Sunday at the Society of Biblical Literature offered an embarrassment of riches when it came to informative and pertinent lectures. My biggest problem was deciding between equally appealing papers being presented. Before the day was over, I had heard presentations by scholars from America, Italy, Israel, Korea, Great Britain, and Switzerland.
In the morning session I heard updates on archaeological excavations at Kinneret and Megiddo (right, from the expedition website). The latter report was by the inimitable Israel Finkelstein, who directs the expedition with David Ussishkin.
I then switched gears and moved over to a section on Hebrew Bible. There, I heard a delightful reconsideration of the Ehud/Eglon story in Judges 3, and a less helpful reprise of social identity theory as applied to the origin and identity of early Israel.
During the first afternoon session I sat in on the Deuteronomistic History section and heard five lectures on various aspects of the books of Samuel and Kings (non Deutero-philes probably won’t want the details), which was time well spent.
For the late afternoon session, I chose a section dealing with the relationship between archaeology and contemporary media. Most of the lectures took apart docudramas like Simcha Jacobovici’s “The Exodus Decoded” and James Cameron’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.”
Speakers like Duke University’s Eric Meyers decried the abuse of archaeology by poorly informed media folk who fail to do appropriate research and prefer the spectacular to the real. Chris Heard of Pepperdine University talked about how he used his blog Higgaion to thoroughly debunk “The Exodus Decoded.” He pointed out that filmmakers like Jacobovici work by casting doubt on the views of real experts, jumping to conclusions and then using the conclusions to support other views, handling chronology loosely, massaging data to suit their purposes, and using snippets of interviews with knowledgeable archaeologists to make it appear that they agreed with the bogus claims of the films.
Speakers questioned whether real scholars have done an effective job of debunking sensationalist but unfounded “finds” from Israel, and expressed hopes that something like a centralized website can be founded through which real archaeologists can announce finds in a responsible way, and respond to unfounded or poorly interpreted claims from those who write their own rules for “science.”
It can’t come too soon.