Monday, January 25, 2010

Hebrew University Responds to Khirbet Qeiyafa Buzz

Now it's always nice to have lots of media attention aimed at archaeological excavations because it raises public awareness of the kind of research that's being done. However, there's a tendency with finds related to the biblical world to get carried away in interpreting those finds to "prove" the Bible is true, historical, etc. This is evident most recently in Gershon Galil's very gratuitous and sensationalized reading of the ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa. I was browsing the official excavation website today, and I found that they've published an open letter to Galil regarding his findings and the methods he used in reporting them. Apparently, he was taking credit for readings and conclusions that weren't originally his. Tsk tsk. On top of that, his reconstructions were entirely speculative. Already knew that.

Here is the letter, reproduced in full from the "Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon Project" website of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Open Letter to Prof. Gers[h]on Galil, Haifa University
The Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition would like to draw your attention to a number of problematic statements that appeared in the Haifa University press release, dated January 10, 2010 ( These statements raise several problems of ethics and scholarship, which unfortunately have created a serious public misunderstanding concerning the Qeiyafa ostracon.
  1. While the expedition is run by two directors, only one (Yosef Garfinkel) is mentioned. This is surprising, as last year co-director Saar Ganor spent some time on guiding a tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa for you and other members of the Department of Biblical Studies of Haifa University.
  2. The letters that appear on the ostracon were deciphered by the epigraphist Dr. Haggai Misgav, who has published his reading in Hebrew and English. In the press release, however, you are presented as the person who deciphered the inscription, taking full credit for the entire reading. Again, this is surprising, as last year Haggai Misgav gave a presentation on the inscription at the Department of Biblical Studies of Haifa University.
  3. In a few cases you give alternative readings of the inscription that were published by Dr. Ada Yardeni. These, again, are presented as your original reading.
  4. From the very first reading of the inscription, the words אל תעש were understood by Haggai Misgav as an indication that the language of the inscription is Hebrew. In the press release this understanding is presented as your original contribution.
  5. Prof. Shmuel Ahituv suggested in his publication that עבד (worship) is another indication for Hebrew. In the press release, however, this is presented as your own contribution.
  6. When you examined the ostracon, you requested permission to take a few photographs for your personal use only. One of these photographs appears in the press release.
Your contribution consists not of reading or deciphering the inscription, but rather of speculative reconstruction of "missing" letters and words. Most of the third line and the center of the fifth line of the ostracon are illegible and the letters you suggest are entirely speculative. The main words that support your thesis (אלמנה, יתום, אביון) are reconstructed and do not appear as such in the legible parts of the ostracon.
On the basis of your own reconstruction, you draw conclusions, among others, about when the Bible was written. Does this sound like a scientific methodology?


  1. Hmm … sounds like Haifa University should be considering disciplinary proceedings to me.