Using Inscriptions from the Antiquities Market: Polarized Positions and Pragmatic Proposals

By: Christopher A. Rollston

Archaeological sites in the Middle East have been ransacked, pillaged, and plundered for many decades. The motivations of the actual pillaging are normally economic: the pursuit of marketable artifacts. That is, the pillagers wish to find objects that can be sold to collectors. Of course, the motivations of the collectors who purchase these pillaged antiquities range from the desire to possess a piece of ancient history to having putative proof for a cherished belief. Among the artifacts most prized by collectors are ancient inscriptions.

Think briefly about scientific archaeological excavations. Complete pots and potsherds are carefully collected, catalogued, documented, and analyzed, while broken pots are often restored. Organic materials are meticulously bagged and tagged and sent to be carbon dated. Animal bones and seeds are studied to learn about animal husbandry, agriculture, and ancient diets. Grinding stones, needles, and pins are photographed and studied carefully to shed light on aspects of daily life. Metal objects are sent to laboratories for scientific analyses. Stone tools such as arrowheads are sent to specialists for analysis. And inscriptions are sent to epigraphers to be read and analyzed. The result is that knowledge is gained about ancient languages and dialects, and about ancient social structures, and religious practices and ideas. The final result is that scientific excavations yield an enormous amount of information about the ebb and flow of ancient lives. Continue reading

The Dilemma of Denial: Scholarly Publication Policies and the Illusion of Power

By: Jonathan Rosenbaum
President Emeritus, Gratz College

For generations, academic journals have been deemed the appropriate venue for the initial publication of ancient inscriptions and artifacts. Nevertheless, last fall, the New York Times became the source of an editio princeps when it announced the discovery of a “faded papyrus fragment” that seemed to be “first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of [his] wife.” The Times reporter had not gained access to the fragment through a dogged effort of investigative journalism or a lucky find on the black market. Rather, Karen L. King, a prolific scholar of early Christianity at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS), had shared the discovery in an interview with the Times, the Boston Globe, and Harvard Magazine. Prof. King provocatively described the fragment as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.”

Popular media immediately presented a panoply of opinions by respected papyrologists, Coptic linguists, Christian theologians, and laypeople. The Vatican weighed in with both an editorial and an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the former declaring the papyrus a fake and the latter by Coptic scholar, Alberto Camplani, expressing a more guarded opinion based upon the lack of provenance. Continue reading

Archaeology Weekly Roundup! 3-29-13

news-climbing-pyramidAn Internet sensation was touched off this week by Russian photographer Vadim Makhorov and a group of his friends — the group ignored regulations prohibiting the public from climbing on the Pyramids at Giza, Egypt, and came away with spectacular photos.

Bones which some believe could be those of Alfred the Great have been exhumed from an unmarked grave in Winchester to protect them from the enthusiasm of seekers for lost kings inflamed by reports of the rediscovery of the remains of Richard III in Leicester.

Archaeologists in Germany have done experiments on freshwater fish and found that they return C-14 dates hundreds to thousands of years older than the fish, leading to many possible problems in archaeological dating. Continue reading

More than Just Airfare: ASOR’s Good Investment

I am helping clean what seemed a possible differentiation in the color of a plastered mud-brick wall.

By: Mehrnoush Soroush, 2012 Heritage Fellow

In the summer of 2012, I received an ASOR fellowship to join a field project in central Turkey, in the region of Cappadocia. Elsewhere, I described my immense happiness about receiving the fellowship and the invaluable experiences I gained in the field. Here, I would like to write about the significance of the ASOR summer fellowship for my professional career and the reasons I hope ASOR can sustain its support of students in the future through the generous donations of its supporters.

Like everybody else, I guess, I spent the fellowship to pay for my flight and ground transportation. As a general rule, the majority of field projects in the Near East provide basic accommodation and food, when you get there. But, finding financial support to pay for your flight is a big challenge for students. Field directors cannot spend the limited resources they have paying for inexperienced beginners. Several other available funding resources are given only to those who are advanced in their research and can develop a coherent research plan of their own. I applied for the ASOR summer fellowship because it supports beginners like me, with limited options, and enables them to take their first steps into the field. Continue reading

The Relationship of Egypt and its Vassals as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets

Zhihui_YuanBy: Yuan Zhihui, Tianjin Normal University, China, Noble Group Fellow

During my four-and-a-half month fellowship at the Albright, my research project focused on “The Relationship of Egypt and its Vassals as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets.” The aim of the project was to reveal the diplomatic system between Egypt and its vassal states in Canaan. My study draws upon the Amarna Letters, the most important document of the Late Bronze Age, as well as archaeological material from the Near East in order to explore the political and economic relationship between Egypt and these states in Canaan during this period. My research concentrated on  the political, economic and ideological relations between Egypt and its vassal states in Canaan; and two models were employed — the core-periphery approach and the prestige-power theory. Continue reading

Thomas Verenna: History’s ‘The Bible’ in Broader Contexts

By: Thomas Verenna

This entry is reblogged from The Musings of Thomas Verenna. You can find the original entry here and his other posts on The Bible series here.


In lieu of writing a much longer piece for an online journal, I have thought it useful to open up some to a conversation concerning the History Channel’s ‘The Bible’. Recently lots has been made about the inaccuracies of the miniseries, as well as Glenn Beck’s (racist?) comments about how similar is their Satan character to “that guy”. But not much has been said in its defense.

This is problematic; while there are inaccuracies, I am not sure that it diminishes from the quality or historical contexts that are present. Before Jim West gets flustered (don’t hate me Jim), let me explain my meaning.

As students of the past, there is one constant fact to all of our ancient literature that I’m sure many of my readers will already know: they contain elements of what some would call ‘truth’ (in a philosophical or theological sense), elements of cultural memory/social memory (historical or otherwise), and lots more mythological constructs–fictions, to be blunt about it. In the Gospels, this is probably the most clear-cut. We have four canonical Gospels and dozens of noncanonical Gospels, some contain similar elements between each other (Matthew and Luke contain something like 90% of Mark’s Gospel with their own additional, unique content). Continue reading

A Lasting Impact on My Head and Heart

Heather excavating a hippo jar

By: Heather Pillette, Asbury Seminary, 2012 Heritage Fellow

It was a huge honor and great blessing to be one of the recipients of the Heritage Fellowship last year.  I journeyed to the beautiful northern Beth-Shean Valley of Israel to participate in the final dig of a beloved tel: Tel Rehov.  It was an incredible journey and experience, one which would not have been possible without the Heritage Fellowship.

Tel Rehov was my first on-site experience in the field of archeology, and as a result I know it will not be my last!  Rehov has yielded great finds in its seasons of excavation: pottery vessels, seals, inscriptions, figurines and cult stands, the famous apiary, and Carbon 14 data from burnt grain.  This site has significantly contributed to many ongoing conversations and debates.  Finds like these, and experiences like mine, would not be possible without scholarships such as the Heritage Fellowship. Continue reading

The Origins of the Early States in China and Israel: Through A Comparative Study

By: Xinhui Luo, Beijing Normal University, China, Noble Group Fellow

During my fellowship at the Albright, my main project was entitled “Ideology of the Early State: East and West.” The goal of this project was to examine the ideologies of the early states in Mesopotamia and in China, and to find the similarities and the differences between the two.

The first step was to compare the ideology reflected by royal images. I collected relevant materials on the image of the kings of the Western Zhou Dynasty (ca 1046 BC-771 BC), and compared them with the image of Gudea, the ruler of the state of Lagash in Southern Mesopotamia (ca. 2144-2124BC). Continue reading

Wil Gafney: History Channel’s Satan and President Obama

By: Wil Gafney, Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

This entry is reblogged from Dr. Wil Gafney’s blog. You can find the original entry here and Dr. Gafney’s other posts on The Bible series here.


Many viewers of the History Channel’s Bible mini-series saw and see a resemblance between the character of Satan and President Barack Obama. Comparison photos such as the one above are circulating on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. The History Channel denies any resemblance and any attempt to pattern the character after the President.

Whether one sees a resemblance or not, the History Channel has produced a biblical epic with virtually no actors from contemporary corollaries of biblical lands, so the North African (Moroccan) actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouzaani is highly visible as Satan in a production where the Israelites are portrayed by white actors. I have previously addressed the use of race in the series here and here and here. The History Channel is responsible for what it broadcasts just as the producers, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, and their casting agents are responsible for the product they produce. Continue reading

Mark Goodacre: The Bible Series — Drama and Historical Context

By: Mark Goodacre, Associate Professor of Religion at Duke University

This entry is reblogged from NT Blog. You can find the original entry here and Dr. Goodacre’s other posts on The Bible series here.


March 21, 2013

While I realize that the only thing people seem to want to talk about at the moment in connection with The Bible Series is the alleged resemblance between a still of Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni and President Obama, I will risk talking about several other features of the most recent installment of the drama, which was broadcast in Sunday evening on History Channel.  Here is a recap of the episode (courtesy of the History Channel website):

One of the aspects that I appreciate in the New Testament episodes of The Bible series is the attention paid to historical context.  One of the challenges for film-makers on this kind of project is to provide some explanation of the historical context without weighing the narrative down with turgid exposition. I talked about this a little in relation to BBC’s The Passion in 2008 in a piece that also found its way onto the DVD, “The Passion” and Its Historical Context. Continue reading

Archaeology Students, the Academic Artists

Justin with Abdel Assez Farouk, Head Kuft and Reis on site.

By: Justin Yoo, 2011 Platt Fellow

I once heard it said about artists, that they essentially go through life as ‘beggars.’ Even when they are employed, they are always looking for their next job and meal. Sometimes as a graduate student in archaeology, I feel we students can relate to this notion.  We are beholden to the goodwill and munificence of universities, professors, the government, and family—and my own experience is that they all have helped finance, in some way fund, the essential education and training required to follow an academic dream that most would call nothing more than a fool’s errand. Continue reading

Archaeology Weekly Roundup! 3-22-13

news_EgyptianwallEgyptian blue, the world’s oldest artificial pigment, could be put to a range of modern uses from medical imaging devices to remote controls for televisions, newly-published research says.

Research by Hendrik Bruins suggests people in the Negev highlands practiced agriculture as long ago as 5000 B.C.E. This is thousands of years earlier than researchers previously thought.

Stone tools unearthed at a Brazilian rock-shelter may date to as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery has contributed to the debate about whether ancient people reached the Americas long before the famed Clovis hunters 13,000 years ago. Continue reading

A Quadcopter over Tel Dan

By: Thomas Beyl, 2012 Heritage Fellow

This past summer I had the great honor of receiving an ASOR Heritage Fellowship, which allowed me to pursue my dream of using a remote controlled aircraft to do aerial photography on an excavation. In the fall of 2011 I was invited by Dr. David Ilan to return to Tel Dan as an area supervisor for the 2012 dig season. Unlike previous years, there were no funds available to cover housing or food expenses, which also meant I could not afford to do aerial photography. For the past six years I have flown and built several different RC aircraft but had yet to complete an aircraft that could be easily transported and used on excavations. So I applied for an ASOR Heritage Fellowship, and was initially informed that I was not chosen as an awardee. Continue reading

The Image of Suffering Women in the Book of Lamentations and Nanjing Holocaust Literature: A Cross-Textual Reading

Zhe LiBy: Zhe Li, University of Illinois at Ubana-Champaign, Noble Group Fellow

The aim of my research was to decentralize a male-gendered interpretation tradition of Lamentations 3, and to reinterpret the neglected image of “Daughter Zion” (בת־ציון) in Lamentations 1 and 2 in the sense of human suffering. Meanwhile, reexamining the counterpart image of suffering women through the lens of Nanjing Holocaust literature also helps to demonstrate how these different types of texts transform the unique voices and experiences of women into the memories of human disasters. Continue reading

A Monumental Surprise in Turkey

Johnson_DylanBy: Dylan Johnson, 2012 Heritage Fellow

ASOR’s Heritage Fellowship afforded me, along with many other students with an interest in Near Eastern archaeology, the opportunity to participate in archaeological excavations throughout the Near East. This past summer, I worked at Tell Taʾyinat, a small site in the southwestern province of Hatay, Turkey, close to the Syrian border. Continue reading

Chinese and Western Cultural Exchange in Archaeology: A Focus on Glassware

Geng_ShuoBy: Shuo Geng, Peking University, China, Noble Group Fellow

My project at the Albright Institute during the academic year, 2011-2012 was entitled “Chinese and Western Cultural Exchange in Archaeology:Focusing on Western Glassware Found in China from the First Century B.C. to the Sixth Century A.D.”  It was during this period that China initiated wide-ranging cultural contacts with the western world, resulting in large numbers of western artifacts being found in China at sites and in tombs, such as gold, silver, and glass ware, as well as pottery, brass objects, textiles, seals, and coins, etc. with glassware being one of the most important of these finds. Previous research on glass-ware has achieved significant results. Studies by Chinese scholars, however, have generally lacked in-depth research on the primary data of Western ancient glassware. Continue reading

Support Archaeology Students

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Plate 121, Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Haven’t given to ASOR’s March Fellowship Madness yet? We are giving away a copy of The Photographs of the American Palestine Exploration Society (AASOR v. 66) by Rachel Hallote, Felicity Cobbing, and Jeffrey Spurr to one of the donors to our fellowship fundraising drive!

Here’s a chance to support a good cause and get something in return! The book includes over 150 never-before published photographs of sites in the Middle East (including sites in Jerusalem, Jerash, and Baalbek) taken in 1875.

March Fellowship Madness is seeking to raise enough funding to allow us to award a record number of excavation fellowships this summer. These fellowships go to deserving students to defray the costs of excavating in the Near East, often meaning the difference between joining a field project or staying home! We are appealing to you for a gift of at least $25 to support this effort, and all money raised for March Fellowship Madness will go directly to supporting fellowships. Go here to give now. Donations are tax-deductible. Continue reading

Fulfilling my Dream

Johnson_KristenBy: Kristen Johnson, 2012 Heritage Fellow

As someone who has spent a large portion of their adult life studying the intricacies of the Hebrew Bible narrative, subscribing to Biblical Archaeology Review, and learning ancient dead languages like Biblical Hebrew, getting the opportunity to experience my studies tangibly in their natural habitat of Israel through an archaeological dig was always a dream. I had considered funding a dig on my own but after an expensive college and in the midst of a master’s program there was no choice but to devote my summers to the hard work of money making. However since I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from ASOR I was able to justify spending my summer fulfilling my dream of learning about archaeology and exploring my studies firsthand in Israel. Continue reading

A Wonderful Season

A Hopkins 6

Amanda and other excavators in the cave entrance

By: Amanda Hopkins, 2012 Heritage Fellow

I received financial assistance as a Heritage Fellowship recipient which helped me to purchase my plane ticket. In addition to this practical benefit, I was able to share my experiences through the ASOR blog. Now, as I reflect upon my earlier posts (First, Second, Third, and Last) I have various markers that show me how understanding is a journey of perspective. For example, when we were originally given permission to excavate the cave we imagined that it could be a wine cellar.  Now we realize that the depth and shape of the cave best lends itself to being a reservoir or cistern. Continue reading

ASOR Heritage Fellowship: Helping Students Achieve Their Aspirations

Boonstra_Steph

With some of the new friends while in Wadi Rum

By: Stephanie Boonstra, 2012 Heritage Fellow

Returning to Khirbat al-Mudayna as a square supervisor this past summer was a life-changing experience for me.  I was awarded the Heritage Fellowship thanks to the generous donors of ASOR, which allowed me to revisit the ancient Kingdom of Moab to supervise and excavate under the direction of Dr. P.M. Michèle Daviau. Continue reading