Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My Chat with Hershel

A few weeks ago, Hershel Shanks called me up. Our discussion was both cordial and frank, as one might say of a summit between Bush and Chirac. I didn't take notes, but some of the highlights, as I remember them:

His call, as it turns out, was prompted by the post "The Latest News from Hershel Shanks." He began the conversation saying that he had read the post on my blog criticizing him. ME: A post criticizing you? Which one? HS: You mean there's more than one? ME: Actually, there are quite a few.

He asked why I didn't just send a letter to the editor at BAR. I told him that these days I would rather blog than write a letter to the editor.

If you've been reading "Ralph," then you know my differences with Hershel. I would like to see certain changes in Biblical Archaeology Review, and I would like to see — at least — unprovenanced artifacts treated with suspicion instead of good will, not just in BAR, but throughout the guild. Hershel told me I didn't live in the real world, that these items would continue to be discussed, and the field could only benefit by full discussion and complete openness of debate.

I responded that unprovenanced artifacts would always have a cloud over them, and that this cloud would prevent the unfettered use of epigraphic material we all find interesting. I want to see Biblical archaeology placed on a sound footing, not undermined by the antiquities market and by forgers.

Hershel said that people have a right to know, and that interesting discoveries can't be kept a secret. The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a case in point. I said that scholars should not be in the business of providing authentication of artifacts for the benefit of collectors; epigraphs appearing on the antiquities market should not be for sale, and unprovenanced epigraphs, after having been handed over to the authorities, should be examined by experts before being published. Hershel says that such rules will just drive the market underground.

Hershel accused me of thinking that he was "immoral ... a bad guy." I said I preferred to use the words "unwise" or "incautious" or "overeager." (And I don't think I've ever said on "Ralph" or elsewhere that Hershel is personally a bad guy, which he certainly is not.)

More was said, which I can't now recall with exactness; if memory serves, among other things, Hershel said or implied that the looting of antiquities would not stop until the Israeli-Palestinian problem was solved; that the banned antiquities trade in Egypt continued to flourish underground; and that Kyle McCarter thinks the Ivory Pomegranate is authentic. I declined to discuss the Pomegranate further until a full report comes out; I'm a philologist, not a paleographic expert.

We ended by agreeing that such discussions as we had on the phone were good, and wishing that others could have overheard. He encouraged me to blog on our conversation, which I am now doing. I didn't change his mind, he didn't change mine.

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