Academic Intolerance in Archaeology

A few days ago I posted a link to Ben Stein’s upcoming movie, Expelled ( If you haven’t watched the trailer yet, I think you will thank me for pointing it out to you. The movie is due in theaters April 19. Let’s hope movies like this can set up an alternative to the Michael Moore films which are rather untruthful in their biases.

Well, politicized science is never a good thing. Michael Crichton talks about this in an appendix to State of Fear. Does anybody remember that Eugenics was the craze of the day in academia in the early 1900’s. University’s suppressed anyone who objected to Eugenics. Then, after World War II and Hitler’s application of his version of Eugenics, everybody pretended they had never believed in it.

Politicized science is bad science. It is an intolerance for ideas based not on data or sound theory, but on ideologies that have little or nothing to do with the goals of science. Academic tyranny should not be tolerated. Suppression of free speech goes against everything liberals AND conservatives believe in.

So, now that I have introduced the subject, here is an example of the same thing happening in archeology . . .

I am a regular reader of Biblical Archaeology Review ( It is a great magazine. I love Herschel Shanks. He’s not always right, but he has a moral sense that I admire. He values open inquiry and academic freedom. He is a voice against injustice in the realm of archeology.

In the March/April 2008 issue, he has an article called “In Defense of Eilat Mazar.” Mazar is the granddaughter of Benjamin Mazar, famed archaeologist, and she is also a cousin to Amihai Mazar, also well-known in the field.

Mazar has come under fire from some people, while others dearly love her for her work, because she claimed to have found what may be the palace of King David in Jerusalem. She also may have found a segment of Nehemiah’s wall in Jerusalem. In a short period of time, she very well may have verified two major pieces of biblical history.

So why is she under fire? I will let Shanks explain it:

No one would question her professional competence as an archaeologist. Her chief sin, however, is that she is interested in what archaeology can tell us about the Bible. But that is not the worst of it. She is willing to make suggestions that are plausible, even likely, but are nonetheless not 100 percent certain. (Few archaeological conclusions are.)

One of the critics of Mazar is the National Geographic Society, whose website published an article casting aspersion on Mazar. National Geographic interviewed such well-balanced (sic) scholars as Philip Davies, who is a Biblical minimalist (he believes the minimum of the Bible has any historical basis in spite of solid evidence for a substantial amount of Biblical history).

Shanks’s article concludes:

If the judgment she [Mazar] had made related to something other than the Bible, no one would give it a second thought. Only a finding related to the Bible brings such obloquy down on the head of a leading archaeologist.

It sounds similar to the premise of Ben Stein’s film, where academics cast aspersions and even fire other academics who dare to suggest that Darwinistic evolution is an inadequate theory and that life bears the marks of design rather than random origins.

Academics and academic institutions, including the National Geographic Society, cast aspersion on Mazar. And for what?

I’ll tell you for what. Mazar followed evidence from Biblical texts and her grandfather’s archaeological surveys to dig where she thought David’s palace might be located. She found large walls, suggestive of a public building, with pottery from the Iron Age period in which David lived.

Guess what? An ancient historical source, whose testimony should be given some weight even if you are not a Jew or a Christian, led an archaeologist to look for something in a certain place. The place turned out to have something datable to the correct time that fits the description in the ancient source.

Is it a stretch to say the ancient historical source may have been accurate on that one point?

Or is it less of a stretch for us to believe that National Geographic and Philip Davies are completely objective?


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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