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March 25, 2010

Do Israeli Archeologists Have Religious, Political Motives?

Political and religious motives may be driving, and perhaps coloring, archaeological practices at sites in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, claims an expert from Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Raphael Greenberg, a senior lecturer in archeology at the institution and a member of the Israel Archaeological Council's Committee for Preservation and Restoration, claims that his colleagues have been receiving funding in order to find evidence of Jerusalem's Jewish heritage and possible Biblical sites within the city and its suburbs.

"Archaeologists have given up many of their best practices in order to answer the continuing demands of mainly political actors," Greenberg told Reuters' Erika Solomon on Wednesday.

"Archaeology cannot prove or disprove the Bible"¦ A name that matches that of a person in the Bible can only be taken so far -- it's just a name," he added. "Over time, when you're funded by these people in huge sums, and we're talking millions of dollars, you become part of the machine."

That machine, critics say, has caused cave-ins at some sites -- not to mention increased enmity with the quarter of a million Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.  It has also sparked a debate between opposing camps of archaeologists and professors about the nature of the science.

"The vitriolic dispute over the status of the Bible for archaeology is a classic Jerusalem row," British author and Cambridge professor Simon Goldhill told Solomon, "touched as it is with so many personal issues within the small community of professional archaeologists, and laced as it is with the political charge of early history in this country."

Greenberg expressed concern that political and religious issues would negatively impact the science itself, saying, "Israeli archaeology has a lot to contribute to very basic history about the development of the earliest human civilizations"¦ If all we deal with is who were the Jews or the Palestinians, then this remains a very anachronistic and parochial archaeology with little to say to the world."

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