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

Sincerely
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:

Jim,

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.”

and

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

and

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

and

“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.”

and

“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.

i just threw up in my mouth: on david elkington and the lead codices

David Elkington

Jennifer and David Elkington.

this just made me throw up in my mouth. seriously, i have to go brush my teeth now.

according to an article entitled “revelations of our own indiana jones” in the this is gloucestershire website:

THE Five Valleys’ real-life Indiana Jones has made a startling discovery which could unlock the earliest secrets of Christianity.

Historian David Elkington spent two years trying to preserve the 2,000-year-old metal books and dodging death threats in the Holy Land in an adventure to rival the fictional Raiders of the Lost Arc movie hero.

really? indiana jones? and i love how the author misspelled “ark.” really? indiana jones lost his arc welder? perhaps it should be “nikola tesla and the lost arc.” i don’t know who makes england prouder, this article’s author or elkington?

“We were making our way through the valley when we heard the sound of fire,” said David. The scrub next to their 4X4 had been set alight.

He added: “It was extremely fierce. Someone was angry that we’d got too close to the site.”

yes, because the best way to scare someone away from your own land/cave is to set fire to your own property. exactly.

David is hopeful that the books will soon be in the care of the Jordanian government, allowing further study.

The couple will publish their account of the battle to unlock the codices’ secrets in the book The Divine Revelation.

of course you are.

the lead codices debacle has been a publicity stunt from the outset. good grief people!

the least the gloucestershire paper could have done is wait until after the rapture this saturday….

california bill would crack down on e-impersonators

Online Impersonation

Battling impostors: SB-1411 is designed to punish those who use fake identities online. Credit: Christopher T. Fong and Russell Yip / The Chronicle

An article in SF Gate (San Francisco Chronicle online) by Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera highlights California State Bill 1411 (SB-1411). If passed, the bill:

would make it unlawful to knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud another person.

Current law addressing false impersonation is outdated and was not drafted with the technologies of the 21st century in mind.  SB 1411 brings us up to date by making these forms of cyber impersonation a punishable offense.

State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) introduced a bill in June that would make it a misdemeanor to maliciously impersonate someone. SF Gate has previously reported on the bill here.

If Simitian’s bill passes, online impersonations with the purpose “of harming, intimidating, threatening or defrauding” would be punishable with a maximum fine of $1,000 and one year in jail.

The article states:

Malicious online impersonation has often been brushed away as the complaints from overly sensitive people who can’t stand parody or criticism, but a range of recent incidents have really stressed the question of where to draw the line.

Recent incidents? I might know of one.

The bill unanimously passed both the California Assembly and Senate, and now awaits Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature.

I strongly urge the governor to sign the bill. As a victim of this kind of crime, I cannot underscore how important this kind of legislation is. The first amendment was designed to protect differences of opinion, dissenting views, and to promote new ideas, not as a shield to protect criminal impersonators, forgers, and identity thieves hiding behind electronic forms of anonymity in an effort to dodge accountability and civil remedies while they perpetrate well-orchestrated, premeditated campaigns of harassment, defamation, and libel against their victims.

The law is coming.

to trial we go: golb formally refuses plea bargain

Raphael Golb rejects no-jail plea offer in Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday.

Raphael Golb rejects no-jail plea offer in Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday. Photo by Siegel for News.

laura italiano of the ny post is reporting that plea bargain negotiations between the ny district attorney’s office and a lawyer for raphael golb have broken off without agreement. melissa grace has the story at the new york daily news:

That means the case against Raphael Golb, a real-estate lawyer turned amateur religious scholar, is headed to trial in September.

the case is scheduled for trial beginning september 13, 2010.

Raphael Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, is accused of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, unauthorized use of a computer, and aggravated harassment by the state of New York. Plea  bargain negotiations broke down today. The trial is scheduled for September 13, 2010.

Raphael Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, is accused of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, unauthorized use of a computer, and aggravated harassment by the state of New York. Plea bargain negotiations broke down today. The trial is scheduled for September 13, 2010. Photo by Steven Hirsch.

according to sources:

They offered the son 80 hours of community service if he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors – and the judge said three years probation would have to be a condition.

Golb turned it down because probation would bar him from contacting his victims – including posting on blogs where the scrolls’ origins are debated.

golb is the son of university of chicago oriental institute historian dr. norman golb. golb is accused of multiple felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, unauthorized use of a computer, and aggravated harassment by the state of new york as a result of golb’s involvement with an extensive campaign to smear the perceived rivals of his father. a detailed history and evolution of golb’s campaign against dead sea scrolls scholars, grad students, museums, and universities is chronicled at the who is charles gadda website.

here we go…


for background:

on the misuse of archaeology for evangelistic purposes

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

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

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

from aol news: scholarly squad debunks biblical ‘discoveries’

Dr. Robert R. Cargill in Bet Shean, Israel

Dr. Robert R. Cargill in Bet Shean, Israel

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

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

does this look like styrofoam to you?

Styrofoam Ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

is it too early to say it???

no, no you didn’t find noah’s ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

Vision & Mission

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

Our missions are:

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

Lost in the Noah's Ark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

man swallows flash drive in attempt to destroy evidence

shredding is so 2009. now there’s a new way to dispose of your private, potentially incriminating information: swallow it.

that’s precisely what one man did shortly after his arrest for bank fraud. according to police reports, florin necula swallowed a kingston flash drive.

In a bold and bizarre attempt to destroy evidence seized during a federal raid, a New York City man grabbed a flash drive and swallowed the data storage device while in the custody of Secret Service agents, records show. Florin Necula ingested the Kingston flash drive shortly after his January 21 arrest outside a bank in Queens, according to U.S. District Court filings. Necula and several codefendants had been transported to a Secret Service office in Brooklyn, where they were to be questioned and processed. While there, and in the view of investigators, Necula “grabbed Subject Flash Drive 2, which had been on his person at the time of his arrest, and swallowed.”

according to the reports, the suspect later:

agreed to allow doctors at New York Downtown Hospital to remove the item

sure. he ‘agreed.’ either port 80 of his outbound server was clogged, or he was enticed to allow a doctor assist him with dropping a digital deuce. but only after 4 days. ewww. i spilled coffee on a flash drive once, but i’ve never soaked one in hydrochloric acid (the stuff in your stomach) and poo for 4 days. i wonder who at csi gets to process that evidence (if there’s any evidence left to process after the suspect’s ‘processing’ of the data)?


n.b.  i’m imagining raphael choking down hard drives and notepads with aliases and passwords on it as the nypd is searching his apartment. in hindsight, it would have probably been better than letting the ny da’s office get into his emails. then again, digestion probably wouldn’t have helped in raphael’s case. what he was writing was already crap on the way in.

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