Wednesday, November 02, 2005

SO YESTERDAY I spent the day driving to the Edinburgh airport, picking my family up from a holiday, bringing them home, and getting them settled in. Plus teaching a Hebrew class. So what happens while I'm away? The Israeli government arrests Hanan Eshel.
Police arrest archaeologist suspected of ancient relic trade
By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondent

An archaeologist was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of locating and purchasing an ancient document from antiquities thieves.

Professor Hanan Eshel, of Bar-Ilan University, is suspected of purchasing pieces of a Leviticus scroll from the Bar Kokhba period (132-135 CE) from three West Bank Bedouin for $3,000. The three Bedouin allegedly showed the document first to a doctoral student of Eshel, Roi Porat. Porat, who was also questioned yesterday, allegedly called in Eshel, who subsequently made the purchase. Eshel and Porat were released with limitations after questioning.


Apparently the charges are failing to inform the IAA of the purchase within 15 days and also "illegal excavation." A longer Hebrew version of the article is here, but be forewarned: the page gave my Firefox browser the Evil Rotating Beach Ball screen freeze.

For more on the Leviticus scroll fragments in question, see here.

There are further details in this Jerusalem Post article:
Police probe leading archeologist

In a bizarre case, the former head of the archeology department at Bar-Ilan University is under investigation for illicitly trading in antiquities valued at $1 million, police said Tuesday.

Regarding the charges, it says:
After purchasing the scroll, he [Eshel] said he had it photographed at a police lab, a claim police deny.

"I bought the scroll to give it to the State of Israel and, instead of thanking me, they are accusing me of trying to steal it, which is nonsense," he said.

Eshel maintained he reported the find to the Antiquities Authority a few months after it was shown to him, but that the authority did nothing about it.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby, however, said that Eshel hid both the discovery of the Bar Kochba-era scroll in a Judean Desert cave and his purchase of it.

The Antiquities Authority, subsequently lodged a complaint with the police, which opened an investigation, Ben-Ruby said.

During questioning, Eshel reportedly told the police he did not report the find to the Antiquities Authority because he was afraid that "they would steal the credit," Ben-Ruby said.

Prof. Aren Maeir, current head of Bar-Ilan's Land of Israel studies and archeology department, accused the Antiquities Authority and police of blowing the case "completely out of proportion."

There's been some discussion on the ANE List. Joseph I. Lauer has bee especially good at digging up references.

It's really too soon to know what all this means or how it will play out. I have the highest regard for Hanan Eshel as a scholar and a friend and I can't imagine him deliberately breaking any antiquities laws. I believe there has been controversy on whether he should have dealt with the looters at all, though. That is a difficult question.

Stay tuned.

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