Jan/Feb 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (44/1) is now on newsstands

Jan/Feb 2018 Biblical Archaeology Review cover

Jan/Feb 2018 Biblical Archaeology Review cover

On behalf of the Biblical Archaeology Society, I am pleased to announce the publication of the January/February 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (Vol. 44, No. 1). This is my first issue as Editor of the magazine. Our Founder and long-time Editor, Hershel Shanks, has been promoted to Editor Emeritus.

The issue has four feature articles.

The first is our annual “Digs” article, which I wrote. The article is titled, “Digs 2018: Migration and Immigration in Ancient Israel.” The article looks at the issue of migration and immigration in ancient Israel and in the Bible, demonstrating that throughout history, Israel was a land of immigrants, and the Bible’s teachings–both Old and New Testaments–command believers to support and defend these immigrants. The article concludes with a survey of many of the archaeological expeditions looking at issues of migration and immigration in the eastern Mediterranean, and provides a complete list of active digs in the forthcoming 2018 season, as well as scholarship information for those wishing to join a dig.

The second article is titled, “Jerusalem and the Holy Land(fill)” by Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University. His article reports on his excavations on Jerusalem’s Southeastern Hill—just outside the “City of David”—which has exposed a landfill from the Early Roman period (1st C. B.C.E. to 1st C. C.E.). This garbage provides insight into residents’ daily lives and habits during a politically, socially, and religiously tumultuous chapter of Jerusalem’s history—when Rome ruled, the Temple stood, and Jesus preached. The article is accompanied by a number of sidebar articles addressing specific subfields (bones, pottery, seeds, etc.) authored by many of the dig’s staff members.

The third article is entitled “Romancing the Stones: The Canaanite Artistic Tradition at Israelite Hazor” by the University of Haifa’s Danny Rosenberg and University of Evansville’s Jennie Ebeling. The article looks at the well-known basalt crafts tradition at Hazor. Interestingly, despite Hazor’s destruction in the late second millennium B.C.E. and Israelite resettlement of the city, the Canaanite basalt artisan tradition continued, and appears to have been adopted by the Israelites, as demonstrated by their continued basalt vessel production.

The final feature article in the issue is by UCLA’s Jeremy D. Smoak and is entitled, “Words Unseen: The Power of Hidden Writing.” The article takes a closer look at the Ketef Hinnom amulets discovered in 1979 in a late Iron Age (7th C. B.C.E.) tomb in outside of Jerusalem. While the amulet contains text similar to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:24–26, Smoak asks why the text was written so small and was rolled up so that it was hidden from human eyes. This brief venture into miniaturization theory asks whether all written texts were created for human audiences.

The issue also contains the following departments:

FIRST PERSON
“A New Chapter” by Robert R. Cargill

CLASSICAL CORNER
“A Subterranean Surprise in the Roman Catacombs” by Sarah K. Yeomans

BIBLICAL VIEWS
“Neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male and Female” by Karin Neutel

ARCHAEOLOGICAL VIEWS
“Performing Psalms in Biblical Times” by Thomas Staubli

REVIEWS
“The World of Early Christianity” by Tony Burke, a review of “The Didache: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Early Christianity,” edited by Jonathan A. Draper and Clayton N. Jefford.

To subscribe, I encourage you to visit us online at http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/magazine.

Also, take a look at Bible History Daily (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/biblehistorydaily) for additional features, including an exclusive post by The George Washington University’s Christopher Rollston about the so-called Jerusalem Papyrus (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/jerusalempapyrus).

Check out our Dig website, that offers detailed information about dozens of excavations seeking volunteers (biblicalarchaeology.org/digs). Plus, read anecdotes and view photographs submitted by our 2017 scholarship recipients online (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/2017winners).

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On the President, Peaceful Protests, and Professional Athletes

So, just to clarify: waving a traitorous Confederate flag and chanting anti-Jewish slogans during an alt-right white supremacy march is constitutionally-protected free speech and makes some of those participating in the march “very fine people,” but African-Americans silently and peacefully kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of white supremacy and police brutality against people of color makes them “sons of bitches” who should be “fired” from their jobs.

This is the stated logic of the present President of the United States, Donald Trump.

You can’t call for peaceful protests and then call the peaceful protesters “sons of bitches” that “ought to be fired.” Because black athletes (and white athletes, and Latino athletes, and Asian athletes, etc.) always respond well when you call their mothers “bitches.” Right Mr. President?

 

On Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, in response to African-American athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans, President Trump said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired!'"

On Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, in response to African-American athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans, President Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!'”

The Museum of the Bible: Why Are Archaeologists and Bible Scholars So Mad?

On November 17, 2017, the Museum of the Bible will open in Washington, DC, just south of the national mall. It promises to be the one of the world’s largest collection of biblical manuscripts, offering visitors a shrine dedicated to both the history of the Bible and the literature it contains.

One would expect biblical scholars nationwide to welcome such a museum with resounding enthusiasm. But this is not the case.

The idea of a Museum of the Bible elicits two very different reactions among biblical scholars and archaeologists. Conservative Evangelicals are responding to the Museum with open arms and open wallets. Other biblical scholars, however, have shuddered, bemoaning both the process by which some of the museum’s objects were collected and the proposed manner in which the museum will present the Bible to the public. In fact, the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, Dr. Candida Moss, and Yale Divinity School Professor of Hebrew Bible, Dr. Joel Baden, have just co-authored a new book entitled Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby (Princeton University Press), detailing Steve Green’s involvement in the antiquities trade, biblical education, and his forthcoming museum.

In order to understand these polarized reactions, we must first understand the two main, yet vastly different approaches to teaching the Bible and biblical archaeology.

Critical vs. Confessional Methodology

One reason for the binary scholarly reaction to the Museum of the Bible is rooted in methodology. It is not the case that academics in state and secular schools hate the Bible, while confessional scholars at private, Christian universities love it. This is a false dichotomy. Scholars in both groups have given their careers to teaching the significance of the Bible, its text, and its cultural context to students and the public alike, as the Bible and Christianity have made an indelible impact on the development of nearly every aspect of western culture, and thus the development of the world. All educated individuals should possess at least some knowledge of the stories and teachings found in the Bible, as well as knowledge of how the Bible came to be and its role and place in society.

Neither does the difference in scholarly reaction lie in the fact that biblical scholars at private Jewish and Christian schools believe what the Bible is saying, while those at secular and highly ranked private universities do not. This is also a false characterization. To be sure, there are plenty of devout Jews and Christians teaching at state universities and the nation’s top private schools.

The difference between confessional Bible scholars and those at state, private secular, and the nation’s highest-ranked universities is the approach they take to teaching the Bible. Whether confessional, agnostic, or atheistic, Bible scholars and archaeologists who take a critical approach (“critical” here meaning “analytical”, not “disparaging”) use a scientific approach to the textual and archaeological evidence. They employ reason, logic, evidence, and use replicable tests and experiments to arrive at their conclusions. Perhaps most importantly, they teach and publish the results of their research, even if those results conflict with their personal religious beliefs. This “critical method” is what the nation’s top colleges seek in the professors they hire.

So whether a scholar is personally a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, or part of a Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox Jewish tradition, those who employ a critical methodology, whose research conclusions are based solely on the evidence under analysis, and not on the researcher’s personal religious beliefs or what they want to be true, are considered “critical scholars”.

The other approach is called a “confessional” approach. This approach serves an apologetic function that usually seeks to defend the researcher’s personal religious beliefs or those of the researcher’s employer. This explains why the small handful of university instructors and researchers, for example, who claim that the earth is only 6,000 years old and was created according to the biblical creation accounts, work for the likes of Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis or private, sectarian religious institutions. Scholars employing a confessional approach tend to work only for organizations that are seeking a predetermined result. It explains why scholars at, let’s say, a conservative Baptist seminary usually tend to produce research reaffirming conservative Baptist beliefs—they produce results that satisfy their employer’s beliefs, even when, or perhaps more accurately, explaining why their conclusions are often contrary to what the vast majority of critical biblical scholars conclude.

This confessional approach also explains why many conservative Christian colleges require their faculty members to sign “statements of faith”, making them promise never to teach or publish anything that is contrary to the school’s predetermined religious and theological beliefs as a precondition of employment. Those professors who do so are often immediately fired.[1] Their crime? They published or taught biblical or archaeological research based on the evidence that differed from what their respective confessional colleges had already agreed was true.

In fact, to aid in this endeavor of achieving only theologically agreeable research results, an overwhelming majority of these confessional colleges do not offer tenure to their professors. Because tenure protects researchers from being terminated for their academic speech, many confessional schools simply do not offer it. They opt instead to offer year-to-year or periodic contracts (e.g., renewable 5-year contracts). This allows a confessional college to rid itself of any professor who dares teach or publish results that are contrary to the confessional guidelines of the employer by simply not renewing the professor’s contract.

Such a confessional approach to teaching the Bible and biblical archaeology is not objective research—it is theological apologetics disguising as research, as the scholar’s employer has already predetermined the outcomes and conclusions of the so-called “research”.

Steve Green, Hobby Lobby, and Obamacare

Now that we understand the difference between critical and confessional research, we can better understand the first reason critical biblical scholars and archaeologists have been wary of the Museum of the Bible. Specifically, their discomfort arises from the man behind the museum, Steve Green, and many of the statements he has made regarding the approach his museum would be taking in its presentation of the objects in his collection.

The billionaire founder of the chain of Hobby Lobby craft stores, Steve Green is a devout Baptist, and his faith extends to his company. The Hobby Lobby website states that the company is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles”.

These “biblical principles” include an opposition to birth control, which was the basis for Green’s lawsuit against the US Government’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). In the suit, Green’s lawyers argued before the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that “closely held”[2] corporations owned by Christians should not have to abide by federal laws they feel violate their owner’s religious beliefs. Because Mr. Green’s religious beliefs include an opposition to birth control, his lawyers argued that Mr. Green’s company, Hobby Lobby, should not have to provide coverage for contraception to it employees as part of Obamacare’s employer mandate to provide health insurance coverage—a provision the ACA demanded.

In June of 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that, “regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to provide their female employees with no-cost access to contraception violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Thus, Hobby Lobby did not have to provide health care plans that include birth control coverage to its employees because forcing a business owner, whose religious beliefs include an opposition to birth control, was a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.[3]

Proposed Mandatory Public School Bible Curriculum

His victorious opposition to Obamacare, however slight, made Mr. Green the poster child for the anti-Obama Evangelical right. But it was not Steve Green’s politics—at least not his views on Obamacare—that caused critical biblical scholars to oppose him and his Museum of the Bible. Rather, it was his views on Bible education in public schools—another crusade spearheaded by conservative Evangelicals—that startled critical scholars.

Many conservative Christians have engaged in a fight against what they call “secular/progressives”, who insist on an unbending separation of church and state. Some of these Christians want to introduce the study of the Bible (and specifically, their confessional understanding of it) into public school classrooms. And as the darling of the Evangelical right following his Obamacare victory, they looked to Steve Green to champion this cause. And, Mr. Green seemed willing to support this movement to bring a confessional approach to studying the Bible into public school classrooms.

In 2013, Steve Green was awarded the John M. Templeton Award for Biblical Values, sponsored by the National Bible Association.[4] In his acceptance speech, Steve Green made two statements that gave many biblical scholars cause for alarm. After describing his vision for the Museum of the Bible, Mr. Green talked about why knowledge of the Bible is important, and spoke about his future plans to educate Americans beyond the establishment of his museum.

First, he commented on the historical reliability of the Bible, stating:

“The manuscript evidence is overwhelming. So, the history has a purpose of showing the reliability of this book. The book that we have is a reliable, historical document.” (2:22)

Critiquing the claims of the historical reliability of the Bible using archaeological evidence is what most biblical scholars and archaeologists do. Archaeologists are continually uncovering evidence that is often contrary to at least some of the claims made in the Bible. These conflicts between the archaeological data and the biblical claims are valuable because they offer suggestions as to why the Bible preserves some of the claims that it does. Why does the Bible claim that Noah made an ark, or that God created all the world’s languages at once at the Tower of Babel, or that the first woman was made from the first man’s “rib”, or that Joshua sacked Jericho, if there is no evidence to support these claims and lots of evidence disproving them?

These answers give us insight into how the ancient Israelites viewed themselves and how they believed God was working through history on their behalf. But Steve Green’s claim that the Bible is a historically reliable document runs contrary to the archaeological record.

Scholars fear that the Museum of the Bible will portray a false narrative about the historical reliability of the claims made in the Bible. And because it will stand among the most prominent museums in the nation’s capital, scholars fear that visitors will assume that the Museum of the Bible is one of these government institutions and will believe that false narrative.

Mr. Green’s second problematic statement came in his proposal of a mandatory, public high school Bible curriculum:

“We’re working on a four-year, public school Bible curriculum. The first year would be a summary of all three of those sections: [the Bible’s] history, its impact, and its story. And then, the next three years, going in depth in each of those: a year for the history, a year for the impact, and a year for the story, in some order. That is what our goal would be so that we can reintroduce this book to this nation. This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. There is [sic] lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it, and if we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.” (4:40) [5]

One can see the confessional approach revealing itself at the end of Mr. Green’s statement. He does not simply claim that students should study the Bible’s impact on world culture; he adds at the end a theological belief that if students (and thereby Americans) do not know “what God has taught”, then America will somehow be punished by God! That is not an objective approach to studying the Bible. That is a sectarian, confessional doctrine that theologically assumes that the teachings of the Bible must be followed by a nation’s citizens or else it will be cursed by God!

In the same Templeton Award acceptance speech, Green went on to state:

“Someday, I would argue, it should be mandated. Here is a book that’s impacted our world unlike any other and you’re not going to teach it? There’s something wrong with that.” (5:46)

To be sure, Steve Green is entitled to his opinion that the Bible is a reliable historical document. But when he says that he is planning to develop a mandatory high school Bible study curriculum that propagates his religious opinion, he is imposing his religious beliefs on the taxpayer-funded public school students.

Criticism One: “Bible as History” instead of “History of the Bible”

This is what many biblical scholars fear—that Steve Green will use his money, influence, and status as champion of the Evangelical right to promulgate a confessional Bible curriculum in public schools that is not in line with the archaeological evidence.

Scholars fear that Mr. Green’s comments about the “historically reliable” nature of the Bible will also be pushed upon visitors of the Museum of the Bible. When Steve Green announced in early public comments that he was transforming his assemblage of ancient texts and objects into a Washington, DC Shrine of the Good Book, scholars feared that instead of portraying an objective commentary on the history of the Bible and its influence on America and western culture, Mr. Green would use the Museum of the Bible as a proselytizing tool in an attempt to convert Washington museum-going tourists to his conservative interpretation of Evangelical Christianity by offering to visitors an apologetic defense of the historicity of the Bible and its claims.

In short, scholars do not oppose a museum dedicated to the history of the Bible; they are terrified of a museum that promotes the Bible as history.

Criticism Two: Black Market Antiquities

A second major criticism of the Museum of the Bible has been a major point of concern for scholars, and specifically for archaeologists: the purchase of antiquities on the black market from unnamed sellers.

Steve Green and his authorized buyers have engaged in the purchase of black market antiquities—unprovenanced artifacts from anonymous, private collections—and many of these objects—among the most important and valuable in his collection—will soon be on display at the Museum of the Bible.

An unprovenanced object is an object whose origin, or provenance (from the Latin provenire, through French provenir, meaning “to come forth, originate”), and chain of custody is unknown or partially unknown.[6] Scholars and the Israel Antiquities Authority have condemned this practice for decades, as it encourages the looting of archaeological sites and emboldens those who would forge antiquities and inscriptions and attempt to sell them to unwitting treasure seekers for a profit.

The purchase of unprovenanced objects causes major problems for archaeologists. DePaul University archaeologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Morag Kersel, has written about this issue for over a decade.[7] As she has pointed out repeatedly, once an object has been ripped from its archaeological context, it is worth far less academically, as it can no longer reliably tell us anything about the people who made it.[8] This is because the archaeological context—the place in which it was found in the ground—offers archaeologists as much information about the object as the object itself, like clues as to who was using the object, what it was used for, how old it is, etc.

Archaeological context is everything! It is why anyone who has ever participated in an archaeological dig witnesses all of the careful measurements, the attention to balks, the locus numbers, the bucket tags, the careful descriptions of the dirt in which it was found, the area, name, and location of the site, and all of the carefully prepared, constant photographs taken of the object in situ, that is, still in the ground exactly as it was found. All of these meticulous details assist in proving that the object came from a precise context. However, once an object is removed from its surroundings without such records, it loses all of this contextual data and becomes a decontextualized, unprovenanced object.

An additional problem with the acquisition of unprovenanced artifacts is that it has been shown to encourage the looting of archaeological sites. Because objects discovered in licensed archaeological excavations belong to the state in which they were discovered—the most important of which typically end up displayed in the various states’ archaeological museums—those who wish to collect antiquities often turn to antiquities dealers. And while some antiquities dealers are licensed by the state to sell legally obtained objects, many others engage in the sale of illicitly obtained objects, who in turn often collaborate with shadowy middlemen to acquire their goods (i.e., the “black market”).

Many of these illicit objects were stolen from archaeological sites or otherwise “appropriated” from collections in warehouses. When an antiquities dealer doesn’t have something a buyer wants, the dealer often says, “…but I know where I can get one”. This often leads to the black market and paid looters, who ravage archaeological sites in search for a coin or vessel or statue the collector desires. In order to avoid theft charges, the origins of the objects are often disguised and later forgotten, and the payments for such objects are often made in cash and to third parties in an effort to disguise the money trail from authorities.

While the elimination of the provenance of the object eliminates much of its archaeological value for scholars, many collectors simply don’t care about the object’s anthropological value; they just want a distinguished antique they believe to be from the Holy Land on their mantle at home. This is why, as Kersel states, the descriptions of these black market objects often include some nondescript reference to their origin like, “from the collection of Swiss gentleman” or “a family heirloom”.[9]

This demand from private collectors drives the supply of illicit antiquities on the black market. It is simple supply and demand, and as long as there is demand, there will always be those who will provide a supply of illegally obtained antiquities. And, as Baden states, “If Hobby Lobby is willing to buy them, people will be willing to loot for them because there’s a market for them.”[10]

Claims (typically made by licensed antiquities dealers) that the purchasers of illicit antiquities often act as saviors who ransom the looted artifacts from a continued life of shrouded anonymity on the black market so that they can be researched and published are unconvincing. This is because continued illicit purchases only fuel further demand on the black market, which inevitably encourages looting. It does not matter that a particular object had already been looted and is already on the black market; it is the sale of antiquities, both legal and illicit, that drives future looting, as stock must be resupplied. And yet, this stock is often difficult to acquire legally, and the prospect of cashing in drives the less scrupulous to supply that stock illegally. As University College London’s Dr. Alice Stevenson has argued, reducing the demand by banning the sale of antiquities and obstructing their transport is the only true way to begin to curtail looting. Furthermore, the damage done to potential and excavated archaeological sites by unscrupulous thieves far outweighs any benefits gained by the research and publication of these now decontextualized objects, which have been stripped of the valuable contextual data derived from a verifiable provenance.

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) have all established policies on unprovenanced antiquities that prohibit participation in the trade of undocumented antiquities, and prohibit activities that give sanction to that trade, including exhibiting unprovenanced objects in museums, publishing articles on them in their respective journals, and presenting professional papers on them at annual conferences. This is all done in an effort to discourage the looting of archaeological objects. The idea is that by refusing to participate in scholarly research, the unprovenanced objects lack the professional credibility needed to authenticate the objects—authentication that enhances their monetary value. Thus in theory, by not authenticating the illicit objects, their value is diminished, which results in lessened demand, which leads to less looting.

And it is this act of purchasing unprovenanced objects on the black market that has gotten Steve Green into hot water. From fragments of scrolls claimed to be from the Dead Sea region, to cuneiform tablets looted from war-torn Mesopotamian sites and museums in modern Iraq, Steve Green and his authorized buyers have purchased black market objects from shadowy sellers and dealers who demand to remain anonymous. Many of these objects are slated to be on display at the Museum of the Bible.

The Museum of the Bible has been vilified by scholars like Drs. Moss and Baden, and by journalists like Nina Burleigh, accusing them of promoting looting by offering top dollar for ancient manuscripts like purported fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Akkadian cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia.

Even the U.S. government got involved. The Museum of the Bible recently settled a formal federal antiquities smuggling complaint brought by the Department of Justice after customs officials in 2011 seized one of many shipments containing hundreds of smuggled cuneiform tablets that Steve Green had purchased from an antiquities dealer in the United Arab Emirates. Drs. Moss and Baden broke the story in The Daily Beast (and followed it up with an article in The Atlantic), revealing that “the label used to ship the tablets to the Green Collection offices reportedly described them merely as ‘handcrafted clay tiles’ worth about $300, which obscures both their historical significance and their true worth.” When caught, Museum of the Bible President, Dr. Cary Summers, described the mislabeled shipment as “improper paperwork”.

In reality, Mr. Green paid $1.6 million for the looted tablets according to the government settlement. He also took care not to pay the black market dealer directly, but instead electronically wired the $1.6 million to seven different personal accounts, all in different names, none of which were the name of the dealer, all in an effort to conceal the purchase of the illicit antiquities.

Thus, in addition to promoting looting by purchasing potentially stolen antiquities on the black market, Mr. Green and Hobby Lobby have also apparently attempted to disguise both the nature and the value of at least some of their acquisitions by falsifying customs forms. As part of its settlement with the government, the Museum of the Bible forfeited thousands of objects (1,500 cuneiform tablets, 500 cuneiform bricks, 3000 clay bullae, 13 extra-large cuneiform tablets, and 500 stone cylinder seals) to the U.S. government, and paid a whopping $3 million to the government, which is not technically a fine, but according to Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire, is a “forfeiture of proceeds” exacted for breaking multiple U.S. import laws.[11]

It is still to be determined what will happen with the Dead Sea Scroll fragments Mr. Green also acquired on the black market from dealers who were careful to disguise their identities and those they represent.

But suffice it to say, this issue is not about “secular” scholars “persecuting” Mr. Green, Hobby Lobby, and the Museum of the Bible because they don’t believe in the Bible. This is about Mr. Green and the arguably complicit scholars working for his Green Scholars Initiative (now the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative) ignoring the repeated warnings of archaeologists and scholars, breaking the law anyway, getting caught, and jeopardizing the credibility of the Museum of the Bible.

A Possible Change of Direction for the Museum of the Bible

The two fears I detailed above—the portrayal of the Bible’s stories as historical fact in an effort to evangelize tourists, and the display of antiquities purchased on the black market—have worried scholars, and rightly so. The Department of Justice has already begun to remedy the problem of Mr. Green’s black market purchases punitively by penalizing Steve Green monetarily and seizing some of what he purchased. I was encouraged by Mr. Green’s public confession of “regrettable mistakes”, saying in a statement, “We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled”.[12]

Still, claiming ignorance of international anti-smuggling laws that have been on the books since 1972 is no more an excuse than claiming I didn’t know I couldn’t speed because I just started driving.[13] We know from the Obamacare battle that Mr. Green has very good lawyers. But what is most disturbing, and suggests feigned ignorance on Mr. Green’s part, is that Green had retained a cultural property lawyer, DePaul University professor of law Patty Gerstenblith, as early as October 2010, who explicitly warned him, “that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq.”[14]

With its opening only months away, the Museum of the Bible has been attempting to distinguish and distance itself from Hobby Lobby, Steve Green’s personal comments, and the federal lawsuit. Take note that the Museum of the Bible is never mentioned in the federal suit or the Justice Department’s press release. The museum points out that the smuggled tablets have been seized and will not be on display at the museum. And yet, other purchases like the Dead Sea Scroll fragments also acquired from the black market are still slated to be on display at the Museum of the Bible. Thus, the issue of black market purchases will continue to be a controversial matter plaguing the museum. Furthermore, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Steve Green and Hobby Lobby are the source of the $800 million used to establish the museum, its antiquities collection, and the Scholars Initiative that has researched and now published these black market artifacts on display at the Museum of the Bible.

However, scholars’ second fear—that of an unscholarly portrayal of the early history of the Bible and of the Bible’s stories as actual history—is an issue the museum’s curators may have already begun correcting. And it is this shift of methodology and narrative that may be the first evidence of a genuine shift of direction away from the views and actions of Mr. Green.

Let me explain.

While I was researching the Museum of the Bible, I reached out to Dr. David Trobisch, who in February 2014 was named the new Director of Collections for the Museum of the Bible following some administrative personnel changes. He kindly invited me to take a private tour of the burgeoning museum while it was still under construction.

Dr. Seth Pollinger, the Director of Content for the Museum of the Bible, led the tour. He has come to serve as an effective liaison between the academic community and the museum. He offered a wonderful tour of the construction site and I was impressed with the progress to date.

What surprised me were the many steps that the Museum of the Bible had recently taken to remedy the scholarly criticism regarding the portrayal of the Bible as actual history. In the past two years, the Museum of the Bible has begun consulting with a large number of highly reputable critical biblical scholars, asking them for input. And it appears that the Museum has not only listened to this input, but has acted upon it, and has abandoned its presentation of the early history of the Bible and of the biblical stories as history. Furthermore, the Museum has beefed up its History of the Bible exhibit on the 4th floor by adding many pre-biblical objects and replicas that place the origin of the Bible in its proper ancient Near Eastern context.

For instance, the Museum of the Bible will now display a replica of the Gilgamesh Flood Tablet as part of its exhibit. This is remarkable because it is an acknowledgment that the famous Mesopotamian flood narrative (with remarkable points of similarity to the biblical flood story) existed prior to the composition of the biblical flood account. The museum will then allow visitors to decide whether they believe the biblical flood story was based upon or influenced by the Mesopotamian flood tale.

The same is true for a replica of the Code of Hammurabi that will now be part of the exhibit. The museum will display to its visitors the existence of the early Babylonian law code that may have influenced the biblical law codes found in the book of Exodus. Visitors can again decide for themselves whether Hammurabi’s Law Code was the inspiration for at least some of the laws in the Bible.

Because the Museum of the Bible is not presenting these objects as apologetic “proof” of the Bible’s historicity and literary primacy, but is instead presenting these earlier ancient near eastern texts as precursors to the biblical text in its archaeological display, the Museum of the Bible lends academic credibility to its larger exhibition.

I was also pleased to see the improved approach taken in the presentation of the early stories of the Hebrew Bible. The highly stylized art in this gallery and the reminder to visitors that the museum is presenting the literature of the Bible (which is, after all, a literary text) is a welcomed approach. Rather than portraying this portion of the exhibit as “history”, the museum is now illustrating the famous stories of the Bible as literary accounts preserved in the biblical text, thereby alleviating scholarly critiques of portraying biblical stories as history.

Beyond this, the museum is quite beautiful. I was greatly impressed with the two-story grand entrance, which preserves the building’s original use as a rail car depot. The massive video screen along the entire first floor’s ceiling can be programmed to depict limitless digital images inspiring visitors to look to the heavens. The “first century life of Jesus” exhibition on the 3rd floor comes complete with stone buildings, a wonderful recreation of a synagogue, and costumed actors depicting what life was like in first century Nazareth. The collection of medieval manuscripts and Torah scrolls is moving, and the scribe who will be painstakingly copying a Torah scroll live in the museum reminds visitors of the patience and devotion required to produce these magnificent works of literary art. Finally, the beautiful theater space on the top floor is an architectural masterpiece, which will be host to Broadway plays and scholarly lectures alike.

The museum has also reserved permanent exhibit space for rotating exhibitions from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Vatican Museums that will provide access to artifacts that might not otherwise be available to visitors who cannot afford to travel the world.

Ultimately, I was most impressed with the fact that the Museum of the Bible appears to have listened to scholars—both consultants and critics alike, and learned from its past mistakes. This reflects what I believe to be progress and maturity in the administration’s understanding of, and approach to, the Bible. I think it is commendable that the Museum of the Bible heard the criticisms of scholars (and the complaint of the government), made needed changes, and took steps to improve the narrative of its exhibition based on these criticisms.

And this, as you know, is the essence of critical scholarship itself—a willingness to listen to the criticism of one’s expert peers, to learn from one’s mistakes, and to alter one’s methodology and conclusions based upon this corrective peer-review.

The Museum of the Bible appears to be slowly adopting the critical approach used by prominent museums around the world, and will present the evidence of the history of the Bible and its literature in its greater ancient Near Eastern context. This will allow visitors to see and understand the complicated, often messy, and much debated origins of the Bible. This decision to shift its approach in the presentation of its collections should be applauded by all scholars of the Bible, regardless of past, well-warranted criticisms of the museum.

The Museum of the Bible opens November 17, 2017. The museum still plans on displaying Dead Sea Scroll fragments purchased on the black market, and this issue will continue to keep many scholars from visiting the museum for fear of complicity in the very activities that ultimately brought the scrolls to the museum.

One possible solution would be an arrangement with the IAA where the ownership of the fragments would be deeded back to Israel in exchange for an agreement to display them on permanent loan at the Museum of the Bible. I would also suggest a robust scholarly educational program, which would bring archaeologists together with both confessional and secular scholars to discuss and debate these issues and the book that so many of us have given our careers to studying, and that has so significantly influenced the world in which we live.

Correction: This article mistakenly named The Atlantic as the publication in which Moss and Baden broke the story. They actually broke the story in The Daily Beast, and this article has been corrected accordingly.

Notes:

[1] Read the case of Prof. Chris Rollston in Nelson, Libby A., Tenure vs. Donors, Inside Higher Ed, Oct. 15, 2012. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/15/seminary-threatens-discipline-professor-offending-prospective-students-donors.

[2] A “closely held” corporation is defined as one that has a limited number of shareholders. They are typically private companies (i.e., their shares don’t trade publicly) often owned and controlled by members of a single family. The IRS defines closely held companies for corporate tax purposes as “one where more than half of the stock is owned (directly or indirectly) by five or fewer individuals at any time”.

[3] See the wording of the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (2014) case, which marked the first time that the court recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious beliefs. See also SCOTUSblog http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/sebelius-v-hobby-lobby-stores-inc/.

[4] https://nationalbible.org/2013-john-m-templeton-award/

[5] You can view Steve Green’s 2013 Templeton Award acceptance speech on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awrALVLc2zo .

[6] You may also hear the word “provenience” (with the extra syllable: pro-VĒ-nē-ən(t)s), which was derived from the word “provenance” (PRÄ-və-nän(t)s) later in English. Both words mean the same thing: “origin”.

[7] https://las.depaul.edu/academics/anthropology/Faculty/Pages/morag-kersel.aspx; http://traffickingculture.org/people/kersel/.

[8] See, for instance, Kersel, Morag, “The power of the press: The effects of press releases and popular magazines on the antiquities trade”, pgs. 73-83 in E. Meyers and C. Meyers (eds), Archaeology, Bible, Politics and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24, 2009, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012).

[9] Kersel, Morag, “The Power of the Press: The Effects of Press Releases and Popular Magazines on the Antiquities Trade”, pgs. 73-83 in E. Meyers and C. Meyers (eds), Archaeology, Bible, Politics and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24, 2009, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012): 80.

[10] Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Hobby Lobby’s $3 million smuggling case casts a cloud over the Museum of the Bible”, Washington Post, July 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/06/hobby-lobbys-3-million-smuggling-case-casts-a-cloud-over-the-museum-of-the-bible/

[11] According to 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(I)(C), Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit monies that were generated by one or more violations of 18 U.S.C. § 542 (entry of goods by false statement), 18 U.S.C. § 545 (smuggling), and/or 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(1)(A) (merchandise introduced into the country in violation of law). See http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com/2017/07/cultural-property-forfeiture-hobby.html.

[12] Connor, Tracy, “Hobby Lobby Fined $3M, Agrees to Return Smuggled Iraqi Artifacts”, NBCNews.com, July 5, 2017. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hobby-lobby-agrees-return-artifacts-smuggled-iraq-n779931. See also Chris Boyette, “Hobby Lobby to pay $3 million fine, forfeit ancient artifacts”, CNN.com, July 5, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/05/us/hobby-lobby-ancient-artifacts-trnd/index.html.

[13] 1970 The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property came into force in April 24, 1972. For more, visit http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13039&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html.

[14] Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, “United States Files Civil Action To Forfeit Thousands Of Ancient Iraqi Artifacts Imported By Hobby Lobby”, July 5, 2017. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/united-states-files-civil-action-forfeit-thousands-ancient-iraqi-artifacts-imported.

Pres. Trump Should Not Have Cancelled His Masada Trip

Sarah E. Bond has a nice article in Forbes this week about Donald Trump’s decision to skip Masada during his visit to Israel and the West Bank. In it, my colleague discusses the reasons President Trump should have gone to visit the famed hilltop fortress. While it once served as an opulent southern hideaway for the tyrannical Herod the Great, well-removed from the established Judean capital of Jerusalem, Masada is best remembered for its role in the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-73 CE), and concepts of honor, loyalty, and the Jewish history of perseverance in the face of oppression.

But the president didn’t go.

Mr. Trump cancelled his visit to Masada after he was informed that he wouldn’t be allowed to land his helicopter on the over two-millennia-old archaeological ruins atop the mountain.

Thus, while there are many reasons the president should have visited Masada, there are also plenty of reasons the president should not have cancelled his visit–political reasons, symbolic reasons, and reasons that give us a glimpse into the mindset of our 45th president.

Masada Snake Path

Masada’s Snake Path can be seen below the cables of the Masada cable car, both of which lead to the Visitor Center at the foot of the mountain.

The first reason is simple: it’s Masada. From the Visitor Center, you either walk the Snake Path or take the cable car to the top. For two millennia, Christian and Jewish pilgrims, tourists, and soldiers have made the arduous journey up the mountain to visit this monument to perseverance. Tourists do it. Soldiers do it. Staff members do it. President Trump should do it like everyone else, including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

However, when President Trump was told he couldn’t land his helicopter on the famed archaeological remains in order to avoid the heat and sweat of the journey, he cancelled the visit. The fact that Donald Trump cancelled says a lot about how he views himself as opposed to literally everyone else on earth, including other U.S. Presidents.

Second, if riding the cable car is too much work for President Trump, then he wouldn’t be able to see the site anyway. The top of the plateau is massive–over 1.6 million sq. ft., or 36.78 acres! Furthermore, many of the key components of Masada lie on the perimeter of the top of the mountain–with some even carved into the side of the mountain–and these are accessible only by lengthy, rather precarious staircases. Any tourist who has visited Masada knows this. Only those in relatively good shape and possessing strong legs and great balance are able to descend into Herod’s hanging palace. You simply cannot experience Herod’s resplendent extravagance if you’re not willing and able to put in the effort. Even via the cable car, visiting the mountaintop Masada fortress requires some sweat and getting dirty–two things the president loathes and typically lets others do for him.

Masada

The mountain of Masada from the east/Dead Sea. Photo by: gaspa, Creative Commons.

Third, the entire ordeal of President Trump’s cancellation of Masada tells us a lot about how he views the relationship between effort and reward. Like many other things in his life, President Trump wanted credit for the difficult journey, but insisted upon a means of getting there not available to everyone else. (And no, the Russians did not build the cableway; it was built by two Swiss companies.)

President Trump wanted credit for reaching the top of the mountain, but needed more help getting there than others who are required to work for their achievements. And when he couldn’t take the easy route, he quit.

Finally, it is quite telling that when the president was told he could not ascend Masada–a monument to resistance–via helicopter, he backed down. This tells us something. When faced with strong resistance, Donald Trump backs down, because taking on the resistance requires discipline, patience, and persistent focus and effort–all clubs the president has repeatedly demonstrated he does not carry in his bag.

President Trump did a great many other things on his trip to Israel. But sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that say the most about you. And our president has shown us repeatedly that while everyone else must work hard for what they achieve, he will take a shortcut whenever he can. And when he is told he must work like everyone else, he quits.

Masada

The top of Masada, looking south. Photo by: Godot13.

Masada is about perseverance, honor, resistance, and hard work. It’s about being willing to die for what you believe in. And in the end, perhaps it is best that President Trump didn’t visit Masada. This mountain has already experienced one paranoid, conspiracy-laden hegemon, who achieved his position with the help of a foreign power and by agreeing to use his government to pursue their interests. Perhaps it’s best we remember Masada for those who have made the effort and the sacrifice, and not for those who fled when they didn’t get their way.

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Holocaust

Each year on the 27th of Nisan (this year April 23-24, 2017), Jews around the world observe Yom HaShoah (יום השואה), or Holocaust Remembrance Day, on which we remember the approximately six million Jews killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

We remember those who perished, as well those families who lost loved ones during this dark time in history.

But it is not only Jews who should remember this day; we should all constantly remember the evil that is possible in our nations when populist authoritarians seek to single out and target particular minority groups and blame them for what they believe to be the problems with our country.

When we say, “Never again,” this should not only be a rallying cry for Jews who must remain vigilant against those who, to this very day, seek their destruction, but it should also be a rallying cry for non-Jews, who must vow never again to stand idly by and hold the coats of those who would persecute Jews, or any minority group, in our midst.

It is good to remember. Today, let us remember those who died, and commit ourselves to taking the steps necessary to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again.

yad-vashem-jerusalem-israel_main

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Jerusalem

 

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

Today, April 24, we remember the Armenian Genocide, beginning in 1915, where the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire (soon thereafter the Republic of Turkey) oversaw the coordinated extermination of somewhere between 600,000 to 1.6 million Armenians, along with other Christian minorities.

As a proud son of the central San Joaquin Valley, a Fresno State alum, a frequent visitor to Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, and a friend and ally of the Armenian community in Fresno, whose contributions have helped shape the cultural heritage of the city that raised me, I ask that you pause for a moment today to remember those who perished and those who lost loved ones during this horrendous, and all too often overlooked (and by some, even denied) catastrophe that was the Armenian Genocide.

To learn more, visit the Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute webpage or visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex atop the hill of Tsitsernakaberd memorial in the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

The eternal flame burns at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via IB Times).

 

 

On Celebrating “Western Civilization” – a thought in response to Steve King

There are basically two ways to celebrate “western civilization,” the cultural heritage that gave rise to Europe, Russia, the Middle East, parts of North, Central, and South America, Africa, Australia, and the United States of America.

One tactic is Iowa congressman Steve King’s approach, which seeks “homogeny” by encouraging the “restoration” of “our culture and demographics,” railing against immigration arguing, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” and declaring that white people have made more “contributions” to civilization than “any other subgroup of people.” This is the type of approach that causes the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, to tweet, “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!!!”

The other approach is to invest in the study of the humanities—history; social sciences; anthropology; ancient languages like Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic; modern languages like French, Spanish, Italian, German and English; music and art history—and to understand that America’s strength comes from its cultural and racial heterogeneity—from its adoption and incorporation of the best of the world’s discoveries, inventions, theories, philosophies, and contributions—into the grand experiment we call America.

To be sure, we must invest in science and education. Research and technological development allow us to solve problems and cure diseases that give us every advantage as a nation, and which bring us respect and gratitude from other nations who benefit from our capacity to afford and accomplish such innovative achievement and progress.

But we must also invest in the humanities—the study of those cultural histories from around the world that formed and shaped our own American culture.

One cannot rail against the demise of western civilization and then vote to cut funding for education and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We must invest in art programs and music programs and language programs that allow Americans to learn America’s true history and strength—that we are a nation of immigrants and of religious and philosophical plurality. No one race defines us. No single language defines us. No sole religion defines us. No lone philosophy or political party defines us. America’s strength is in its diversity—of ideas, of beliefs, and yes, of its people—and not its religious, ideological, or racial homogeneity.

We must fund the NEH. We must fund humanities education.

That is, unless you want everyone in America to think, believe, and look like Steve King.

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