Sunday, February 08, 2004

PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGIST JOE ZIAS, who has been mentioned here frequently, has published a piece on the Bible and Interpretation website which very strongly criticizes two articles in a recent issue of Dead Sea Discoveries:

"Qumran Archaeology: More Grave Errors"

He takes up the archaeology of the cemetery, the analysis of the excavated skeletons and the mysterious zinc coffin (he takes it to be modern), and various reports in the press, and he's not happy with what he finds. Excerpt from his conclusion:
The excavators have presented here a deliberately biased and distorted picture, raising questions about funding, institutional support, media, and the scientific value of the whole excavating process. Perhaps the time has come for those in the profession to show their peers C-14 dates, scientific data, pottery analysis, and other relevant scientific data in order to remove any suspicion of manipulating the data for personal gain. By doing so, there would be less misconduct and those unwilling to produce such data would in and of themselves cause suspicion.

John the Baptist complete with a skull, James the Brother of Jesus, The Teacher of Righteousness, Bedouin women, Bedouin men -- all of which was bandied about and appeared in the media depending on which co-director was addressing the press begs the question: is this archaeology? Entertaining, headline-grabbing, perhaps so, but scientifically questionable, deliberately misleading, irresponsible, and lacking any creditability.[29] Reading the report and the numerous articles in the media raises serious questions of scientific impropriety and misconduct by many, though not all, of those involved in funding and the excavation process itself.

Those Essenes who lived, struggled, and died in Qumran some 2,000 years earlier as well as the world of Qumran studies certainly deserve something better than what has been presented in their excavation report.

THE DSD articles are from issue 9.2 (2002) and are available online but require a personal or institutional paid subscription. (I'm at home and my access authorization is tied to my office computer, so I can't see them myself at the moment.) Here are the links:

Hanan Eshel; Magen Broshi; Richard Freund; Brian Schultz

Susan Guise Sheridan

Well, no one can accuse the Bible and Interpretation website of avoiding controversy! Needless to say, these charges are very serious, and the whole thing makes me rather sad, because I know most of the people on both sides and consider them my friends. I'm not an archaeologist and I am not qualified to take sides on this one. But I'm sure Mark Elliott and his fellow editors will give the DSD article authors space to respond and that we have not heard the last of this.

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