Thursday, July 26, 2012

Battling For The One True History Of Israel

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating article on several new archaeological finds in Israel. There is serious scholarship addressing these finds and reasonable scientists have different opinions on the significance of ruins and artifacts, particularly on the correspondence of archaeological finds and biblical stories. On the other hand there is some apprehension that these findings are being used by some to push forward a nationalistic version of the history of Israel.

The wild card and one that may be having a damaging impact on the field of archaeology is the recent interest shown by cable TV and film producers:

In the old days, scholars could spend years excavating a site, and then more years, perhaps decades, marshaling material and publishing their conclusions.

In recent years, a new hunger for publicity and acclaim has changed all that. As the cost of excavations and scholarship has risen, archaeologists have turned to private sponsors and commercial organizations to underwrite their expeditions. Publicity has become a key tool for raising money. With the proliferation of cable TV, channels like National Geographic and Discovery, and then independent film producers, were able to provide huge injections of cash in return for exclusive access and production rights to the most camera-friendly expeditions. After such heavy investment, the producers expect discoveries that would create headlines and attract large audiences.

In the past decade, a steady stream of spectacular discoveries linked to well-known biblical stories has come from a mixture of outright charlatans, religious foundations, highly regarded mainstream archaeologists, and even the Israel Antiquities Authority, an official government agency that oversees all archaeological work in Israel. Some of the announcements read like a modern-day search for holy relics.

Suddenly, every archaeologist is being compared with Indiana Jones, and filmed in what appear to be similar settings.

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