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

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

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

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

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

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

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


fake lead jordan codices update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

evidence continues to pile up that the jordan lead codices are fakes

Jordan Lead Codices are fakes.Tom Verenna has put together an excellent video setting forth much of the evidence that the so-called “Jordan Lead Codices” are, in fact, fakes.

If you have not been following this case, Bibliobloggers (scholars and students who blog about matters pertaining to the Bible) were among the first and most vocal critics of this so-called “discovery,” and many have led the way in demonstrating their lack of authenticity.

You can check out the original Lead Codices press release, the Wikipedia page, as well as the Facebook page, whose editor/s (who many observers now believe to be David Elkington himself or someone close to him) have begun deleting comments questioning the authenticity of the find. The latest debunking of the case can be found here.

Like most unprovenanced “discoveries,” the Jordan Lead Codices are continuing to be exposed for what they are: a book-selling, documentary-pitching, money making, religious profiteering scheme, which uses a hungry media to prey on the faithful and the public, and employs the tried-and-true formula of 1) a sensational press release (without academic peer-review or scholarly evaluation), followed by 2) a pseudoscientific data dump that attempts to dilute and drown out the logic and actual science put forth by scholars responding to and debunking the claim (at least until the book gets released).

This formula to misuse archaeology to make religious claims for ideological and/or money making purposes works regardless of the faith of the huckster making the claim: Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim – peddlers representing all faiths and even some “alien enthusiasts” (all of whom are usually amateurs with no formal training in scholarship or archaeology) have used the formula to sell books, sell tickets, pitch documentaries, and attempt to proselytize the public and/or take its money. And, by the time actual scholars respond and debunk the story, the media have usually moved on (and if the media do publish a follow-up story, it is usually no longer a headline). Let’s face it: archaeological hucksters keep using the formula because it works (or at least always has), and it will continue to work in the future as long as scholars fail to respond to the false claims immediately and publicly.

(Keep in mind, the archaeological hucksters often get a little bent out of shape when scholars call them on their nonsense and criticize their claims, and the hucksters’ responses can often take the form of personal attacks coupled with unwarranted claims of religious/ethnic persecution (i.e., anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-whatever). This is often followed by attempting to undermine the credibility of the scholar making the criticism by invoking made-up religious claims of their own (e.g., that a scholar was at some point an “ordained minister” or some similar fabrication that is not only false, but the mere thought of which offers the scholar and his colleagues hours of entertainment (i.e., “Could you imagine a church that would hire that scholar as a minister? Now THAT might be a fun church to attend. What would sermons be like? I’d love to hear the one on Creation, the Flood, and Balaam…” etc., etc.), as well as additional hours of conversation about the desperate lengths to which some archaeological hucksters will go to distract readers from the fact that they cannot defend their claims on the merits of the argument). But I digress. The best thing to do when this happens is not respond, and to allow the merits of the argument (or lack thereof) to speak for themselves.

This is what Tom Verenna has done in his video below. Give it a watch.

excellent article on the portrayal of archaeological objects in the media by thomas verenna

Thomas S. Verenna has written an excellent article at Bible and Interpretation entitled, “Artifacts and the Media.”

The article discusses the media’s response to the recent fake lead codices that purported to be possibly the ‘earliest Christian texts’ and ‘the face of Jesus,’ as well as scholar-bloggers’ role in exposing those behind the sensational campaign.

Verenna states:

More scandalous is the complete lack of journalistic integrity, honest research, and thorough fact-checking.  These codices might never have been heard of if the authors of the reports for BBC and Fox News (among others) had just checked with the academic community before publishing the “find”.  At the very least, the journalists might have used less authoritative language, expressed more caution, and exposed the controversy rather than simply stating, as if doing so made it fact, that these codices were “the earliest Christian texts” and that they held “early images of Jesus.”

Give it a read.

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