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Eshel Arrest Looming?

8th December 2005

According to a news report from Haaretz (via Biblical Theology), the Israeli police have provided evidence to the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office to indict archaeologist Professor Hanan Eshel on three criminal counts: bringing an antiquity into Israel illegally, trafficking in stolen property, and not reporting the discovery of an antiquity as required by law.

Hanan’s problems started when he recovered of some fragments of a Leviticus scroll (dated to the Bar Kokhba period) from some Bedouin earlier last summer (see here for more on the scroll; and see here, here and here for coverage into the subsequent investigation into his involvement the purchase).

This recent news is just the tip of the iceberg for the deteriorating relationship between the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) and prominant archaeologists in Israel, as can be seen from this excerpt:

Controversy regarding the investigation of how a fragment of scroll from the Bar Kokhba period came into Eshel’s possession — which he eventually turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority — has led to an unprecedented flap between Bar Ilan and the IAA over the past few days.The heads of all university archaeology departments have been summoned to an urgent meeting today with IAA director Shuka Dorfman, following Bar Ilan’s decision to postpone indefinitely its upcoming annual archaeological conference in protest against the IAA’s police complaint against Eshel. Dorfman wants to ask another university to host the prestigious conference, at which several IAA archaeologists were scheduled to speak.

There are “problematic aspects in the behavior of both sides,” Professor Itzhak Gilad, head of the archaeology department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who was on the roster of speakers, told Haaretz yesterday.

“Dorfman cannot be allowed to treat a senior scholar who did everything he could to save a rare antiquity as if he were a common criminal,” sources at Bar Ilan told Haaretz. “There is no reason to cooperate with the IAA in holding scientific conferences when at the same time the IAA is attacking our scholar, who has done nothing wrong,” the sources added.

….

Eshel claims that Porat informed the IAA of the discovery, but the latter did not seek to obtain it. Eshel says that when he returned from the U.S, he met again with the dealer, and noticed the fragment had deteriorated severely. He purchased it for a few thousand shekels, financed by the research institute at Bar Ilan where he is employed, and that he then transferred the document to a laboratory in an effort to preserve it.

In February 2005, Eshel transferred the fragment to the IAA without remuneration. The IAA claims that Eshel should have reported the find to them within 15 days and immediately turn it over to them. Bar Ilan has declared its unqualified support for Eshel in the matter.

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