Letter from Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper, the W.W. Spence Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Johns Hopkins University, which I have posted below.

You may read a .pdf copy of the letter here.

Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper

Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper

November 12, 2012

RE Prof. Christopher Rollston:

Prof. Christopher Rollston is the leading Semitic epigrapher of his generation. He has established this reputation through numerous scholarly publications of the highest quality. Prof. Rollston, whom I have known for over a decade, is a person of the highest moral integrity and sincere Christian faith. There is absolutely no reason, academic or moral, for Emmanuel to revoke his tenure.

The action that Emmanuel Christian Seminary has initiated against Prof. Rollston is unworthy of that institution, indeed, of any academic institution. It is apparent, in fact, that Emmanuelʼs behavior has been entirely meretricious, an attempt to mollify a wealthy donor of narrow mind and slight tolerance. I would urge Emmanuel to cease and desist immediately, if it is at all concerned with preserving its good name and conforming to the norms of academic respectability.


Jerrold S. Cooper
W. W. Spence Professor of Semitic Languages emeritus

Letter from Rick Hauser in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Rick Hauser, which I am posting below.

Rick Hauser

Rick Hauser

Dear Dr. Cargill,

That Emmanuel Christian Seminary should terminate the tenure of Dr, Christopher Rollston is not only not understandable, but a significant strike against the standing of the school within the academic community. By doing so, you divorce yourselves from one of the most significant voices to emerge in recent decades in Near Eastern studies.

Dr. Rollston’s innovative contributions will long influence the field. They of course transcend any argument that may now be brewing.

In the week ahead, my colleagues and I will welcome Dr. Rollston as a participant in an ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) workshop on provenience and the ethics of scholarly research entitled SECONDARY CONTEXT II. His remarks will be greeted, I am sure, as original and daring and will certainly provide substantive comment in a most controversial area.

Dr. Rollston is an outspoken and charismatic leader in our field. What an irony that he should this very week be spokesperson for an ethical approach to scholarship when he himself is under assault.

For shame!



Research Associate
IIMAS The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies

Senior Staff,
Archaeological Expedition to Ancient Urkesh

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Letter from Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney, which I am posting below.

Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney

Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney

November 11, 2012
Dr. Michael Sweeney
Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Dear Dr. Sweeney:

I have recently learned of your efforts to begin termination proceedings for Prof. Christopher Rollston, Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies, at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.

I understand that your actions are motivated in part by Prof. Rollston’s post in a recent edition of the Huffington Post and by Emmanuel’s precarious financial situation.

I believe that your actions are illegal and represent the worst example of Christian moral and professional action.  Prof. Rollston holds a tenured position at Emmanuel and spoke out in the Huffington Post on a matter of biblical interpretation in the best tradition of Protestant Christian scholarship.

You may disagree with his understanding, but he has every right to state his views.  The proper response in such a case is to debate the issue to arrive at a true understanding of the word of G-d.  Your efforts to dismiss him on financial grounds are simply dishonest.

I urge to pray, reflect, and reverse your actions against Professor Rollston.  Your own reputation and the reputation and well-being of the Emmanuel Christian Seminary are at stake.


Marvin A. Sweeney
Professor of Hebrew Bible
Claremont School of Theology
1325 N. College Ave.
Claremont, CA  91711

Inside Higher Ed Exposes Emmanuel Scandal: Christian Seminary To Terminate Professor in Exchange for Donation?

Dr. Chris Rollston, a tenured professor at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, has had termination proceedings begun against him. According to documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, his dismissal appears to be in exchange for a potential donation from a donor who personally dislikes Rollston.

Inside Higher Education reporter Libby A. Nelson has written an exposé this morning that sheds tremendous light on an academic scandal presently unfolding at Emmanuel Christian Seminary (formerly Emmanuel School of Religion).

The scandal involves the current attempt to terminate a tenured professor, Dr. Chris Rollston, the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies – a disciplinary process which a another Emmanuel professor, Dr. Paul Blowers, divulged to the public on Facebook last month while criticizing Rollston online for an article he wrote for the Huffington Post in August 2012.

In documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, it appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, Dr. Michael Sweeney, began the termination process of the tenured Rollston, in part, because of the acute financial crisis presently being experienced at Emmanuel, and the potential of a “six-figure” donation that could bail out the seminary, but from a donor who does not personally like Rollston. In this way, the school could kill two birds with one stone: ridding the faculty of a tenured professor to make way for a donation from a potential donor who does not like Rollston, and saving the money from the endowed chair and salary line Rollston presently earns.

That Emmanuel’s president would list multiple economic reasons (the potential of a donation, trouble recruiting tuition-paying students, etc.) for the termination of Dr. Rollston – in the notice of termination to Rollston – is scandalous in itself.

The fact that President Sweeney would attempt to blame the school’s best known and most prolific professor for the school’s present financial troubles is not only shameful, it appears to be unsubstantiated by the evidence. Dr. Rollston is the very reason many scholars even know about Emmanuel.

And, the fact that Dr. Rollston’s immediate supervisor, Dr. Paul Blowers (who serves as Chair of the Area Chairs, and who is therefore necessarily involved in any termination process) would divulge knowledge of this disciplinary process to the public whilst criticizing Rollston publicly is not only highly unprofessional, it is potentially actionable legally due to the confidentiality that necessarily surrounds cases of termination (that Emmanuel suddenly appears to want to honor as reason for not responding to the Inside Higher Ed article).

Dr. Blowers’ comments criticizing Rollston and divulging the disciplinary process can be found here and here. Dr. Blowers bragged:

We are looking at disciplinary action in the next few days. I still scratch my head trying to figure Rollston out.

I responded to Dr. Blowers in comments on the Bible and Interpretation website.

Yet, even after apologizing for making the disciplinary action public, Dr. Blowers continued his defense of his criticism of Dr. Rollston on the Bible and Interpretation website and various blogs around the web. Dr. Blowers’ apparent obsession with defending himself throughout this entire scandal may have placed Emmanuel Christian Seminary in a very vulnerable position legally.

Indeed, the article notes that Dr. Rollston has retained a lawyer.

The Inside Higher Ed story highlights the central problem in this scandal: The argument over Dr. Rollston’s recent Huffington Post article seems to be, at best, a distraction that the seminary hoped it could use as an excuse for a “for cause” termination of the tenured Rollston.

Likewise, arguments about issues of academic freedom of private Christian institutions are moot for the following reasons:

  1. Emmanuel includes language on “Academic Freedom” in their faculty handbook that is adopted word-for-word from the secular American Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) statement on academic freedom.
  2. Emmanuel sought and was awarded accreditation from the secular Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
  3. Emmanuel awards tenure. (This is unlike many Christian universities that only extend term contracts to professors, so that in the event a professor ever says something the administration finds disagreeable, the school simply need not extend a contract extension to the professor.)

From the beginning, this appears to have been a case about the wrongful termination of a tenured professor, on trumped up grounds of interpretation of scripture, when the real reason appears to be one of a financial nature: sacrificing academic integrity and disregarding the tenure process in exchange for a potential donation from a theologically conservative donor.

If this turns out to be the case, then Emmanuel deserves any and all pending litigation brought against it.

An institution simply cannot fire a tenured professor who broke no rules (and who happens to be the most credible scholar at Emmanuel) just because the institution wants a donation. Tenure is designed to protect freedom of thought. If Emmanuel wants to fire its professors for thinking outside of Emmanuel’s predetermined theological constraints, why offer tenure in the first place?

In my professional opinion, Emmanuel has committed a grievous violation of academic integrity, and one that will not only cost them financially, but one that will ruin the reputation of the institution for years to come.

(N.B.: Note that the image of Rollston used in the Inside Higher Ed image depicts Dr. Rollston wearing a Pepperdine University sweatshirt. Pepperdine is another tenure granting college and like Emmanuel, affiliated with the Restoration Heritage.)

The mash-up images and internet memes below are satirical commentaries on the present apparent Emmanuel scandal as first reported by Inside Higher Ed. They do not reflect the opinion of Emmanuel Christian Seminary. All free-speech, satirical comments below are solely the opinion of the blog author. All images below are freely available online.

If the Evidence Doesn’t Fit, Photoshop It: Digital Image Manipulation in the Case of Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor’s Jonah Ossuary

As the author of a book in the burgeoning fields of digital archaeological reconstruction and virtual reality, and as a member of the University of Iowa Digital Humanities Cohort, I know the importance of transparency when it comes to representing archaeological data in digital media. While most find it boring (and while some critics claimed chapters 3 and 4 in my book, Qumran through (Real) Time, which detailed each tedious technological step of my digital reconstruction methodology would have been better left out), I find it essential to the credibility of the practice of digital reconstruction to demonstrate at each point in the process precisely how digital reconstructions are made and exactly how the data are handled and represented. When dealing with digital representations of archaeological data, it is essential for the establishment of a researcher’s credibility to document all alterations of digital imagery and data. For as a colleague of mine (who happened to disagree with part of my digital Qumran reconstruction) once memorably stated to me, “If you give the public a picture of your interpretation of the data, they’ll believe it!”

Images are powerful. And because they are powerful, archaeologists must take great care in representing visual data properly in publication. For just as well-handled visual data can greatly inform the reader and provide new insights into archaeological research, so too can mishandled, or worse yet, deliberately manipulated visual images distort reality. Unfortunately, deliberately altered visual data have been used to support sensational claims throughout history like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and this abuse has only worsened with the rise of digital photography and editing. It is now possible for unscrupulous individuals to manipulate photographs for the purposes of supporting sensational claims in the hopes that said claims can be published in print and on television to generate tremendous revenues for those making the claims.

Unfortunately, digital technology is often times also used by some to distract from a weak argument. That is, some will elaborate upon and highlight the use of technology in the hope that the mere presence of sophisticated technology, which may have no bearing whatsoever on the interpretation of an object in under examination, will distract from any subsequent fallacious claims being made about said object. And, in more disquieting cases, digital technology is sometimes used to “enhance” or even fabricate evidence outright that supports an otherwise untenable claim.

Or, to put it another way: if the evidence doesn’t fit, Photoshop it (especially if it looks fishy).

Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that an image that has been circulating in the press as part of the marketing campaign in support of the new book by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and University of North Carolina, Charlotte Professor, Dr. James Tabor, entitled, The Jesus Discovery, and Mr. Jacobovici’s forthcoming documentary, has been digitally manipulated in such a way as to lead the reader toward a desired conclusion. That is, the image making the rounds in the press and published by Dr. Tabor on the Bible and Interpretation website has been digitally altered and made to look like an engraving of a “great fish” on an ossuary discovered in Jerusalem, in order to support the authors’ rather sensational claim.

What’s more, in Dr. Tabor’s article, the manipulation of the photo of the “fish” on the ossuary has been made without any acknowledgment that the image has been manipulated.


In his recent publication in Bible and Interpretation entitled, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” Dr. James Tabor describes “Ossuary 6” (the “Jonah Ossuary”) on page 20, and references two images: Figs. 20 and 21.

Fig. 20 from page 41 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, Feb 28, 2012.

Fig. 20 from page 41 of the 'Bible and Interpretation' article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, published Feb 28, 2012. The caption for this image reads: "20. Jonah image on front façade of ossuary 6."

Fig. 21 from page 42 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, Feb 28, 2012.

Fig. 21 from page 42 of the Bible and Interpretation article "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" by Dr. James Tabor, published Feb 28, 2012. The caption for this image reads: "21. Blowup of Jonah image."

Fig. 20 is pictured on page 41 along with a caption that reads: “20. Jonah image on front façade of ossuary 6.”

Fig. 21 is pictured in page 42 along with a caption that reads: “21. Blowup of Jonah image.”

Nowhere in the text of Dr. Tabor’s article or in the captions beneath the images is there any acknowledgment whatsoever that Fig. 21 has been altered other than being “blown up” or enlarged. This differs slightly from the caption of the same image in the Jesus Discovery book, where the caption for Fig 26 on p. 86 reads: “A composite representation of the ossuary image of Jonah and the big fish” (italics mine). On March 1, 2012, the team’s “Jesus Discovery” media website labeled the image as a “CGI enhanced image of ‘Jonah and the Whale’.”

However, whether the image in question is a “blown up” or “composite” image, as soon as one looks at original photograph and the composite/blown up image side-by-side, one immediately notices that Fig. 21 is no simple enlargement of Fig. 20, but rather a highly-doctored digital artist’s representation of Fig. 20.

Side-by-side comparison of Figs. 20 (left) and 21 from the Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor on Feb 28, 2012.

Side-by-side comparison of Figs. 20 (right) and 21 from the 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb. 28, 2012. I have rotated Fig. 21 (left) back to its actual orientation for comparison purposes.

Let us examine the examples of digital image manipulation.

1. Fig. 21 in Dr. Tabor’s article has been enlarged, rotated, and cropped. Simple changes to scale that retain fundamental aspects of digital data, such as shape, color, and features are generally not considered compromises of the digital image.

Archaeological photo indicating size and direction.

Example of archaeological photo indicating size and direction.

Archaeological photo indicating size and direction

Example of archaeological photo indicating size and direction

However in cases where alterations of scale and orientation are made to images, it is common practice to supply a centimeter measuring stick or relative scale (see above) to convey relative size, and a compass pointing north (see above) to indicate the orientation (especially for rotated images).

Digital reconstruction of the SE pottery annex at Qumran from 'Qumran through (Real) Time' by Robert R. Cargill.

Digital reconstruction of the SE pottery annex at Qumran. Photo from 'Qumran through (Real) Time' by Robert R. Cargill. Note the digital overlay indicating direction/orientation and loci.

These size and direction indicators can even be added to hard to reach areas (like those accessible only through robotic arms) and digital reconstructions after the fact (see above). Both of these are absent in both of Tabor’s Figs. 20 and 21.

Frog or Horse?

Frog or Horse?

Fish or Girl?

Fish or Girl?

As the classic optical illusion of the frog and the horse or the fish and the girl (note that this fish actually has an eye) demonstrates, rotation and orientation make a huge difference when identifying an object. The psychological process of “cognitive priming” can be used to lead the brain to interpret certain objects in a desired manner. Michael Shermer’s book, The Believing Brain, examines this process in detail.

It is quite telling that it was this digitally altered photo, Fig. 21, that was first sent to the press by Jacobovici and Tabor, and that the image was rotated to the side in most press reports. That is, the absence of any indication of proper orientation on the photograph allowed Jacobovici and Tabor to depict the image on its side, that is, in a manner more consistent with the natural orientation of a fish, rather than in its proper orientation with the tapered end down, which would more resemble some kind of ceramic or glass vessel.

For instance, in the Yahoo News story by Eric Pfeiffer and the MSNBC Cosmic Log story by Alan Boyle on Feb. 28, 2012, the doctored image appears rotated onto its side with no indication in the caption or in the story that it has been digitally altered. Similarly, the Photoshopped image depicted in the Haaretz.com story by Nir Hasson on Feb. 28, 2012 describes the image as an “enhanced image” without noting that the image is out of context and rotated to better resemble a fish. Likewise, in the LiveScience story by Wynne Parry and the syndicated FoxNews.com story on Feb. 28, 2012, both the digitally altered photo and the photograph are included among the images. And while the doctored image under examination has a caption that reads, “A CGI-enhanced image” (italics mine), both the Photoshopped image and the photograph are rotated to resemble the natural orientation of fish, and no indication is given for either image that they have been rotated from their in situ orientation.

Of course, Jacobovici and Tabor can “blame the press” for rotating the images, but they wouldn’t have had the problem had the orientation indicators and size and scale indicators been digitally placed on the images in the first place. Likewise, the fact that their own YouTube promotional videos also have the image turned on its side while they prime the brain with discussions about a fish (see the 1:35 mark) suggest that the image rotations were not the product of the press, but were done by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor from the outset.

It therefore appears that the repeated rotation of the image to its side and away from its proper orientation is not the result of trying to fit it on a page for publication, but may be a deliberate attempt to orient the image in such a way so that it better resembles the natural disposition of a fish. The image Jacobovici and Tabor released to the press appears to have been intentionally disoriented.

2. One then notices that Fig. 21 is a different color than Fig. 20. It appears more brown or sand colored, possessing much less green than Fig. 20. While this may be an attempt by the authors to make Fig. 21 look more like other known images engraved in limestone ossuaries, and while this is, in fact, an alteration of the digital data, we can excuse this acceptable manipulation of the image as a simple color correction from the original photo (Fig. 20). That said, many archaeologists do not like the practice of “color correcting,” as maintaining color data is the purpose of employing Munsell color charts in archaeological recording and photography. Such color information is lacking from the article and the figures.

Thus far, the image has been enlarged, rotated, cropped, and color corrected. Unfortunately, Fig. 21 appears to have undergone an additional digital perspective manipulation to correct the oblique angle of the camera, which apparently was not perpendicular to the image when the photograph was taken. This is a more serious digital manipulation of the image, as it involves correcting the lengths and angles of objects to make them appear as if they were photographed at a perpendicular angle to the object (straight on). This technique is also used to correct so-called “barreling” and “fish-eye” lens effects that result from certain cameras and angles, especially during close-up shots. This more severe correction to the image in Fig. 21 can be excused as a digital correction of a poor initial camera angle, but it is customary to acknowledge that the image has been altered to correct for perspective. This is nowhere indicated in Dr. Tabor’s article.

Unfortunately, the evidence of image manipulation with regard to Fig. 21 (the image that has been sent to the press) far exceeds simple rectification of orientation, size, color, and perspective. The evidence below details a number of digital alterations to Fig. 21 that simply cannot be described as a “Blowup of Jonah image.”

A side-by-side look at differences between Figs. 20 (left) and 21 (pgs. 41-42) from the original Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor published on Feb 28, 2012.

A side-by-side look at differences between Figs. 20 (left) and 21 (pgs. 41-42) from the original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012. I have rotated Fig. 21 (right) back to its actual orientation for comparison purposes.

3. An object covering the right side of the supposed “tail fin” (marked as “Digitally Removed” in the upper right corner of Fig. 20 above) is present in Fig. 20, but suddenly absent in Tabor’s Fig. 21. On p. 83 of the Jesus Discovery book, this object is identified as another ossuary (#5) that is “jammed up against it so closely we were unable to see its full decorated façade.” In Fig. 21 above, Ossuary #5 been digitally removed and the right portion of the “tail fin” has been digitally generated using a Photoshop process called “clone stamping.” This is evidenced by the fact that it appears darker than the rest of the “fin.” Likewise, the dark shadow that appears down the right side of the “tail fin” in Fig. 21 may be explained as the unintended result of the process of cloning and creating that portion of the “fin,” as there is a dark spot present in Fig. 20 at the intersection of the right side of the image and Ossuary #5. The shadow is the result of cloning that dark spot up along right side of the “tail fin.”

4. Perhaps one the most egregious alterations to Fig. 21 appears in the so-called “tail.” The shape of the “tail” is altered to make it look more like the tail of a fish. The horizontal top of the “tail” in Fig. 20 is straight, but the corresponding line in Fig. 21 shows a tremendous bend on the right side. This is a deliberate result of the cloning process that produced the right side of the “tail fin” after Ossuary #5 covering part of the image in Fig. 20 was digitally removed from Fig. 21. The creation of this portion of the “tail” appears to have been deliberately drawn at an angle to further the illusion of a natural fish’s tail. Likewise, the left side of the “tail” in Fig. 21 also appears to have been gently rounded at the top, and then curved toward the bottom so that it better resembles a natural fish’s tail, while the corresponding area in Fig. 20 reveals a nearly L-shaped angle.

"IMG_7422 Posted on February 29, 2012 by admin" located on thejesusdiscovery.org website is a photo of the 'museum quality replica' of the "Jonah Ossuary" in question.

"IMG_7422 Posted on February 29, 2012 by admin" located on thejesusdiscovery.org website is a photo of the "museum quality replica" of the "Jonah Ossuary" in question.

It is worth noting that the reproduced image on the “museum quality replica” exhibited at Jacobovici and Tabor’s Feb. 28, 2012 press conference in New York does not match Tabor’s Fig. 21 image above, which was the image released to the press. The image is in its proper orientation, and not on its side. The artist(s) who engraved the replica more faithfully followed the original photograph in Fig. 20 above than did the doctored “composite” photo that was distributed to the press, as the replica more accurately reconstructs the top of the image.

5. The zig-zag triangle and braided border design visible in Fig. 20 to the left side of the image suddenly disappears from Fig. 21. The full size image of Fig. 20 (above) shows that the supposed “fish” is surrounded by a double border consisting of a line zig-zagging in between two parallel lines forming a column of triangles, that sits inside of a beautiful braided or herringbone design, all of which passes just outside the left “fin” of the “fish” in Fig. 20. However, this design element, which appears to be engraved equally as deep as the “fish” in Fig. 20, suddenly disappears in Fig. 21, despite the fact that many of the lines in the double border design appear at many of the same angles present in the “fish” design. Given the lighting, many of the lines comprising the border should appear along with corresponding lines making up the “fish” image, but are peculiarly absent. The border design appears to have been Photoshopped out of Fig. 21 using a combination of clone stamping, feathering, and use of the “healing brush” tool, as the resulting brown texture remaining after the deletion of the border appears indicatively blurry and feathered.

Again, the motivation behind the deletion of the border may be understood as an attempt to remove the image further from its actual context. Combined with presenting the image on its side, eliminating the border gives the viewer the illusion that the “fish” is swimming freely in the ocean rather than bound and framed narrowly by an ornate border, which, along with its proper orientation, certainly detracts from its interpretation as a fish.

6. A segment of the “fish’s abdomen” near the supposed “tail” (that I have labeled Seg4 above) suddenly appears clearly in Fig. 21, but is barely recognizable if not completely absent in Fig. 20. Changes in lighting cannot account for this change, as the three segments (Seg1, Seg2, and Seg3 above) are visible in Fig. 20. Even if we allow for the presence of Seg4 in Fig. 20, it still does not match with the altered angle of the tail in Fig. 21.

The addition or “enhancement” of the Seg4 layer may explain the more tapered, narrowed look of the “abdomen” of the “fish” in Fig. 21, perhaps leading the viewer away from interpretations of Fig. 20 as a nephesh monument or some other architectural structure, and encouraging an interpretation as a fish.

7. Finally, there are marks around the outside of Fig. 21 that betray the telltale signs of digital alteration, specifically, digital cloning. In a number of boxes above, I highlight examples of digitally produced marks that are identical in shape and size. (They do differ in color/tint, as this effect can be applied after the cloning process is complete.) Each mark of a mechanically engraved ossuary is unique in reality. At the pixel level of Fig. 21, however, the attempts at reproducing artificial “engraver’s marks” that I have isolated demonstrate, I believe convincingly, that someone used a Photoshop “clone stamp” tool to add artificial scratches all around the “fish,” and give the illusion of a naturally engraved image.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engravers marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor published on Feb 28, 2012.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engraver's marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012.

Take for example the white boxes numbered 1-4 above. I have cut-and-pasted (a process similar to Photoshop cloning) these examples in the chart to the right. As you can see, the marks bear the telltale signs of being copied time and again around the outside of Fig. 21. Each cloned “engraver’s mark” is comprised of a main line attempting to represent an engraved gash. However, identical marks labeled as “low lines” appear just below each of the “main lines.” Likewise, a light spot appears above the left end of each of the “main lines.” Because such identical markings at the pixel level would never appear naturally on an ossuary, anyone familiar with Adobe Photoshop and digital imagery can attest that these are obviously the product of someone who has cloned gashes and attempts at “engraver’s marks” around the edge of the supposed “fish” in an attempt to make the altered image look more natural.

Likewise, if we examine the yellow boxes above, I have highlighted additional examples of identical, digitally cloned marks that were added in an attempt to disguise the fact that cloning had been done to the image. By altering the shape of the “engraver’s marks” added to the digital image, it was hoped by the digital artist that the additional variety of artificially produced “engraver’s marks” would conceal the artificial marks, making the evidence of cloning less noticeable.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engravers marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original Bible and Interpretation article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor published on Feb 28, 2012.

Comparison of digitally cloned "engraver's marks" added to Fig. 21 (pg. 42) from the original 'Bible and Interpretation' article entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," by Dr. James Tabor, published on Feb 28, 2012.

Yellow boxes 5 and 6 above demonstrate a variation of the “engraver’s marks” digitally added to the image. Likewise, yellow boxes 7-9 show yet another deliberate variation. I have enlarged the identical marks in boxes 7, 8, and 9 in the chart to the right. In each example, there is a central horizontal “main line” curving upward to the left, a small notch just below the center of the main line, and a curved, almost vertical mark just above each “main line.” Again, these examples reveal definite evidence of digital manipulation to Fig. 21 in Dr. Tabor’s article.

Tabor and Jacobovici’s Response

The scholarly community has been nearly unanimous in their rejection of Jacobovici and Tabor’s claims. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) has posted on its blog a series of posts by reputable scholars critiquing the authors’ claims. And while these rebuttals vary in substance and style, from critiques of the inscription to critiques of the authors’ use of the Bible, one of the most intriguing rebuttals has been from a host of scholars critiquing the above altered image in question above, perhaps without the knowledge that it had been digitally altered. Specifically, perhaps based partially upon the demonstrable Photoshopped Fig. 21 above, several scholars (including Dr. Christopher Rollston, Dr. Eric Meyers, Dr. Jodi Magness, Dr. Stephen Fine, and myself) have argued that the image would be better interpreted as a nephesh monument.

However, I cannot help but wonder how many of these expert opinions may have been based upon the digitally altered and deliberately disoriented image described above. It now appears possible that at least some of the scholars interpreting the image in question as a nephesh monument may have been basing some of their arguments on a digitally altered image, removed from context, and rotated away from its original orientation. The interpretation as a nephesh monument may still be a possibility. But alternatively, given a knowledge of the image’s proper orientation, it may also be interpreted as a representation of an amphora as suggested by Italian scholar Antonio Lombatti, or some other kind of vessel like a krater as recently suggested by Warden and President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Andrew McGowan, or perhaps even an unguentarium, as suggested by Kings College London Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Dr. Joan E. Taylor.

The one theme shared by scholars interpreting the image both as a nephesh monument and as some kind of ceramic or glass vessel is this: they all agree it’s not a fish.

But scholars can only evaluate the claims and evidence that authors publish, and proper context and the integrity of the image data are essential to one’s interpretation. The caption under Fig. 21 from page 42 of the original version of Dr. Tabor’s Bible and Interpretation article, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” published on Feb 28, 2012 simply read: “21. Blowup of Jonah image.” Except, it obviously was not.

As I have shared the above evidence of image manipulation with my scholarly colleagues, including an exchange with Dr. Tabor on the ASOR Blog, it now appears that Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici are attempting to take steps to correct their descriptions about the misleading photo in question (Fig. 21 above), which has, in fact, been removed from its context, rotated away from its in situ orientation, and digitally altered, by updating the captions describing these images, and in some cases, correcting their orientation after the fact.

Page 42 of the article by James Tabor entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem" published at Bible and Interpretation. The original article (left) was published on Feb. 28, 2012. The revised article (right) appeared on the site on March 2, 2012. Note that the orientation of the image in Fig. 21 (left) is rotated away (CCW) from its in situ orientation, better resembling the natural disposition of a fish. However, the same image on the right has been rectified to its proper orientation (although it has been flipped horizontally). Note also the the revised caption on the revised article (right) still reads, "Museum replica showing placement of image on front panel and closeup of image," despite the fact that the image in question is still not a 'closeup' of the replica, and still does not indicate that the photo has been heavily Photoshopped.

Page 42 of the article by James Tabor entitled, "A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem," published at 'Bible and Interpretation.' The original article (left) was published on Feb. 28, 2012. The revised article (right) appeared on the site on March 2, 2012. Note that the orientation of the image in Fig. 21 (left) is rotated away (counter-clockwise) from its in situ orientation, more closely resembling the natural disposition of a fish. However, the same image in the updated version of the article on the right has been rectified to its proper orientation (although it has now been flipped horizontally, with the digitally reproduced section of the "tail" on the left side). Note also the the revised caption on the revised article (right) still reads, "Museum replica showing placement of image on front panel and closeup of image," despite the fact that the image in question is still not a "closeup" of the replica, and still does not indicate that the photo has been heavily Photoshopped.

For instance, the editors at Bible and Interpretation confirmed to me that they have, in fact, taken down Dr. Tabor’s original article (which I have reposted here for purposes of comparison), and replaced it with a new, revised version. They also updated the title of the revised version with an editorial comment noting that Dr. Tabor’s present article is a different version from the one originally published.

Editor's comment (see red arrows pointing to text in parentheses) noting that a new version of James Tabor's Bible and Interpretation article, originally published Feb 28, 2012, had been revised.

Editor's comment (see red arrows pointing to text in parentheses) noting that a new version of James Tabor's 'Bible and Interpretation' article, originally published Feb 28, 2012, has been revised.

This revision appeared on the Bible and Interpretation website on March 2, 2012, after Dr. Tabor and I had discussed the Photoshopped and rotated image on the ASOR blog. To his credit, Dr. Tabor confirmed that he uploaded a revised version of his article at Bible and Interpretation, noting on his Tabor Blog:

By the way, if you are one of the 18,000 that have downloaded that article in the last two days take a look again at the picture in the appendix–we have added the museum reproductions of the ossuaries.

However, Dr. Tabor makes no mention in his revised article of the fact that he has also corrected the orientation of the supposed “fish” in the image in Fig. 21 by rotating it 90-degrees clockwise into its actual in situ orientation. In the original version of the article, the image was horizontal, with the “head” of the “fish” pointing to the right, perhaps in an attempt to better resemble the natural disposition of a fish. Likewise, the caption for Fig. 21 has been changed from the original, “21. Blowup of Jonah image” to now reading, “21. Museum replica showing placement of image on front panel and closeup of image.”

A side-by-side comparison of the "museum quality replica" (left, source: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/) and the digitally altered photo from Dr. Tabor's 'Bible and Interpretation' article. Both are artist's renditions of the image on the ossuary. Note the difference in shape and scale even in these artists' renditions. Note also that the digital reproduction from the revised 'Bible and Interpretation' article has now been flipped horizontally.

A side-by-side comparison of the "museum quality replica" (left, source: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/intro/img_7422/) and the digitally altered photo from Dr. Tabor's 'Bible and Interpretation' article. Both are artist's renditions of the image on the ossuary. Note the difference in shape and scale even in these artists' renditions. Note also that the digital reproduction from the revised 'Bible and Interpretation' article has now been flipped horizontally.

The problem is, if one examines the two images in Fig. 21 of the new article closely, the images still don’t match! The bottom image is not a “close up” of the top image at all. Rather, the top image is an artist’s reconstruction on a replica, and the bottom image is a highly Photoshopped image. Look closely at the so-called “tails”: the bottom image has a bent “tail” on the top left (as the digital reproduction from the revised Bible and Interpretation article has now been flipped horizontally), while the image on the “tail” on the replica is flat and straight.

The caption of the same image in their Jesus Discovery book beneath Fig. 26 on p. 86 reads: “A composite representation of the ossuary image of Jonah and the big fish.” Again, there is no mention of the multiple digital alterations that the image has experienced, just the words “composite representation.”

Finally, the caption under the same image on the thejesusdiscovery.org website finally concedes it is a “computer enhanced” photo. Unfortunately, these photos were not made available on the website until after the book had been released, after the press conferences, after scholars had begun their initial critiques, and after I had begun to point out that the image in question (Tabor’s Fig. 21) had been digitally altered as described above.

The question is: which pictures should we believe? Should we accept the artist’s rendition on the “museum quality replica,” or the doctored, heavily Photoshopped, “computer enhanced” digital “composite representation”?

And this is the point: the image that was released to the public was a Photoshopped image. It was rotated. It had been altered in other ways, including having the “tail” reshaped to more closely resemble that of a fish. Yet, these were the images given to scholars to evaluate. And that’s what we evaluated.

I cannot speak for other scholars, so I shall only speak for myself: I admit that my original suggestion of some similarity between the image in question and Absalom’s Tomb stemmed from my analysis of the photo sent to the press (Fig. 21 above), which I have now demonstrated to be a doctored photo that was rotated to more resemble the natural disposition of a fish, and which lacked any indication of size, scale, or orientation like a cm stick or compass point. Once I realized that I had based my analysis upon a doctored photo, I publicly conceded that I no longer favor the interpretation as a nephesh memorial, but instead favor an interpretation of an amphora, krater, unguentarium, or some other form of vessel.

I also noted that as scholars, we must be willing to alter our conclusions based upon new (or in this case, accurate, in context) evidence following a consensus of our trained peers. The question is: are Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor willing to do the same? Now that they’ve had the opportunity to experience the peer-review of trained professionals, will they heed the nearly unanimous voice of the archaeologists and scholars stating that the image under investigation is not a fish?


Unfortunately, the visual evidence detailed above compels us to conclude that Fig. 21 from pg. 42 of Dr. James Tabor’s original Feb 28, 2012 Bible and Interpretation article entitled, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” has experienced a high degree of digital manipulation. Given the changes to the “tail fin” of the supposed “fish,” and given the deliberate rotation of the image’s orientation causing it to more resemble the natural orientation of a fish without offering a compass point or any indication on the image whatsoever that the image has been rotated, it can be argued that the motivation behind making these digital alterations to the image was the desire to create, or at least “enhance” the illusion of a “great fish” swimming freely in the ocean, while vomiting forth a human head.

We should not state that the image has been “faked,” as there is obviously an image on the ossuary. However, we are forced to conclude that the image was digitally manipulated and its orientation altered in such a way so as to encourage and enhance its interpretation as a fish over other possible interpretations. The fact that Dr. Tabor is still using the doctored photo as “evidence” upon which to base his recent rebuttals of other scholars’ critiques of his theory on his own jamestabor.com blog and in a new Bible and Interpretation article is quite telling.

What is more troubling is the prospect that other images published by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor may be similarly digitally “enhanced” without proper acknowledgment. If such image manipulation is demonstrated in the “Jonah fish” image, which is central to their sensational and already highly spurious claim, how can we be sure that other images, such as those of the inscriptions, have not experienced similar amounts of digital alteration? Let us remember that the image distributed to the press and on the “museum quality replica” are, in fact, artist’s renditions of the image on the ossuary and not the image itself – a rendition that the authors desperately want viewers to interpret as a fish.

With the credibility of the visual evidence demonstrated above now highly suspect, and with the scholarly consensus nearly unanimously interpreting the image as something other than a fish, we should be all the more skeptical of any and all claims made by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor regarding any claim of Jonah, a fish, or so-called “new evidence” of early Christianity obtained from these tombs.

Because if it doesn’t look like a fish, and doesn’t swim like a fish, it may very well be an ancient vessel cleverly Photoshopped to look like a fish.

on the cuneiform text recently discovered in jerusalem

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

Dr. Christopher Rollston has published an excellent examination of the small cuneiform text that was recently discovered in the Jerusalem Ophel, and a critique of some of the claims made by its discoverer, Eilat Mazar, who recently published the findings with others in Israel Exploration Journal (Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima, and Yuval Goren, “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem,” IEJ 60:1 (2010), 4-21.)

Rollston’s “Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel” is a careful, reasoned analysis of the inscription and a much needed cautionary response to some of the sensational claims that we’ve begun to hear regarding this fragmentary text.

The Jerusalem Post’s Ben Hartman reported the story here.

Voice of America’s David Byrd has a nice article and audio report on the find here.

Ferrell Jenkins and Bible Places Blog have posted about the tablet.

Jim Davila has offered reflections on the discovery and the reporting of it here.

I’ll make only a few summary notes regarding the discovery of this inscription.

  • It is an administrative text, very fragmentary in nature, and wholly non-descriptive.
  • While one could understand it as a part of a correspondence between Amarna and Jerusalem, there is nothing other than the approximate date of the fragment and the location of its discovery that supports this. As Rollston points out, “There are no personal names that are preserved on this tablet… There are no titles (e.g., “king”) preserved on this tablet… There are no place names (e.g., “Egypt”) preserved on this tablet.” It could have been written to another administrator in Jerusalem. This is contra Horowitz, who argues that the high quality of the writing and the object suggests that it was a message sent from an early king of Jerusalem to a Pharaoh in Egypt.
  • This fragment demonstrated that there was someone capable of writing and giving orders in Jerusalem long before the rise of Israel.
  • It proves that someone (we don’t know who) was writing to someone (to whom we don’t know) in Akkadian in Jerusalem in the 14th century BCE. That’s about it.

Duke Conference on Archaeology, Politics, and the Media: DAY 1

i was asked by eric meyers to blog 2009 duke conference on archaeology, politics, and the media as an observer. even though my comments below are posted the monday after the conference ended, i recorded my comments as live notes, as one would live blog or twitter an event. my job was not to offer a polished report on the conference but rather to blog the sessions in a live manner. i’ve also added additional comments at places throughout.  -bc

Duke University Conference on

Archaeology, Politics, and the Media

April 23-24, 2009

The conference began with an introductory lecture by Eric Meyers and Michael J. Schoenfeld, Duke VP for Public Affairs and Gov’t Relations.

1:00 pm – 1:15 pm

Eric Meyers gave an introduction on the origin of the conference.

Meyers told the story of his first experience with archaeology and the media.

His discovery of an object in the Galilee was reported as: “Lost Ark Found in Wilderness of Galilee.”

His excavation’s “Sepphoris Mosaic” became the “Mona Lisa of the Middle East.”

Meyers told a brief history of the “James Ossuary,” and how Hershel Shanks, Simcha Jacobovich, and the ROM promoted and sponsored the James Ossuary exhibit in Toronto. SBL then held a special session on the James Ossuary.

Meyers concluded with the ongoing trial of Oded Golan, the power of the media, PR representatives, lawyers, the IAA, and others, and lamented the fact that these side-shows continue to take away from the work of reeal archaeology and archaeologists.

Michael Schoenfeld welcomed the attendees and gave an introduction to Duke. Schoenfeld provided reasons why he felt it was important that Duke University addressed issues of Archaeology, Politics, and the Media.


Joel Marcus, professor at Duke, introduced the first speaker, Byron McCane.

Byron McCane – Prof. of Religion and Chair at Wofford College.
“Scholars Behaving Badly: Sensationalism and Archaeology in the Media.”

McCane discussed the Talpiot Tomb’s discovery and subsequent media blitz.

Wed, Oct. 3, 1945 was the actual first media blitz of the Talpiot Tomb. McCane told it as if it were the introduction to the recent Jacobovichi/Cameron endeavor (which, of course, it was not).

Earlier, on Sept. 10, 1945 Sukenik, Nachman Avigad, Yigael Yadin, excavated the Talpiot tomb for the first time.

McCane then told the story of the original discovery of the “Jesus Tomb.” Although he initially saw the possibility of Christian discipleship, Sukenik gave several interviews explaining the nature of the discovery, tempered sensational news reports, and published a formal, peer-reviewed report to the academy, which was received negatively. Scholars responded to the publishing negatively, and Sukenik received the criticism without protest. That is, he behaved like a scholar should, and took the high road, accepting the judgment of his peers.

Prof. McCane lamented the growing trend to report any archaeology discovery as a sensational, straight-to-media promotion, without the consultation of the academy.

2004 – Cave of John the Baptist
2007 – Talpiot again
2007 – Netzer discovered the Tomb of Herod the Great
2009 – Easter, Who really killed Jesus, found the house of Caiaphas.

Spate of sensationalism is surely the fault of the media.

But, (!)

Most documentary makers are careful and responsible, although speaking to a popular audience.

They attempt to catch the eye, challenge the mind, and touch the heart.

The responsibility also lies with scholars.

We have been entrusted with great responsibility like tenure, and the opportunity to educate the public’s children.

The responsibility of the scholar on TV is not to use it as an opportunity to promote our own pet theories, but to provide an informed scholarly consensus, or bring about a sense of the academic debate.

“We should never present to the media any theory that has not already been published in a peer-review journal. Put frankly, if you can’t get it published in a peer-review journals like BASOR and JBL, then don’t say it in front of a camera when the little red light is on.”

McCane concluded by stating that sensationalism gives the public the impression that the Middle East is a place where religious battles can be fought and won, and takes away from what the Middle East might someday be.


Milton Moreland, Assoc. Prof of Religious Studies at Rhodes College
“Forged by a Genius: Scholarly Responses to History Channel Meets CSI”

Religiously-inspired video productions are incredibly popular in the US.

The Religion documentary has arguably replaced the book as the method of archaeological dissemination of information to the public.

Moreland did a study on the public reception of religious TV docs with his class and shared some of the results.

Biblical scholars and archaeologists need to take these documentaries VERY seriously.

Where inspiration once came from thousands of hours of scholarly work, the public now receives the bulk of its information about archaeology from film studios.

The archaeologists and biblical scholars MUST continue to engage the documentary industry to counter the sensational misinformation of the fringe, conspiracy-laden documentaries.

Moreland stated that there are no crises of faith in the archaeological record except those manufactured by the popular media.

How did we get from John Grierson to Simcha Jacobovichi? How did something so educational go so wrong?

Docs once had a high level of trust and an expectation of truth.

PBS/BBC – May have been boring, but were associated with truth.
Frontline – Investigative Documentaries became seekers of truth and chief debunker of fantastic stories.
Ken Burns – Provided a model for filmmakers for biblical documentary makers.

In a final proposal, Moreland suggested that we must treat doc filmmaking in the way we treat other scholarly print. We must respond in a formal and timely manner to the sensational claims of the doc filmmaker.

Cargill note:

  • The journey of documentaries into a lesser level of truth and more entertainment is tied to its association to reality TV. This is why History doesn’t show history shows anymore. History and Discovery show “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch” and “Axe Men,” and have changed their slogan to “History in the Making” in order to cash in on the reality TV craze. Note that the Emmy Award category is now “Reality/Documentary” – both of which are scripted for maximum entertainment, often at the expense of truth. By the way, that’s almost done and it’s about to change.


Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
“An Ancient Medium in the Modern Media: Stages of Semitic Inscriptions”

Rollston gave a paper that, in keeping with his style and traditional subject matter, was an erudite specialist paper on NWS epigraphy.

Rollston described the discovery of the Mesha Inscription and the media that surrounded it. He noted that there never has been any doubt about its authenticity.

Rollston suggested three categories of archaeological inscriptions:

1. Forgery
2. Apologetic Usage
3. Sober Reflections by Scholars

For the Jehoash Inscription, Rollston stated:

1. Forgery (by the public)
2. Genuine (only by non-epigraphers)
3. Sober Reflection (forgery)

Rollston spoke about Jacobovichi and the Talpiot Tomb sham.

Rollston called for “All hands on deck!” We need to address the documentary sensationalism put forth by filmmakers, and not think ourselves above it.

Regarding the Jezebel seal, Rollston believes it’s a forgery. For many previously published reasons, and reason that there is no (other) 9th century seal in Canaan.

Following the outline he provided, Rollston then dealt with sensationalism surrounding other epigraphic discoveries.

1. The Media at Sea Sans Compass
a. Jesus Family Tomb

2. All Trained, Restrained Hands on Deck: The Sagacity of Methodological Doubt and Field Expertise
a. Jezebel Seal
b. Goliath Inscription
c. Temeh Seal to Shlmt Seal
d. John the Baptist Cave: No Epigraphic Data
e. Pierced Messiah
f. Baruch Bulla

3. Recalibrate the Ship’s Rudder: A Case Study in Retraction
a. Ebla Tablets and the Cities of the Plain

4. Navigating for Placid Waters

Methodological Doubt must be our M.O.

Be suspicious comes from the antiquities market.


Jonathan Reed, Professor of Religion at University of LaVerne
“The Lure of Proof and the Legacy of Biblical Archaeology: Scholars and the Media”

Reed gave an excellent talk and accompanying powerpoint presentation on Pseudo science and Biblical Archaeology. He discussed his class that teaches critical method and historicity.

The lure of proof coupled with the lure of mammon drives much of popular media.


The Cardiff Giant – The petrified stone remains of a giant.
The Shroud of Turin –
Head of John the Baptist
Three Heads of the Magi
The Feather of the Holy Spirit
The Foreskin of Jesus (no image available)

The James Ossuary – there’s a sucker born every minute

How to create a sensationalistic (and profitable) claim:

Prey on the public’s thirst for proof
Use scholarly skepticism
There is money to be made
Use twists of logic
Make reason for doubt

Reed noted that archaeology is made to be the arbiter of faith and fact. Should this be the case?

Biblical pool (Silwan) found in Jerusalem.

The lag time between discovery and publication is suspect.

Public dissemination of the story and the earlier academic discussion are often disconnected.

The purpose of late (NT) archaeology is not to ‘prove’ the biblical narrative, but more to illuminate the social context of the world that produced the biblical narrative.

What should scholars do with regard to the media? Good teachers can use a stupid question to answer a rephrased form of that question and communicate a better bit of information, shedding light on the questions we should be asking.


Question and Answer Period

Is it better to anticipate in the media or to ignore and remain above the media?

Skepticism is growing. Skepticism follows sensationalism.

Today’s kids are more skeptical of things because we all know how to Photoshop, YouTube, blog, and manipulate the Internet (AND catch those that do it). Like a cat and mouse, the public (especially younger generations) are learning to be highly skeptical of sensational claims, and use the new set of research tools at their disposal to verify claims. This is why sensational archaeologists are making better use of websites, Wikipedia, and YouTube, to beat the scholars to the media.

Cargill notes:

  • We must engage the popular media.
  • Archaeologists must participate in these docs at the very least as debunkers and at best as authorities on the subject.
  • Archaeologists must form a consortium that offers some equivalent of a “seal of approval.”
  • There must be a group dedicated to discussing archaeology and the media. We have editorial boards for peer-review journals. Where is our editorial board for television production?
  • Likewise, the respected authorities/scholars within the field must embrace those bloggers and legit websites that are attempting to combat junk science by making guest posts on the sites.
  • It’s time to stop claiming that the academy is above television media. If we don’t speak to the public, they will.
  • One of us needs to get in, take root, and invite the others in.
  • Documentary filmmaking has merged with reality television. That means, the audience is getting younger. Thus, the more media savvy, younger generation of scholars will begin to get asked to participate. Where are they/we? Why am I the youngest person here?)
  • The other thing is that peer-review publication is the ‘radio’ of television media. That is, tv docs are always looking for people who are “camera friendly”. “Camera Friendly” can be defined as good looking, fit, or eccentric. Scholars need to do a better job of learning to speak and appear in ‘camera friendly’ ways, so that they will become more likely to be used on camera.

3:20-3:40 pm

Eric Cline, George Washington University
“Fabulous Finds and Fantastic Forgeries: The Distortion of Archaeology by the Media Pseudoarchaeology”

Cline began with a “study” that declared the types of breakfast cereals one eats influences the gender of children produced by the one eating the cereal. Even though the claim was later refuted by science, the legend remained.

The game is played by issuing a fantastic claim and couching it as possible.

When facts are later refuted, they are not as popular as the original fantastic claim.

We have already taken the first steps towards reclaiming the field archaeology from junk science and fantastic claims.

Cline suggests creating a “war room” to respond to junk science.

Cline used the example where he and Robert Cargill called out Randall Price and his search for Noah’s Ark on the ASOR website. He also noted his quick response to defend himself once he had been called out, showing that these junk scientists are using and monitoring the media and know of the power of legitimate scholars responding to them.

Cline noted that the AIA created a combat/refutation site.

Cline also described the Raphael/Norman Golb affair and their misuse of the Internet to promote marginal views of Norman Golb. He described how Robert Cargill used the Internet to track and ultimately expose the media campaign.

Cline suggested we should create something like a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for documentary makers.

Cline also suggested that ASOR should create a page for the media in which a list of specialists who are willing to appear on camera might appear.


Response by Joe Zias, Science and Archaeology Group

Zias discussed how this issue has been around since the 70’s with Erich von Däniken.

He also discussed how the media exploits religion and vice versa.

Zias described a story of how Hershel Shanks published an article about the James Ossuary, and told the real story behind the abuses of the ossuary and the media coverage of it.

During the discussion period, Eric Cline stated that 30 years ago, there were a few nuts and a few outlets. Today, there are more outlets (Internet) and therefore more nuts making unverified claims. The lure of an unknown amateur making a discovery missed by the professionals is appealing to the reality TV/American Idol public audience.

Robert Cargill asked whether this “crisis” is based upon this second American trend of self-publication? As newspapers fail and blogging increases, the definition of ‘credible’ resources is again in question. Credible scholars must embrace credible bloggers or create a central, authoritative one of their own.


Morag Kersel, University of Toronto
“The Power of the Press Release and Popular Magazines on the Antiquities Trade”

Kersel spoke about archaeology and the ethics of antiquities sales. She discussed the practice of looting and its relation to the antiquities market.

Kersel did original research in the form of interviews to determine how consumer demand drives antiquities dealers’ desire to acquire objects.

AAMD issued guidelines for press releases that limit publication of items after the 1970 threshold date to those that have a demonstrable history of ownership or context.

Archaeological context is not about history of ownership, but about actual in situ context. We need to wage a social war against those who advocate for the collection of antiquities. Only education as to the supply and demand of this trade will curb the desire to collect objects.


Response by Annabel Wharton, Duke University

Wharton agreed with Kersel and argued that dealers and collectors drive the market and harm archaeology and despoil it of its own history by removing it from its context.

As an example, Wharton shows the claims about the “Tomb of David” in Jerusalem.


Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Confessions of an Archaeologist: Lessons I Learned from Talpiyot Tomb Fiasco and Other Media Encounters”

Magness told many stories about her participation in public documentaries.

People are most interested in issues of Egyptology (mummies, pyramids, etc.), and anything related to Jesus.

The web has blurred the lines between scholarly credibility and popular junk science.

It is impossible to explain in a 60-second sound bite why some archaeological claims are simply invalid. Sensationalist claims can be made in a moment. Disproving a claim scientifically takes more time, more effort, a more patient and understanding audience, and therefore are not usually as received as the initial claim.

Some filmmakers use their connections and capital to promote false claims, in spite of archaeologists counter claims. They do it knowingly for ratings.

Magness wished that ASOR, SBL, and the AIA had issued swift claims denouncing many of these false claims.

Archaeologists have a responsibility to communicate their findings to the public. This means that scholars need to learn to speak in sound bites and become more media savvy.


Response by Chad Spigel, Trinity University

Academics have had tremendous difficulty responding to and refuting sensationalist claims.

Are scholars offering the kind of expertise that the public thinks it is receiving?

Academics don’t always agree with each other, and history is always interpretation.

Irresponsible uses of the media can be used as teaching moments in the classroom.

Cargill notes:

  • The number one thing interviewers say to me is, “Can you say that again, but say it more definitively? You keep saying ‘It is possible’ or ‘some scholars believe’ before everything. Can you say it again and just say it factually?” The fact is that scholars can’t, because scholars live in a world of probability, doubt, and preponderance of evidence, while junk science and peddlers of sensationalism live in a world where any data is definitive, and any possibility, no matter how remote, is fodder for investigatory entertainment.


Mark Goodacre, Duke Professor of the NT

“The Talpiot Tomb and the Bloggers”

Dr. Goodacre talked about the role of blogging in the Talpiot Tomb affair.

Goodacre demonstrated the successes and failures of blogging in their role in countering the claims of the Jesus Tomb doc.

The key is a consistent presence, which builds trust and confidence in the source, as well as a presence within Internet searches.


Response by A.K.M. Adam, Duke University

Mark Goodacre’s “Talpiot mistakes” page is not as much of a failure as he thinks it is. Goodacre should be credited with an early and consistent voice against the Jacobovichi’s claims, as well as a platform for others to voice their concerns and opinions.

We need to learn to address other media outlets other than blogs.

We need to engage all forms of media and get ahead of the curve.

7:45 Plenary Session

Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University; Director of the Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law; President, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
“Legal and Ethical Aspects of Cultural Heritage”

The earliest form of looting is the booty of war.

The French were required to return the plunder of war after the Napoleonic War.

Only about half of the objects were returned.

Leber Doctrine – Cultural objects captured during war were to be returned and not destroyed. First codified set of rules regarding artifacts.

1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Art. 3. Safeguard Cultural Property

Art. 4. Respect for Cultural Property

  • Section 1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to…
  • Section 2. The obligations mentioned in paragraph 1…may be waived only in cases where military necessity imperatively requires….

Art. 5. Occupation

  • Section 1. Any High Contracting Party in occupation of the whole or part of the territory…

Art. 7. Military Measures

Hague Convention Blue Shield

First Protocol

  • Section 1. An occupying power should prevent export from occupied territory.

Second Protocol (1999)

Narrows “military necessity” waiver

Art. 9. Preserves cultural property

Status of the Hague Convention as of 2003

105 States Parties to main Convention
87 to First Protocol
U.S. had signed, but not ratified the treaty

Following WWII, the antiquities market surpassed war as the leading cause of looting.

Fakes and Looting became the two main ways to appease the demand for artifacts.

Market and looting encourage damage to artifacts. The mosaics in Northern Syria were given as an example.

Gerstenblith spoke of the story of the excavation:

Proliferation of Aramaic incantation bowls in Israel post-2003. Under the conventions, Israel should return the bowls (if proved to be authentic) to Iraq.

How did US military break the conventions?

Sites looted for objects are worse than looting the museum. Because in a museum, at least the objects are recorded.

Recent developments:

1970 UNESCO Convention ratifications: UK, Suisse, Germany, Belgium
1954 Hague Convention.
UK proposed ratification of convention
Germany implementing legislating
US ratification in 13 March, 2009.

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