Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Forgery Indictments

Biblioblogdom is buzzing with the news of the forgery indictments of Oded Golan and four others (I previously blogged on this issue here).

I was surprised to see that Robert Deutsch was indicted as a co-conspirator. I have always considered his work as somewhat professional, although scarcely within the bounds of propriety, since he has made a reputation by gullibly and imprudently publishing many unprovenanced artifacts. Whether he is actually a propagator of fraud or a victimized scholarly pawn will presumably appear in due course. My guess, or hope, is that he is a pawn. But no matter what, it appears that his career in scholarship is irreversibly tainted. Very sad.

This picture shows Robert Deutsch with Frank Moore Cross.

UPDATE: Further on Robert Deutsch: The following quotations come from the article "Magnificent Obsession: The Private World of an Antiquities Collector" in Biblical Archaeological Review, May/June 1996:
[Deutsch] is devoting his life now to publishing epigraphic finds in private collections, something few field archaeologists would do. Deutsch doesn’t care, however, whether the artifacts he is publishing are looted or not—although he suggests that many if not most were discovered by chance rather than in an illegal excavation. In either case, he is willing to publish them. “To ignore items just because they weren’t found in an excavation run by a university is crazy,” he says. Even if it’s looted? I ask. “I don’t mind. If I found the Bible illegally excavated, I would publish it. The fact is that some important finds do not come from controlled excavations. So what do you want to do with them? Nothing?”
Wandering through Jerusalem’s Old City after the Six-Day War, Deutsch remembers seeing all the Arab antiquities dealers—all very legal. Finally, in 1980, Deutsch decided to open up an antiquities shop of his own in colorful Old Jaffa, in south Tel Aviv. He would buy in Jerusalem and sell in Tel Aviv. Eventually, he decided to become an archaeologist and epigrapher, taking courses at Hebrew University and enrolling as a student in Tel Aviv’s Institute of Archaeology. He has participated in a number of digs and will shortly receive his master’s degree. After that, he intends to pursue a Ph.D. Several of his teachers regard him highly.
Deutsch himself isn’t worried [about publishing items acquired by looting]. “I don’t have this problem. My name is soiled already because I am an antiquities dealer. Even though I am licensed by the Antiquities Authority, it doesn’t matter. My name is soiled. So I cannot soil it more. Everything I am doing now can only add to my name.”
Some of the inscriptions first published by Deutsch include the bulla with the name of King Ahaz on it, the Moussaieff Ostraca, and many bronze Phoenician arrowheads hailed with enthusiasm by scholars as reputable as P. Kyle McCarter. In fact, of all the 50 or so inscribed Phoenician arrowheads so far published, only one has been discovered in a controlled excavation; many of the rest, acquired on the illegal antiquities market, were first published by Deutsch.

The implications of these indictments, especially if followed by convictions, are enormous. It is not an overstatement to say that biblical archaeology may require a generation of disciplined, rigorous re-examination of all unprovenanced epigraphic material in order to be regarded again as a scientific discipline.

UPDATE II: Jim Davila has a good follow-up on the story of the indictments; Jim West also has found an interesting article. Seth Sanders has good observations and quite properly points us to the work of Christopher Rollston. I note that when I point my browser to Robert Deutsch's website, all the content has been erased. Is it just me?


Jim said...

Thanks for posting the photo. I was trying to picture him in my mind and had not a clue.

Jim said...

Ed, Deutsch's webpage opened fine for me. Perhaps it was just a momentary glitch. Or perhaps "signs of things to come". ;-)