Shanks Responds to Rollston

Scholars Debate “Jezebel” Seal

Back to Scholars Debate “Jezebel” Seal
Professor Rollston twice charges me with “condescension.” In the matter of condescension, however, he takes a backseat to no one. Indeed, it was his condescension—not to me, but to Professor Marjo Korpel, a distinguished academic at the University of Utrecht who wrote our article on Jezebel’s seal—that occasioned my BAR discussion in which Professor Rollston finds me condescending.

Professor Rollston did not simply criticize Professor Korpel; he condescendingly charged her with an absolutely baseless argument, bordering on kookiness. In his own words, her argument was not even “tenable.” Is this the kind of argumentation that academics use toward one another?

To make it absolutely clear what he thought of Korpel’s scholarship, Professor Rollston added that the Jezebel seal “must be later” than the period of the Bible’s Queen Jezebel.

I suppose if Korpel’s position were really so kooky, this kind of criticism might be OK. But when I checked out what other scholars thought about Korpel’s dating, they seemed to say it was quite reasonable. In these circumstances, Professor Rollston’s harsh words came across as condescending. I thought Professor Korpel had to be defended, especially because Professor Rollston’s dismissive ipse dixit was unaccompanied by any paleographic discussion.

In his response to me, Professor Rollston now states that “I would not be inclined to date the script [on the seal] to the ninth century.” If he had used this kind of language in his original criticism of Korpel, there would have been no need for my BAR discussion. Professor Rollston has clearly now moved; instead of calling Korpel’s argument “not … tenable” and saying the inscription “must” date later than the ninth century, he is now only “inclined” to think so.

That is certainly a legitimate argument—and made respectfully. This is the same tone properly taken by Professor Ami Mazar in the letter that follows. It is also the same kind of civil argument made by Professor Ryan Byrne in a paleographical discussion of the “Jezebel” seal in which he disagrees with her dating. Professor Byrne’s discussion appears in our Debates section at

Finally, I must also say that I am offended by the condescending attitude that Professor Rollston takes toward me. I have been editing this archaeology magazine, which publishes contributions by the most distinguished academics in the world, for almost 35 years. I have three degrees from the finest academic institutions in the country. I have written numerous books on Biblical archaeology, a number of them with leading academics, and edited others including textbooks widely used in first-rate academic institutions. To have Professor Rollston condescendingly refer to “a non-academic such as Hershel” is a bit much. I close with the same sentence that Professor Rollston closed with: “Surely the standard should be higher than he sets it.”

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