Saturday, February 10, 2007

Apologetics Archaeology? Round Two

As many of you read in the comments section on my post, Apologetics Archaeology?, the discussion drew a number of comments that I felt needed a response. I also received a couple of emails on the issue. The topic of Syro-Palestinian archaeology necessarily brings strong opinions to the table, largely (perhaps exclusively?) because it directly involved the origins of sacred texts so many around the world believe to be the embodiment of TRUTH (however one might choose to define that term). I also have strong opinions about the nature of Syro-Palestinian archaeology, although I have never worked there in the field, nor have I worked on assemblages from that area. I would suggest that my interest in the region’s archaeology certainly stems from an academic interest in the human history and prehistory of the region. I find the work being conducted there fascinating from an archaeological standpoint. But my interest is also driven by concern over the nature of archaeological work that is so clearly tied to belief systems and the potential biases introduced by those belief systems. This is not simple idle curiosity on my part. It is itself driven by first hand experience with the public outreach “aftermath” of Syro-Palestinian archaeological projects here in North America. Because of its theological connections, the reach of Syro-Palestinian archaeology is long and the manner in which it is conducted reflects on issues of archaeology and science here in the United States certainly, but also in other areas of the world. I sincerely believe that Syro-Palestinian archaeology is exporting a growing problem that professional archaeologists elsewhere have to confront.

Before attempting to demonstrate this connection, let me dispense with some personal issues. First, I will try to follow Abnormal Interests lead and limit my discussion to those topics of archaeological relevance and not side-step into issues of a more personal nature. Duane has shown much professional decorum in discussions of so-called “biblical archaeology” and his example is one we should emulate. I would further note another calm voice in the discussions that I greatly admire: Christopher Heard at Higgaion (read this post for one of the most lucid discussions of interpretive issues in archaeology that I have read). Second, several individuals communicating to me through email requested that I not quote their emails directly. I will honor this and try to refer to the general issue and not specific arguments made by an individual. I will, however, quote directly from the comments left on the original post. Finally, I was taken to task for calling into question the professional “credentials” of some individuals, specifically Dr. Joe Cathey. Fair enough. It is clear that Dr. Cathey has a Ph.D. from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We’ll leave it at that.

Although I discussed a number of issues in my blog post, apparently the most bothersome to folks was that I called into question the methodological integrity of evangelical Christians conducting archaeological research in the Middle East. That particular post was prompted primarily by my reading of several recent news accounts regarding the current director of the Gezer excavations, Dr. Steven Ortiz and his statements about the nature of archaeology. In his comments, Dr. Cathey seemed to think I had somehow derived my thoughts on the matter solely from Duane at Abnormal Interests and through discussions with Jim West. Dr. West and I have never communicated on this issue and while I was vaguely familiar with one of Duane’s blog posts on the issue, I was not aware of Dr. West’s apparent concerns with the Gezer excavations except as they are alluded to on another of Duane's posts (both West's and Cathey's links from here don't come up anymore). There was some concern expressed, however, that my questioning the integrity of archaeological work conducted at “biblical” sites originates solely with a few blog statements, news articles, or specific conversations with a few individuals. This is most definitely not the case, although each of these collectively adds to my growing apprehension about the reliability of archaeological work in the region, at least as far as it involves sites of biblical importance and is conducted by those with a theological stake in the outcome. Nor is this the first time I have suggested that "biblical" archaeology has a negative impact on the public's perception of archaeology in general or that Evangelical Christian "archaeologists" maybe shouldn't be trusted with archaeology. My issues with Syro-Palestinian archeological integrity have a history that began not only before the “Apologetics Archaeology?” post, but even before I started the Northstate Science blog.

Joe Cathey asked whether I had consulted any Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) staff in making my comments about the Gezer excavations. Let me tell you a little story about my experiences with the IAA and other Syro-Palestinian archaeologists. When several residents from my home town here in Susanville accompanied Carl Baugh and members from the Creation Evidence Museum to excavate at the Pool of Siloam in 2004, the local paper practically wet itself over the opportunity to extol the virtues of Baugh as an archaeologist who was “proving the Bible correct” by his important archaeological work in Jerusalem. But Baugh is not an archaeologist; he has no legitimate degree; he has never written a peer-reviewed article on any of his so-called “field research”; he has faked evidence and been accused of sloppy, if not incompetent, field methodology. However, the paper locally led the rest of us to believe that “Dr.” Baugh was actually directing the excavations at the Pool of Siloam (no mention was made of Dr. Ronnie Reich or Dr. Eli Shukron of the IAA, the actual directors of the Pool of Siloam excavations). The paper also went out of its way to indicate that the IAA “commissioned” Baugh’s group to work at the site. When I questioned this in the paper, I was told that the IAA’s Eli Shukron not only invited Baugh to come excavate, but also “blessed” the group for its participation. I did email an archaeologist in Jerusalem asking for further information, who forwarded my email to an IAA archaeologist (not Shukron). The short story is that although they were both helpful and provided some clarification, neither could confirm or deny the relationship between Baugh and the IAA. My email inquiries to Ronnie Reich on the matter went unanswered. In 2005 I even wrote Hershel Shanks at Biblical Archaeology Review:

Dear Dr. Shanks,

The recent Biblical Archaeology Review on the Siloam Pool was fascinating. Dr. Ronnie Reich and Dr. Eli Shukron certainly have a major discovery on their hands. However, why was credit for the excavation at the Pool not shared with Dr. Carl Baugh and his team from the Creation Evidences Museum in Glen Rose, Texas? According to articles in my local newspaper and recent radio broadcasts by the Southwest Radio Church Ministries in Bethany, Oklahoma Baugh and his team were invited to participate in the excavations and partner with the Israel Antiquities Authority to excavate at the Pool in November 2004 and on some occasions since. Two implications from these reports are clear: 1. that Baugh’s “team” comprises himself and others as professional archaeologists with the credentials necessary to excavate important archaeological sites, and 2. that the Israel Antiquities Authority not only invited, but officially sanctioned them as such.

“Dr.” Carl Baugh has no professional credibility as an archaeologist specifically, nor as a scientist in general. His Ph.D. is not from an accredited university, nor is it quantitative, nor is it in archaeology. He and his museum organization are known to have falsified data, botched excavation of legitimate paleontological resources and misrepresented their credentials. Further, neither he nor any person in his group have published a single research report, article or even short communiqué discussing methods and results, let alone submitting anything for peer-review. As far as I can tell, neither does any member of his group possess any formal training, experience or degrees in archaeology. Yet the local conservative Christian communities here are awe-struck by the idea that their members are granted special access to Holy Land sites, that they are invited to participate in archaeological excavations and scientific research, and more importantly, that they share the same professional stage (and hence earn the same professional respect) with experienced and published archaeologists.

Is the Israeli Antiquities Authority in the habit of legitimizing individuals with no valid archaeological credentials as professional archaeologists? Perhaps more to the point, are they aware this is occurring?...

…That they participated in these excavations is not doubted. However, I suspect that Baugh and others functioned as volunteers rather than esteemed colleagues as they portray. I understand the important use of volunteers for archaeological excavations. We use them frequently for excavating archaeological sites on federal lands. The USDA Forest Service Passport In Time program is wildly successful and the volunteers provide a significant contribution. But I have never had a volunteer return to his or her home town and portray themselves as a co-director of the project!

I understand the emotional attachment people have with Biblical archaeology in particular. However, many of these American conservative Christian groups seem to be participating in order to gain a measure of professional authenticity that they then parade in front of home audiences. Baugh’s group is not the only one. This is a growing issue that needs to be addressed in some official venue. Nor are these simply sour grapes on the part of a Darwinian archaeologist concerned with the broader issues of whether evolution or the Bible is true. As a Forest Service Heritage Program Manager, I am tasked with the same mission as the IAA: to oversee the preservation of archaeological sites on public lands and to ensure professional research is undertaken, by legitimate archaeologists with valid credentials. I would no sooner grant a research permit to Baugh and the Creation Evidences Museum than to a group of kindergarten children. But how am I to respond to “But we were allowed to excavate in Israel, why can’t we do it here?”

I would appreciate your comments on this issue, particularly any additional light you might shed on Baugh’s relationship with the Pool of Siloam excavations.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

To which Shanks replied (indirectly, via a staff member’s email) something to the effect that he didn’t have time for my concerns. Neither the IAA nor any archaeologist directly associated with these issues has ever responded to my inquiries. Perhaps I’ve contacted the wrong people. Perhaps they are too busy to respond. That may be the case, but it does not put me in a position to offer too much “benefit of the doubt”. In the case of my inquiries regarding Baugh’s relationship with the IAA, there are only two conclusions I can draw:

One, Carl Baugh is being typically less than honest in describing the actual relationship between himself and members of the IAA – which is what I actually suspect. However, the very fact that groups like Baugh’s are using IAA connections to gain some kind of professional legitimacy (at least in the eyes of local communities back home) should be of serious concern for the IAA, particularly as it relates to their mission of insuring the integrity of archaeological research and protection of antiquities. They should publicly condemn groups that inappropriately claim their activities are sanctioned by the IAA. At minimum, the IAA should be actively educating the public worldwide that their excavations are directed by those with professional credentials and a professional concern for the integrity of archaeological research…


Two, Carl Baugh is not exaggerating (or downright lying) and the IAA does actually recognize him as a professional archaeologist with professional credentials. If so, then as a professional archaeologist I have serious reservations about the integrity of the IAA and perhaps some of the others conducting archaeological research in that region.

Were this just an isolated case from a small town in northern California I could understand being ignored. But it is a growing issue. As a professional archaeologist I increasingly encounter people who go to the Middle East, participate in an excavation, then come home and wax eloquent on the nature of archeology, how archeology “proves” the bible, and sometimes how they themselves should be considered “archaeologists”. This is an issue I and others have to constantly confront…and correct. It is further an issue for which the IAA and Syro-Palestinian archaeologists need to take some responsibility. Dr. Ortiz and Dr. Cathey are not Carl Baugh or Willie Dye, but their comments regarding the nature of archaeology cause me some concern…and they need to understand that the activities of Baugh and others who would falsely claim a profession in archaeology derived from their experiences in the Middle East, adversely affects their own research: I did not derive my concern for the integrity of archaeological work at Gezer in a vacuum.

I am mollified somewhat by Dr. Sam Wolff’s comments that the Gezer excavations are being conducted within the full neutrality of archaeological methods. I would also point out that he is the first member of the IAA to specifically address a concern and point-blank answer a question. I am grateful to him for that. However, in all honesty, and considering the totality of my experience with the issue thus far, I remain skeptical. I think it is a fair question to ask if religious conviction has a place in scientific research. Is it possible for Christian Syro-Palestinian archaeologists to maintain “methodological naturalism”, at a time when so many of their counterparts in the United States are demanding that scientists abandon that philosophical approach in favor of non-scientific alternatives sympathetic to existing religious expectations?

Dr. Wolff also insists that Dr. Ortiz’s comments regarding “apologetics” archaeology were made in the context of a specific audience. Again, fair enough and I’ll be happy for the moment to take him at his word. Nonetheless, the field is sufficiently charged ideologically and there are enough charlatans floating around that some of us are more inherently suspicious of some motives for engaging in Syro-Palestinian archaeology than we are of archaeological work in other areas. And I believe those concerns to be well grounded. That is all the more reason for Ortiz and others to devote time to establishing their work as legitimate archaeology and distance themselves from “apologetics” archaeology.


KingSolomonsGate said...

I agree with you that "Syro-Palestinian" archaeology must be firmly rooted in the scientific method. Dr Devers rigorous approach at Gezer and elsewhere is a beacon for all to follow. But to call it "Syro-Palestinian" seems like a case of denial. The Bible has dominated and formed western civilization since it began. To call archaeology in that period anything but "Biblical" is pointedly ignoring the obvious. An 800 pound gorilla is still an 800 pound gorillia no matter what name you use. Call it what it is and always will be regardless of its science or its outcome. To do anything else is to ignore the facts of western civilization and undermines your own basic tenant of objectivity, of dealing with reality based on the facts that exist. These digs will always be "Biblical Archaeology", the factual history of western civilization dictates it.

Daniel Pride
Volunteer Excavator
Tel Gezers Solomonic Gate 1971

الايفون said...

you still in the same again and again