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

Jan/Feb 2018 Biblical Archaeology Review cover

Jan/Feb 2018 Biblical Archaeology Review cover

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

The issue has four feature articles.

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

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

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

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

The issue also contains the following departments:

“A New Chapter” by Robert R. Cargill

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

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

“Performing Psalms in Biblical Times” by Thomas Staubli

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

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

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

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


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

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:


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.”


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


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


“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.”


“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.

eric cline reviews richard freund

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

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

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


Two notes via Joe Zias:

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

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


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.

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