's Mines NOVA

"Quest for Solomon's Mines" aired on NOVA.

The “Quest for Solomon’s Mines” aired on PBS November 23, 2010. It is viewable online. While the NOVA special examined the quest for King Solomon’s Mines, it actually did a good job of raising the issues surrounding the historicity (the actual existence and historical accuracy of the biblical account) of King Solomon. Among the items examined are the copper smelting mines located in Khirbat en-Nahas, the fortifications in Khirbat Qeiyafa, and the Qeiyafa Ostracon, which contains an inscription written in a proto-Canaanite alphabet.

UCLA's Dr. William Schniedewind with a replica of the Khirbat Qeyiafa Ostracon

UCLA's Dr. William Schniedewind with a replica of the Khirbat Qeiyafa Ostracon

The program highlights two of my favorite UC scholars, Dr. Thomas Levy of UC San Diego, and Dr. Bill Schniedewind of UCLA. Dr. Levy served as the show’s principal investigator, and Dr. Schniedewind discussed the importance of the Qeiyafa Ostracon. Drs. Israel Finkelstein and Eric Cline also make appearances, speaking to the relevance of the finds to the ongoing debate about the very existence of Solomon.

You can read an accompanying KPBS article here.

dr. ed wright responds to my peer-review article on bible and interpretation: a word on professional conduct in the academy

Dr. Ed Wright, Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona and President of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem has responded to my article entitled, “How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change,” on the Bible and Interpretation website. Dr. Wright’s article is entitled, “The Case for the Peer-Review Process: A Rejoinder to ‘How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change’.”

Dr. Wright is a friend and colleague, and I respect his opinion and the solid points he makes in his response. I’d also like to point out that this is how scholarly debate is supposed to take place. When a scholar produces research or a publication for consumption by the academy and/or the public, the scholar should expect and even invite professional criticism. It is the only way to expose holes in a theory or an academic argument, and this process makes the theory stronger. By pointing out problems with a theory, members of the academy contribute to a global discussion and together collaborate to find an interpretation or theory that best explains all of the data. Political candidates do the same thing during debates: they stand up and critique their opponent’s points of view, and, if done properly and professionally, they shake hands when it’s over and go have a beer together. That’s how it works.

Scholars should never personally smear or attempt to harm the professional development of anyone with whom they disagree. Rather, scholars (and students, and the public at large for that matter) should always argue each case on the merits of the argument. This is precisely what Dr. Wright has done here, and it is precisely what Dr. Jodi Magness and I did last year in the pages of NEA and the SBL session that reviewed my book. We stood up, exchanged points of view, pointed out flaws in each other’s theories, and then walked to the next session, where we advocated side-by-side on the same side of a different issue. Scholars should never respond to a professional, public critique of their work with personal attacks. Rather, scholars should respond on the merits of the argument in public (including peer-review journals, blogs, professional conferences, etc.), let others contribute responses, or not respond. Attacking someone personally will only bring much-deserved shame upon the attacking scholar.

This is how it’s supposed to work. Scholars should make their arguments in their own name and stand behind their claims. They should submit to the peer-review process to be critiqued by an assembly of their peers. This ensures the quality of the academic work and improves the collaborative understanding of a particular subject. Rather than attacking a scholar personally with an anonymous campaign of letters designed to impugn the credibility of a scholar who may hold a differing point of view, scholars should offer alternatives and allow the public (i.e., the academy if a scholarly issue, or the greater public if a popular issue) to determine which arguments seem best.

This is what Dr. Wright and Dr. Magness have done. It is what Larry Schiffman and John Collins and Eibert Tigchelaar and David Stacey and the late Hanan Eshel and Eric Cline and Yuval Peleg and many others have done. We all disagree with each other on any number of topics. And we may very well agree on any number of other issues as well. The point is that we humbly submit our contributions to the academy and the greater public for consideration, we make our critiques professionally, and we stand behind and are accountable for the manner in which we conduct ourselves. The academy has, with very few exceptions, always set the example for professional conduct in the exchange of ideas. The academy is the model to which the public and politicians ought to look as the ultimate example of civil disagreement. And this is what Dr. Wright and so many others have done. I hope to follow their example and always offer commentary and scholarly opinions in a professional, transparent (and occasionally humorous) manner.

Thanx again to Dr. Wright for responding. I’m sure the topic will come up when I see him at the ASOR annual meeting this year in Atlanta, hopefully over a beer (that he buys ;-)

bc

the 2010 megiddo excavation enters its second summer season

The northeastern sector of the mound, Area J with Early Bronze temples in the center at Megiddo.

I must admit: I am jealous. My friend and colleague, George Washington University’s own Dr. Eric Cline, has just completed the first of two summer excavation seasons at Megiddo. And they appear to be having a great time.

The Megiddo team is maintaining a great daily blog of the 2010 season. They are publishing tons of pictures on Facebook. They are even singing songs about archaeology on YouTube. I admit, I wish I were there participating in the excavations, debating Solomon vs. Omri and Ahab, 10th century vs. 9th century, watching Finkelstein and Cline arm wrestle… let’s just say I am jealous.

Check out the blog. And maybe next season, you can see if you too can survive Armageddon!

a great new book on the bronze age aegean edited by eric cline

The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, edited by Eric H. Cline

The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, edited by Eric H. Cline

the oxford handbook of the bronze age aegean, edited by friend and colleague eric h. cline, is now available for purchase. there is a great write-up on marsia sfakianou bealby’s challenging the past blog.

if you’re into the bronze age aegean, then this is the book for you.

the publisher’s description:

The Greek Bronze Age, roughly 3000 to 1000 BC, witnessed the flourishing of the Minoan and Mycenean civilizations, the earliest expansion of trade in the Aegean and wider Mediterranean Sea, the development of artistic techniques in a variety of media, and the evolution of early Greek religious practices and mythology. The period also witnessed a violent conflict in Asia Minor between warring peoples in the region, a conflict commonly believed to be the historical basis for Homer’s Trojan War. The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean provides a detailed survey of these fascinating aspects of the period, and many others, in sixty-six newly commissioned articles.

Divided into four sections, the handbook begins with Background and Definitions, which contains articles establishing the discipline in its historical, geographical, and chronological settings and in its relation to other disciplines. The second section, Chronology and Geography, contains articles examining the Bronze Age Aegean by chronological period (Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age). Each of the periods are further subdivided geographically, so that individual articles are concerned with Mainland Greece during the Early Bronze Age, Crete during the Early Bronze Age, the Cycladic Islands during the Early Bronze Age, and the same for the Middle Bronze Age, followed by the Late Bronze Age. The third section, Thematic and Specific Topics, includes articles examining thematic topics that cannot be done justice in a strictly chronological/geographical treatment, including religion, state and society, trade, warfare, pottery, writing, and burial customs, as well as specific events, such as the eruption of Santorini and the Trojan War. The fourth section, Specific Sites and Areas, contains articles examining the most important regions and sites in the Bronze Age Aegean, including Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Knossos, Kommos, Rhodes, the northern Aegean, and the Uluburun shipwreck, as well as adjacent areas such as the Levant, Egypt, and the western Mediterranean.

Containing new work by an international team of experts, The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean represents the most comprehensive, authoritative, and up-to-date single-volume survey of the field. It will be indispensable for scholars and advanced students alike.

from aol news: scholarly squad debunks biblical ‘discoveries’

Dr. Robert R. Cargill in Bet Shean, Israel

Dr. Robert R. Cargill in Bet Shean, Israel

chanan tigay at aol news has written an article entitled, ‘scholarly squad debunks biblical ‘discoveries’.’ the article features some of the work that members of asor’s media relations committee has done to counter the recent sensational claims that have come out of an evangelical ministry that calls itself noah’s ark ministries international. they claim to have discovered noah’s ark. i have responded to these ridiculous claims on my blog (here and here and here and here).

the article highlights the work done by scholars, real archaeologists, and bloggers in combating sensationalism in biblical archaeology.

no, no you didn’t find noah’s ark

A member of the Noah's Ark Ministries International claims to be examining Noah's Ark in Turkey.

A member of the Noah's Ark Ministries International claims to be examining Noah's Ark in Turkey.

about this time every year, something sensational happens…literally. every spring, as dig season approaches, we are treated to a little hoax disguised as hope. every spring, faith is once again used to sell something, and every year, science pays the price in the form of a reduced credibility at the hands of pseudo-scientists, who peddle their claims and cheapen the name of science.

i am speaking, of course, about the annual, sensational claims by some group that purports to have discovered the ark of the covenant, noah’s ark, the true cross of christ, or some other biblical relic that is supposed to prove once and for all that the narratives recorded in the bible are true. this year is no exception, but this time it appears that something far more sinister may be at work. late-breaking news indicates that the whole thing may be a hoax.

an evangelical group out of hong kong calling itself noah’s ark ministries international, and its partner organization, the media evangelism limited are claiming to all who will listen (except scholars) that they have discovered noah’s ark. their claim is based upon their ‘discovery’ of wooden ‘rooms’ or compartments atop turkey’s mt. ararat. they claim that it must be the ark because no one would possibly build a building at that altitude. they claim to have carbon-14 samples, but won’t reveal who performed them. and of course, they can’t tell us where the secret location of the site is, because, well…it’s a secret. still, according to the sun, group member yeung wing-cheung says:

It’s not 100 per cent that it is Noah’s Ark, but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it.

well, allow me to explore that .1%. in fact, let me just come right out and say it:
no, no you didn’t find noah’s ark.

richard bartholomew and jim west have already commented upon this nonsense, but let me add my simple comments:

this group was put together to do one thing and one thing only: make money and spread ideology by pimping both archaeology and religion. let me explain:

the media evangelism limited is a media company which states on its website that its background, vision and mission are:

Background

  • In 1987, a group of young Christians in Hong Kong envisioned a society where multi-media businesses would proliferate, and they saw the chance to capitalize on the advance technologies to serve the society. Their vision gave birth to an organization, known as “The Media Evangelism” (TME). The Media Evangelism Limited was officially incorporated in Hong Kong in 1991.

Vision & Mission

  • The Media Evangelism Limited is a charitable Christian organization committed to building a Christian media presence by using every modern means of communication to promote the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our missions are:

  • To take the message of our Lord Jesus Christ to all by means of high quality audio and visual products and services.
  • To foster biblical standard and Christian values in Chinese communities worldwide.
  • To enhance the moral and spiritual fabric of our society through creative media.
  • To pull together the collective wisdom of Evangelical Christians who are talented and gifted in media arts, and to collaborate with other Christian groups for the advance of the Kingdom of God.
Lost in the Noah's Ark

Lost in the Noah's Ark

as one might expect, the group filmed the expedition and now has a documentary movie to sell (note the director’s name: yeung wing-cheung). it is also interesting that noah’s ark ministries international runs a noah’s ark theme park and needs to sell tickets. of course, you could make even more money if you host an exhibition entitled, ‘lost in the noah’s ark’ and advertised it with bizarre posters. and, of course, the whole marketing must be kicked off in a coordinated manner. according to their web site:

March, 2010
The “We Touched Noah’s Ark: The Search for A Carpenter’s Heart” Evangelistic Campaign was launched. Worldwide press conferences, exhibitions and sharing are carried out to spread the Gospel through the Noah’s Ark discovery.

follow the money and follow the ideology. every ark expedition is about the same thing: raising funds and spreading a fundamentalist christian ideology. this may all be well and good if you’re a ministry, but for a group feigning to be archaeologists, it’s a dead giveaway.

my colleague and co-chair of asor‘s media relations committee, dr. eric cline of george washington university, appeared on good morning america wednesday, april 28, 2010 and later on fox news on thursday, april 29, and discussed the group’s claims. dr. cline mocked the ’99.9%’ claim, incurring the wrath and claims of bias and unfairness over at cbn (which means he’s got it right).

rather than ridicule or bash them, dr. cline addressed the fundamental archaeological methods that are lacking with noah’s ark ministries international (the name still cracks me up). they are keeping the location of the find secret, haven’t invited any scientists to provide outside verification, and haven’t revealed the source of the carbon-14 data they claim they have. as i said in an interview with rich buhler on 740 am kbrt this afternoon, any credible excavation knows that it must do the following:

  1. reveal the location. all credible excavations publish when and where they will be digging. in fact, they are usually begging for volunteers. but, this group has not yet even revealed the location of their find. here’s a rule of thumb to live by: any time someone promises you, ‘i have evidence that will prove that the bible is true, but i can’t show it to you,’ be suspicious.
  2. publish your data and get outside verification and corroboration. all credible excavations publish their data and make it available for peer-review and cross-examination. this is usually done at a professional conference. this is how scholarship works. this group has not done this.
  3. announce to scholars first. it is not enough to make a press release direct to the public. those who publicize their finds with direct-to-the-media marketing campaigns and bypass scholars do so because they rely on the buzz of the media and know that the scholars will end their 15 minutes of fame before it starts. they prey on the curiosity of the public, and hope that no one pays attention to scholars’ rebuttal on the back pages of the same newspapers and websites that ran the initial story in the headlines. (see: foxnews, msnbc, nat geo, abc, etc.)

this is how the academy works. and this is how it should work. there should be a system of checks and balances between the academy and institutions of faith. it keeps both groups honest.

archaeologists look at these untrained, amateur, evangelical groups doing archaeology and making claims about noah’s ark with well-deserved suspicion. it is the exact same suspicion that evangelicals would show towards a group of untrained, amateur hindu explorers claiming to have found a mace, a chakra and a conch shell in kurukshetra that prove the existence of the hindu god vishnu. just because you find reindeer bones at the north pole does not mean you have proved the existence of santa claus. and, just because you find a boat doesn’t mean you’ve proved the flood. and in this case, noah’s ark ministries international hasn’t even demonstrated that they’ve found a boat! they’ve found wood. finding a wooden structure on a mountain in turkey does not mean you’ve discovered noah’s ark. it means you’ve found a wooden building. it could be a barn. it could be a small cottage. it could be a tool shed.

however, this story may be even more sinister than a simple sensationalist claim. there is evidence that it may have all been a hoax. an article by stephen kurczy in the christian science monitor is now claiming that fellow ark hunter, dr. randall price of liberty university, who once worked with the noah’s ark ministries international group and was the archaeologist on the chinese-led team in 2008 when this alleged discovery was first made, may have been participants in an elaborate hoax. according to the article:

“If the world wants to think this is a wonderful discovery, that’s fine. My problem is that, in the end, proper analysis may show this to be a hoax and negatively reflect how gullible Christians can be,” he says. He says he has “difficulties with a number of issues related to the evidence at hand.”

Price declined to elaborate. However, a leaked email from Price – which he confirms that he wrote – shows that he has reason to believe that a group of local Kurdish men trucked wood up to the mountain and staged an elaborate hoax for the Chinese team.

A group of Kurdish workers “are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. … During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film,” Price writes in the email.

michael heiser at paleobabble.com offers even more details. he writes:

I also got an email today from one of Randall Price’s students. The email contains a message from Dr. Price about this expedition. (Dr. Price, as some of you may recall, has been doing a lot of searching for the ark lately.) Here is an excerpt from his message:

I was the archaeologist with the Chinese expedition in the summer of 2008 and was given photos of what they now are reporting to be the inside of the Ark. I and my partners invested $100,000 in this expedition (described below) which they have retained, despite their promise and our requests to return it, since it was not used for the expedition. The information given below is my opinion based on what I have seen and heard (from others who claim to have been eyewitnesses or know the exact details).

To make a long story short: this is all reported to be a fake. The photos were reputed to have been taken off site near the Black Sea, but the film footage the Chinese now have was shot on location on Mt. Ararat. In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. In the winter of 2008 a Chinese climber taken by Parasut’s men to the site saw the wood, but couldn’t get inside because of the severe weather conditions. During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film. As I said, I have the photos of the inside of the so-called Ark (that show cobwebs in the corners of rafters – something just not possible in these conditions) and our Kurdish partner in Dogubabyazit (the village at the foot of Mt. Ararat) has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.

so it appears that the whole thing may have been rigged. an ark-eologist got duped by other ark-eologists. this is simply sad.

the problem with this is that both religion and science lose. people of faith look like a bunch of liars that will do or say anything to prove their faith, including lie, cheat, steal, and rig an elaborate hoax to raise money and spread their faith. but because they use science to make their claim, religious fundamentalists will claim that scientists are elaborate tricksters that manipulate data in an attempt to prove the bible is false. and somewhere in between these two extremes are honest people of faith and honest scientists trying to have an honest debate about the feasibility and historicity of a flood and an ark, questioning why different numbers of animals on the ark are given in the bible, (gen 6:19 vs. gen 7:2), and how wood could have survived and not decomposed over time. these arguments are lost because both extremes-the religious fundamentalists and the militant agnostics-retreat to their extreme positions, and the media loves extreme anything.

science and faith both lose. both can co-exist, but episodes like this one don’t help.

this unfortunate episode also reveals that there are two levels of ‘sensational’. the first is the sensationalism that we find when someone makes an unsubstantiated archaeological claim. whenever someone finds a piece of wood on top of a mountain in turkey, someone is always sure to claim they’ve found noah’s ark. there is no evidence, but this speculation is sure to raise eyebrows, and so someone always irresponsibly makes that claim. but, there is a far more egregious form of sensationalism: the hoax. this is when evidence is planted so that said sensational claim can be made. this hoax should be met with outrage, and both noah’s ark ministries international, their sponsors, and the local turkish government officials should be sanctioned for their participation in the charade.

Hong Kong people are recognized as Honorable Citizens in Agri Province of Turkey for the first time

Hong Kong people are recognized as Honorable Citizens in Agri Province of Turkey for the first time

so no, you didn’t find noah’s ark. but you did get to be honorable citizens for the day. and you got your name in the paper. and you got you picture taken. and you’ve become the latest chapter in the seemingly never ending story of the quest for things that we’ll never find, if they ever existed at all.

and one more thing: my hat is off to all of the scholars and the cadre of bloggers that came forward to research this story and expose this charade. hats off to the news organizations that quickly posted responses to the initial story like time and the christian science monitor. and hats off to randall price, whom i previously ripped in this very space, for admitting his mistake and exposing this nonsense. you did the right thing and i respect that.

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