Zealotry Rebuked by Academicians


A Change of Biblical Proportions Strikes Mideast Archaeology

Andrew Lawler

Science 10 December 2010:
Vol. 330
no. 6010
pp. 1472-1473
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6010.1472-a

Summary

At a meeting that may signal a shot across the bow to Israeli zealots and American religious fundamentalists, a series of biblical archaeologists came to the podium for 2 hours of data-rich presentations—and put their colleagues on notice that their field is in the midst of a scientific revolution. Biblical archaeology has often been heavy on textual analysis and slow to adopt scientific methods such as radiocarbon dating. Attempts to prove the accuracy of biblical accounts or to legitimize Jewish claims to the region have dogged the field. Now researchers are revolutionizing the region’s archaeology by applying a host of new technologies. The goal of their 5-year, $4 million effort, funded by the European Research Council, is to overcome the “strong ideological agenda” pervading the field.

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By “strong ideological agenda pervading the field,” the American Schools of Oriental Research is referring presumably not only to literalist tendencies of American Protestant religious dogmas but to the official Israeli political policies that have hamstrung archeological and genetic research in the region for over fifty years. Israel is the only country in the world to separate history departments at its academic institutions into those of national (meaning Jewish) history and world or European history. In our opinion it is high time for Israeli science to give up these paranoid and hidebound practices — or at least get out of the way and let the rest of the world go about its legitimate business of investigating the past.

department of jewish history

Marquee from website of the Department of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University stresses long continuity of the subject from ancient times to the present. The department states that courses offered “begin with the biblical era, three thousand years ago, when Jewish nationality and culture were created in the world of ancient Near East.” Some would say Jewish nationality was not created until the advent of Zionism, however, in the nineteenth century, or the foundation of the State of Israel in 1949.

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