Evidence versus Evidence: Humanity and the all too human.
The term ‘empiric’ is the foundation of western science and empiricism is regularly used as a catch all by scientists in many fields on the hunt for evidence and answers to long hidden mysteries; however, as a term, it is also prone to being deliberately misplaced in order to be more of a take down than a catch all.
To be empiric is to use the process of experimentation in order to ascertain fact: it can be a slow process. Drug trials are a rich example. Responsible companies will test and test their products before releasing them onto the market, ending ideally in a safe presentation for those in need in of a panacea.
It is an empire of the senses and of the sensual.
But surely one of the great fallacies of the empiric method is that it can be extended into intellectual method when it comes to religion and archaeology, in the sphere where irrational human behaviour can supposedly be subjected to the rational method. No more is this demonstrable than in the field of Religion/Archaeology and its history.
It is an old chestnut that religion is, according to the present paradigm of a majority scientists polled on the question, irrational. But is it? Could this be a false assumption? One look at the presentation of the evidence by believers and scholars working within the field is that they are struggling to come to terms with some of the more unlikely aspects of ancient patterns of thinking – or is it that they are actually struggling to appreciate the ancient patterns of expression by trying to link them too closely to the modern expectation of what they want them to say? Modern religious belief might seem irrational, but was this really the case 2,000 years ago?
The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in the remains of a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901. It is a remarkable device and if it was not so heavily encased in 2,000 years of locked solid detritus it might easily be seen as something very modern. But it isn’t. It dates to 100BCE.
Here’s the rub. Many archaeologists refused to countenance it at the time because of its modern looking appearance. One of the questions they asked was: if the Greeks could produce such devices then why aren’t they everywhere?
The thinking here is that mass production techniques are a given right here, right now – so why not then?
This is the heart of the matter. No evidence of mass production means a different mindset – and on this point it is modern man who is struggling. Empiricism has in this instance become misplaced enough to kid ourselves that this is how it should be.
This begs the question of quite how rational ancient religion truly was – what should we read between the lines of theology and historical interpretation? Did Moses really part the Red Sea? Is the supernatural really the unfair player it is presented to us as – by modern scholars? Surely scholars can be irrational too?
It is when we view the interplay of other forces that take the legitimate and run with it into the illegitimate, in order to prove points and to distract into tangents that we see before us the age-old trick, used to discredit or to prove. It is as old as history. Epiphanius (c315-403CE) talks derisively of the sect of the Nazarenes. His reputation since is that he is an unreliable historian. By contrast, his friend, St Jerome (342-420) is seen as reasonable, his view is to give both sides of the argument and present for history the truth as he sees it. Fast-forward to the present and this contrast is reflected in the recent controversy of the James Ossuary. What emerged says more about the players than it does about history.
Herschel Shanks, the founder and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), wrote in the September-October 2003 issue that: ‘I had received a call from the owner of the ossuary (Oded Golan) and that he had offered me a thousand dollars a month for ten years if I would publish the article about the ossuary and its inscription. I replied that that was not enough money. I then received a call from André Lemaire urging me to accept the offer because he, too, had been offered a thousand dollars a month for ten years and he would not get his money if I refused to take Golan’s money and publish the article. I told Lemaire that I would publish the article only if, in addition to the money I was to receive from Golan, Lemaire would give me half of the money he was to receive. Lemaire agreed—and that was how the article was published in BAR. It was clear, even to Ganor, that I was joking.’
The humour behind this exchange raises crucial points about behaviour and motive. Are your hackles raised? Are you suspicious of the motives and thus of the evidence as presented? Evidence is big business, particularly when history is involved.
Another recent example of this kind of thinking is the discovery of a set of lead books from either Jordan or (as some say) Israel. If real these things could be priceless.
Enter stage left the motive men.
There was an article recently in this journal, one that I read with interest. In it a series of comments by bloggers were exposed. They believe the artefacts in question to be fake, but you cannot help but notice the broad hint of passion in their posts: the racism and the sneering, the arrogance of thinking they have got away with it. These are moustachioed bad guys in the silent movie era of the Internet who, having tied their victims to the rails are awaiting the nearest train, unaware that they have been recorded by the equally silent camera.
I decided to look into it and what came up was more than a little disconcerting: for what it demonstrates are not only dirty tricks, but also skewed thinking.
Amongst the more preposterous reasons put forward in arguing against the authenticity of the lead codices comes information provided by the SDEMA group, an Israeli based provider of homeland security solutions (whose co-founders and owners both served for over twenty years in the Israel Security Agency – Shin Bet). The information they were commissioned to obtain (acquired by an unauthorised third party) was on the background of Hassan Saeda, as the ‘owner’ of the codices. The information has now been in the public domain for three years now. It states that he had served one and a half years in an Israeli prison for attacking and stabbing a family member and that he had been arrested several times on drug charges.
D. Criminal Background & Connections
Hassan served approximately 1.5 years in an Israeli prison (approximately 4 years ago) for attacking and stabbing a relative. He was arrested on several other occasions on drug charges, but we have no record of additional time spent in prison.
Hassan is in close contact with a known criminal from Moshav Reviah named Asi. Asi is a drug dealer ranked as an intermediate-level criminal and is used by Hassan as a check collector. The estimation of those close to him is that the relationship between Asi and Hassan also includes drug dealing.
B. General Assessment
Threat Level: Hassan is presumed to be potentially dangerous in light of his criminal record and previous assault with a deadly weapon (knife) and association with drug dealing and check collection.
Now, it is a well-known fact that Bedouin discover up to 90% of antiquities found both on the black and open market in the region. It is also a fact that they bulk out their finds with well-crafted forgeries – in academic terms one does not undermine the other: in the words of one eminent scholar this is likely to lead to the confirmation that something has indeed been discovered, or why forge it?
But more to the point, how can evidence of a violent past, be used to determine the authenticity of a discovery – or do we inhabit a Medaeval milieu? This is not so much a perverse sort of evidence, as rather a facile manipulation of blame onto one of the underclass: it is undeniable that Bedouin in Israel have a tough time. This is the road to hell.
Notwithstanding, the caste system he was born into and his subsequent lack of formal education, Hassan has done extremely well for himself working very hard managing inherited farmland in Israel, providing animal fodder to both Israel and Jordan – as well of course, scavenging for antiquities: the codices were not his first success in the trade.
One wonders why ‘Indiana Joneses’ on western university digs are so ready to dismiss Bedouin finds: the only artefacts they deem authentic are not only ones they themselves excavate, but also fit in their conditioned agenda.
All of this has led to the use of Hassan as a convenient tool to undermine what might be an important find.
One might ask the question: was Heinrich Schliemann a bank robber? Was Howard Carter a serial killer? If so look out Troy and Tut – the fake brigade will be on your backs.
It is at this point that the evidence begins to become distorted by the perception of misbehavior – we’re all social animals, gossip is our mainstay. But in the gossip is a social structure, an order of rank – it’s a club and it’s an elite one. Just as academe promotes the idea of ivy-clad ivory towers and elitism.
Nothing wrong with that.
It’s just that the club wants to own the world. Instead all they achieve is hubris.
Their ambition produces the following exchange:
‘I promise you my friend I will not leave you alone. It will cost you a lot. Not only me – every Israeli person in Israel will not leave you alone you have to know. Never fuck with me or any Israeli guy.’
I am going to come and cut your throat, from side to side. You sonofabitch. I am going to kill you!
David, you must know that the fire was started on purpose. Next time, you’ll be on it.
‘I promise you, I promise you motherfucker, you will pay a lot for it – in a criminal way …I will never leave you alone. You will pay for it – for everything … a lot and you will be under the ground soon. Fuck you. You can go to hell. … I will show you who I am – I promise you soon. Yallah.’
The Bedouin has now begun to regret his passion for the past. A prominent psychologist and others have stated that the above passages recorded from messages left on the telephones of the people at the centre of the find, are the voice of a man under extreme pressure – he is cracking. And we know why. He’s part of an agenda. Character assassination is the name of the game. Those associated with him will be equally fair game.
So where in all this is the evidence, you might ask. It’s a question I’ve asked too. Well the above is empiric evidence of the misuse of a man who has tried to do something noble. To feed his family and to be remembered for something. Instead, he’s been exposed to the world as ignoble and not worthy of being heard. It is a ‘useful’ racism.
My, my we’ve come a long way in a hundred years. For all of our political awareness after two world wars and much else besides we really are kidding ourselves if we think that we have advanced that far. It is a perverse learning that indicates we should take the evidence from the negatives. The negatives in this case being the fact that some people have a lot to hide: their very defensiveness is the lure, their influence is the caution.
The Antikythera device has since been enthrallingly disentangled from its discovery, thank goodness. Ancient people were profound in their thinking and inventive in their application. Hubris was then a lesser deity, but as this discovery begins to encroach on the territory of the religious, hubris is already located at the feasting table.
To be continued…