ASOR, pronounced with a long A, is the acronym by which the venerable professional association of Near Eastern archaeologists is known. Its full, somewhat ponderous, name is the American Schools of Oriental Research. ASOR recently celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. It has loosely affiliated schools in Jerusalem, Amman and Cyprus, which are now almost completely independent of the mother organization. These centers account for the plural “Schools” in its name.
ASOR’s professional journal, appropriately enough, is known as BASOR—the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
As a member in good standing, I would like to suggest that the acronym and name of the organization be changed to HASOR—the Hypocrite American Schools of Oriental Research.
I am a supporter of ASOR and have personally contributed money to its programs. The Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS), publisher of this magazine, has of late been working with ASOR on several projects. Last fall I suggested another area of cooperation between BAS and ASOR. We are about to release our archive of 27 years of Biblical Archaeology Review on a limited-access area of our Web site, available to schools and colleges by subscription so that their students can look up anything from our past issues. I suggested to Larry Geraty, the new president of ASOR and a member of BAR’s editorial advisory board, that BAS would donate $100 to ASOR for each institutional subscription to our archive that came through an ASOR member. A hundred subscriptions would mean $10,000 for ASOR. And it was quite conceivable that there would be many more. Larry seemed to like the idea. He said he would take the proposal to the executive committee of the board of trustees. To me it sounded as if this were a mere formality. Little did I know. After the executive committee meeting, Larry reported back that it had rejected the proposal because ASOR could not “cooperate” with an organization whose publications accepted antiquities ads. He acknowledged that this was true even though, in his words, “I dare say that everyone in the room [at the executive committee meeting] will purchase [the archive].”
ASOR has had a long history of animosity, if not hostility, to BAS. But recently that had dissipated. When BAS began publishing BAR more than a quarter century ago, ASOR considered suing us because it regarded Biblical archaeology as its exclusive preserve; ASOR thought the title Biblical Archaeology Review infringed on the name of its own magazine, Biblical Archaeologist (the latter publication, believing that this title was inappropriately confining in terms of the organization’s coverage, has since changed its name to Near Eastern Archaeology).
For a number of years, whenever I attended ASOR’s annual meeting I would meet a former president of ASOR, who was also a good friend of mine, around the corner from the entrance to the hotel where the meeting was being held. He regarded this secrecy as necessary, so that he would not be seen consorting with the likes of the editor of this magazine.
As late as 1996, when the immediate past president of ASOR took office, he felt it incumbent upon himself to resign as a member of BAR’s editorial advisory board.
Then ASOR’s attitude toward BAR began to change. We agreed on some joint projects. I was invited to a leadership meeting of ASOR in 008Atlanta to discuss the direction of the organization. Larry Geraty, ASOR’s new president, so far has not seen fit to resign from BAR’s editorial advisory board.
Then came the decision of the executive committee not to “cooperate” with BAR because a few antiquities ads appear in our pages.
ASOR’s policy, which is the basis for the executive committee’s ruling, states that “ASOR’s members should refrain from activities that enhance the commercial value of such artifacts [artifacts that come via the antiquities market rather than from scientific excavations] and thus contribute indirectly to the illicit market, for example, publication, authentication, or exhibition. ASOR publications and its annual meeting will not be used for presentations of such illicit material.”1
This is a wrong-headed, ineffective policy, but that is another question. I am not suggesting that the name of the organization be changed to WASOR—the Wrong-headed American Schools of Oriental Research—but rather HASOR—the Hypocrite American Schools of Oriental Research. Here’s why:
•Three prominent ex-presidents of ASOR publish unprovenanced (i.e., looted) inscriptions (a practical necessity for paleographers; many of the most important inscriptions surface on the antiquities market). The organization raises no objection, however, to these violations of its policy. It wouldn’t dare.
•An honorary trustee of ASOR is, together with his wife, one of America’s most prominent collectors of antiquities. He is of course honored for his financial support of the organization. No one asks whether this honorary trusteeship is appropriate. The attitude is simply, “Take the money and run.”
•A prominent member of ASOR’s executive committee, who objects to any cooperation with BAS because we accept ads from licensed and completely legal antiquities dealers, owns—together with her husband—an extraordinary antiquities collection that they proudly display in their gracious home. With the zeal of a convert, she now opposes any purchase of an unprovenanced antiquity—including by her husband. But she sees no problem with continuing to own and display the collection. Neither, apparently, does ASOR.
•ASOR’s professional journal permits citation to unprovenanced antiquities—once they have been published by someone else.
•ASOR permits sessions at its annual meeting on looted antiquities such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It seems ASOR only draws the line at “cooperation” with an organization whose publications accept ads from licensed antiquities dealers.
It is this inconsistent application of its own policies that earns ASOR the epithet “hypocrite.” It would be appropriate to change its name to include this sobriquet.
But something good has come out of this sad tale. I have been assured that at next year’s annual ASOR meeting a session will be devoted to a discussion of the issues involved in the antiquities market and to the possibility of changing ASOR’s policy in connection with it.
I have some suggestions. Instead of limiting the participants to academics, ASOR should expand its horizons a little. Ask a collector like Shelby White to participate in the session. Ask an antiquities dealer like Robert Deutsch or Jerome Eisenberg. Ask a museum person like Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Ask the head of the investigation unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Amir Ganor, charged with chasing down looters. Try to find a forger. Try to find an unlicensed middleman. Get someone who says it’s easy to forge patina on an ostracon or on stone and see if he can fool the experts. Ask Bill Pearlstein or Jim Fitzpatrick or John Merryman, lawyers who specialize in antiquities law and represent antiquities dealers. Ask an expert in market-based solutions, like economist Richard L. Stroup, to address the problem of looting.2 And of course ask those who are unalterably opposed to collectors, dealers and museums that display unprovenanced artifacts, people like Martha Joukowsky of the classics department at Brown University, Ellen Herscher and Ricardo Elia of the Archaeological Institute of America, and Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University who specializes in cultural heritage. Too much for one session, you will say. I agree, but it gives some idea of the vast ramifications of this complicated issue, on which a whole conference could usefully be based.
ASOR, pronounced with a long A, is the acronym by which the venerable professional association of Near Eastern archaeologists is known. Its full, somewhat ponderous, name is the American Schools of Oriental Research. ASOR recently celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. It has loosely affiliated schools in Jerusalem, Amman and Cyprus, which are now almost completely independent of the mother organization. These centers account for the plural “Schools” in its name. ASOR’s professional journal, appropriately enough, is known as BASOR—the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. As a member in good standing, I would like to suggest that […]