ON SHOPPING FOR ARTIFACTS IN THE HOLY LAND: A RESPONSE TO MORAG M. KERSEL

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G.M. Grena
The LMLK Research Website, founder/editor
shop@lmlk.com

Foreword

In comments to Dr. Kersel’s article (Buyer Beware: Shopping for Artifacts in the Holy Land), I expressed disappointment over the undocumented, arbitrary nature of her claims, which amount to an opinion based on hearsay, and contribute little if anything towards scientific knowledge. Herewith, I will present a well-documented firsthand account of my own experience in shopping for artifacts over the past decade in an effort to balance the discussion.

(more…)

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18 Comments for : ON SHOPPING FOR ARTIFACTS IN THE HOLY LAND: A RESPONSE TO MORAG M. KERSEL
    • Jim
    • April 9, 2012
    Reply

    is it fair to say that you have a vested interest in the antiquities trade or are you completely and thoroughly unconnected to it? that is, do you sell, or trade 'antiquities' which you have bought? because if you do it only stands to reason that your motives may be suspect due to the potential for financial gain.

    • Aren Maeir
    • April 9, 2012
    Reply

    Just for the record – the jug that the supposed expert ("Harry Philipps, Official Expert on Arts and Antiquities for the Office of the Prime Minister" – who the @#$% is he?) claims as being a late Iron Age Israelite jug from Lachish, is, based on what I can see from the very poor picture, an Iron Age IIA jug of the "Late Philistine Decorated Ware" (aka "Ashdod Ware"), most often reported from sites in Philistia (such as Tell es-Safi/Gath, Ashdod, and even now, at Kh. Qeiyafa). Leaving aside the ethical issues and the issues related to the destruction of the archaeological record by illicit excavations which are fueled by this market, this is another example of the problems with buying unprovenanced antiquities, "authenticated" by "experts" – and then telling a supposed story which may be very far from the truth…

    • Owen
    • April 9, 2012
    Reply

    George, I think there are some issues with your post, but my main problem is in the second paragraph of your summary. Wouldn't you want to know if jeans you were buying were made in an illegal sweatshop or produce being picked by migrant workers being paid cents a day? Is it better to be oblivious to these issues and assume that everything is fine? Essentially this is what you are doing with antiquities. It seems as if you are choosing to ignore obvious problems and assuming that the authority of the IAA or antiquities dealers (?) absolves you of any do diligence.

    Also it should be noted that until you read Morag's scholarly material (books/articles) "unsubstantiated" and "folklore" comes across as at the very least uninformed, if not insulting.

    • Owen
    • April 9, 2012
    Reply

    I'm not sure if this is the place for this but here is my first hand account of looting in Jordan while I was an ACOR fellow this previous summer:

    http://ochesnut.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/looting-

    • Ian
    • April 9, 2012
    Reply

    In response to note 20, it's actually standard practice for social scientists (and especially anthropologists) to respect their informants' right to anonymity, to the point that this is enshrined in Section 1 of the AAA Statement on Ethics (among other codes of ethics). You can disagree with this in principle, but it's disingenuous to imply that Morag Kersel's adherence to disciplinary ethical standards is unethical.

  1. Reply

    First, I want to thank MY HERO, Dr. Andrew Vaughn for allowing me the opportunity to publish my admittedly non-ASOR-ish opinions above, & to Kevin Cooney for the online presentation. You guys rock!!!

    Dr. Maeir, my friend, were Safi, Ashdod, & Qeiyafa excavated & properly published while David Ben-Gurion was the Prime Minister? Let's just agree that if you could travel back to 1962 with what you know NOW about "Late Philistine Decorated Ware", I'm confident Ben-Gurion would've chosen you for that Office instead of Philipps! And please note that 40 Megabytes' worth of images of this jug are available upon request if your E-mail Inbox is feeling lonely! Let's agree to compare the "very poor" quality of my amateur hi-res color photo on this blog after I've had an opportunity to absorb the professionally published Plates vol. of "Tell Es-Safi/Gath I: The 1996-2005 Seasons" (forthcoming Summer 2012; currently being delayed while Prime Minister Ben-Gurion reviews it in Heaven)!

    Owen, my friend, the only way I would know whether any of my clothes were being made in an illegal sweatshop would be to visit the factory, & study the laws governing wherever that is. But then I wouldn't have time to do likewise for the food I buy, or the vehicle I travel in, or the utilities I buy. I hardly have time to type this response to you, & you expect me to perform all those other tasks each day of my life? Oy veh! But I'll make a deal with you: Get rid of all the "@#$%"-ing bureaucrats currently in government offices around the world, & I'll partner up with you to form a new government that governs according to God's righteous standards, as recorded in the Holy Bible. And thanks for having the courage to report the looters you encountered. Why on Earth you would defend Dr. Kersel's behavior is beyond me.

    Jim, my … uh, sorry, lost my train of thought … Oh yes, endnote #3 answers your question. Thank you for taking the time to read these blogs before you rush to the "Leave a Reply" section. Thanks also for not suspecting my motives. Zwingli would be so proud of you.

    • Ryan
    • April 9, 2012
    Reply

    "But alas, for reasons I don’t fully understand, but which I probably could have prevented, a few years ago it suddenly crumbled into worthless dust! […] By shopping for artifacts from the Holy Land, I have utilized my God-given talents to preserve historical treasures" – seems to be a bit of a contradiction, there.

    • Morag Kersel
    • April 10, 2012
    Reply

    Dear Mr. Grena,

    The work I do is not hearsay but accepted anthropological and criminological (among other disciplines) practice. My methodology and research have all been vetted and approved by the ethics review boards of the various institution with which I have been associated. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want copies of any of my articles on my research.

    Morag

  2. Reply

    Ian, thank you for the AAA reference (for the convenience of others, it's at http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/ethstmnt.htm). I disagree with you: It's not disingenuous to state that anyone who adheres to an unethical standard is unethical. If AAA's 1c ("informant's right to welfare, dignity and privacy") applies to criminals (i.e., looters & dealers who knowingly support them), then it's unethical, & should be discarded. Not being an anthropologist, I believe the intent of their policy was to protect law-abiding informants, & that Dr. Kersel & those who sponsored & encouraged her were wrong.

    Ryan, I agree with you: I am to blame for the loss of this one particular artifact, which I believe was genuine (of course, anyone who believes it was a forgery should be delighted & thank me). As with all my personal faults, I'm ashamed; but rather than quit living & dwindle away in despair over this mistake, I take it to Calvary, accept God's forgiveness, learn from it, & continue doing the best I can in other matters. For a detailed explanation, see Romans 7-8. 1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given. (Also note that I own hundreds of collectibles that have been adequately maintained, & utilized for educational purposes, cultural enrichment, & scientific research.)

    Dr. Kersel, I hope you had a wonderful weekend, & I was happy to see your messages. Dr. Rollston expressed concern over the "tenor" of my remarks. I'm passionate about this subject. I hope you understand that from my perspective, I disagree with what you've done, therefore I feel obligated to challenge you. Thank you for explaining that you do not work undercover. Of course, you are under no obligation to explain anything to me, but if you'd like to help me understand your work (& maybe others may learn from our public conversation as well), then I'd be glad to hear your clarifications.

    1) Please explain how your reporting of what people told you is not hearsay if you guaranteed their anonymity. If you have a group of people who vouch for your integrity, it's still simply you reporting what somebody told you. We know that sites have been looted, so merely stating that you interviewed people who loot sites contributes nothing to our knowledge if the specific facts cannot be independently verified (though they might make for a scintillating blog post or university lecture).

    2) Do you believe it is ethical to not report a crime that you've witnessed, as long as you're being paid to simply research the crime, or (to paraphrase from the Jarus report) as long as the anthropologists "next door" don't report crimes they witness either?

    Feel free to send me any documentation that contradicts the report by Owen Jarus on Heritage-Key (apparently based on a 2010 Toronto lecture you gave).

    • Lynn Dodd
    • April 16, 2012
    Reply

    I am one of the editors this month of the ASOR blog. I am glad that the interchanges here provided ASOR blog readers an opportunity to become better acquainted with the perspectives of an ASOR member who owns and personally collects artifacts that apparently were purchased through legal channels in accord with the antiquities laws of the State of Israel.

    I am doubly pleased that a researcher managed to document– through a study conducted in a responsible manner and in accord with professional standards of institutional and peer review– certain features of the systematic looting of the cultural heritage of Israel. This problem afflicts not only the West Bank and Gaza but also those areas under the purview of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

    Whatever one may think about the loss of context implied in collections of artifacts that are sold without documented provenience, the practice of purchasing ancient objects remains legal in Israel if the artifact was in a collection prior to 1978 and if the dealer is state-licensed and if the IAA has not declared otherwise in any specific situation. Indeed, state sanction is accorded this system through the dealer licensing scheme. In theory, the number of artifacts available since 1978 should have been static, with no new antiquities entering the system. The law would have fulfilled its intent if the demand for antiquities had diminished over time, so that both the supply and the demand would disappear at roughly the same time. Instead, demand remained robust and, in response, new sources were developed in order to satisfy the demand for stock. Statements made publicly by IAA employees, including members of its Theft Prevention Unit, testify to the scale and seriousness of the problem they face because of continuing demand for antiquities. The research conducted by Prof. Kersel supports these contentions and provides a range of details about the system. I hope that academic members of ASOR will join me in expressing support for research like this, which in this case bolsters the anecdotal reports by these highly knowledgeable IAA professionals.

    In my view, these exchanges offer ASOR blog readers an opportunity to understand more fully the complex network of looting, which is fueled by the interests of dealers and collectors and tourists whose willingness to purchase ancient objects, even in a state-licensed system, is the reason that hundreds upon hundreds of artifact thefts continue to take place in Israel each year. For those interested, the source for this estimate is Amir Ganor, the person in charge of the Theft Prevention Unit of the IAA, for example see http://www.archaeology.org/israel_antiquities_aut

    • Michael Welch
    • April 16, 2012
    Reply

    Dear Dr. Dodd, Hi!!! To balance this discussion out even further, it may be wise to realize that the Israel Antiquities Authority, with Mr. Amir Ganor as their representative, have asked for an estimated 100,000 Israeli collectors of antiquities to register their collections with the IAA. A collection is made up of at least 15 antiquities, so we are talking about at least 1,500,000 artificates. According to the IAA press release of Tuesday, August 4, 2009, the IAA states: "Israel is one of the world's richest countries in archaeological artifacts. As such, over the years private individuals have discovered thousands of archaeological finds during the course of development work, agricultural work, etc." Somebody needs to do an analysis of how many antiquites are coming into the antiquities shops as a result of construction. I have heard that an estimate is 85% with the rest coming from looting, but I really do not know what is accurate. Thank you for your input and your time. With Much Gratitude and Admiration, Sincerely Yours, Michael Welch, Deltona, Florida

  3. Reply

    Dear Dr. Dodd, I'm going to challenge you on 2 points:

    1) The interests of dealers and collectors and tourists is NOT (!!!) the reason that artifact thefts take place. The reason artifact thefts take place is because thieves decide to break God's law & commit thefts. Would you also blame a law-abiding man carrying hard-earned cash for "fuel[ing]" a robber? Would you also blame a physically attractive, law-abiding lady for "fuel[ing]" a rapist? Shame on you & other scholars for even suggesting that law-abiding dealers & collectors are "the reason … thefts … take place."

    2) If you really believe Dr. Kersel "managed to document– through a study conducted in a responsible manner … systematic looting", why did you reference Amir Ganor's (popular magazine) interview rather than one of her "responsible" documents? As this month's blog co-editor, I would encourage you & the other editors to invite her to publish some data rather than hearsay & speculations. As she spent an entire year researching this subject, sponsored by multiple institutions, she should surely have plenty of data for scholars to cite without having to reference IAA press conferences, which are already available to anyone with Internet access.

    I could write a lengthy essay on the problems with Archaeology magazine's interview of Ganor, but this is not the proper forum. I can't fault their editor because they are not of the same academic plateau as ASOR; they're basically an anti-Bible Biblical Archaeology Review, & they have the freedom to be as subjectively slanted as a "Jim [West]" comment.

    I must reiterate that I'm not questioning Dr. Kersel's personal integrity in general or her work on other subjects, just the value of this particular field of research, which I've found to be laden with subjective bias of no academic value. I don't mind people expressing their opinions, but I do mind them being presented as if they were facts.

    • Irving Magraw
    • April 20, 2012
    Reply

    I don't know how one can get around the provisions in declarations requiring mortgagee approval, on any amendment to the Dec (or other equally absurd provisions). In my opinion, the overwhelming majority of these provisions are make no sense. However, I'm not even sure that the legislature can enact a statute changing that Florida has taken the sanctity of contract to the extreme. The law has long recognized the public policy concerns can invalidate a contract provision. Florida has not seemed to have received that message.

    • Jamie Aprile
    • May 1, 2012
    Reply

    Mr. Grena, you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. A resource is only a resource if there is demand for it. You and others who purchase artifacts provide demand, thus cultural objects must be defined as resources. When faced with demand, distributors secure supply. If legal supply is unavailable (and sometimes even if it is!), illegal supply lines will develop. Not every person in these types of supply chains are personally committing illegal actions, but those who disregard their responsibility as ethical and legal distributors and consumers are benefiting from those illegal actions whether they like to or not. You state that you don't think anyone should have to investigate where their purchases originate, but you are turning a blind eye to practices of which you disapprove in order to alleviate in your own mind culpability for those actions. There are, in fact, many of us who do concern ourselves with the social, political, and economic systems that bring clothes to our backs and food to our tables. We take responsibility for our purchases and when we cannot live up to our ideals, we have to accept that unpleasant feeling of culpability in supporting a world system that is inherently exploitative. At least we then can make a judgement when enough is enough and withdraw from a given market. For a capitalist system to work properly and be less vulnerable to exploitation by law breakers, the majority of the participants must inform themselves and be responsible for their choices. Complacency is the enemy, not the poor farmer who wants to make $50 on the pot you buy in a shop for $500, though it seems you'd like to send that farmer to jail for having spoken honestly with a legitimate scholarly researcher. It appears you would rather gaze up into the sky cursing others while Rome burns around you, disbelieving that you yourself dropped one of the many matches that set it alight.

  4. Reply

    Dear Dr. (?) Aprile, thank you for taking the time to engage me in this worthwhile conversation. It's nice to know you care about this subject; but with all due respect, "you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of" ethics.

    "At least we then can make a judgement when enough is enough…"

    You knowingly benefit from "illegal actions" until it hurts your feelings too much? So you basically have no rational argument against insensitive people who go on crime sprees, do you?

    You argued that I "and others who purchase artifacts provide demand" for resources. Why did you single out this class of participants from those who teach history (such as university professors) for a profit, as well as the archeologists who dig them up, hold press conferences to announce valuable finds, publish books about them for a profit, and transfer them to museums where again financial profit is reaped from admission prices and/or related souvenirs (tourist traffic to the host country included)?

    Should books & courses about Israel be outlawed out of concern for "provid[ing] demand" for artifacts surrounding that history? Should universities only teach fantasies for which there are no artifacts out of concern that they might fuel looting? And as I pointed out to Dr. Dodd, should women wear burqas or not go out in public at all to avoid tempting men to rape them?

    God created resources for humans to use. We are responsible for using them wisely, & we will be held accountable for our activity. Again, since it's an interesting subject, sexual activity or the desire to do it is neither good nor bad. When a man & woman living in a faithful, loving relationship mate, it's a good thing; if either of them breaks that bond by committing adultery, even though it's essentially the same act, it becomes a bad thing. I can say that unequivocally because it's a law God established.

    Regarding antiquities, humans have established their own laws. The IAA approves the sale of artifacts. It is not inherently bad to desire (or as you said, demand) antiquities or food. If someone breaks the law during the course of bringing food to market, they alone are responsible; not the potential customers who are hungry & willing to pay for the food. No rational judge or jury would acquit a defendant simply because he/she claims there was a "demand" for them to commit the crime. Likewise, no rational judge or jury would convict a man in California for not preventing a murder in Jerusalem. Yet this is the logic you & other anti-antiquities collectors promote.

    "[T]hose who disregard their responsibility as ethical and legal distributors and consumers are benefiting from those illegal actions…"

    This sentence is barely coherent, so I'm hoping you'll clarify it. What ethical responsibility does a consumer have other than buying from legitimate businesses? If I buy a juicy steak for dinner, & it hurts the feelings of a vegan, too bad for the vegan!!! If I buy two juicy steaks, & it hurts the feelings of somebody who can only afford one hamburger, they should be content for having something eat. Am I unethical for living responsibly & enjoying the gifts God has provided for me?

    Now let's turn the tables. Pretend you're a restaurant owner, or a university professor. Do you put each of your customers/students through an Inquisition to see if they have ever committed "illegal actions" (especially ones for which they've never been convicted in a court of law)? If not, then it's quite possible that you may be "benefiting from those illegal actions." You're "turning a blind eye to practices of which you disapprove in order to alleviate in your own mind culpability for those actions." If any ASOR member is willing to claim that they know they've only accepted money from an employer who has never committed any crime, please share your story with us. I'd like to know how you know that.

    "Complacency is the enemy, not the poor farmer…"

    There you go fantasizing about Robin Hood. If only you could take away from the rich, & (forcibly) spread the wealth to the lazy & irresponsible, what a lovely socialist/communist world that would be! If there were no demand for the "poor" criminal (not "farmer") to loot, the "poor" criminal would commit some other crime rather than get an honest job.

    "[Y]ou'd like to send that farmer to jail…"

    Actually I'm against prison sentences; I'd like to see the farmer put into forced labor to pay for the crime & become a productive member of society (Exodus 22:3). You have your fantasies; I have mine!

    "…for having spoken honestly with a legitimate scholarly researcher."

    What is your basis for believing that someone who has committed a crime is honest?!?! If the "poor farmer" is honest, why doesn't he/she get an honest job, or report their crime to the authority? Is it easier to speak with a researcher than with the police if the "farmer" is honest? And again, how is it "legitimate" to grant anonymity to a criminal as Dr. Kersel admitted to doing? Does scholarship take precedence over the justice system?

    Thank you for joining Drs. Kersel & Dodd in demonstrating that you have no rational argument against law-abiding citizens collecting antiquities to preserve & promote Israel's rich history.

  5. Reply

    Boy, when I woke up this morning, the daily E-mail I receive from one of the Christian ministries I support, Creation Moments (www.creationmoments.com), was as serendipitous as anything I've ever experienced:

    "For generations we have heard that people become criminals and go to prison because of their parents, friends, poverty or society itself. Yet there has always been a majority of people who come from bad homes or poor neighborhoods who have lived responsible lives. Now some police officials and psychologists are suggesting that criminal behavior is the fault of the criminal himself. The lifelong criminal chooses a pattern of dealing with life that is different from most people – and it's often evident by the time he is four years old. They characterize what they call the criminal mind as a person who chooses to lie instead of taking responsibility. They say that traditional explanations that blame society for crime simply help the criminal mind avoid responsibility. The career criminal likes to break the law. As one rapist said, 'If rape were legalized, I'd do something else.' … [W]e have heard from many serving prison terms for serious crimes. Those who contact us all say the same thing. They tell us that they have realized they must become responsible for their lives. They realize that in order to learn a new way of thinking they must begin by learning how to approach the Creator Who made them. And we are pleased to help them learn more about Him and His inviting and all-forgiving love to them in Jesus Christ."

    I'd now like to call attention to the work of Dr. Stanton E. Samenow (B.A. cum laude from Yale University, 1963; Ph.D. in psychology, University of Michigan; http://www.samenow.com), author of "Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated Edition" (New York: Crown Publishers, 1984, 2004), p. XII:

    "My work during the past thirty-four years does not deal just with violations of laws. It focuses on the minds of human beings and how they live. There are people who would be 'criminals' no matter where they live. These are individuals for whom to be someone in life is to do the forbidden, whatever the forbidden might be. One man said that if rape were legalized, he wouldn't do it, but he declared that he would certainly do something else that was just as exciting and forbidden."

    Next, let's return to some of Dr. Kersel's observations (bibliographical details available in my 5-part comment series posted on Dr. Kersel's April 5th blog article):

    "Israel is an excellent example of a geographically advantaged state due to its proximity to the Palestinian Authority (PA), where MOST OF THE LOOTING in this region occurs" (Kersel 2006, p. 191; EMPHASIS MINE).

    "These professional looters are organised and sent to specific sites and areas at the behest of an overseer (USUALLY PALESTINIAN), who has some knowledge of archaeology, excavation methodology, and consumer demand. … The overseer, often crossing borders between Israel and the PA, distributes the recovered antiquities to a middleman traditionally from one of the many villages in the PA" (Kersel 2007, p. 86; EMPHASIS MINE).

    "Frustrated by the situation in the PA … Palestinians have turned to an everyday form of resistance, the looting of archaeological sites. Looters make a conscious decision to prioritise the destruction of the Jewish/Israeli past over the preservation of the Palestinian heritage. … Destroying sites with Israeli (Jewish) associations, thus, bolsters local perceptions of Palestinian self-determination. In repeated interviews I was told that one of the motivating factors for looting was a resistance to the Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. … [T]he Palestinian looter, regardless of whether he digs in Israel or the PA, does not identify the material remains as his or her past but as an Israeli past, and it should therefore be eradicated." (Kersel 2007, pp. 91-2).

    The subsequent paragraph on p. XII of Dr. Samenow's book illuminates the mind of liars:

    "The criminal lies to cover his tracks and to get out of a jam that he has created for himself. However, he also lies about the most minuscule matters even when there is no ostensible reason. … The criminal lies in order to preserve a view of himself and the world. He derives a sense of power from lying, in believing he is pulling the wool over the eyes of others."

    Although Dr. Kersel attributes looting to Israelis as well as to Palestinians, by portraying a looter as "the poor farmer" instead of a criminal, Jamie Aprile is simply "pulling the wool over the eyes of others."

    • Dear reader
    • May 24, 2012
    Reply

    Dear G.M. Grena,

    Thank you for your post. It is refreshing to see the "other side" of antiquities market activity represented in this predominantly academic-driven forum. Unfortunately, I find your stated perspectives relating to this collecting activity to be rather disturbing.

    Permit me to model your collecting rationale on the legal principle of trusteeship. In every constitutionally-grounded, modern legal system trusteeship is a thoroughly regulated affair. In other words, there are well-defined–dare I say, common sense–rules regarding who counts as a trustee of x in a given situation. If it is fair to infer from your post that you position yourself as the rightful and sole trustee of the items in your collection, then I wonder whether you can provide a rational justification for your position? What makes you the proper trustee of these items, rather than, say, the IAA?

    If you have trouble answering this question, then might I suggest you turn your scholarly mind to, perhaps,volunteering with archaeological research and museums–rather than working on the periphery? You may then find the mental satisfaction you seek . . .

  6. Reply

    Dear "Dear reader" (what a clever moniker!), what makes me the "proper" (& legal) trustee of these items rather than the IAA, are the sales receipts from the IAA-licensed dealers, & the export permits granted by the IAA. Call me crazy, but I'm guessing that if the IAA had any interest in claiming trusteeship, they'd revoke all the dealer licenses & cease granting export permits. Maybe you should consider asking them why they persist in this activity, & see if they have trouble answering your question!

    And I do volunteer with archeological research & museums by assisting them with LMLK material via my "periphery" non-profit work. It's not nearly as mentally satisfying as my direct work in Christian apologetics, but fun nonetheless.

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