Thursday, November 25, 2004

FORGERY CRISIS SESSION (S21-134): This session took place on Sunday evening (just after the Enoch fragment presentation, so I made due with an energy bar for dinner). Hershel Shanks chaired. The planning was pretty poor: the session was scheduled for 7:00-8:30 pm, yet four 30-minute papers were scheduled into the slot in the program book. Then Shanks also brought David Noel Freedman to give an unscheduled presentation. Shanks asked everyone, evidently with little warning, to keep their comments down to 20 minutes, which was not entirely successful.

The first speaker was Professor Eric Meyers of Duke University. His main agenda was to present the text of a resolution recently passed by ASOR, the gist of which was that ASOR would support the publication of unprovenanced Iraqi artifacts (may have been limited to cuneiform tablets; I can't remember for sure) given the following conditions: (1) the State Board of Antiquities of Iraq consents; (2) any such artifacts taken outside Iraq will be repatriated by foreign institutions when requested by the Iraqis; and (3) any future ASOR publication of this material must mention that the material is unprovenanced. Although this case is very specific, Meyers held up the basic principles as applicable to unprovenanced and chance finds in general.

The second speaker was Professor Jim Harrell of the University of Toledo, known for being one of the few geologists to challenge the conclusions of the IAA panel regarding the James Ossuary and the Joash Inscription. He presented some recommendations for the technical analysis of such finds. Again, the gist of these was: (1) organize a panel of unpaid experts who are open-minded about the authenticity of the artifact and give them all the evidence; (2) the analytical work should be planned and conducted jointly by these experts, all of whom should be present during the testing; (3) the panel should engage in reciprocal dialogue until they reach a consensus; and (4) the panel should issue a final report that fairly represents the views of all panel members and that, ideally, should be published. He also proposed that "analytical protocols" be set up to industrial testing standards, although he has not persuaded any professional body to do this yet.

The third speaker was Dr. Uzi Dahari, the Deputy Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the chair of the committee that found the James Ossuary and the Joash Inscription to be forgeries. His presentation consisted mostly of a detailed account of the analysis of the patinas of the two inscriptions and the reasons for concluding it was fake in both cases. In addition, he referred to the reports that the police raid of Oded Golan's house (where the two inscriptions were found) led to the discovery of a laboratory where many forgeries were in the process of being made. (You can find the basic information about the patina testing and Oded's laboratory in the transcript of this BBC Horizon program.) He then took Biblical Archaeology Review to task very strongly for publishing these inscriptions for a journalistic scoop. He added that the IAA committee had very much wanted to find the inscriptions to be genuine, but "science is science," and that we should wait for the conclusion of the trial to get the full story.

The fourth speaker was Professor Bezalel Porten of the Hebrew University. He gave a very technical presentation on the onomastic, dating, linguistic, etc. features of a collection of 284 Aramaic Idumean ostraca. The presentation was interesting in itself, but the title was "Why the Unprovenanced Idumean Ostraca Should Be Published," and it wasn't clear to me when the question was answered. Perhaps it was when he said that some of the information was to be found nowhere else but in these documents. That's a fair point, but given the seminar topic, it would have been better to fill it out more and spend less time on the philological details. As it was, the paper would have been better suited to an epigraphy seminar.

Meanwhile, Noel Freedman had finally arrived and was sitting in the front row waiting for his turn. At about 8:45, Shanks got up and asked Porten to finish up. Porten answered that no one else had been asked to stop early (some of them did stop at least a little early of their own accord) and he wasn't going to either. He then continued with his paper. There was increasing murmuring and watch looking at in the audience, and more and more people got up and left. Professor Porten was still reading his paper when I left five or ten minutes later, since I had three receptions to go to, so I didn't get to hear Freedman at all.

This was a very interesting session but the organization of it was very poor: too much was crammed unscheduled or impossibly scheduled into an already tight conference program and both the presenters and the audience were ill served by the scheduling problems.

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