Newsflash from Jerusalem: Pot Calls Kettle Black

A truly pitiful example of the ideologically inspired and financed archaeological work in the “City of David.”  Is this a battle for “science” or just envy in not being allowed to claim the credit for another “this land really belongs to us” claim.  

Jeremiah’s Pit would have been another fine addition to the bogus Mazar corpus.  See, for example, blog report from Feb. 22, 2010.

Of course with Mazar or without her, this biblical chimera could still become a tourist attraction and a rationale for expropriation.   When will this government-approved misuse of archaeology stop?

Dr. Eilat Mazar expounding to the press, Feb. 2010

From Haaretz October 11, 2001

Top archaeologist decries Jerusalem dig as unscientific ‘tourist gimmick’

Dr. Eilat Mazar, who worked in close cooperation with the group – which promotes the ‘Judaization’ of East Jerusalem – says excavations carried out in violation of accepted procedures.

By Nir Hasson

An archaeologist who worked with the Elad association in Jerusalem’s City of David claims that the association and the Antiquities Authority are carrying out excavations “without any commitment to scientific archaeological work.”

Dr. Eilat Mazar – a Hebrew University archaeologist who worked in close cooperation with Elad over past years, and who is considered one of the most productive researchers in Jerusalem and in the City of David area in particular – has castigated Elad for the excavation of a large subterranean pit, called “Jeremiah’s Pit,” at the entrance to the City of David visitors’ center complex.

In a sharply worded letter she sent 10 days ago to Prof. Ronny Reich, chairman of the Archaeological Council, Mazar demanded an urgent discussion of the excavations, which she says are being carried out in violation of accepted procedures.

Mazar’s claims against Elad are being leveled at a crucial time as a proposed law to privatize public parks is being considered. If approved, the bill will enable Elad, a private association which excavates, maintains and conducts tours of the City of David, to maintain control of the historic site – situated in the predominantly Arab village of Silwan, adjacent to the Old City.

“To my astonishment I discovered that for over a year Elad, together with the Antiquities Authority, has been secretly planning a tourism gimmick called the ‘Jeremiah’s Pit Project,” writes Mazar in her letter, noting that the excavation is only two meters away from the excavation area that she directed between 2005 and 2008. She says that she wanted to continue digging in the present area, but was prevented from doing so “for logistical reasons, since north of the site the Antiquities Authority permitted Elad to build a special events hall,” and because of the area’s proximity to a residential building and a road.

Mazar claims that the excavation in the area of the pit contravenes several accepted practices in archaeology, among them, the digging up of an unusually small area of a mere “two squares,” or 10 square meters, which makes it difficult to analyze the findings in relation to the overall area. An excavation of this size, claims Mazar, is made only in situations where there is no other choice.

Mazar is also critical of the diggers’ intention to destroy the wall of the pit, which has not been properly investigated. She also notes that the dig “interferes with the nearby excavations,” which will undermine her ability to complete the research in the area. She claims that it is not acceptable to transfer an area being excavated by one archaeologist to another one, without the former’s consent.

Mazar raised these complaints to the director of the Jerusalem area in the Antiquities Authority, Dr. Yuval Baruch. He conveyed them to Antiquities Authority director Shuka Dorfman, who in turn rejected the complaints and approved the continuation of the excavation.

Antiquities Authority personnel said yesterday that Mazar, who asked to excavate the site and was turned down, received the status of a consultant to the excavation, but she wasn’t satisfied with that and turned to the council. An official reply from the Antiquities Authority said that “the excavation is a rescue dig for the purpose of tourism and the development of the national park. Near the site several archaeological excavations have been conducted, including that of Dr. Mazar. It seems that Dr. Mazar is trying to appropriate the site to herself and we regret that.”

Elad officials explained that it is not the association, but the Antiquities Authority that decides which archaeologist will conduct an excavation. Elad also claims that for several years Mazar has been aware of the project, which was designed to enable groups of tourists to visit the pit, and that she even promised not challenge it.

Attorney Boaz Fiel, representing Elad, noted in a letter that Mazar had signed a contract with the association, to the effect that she would not have “any claim or complaint against Elad regarding future excavations.” “In light of this clear and specific promise, how can we explain your present claim regarding any rights, as incomprehensible as they may be, to continue excavating at the site?” wrote Fiel.

The lawyer added:”It is hard to avoid the impression that your letter is nothing but an attempt to stop legitimate and vital work being carried out by our client, for reasons of ego and credit only, camouflaged as pseudo-professional complaints.” Fiel threatened to take legal steps against Mazar.

In the weekend newspapers Elad published large ads inviting the public to tour the new subterranean route that it has opened near the Western Wall complex. The ads were signed by the new public council of the association, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.

*  *  *

City of David excavations. Slippery indeed. From BiblePlaces.com Blog

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

Modern Druidism: What’s Continuity Got To Do With It?

Well I suppose this makes it clear that historical/archaeological authenticity and uninterrupted continuity are no longer preconditions for civil recognition of cultural traditions.  It was probably inevitable that cultural belief systems only need to be “historically themed” to be meaningful.    

The danger is, of course, our growing inability to distinguish (or even to care if there is a difference between) historical reality and historical fantasy.  I’m sure that many think that The Lord of the Rings is as old as Beowulf… And what exactly does the lead sentence “Druids have been worshipping the sun and earth for thousands of years in Europe” in the following article mean?     

From the AP Oct 3, 2010:    

Druids recognized as religion for first time in UK

By SYLVIA HUI    

LONDON — Druids have been worshipping the sun and earth for thousands of years in Europe, but now they can say they’re practicing an officially recognized religion.    

 The ancient pagan tradition best known for gatherings at Stonehenge every summer solstice has been formally classed as a religion under charity law for the first time in Britain, the national charity regulator said Saturday. That means Druids can receive exemptions from taxes on donations — and now have the same status as such mainstream religions as the Church of England.    

The move gives an old practice new validity, said Phil Ryder, the chairman of the 350-member Druid Network.    

“It will go a long way to make Druidry a lot more accessible,” he said.    

Druids have practiced for thousands of years in Britain and in Celtic societies elsewhere in Europe. They worship natural forces such as thunder and the sun, and spirits they believe arise from places such as mountains and rivers. They do not worship a single god or creator, but seek to cultivate a sacred relationship with the natural world.    

FILE - This Tuesday Aug. 10, 1999 photo from files shows Arch Druid Ed Prynn as he calls down the sun during his sun dance around a ring of stones, in St. Merryn, England. The druid dance is to celebrate the total eclipse of the sun, which is due in this part of southwest England on August 11. Druidry has been officially recognized as a religion in Britain under charity law. The Charity Commission has granted the Druid Network charitable status, giving it tax breaks and equal status to mainstream religions like Christianity. The commission said Saturday that druidry has a coherent and serious set of beliefs and that it offers a beneficial ethical framework. (AP Photo/Dave Caulkin, File)

 

Although many see them as robed, mysterious people who gather every summer solstice at Stonehenge — which predates the Druids — believers say modern Druidry is chiefly concerned with helping practitioners connect with nature and themselves through rituals, dancing and singing at stone circles and other sites throughout the country believed to be “sacred.”    

Ancient Druids were known to be religious leaders, judges and sages among the Celts during pre-Christian times, although little evidence about their lives survived. There are now various Druid orders and about 10,000 practitioners in Britain — and believers said the numbers are growing because more people are becoming aware of the importance to preserve the environment.    

The Druid Network fought for nearly five years to be recognized under the semi-governmental Charity Commission, which requires proof of cohesive and serious belief in a supreme entity and a moral framework.    

After initially rejecting the Druid Network’s application, the Charity Commission decided this week that Druidry fit the bill.    

“There is sufficient belief in a supreme being or entity to constitute a religion for the purposes of charity law,” the commission said.    

Adrian Rooke, a Druid who works as a counselor, said Druidry appeals to people who are turning away from monotheistic religions but still long for an aspect of spirituality in their lives.    

“It uplifts the spirit,” he said. “The world is running out of resources, and in that context it’s more important to people now to formulate a relationship with nature.”

So Cut the Baby in Half Already!

Everyone knows the story of King Solomon’s Judgment of the Two Mothers who both claimed the same baby.  Knowing that the true mother would prefer to give up the infant rather than see it harmed, he awarded its custody to the woman who did not want to see the baby cut in half.

Philip Roth, in his brilliantly hilarious novelized biography of King David, God Knows, has a slightly different take on the incident.  Picturing King David as a Mel-Brooks-type wisecracking old cynic, and his son Solomon as nothing more than a self-centered dummy pushed ahead in life by a doting mother, Roth has David quip about that famous Solomonic ruling:

“I’ll let you in on a secret about my son Solomon:  he was dead serious when he proposed cutting the baby in half, that putz.  I swear to God.  That dumb son of a bitch was trying to be fair, not shrewd…”

And so it also seems to be in cultural heritage, where cutting the baby in half is the preferred means of settling disputes between conflicting narratives.  First it was the idea of the Israeli-Palestinian Working Group that partitioning archaeological sites according to territorial distribution would aid, not hinder, the effort for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  ( see my op-ed and theirs)

Well that proposal was a non-starter.  The cultural heritage tail could never wag the diplomatic and military dog.  Besides, the possession of or sovereignty over old heaps of stones makes absolutely no impression on people who don’t accept the owner’s narrative.    

And in the world of heritage today,  it’s all about narrative, not possession.  It’s a shame that we have inherited laws and concepts that make heritage (read: collective memory) just another national resource, subject to exclusive claims of sovereignty and the victim of total control by state authorities.

Of course there need to be some centralized professional bodies to deal with issues of protection and conservation, but the idea that a heritage site belongs legally and exclusively to any one state, group, body, or pressure group is asking for trouble– and as much as inviting counter-narratives and continuing strife.

If you don’t believe me, check out this other, similar cultural heritage trainwreck about to happen:

From the New York Times September 30, 2010

Indian Court Divides Disputed Ayodhya Holy Site

by Jim Yardley

NEW DELHI — In a case that spanned centuries of religious history and languished in the legal system for six decades, an Indian court issued a historic ruling Thursday on the ownership of the country’s most disputed religious site by effectively handing down a split decision: granting part of the land to Hindus and another part to Muslims.

The unorthodox decision by a three-judge panel in the state of Uttar Pradesh provided a Solomonic resolution — if one likely to be appealed to India’s Supreme Court — to a case the authorities had feared might unleash religious violence across India.

Nearly 200,000 state and federal officers were deployed across Uttar Pradesh as a precaution, as almost every major political figure in the nation, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, appealed for calm and harmony.

The case was considered especially combustible because the contested site, in the city of Ayodhya, was the scene of a searing act of religious violence in 1992 when Hindu extremists tore down an ancient mosque known as the Babri Masjid on the property. The destruction sparked riots that spilled into the following year and have been blamed for about 2,000 deaths.

For full article, click here.

From Al-Jazeera TV:

John the Baptist Update: Minister Warns F**king Archaeologists to Shut Up

From the Sofia News Agency:   

Bulgarian Archaeology Scandal Grows as Minister Declines to Apologize

August 9, 2010, Monday   

Bulgarian Diaspora Minister Dimitrov (left) has made headlines with his statements after the discovery of the alleged relics of St. John the Baptist. Photo by BGNES

 

Bulgaria’s Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov has made it clear he has no intention of apologizing for a recent statement made after the discovery of St. John the Baptist relics in Sozopol that many archaeologists deemed insulting.   

“Why, damn it, why, where is all this envy coming from?! This is what I cannot find an explanation with this fucking people, with these fucking colleagues,” the Diaspora Minister and a former Director of the Bulgarian National History Museum, said last week when expressing his indignation that some of the Bulgarian archaeologists had declared the media sensation over the finding of the relics of St. John the Baptist premature.   

Later last week he explained he did not mean to insult the Bulgarian people or the Bulgarian archaeologists as a whole but that his words referred to “a group of people calling themselves archaeologists.“   

“I am condemning several archaeologists, who had made anonymous statements in the press, and who did not express doubt but, rather, envy and hate for their colleague. I was just defending out colleague Popkonstantinov,” Minister Dimitrov stated last Friday.   

His further pejorative statements about the culture of Ancient Thrace contributed to renewing his conflict with leading Bulgarian archaeologist, Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov.   

Prof. Totko Stoyanov, head of the Bulgarian Archaeologists’ Association, also expressed indignation over Dimitrov’s comments.   

“I have no intention of apologizing to anyone,” the Diaspora Minister told bTV on Monday explaining once again that the Bulgarian word for “fucking” or “damned” that he used did not actually have a pejorative connotation…   

For full story, click here.   

For background, see post of August 19   

Does China Make Ramadan Any Less Real?

Ramadan Lamps. Photo by Al Tompkins at http://egyptal.wordpress.com/

 

It’s a paradox of our time that even as intangible traditions, religious ritual, and ethnic identification become more vivid– as statements of resistance to global cultural homogenization– the material objects with which those identities are expressed can be made almost anywhere in the world.    

Does that fact make the counter-identities part of globalization?  Or is globalization an unwitting facilitator of ever more rigid national and ethnic identities?    

Thanks to Nigel Hetherington in Cairo for pointing out the following news story:  

from BBC News 20 August 2010   

Egypt’s lantern-makers threatened by imports from China

By Yolande Knell  

Brightly-coloured lanterns are strung across Egyptian streets and lighting up homes and offices as part of celebrations for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.  

The lantern – or fanoos – is an enduring symbol of the festivities and dates back more than 800 years.  

[…]  

But in recent years, cheap, plastic lanterns and lantern-themed toys imported from China have become more popular with Egyptian children.  

Most run on batteries. Some move or light up and play tinny musical tunes.  

“Everything is from China,” says Um Duwai, who sells the modern lanterns. She grins as she points out this year’s best-sellers.  

“There is one shaped like a mosque with lights and these ones which look like Hassan Shehata [the Egyptian football coach] and [the football player] Abu Treika. He is most popular.”  

“Our bride doll is also beautiful,” she adds. “And we have Inspector Columbo from the TV. We were asking for it this year. Every year the Chinese make something new.”  

[…]  

While the Chinese goods are fun, they have many critics who fear they could lead to the demise of a long-cherished, local tradition.  

“The traditional lanterns are threatened by Chinese lanterns,” says journalist Ahmed el-Dereiny who has studied the history.  

*   *   * 

For complete story, with the energetic reaction of local Cairene lantern makers, click here.

Poor John the Baptist

Beheaded back then.  Exploited again.  This is a classic modern heritage/pilgrimage tale. Which will die first– Bulgaria’s optimistic economic projections, the credibility of Bulgarian archaeology, or poor John the Baptist’s dignity?  
 

From the Wall Street Journal August 13  

Bulgaria Looks to John the Baptist to Resurrect Flagging Economy

Archeological Find Promises Fame, Tourists; Questions Remain Over Relics’ Authenticity

By Joe Parkinson  

SOZOPOL, Bulgaria—Archaeologists and clerics here say they have unearthed bones belonging to John the Baptist, an itinerant preacher revered by many Christians as the last of the Old Testament prophets.  

Bulgaria’s government is looking to the discovery for salvation—of a financial sort.  

The remains, including a skull fragment and a tooth, were uncovered last month during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. They were in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John’s name and his birth date.  

Officials of this recession-scarred country think the purported relics will give a big boost to tourism, drawing believers from neighboring Orthodox Christian countries to this nearby resort town,  

Tens of millions of dollars have already been earmarked to prepare for an anticipated surge in visitors. Construction crews are enlarging the port and building a big new parking lot. Tour guides are being rewritten and new signs are going up to direct people to the relics.  

“I’m not religious but these relics are in the premier league,” says Simeon Djankov, Bulgaria’s finance minister and an avowed atheist. “The revenue potential for Bulgaria is clear.”  

Bulgaria’s Orthodox church hierarchy has declared that the bones are authentic. “This is a holy find. It doesn’t matter about the science,” says Metropolitan Bishop Joanikii of Sliven, who oversees church affairs in Sozopol. “The holy relics of St. John radiate miraculous force. I cannot explain it by using words.”  

Kazimir Popkonstantinov, the archaeologist responsible for the finding in Sozopol and now hailed as a national hero, insists his discovery is in the same league as the Shroud of Turin. “This kind of discovery happens perhaps once every two hundred years,” he says. “We have very strong proof that this is genuine. I know this is very important for the whole Christian world.”  

Some experts, however, are skeptical about the origin of the bones—as well as their earnings potential. Michael Hesemann, a religious historian who helps the Vatican date relics, says the bone fragments “appear to be authentic.” But he thinks they lack the “box-office draw” of better-known religious attractions such as the Shroud, which believers say is Christ’s burial cloth.  

To read the entire article, click here and be sure to look at the slideshow.  

Update of Aug 3 post.