ASOR (the American Schools of Oriental Research), now approaching its hundredth anniversary and still the most distinguished organization of American archaeologists working in the Near East, has a magnificent potential, despite the problems recounted in my review of the Annual Meeting. Whether it can realize this potential, however, remains a question. With deep divisions in its own membership, having broken with SBL (the Society of Biblical Literature) over the Annual Meeting, and suffering from a stringency of funding, ASOR must think anew and act anew.
1. ASOR must clearly acknowledge that it has at least two legitimate, but different, constituencies: those archaeologists whose principal focus is the Bible and those whose focus is pure archaeology. The latter couldn’t care less about the Bible. And that’s OK! But as to those whose principal focus is the Bible, that’s also OK. ASOR must recognize the legitimacy of both groups and seek to meet the needs of both.
2. Thousands of Bible scholars assemble each year at the Annual Meeting. They are interested in archaeology only insofar as it illuminates their subject. Their interest, too, is legitimate. It should be ASOR’s mission to satisfy this legitimate interest of Bible scholars.
3. In this connection, ASOR should think of itself as a service organization rather than as a competitor of SBL. It should offer to organize archaeological sessions that will meet the needs and interests of Bible scholars.
4. ASOR should drop its elitist attitude. This is a hard subject to define, and it is a hard subject to talk about. But an aura emanates from ASOR leadership suggesting that only expert field archaeologists are really entitled to engage in its subject matter. I remember the days when I had to meet a friend who was a high ASOR official at a place where we wouldn’t be seen, lest he be caught interacting with the editor of a “popular” archaeology magazine (“popular” was considered a dirty word). That a certain elitist attitude still persists is reflected in the remarks of the current ASOR president at an SBL committee meeting on next year’s archaeological program for the Annual Meeting. ASOR’s president, Joe Seger, expressed a fear that the dig reports SBL wanted would “skim the cream off the top” and wouldn’t be presented in sufficient depth to satisfy the professional archaeologist.
5. In addition to fulfilling an important role at the Annual Meeting, ASOR should hold a separate meeting at a different time and place to meet the needs of its second constituency: those who are interested in pure archaeology and whose interest in the Bible is peripheral at best. This would serve as an acknowledgment that the focus of the Annual Meeting must inevitably be the Bible. The archaeology presentations at the Annual Meeting should be broader, more general and less technical. ASOR’s separate meeting should include papers on everything from prehistoric archaeology to Islamic and Crusader archaeology, as well as papers on excavation techniques and pottery chronologies and in-depth dig reports.
The one major objection that has been raised to a separate meeting of this kind is that many ASOR scholars have neither the time nor the funds to attend both the Annual Meeting and a separate ASOR meeting; therefore, they would have to choose between the two. But for most the choice would be simple. Those who are more interested in archaeology as it relates to the Bible could go the Annual Meeting; those who are not interested in the Bible could go to the ASOR meeting. Others could attend both.
Even if the separate ASOR meeting was held simultaneously with the Annual Meeting, scholars interested in the Bible would 071still have to choose whether to go to SBL’s Bible sessions or to the more technical archaeology sessions. There are simply more presentations at any conference with simultaneous sessions (as most now have) than any one person can attend. And there is no perfect solution to this dilemma.
6. At its separate meeting, ASOR should vastly expand its subject coverage. It should cover the archaeology of Egypt and Mesopotamia, Lebanon and Iraq, Anatolia and the Aegean. These areas are largely ignored by ASOR. A number of separate societies already exist that cover these areas of scholarship, such as the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and the American Oriental Society (AOS). ASOR should explore the possibilities of cooperation with these societies, perhaps even holding a joint annual meeting with them.
In short, ASOR’s writ runs large. Its greatest days can still lie ahead. Carpe diem.
ASOR (the American Schools of Oriental Research), now approaching its hundredth anniversary and still the most distinguished organization of American archaeologists working in the Near East, has a magnificent potential, despite the problems recounted in my review of the Annual Meeting. Whether it can realize this potential, however, remains a question. With deep divisions in its own membership, having broken with SBL (the Society of Biblical Literature) over the Annual Meeting, and suffering from a stringency of funding, ASOR must think anew and act anew. My prescription: 1. ASOR must clearly acknowledge that it has at least two legitimate, […]