When Will They Ever Learn?

Regarding the recent “early-books-of-Christianity-discovered-by-a-bedouin-scam” reported here and elsewhere over the past week or so, information provided by Jim Davila’s always sensible and reliable Paleojudaica.com should put the whole thing to bed once and for all.

Ah, the Daily Mail. UFOs, celebrity gossip, and the earliest texts of Christianity. Photo: David Elkington/Rex Features (whatever that is)

Philip Davies should know better.

Margaret Baker should get her head out of the clouds.

The Director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, Ziad Al-Saad, should investigate an unprovenanced  discovery on the antiquities market more thoroughly before he makes muscular official statements to the press about “treasures” and make claims for repatriation.

And David Elkington, whoever you are, should never try to pull a stunt like this again.

Advertisements

Breaking News: Emergency Authenticity Alert

In light of the still-thriving biblical forgery industry in Israel, encouraged and in fact cheer-led by the Biblical Archaeology Review, by antiquities dealers and collectors, tourism promoters, and religious fundamentalists of various stripes, the sirens went off and the red lights started twirling today when the news of this latest discovery broke:

From BBC.com 29 March 2011

Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics

By Robert Pigott

BBC News religious affairs correspondent

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.

Greatest archaeological find of all time? Photo: David Elkington

A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.

A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.

That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin.

The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims they have been in his family for 100 years.

Jordan says it will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.

Incredible claims

The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.

“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

They seem almost incredible claims – so what is the evidence?

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.

“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”

Location clues

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.

“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

“It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.

Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin.

“We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found,” she says.

“[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity.”

The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.

Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated.

It appears with the image of the menorah and reads “I shall walk uprightly”, a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.

While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection.

It is by no means certain that all of the artefacts in the collection are from the same period.

But tests by metallurgists on the badly corroded lead suggest that the books were not made recently.

The archaeology of early Christianity is particularly sparse.

Little is known of the movement after Jesus’ crucifixion until the letters of Paul several decades later, and they illuminate the westward spread of Christianity outside the Jewish world.

Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the early Christian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.

*   *   *

Despite the earnestly naive testimonials of the “dumbstruck” biblical scholars, and the breathless prose of the BBC’s “religious affairs correspondent,” one should ask:

1.)  Where were these “books” found and who are the shadowy bedouin who found them?  (Corny Dead Sea Scrolls trope, which is itself suspect)

2.)  Through which (dealers’) hands did this discovery pass in the “several years” since their discovery?

3.)  How much money is involved in Jordanian antiquities director Ziad al-Saad’s assertion (apparently) that Jordan will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.

4.)  Who exactly is David Elkington?

5.)  Who are the “metallurgists” and what tests did they perform to prove that the artifacts were “not recently made”

6.)  Have any of the above heard the story of the famous discovery at the Hill Cumorah?

Two words for any well-meaning person or organization asked to contribute to this effort:

CAVEAT EMPTOR

How’s the Museum Security Plan Coming Along?

Jordan Archaeological Museum, Amman

From the Washington Post 1 February 2011

Jordan’s king fires Cabinet amid protests

by Jamal Halaby

Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s King Abdullah II fired his government Tuesday in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-prime minister to form a new Cabinet, ordering him to launch immediate political reforms.

The dismissal follows several large protests across Jordan- inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt – calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms.

A Royal Palace statement said Abdullah accepted Rifai’s resignation tendered earlier Tuesday.

The king named Marouf al-Bakhit as his prime minister-designate, instructing him to “undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernization and development in Jordan,” the palace statement said.

[…]

The king also stressed that economic reform was a “necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won’t be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making.”

He asked al-Bakhit for a “comprehensive assessment … to correct the mistakes of the past.” He did not elaborate. The statement said Abdullah also demanded an “immediate revision” of laws governing politics and public freedoms.

For full story, click here.

Archaeology and the Criminal In Us

As we watch the events unfold in Cairo, as the flames rise from the NDP Headquarters, there are fears that the Cairo Museum would/will be damaged or destroyed.  Wild rumors of human chains protecting the museum from looters mirror the equally emotional cries (mostly by archaeologists) of the barbaric looting of the Baghdad Museum.

Antiquities are seen as an unalloyed good, the property of all humanity, above politics.  But are they just the fetishes of the powerful, tokens and illustrations of a narrative that separates the haves from the have-nots?

The fact is that the administration of antiquities in Egypt has been part and parcel of an arrogant and capricious regime. Past folds into Present in an insidious way.

Billboard at the entrance to Luxor Photo: Brian McMorrow

The monuments and relics of Ancient Egypt have not been administered for the good of the Egyptian people but have been mercilessly exploited as an economic cash cow for foreign tourism and have served as the propaganda icons of a historical narrative (of a “timeless” Egyptian essence) that has been used in so many ways to justify the autocratic centralization of the Sadat-Mubarak regime.

What we are seeing now in the streets of Cairo and other cities give lie to the idea of inevitable pharaonism and peasant docility.  It may not last. Who knows?  But it reveals, at least for a brief moment, the empty assertions of the official narrative.

And that brings us to archaeology.  The cowardly sycophants who have groveled for excavation permits, humiliatingly deferred to the uninformed press conferences of government functionaries about their own discoveries, and who have obsequiously pandered to the strange ravings and “mummy chasings” of a powerful man who tried his best to turn Egyptology into a bizarre kind of unlettered, unreflective entertainment should take time to reflect on how much they supported the regime that is now frantically trying to save itself.

It is interesting how so much of the behavior of colonial and neo-colonial archaeologists and the finds that are often so wildly acclaimed and displayed around the world are themselves evidence of exploitation, tyranny, and privilege wrested from the long-suffering people of Egypt.  It’s true not only of Egypt, but so many of the places where “expeditions” uncover the physical remains of what will inevitably become a retrospectively self-congratulatory narrative of power by and for those who are now powerful.

W.H. Auden put it best in the coda to his last poem, Archaeology, written in 1974, not long after a visit to digs of ruined fortifications, burnt tyrants’ palaces, and “national” museums filled with their selfishly gathered treasures throughout the Middle East:

From Archaeology

one moral, at least, may be drawn,

to wit, that all

our school text-books lie.

What they call History

is nothing to vaunt of,

being made, as it is,

by the criminal in us:

goodness is timeless.

And as if to underline the point that fine art archaeology has been fully implicated in the dark side of human civilization, just look at the news report of this new exhibition in Berlin, where the brutality of collection, exhibition, and its destruction are all deemed marginal factors– far less important than the main achievement of the precious artifacts being brought back to wholeness again:

From the Art News  – Saturday January 29, 2011

Statues Devastated in World War II Go on Show at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

By Geir Moulson, Associated Press

BERLIN (AP)- The ancient gods and fantastical creatures going on show in Berlin this week have made an unlikely comeback from near-destruction.

Unearthed in present-day Syria a century ago, the 3,000-year-old basalt statues and stone reliefs in the exhibition, “The Tell Halaf Adventure,” shattered into thousands of pieces when their Berlin home was destroyed by bombing in 1943.

Fragments and a partial reconstructed sculpture are on display at the exhibition 'The Tell Halaf Adventure' at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. The exhibition shows roughly 3,000-year old statues that have been pieced together over the past decade from fragments left behind when Berlin's Tell Halaf Museum was bombed in 1943. After the wartime bombing, the rubble was salvaged and stored for decades in the Pergamon Museum's cellars. Restorers sifted through some 27,000 fragments to restore the sculptures. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber.

The rubble was rescued, then slumbered in the vaults of the capital’s Pergamon Museum, then in East Berlin, for decades before a painstaking restoration project started in 2001.

Over the past decade, restorers sifted through around 27,000 fragments of rubble and gradually reassembled most of them.

About 40 resurrected figures — including a pair of lions that once bared their teeth at the entrance of a palace at Tell Halaf in northeastern Syria, a sphinx and a long-tressed female figure from a monumental grave — go on show to the public at the Pergamon Museum on Friday.

“No one could have imagined several years ago that this exhibition would be possible,” Michael Eissenhauer, the director of Berlin’s state museums, said Thursday. “Tell Halaf had been forgotten. It was thought to be certain that the pieces which disappeared in 1943 were irretrievably lost.”

German archaeologist Max von Oppenheim led excavations at the Tell Halaf site between 1911 and 1913. He first put the figures on display in Berlin in 1930, at a private museum in a former iron foundry that was destroyed during the war.

Oppenheim arranged for the rubble to be salvaged and stored in hopes of one day recreating the statues — but it would be decades after his death in 1946 before that dream was realized.

During Germany’s postwar division, the rubble lay across the Cold War divide from the collection’s owner, the Max von Oppenheim Foundation. Only in the 1990s, after German reunification, did officials start examining whether the statues might be restored.

The foundation helped fund the several-million-euro cost of the restoration.

For the full story, click here.

Counting Down to 100 Years of “Scientific Study”

Artifacts from Machu Picchu on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum (AP photo, 2006)

From NY Times Arts Beat Blog November 3, 2010

Peru Seeks Obama’s Help in Dispute With Yale

By Randy Kennedy

Escalating a war of words between his government and Yale University, President Alan García of Peru has made a formal request for President Obama’s intervention in a long-running dispute over the ownership of a large group of artifacts excavated in 1912 at Machu Picchu by a Yale explorer.

Peru has argued that the items were only lent to the university and should have been returned long ago. Yale has contended that it returned all borrowed objects in the 1920s, retaining only those to which it had full title. In 2007 the sides reached a tentative agreement that would have set up a long-term collaboration and granted title of the disputed antiquities to Peru while allowing a certain number, including the piece above, to remain at Yale for study and display. But that deal fell apart in 2008, and Peru filed a civil suit in federal court in Connecticut.

Last month Peru said it was also prepared to pursue criminal charges against Yale if the items were not returned. In his letter to the White House on Tuesday Mr. García said it was only “just and necessary” for President Obama to step in. In a statement after the threat of criminal sanctions, Yale said that while it respected “Peru’s interests in archaeological material from Machu Picchu,” it also owed “a duty to academic and cultural institutions everywhere to recognize their important contributions to the study and understanding of all the world’s cultures.”

*   *   *

Do the following projects really justify the right of Yale University to keep physical possession of the Machu Picchu finds?

(From a Yale University Press Release)

“Currently underway at Yale are a number of important scholarly studies of the Machu Picchu materials that promise to reveal more about Inca life and culture. Many of these studies involve newly developed scientific techniques and equipment, including the following:

  • A study of the metals from Machu Picchu using a scanning electron microprobe.
  • A study of the production patterns of Machu Picchu pottery using instrumental neutron activations analysis, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
  • A definitive monograph on the ceramics from the Inca burials at Machu Picchu, which will appear in Yale University Publications in Anthropology
  • A study of the DNA of the human bones in the collection that will shed light on the origins of the population at Machu Picchu as well as the biological relationships among the individuals who were buried there.
  • A study of the thoracic skeletal morphology of Machu Picchu and high-altitude hypoxia in Andean prehistory.
  • A study of the servant class of Machu Picchu, with a focus on their life stories and population dynamics, through an isotope study of human teeth.

“Keeping a portion of the study collections at the Yale Peabody Museum will ensure the continuation of this and similar research, and the applications of new analytical techniques to the collection as these are developed.”

 Um… does that mean, like, forever???

Antiques Roadshow Infection Alert

This semester, in our “Heritage Narratives” seminar, we have been looking at all the different ways that heritage stories are told:  Novels, Films, Documentaries, News Stories, School Essay Contests, Genealogies (and the genealogical TV shows and websites), guided tours, computer games, and social networking sites.  And we examine the strikingly similar tropes, symbols, and storylines that lay behind each of these genres.

But certainly the wackiest heritage narrative is the “Dream of Riches”– that ever-popular televised genre perfected by the Antiques Roadshow, in which the guest character discovers if his/her antique is treasure or trash.  All that blah, blah, blah about provenance, historical background, and craftsmanship is just a prelude to the electric moment when the monetary value of the object is revealed:

What became clear in our discussions (not only of Antiques Roadshow, but also art auctions, antiques flea markets, and E-bay) is that the repeated enactment of the “Dreams of Riches” scenario is really a public ritual of the industrial age:  in which the “use” or “sentimental” value of a piece of heritage is replaced by its market value.  And that market value, that monetary commodification, trumps everything.

It’s certainly something to think about not only on the individual level, but also at the level of communities and states.  How often has an old neglected part of the landscape be seen with new eyes as a potential tourist attraction?  Is the World Heritage List process just another form of the Antiques Roadshow?

It’s also a sign of a stage of globalization when markets and commodification begin to penetrate and disintegrate other exchange systems and human networks.  My thanks to exchange student Wen Hui for pointing out the following article:

From The Independent:

China’s antique lovers turn to TV for education

Relaxnews

Thursday, 1 April 2010

China has in the past few years begun to buy back the antiques and art works that have for centuries been spread all over the world, and at the same time the country’s new generation of collectors is learning how to recognize exactly what is real and what is not.

And much of that newfound knowledge has come thanks to a series of television shows which lift the lid on the nation’s antique industry.

China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage claims there were 70 million antique collectors in the country in 2005 – but there are around 90 million now. And that increased interest has seen TV programmers acting fast.

China’s state-run station CCTV launched the country’s first show to deal directly with the antique industry – Artwork Investment – in 2001 but the country’s media has this week reported there are now 50 such programs screening across the nation.

The top-rated Xun Bao – or “Treasure Hunt” – airs weekly on CCTV-2 and claims 27 million viewers per episode.

That show features a team of experts searching for treasures in far-flung corners of China. They then explain how to identify what the piece is, when it was made – and what it might be worth.

Another top-rated show takes a different tact.

Tian Xia Shou Cang – or “World Collection” – often gets collectors to bring their antiques in to the studio for appraisal. If they are found to be fakes, down comes a hammer to smash the offending piece to smithereens.

And the show’s host, actor Wang Gang, makes no apologies. “This is done so the fakes never reappear on the market,” he told the China Daily newspaper.

The common theme among the shows’ producers is that they are helping protect Chinese culture. And Chinese collectors are doing the same….

For full article, click here.