The Importance of Archaeological Provenance – BAR Sept/Oct 2018

My First Person editorial for Sept/Oct 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR 44/5) is titled “The Importance of Archaeological Provenance.” I hope you can give it a read and learn about some new policies we’ve instituted at BAR regarding newly-introduced unprovenanced objects and our publication of them.

BAR-SO18-FP_Provenance_all

One of the major issues facing archaeology is the issue of provenance, or specifically the lack thereof, with regard to archaeological objects.1

The word provenance (alternatively spelled provenience) comes from the Latin provenire, meaning “to come forth, originate.” Thus, archaeological provenance refers to the verifiable information regarding the origin of an archaeological object—the dig site or location in which it was discovered, its locus, stratum, dating, etc., as well as its chain of custody, that is, who possessed the object since its discovery.

Conversely, an unprovenanced object is an object whose origin and chain of custody is unknown or partially unknown. These objects may have been looted from an archaeological site, forged, or otherwise acquired, legally or illegally, by a private collector, who often keeps the objects out of the hands of scholars. Some collectors, however, do offer their collections to scholars for study, but this process often merely increases the value of the objects for the collector, who then sells the objects for a greater profit. Other collectors sell their collections but demand that their identities be kept anonymous for fear of criminal prosecution or the stigmatic consequences of dealing antiquities on the black market.

Once the archaeological context of an object is lost, it is worth far less academically, as it can no longer reliably tell us anything about the people who made it. 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.

Scholars and the Israel Antiquities Authority have condemned the purchase of unprovenanced objects by antiquities dealers for decades because it encourages the looting of archaeological sites by providing a financial incentive to those who would attempt to sell them to unwitting tourists and treasure seekers. 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 artifacts 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 and, in turn, often collaborate with shadowy middlemen to acquire their goods (i.e., the black market).

Claims (typically made by licensed antiquities dealers) that the purchasers of illicit antiquities often act as “rescuers,” who ransom the looted artifacts from a life of shrouded anonymity on the black market so that they can be researched and published, are unconvincing. Continued illicit purchases only fuel further demand on the black market, which inevitably encourages looting. And even if a particular object has already been looted and is already on the black market, the sale of these antiquities, both legal and illicit, drives future looting, as stock must be resupplied. Reducing the demand by banning the non-state sanctioned sale of all 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.

One might object, “But what about the Dead Sea Scrolls? They began as unprovenanced objects before they were systematically excavated!” This is true, as did many objects that are now prominently displayed in the world’s greatest museums. These objects, as well as the additional problem of the transport of cultural history objects out of their homelands, contributed to the establishment of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Simply put, since it went into force in 1972, nations of the world agreed not to trade in illicit cultural heritage objects. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered beginning in 1947, prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but you can understand why news of the recent acquisition of scrolls by the Museum of the Bible from contractually anonymous black-market dealers caused so much furor among scholars.

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 the 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.2 This is all done in an effort to discourage the looting of archaeological objects. By scholars refusing to participate in research, the unprovenanced objects lack the professional credibility required to authenticate the objects—authentication that enhances their monetary value. Thus, in theory, by scholars refusing to authenticate the illicit objects, their value is diminished, which results in lessened demand, leading to less looting.

It is for this reason that last November at the SBL annual meeting in Boston, I announced that BAR would no longer publish newly discovered or introduced unprovenanced archaeological objects in its pages. BAR occupies a unique place between the academy and the public. While it is our primary mission to convey the latest archaeological discoveries and research to the public, we also have a responsibility to discourage looting and the forging of archaeological objects by not promoting them in our magazine.

If and when the next sensational unprovenanced archaeological object is introduced to the media, BAR may use its position as a media outlet to explain to our readers what the claims being made are and why the unprovenanced nature of the discovery makes the discovery problematic. But as a practice, BAR will no longer publish newly introduced unprovenanced objects in an effort to play our small part in guarding against looting and forgery.—B.C.

1 A portion of this column was adapted from an earlier blog post (robertcargill.com/2017/07/19/the-museum-of-the-bible- why-are-archaeologists-and-bible-scholars-so-mad/).

2 ASOR and SBL provide an exemption for cuneiform tablets (see, e.g., www.asor.org/ initiatives-projects/asor-affiliated-archaeological-projects-2/standards-policies/policy-on- cuneiform-texts-from-iraq/).

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One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren

בלגן (balagan): noun. (modern Hebrew, from Russian). 1) a chaotic mess of confusion and nonsense. 2) a state of extreme confusion and disorder.


There is something quite foul coming from Israel, being wafted about by the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review, and perhaps not surprisingly, the stench appears to be pointing back to Robert Deutsch and Simcha Jacobovici.

Archaeology professors from the Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University recently responded to a cheap and petty series of attacks on the integrity and archaeological methodology of one of their own, Dr. Yuval Goren, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

The attack comes in the form of a paid advertisement published in the most recent issues of Biblical Archaeological Review (BAR), which accuses Prof. Goren of “CATER-PILLAGING the Stratigraphy of Tel Socoh”. The ad features a photo of Prof. Goren standing in front of a JCB, a mechanical backhoe.

An anonymous advertisement depicting Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University (later revealed to have been paid for and placed by Robert Deutsch) appears in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review on page 29.

An anonymous advertisement depicting Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University (later revealed to have been paid for and placed by Robert Deutsch) appears in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review on page 29.

The initial publication of this photograph was followed by an email from Robert Deutsch to the Archaeonews list-serv on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 9:47 AM, which read:

“To: archaeonews@archaeological-center.com
Subject: Re: [Archaeonews] A picture is worth a thousand words

Dear List Members

Attached is a picture which appears on page 29 in the recent May/June 2013 BAR Magazine entitled:

Cater-Pillaging the Stratigraphy of Tel Socho

Socho is a biblical town in the Elah Valley located between the ancient cities of Qeiyafa and Azekah
(Joshua 15:35; 1 Samuel 17:1), some 25 Km. south-west of Jerusalem. Its name is mentioned among the
four towns impressed on the so called royal LMLK jar handles from the time Hezekiah king of Judah.

Instead of advanced nano-archaeological investigation we see destructive mecano-archaeology.

As mentioned in the Subject: “A picture is worth a thousand words”

I will appreciate your comments

Sincerely
Robert Deutsch”

What the anonymous, unsigned ad on the pages of BAR does not state, what the email above Archaeonews email does not claim, but what I confirmed in a phone conversation with an administrator at BAR immediately after the initial appearance of the ad, is that the BAR ad was paid for and placed by none other than Israeli antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch, who was indicted by an Israeli court a few years ago as a co-conspirator with antiquities dealer Oded Golan, who was indicted for, among other things, allegedly forging an inscription that purportedly reads, “Jacob (or James), Son of Joseph, Brother of Joshua (or Jesus)”, on what has come to be called the “James Ossuary“.

I commented publicly on Jim West’s blog on April 28, 2013 that Deutsch was, in fact, behind the purchase and placement of the ad, stating:

Jim,

BAR didn’t run a story, rather, that photo and the caption around it was actually a 1/4 page ad taken out and paid for by non-other than Robert Deutsch. He had originally spammed a bunch of us trying to get bloggers to give his ‘ad’ a little publicity.

Deutch’s claims are, of course, deliberately misleading.

(NOTE: Don’t miss the bizarre exchange in the comments following my comment, from Robert Deutsch himself. His refusal to claim authorship of the ad and his highly disconnected responses offer a glimpse into irrationality of his argument.)

This week, BAR confirmed that Robert Deutsch did indeed purchase and place the ad in a statement, which reads in part:

“The advertisement in BAR was paid for by Robert Deutsch, a leading Israeli antiquities dealer…”

So we now have confirmation that Robert Deutsch purchased and placed the anonymous, unsigned ads criticizing Prof. Goren in the pages of BAR for using a mechanical excavator.

But why would Robert Deutsch do this? What possible motive would Mr. Deutsch have for attacking a professional archaeologist anonymously?

In 2005, Robert Deutsch promised to take revenge for being indicted in the Oded Golan forgery case, vowing to sue “the IAA [Israel Antiquities Authority] and its agents personally“:

“The public announcements and press conference by the IAA during this last week (December 2004), in which they purposely linked my name to a host of allegedly illegal activities with which the IAA knows that I have absolutely no connection, leaves me no alternative but to immediately file suit against the IAA and its agents personally, for irreversibly damaging my name and reputation and for the serious financial consequences of their malicious and criminal acts.” [Emphasis mine]

Upon his acquittal, Robert Deutsch again promised to have his revenge. In multiple comments (here and here) on the ASOR Blog, Robert Deutsch declared:

“I was acquitted of all the fabricated charges and I will sue the IAA after having my scholarly reputation ruined by the false accusations.”

and

“They ruin my name and for that I will sue them for all of my expenses and all of my damages.”

and

“All they were trying to do was spoil my name – and they will pay for that.”

and

“For all of these things, they will pay, they are the real criminals here, ruining a scholar’s name and reputation. I don’t mind how long it will take, they will pay.”

and

“No amount of money can compensate enough for all the damage they have caused to me.”

BAR also published Deutsch’s intent to sue the IAA, and followed it with the publication of a separate article entitled “Robert Deutsch to Sue IAA“, which largely echoed comments he made elsewhere on blogs and message boards.

Indeed, can we now state that it appears Mr. Deutsch has begun his campaign of revenge, at least against Prof. Goren?

Golan and Deutsch were acquitted of antiquities forgery at the trial’s conclusion when the judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to prove that Golan executed the inscribed text on the ossuary. However, the judge also warned that the acquittal of Golan on forgery charges should not be read as a judgment on the authenticity of the ossuary nor its inscription, which a healthy majority of scholars consider to be a forgery.

During the trial, Prof. Yuval Goren testified on behalf of the IAA that the inscription was a modern forgery due to issues with the patina covering the inscribed areas. That is, he testified against Golan and Deutsch, on behalf of the IAA. To many readers, this could certainly provide potential motive for Mr. Deutsch’s present campaign against Prof. Goren, especially after repeatedly vowing to have his revenge against those who sought to “damage his name”. (Read Mr. Deutsch’s own words here.)

What is not immediately apparent is that the BAR ad is a complete misrepresentation of the facts, and suggests a number of outright falsehoods.

For one, the piece of equipment is not a Caterpillar, nor a bulldozer, but a JCB backhoe loader with a loader on the front end and a bucket scoop (or “backhoe”) on the back.

Second, the JCB is not on the Sochoh archaeological tel, but in the valley below. Archaeological squares were opened to ensure the careful, controlled excavation of the wadi below.

Third, Prof. Goren’s excavations at Tel Sochoh were carried out using the highest archaeological standards and methodology. As a supervisor at Sochoh’s partner excavation, Tel Azekah (we shared office, lab, and classroom space at Nes Harim), I witnessed daily the extraordinary care taken with the materials and stratigraphic evidence from the Tel Sochoh site. All finds were processed with the highest standards and archaeological contexts were preserved with the utmost detail.

Prof. Yuval Goren works in the archaeological office at Nes Harim, which houses the staff of the Sochoh and Azekah archaeological excavations. I took this photo from my station in the lab.

Prof. Yuval Goren works in the archaeological office at Nes Harim, which houses the staff of the Sochoh and Azekah archaeological excavations. I took this photo from my station in the lab.

Fourth, the use of mechanical excavators is minimal, but common in modern archaeology. Mechanical excavators are commonly used to clean areas in preparation for manual excavation, remove heavy debris like stones and felled trees, to remove previously excavated and replaced backfill documented in prior excavations, and to open controlled test probes for the purposes of determining whether assets should be deployed to new area for the purposes of manual excavation in areas where ground penetrating radar is unable to yield verifiable results.

As Rogue Classicism points out, the Archaeological Institute of America‘s “Ask an Archaeologist” page includes the use of mechanical excavators in modern excavations:

What tools do archaeologists use for excavation?
Archaeologists use a great variety of tools for excavation, depending on the nature of the area in which they are working. The most common digging tools are picks, shovels, and trowels. In areas where there is a lot of sediment or dirt over the sites, archaeologists sometimes use heavy equipment like bulldozers and back hoes, but only to remove earth that shows no signs of human remains. If excavation will be a delicate operation, as during the careful cleaning away of soil from a damaged painting or human skull, archaeologists use dental picks, spoons, brushes, or anything that works. They often improvise based on the situation in which they find themselves. [Emphasis mine]

Nearly every archaeological tel I’ve ever been associated with has used a mechanical excavator at one point or another. This much was made clear by Yuval Goren’s response to the initial ad, demonstrating that nearly every modern excavation in Israel employs mechanical excavators in their excavations.

Prof. Yuval Goren responds to criticism of the use of mechanical excavators with a short article on Scribd, which includes a montage of different modern excavations all using mechanical excavators.

Prof. Yuval Goren responds to criticism of the use of mechanical excavators with a short article on Scribd, which includes a montage of different modern excavations all using mechanical excavators.

Ironically, one archaeological site that Prof. Goren left out of his montage is the site of Bethsaida, excavated by Prof. Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska, Omaha. The Bethsaida Facebook page proudly displays publicly accessible photos of their use of mechanical excavators (JCB backhoe loaders to be precise).

One photo is located here:

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

Another photo is located here:

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

Prof. Arav just today responded to his own use of mechanical excavators at Bethsaida on Jim West’s blog, stating:

“I am delighted to see the interest in the Bethsaida Excavation Project. This project is an interactive educational project. We have just completed the 27 excavation season. Bethsaida was proved to be the capital city of the kingdom of Geshur. Where else we have a capital city of a kingdom in such a great state of preservation?

(Backhoes are used at Bethsaida only to remove dumps. The picture you see is removing dumps outside of the city walls. All backhoes jobs at Bethsaida are approved and supervised by IAA). Anyway, thanks for your interest at Bethsaida. It is indeed an amazing site without parallel.

Dr. Rami Arav
Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project” [Emphasis mine]

[A short digression: Quite interestingly, a Co-Director of the Bethsaida excavation, Nicolae Roddy of Creighton University, was quick to follow up about claims that have been made by documentary filmmaker and TV archaeology enthusiast, Simcha Jacobovici, whose autobiographical information and whose PR staff (namely, one of Mr. Jacobovici’s Associate Producers, Nicole Austin, who is always quick to defend Mr. Jacobovici online) continually claim to be a “Co-Director of the Bethsaida excavations”. Prof. Roddy issued the following statement regarding Mr. Jacobovici’s involvement with the Bethsaida excavation:

“For the record, Simcha Jacobovici is not associated with the Bethsaida Excavations Project in any way, let alone as co-director. As co-director myself (for the past seventeen years), I would resign in a heartbeat if this were the case. As for the backhoe, I was there the day it filled in the long furrow left after the extraction of Syrian bunkers. It was not there doing archaeology of any sort.–

Nicolae Roddy, Creighton University”

Simcha Jacobovici's biography at his company's Associated Producers, Ltd.) website claims that he is a "co-director of the Bethsaida Excavation in the Galilee, Israel". Visit http://www.apltd.ca/pages/people/simcha-jacobovici for details.

Simcha Jacobovici’s biography at his company’s Associated Producers, Ltd.) website claims that he is a “co-director of the Bethsaida Excavation in the Galilee, Israel”.
Visit http://www.apltd.ca/pages/people/simcha-jacobovici for details.

The truth is that Mr. Jacobovici holds the honorary title of “Co-Director of the Bethsaida Excavations” (along with ten other individuals) because he serves as the leader of the Huntington University (of Canada) delegation, which contributed $2000 to the Bethsaida Excavations Consortium. The honorary “Co-Directors” have no authority over the site, nor the excavations. They are invited to attend an annual meeting, and are permitted to list themselves as “Co-Directors” as the leaders of a contributing consortium institutions. Because Mr. Jacobovici states that he was named as an adjunct professor at Huntington University (see image above), and because Huntington University is a contributing consortium member, Simcha Jacobovici can list the title of “Co-Director of the Bethsaida Excavations” on his resume, although the title is largely honorific, similar to those donors who give to a university and are rewarded with a honorific seat on a “University Board”, as opposed to those who are appointed to a university’s “Board of Regents”, and who exercise actual authority over the institution.

So do not be confused: I confirmed this morning that Simcha Jacobovici’s title of “Co-Director of the Bethsaida Excavation” is largely honorary. He has no authority regarding the site, nor the decisions made regarding its excavation. These decisions are left to the professional archaeologists running the excavation, led by Dr. Arav. Huntington University of Canada (where Mr. Jacobovici has been named an adjunct professor) donated $2000 to the consortium, and in exchange Mr. Jacobovici was granted the right to call himself a “Co-Director” with ten other contributing consortium leaders. Here ends my digression.]

Thus, the use of mechanical excavators is endorsed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and is used by the best and most reputable archaeologists in the field.

(NOTE: One should remember that the claim that “no one would go on record endorsing the bulldozer methodology” likely has more to do with the one asking the question (namely, Mr. Jacobovici), and less to do with standard archaeological practice. Given their past experience with certain sensationalizing individuals pretending to be archaeologists on TV, the IAA may very well have developed a practice of not responding to certain archaeological amateurs and others who are only looking to misrepresent any answer the IAA might give. Their silence is likely a result of the person asking the question, not practice in question.

But again, I digress.)

This brings us to the joint response from a host of archaeology professors at Tel Aviv University, which clearly spells out the case I have made above.

In response to the BAR ad, the faculty of the Marco and Sonia Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University issued the following statement:

Statement by faculty members of the Marco and Sonia Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, regarding the alleged use of mechanical excavator at Tel Socoh

A defamatory, anonymous paid advertisement, alleging that Prof. Yuval Goren of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University has used a mechanical excavator to “pillage stratigraphy” in the excavation of Tel Socoh in the Shephelah, has again been published in the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR). Those who read BAR should note that:

1. There was no use of a mechanical excavator on Tel Socoh.

2. The slide shown in the ad illustrates work carried out in a wadi near the mound, as a sequel to a systematic manual excavation from surface to natural soil nearby. The sounding was aimed at detecting pottery and slag in the vicinity of the site. This method is authorized (and endorsed) by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

3. This is a common method in archaeology. Most seasoned archaeologists – regardless of period of research, location on the globe, and institutional affiliation – use mechanical excavators in certain, closely controlled circumstances.

Signed: Oded Lipschits, Erez Ben Yosef, Shlomo Bunimovitz, Yoram Cohen, Alexander Fantalkin, Israel Finkelstein, Moshe Fischer, Yuval Gadot, Amir Gilan, Raphael Greenberg, Zeev Herzog, Dafna Langgut, Nadav Na’aman, Benjamin Sass, Deborah Sweeney, Oren Tal

Thus, it is abundantly clear that mechanical excavators are a part of the standard tool box available to modern, licensed, approved archaeologists. This is not in question. It is legal. It is legitimate. It is approved by the IAA in licensed excavations. Mechanical backhoes are present at some point or another at just about every site. There is nothing wrong with the use of mechanical excavators in controlled archaeological contexts. This is fact. This is standard practice among professional archaeologists.

So we must return to our initial question: Why is Robert Deutsch paying for anonymous ads in Biblical Archaeology Review that accuse Prof. Yuval Goren of “Cater-pillaging” archaeological sites?

Given Mr. Deutch’s history with Prof. Goren, and given his public vow to retaliate against those involved in the IAA’s case against him, one cannot help but consider the possibility that this uninformed, unsigned ad, which is a deliberate misrepresentation of standard archaeological methodology, within the pages of BAR is, in fact, an attempt to sully the name and professional credibility of an established archaeological professional, namely, Prof. Yuval Goren.

If this is the case, one can understand why Robert Deutsch did not want to sign his name to the ad. As it is potentially defamatory, Robert Deutsch would be wise to take all precautions necessary to avoid the appearance that he is paying money to make false accusations and insinuations about the professional practices of Prof. Goren in the pages of BAR.

Of course, the irony is that THERE IS NO CONTROVERSY! It is a completely manufactured attempt at character assassination. Any “controversy” is the contrivance of Robert Deutsch (via his “anonymous” paid advertisements), and the opportunistic bandwagonning of Simcha Jacobovici and his PR machine.

Furthermore, one might conclude that this manufactured controversy may or may not be a continued attempt at retaliation against Prof. Goren for testifying not only against Oded Golan, but against the very authenticity of the so-called “James Ossuary” in an Israel forgery trial that concluded last year. Indeed, the claim of the authenticity of the “James Ossuary” is one thing shared in common by Mr. Deutsch, Mr. Jacobovici, and BAR Editor-In-Chief Hershel Shanks.

The ad is intended to smear the reputation of Prof. Goren. That is its sole purpose. It is not journalism, it is a paid attack ad. And now that the truth has been made public, this causes potential legal trouble for Robert Deutsch and BAR.

And this brings us to the recent efforts of Simcha Jacobovici. Readers should continue to dismiss Mr. Jacobovici’s colorful imagination, who views the facts of this particular case as something that must be obscured until is fits whatever conspiratorial theory he is arguing this week. And this week, it is backhoes at Tel Sochoh (but apparently nowhere else).

At no point is this more evident than Mr. Jacobovici’s recent series of blog posts, in which he compounds mistake upon mistake, and hypocrisy upon hypocrisy. In fact, at one point, Mr. Jacobovici’s attempts at fanning the flames of this manufactured controversy became so irresponsible (and glaringly self-evident), that he has already had to issue an apology for citing a dead woman as testifying in his own defense.

I kid you not!

This past week, Mr. Jacobovici stunningly included archaeologist Orna Zimhoni, M.A. (ז״ל), who passed away in 1996, among a list of scholars that reportedly refused to sign the Tel Aviv statement (seen above). Simcha wrote,

“Also notable by their absence are Tel Aviv archaeologists Ran Barkay, Avi Gopher and Drs. Mario Martin and Orna Zimhoni.”

Now, not only is Mario Martin (as brilliant as he is) a post-doc and not a faculty member at Tel Aviv University, but Mr. Jacobovici appallingly listed the deceased Orna Zimhoni as one who consciously did not sign the statement! (Mr. Jacobovici later issued a apology, but only via email, and not on his blog. Mr. Jacobovici simply corrected his mistake by deleting the name of Ms. Zimhoni from his blog post, and now apparently from his Times of Israel editorial, which now also appears corrected.) This opportunistic, yet highly insensitive attempt to use a deceased archaeologist in support of his claim, only demonstrates Mr. Jacobovici’s lack of research ability and his underscores his careless rush to condemn those with whom he disagrees.

But we have come to expect this of Mr. Jacobovici: facts are merely optional nuisances, and the dead will speak on his behalf if his opportunism finds it convenient. For shame, Simcha, seriously. Is this the kind of “investigative research” we are to expect from Mr. Jacobovici? The dead now speak on your behalf?

I shake my head. But it gets worse.

There is a much greater hypocrisy present in Mr. Jacobovici’s recent blog posts, and I’m not sure whether we’re dealing with sheer ignorance, sheer stupidity, or sheer hypocrisy. I fear we are dealing with all three.

After bloviating incessantly about the use of mechanical excavators in multiple posts on his blog this past week, it was revealed that the very Bethsaida excavation of which Mr. Jacobovici claims to “Co-Director”, ALSO USES MECHANICAL EXCAVATORS!! (See the images above.) Simcha’s ignorance of standard archaeological practice is surpassed only by his own hypocrisy. Rami Arav can use mechanical backhoes at Bethsaida, but Prof. Goren cannot at Tel Sochoh? This makes sense?

I’m stunned.

Simcha Jacobovici has the archaeological credibility of a 30 shekel note*: it appears legit to those who don’t know any better, but anyone who has ever done archaeology in Israel knows that it’s fake, fake, fake. Simcha Jacobovici reminds me of the pundits who appear on CNN during political campaigns right after the debates, whose professional job it is to feign outrage at “controversies” manufactured the campaigns paying them to do so.

I shake my head.

But shaking one’s head is all one can really do for this entire sad, manufactured episode that can only be described with one word: בלגן (balagan), a chaotic mess of confusion and nonsense. The sensationalist, vindictive triumvirate of Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and sadly (and again, surprisingly, given their recent progress), Biblical Archaeology Review, has manufactured a false controversy for the purposes of defaming a good scholar, Prof. Yuval Goren, who happens to disagree with them regarding the James Ossuary. It has become one big balagan, and the only appropriate action for legitimate scholars, real archaeologists, and the public to take is to shake their heads at Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Jacobovici and ignore them. Ignore their false claims. Ignore their manufactured controversies. And ignore their petty, vindictive contrivances.

As for BAR, I do not believe it is necessary for them to apologize, but I do hope they issue a simple statement similar to the statement they released this morning, along the lines of something like, “Given the recent facts that have come to light, and the obvious falsehoods and misrepresentations present in one of our paid, third-party advertisements, BAR will no longer be publishing the paid advertisement placed by Robert Deutsch in the pages of our magazine.” This simple statement alone would demonstrate BAR‘s good faith in this matter, and would do much to correct the misinformation (and potentially actionable defamation) campaign waged by Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Jacobovici, which may have been inadvertently published on several occasions by Biblical Archaeology Review. (I am pleased to see that BAR has at least outed Robert Deutsch as the author of the anonymous ad.)

Robert Deutsch is misrepresenting the work of Prof. Yuval Goren, and yet didn’t even have the backbone to sign or state the origin of his defamatory advert. Likewise, Mr. Jacobovici is taking his typical, opportunistic verbal swings at real archaeologists by parroting Mr. Deutsch’s misrepresentation of the facts. Therefore, it is time for the academic world and the general public once again to ignore Mr. Jacobovici and Mr. Deutsch, as throughout this entire balagan, they have more than demonstrated their lack of credibility, rush to judgment, and mistreatment of simple facts. For them, the truth is a simple nuisance which must be spun, massaged, manipulated, obscured, and sensationalized into armaments for their own personal PR battles.

The best thing to do is to illuminate the truth, expose the facts, demonstrate the PR-driven falsehood of the entire episode, and then ignore them both, for that would be the most powerful and most effective response of all.

And as for Robert Deutsch, the academy should continue to remain vigilant as he continues to exact the retribution he has vowed repeatedly to take. If he attempts another cowardly anonymous campaign of character assassination against someone he feels has wronged him, fear not: just follow the money and shine a light into the darkness, and his duplicity will be exposed, just as it has been in this entire balagan.

For in this regrettable episode, Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Jacobovici have failed in a spectacular way. And they will once again be relegated to the periphery, where the din of the ignorant, the vindictive, and the conspiratorial is occasionally loud, but is ultimately ignored and forgotten.

So, to what shall I compare the archaeological credibility of Mr. Jacobovici and Mr. Deutsch following this entire balagan perpetrated by their own self interests? They are not unlike a piece of basalt, which at first appeared shiny and impressive in the archaeological square. But after archaeologists and scholars dug a little deeper, they soon realized the basalt was a hard, stubborn, intrusive nuisance to the remainder of the archaeological activity being done all around it. So what did they do? And what became of the piece of intrusive basalt? The archaeologists sledged it repeatedly (with logic, of course) until it was broken it into multiple fragments (of debunked rhetoric, of course), and safely removed it from the archaeological square…with a JCB, of course.


UPDATE 1: Noah Wiener, the Web Editor for the Biblical Archaeology Society website, contacted me to notify me that he has located the broken link to the “Robert Deutsch to Sue the IAA” article and has fixed it. You can access the article here. To adjust for the correction, I have altered the original line: “(It may be worth noting, however, that a separate BAR article entitled “Robert Deutsch to Sue IAA” has mysteriously disappeared from the BAR website.)” to reflect the corrected link.

*UPDATE 2: It occurs to me that some not familiar with Israeli currency might not realize that there is no such thing as a 30 shekel note. It’s like a $3 bill. They do not exist. Any that do are fake.

kudos to smithsonian channel for putting “gospel of jesus’ wife” documentary on hold

Smithsonian ChannelWord from the Smithsonian Channel is that they’ve decided to shelve a new documentary on the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” due, in part, to a high degree of scholarly criticism ranging from claims that the fragment is an outright fake to claims that it appears to be a cut-and-paste job of verses taken from the Gospel of Thomas.

This is a good thing! Kudos to Smithsonian for listening to the facts, weighing the evidence, and evaluating the scholarly critique instead of rushing to air a sensationalized documentary that may turn out to be nothing but an hour of strained speculation sold to a cable channel in the hopes of making quick money, archaeology be damned.

I applaud Smithsonian Channel. And I applaud Harvard Divinity School’s Dr. Karen King. Dr. King released this fragment the way it should be released in this new digital era of immediate feedback: first to a group of scholars for review, and then to a professional conference of her peers for review, and only then to the public.

And, when the scholarly experts began to raise doubts and voice their concerns about the authenticity of the object and its interpretation, the planned documentary was put on hold to preserve the credibility of the network and of the scholar making the claim, despite the fact that there was quick money to be made. There is no highly speculative, popular book to recall because Dr. King went through the academy first. And now that the scholarly community has voiced its desire for more research, Dr. King (who has repeatedly expressed her own doubts about the fragment’s authenticity) appears all the more professional and the Smithsonian Channel looks all the more responsible.

It’s a shame that other networks can’t follow Smithsonian’s lead and cancel other documentaries they believe to be highly problematic, factually challenged, speculative, and mere attempts to make a quick buck on potentially pseudoarchaeological claims.


[N.B.: We have yet to hear if the documentary’s producer has decided to sue Joe Zias for millions of dollars because a growing majority of the scholarly community has questioned the validity of the documentary’s claims, causing it to be shelved and potentially canceled. Because obviously, any documentary related to the Bible and archaeology that is shelved due to a growing critique of the sensational claims by a number of scholars must be Joe’s fault alone. ;-)]

Absolutely excellent article by Nina Burleigh about the “James Ossuary” trial

Scientists have cast doubt on this ossuary inscription. (Israel Antiquities Authority / Associated Press / March 23, 2012) via LA Times.

Author Nina Burleigh has penned an excellent, must-read Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Faith, forgery, science — and the James Ossuary.”

Burleigh not only summarizes the case, but describes the growing problem stemming from scholars attempting to be truthful in the sensationalistic popular and legal environments to which they may not be accustomed. She also laments the problem of religions zealots appealing directly to the public to combat inconvenient scientific facts that undermine their faith claims:

The particulars of science matter little to zealots defending a creed…Attacking scientists is increasingly common as religious and ideological zealots flatly reject data that offend their creeds.

It is a very well written piece about an unfortunate problem in archaeology.

She also highlights a point that many supporters conveniently overlook: the judge specifically did not rule on the authenticity of the ossuary.

“This is not to say that the inscription on the ossuary is true and authentic and was written 2,000 years ago….

Rather, the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Golan forged the ossuary.

“The prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt what was stated in the indictment: that the ossuary is a forgery and that Mr. Golan or someone acting on his behalf forged it,” the judge stated.

There is a big difference between “it’s authentic” and “we can’t prove that he faked it beyond all reasonable doubt.”

Give it a read.

HT: Jim West.

This ought to be the first rule of “Biblical Archaeology” (via Bad Archaeology)

An article on Bad Archaeology makes some good points about some recent archaeological claims:

“Biblical archaeology” is in “scare quotes” because it’s a highly problematical concept, but more of that later. What I want to address first is what ought to be a first principle for anyone reading about claims for discoveries that are supposedly to the Bible (Hebrew or Christian) or any religious text, for that matter. It’s this:

If a discovery confirms your pre-held religious beliefs, then it’s wishful thinking at best and even more likely to be a fraud.

As a principle, I think it’s a good one. But it’s one I have rarely, if ever, encountered in so-called “Biblical Archaeology”, which is a sub-discipline that is characterised by a distinct lack of skeptical thinking. Why is that?

Let’s answer that by looking at some recent claims: the “Jesus family tomb”, the “lead codices” from Jordan and the interminable searches for “Noah’s Ark”.

Read detailed discussion of Jacobovici’s “Jesus Tomb,” Elkington’s “Lead Codices,” hunts for Noah’s Ark, and other fake archaeological claims here.

fake lead jordan codices update

Scholars have identified a "stamp" used to impress text on a page of the so-called "Jordan Codices." The stamp is staggered to produce what appears to be a paragraph of text, but in reality is nonsensical text.

Scholars have identified a "stamp" used to impress text on a page of the so-called "Jordan Codices." The stamp is staggered to produce what appears to be a paragraph of text, but in reality is nonsensical text.

Thomas Verenna has an excellent update addressing the fake “Jordan Codices” on the Bible and Interpretation website. The evidence continues to pile up against the “owner” of the fake “artifacts.”

The evidence demonstrates that the otherwise nonsensical text of the codices is actually copied from an assortment of real objects dating to the Second Temple period. In fact, the team of scholars and bloggers that have been investigating the fake codices have identified a stamp that was apparently used to impress lines of text over and over again to give the appearance of long paragraphs of text. Unfortunately, the result of the text is nonsense.

This is once again an excellent example of the crowd sourcing power of scholars and astute graduate students on the internet, using their skills to debunk pseudoscientific claims and forgeries directly to the public.

So what should we expect from here? Should we expect David (or is it Paul) Elkington to double down and claim that they are, in fact, legitimate? Will he attempt to save face and claim that the Jordanian government has “reclaimed” the documents before he has had a chance to prove their authenticity? (Although I must warn Mr. Elkington against this tactic; if the Jordanians spend even an ounce of effort recovering these objects from Mr. Elkington, and they are indeed fake, he may face a problem or two with the Jordanians.) Will Mr. Elkington (and/or his duped followers) attempt to attack the scholars who proved his claims to be false and his “artifacts” to be fakes?

Only time will tell. But, apparent revelations about the man at the center of the fake codices are not helping his case.

i see nutjob: mark driscoll’s psychic visions and extrasensory perception

You have absolutely got to be kidding me! Mark Driscoll is becoming the Glenn Beck of Evangelical Neo-fundamentalism: you desperately want to ignore him, but he keeps saying crazy crap and posting it online.

Scott has an excellent commentary on Driscoll’s latest diarrhea of the mouth. In sum, the words “delusional,” “bully,” “non-discerning,” “terrible scholar,” and “Mickey Mouse” are involved.

Please allow me to add “nutjob.” (And I agree, Scott, methinks the Driscoll train is about to go off the rails.)

It’s not enough to be a bully and an open advocate for the subjugation of women and homosexuals. But now, Mark Driscoll is admitting HE SEES THINGS!, as in, bilocative visions and psychic extrasensory perception in his head as well as back through time! In fact, Mark Driscoll claims he can see your past abuses from 10 years ago! He claims:

On occasion, I see things. I see things. Uh, like, I was meeting with one person, and they, they didn’t know this, but they were abused when they were a child, and I said, ‘When you were a child, you were abused. This person did this to you – physically touched you this way.” And he said, “How do you know?” And I said, “I don’t know. It’s like I got a TV right here and I’m seeing it.” He said, “No, that never happened.” And I said, “Go ask ’em. Go ask ’em if they actually did what I think they did, and I see that they did.” And they went and asked this person, “When I was a little kid, did you do this?” And the person said, “Yeah, but you were only like a year or two old. How do you remember that?” And they said, “Well, Pastor Mark told me.” (Watch from the 0:06 mark).

Driscoll then offers a humble disclaimer stating,

I’m not a guru. I’m not a freak. I don’t talk about this. If I did talk about it, everybody’d want to meet with me and I’d end up like one of those guys on TV. (Watch from the 0:45 mark)

The irony of the previous statement is palpable.

Then, not surprisingly, Driscoll goes on to tell the story of a woman cheating on her husband (of course):

There was one woman I dealt with, she’d never told her husband that she had committed adultery on him early in the relationship. I said, “You know,” (she’s sitting there with her husband) I said, “You know, I think the root of all this, I think Satan has a foothold in your life ’cause you’ve never told your husband about that really tall blond guy that you met at the bar, and then you went back to the hotel, and you laid on your back, and you undressed yourself, and he climbed on top of you, and you had sex with him, and snuggled up with him for a while, and deep down in your heart, even though you had just met him, you desired him because secretly he is the fantasy body type.” I said, “You remember that place: it was that cheap hotel with that certain colored bedspread. You did it, you had sex with the light on because you weren’t ashamed and you wanted him to see you, and you wanted to see him.” She was just looking at me like [throws hands in air]. I said, “You know, it was about ten years ago?”

I see everything [makes TV square with hands].

She says… she looks at her husband, he says, “Is that true?” She says, “Yeah.” “He was 6’2″? Blond hair? Blue eyes?” “Yeah.” (Watch from the 1:00 mark)

(Numbers 5:16-30 comes to mind.)

By the way, I’d have never guessed that Mark Driscoll would psychically see a woman cheating on her husband (and not the other way around), given his wonderful history with gender-related issues. Go figure.

And seriously, does Driscoll really end that story with, “I see everything!“?? Seriously? And he describes it as “supernatural” and “whole other realm?”

Unbelievable. Literally. Unbelievable.

And then, as if what he’s already said wasn’t enough, Driscoll goes on to offer incontrovertible evidence of his extrasensory perception skills:

“And sometimes I see things too. I see things too. I’ve seen women raped. I’ve seen children molested. I’ve seen people abused. I’ve seen people beaten. I’ve seen horrible things done. Horrible things done. I’ve seen children dedicated in occultic groups and demons come upon them as an infant by invitation. And I wasn’t present for any of it, but I’ve seen it visibly.” (Watch from the 3:10 mark in the video. Emphases mine.)

I see nutjob.

Of course, he’s claiming he possesses the “gift of discernment” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10 (“to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits (διακρίσεις πνευμάτων)…”), but rather than defining it as “understanding,” the “capacity for judgment,” or as a “discernment” akin to wisdom as is done in other biblical lists of gifts of insight (cf. 1 Kings 4:29; Job 12:20; Isaiah 29:14), and rather than considering a cognate term’s use in 1 Corinthians 2:14 (πνευματικως ανακρίνεται), where its context leads the reader to a comparison of the wisdom and foolishness of this world versus that of the next (a lesson worth reading), “Pastor Mark” interprets the “discernment of spirits” (which as a leader, he, of course, possesses), as the ability to bilocate through time, and Driscoll is claiming to be able to see his followers’ past sordid deeds in visions!!!

Sheer quackery!

I shake my head…

(HT: MPT, Scott)


Update:

It looks like the Pyromaniacs blog posted concerns about this back on Aug 15, 2011.

Unreasonable Faith also has some good commentary.

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