on the misuse of archaeology for evangelistic purposes

i have written an article at bible and interpretation entitled “on the misuse of archeology for evangelistic purposes.” the article provides an update on the ridiculous claims earlier this year from a hong kong group called noah’s ark ministries international (nami) claiming they had found noah’s ark. in the article, i demonstrate how their intentionally misleading claims were designed purely to attract people to jesus. the article is essentially a sandwich of introducing the problem of pseudoscience and recommendations for proper ‘biblical’ archaeology, with some debunking of the noah’s ark folks in between.

i conclude the article with a list of more appropriate tips for doing archaeology in areas mentioned in the bible.

please check it out and feel free to leave comments there or here.

from aol news: scholarly squad debunks biblical ‘discoveries’

Dr. Robert R. Cargill in Bet Shean, Israel

Dr. Robert R. Cargill in Bet Shean, Israel

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

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

does this look like styrofoam to you?

Styrofoam Ark

The 'snow' on the 'ark' appears to be decorative styrofoam packing beads.

the noah’s ark ministries international folks have released a video and are standing by their claim of their so-called ‘discovery’ of noah’s ark. [ht: jim west]. i have documented the problems with their dubious claim here and here and here.

let me ask you, and be honest: does this ‘snow’ in the ‘ark’ look like styrofoam to you?

bigcitylib thinks so, and has a post to explain why.

see for yourself. watch the video about the 1:40 mark and tell me.

and what’s with all the knocking on wood?? are you wishing for luck that no one finds out that while you’re video taping your ‘exploration,’ that no one notices you can’t see your breath in the snowy altitude at the 0:50 mark or that the ‘snow’ you sweep away at the 1:50 mark is perfectly round and not wet? and where is the water dripping on the floor? it was wet at the beginning when you filmed the ‘entrance.’ and what’s with the hazmat suits? i didn’t see those guys come in…

busted! turkey’s culture ministry is now ‘investigating’ noah’s ark ministries international

Noah's Ark Sinkingyou read about it here earlier. and now, they’re getting busted.

Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has launched an investigation into claims by a research team named Noah’s Ark Ministries International that they have found Noah’s Ark.

The ministry has also initiated an investigation into state officials of the province of Ağrı, including Deputy Governor Murat Güven, Provincial Tourism Director Muhsin Bulut and an official from the district governor’s office in Doğubeyazıt, who were present at the press conference in Hong Kong where the explorers made their finding public.

“A statement was made from abroad, claiming that Noah’s Ark has been found. There were Turkish state officials present when the statement was made. We are investigating the technical and legal aspects of the issue. How did these objects get there [to Hong Kong] and under whose authority were the officials present there? We are investigating this,” Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said.

Günay also stated that they were happy for the Hong Kong explorers to carry out research on Mount Ağrı but noted that the ministry doubted they asked for permission before doing their research. He also sent a strong message to Turkish scientists who claim that Noah’s Ark is not in Turkey.

is it too early to say it???

from jason boyett – noah’s ark found! robert cargill debunks!

Dr. Robert R. Cargill

Dr. Robert R. Cargill

here’s a piece from a friend and colleague, jason boyett. the picture’s a little older (beard is thicker w/ fewer grays), but the interview is new. he interviewed me about the recent claims of the discovery of noah’s ark and other issues of archaeology and faith. read it.

no, no you didn’t find noah’s ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

Vision & Mission

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

Our missions are:

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

Lost in the Noah's Ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jerusalem, the holy city course begins today

my jerusalem, the holy city course begins today at ucla. check out the course’s blog for details.

You can follow the course on Twitter, Facebook, and you can watch podcasts of Dr. Cargill’s lectures on iTunes U. Registered students may access the course website here.

This blog is provided as a public service to any and all interested in the history of Jerusalem, and will be updated regularly to summarize each class meeting’s lectures. You may post comments on this blog’s postings, but please not that the comments are moderated, and that Dr. Cargill may respond to some comments here in course lectures.

no, it’s not a nail from the cross of christ

A nail. That’s it. A nail.

as my mother used to say to me, ‘i just got through warning you, and you did it anyway.’

the telegraph is the latest in the long line of irresponsible, ridiculous, and purely sensationalistic media outlets to prey on the hopes of some gullible christians around the world and make a claim (or ask a silly question) with absolutely no archaeological or factual basis. their latest offering asks if a nail found in an archaeological excavation could have been a nail used in the cross of christ. the headline reads:

Nail from Christ’s crucifixion found?

the subheading reads:

A nail dating from the time of Christ’s crucifixion has been found at a remote fort believed to have once been a stronghold of the Knights Templar.

antonio lombatti has already addressed this issue.

listen up: there is absolutely no evidence to support any claim that this was a nail from the cross of christ, as the headline asks.

btw, this is not ‘minimalism;’ it is just the facts of archaeology. allow me to explain.

the archaeologist says that the nail

dates from the first to second centuries

and that it appeared to have been

handed with extreme care, as if it was a relic.

but that’s all we know. someone ages ago may have thought it was a relic from the time of christ. all the archaeology shows us is that the nail dates to within a couple of hundred years of the time of jesus.

and what is the context of the find? the answer is a small fort on a tiny island just off the coast of the port of funchal, a city on another small island, madeira, off the southwest coast of portugal. according to its website, the location:

Fort of São José is the headquarters of the Principality of the Pontinha, a self-proclaimed country by Prince D. Renato Barros. The Fort of São José is located off the coast of the port of Funchal, capital of the Madeira Islands, an autonomous region of Portugal.

so the context of the nail is a fort claimed by some prince, who formally announced his island’s secession from portugal. you read that correctly, a nail that some claim might be from the cross was found in a fort off the coast of portugal. riiiiight.

the most one can say is that an archaeologist (bryn walters in this case) thinks that a nail discovered along with three skeletons and three swords in a fort on a small island off the coast of portugal, might possibly have been revered by the three deceased men, who could possibly may have been knights templar (since there is some old legend tying this city to the knights templar), who in turn may have believed that the nail they may have been toting along with them could possibly have been a relic that someone said was once a nail from the cross of christ.

and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you sell newspapers: you find something, and interpret it as possibly something that perhaps someone believed to be something ages ago because someone else revered it.

of course, some representative (christopher macklin in this case) from some modern knights templar club (the knights templar of britannia) is going to say that the discovery was ‘momentous,’ but who cares. that is no more proof or credible support than some nutjob from some alien abduction organization saying that some purported sighting of a ufo is ‘monumental’ or ‘evidence of extra-terrestrial existence.’

and just so you know, i’ve found lots of nails excavating in roman era archaeological sites much closer to jerusalem than this nail. but i’d never make this claim, because it’s not only irresponsible and reckless, but is not supported by the evidence.

finding a nail in portugal is no more evidence of the cross of christ than finding wood on a mountain in turkey is evidence of noah’s ark.

now, please note, that the archaeologist never claimed it to be a nail from the cross of christ. all he said it was that it was a nail that appeared to have been revered or at least delicately handled, possibly by the three men buried nearby. those men, in turn, could have been knights templar. and those knights possibly could have been told that this was a nail from the cross of christ. an assumption of an assumption of an assumption. thus, this is not really the archaeologist’s fault, for he stated the truth. it is the unnamed author of the article that is responsible for the hype and misleading headline. and that, of course, falls at the feet of the telegraph.

because in the end, all you really have is a nail.


march 3 update: see the los angeles examiner article by chris cunnyngham.

exquisite massive sculpture of egyptian pharaoh’s head discovered at luxor

Sculpted head of Pharaoh Amenhotep III

This undated photo released by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday Feb. 28, 2010, shows the newly unearthed 3,400-year old red granite head, part of a huge statue of the ancient pharaoh Amenhotep III, at the pharaoh's mortuary temple in the city of Luxor. Egypt's Culture Ministry says a team of Egyptian and European archaeologists has unearthed a large head made of red granite of an ancient pharaoh who ruled Egypt some 3,400 years ago. (AP Photo/ Supreme Council of Antiquities)

news from egypt from the associated press:

Archaeologists have unearthed a massive red granite head of one Egypt’s most famous pharaohs who ruled nearly 3,400 years ago, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities announced Sunday.

The head of Amenhotep III, which alone is about the height of a person, was dug out of the ruins of the pharaoh’s mortuary temple in the southern city of Luxor.

that’s some big head. congrats to dr. hourig sourouzian, who has led the led the egyptian-european expedition at the site since 1999.

(with thanx to jim west.)

i wonder if this talk will be any good? magness on cargill

Dr. Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will give a lecture at Brite Divinity School on Thursday, February 25, 2010 entitled, "Robert Cargill's Qumran Digital Project."

Dr. Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will give a lecture at Brite Divinity School on Thursday, February 25, 2010 entitled, "Robert Cargill's Qumran Digital Project."

brite divinity school has announced that dr. jodi magness, the kenan distinguished professor of teaching excellence in early judaism at the university of north carolina, chapel hill, will give a lecture in the moore building, room 201, on thursday, february 25, 2010 at 11:00 am entitled, ‘robert cargill’s qumran digital project.’

i’m wondering if she will view my research in a favorable light, or in a critical manner like she did at the recent new orleans sbl book review session, where she was among a panel of scholars that reviewed my book? will she take issue with my results (that qumran was established as a hasmonean fort and later reoccupied and expanded by a jewish sectarian community responsible for some of the dead sea scrolls in the caves nearest qumran), or my digital reconstruction modeling methodology (which is a completely transparent (via wireframes) reconstruction of all interpretations of all published scholars of every archaeological locus, distinguished by time periods), or both?

will dr. magness continue to argue that qumran was built as a sectarian settlement from the ground up?  will she argue that the dead sea scrolls were all written by essenes at qumran? some?

attend the lecture and find out!

for some background, read vol. 72, no. 1 in near eastern archaeology here. order the book online at gorgias or amazon.

i can’t wait to hear the podcast!

perhaps i’ll use my forthcoming march lecture in philadelphia entitled, ‘why the dead sea scrolls still matter’ to respond a bit. we’ll see :) -bc


update: also, don’t miss dr. magness’ main lecture on ‘the archaeology of qumran and the dead sea scrolls,’ thursday evening, february 25, 2010 from 7:00 -8:30 pm at the kelly alumni center at brite divinity school (texas christian university).

and i am told by brite that there will be no podcast. perhaps someone in the audience could tweet or blog the lectures?

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