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Lubetski, Meir [Ed.]


New Seals and Inscriptions, Hebrew, Idumean, and Cuneiform.


Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press 2007. XXVII, 325 S. m. Abb. gr.8° = Hebrew Bible Monographs, 8. Geb. EUR 80,00. ISBN 978-1-905048-35-9.


Ernst Axel Knauf

This volume, dedicated to the famous (or rather, infamous) collector Shlomo Mousaïeff, comprises presentations from the ›SBL International Meetings‹ 2003 and 2004. The ›Mousaïeff Seminar‹ has by now been disenfranchised by the SBL, and moved to the EABS, not to the latter’s enhanced reputation. The purpose of its organizers quite evidently is to gain academic recognition and reputation for the vice of selling, buying and collecting artifacts either excavated illegally from the ground or produced by forgers. In both cases, the activity encourages and supports criminal activities according to the laws of several countries. The study of ›unprovenanced artifacts‹, as the looted or forged items are euphemistically called (there is no third possibility) is shunned by a growing number of scholars for good reasons: important data are lost due to the irreversible separation of the piece and its archaeological context, if ge­nuine; the most obvious forgery will always find some credulous advocates long after it disappeared from the mainstream discussion, from which it will re-enter the scientific discourse time and again, necessitating repeated efforts to wield the ›bogus data‹ out again. In countries like Iraq (and many others), illicit digging is not a past-time activity of some impoverished fellahin anymore, but a major sector of the international mafia, including terrorist networks. There are not only ›blood diamonds‹, nowadays there are also ›blood tablets‹. Furthermore, from the point of view of moral theology, this kind of collecting has to be regarded as the pursuit of at least two cardinal sins, greed and vanity/pride. The private possession of excavated artifacts without an export license from their country of origin should be banned by international law.

Having said what must be said before opening the volume under review, I want to emphasize that all of the scholars, whose contribution(s) will be mentioned in the course of this review, are of unquestionable moral and intellectual integrity.

The argument proffered in favor of the study of ›unprovenanced material‹ is that its shunning would diminish the ›historical record‹. This argument is a half-truth at best. Admittedly, the Elephantine archives were bought on the Egyptian market, and two major archives which surfaced recently, the Idumean ostraca and cuneiform archives from ›the town of Judah‹ or ›New Jerusalem‹, a settlement of Judean deportees in Babylonia, fall into the same class. In the case of the Elephantine papyri, it might have been a blessing, in fact, that they were excavated by expert Egyptian tomb robbers and not by one or the other 19 th century archaeologist. But archives (and coin hoards), even when ›found‹ on the market, can usually be traced back to their geographical origins with some precision, and each archive constitutes a context of its own. Individual artifacts out of context are, on the other hand, in most cases meaningless and always subject to doubt.

Most valuable, in the present collection, are the two contributions by B. Porten and A. Yardeni, ›Why the Unprovenanced Idumean Ostraca Should be Published‹ (73–98) and ›The House of Baalrim in the Idumean Ostraca‹ (99–147; the tables have been reduced to a size which makes them a pain in the eyes). Pieces from the ›New Jerusalem‹ archives are treated by W. G. Lambert, ›A Document from a Community of Exiles in Babylonia‹ (201–205; a republication of a text already presented by F. Joannès, Transeuphratène 17, 1999, 17–27), and K. Abraham, ›An Inheritance Division among Judeans in Babylonia from the Early persian Period‹ (206–221). E. Lipi n´ ski, ›Silver of Ishtar of Arbela and of Hadad‹ (185–200) published contracts written in Aramaic on clay from the Gozan region.

Broader issues, not related to pieces from private collections, are addressed by P. van der Veen, ›Gedaliah ben Ahiqam in the Light of Epigraphic Evidence (A Response to Bob Becking)‹ (57–70; referring to Becking in JSOT.S 245, Sheffield 1997, 65–83); A. Yardeni, ›A Note on a Qumran Scribe‹ (287–298) and R. Hess, ›Aspects of Israelite Personal Names and Pre-exilic Israelite Religion‹ (301–313).

As for forgeries and looted artefacts, the title of M. Heide, ›Impressions from a New Alphabetic Ostracon in the Context of (Un)provenanced Inscriptions: Idiosyncrasy of a Genius Forger or a Master Scribe?‹ (148–182) says it all. Once such a question is asked, diligent researchers will not wait for the answer, but exclude the item in question from their data-bases. Two treatments of the forged ›Jehoash monumental inscription‹ are most curious. For D. N. Freedman, ›The (Almost) Perfect Fake and/or the Real Thing‹ (1–5), it does not matter whether this inscription and the ›Brother-of-Jesus‹ ossuary are fakes or not (they are, and stem from the same workshop), for he knows their contents already from the Bible (disregarded by Freedman, some scholars see in 2Kings 12 a piece of creative writing from the Second Temple period which has no impact on the reconstruction of the 9 th century). Ch. Cohen, ›Bib­lical Hebrew Philology in the Light of Research on the New Yeho’ash Royal Building Inscription‹ (222–284) laboriously and convincingly argues that the inscription is written in classical Biblical Hebrew, therefore it must be genuine. Unfortunately for this po­sition, its language does not agree with epigraphic Israelite and Judean from the monarchic period, the variety of which makes Biblical Hebrew a later stage of the language, not attested prior to the Persian period. From Cohen’s argument, the reviewer con­cludes that he proved the piece a forgery.

The rest of the articles deals with seals from the antiquities’ market which, for the reasons given in the first paragraph, will not considered any further.