drunk baby destroys bar

what a great concept. i never thought about the fact that babies learning to walk look like drunks stumbling around.

ht: sarah drew lanfer

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why i blog (and why other archaeologists and biblical scholars should too)

And now we have a quarter of a million readers. It has become an icon – a main channel through which the public gets its news and information and understanding of biblical archaeology.

– hershel shanks on the role of biblical archaeology review (2:24-2:37)

this is why archaeologists and biblical scholars must – must! – blog, publish, and work together to inform the public about legitimate archaeology, its proper, scholarly interpretations, and why we must debunk or at least respond to all sensational and unverifiable claims made in the public arena regarding biblical archaeology. if we don’t tell them, others will.

the academy has a role to play in the public realm. our credibility should not be limited to professional conferences and refereed journals. the public is looking to us for answers – for confirmation or refutation of claims made daily by those claiming to be archaeological and biblical authorities. we must respond in public. for if scholars fail to answer the public’s call for authoritative verdicts regarding archaeological and biblical claims, we only have ourselves to blame for our diminished authority in the public’s eye.

a study in professionalism: the sbl responds to ronald hendel’s letter

Society of Biblical LiteratureThe Society of Biblical Literature responded today to an op-ed letter written by Cal Berkeley’s Dr. Ronald S. Hendel entitled “Farewell to SBL” published in the July/Aug 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. I commented on Dr. Hendel’s letter yesterday.

In their response, the SBL takes issue with and offers responses to four claims made by Dr. Hendel:

  1. Claim: The SBL has diluted its standards of critical scholarship, as evidenced in the 2004 change to the Society mission statement
  2. Claim: ASOR and AAR stopped meeting with the SBL “due to petty disputes among the leaders of these groups.”
  3. Claim: Since the AAR decision to discontinue joint meetings, the SBL has loosened its standards as to the types of organizations that can be included at the SBL Annual Meeting.
  4. Claim: The current SBL environment, which includes instances of proselytizing activity as well as veiled theological denunciations of certain individuals or groups, is hostile to a critical approach to biblical studies.

The SBL counters that each of these claims is in need of some clarification ranging from a correction of facts to an explanation of the manner in which the SBL arrived at some of its various positions. You can read the SBL’s responses here.

Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

In a refreshing invitation to debate the opposing views, the SBL sent a letter to all its members inviting them to review its response to Dr. Hendel’s letter. The SBL provided a link to Dr. Hendel’s original letter in BAR and invited members to offer feedback to both Dr. Hendel’s letter and SBL’s response via email at feedback@sbl-site.org.

The SBL went a step further and asked members for their feedback concerning three areas:

  1. To what extent do you believe that the Society successfully balances its commitment to scholarly integrity while maintaining an atmosphere in which all voices may be heard (specific, first-hand examples are encouraged)?
  2. Should the Society establish a standards-based approach to membership? That is, should there be a set of minimum standards, qualifications, or achievements for SBL membership?
  3. If you favor a standards-based approach, what specific standards would you advocate for SBL membership?

And this is where I am proud to be a member of the SBL. Although I too feel that the SBL should seek to re-establish maintain its role as the top critical society for biblical studies, I am proud of the SBL’s professional and timely response. Rather than firing back unprofessionally and starting a cat fight (as many are wont to do online), or going the Golb route and employing an army of anonymous internet aliases to attack personally those involved in this difference of academic opinion, the SBL has used this as an opportunity to respond professionally to the complaint and (and this is important!) to poll its membership for their feedback regarding the issues raised by Dr. Hendel’s letter.

This is how to manage an organization properly. This is how to conduct academic business professionally. The SBL is using criticism – warranted or not – to improve the organization by asking its membership’s opinion. This not only demonstrates the SBL leadership’s willingness to listen to its members, but demonstrates the confidence SBL has in its various positions. If the positions are good, the members will state as much in their responses. If the positions are in need of improvement, the SBL will have the raw feedback it needs to open discussions on various changes to its mission.

This is how to make something positive from something negative. And this should be the purpose of true criticism: to provide grist for discussion for the purpose of bringing about needed change. The prophetic voice is about righting a wrong, not destroying the enemy. Likewise, the critic’s voice should not be about simply tearing down another scholar’s position (or the scholar personally), but about moving readers toward thinking about their world, offering an alternative rooted in fact, science, and logic, making changes for the better, and bringing about a better understanding of the topic under discussion. The same critical method used in doing literary criticism should be used to improve our society.

Both Dr. Hendel and the SBL have demonstrated class and professionalism in their stated positions. Now let’s see if this scholarly process brings about beneficial change.

hendel’s must-read critique of sbl

Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

Cal Berkeley’s Dr. Ronald S. Hendel has written a letter in Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) that all biblical scholars should read. In his “Farewell to SBL,” Hendel examines the loss of the ‘critical’ part of biblical scholarship in the SBL. He laments the apparent exchange of critical investigation and rational scholarship for fundamentalists and charismatics, all for the sake of an increased membership and a few extra dollars. He highlights this very issue – the removal of the word ‘critical’ from SBL’s mission statement:

I wrote to the director and cited the mission statement in the SBL’s official history: “The object of the Society is to stimulate the critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures.” The director informed me that in 2004 the SBL revised its mission statement and removed the phrase “critical investigation” from its official standards. Now the mission statement is simply to “foster biblical scholarship.” So critical inquiry – that is to say, reason – has been deliberately deleted as a criterion for the SBL.

I agree with the good doctor from the University of California. The moment that critical scholarship is abandoned and fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible are entertained as equally authoritative, scholarship has lost its way. While the SBL should welcome all comers, its authority lies in its pursuit of academic excellence, not the appeasement of all points of view. For while the democratization of knowledge fostered by the Internet is a welcomed and beneficial advance in the accumulation of knowledge, the authority and credibility of scholarship comes from the training and expertise exercised in differentiating the credible from the problematic, the veritable from the sensational. The authority of scholars comes from the creation, cultivation, preservation, and dissemination of verifiable knowledge and critical scholarship, not from ecumenism or the sheer size of its membership. The SBL should embrace the critical method, not a popular membership, for after all, the SBL is a society, not a church, and the letters designate a conference of scholars, not an ecclesiastical order.

(For those interested, there is a facebook group dedicated to putting the word ‘critical’ back into SBL’s purpose statement.)

hershel makes a good point: on funding and archaeology

a question was recently asked: should archaeologists accept funding from institutions that have political or religious agendas?

hershel shanks recently chimed in with a sound response:

In short, all funders have agendas…And even funders who claim no bias, except pure archaeology, have agendas. If [the banning of funding from religious and political organizations] were to be universally applied, there would be little, if any, funding available for archaeology.

the issue of archaeology and those that fund it has become an open issue of debate. shanks follows:

The real question, then, is whether the funder tries to influence the archaeologist it is funding.

that is, does the money come with strings attached? must one dig a certain way, in a certain place, and only to a certain depth because of conditions upon one’s funding?

but if we’re honest, this just isn’t a matter of funding. many, if not all archaeologists also come with a certain bias, ideology, or conviction, be it religious, nationalistic, a university loyalty, attempting to curry favor with a powerful colleague, or otherwise. archaeologists are just as capable of bias, even discrete bias, as those who fund digs. shanks continues:

The important thing is to recognize that we all have our biases and that we need consciously and constantly to examine them, to make sure, so far as is humanly possible, that they do not affect our work. This is tough to do.

in short, i agree with hershel. (shh, jim, i can hear you from here ;-). but mr. shanks is right: one should not discount funding from religious organizations or political groups simply because of their nature as a religious or political group. not only would the practice of archaeology essentially cease, but to do so would be just as biased towards agnostic or even militantly atheistic organizations. why do many post-modern scholars believe that anything stemming from a religious or political organization must be tainted, while those organizations committed to opposing beliefs in anything (a religion, a philosophy, an ideology, a movement) are pure? do not such purely humanist organizations have their own agendas? do they not have their own goals and mision statements? why can’t one who affiliates oneself with judaism be capable of proper scientific method? why can’t one who affiliates oneself with palestine be capable of effective research? why cannot an american christian or a french muslim be just as capable of credible scientific method as an avowed atheist? proper scientific method is proper scientific method regardless of whence comes one’s funding or whence comes the archaeologist.

conversely, we will always be judged by the company and the funding we keep. we should not complain if our findings regularly match the ideologies of our funding. if conclusions and archaeological interpretations consistently match or support the religious or political convictions of the group or person funding an excavation, that excavation will become suspect, rightly or wrongly, and will come under heavy scrutiny.

regardless of our funding, the science of archaeology must remain sound, transparent, and open to cross examination from professionals within the field. those that do not subject their excavations to proper methodology and proper professional cross-examination, or even worse, those archaeologists (and pseudo-archaeologists) that attempt to bypass the peer-review process and make sensationalistic or overtly political or religious claims without proper supporting data will be subject to persistent and pointed examination and criticism from members of the professional guild (other archaeologists) and media watchdogs (i’m looking at you, bloggers, and not at you, anonymous alias-wielding cowards), who will look less than favorably upon such claims.

asor publications now available online for free

ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) Logothe american schools of oriental research (asor) have made a very wise and forward-thinking decision: they are making their journals available online for free.

i applaud this decision because it will not only increase public access to credible archaeological information, but it will also increase readership of their journals and ultimately drive both asor membership and subscriptions to print versions of asor journals. at the same time, the public will have ready access to quality, peer-reviewed archaeological information. this should increase the public’s awareness about the ancient near east and will help combat the sensationalism that can be found in other for-profit archeological publications that focus on issues of religion and biblical studies that are not peer-reviewed like biblical archaeology review.

why pay for adverts on content that is sensationalized, opinionated, and not peer-reviewed when you can read articles about the archeology of the ancient near east written by the best scholars in the world for free?

  • near eastern archaeology is available here.
  • basor (bulletin of the american schools of oriental research) is available here.
  • journal of cuneiform studies is available here.

chuck jones has the details here. you can also access quick links from dr. jones’ post to all of the older volumes on jstor.

many thanx to asor for making this data available online for free.

8 months later: bar finally ‘reports’ on the golb scandal

Raphael Golb

Raphael Golb, son of Norman Golb

Norman Golb

University of Chicago historian Norman Golb

Hershel Shanks, Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review

Biblical Archaeology Review Editor Hershel Shanks


biblical archaeology review has finally ‘reported‘ the march 5, 2009 arrest of raphael golb. while they did mention it in a byline news blurb a few months ago, the magazine that has arguably made its name reporting the original dead sea scrolls ‘scandal’ and other scandals from the world of biblical archaeology (remember the ‘fleas‘ issue 16/2 of mar/apr 1990) has finally acknowledged the existence of the dead sea scrolls scandal of this decade: the identity theft and smear campaign of raphael golb on behalf of his father, university of chicago history professor norman golb and his largely unaccepted views on the origin of the dead sea scrolls and the nature of qumran. (be sure to read the interesting comments following the chicago maroon article by sara jerome.)

Biblical Archaeology Review Cover of March/April 1990 issue (Vol. 16, No.2)

according to the very short, unsigned report in the strata section, bar states:

According to an indictment handed down last summer by a Manhattan grand jury, son Raphael adopted some unorthodox methods to support his father’s views. The indictment charges Raphael Golb with assuming the identity of prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar Lawrence Schiffman of New York University; the indictment charges Raphael Golb with creating more than 50 e-mail accounts and dozens of internet blogs, in which Raphael Golb (posing as Schiffman) espoused the views of Norman Golb and (again, as Schiffman) confessed to plagiarizing from Norman Golb.

Raphael Golb also allegedly opened other e-mail accounts in the names of Dead Sea Scroll scholars Jonathan Seidel and Stephen Goranson.

that’s it. other than a brief introduction that can be read for free on the website, the two remaining paragraphs are little more than information gleaned from the manhattan da’s press release from march 2009.

for a magazine (bar) and an editor (shanks) that appear to crave controversy and love the dead sea scrolls, this story seems like a no-brainer. in fact, it has been somewhat of a mystery why bar has not already run a feature length exposé or two on this story. it hasn’t been on the cover. it has received no in depth investigation. it hasn’t even attracted from bar a simple investigative inquiry that bar readers have come to expect on issues relating to biblical archaeology. the intriguing story of a man using the cloak of the anonymous internet to weave together a network of aliases to write blogs, send emails, leave comments, send letters, dupe media outlets, harass in a most aggravated manner, and in the end, steal the identity of and impersonate another scholar, all in an effort to promote norman golb and criticize his perceived opponents has been largely ignored, save for this late acknowledgment and the initial byline news item.

some have speculated why shanks may have held his tongue on this scandal. when hershel shanks published a facsimile of the dead sea scrolls manuscript mmt, prompting elisha qimron later to sue shanks and win in court, norman golb testified in shanks’ defense. some speculate that shanks has held his tongue as a form of repayment – a kind of ‘thank you’ to norman golb for earlier testifying on his behalf. of course, this is merely speculation, but it does give one pause because it appears to be completely out of character (and certainly not at all profitable) for shanks not to report this story (especially when there is so much evidence are so many details of the campaign catalogued on the internet and readily available to the public).

whatever the reason, biblical archaeology review has finally reported on the golb scandal. but this ‘report’ obviously lacks the expected vigor, insight, and detailed attention that mr. shanks regularly shows to other disputes, like the james ossuary, the talpiot tomb, the hazon gabriel, his ongoing rift with with shuka dorfman and the iaa, and other past dss-related issues. i know of one person who was recommended to mr. shanks by a respected qumran archaeologist as one who could knowledgeably write about this for bar, but as of the writing of this post, bar still has not contacted him. i’m beginning to wonder if this particular dead sea scrolls scandal is simply being given a ‘minimalist’ amount of attention for reasons other than a lack of a public interest. it seems the last time someone was arrested for a biblical archaeology related crime, bar paid a little more attention. in fact, they even held their own trial. (see also here and here and here and here.)

sometimes, the deafening silence says more than words ever can.

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