Monday, May 03, 2021

Joffe on the Mellaart forgery accusations

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: My Meeting with Mellaart or, Dutch Cigars and the Case of the Missing Wall Paintings. Alex Joffe has a characteristically original take on the late James Mellaart and the accusations of academic fraud associated with him. Excerpt:
But as far as the long Beyk√∂y inscription goes, Zangger and Woudhizen cautiously believed it to be real, but were crestfallen to find no evidence for the inscription’s existence outside of the wildly shifting accounts in Mellaart’s own files. It was, in the words of a former Mellaart student, a specialist in Luwian, “a gigantic fantasy.” At the same time, however, the text itself (known only from Mellaart’s drawings) appears to be so correct linguistically and historically that it might actually be real.

Here the questions are compounded geometrically. How could someone master an especially difficult and obscure extinct language to fake an especially long inscription using correct as well as idiosyncratic grammar, data such as place names, and even phrases that were not yet known to scholars? Did Mellaart take something ‘real’ and then inexplicably fake a backstory? How do we separate the inscription from the man? And if two of the world’s leading specialists think that it might be ‘real’ how are the rest of us to judge? There is no object to verify for market and only the tiniest cadre of specialists who can even evaluate the data. What is real anyway?

"What is real anyway?" may turn out to be the key question of the twenty-first century.

PaleoJudaica posts on the controversy over Mellaart's work are here and here. For more on the Oxford missing-papyri scandal, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, and the (probably mostly fake) post-2002 Dead Sea Scroll-like fragments (all three alluded to in passing in the essay), follow the links.

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