Queries & Comments
Addressing the Elephants
Just read your First Person (“The Importance of Archaeological Provenance,” BAR, September/October 2018). A couple of things that were left out jumped out at me. For me they represent two elephants in the room.
The first issue is what to do with all the already looted objects. There are literally thousands of010 cuneiform tablets out there. What is to be done with them? Are they to be left unstudied, because they have no provenance, and because their publication might add fuel to the looting problem? Do we just abandon the data that they might provide?
Second, you mention the issue of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but pass it off rather casually by noting that they were looted before existing antiquities laws were put in place. But you need to address the issue of how any future discoveries of looted Biblical manuscripts should be handled. If an antiquities dealer put forward a scroll of a complete Jeremiah (to give an extreme example to make the point), what should be done with it?
Professor, Near Eastern Studies
Ithaca, New York
Dr. Zorn, you raise excellent questions!
Regarding looted objects that are already known, one solution is to place them in a special category—an island of misfit toys for looted archaeological objects, if you will—that will permanently taint them. While some scholars may study and reference them, many will not; they will never receive major institutional funding, they will never be published in major academic journals, and any scholar mentioning them will note that they are unprovenanced finds. This permanent ambiguity diminishes their resale value and assists in discouraging against looting.
As for existing fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls in private collections, both known and unknown, I argue that these should be transferred to those archaeological authorities governing the region in which they were discovered. The terms of these agreements must, of course, be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. We recently saw this problem first-hand when the Museum of the Bible announced, on Oct. 22, that at least five of the unprovenanced scrolls in its collection were actually fakes. This is all the more evidence that the days of anonymous, black-market sale of the Dead Sea Scrolls must end.—B.C.
I read with utter disbelief your First Person column that you will not write about archaeological finds unless a chain of custody can be established. What happens if a boy finds the Arc [sic] of the Covenant down his basement? It will be front page headlines around the world, but you will not write about it because a chain of custody cannot be established. By your own admission you would not have written about the Dead Sea Scrolls until after other scrolls in the caves at Qumran were found. And you would never have written about the James Ossuary as the chain of custody may never be established. Perhaps you should reevaluate your position.
Edison, New Jersey
Ralph, rest assured that if someone finds the actual Ark of the Covenant “down his basement,” BAR will report on it. This is because in the same editorial I stated, “BAR occupies a unique place between the academy and the public,” and that, “If and when the next sensational unprovenanced archaeological object is introduced to the media, BAR may use its position to explain to our readers what the claims being made are and why the unprovenanced nature of the discovery makes the discovery problematic.” BAR is not a tabloid. BAR can be trusted. We publish actual archaeology, and when something controversial arises, we’ll tell you why controversy surrounds the object. More likely than not, the issue will have to do with provenance. It usually does.—B.C.
Cuneiform Tablets Exempt?
Reading your First Person, I cannot believe that cuneiform tablets are exempt from sanctions. Your second footnote states that ASOR and SBL provide an exemption for cuneiform tablets. Huh? Objects without provenance are objects without provenance. How can there be an exemption?
Also, do museums and organizations destroy unprovenanced items? I doubt it. I am sure they are studied, documented, cataloged, and stored.
Should I destroy my copies of BAR that contain articles about unprovenanced archaeological objects?
Northumberland Co., Ontario, Canada
Dear E., this is a fantastic question, and one for which I don’t have a good answer. I am told that ASOR made an exemption for a number of reasons, including the fact that cuneiform tablets are much more difficult to forge (I’m not sure if I buy that), they don’t directly relate to the Bible (and therefore don’t command as high of a price on the black market), aren’t as readable by most people (unlike Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek inscriptions, which people who study the Biblical languages can read), and because much of what exists in the form of cuneiform tablets are already unprovenanced. This exemption allows for the study and publication of these tablets by ASOR and SBL. But you make an excellent point that many scholars within ASOR and the academy make: If something is unprovenanced, it’s unprovenanced, and forgers will always catch up to the scholars. So why make the exception? An excellent question, indeed!—B.C.
The Right Move
I applaud the editor’s decision to no longer publish unprovenanced finds in BAR. I recognize the validity of the opposing argument—that not publishing these objects deprives the readers of the valuable insights these objects can provide, despite their lack of provenance. However, because of the past policy of allowing these objects to be published, BAR has been boycotted for years by some of the world’s most respected archaeologists who refuse or are forbidden by their employers to write for BAR. I hope the revised publication policy will open the doors to publication by these esteemed scholars. I look forward to hearing from them!
JOB WELL DONE
Thumbs Up for Motherhood
Kudos to Alicia D. Myers for her essay “Motherhood and the Early Christian Community” in the September/October 2018 issue of BAR. An interesting article, well presented. I’m eager to read more!
Restore Me Ministry
Dear Mr. Editor: Way to go for the inspired combining of the definitive photo of frosty Masada on the cover with the two-page spread of the rarely011 seen northwest side inside (“Masada Shall Never Fail [to Surprise] Again,” BAR, September/October 2018).
Keep Christ in the Style
I will buy a life-time subscription to BAS if you change B.C.E. back to B.C., and C.E. (continuing education?) back to A.D.
Dear Richard, per our “Note on Style” in the masthead on page 4, we allow authors to use the chronological designation of their choice. Some choose to use B.C./A.D., most prefer B.C.E./C.E. We publish both, as BAR does not discriminate against either format.—B.C.
My Dirt-Loving Granddaughter
I’ve been a subscriber to your awesome publication for two years or so. I learn so much and am inspired by all of your articles. Thank you very much.
I have a 10-year-old granddaughter. She has decided that she would like to be an archaeologist!!! That’s pretty cool, ehhh!
Might you have any suggestions of books or articles that might inspire and give beginner guidance for one of her age? I would like to get her whatever you might suggest.
Robert, thanks for the kind note, and congratulations to your brilliant granddaughter on the wisdom to become an archaeologist. That is very cool! As for books, there is, of course, The Cities That Built the Bible (I’ve heard it’s great!). I would also recommend Eric Cline’s Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Univ. Press, 2009) or Jean-Pierre Isbouts’s Archaeology of the Bible: The Greatest Discoveries from Genesis to the Roman Era (National Geographic, 2016).
And your encouragement and support will make all the difference. Tell her never to stop searching and asking questions! Good luck to you both.—B.C.
In the September/October 2018 issue, endnote 2 on page 40 erroneously referenced classicist Richard Foerster. It was actually classical archaeologist Gideon Foerster who pointed out the architectural similarities between the layout of the upper terrace of the hanging Northern Palace at Masada and that of the Roman villa under Villa Farnesina in Rome.
The caption on page 52 suggests that King Hammurabi reigned from c. 2025 to 1763 B.C.E. Those dates actually refer to the total time period covered by the king list. King Hammurabi ruled 1792–1750 B.C.E. (as calculated according to the Mesopotamian Middle Chronology).
LOOTED ARTIFACTS Addressing the Elephants Just read your First Person (“The Importance of Archaeological Provenance,” BAR, September/October 2018). A couple of things that were left out jumped out at me. For me they represent two elephants in the room. The first issue is what to do with all the already looted objects. There are literally thousands of010 cuneiform tablets out there. What is to be done with them? Are they to be left unstudied, because they have no provenance, and because their publication might add fuel to the looting problem? Do we just abandon the data that they might […]