Archaeology, History, Tourism, and Ideology

Past Horizons has a fascinating article discussing the employment of archaeology for ideology promotion (by Chemi Schiff):

http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/02/2013/building-with-the-past-archaeologys-ideological-role-in-israel

Although the focus is on a site in the Negev, I think Mr. (soon to be Dr.) Schiff raises some very good points that hold across the spectrum of archaeology and history, not only regarding that of Israel’s history but history more generally.  Of course, noting that archaeology is used ideologically when interpreting Israel’s history is nothing new.  There are “minimalists” and “maximalists” with regard to whether we can accept much of the biblical witness surrounding ancient Israel and the United Kingdom.  You know, was David a chieftan more than a king–that sort of thing.  What I find the most helpful about this article, however, is not simply raising the question of to what degree can archaeology be “neutral,” but the reminder that history and archaeology are not strictly “neutral” at tourism sites.  I think this is a very salient point in an era characterized by a popular view of “history” that tends toward “entertainment” (as one may see on the History Channel).  I, for one, think archaeology faces the same challenge history does (even, perhaps especially, church history)–achieving a “neutral” view is an ongoing process rather than an objective reality.  That is, when one reads church history and the fathers, one needs to engage in an ascetic discipline.  One must struggle against one’s presuppositions and desires.  It doesn’t mean one will necessarily change all of one’s presuppositions, but it does mean one must honestly admit what they are and realize how it shapes one’s interpretation.  One must also struggle against one’s desires, just as one is to struggle against one’s passions.  We might WANT St. Justin Martyr’s description of the liturgy to be exactly what we think it is and might WANT to fill in gaps, but a more realistic stance would be to acknowledge that all he provides is a general pattern, or shape, and that for his parish in Rome.  Is it consistent with other liturgical patterns in the early church?  Well, that’s a question to be explored in that case, not presumed.  Struggling against our desires and presumptions might not be fun and certainly won’t be entertaining in the sense of yuk-yuk, nudge-nudge versions of “history” we can find on television, but it is something we must do.  Not to do it, means doing something even worse than what one can find in the Negev–like the museum of creationism or the publication of narratives of Orthodox “histories” that are purposely one-sided, one-dimensional, and omitting of any complexities and weaknesses (and if you haven’t seen those, you haven’t been reading).

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