Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Latest "News" From Hershel Shanks

Hershel Shanks is still apparently unwilling to engage in any serious self-criticism or even enter into any serious dialogue on the subject of the recent forgery scandals. In the most recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (May/June 2005) he mugs, rants, denounces, criticizes, and mocks — but he does not seriously discuss any of the issues that have been recently raised about the scandal and the role of his magazine.

On p. 46 appears a misleading article entitled "Israeli Prosecutor Repudiates IAA Report on Forgery." This is based on what Shanks sees as a discrepancy between the IAA report on the ossuary and the wording of the forgery indictment — not, as the headline would imply, a new statement by the prosecutor rejecting the work of the IAA. Shanks notes that the forgery indictment claims that only the words "brother of Jesus" on the ossuary were forged, while, he believes, the IAA report claims that the entire inscription was forged. Shanks trumpets this as an "irreconcilable conflict."
There is not a word in the voluminous IAA report even remotely suggesting that the first part of the inscription is authentic, as the indictment now admits.
So, Hershel, have you actually read the IAA report? Then you might remember these words by Esther Eshel:

B.... The inscription itself exhibits variations in handwriting, thickness and depth of the incised letters when comparing the words “James son of Joseph” to the words “brother of Jesus”. ...
C. There is a significant difference between handwritings in the first and second parts of the inscription. The first part is written in the formal style of a scribe and the second part is cursive. The letters bet and kuf in the first part are characteristic writing of a scribe, and the second, cursive part has a characteristic alef.
In summary, the different handwritings of the two parts indicate that the inscription is not authentic, although the original ossuary may possibly have contained the first part of the inscription, the second part was added later.
In short, Shanks's article is advocacy journalism gone bad: misleading, sloppy, and inaccurate.

Also in the recent BAR is a wholly unwarranted piece (p. 49) ponderously mocking the recent contribution of Andy Vaughn and Carolyn Dobler in the March SBL Forum. For one thing, Shanks does not give a complete URL for the article, so that readers of BAR will not be able to read it for themselves. (It is here.) For another thing, Shanks does not deal in any way with the gravamen of the Vaughn-Dobler piece, which is the statistical analysis of the seals and the implication that the antiquities market has provided many forged items. In this article, as in all of his recent writings on the scandal, Shanks is not dealing seriously with any of the issues; he is just playing to the gallery and hoping no one will call him to account.

I might blog about a few of Shanks's other remarks in future posts. In closing, though, let me just note that in the SBL Forum in which Vaughn and Dobler's essay appeared, there was another essay dealing solely with Shanks's own contribution to the problem (written, as it happens, by me). Although he must have read it, he does not mention the article at all in BAR. Is he afraid his readers will find it? Would he rather attack others than defend himself? Stay tuned.

1 comment:

G.M. Grena said...

Though many years have elapsed, today I published an online article to "deal ... with the gravamen of the Vaughn-Dobler piece". And yes, the authors & Mr. Shanks are aware of it. I would be very interested in hearing your opinion of it, if you become so inclined.