During an event at the Jordanian embassy in Washington, DC, BAR editor Hershel Shanks saw a poster headlined “Jordan—Land of the Bible,” making a very clear, positive reference to Jordan’s rich Biblical past. Upon receiving a newsletter from the Siegfried Horn Archaeological Museum that reported on the excavations at Tall Hisban in Jordan, however, Shanks noted not a single reference to the Bible, ancient Israel or the possible identification of the site as Biblical Heshbon.
Shanks wrote to Tall Hisban’s head of publications, Oystein LaBianca, to question why the Bible seemed to be ignored at Tall Hisban when the Jordanian embassy embraced its country’s Biblical past. Shanks also wondered in his letter to Oystein LaBianca what Siegfried Horn, an early excavator of Tall Hisban (now deceased) would have thought about such an omission.
The response that came back from Oystein LaBianca was a thoughtful discussion about four different kinds of past: the desired past, the contested past, the forbidden past and the propaganda past. According to LaBianca, Siegfried Horn was consumed by the search for Biblical Heshbon at Tall Hisban. But when the archaeology didn’t support this desired past, the Biblical connection at Hisban became a contested past. The marketing poster at the Jordanian embassy, LaBianca said, reflected both a forbidden past and a propaganda past that many Jordanians reject.
For more about Oystein LaBianca’s take on the different approaches of the Jordanian embassy, Siegfried Horn and others to the past, read Hershel Shanks’s First Person, “LaBianca’s Four Different Kinds of ‘Past,’” in the July/August 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.