2007 Jerusalem Forgery Conference

The Biblical Archaeological Society (a.k.a. Hershel Shanks) recently published abstracts & a summary from a conference held earlier this year on artifacts under suspicion of having been faked in some way.

The report revealed some background on Andrew Vaughn’s seal research, & how he successfully skirted ASOR‘s publication policy prior to becoming their executive director:

“He met with various collectors because he wanted to work on their seals. He wanted to see some of the seal impressions on their jar handles. Some of these enabled him to decipher seal impressions from Lachish, Beth Shemesh, Tell el-Nasbeh and elsewhere, inscriptions that had previously been unreadable. He wanted to publish some of his results in BASOR. To do so, he had to jump through various ‘hoops.’ First, he had to publish the inscriptions somewhere else. Then he could publish his larger, more comprehensive article in BASOR.”

To the question about his association with people like me who collect antiquities, Vaughn was vague:

“It depends on each case. … As scholars, we cannot say that it’s not our job to ask ethical and moral questions. We do have to make ethical and moral choices. We’re scholars. To separate ourselves from these moral obligations I feel is wrong.”

He’s dreaming! All scholars don’t have the same ethical & moral standards. Some are Christians, some are Jews, some are Catholics, some are Atheists, some are Humanists, some change from one to the other over the course of their career, some make rules up as they go along, etc. According to mainstream science, there is no God. Ethics & morals are abstract philosophical concepts irrelevant to the scientific method. The universe has evolved from nothing & does so with no guidance/purpose. No one is ultimately accountable for their behavior. We’re all just animals, an unusual arrangement of molecular material & nothing more. Why should Niels Peter Lemche–a university professor who not only doesn’t believe God exists, but doesn’t even believe Moses existed–be expected to make any ethical or moral choice? How would someone like Andrew Vaughn or an organization like ASOR enforce such a policy?

I suspect they would do it selectively & modify it over time (as is the case with Evolution science; if all you have are coelacanth fossils confined to particular strata dated to millions of years ago, they became extinct millions of years ago & never lived on Earth with humans … until someone catches one off the east coast of Africa in 1938), in which case there really is no standard.

What good would such a policy be if it only applied to American Christians & not Copenhagen Minimalists? How would the policy apply to Jews who want to explore their cultural heritage by conducting a scientific excavation on the Temple Mount? How would the policy be enforced when presented with evidence of Muslims destroying artifacts on the Temple Mount?

Vaughn already anticipated such a response by admitting, “The problem is not black and white … Most of our choices … will be in the gray area.”

With any system of law, there’s a gray area. That’s why the best social system–the only good one–is one ruled by 1 good king. Only then would such a policy make sense.

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, & a King shall reign & prosper, & shall execute judgment & justice on Earth.”–Jeremiah 23:5

That will be a fun time to conduct archeological excavations!

Vaughn also quoted Robert Deutsch, who has stated in his books of bullae, “It is simply impossible to fake them. … All have small cracks and surface corrosion, and under a microscope we see small crystals in the cracks and on damaged edges and surfaces. None of this can be duplicated.”

I’ve noted elsewhere that it’s strange that Deutsch has not published photos showing these phenomena with each of the bullae, like I’ve done for the one I own made by a servant of King Hezekiah.

Again, Vaughn’s reaction to Deutsch was ambivalence:

“I have problems when people say it is impossible … Why couldn’t someone fake these features if the incentives were high enough … On the other hand, Deutsch is correct that it would be difficult to fake a bulla.”

Andy did surprise me though by taking a definitive stand & claiming in outline bullet IV.c.i, “in BAR 28:2 (2002)” [actually 28:4; this entire report published by BAS/HS contained numerous typos, which is editorially disgraceful considering 5+ months have elapsed since the conference] “Robert Deutsch published numerous bullae from the time of Hezekiah … at least several of these bullae are likely forgeries because of palaeographic inconsistencies with bullae of known provenance and those of unknown provenance.”

Then somewhat reiterated in outline bullet IV.c.iii.4, “Several of these bullae exhibit the later forms of the he and the waw. … These conclusions (if I am correct) indicate that several of these bullae are probable forgeries. These conclusions do not indicate that all of the bullae from the article are forgeries (it is possible, but the known data do not allow me to comment).”

Well, since the abstract doesn’t state which ones he believes are fake, I certainly can’t comment either beyond wondering how Dr. Vaughn knows these “[fake] bullae exhibit the later forms” rather than being legitimate early specimens of them. I respect both Andrew Vaughn’s & Robert Deutsch’s expertise, & hope that one or the other will provide details to me, which I’ll discuss at that time in another blog entry. My initial reaction is that Andy has a tough sell since he believes the 21 known LMLK seals date to a span of <3 decades, & they contain significant paleographic variations that prompted earlier scholars to date them to a range of nearly 2 centuries (e.g., 750-590 BC by the illustrious W.F. Albright)!

David Noel Freedman, editor of “The Anchor Bible Dictionary”, also attended the conference, & I can’t resist pointing out a minor disagreement I have with one of his remarks:

“Jacob, Joseph and Jesus are three of the most important figures in the New Testament…”

Few people read this blog, but if more did, it would be interesting to take a poll to see which 3 are really considered the most important. My own list would obviously have Jesus as King of the hill, with Paul the equally obvious choice for 2nd place (Jesus chose him to record the Good News since none of the other apostles had the literary competency to do so in a quality manner), & 3rd place would be Luke (for his role in supporting Paul & recording Acts & the most comprehensive of the 4 Gospels). 4th place would be a tie between John & Peter, equally important but definitely beneath Luke. 5th place would go to the likes of John the Baptist or Mark or Matthew, 6th place would go to Judas (the betrayer) or James (a.k.a., Jacob).

Even for Catholics & others who believe their own efforts will pay their admission into Heaven, James/Jacob might be in the top 3 (he barely makes my Top 10), but certainly not Joseph. He was virtually a nobody in the NT. I sincerely doubt that Prof. Freedman would be able to defend Joseph’s inclusion. I wonder if I’ll have the guts to ask him about it if I’m fortunate enough to meet him in San Diego at the annual conference in November…

I do agree for the most part with his closing remark, however, in which he refers to both the James ossuary & the Joash tablet:

“We would say that if the inscriptions are fakes, then the information provided hardly adds anything new or striking and nothing that would mislead scholars in the future. If authentic, they would not add much to the knowledge we already have. So in the end, whether real or fake, they don’t seem to make much difference.”

From the outset, I’ve never really understood why there’s such a big deal over the ossuary. It’s just like any other ossuary & doesn’t add anything new to the Biblical record. It’s impossible to know if it belonged to the NT James, so at best if a Catholic believes it once contained his bones, it might have a Relic Factor (Protestants are supposed to be beyond that stage of their theological maturity process). But archeologically speaking & historically speaking, it adds nothing. James was a jackass (like all of us at times) & didn’t make any positive contribution to the proclamation of the Good News, though he did serve as a useful verbal punching bag for Paul so that the true Good News would be better illuminated through an object lesson on how not to relate to Jesus Christ.

The Joash tablet would be somewhat interesting, though, if it were genuine since it uses wording that’s significantly different from what scholars would expect for that period (& one of the reasons they suspect it’s fake). I already gave my own reasons for dismissing its authenticity back in March of 2005.

The funniest remark preserved in the report came from Alan Millard, who suggested that the Joash/Yehoash tablet/stone should be dubbed, “Ye Hoax Stone”!

Another giggle came from Gabriel Barkay in true Barkay-the-consummate-entertainer fashion while making the point, “no committee and no court can establish the authenticity of an inscription. … Committees I think are good for communist regimes.”

Later, though I don’t think it was intended to be a joke, I got a good laugh out of this surprising remark concerning the renowned epigraphy expert, Joseph Naveh: “Naveh sits at home and waits for inscriptions to land from heaven upon his desk…” I’m guessing that Dr. Barkay won’t be invited over to the Naveh residence for tea any time soon!

On a more serious note, I saw a fascinating parallel in Dr. Barkay’s Point #9:

“I think the scholarly community should agree that everyone of the members of the scholarly community is an honest person unless otherwise proven. … To penetrate a cultural milieu as an outsider from our times, this requires much knowledge. It requires depth in scholarship. The assumption is that today it could be done only by a team. It has to be teamwork. The assumption should be that if it is a teamwork, there has to be some leak. It is very difficult to organize a group of people, one an expert on Biblical text or Biblical history or Biblical language, the other one an expert on paleography, and the third one as expert on geology and engraving in stone. … I don’t think that there is such a person who could forge such an inscription like the [James] ossuary inscription. If the same person is responsible for the forgery of the Yehoash inscription and the ossuary inscription, he has to be a superman…”

I can’t help but wonder if Dr. Barkay & other non-Christian scholars in attendance who agreed with him on this point, have applied that same reasoning to the writings of Paul, whose Scriptural scholarship was 2nd to no one in his day, & he claimed to the death to be an eyewitness of a resurrected/glorified Jesus Christ (Acts 9:5, 1Cor 15:8; 2Tim 4:6-7). If the writings of Paul were pseudepigrapha by 2nd-4th-century teamwork, they’d qualify as Barkay’s “superman”; otherwise, the only viable candidate was the Person Paul wrote about.

Song of the week: “Conspiracy” by Ernest Gold (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 28-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena


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