no, no it isn’t noah’s winery: how the media screw up archaeology to sell copies

From BAR: Discovery of the earliest known wine-making operation in an Armenian cave near the southern border with Iran. Courtesy Gregory Areshian.

There was no worldwide flood. The human genome does not bottleneck at Noah. And while a legitimate archaeological expedition may have found evidence of wine production in the Areni-1 cave complex, located near the village of Areni in the Vayots Dzor province of Armenia (map), it certainly is not evidence of “Noah’s winery.”

Unfortunately, most people outside of the archaeological field won’t pay much attention to a respected archaeologist like UCLA’s Dr. Hans Barnard arguing for “Chemical Evidence for Wine Production Around 4000 B.C.E. in the Late Chalcolithic Near Eastern Highlands,” in a respected, peer-reviewed journal like the Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 38, Issue 5, May 2011, Pages 977-984). It is also important to point out that at no time in the stellar article are “Noah” or a “flood” ever mentioned. In fact, the article’s conclusion is rather methodologically compelling to archaeologists:

With an improved method to determine the presence of malvidin we obtained positive results, indicating the possible former presence of grape products, for two Late Chalcolithic (around 4000 BCE) potsherds found in the cave complex Areni-1 in present-day Armenia. It is important to note again that the presence of malvidin, the anthocyanin that gives pomegranates, grapes and wine their red color, is not necessarily associated with the former presence of wine, but only indicates the remains of grapes, pomegranates, or both. Fermentation, although likely, can only be assumed and other products (such as defrutum) should not be excluded. The fact that in Armenia the ceramic samples were collected from a context resembling a grape pressing installation with the preserved remains (seeds, stems, skins) of crushed or pressed grapes supports the interpretation that this part of the cave was a site where wine was produced. Another potsherd from Late Akkadian (around 2200 BCE) deposits in an elite context in Tell Mozan in Syria preserved a red interior, initially interpreted as the remnants of red wine, but proved negative for malvidin. Our research thus produced an improved method to identify malvidin in archaeological materials that can, however, only provide supplementary arguments for or against the presence of wine in specific vessels. Like any other scientific technique, biochemical research alone can never create conclusive evidence concerning anthropological issues (Barnard et al., 2007), much like archaeological research alone cannot irrefutably prove wine production. Instead, both should be part of a larger research program, aimed at addressing a specific anthropological or archaeological research question (McGovern, 1995). As the interests, sample materials and experience of analytical chemists and other scientists will always be different from those of archaeologists, a substantial amount of method development should be expected before a viable protocol will be available. We hope to have illustrated this and to have at the same time added to the discussion regarding the presence or absence of wine in the archaeological record. (html of pdf)

That is, there may be evidence for wine making (or at least storage vessels for grape products) in present day Armenia from around 4000 BCE. That is fascinating research brought about by a well-detailed methodology that suggests, “a better chemical indicator for the former presence of red wine is malvidin, the anthocyanin that gives grapes and wines their red color.” This research adds evidence to previous research which concludes that wine making in the Near East may be much older than we previously thought, and we have improved means by which to detect it.

This is excellent archaeology!

Unfortunately, many newspapers and magazines can’t sell copies reporting on improved techniques for indicating the former presence of red wine. So, they take the credible research and attempt to use it to supply evidence for an incredible claim: that the biblical Noah existed and that we can know this because an archaeologist found evidence of ‘his’ winery. Never mind that no such claim was ever made by the researcher. Just mentioning the possibility of Noah and merely asking the question about his biblical winery (Gen. 9:20) will get your story certain media attention and thereby allow the publisher to sell a far greater number of copies than he/she would had Noah’s name not been invoked. And, because publishers can then use this unverifiable, sensational suggestion to sell said newspapers and magazine copies to folks who will actually spend cash on such a speculation, “Is this Noah’s winery?” translates into cash for publishers.

It’s a technique that has been used for decades to make money: use sound archaeology to make unintended, ridiculous claims, and sell it to the public, which wants to believe it and reinforce their preexisting beliefs. It is an example of good archaeology being used by money-hungry publishers to create bad science in the name of faith, and it’s wrong.

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.

no, simcha, you didn’t find the ‘nails of the cross’ of christ (a week before easter)

Simcha holds a nail.

Simcha holds a nail. That must prove it.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.

Everyone’s least favorite fake tv archaeologist “veteran investigator” presenter of ridiculous, sensationalistic trash σκύβαλα, Simcha Jacobovici, is releasing a documentary entitled, “The Nails Of The Cross,” which “investigates” whether the nails from the crucifixion of Jesus have been discovered. And completely coincidentally, Simcha’s press release machine is revving up a week before Easter. Shockerrrrr! (said with a high pitched voice and dripping with sarcasm.)

The South African Independent Online reports Mr. Jacobovici’s claims in a Reuters story by Ari Rabinovitch:

“What we are bringing to the world is the best archaeological argument ever made that two of the nails from the crucifixion of Jesus have been found,” he said in an interview, wearing his trademark traditional knitted cap.

(I love that they mentioned his “trademark knitted cap!)

Jim West broke this story this morning. And the unwitting press is already sopping it up like vinegar in a sponge. The UK’s Telegraph is even running video. (Thank goodness Dan Bahat is there to talk some sense into folks.)

So let me ask: Why is it that Mr. Jacobovici continues to prey on an oft unwitting public so near to the Christian holy days? Is his greed for cash so great that he’s willing to jump to any conclusion just to get on TV? Has he been so far ostracized from anything resembling legitimacy within professional archaeological circles that he feels he has nothing to lose by using his own production company to create ridiculous documentaries about unsubstantiated claims?

The Israel Antiquities Authority knows Mr. Jacobovici is making this up. It said in a statement:

The Israel Antiquities Authority, which oversaw the Jerusalem excavation, said in reaction to the film’s release that it had never been proven beyond doubt that the tomb was the burial place of Caiaphas. It also said that nails are commonly found in tombs.

“There is no doubt that the talented director Simcha Jacobovici created an interesting film with a real archaeological find at its centre, but the interpretation presented in it has no basis in archaeological findings or research,” it said.

Crucifixion nail through the ankle bone

Replica of crucifixion nail through the ankle bone of Yehohanan ben Hagkol. It is the only evidence of a nail used in crucifixion in Jerusalem ever discovered.

So once again, we have Simcha Jacobovici making unsubstantiated, fantastic claims a week before Easter with the sole purpose of getting people to watch his nonsensical documentary. Keep in mind, anyone who has dug in a Roman period site in Israel has most likely found nails. I have. But to claim that they are the nails of the Crucifixion is wholly irresponsible, even if you did find your nails in a tomb. There has only been evidence of one nail used in crucifixion in Jerusalem, a replica of which is in the Israel Museum. It was discovered by my friend and former excavation director Dr. Vassilios Tzaferis of the IAA, and the nail was in an ankle bone in an ossuary clearly inscribed in Hebrew with the name “Yehohanan ben Hagkol.”

So let’s explore Mr. Jacobovici’s actual claim a bit further. According to Reuters:

The film begins by revisiting the burial place hailed by many at the time as the burial place of Caiaphas, who in the New Testament presides over the trial of Jesus.

The grave, along with a number of ossuaries – or bone boxes – was uncovered during construction work on a hillside a few kilometres south of the Old City.

Caiaphas is a major figure in the Gospels, having sent Jesus to the Romans and on to his death, and one of Jacobovici’s assertions is that the high priest did not deserve such a bad reputation.

Two iron nails were found in the tomb [of Caiaphas!] – one on the ground and one actually inside an ossuary – and, according to the film, disappeared shortly after. [emphasis mine]

Jacobovici says that because Caiaphas is so closely linked to the crucifixion, he believes the nails found in his tomb will be shown to belong to Jesus.

‘What we are bringing to the world is the best archaeological argument ever made that two of the nails from the crucifixion of Jesus have been found,’ he said.

‘If you look at the whole story, historical, textual, archaeological, they all seem to point at these two nails being involved in a crucifixion,’ he said.’ And since Caiaphas is only associated with Jesus’s crucifixion, you put two and two together and they seem to imply that these are the nails.’

(all bold, red, and italics mine)

“Two and two together”??? Let me get this straight:

  • Simcha claims to have found the tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas, a claim which is uncertain because archaeologists aren’t even sure that the tomb is Caiaphas’ tomb.
  • The excavation found two nails in the tomb, one in an ossuary, and one on the ground.
  • The nails disappeared (i.e., someone took or misplaced them).
  • The nails “magically reappear” in a lab in Tel Aviv 20 years later.
  • Because Caiaphas is mentioned in the story of Jesus, and the nails “disappeared” for a time, they must be the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion?????

How in the name of anything that makes sense does that make any sense? Why weren’t the nails discovered in the Tomb of Jesus that Simcha claimed to have discovered in 2007 as part of a press campaign touting his last laughable documentary, The Jesus Family Tomb, just before Easter of 2007 (which was so heavily criticized by scholars for its inaccuracies and sensational jumps to conclusions that Discovery pulled its subsequent airings)? Or, did Mr. Jacobovici think that the world would forget his last unsubstantiated claim?

Perhaps the words of the principal from the Adam Sandler cult classic, Billy Madison, would serve as an appropriate response:

“Mr. Madison Jacobovici, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

The fact that the Mail Online provides lots of pretty pictures, and Mr. Jacobovici makes a speculative documentary, doesn’t mean the above lack of logic makes any sense.

Finding a nail in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem does not mean you’ve discovered the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s irresponsible, and Simcha should know better by now. This is nothing more than a press campaign designed to stir up controversy to get people to watch a bad documentary.  And Mr. Jacobovici’s latest TV offering is nothing more than a train wreck of reality television. Simcha should probably just break down and get his own fake reality show. (Oh wait, he already does.)

on the balancing act between faith and credible archaeology

i recently received a letter via facebook that asked an intriguing question: how does one do archaeology and still retain one’s faith?

the question alone gave me pause because it implied that doing science will ultimately lead one to renounce one’s belief in god, or at the very least shatter one’s theological understanding of the world.

this issue comes up again and again with students. essentially, archaeology students soon learn that while some of the passages and claims made within the bible are consistent with archaeological findings, many others are not. this quickly leads a person of faith to make one of two choices: either to cling to one’s faith and begin to look for alternate ‘methodologies’ that could explain the bible’s claims that are inconsistent with the archaeological evidence, or, to accept the scientific data and re-examine one’s religious preconceptions. afraid to admit that what they were taught or have believed for so long might be wrong, many students opt for clinging to their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the bible and seek out new ways to interpret the data so that it is congruent with their preconceived beliefs. yet, this methodology leads only to poor science, even poorer interpretations of the data, and ultimately to misleading claims about the nature of the remains.

sometimes, archaeology is nothing more than boring rocks in the ground. but the true archaeologist does not seek out the big discovery that changes all we know in one amazing find, but rather gives his or her life to seasons of excavation and discovery, letting the evidence speak for itself until the larger picture of the social, economic, and yes, at times, religious makeup of the society is slowly revealed.

so for those seeking to balance faith and archaeology, here are a few tips:

  1. follow the data wherever it leads. sometimes the data doesn’t line up with the text of the bible. this is true about many sites and many verses. in some places, the text just isn’t supported by the evidence. this does not mean that the bible does not contain truth in other places, but it does tell us a lot about the author and the message the author was attempting to convey. remember, even the early church father origen offered a straightforward explanation of the preservation of factual truth within documents edited by human hands. in his commentary on john 10:4, origen says, ‘the spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in material falsehood.’ just because a factual error exists in the text of the bible doesn’t mean that truth cannot still be conveyed.
  2. follow sound scientific methodology. if your methodology is good, your claims will be better received, and you (and/or your organization) will retain credibility. don’t fudge. take good notes, log everything (especially if it is contrary to your hypothesis), and don’t cut corners. methodical monotony is boring, but will be your friend in the long run. baby steps, small turns, an inch at a time. it is by the archaeological method employed that the academy will judge an archaeologist. credibility is earned over a long period of time, not with a single find.
  3. not every ‘biblical archaeology’ object is the same. just because noah’s ark and the holy grail are most likely legendary, doesn’t mean the ancient israelites didn’t carry a gold covered wooden box (the ark of the covenant) around in front of them when they marched into battle (like every other army at the time). each object is unique and should be treated as such. walls and pots are often (read: usually) more important than gold and silver. treat every object with respect, wash every sherd, and always check for writing.
  4. partner up. the best way to earn credibility as an archaeologist is to partner with and work for an established, credible archaeologist or excavation. don’t seek to strike out on your own too quickly. this requires substantial fundraising and once you begin asking for funds more than you dig, scholars begin to question your motives, your credibility drops, and your conclusions will be questioned more often. be humble. pay your dues. earn your stripes. and then, when you have established the credibility and education you need, work with the authorities to secure your own excavation.
  5. never, ever search for the ark of the covenant, noah’s ark, or the holy grail. adventure quests will always bring immediate derision and condemnation from the academy. never claim to be the first to discover anything; someone else has already done something similar. cite them! remember that most scholars rightly reject any primordial notion of god destroying the earth with a flood; they opt instead to see this story as a parallel to the gilgamesh epic or some other early flood narrative. sensational claims are the quickest way to expose oneself as a fundamentalist. know the literature, read, and always see what your opponents have to say before you make a claim.
  6. submit to the peer-review process. the most credible archaeologists submit to the peer-review process and allow their findings to be critiqued by the academy. submit articles for publication in refereed journals and present papers at national conferences. welcome criticism and feedback. this is the only way to ensure your that interpretations will gain the traction they need to become the accepted consensus.

ultimately, it’s not about what you believe, or even what you can prove. rather, a credible archaeologist or archaeology program is judged by the methodology it uses to reach its conclusions. if the science is good, and the results are published in credible journals, the program as well as the scholar will be a success.

the single greatest argument against junk science i have ever seen

intelligent_aliensthis is absolutely the best argument against ‘intelligent design,’ ancient aliens, and all other forms of junk science, pseudoscience, and sensationalism i’ve seen. in this short clip, the narrator provides a satirical argument eviscerating the popular tendency of junk scientists to bypass critical method, peer-review, and all forms of scientific evidence to make an otherwise unfounded claim. the portion of the video that compares claims of alien involvement in the development of humanity’s various technologies to the present ‘intelligent design’ movement, which uses the court system and claims of academic freedom to advance non-scientific theories under threats of violation of the equal protection clause.

why produce evidence when you can claim that your ‘belief’ is free speech, and that it should be considered just as ‘possible’ as theories that have veritable support of actual scientific data?

you see, doing science is hard work. conducting original research, writing technical papers with lots of footnotes and publishing them in reputable journals where they’ll be critically examined by other highly trained scientists isn’t exactly easy. even if you are lucky enough to make it through the peer-review process unscathed, you still have to present your work at professional conferences, where the world’s experts will pick apart your assumptions and methods to find anything that you might have overlooked in your research. why would anybody voluntarily subject themselves to this madness? i can understand doing it to get some honest feedback, but if your mind is already made up, what’s the point of exposing yourself to criticism?

this is where i believe the intelligent alien intervention institute can learn a thing or two from the discovery institute, the driving force behind the ‘intelligent design’ movement. the ‘intelligent design’ movement has discovered how to effectively bypass the protocols traditionally used to weed out junk science. just think how useful such a loophole could be.

absolutely classic!

circular reasoning, public appeal, demonizing science and scientists, the use of the court system, the assistance of politicians and fundraising, and claims of freedom of expression are all tactics used by amateurs, hacks, pseudoscientists, and sensationalists to advance their claims when they possess no data to support them.

this video makes this point succinctly and in a most entertaining fashion. with thanx to michael heiser for the tip and creator gordon j. glover, give it a look.

now you can pay to hear the madness

Jim Barfield, leader of the 'Copper Scroll Project' testing a metal detector in preparation for his search for the treasures of the Copper Scroll

Jim Barfield, leader of the 'Copper Scroll Project' testing a metal detector in preparation for his search for the treasures of the Copper Scroll.

(you have got to be absolutely kidding me…)

come one, come all and see the greatest show on earth. it’s jimmy barfield, director of the copper scroll project, and he wants you to pay him to come to speak to your group.

here, on the copper scroll project’s newest web page, you can read all about what jimmy barfield will tell you if you will only contribute to his fundraising cause. just think, now you can pay to hear madness: schedule a meeting with jim barfield and the copper scroll project team, give them some money, and maybe you too can help bring about the rebuilding of the third temple and discover some really cool treasure all at the same time. because that’s what real archaeology is all about: finding treasure with a metal detector, bringing back the third temple, and keeping land away from the palestinians, right jim?

because the page is either mis-formatted or intentionally disguised, i’ve cut and pasted the text here. here’s what the page says:

SCHEDULE A MEETING
Schedule a presentation and learn details of what the Copper Scroll is and the incredible information that it contains and hear the story of how Jim Barfield discovered the key to understanding this most important document.

The Class will consist of:

• The events leading up to Jim Barfield’s discovery of the Copper Scroll locations
• The history of the Copper Scroll from the academic scholars and Jim Barfield’s personal view of the history of the scroll
• How the initial discovery was made and Jim Barfield’s resulting research
• Jim Barfield’s four trips to Israel to verify his findings at the actual locations listed on the Copper Scroll and how he was required to disclose the information to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
• Learn about the amazing artifacts and vast treasures that may be contained at the locations described by the ancient scroll.
• Jim Barfield’s relationships that resulted from his research on the Copper Scroll including:

• A Leading Temple Rabbi (his name is being kept secret until the right time)
• Gershon Solomon of the Temple Mount Faithful
• Vendyl Jones, a prominent Copper Scroll Scholar
• Shuka Dorfman the head of the Antiquities Authority of Israel
• Tamar Yonah, a great friend and supporter of our project and Talk Show Host for Israel National Radio
• William McKay, the producer of the TV series “Against All Odds” has called and offered to produce the documentary covering the story of Jim Barfield’s discovery and the dig that is to soon follow.
• The entire class will be presented with a PowerPoint Presentation, a projector and laptop will be available if your group does not have the necessary equipment for the class.
• Your group will also see the photo that is becoming so famous…the buried opening of the cave that most likely contains, the Alter of Incense, the Tabernacle of Moses, Jeremiah’s title deed to the Land of Benjamin, and most importantly “The Ark of the Covenant.”
• Be among the few that will see this presentation before the cave is opened, or before Jim Barfield is robbed of his discovery and unscrupulous men open the cave with out him.

Jim Barfield is raising funds to return to Israel to do the excavation required to unearth the most exciting discovery since the Tomb of Tutankhamun was opened by Howard Carter in the early 1900’s.  In order to do the required excavation a large amount of funding will be required and Jim Barfield and his associates are working hard to make this happen before the land that contains the locations listed on the Copper Scroll is given to the Palestinians.

Required provisions for Jim Barfield and/or Chris Knight to be able to do the Copper Scroll Presentation;

• Transportation costs (airfare or $0.54 per mile)
• Lodging
• $40.00 per day per diem for food per person
• Request for donations to support our Israel Excavation

Contact Jim Barfield at this email address [address xxx’d out so as not to promote the cause] to make the arrangements.

i simply do not know where to begin. perhaps i can start with listing just a few posts that have attempted to combat this kind of fake, sensationalistic, pseudoscience, amateur, did i mention fake, nonsense that barfield and his ‘team’ are attempting to pass off as archaeology:

  1. https://bobcargill.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/the-insanity-continues-jim-barfield-and-the-copper-scroll-project-get-another-jpost-article/
  2. https://bobcargill.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/transcript-of-tamar-yonahs-interview-of-copper-scroll-project-director-jim-barfield/
  3. https://bobcargill.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/new-article-by-dr-robert-cargill-pseudo-science-and-sensationalist-archaeology-an-expose-of-jimmy-barfield-and-the-copper-scroll-project/
  4. https://bobcargill.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/how-not-to-pad-your-ratings-the-copper-scroll-project-facebook-marketing-scheme/
  5. https://bobcargill.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/this-is-why-we-must-fight-pseudoscientific-fake-archaeology/
  6. https://bobcargill.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/now-busted-the-cover-up-begins-jimmy-barfield-and-the-copper-scroll-project/
  7. http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/copper.shtml
  8. http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/cargill2_08261.shtml
  9. http://jwest.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/more-dilettantism-the-copper-scroll-project/
  10. http://jwest.wordpress.com/2009/08/23/post-ashamed/
  11. http://jwest.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/the-post-essay-and-barfield-are-misrepresenting-the-iaa/
  12. http://drjimsthinkingshop.com/2009/08/27/pseudoreality-and-archaeology-virtual-reality-and-qumran/
  13. http://asorblog.org/?p=259
  14. http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2009/08/copper-scroll-code-cracked.html
  15. http://biblicalpaths.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/the-copper-scrolls-dr-robert-cargill-on-the-insignificance-and-the-abuse-of-the-copper-scroll/
  16. http://biblicalpaths.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/copper-scroll-the-jim-barfield-saga-continues/
  17. http://barthsnotes.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/oklahoma-ark-eologist-arson-investigation-skills-to-find-lost-temple-treasure/
  18. http://barthsnotes.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/claim-oklahoma-government-officials-to-lobby-top-people-in-israel-on-behalf-of-copper-scroll-treasure-hunter/
  19. http://barthsnotes.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/jim-barfields-israel-adventure-continues-hebrew-roots-teacher-sets-up-meeting-with-archaeologist/
  20. http://barthsnotes.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/jerusalem-post-puffs-jim-barfields-copper-scroll-treasure-quest/

now, barfield is making himself available to the public for his own mini ‘copper scroll lecture series.’ but there is one line that sticks out like a sore thumb from barfield’s web page above:

Jim Barfield is raising funds to return to Israel.

and there it is. simply put, jimmy barfield has told the world exactly what this project is all about: raising money. ain’t that the truth!

this line really caught me off guard:

• Be among the few that will see this presentation before the cave is opened, or before Jim Barfield is robbed of his discovery and unscrupulous men open the cave with out him.

what? ‘his‘ discovery? what discovery?? the iaa found out barfield was making false claims about his role in this ‘expedition’ and cut him off, and now they are doing their job (excavating) and barfield fears that they will find ‘his‘ discovery? without him?? again, we are privy to what this entire copper scroll project is all about: credit and publicity for jimmy barfield. barfield has now twice betrayed his motivation: money and credit/publicity.

as for the line:

A Leading Temple Rabbi (his name is being kept secret until the right time)

i shake my head. literally. perhaps the identity of this ‘leading temple rabbi’ is being kept secret because it is as real as the ‘amazing artifacts and vast treasures that may be contained at the locations described by the ancient scroll.’ or, perhaps more likely, the identity of this ‘leading temple rabbi’ is being kept secret for the same reason that the name of ‘the archaeologist’ has been removed from the website and overdubbed in their videos (note the audio at 0:28, 1:26, 2:18, 3:50, and 5:11): they both asked jimmy barfield not to use their names for fear of being linked to sheer and utter nonsense.

as far as this claim is concerned:

Your group will also see the photo that is becoming so famous…the buried opening of the cave that most likely contains, the Alter of Incense, the Tabernacle of Moses, Jeremiah’s title deed to the Land of Benjamin, and most importantly “The Ark of the Covenant.”

i simply am at a loss for words. the line is written in such a manner that if some unwitting group were naïve enough to believe this claim and actually pay money to invite jimmy barfield to speak to their group, he would actually show them these items (the alter [sic] of incense, the tabernacle of moses, jeremiah’s title deed to the land of benjamin, and most importantly the ark of the covenant) that exist only in the fantasy world of jimmy barfield’s mind. how is jimmy barfield supposed to find the altar of incense if he can’t even spell altar?? and really, jeremiah’s title deed to the land of benjamin? the ark of the covenant?? they will see a picture of a cave. that’s it. what’s inside of it is sheer and admitted speculation.

seriously, it’s time for this nonsense to stop.

just remember, as p.t. barnum said, ‘there’s a sucker born every minute.’

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.

1:15-1:35pm

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.

1:35-1:55pm

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.

1:55-2:15pm

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.

2:15-2:35pm

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.

Hoaxes:

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.

2:35-3:00pm

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.

3:40-3:50pm

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.

4:00-4:20pm

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.

4:20-4:30pm

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.

4:40-5:00pm

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.

5:00-5:10pm

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.

5:20-5:40pm

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.

5:40-5:50pm

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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