Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Misreading the Forgery Scandal

I don't think I write a particularly difficult brand of prose. And yet one of my writings seems to be very hard for people to understand. First Andre Lemaire, now this. Richard Anderson writes:

Edward M. Cook, blogging at Ralph the Sacred River, http://ralphriver.blogspot.com/ has published an article at SBL Forum: The Forgery Indictments and BAR: Learning From Hindsight, http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=371.
Cook would like to think that the James ossuary scandal is somehow the fault of the magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and its editor, Hershel Shanks. Ed Cook is not alone in his criticism. Under the view of these critics, responsible journalists would engage in a kind of self-imposed censorship. This to me is unrealistic. Furthermore it does not address the real problem.

Let's see: I am supposed to have written that the James ossuary scandal is "somehow the fault" of BAR. I have certainly criticized BAR in the past for contributing to the problem of the spread of unprovenanced artifacts, but I have never tried to say that the scandal is "somehow the fault" of BAR. The words I used, taken directly from the article, are these:

contributed to the problem
part of the responsibility
unwittingly contributed
might have contributed to
a kind of "accessory"


Anderson thinks the "real problem" lies elsewhere. It certainly is a complicated issue, with many variables. I was only writing about one of them. And I deplore seeing my views set up as a kind of straw man or foil, when a nuanced engagement with them would have been both possible and preferable.

Anderson says, "It is interesting to me that there is no urgent call for the IAA to examine all of the artifacts it has purchased over the last thirty years to determine which ones are fakes and of course, publish the results of their findings." Huh? On the contrary, there have been repeated calls both within and without the IAA to retest the whole range of unprovenanced items in museums both in Israel and in other countries.

Does IAA need to clean its own house? Maybe. There's a lot of cleaning up to do in the world of biblical archaeology. It's a big mess, with many causes. But to oversimplify matters as Anderson does is to darken counsel.

4 comments:

Jan Wim said...
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Jan Wim said...

We are clearly dealing with an interesting psychological phenomenon here. There are a number of people who are suspected - on good grounds, as far as I can tell - of tarnishing the reputation of individual scholars, journals and perhaps an entire discipline, yet they are not the main object of reproval and anger, but the persons and institutions who exposed their supposed deceit or merely discussed it. This must be the modern version of killing the messenger of bad news.
This sad course of events is especially serious since it draws the attention away from the fact that the only way to regain the freedom to study and discuss unprovenanced objects (and they will always be there, often much more interesting than objects from official excavations) is to get to the bottom of this affair.
Ed, please keep up the good work! Jan-Wim Wesselius, Theological University of Kampen, The Netherlands

EMC said...

Jan-Wim, as always your comments are much appreciated. Thanks for your support!

Jim said...

Jan opined,
There are a number of people who are suspected - on good grounds, as far as I can tell - of tarnishing the reputation of individual scholars, journals and perhaps an entire discipline, yet they are not the main object of reproval and anger, but the persons and institutions who exposed their supposed deceit or merely discussed it. This must be the modern version of killing the messenger of bad news.

It isn't really a case of killing the messenger. BAR, Shanks, et al, are the problem- they are not merely the "announcers" of it. Indeed, they have not even admitted that there is a problem and are trying mightily to support their contention that the Ossuary inscription, for example, is authentic. By having it on their cover, promoting it, then wrangling the Toronto museum to charge people to see the thing... No, they aren't mere messengers.
Best,

Jim