The Research Imperative

B. Porten at Institute of Archaeology Hebrew University Jerusalem

Dr. Bezalel Porten, Emeritus Professor at Hebrew University (Jerusalem) has devoted much of his recent research to a large number of Idumean ostraca said to come from Khirbet el-Kôm. The following brief remarks are taken from his commentary at ASOR Workshop SECONDARY CONTEXT I. His comments centered on the imperative need to study such material, even if the original find-spot is lost. Dr. Porten’s stance challenges publication policies of some scholarly journals.

-Rick Hauser, Research Associate, IIMAS The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies

“There are about 1800 [of these unprovenienced pieces]. . . . [W]e’re grateful to the industrious Arabs who went and found what the archaeologists couldn’t find! They deserve whatever funds they gained in bringing them to the Antiquities Market.”

Interestingly, “‘recent evidence indicates that at least a certain number of these unprovenienced texts come from Maresha, where there are ongoing excavations. In which case, [the appearance on the market of these texts would point to] outright theft.

“’It is, therefore, an open question—‘How did 1900 Aramaic ostraca turn up  without any Greek or Hebrew mixed in, as in other loci at Maresha?’

“’The plot thickens’ “(personal communication, 12 april, 2012).

Dr. Porten continues—

“Are the objects [such as these] that . . . museums have crown jewels that have to be kept under seal and be guarded and rarely be displayed and shown to the public? Because—what is the alternative? The pieces are already ‘out there.’ Are we to put them back in the ground? Are we to keep them buried in the museums in their drawers, never to see the light of day—and to deteriorate?”

Dr. Porten will deliver a new paper at ASOR 2012 in Chicago entitled “Idumean Ostraca: Fakes, Forgeries, Scribal Exercises, and the Real Thing.”

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