The Spine

Another Columbia Controversy


Poor Lee Bollinger, if anybody can have pity on him. Now he is confronted with the tenure process of Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of archeology at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has written a book called Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, arguing that the claim of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land is invented. I haven't read her book and I can't pretend to know a lot about archeology. But I do know some; I have been there, moreover, and I have experienced much of the evidence, overwhelming, actually. Of course, if the Jews weren't there, the whole history of Christianity is a fraud, too, and maybe that's what Muslims want to convey anyway.

Here is a smattering of testimonies, analyses and reports on Ms. Abu El-Haj's archaeological work. Interestingly, she has now begun to write about genetics and, mirabili dictu, has found that the Jewish maternal line back to Palestine is also a fraud. You could never trust the Jews.

Here are some intetesting items:

David Bernstein, a legal scholar at George Mason University, expresses concern over the fact that a Barnard administrator asked Alan Segal (a professor of ancient Judaism and early Christianity at Barnard) to submit names for outside reviewers who are "not Jewish," but did not ask that individuals with an openly anti-Israel animus be excluded.

Alan Segal has spoken out strongly against tenure for Abu El Haj on the grounds of the inadequacy of her scholarship. His analysis of her work can be found here.

A summary of his views by a reporter for the Columbia student newspaper can be found here.

Many of us assumed at first that since the book was based on a Duke University thesis, the research must be solid. Alan Segal has read both the thesis and the book carefully, and says that the thesis is scholarly and reasonably balanced, while the book is highly politicized and selective in its choice of which evidence to present. Another view of the thesis is available here.

Since the publication of Facts on the Ground, Abu El Haj has been working on genetics. Criticisms of the few papers she has published on genetics to date reveal problems that appear to echo the criticisms of the use of archeology in Facts on the Ground.

Many more articles and reviews can be found at these web sites:

And, of course, there are always and google blog search, where of the making of many blog posts about this book there is no end.

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