Saturday, March 29, 2003

ON MASADA AND YADIN: The Chronicle of Higher Education reviews Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the Myth of Masada (Prometheus/Humanity Books).

For Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a sociologist who is dean of the faculty of social sciences at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Masada stands as a symbol of national mythology and academic deception -- a case study of how archaeologists can hijack the scientific method for ideological purposes.

In his controversial new book, Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the Myth of Masada (Prometheus/Humanity Books), Mr. Ben-Yehuda accuses Israel's most celebrated archaeologist, the late Yigael Yadin, of professional misconduct in his excavations at the site during the 1960s. After studying transcripts of conversations and documents written during the work and years later, Mr. Ben-Yehuda concludes that Yadin conducted "a scheme of distortion which was aimed at providing Israelis with a spurious historical narrative of heroism."

Many archaeologists, however, reject Mr. Ben-Yehuda's harsh assessment and even accuse him, in turn, of manipulating facts to promote his own agenda. "He twists and distorts things," says Jodi Magness, a professor of early Judaism at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who has excavated at Masada in recent years. "It's very disturbing to me. I can only imagine that Yadin must be rolling in his grave."

The review includes a link to a live online discussion with the author. There's also another review of the book from U.S. News and World Report on the Hebrew University's Sociology Department's web page. I've seen challenges to the attempt to reconcile Josephus' account with the archaeology of Masada, but it sounds as though this book (which I have not read) challenges Yadin's character as well. The specialists quoted in the the reviews seem a lot less happy with the latter than the former.

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