Biblical Archaeology Review 30:5, September/October 2004

Controversy: Academic Debate Crosses the Line

Leading Israeli Archaeologist Charged with Zionist Bias

By Hershel Shanks

Biblical Archaeology Review

We all take pride in our for bears and in our traditions. Proud to be Irish. Or proud to be Jewish.

Or proud to be Israeli.

I have long puzzled about the propriety of this pride among archaeologists. Is it wrong—or bad—for an archaeologist to be proud of his tradition—Jew or Christian? The answer is obviously no when the question is put that way. It is not even wrong or bad for people to become an archaeologist because they want to illuminate these traditions. That interest may even determine the site an archaeologist decides to dig. Interest in a particular culture may lead one archaeologist to excavate a Mayan site, another an ancient church or monastery and a third an Iron Age site in Jordan rather than in Israel. Nothing wrong in that.

But when does this interest lead to bias? Will archaeological interpretation be guided by devotion to the tradition rather than a disinterested evaluation of the data?

Most readers of this magazine became interested in archaeology because of their interest in the Bible. I daresay many, if not most, archaeologists digging in Israel, as well as non-Muslim archaeologists digging in Jordan, became archaeologists because of an interest in the Bible.

Of course, other traditions fuel interest in particular aspects of archaeology. Most Muslims digging in Jordan are proud of their country and want to express that pride by illuminating its past. The same is true of many Israeli archaeologists: Their interest is fueled not so much by a religious interest as by a national interest, in every way parallel to the Jordanian interest in Jordan.

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