Megiddo, Moussaieff, and Me

Being a graduate student in archaeology and a dealer in antiquities is a contradiction in terms; one is a position of scholarship and stewardship; the other is a position of commodification that traffics in objects and scholarship.

By Alexander H. Joffe
Archaeologist and Historian
September 2005

I would like to take this opportunity to comment on Robert Deutsch's response to my short piece about BAR, wherein he notes I took Moussaieff's money while a staff member at Megiddo.

Mea culpa. In 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1998, I was a member of the senior staff at the Megiddo project, directing the excavation of Area H, a major Iron Age field, and analyzing the Early Bronze Age ceramics. For three of those seasons, my airfare and room and board were paid by the project; in 1998, I paid my own way out of the budget of my own project. Or maybe not. I really don't remember. I'd have to check. I do recall that I received no salary during any of these seasons.

During that time, Shlomo Moussaieff was a patron of the Megiddo project. I confess not knowing much about him except that he was an antiquities collector. He appeared at the excavation in 1994 or 1996 for a visit, chauffeured by Robert Deutsch, I believe, and I recall saying to the project directors afterwards that being associated with such a person and his money was bad form.

This was the extent of my outrage, discomfort, and weak protest. Hypocrisy? Perhaps. I will admit to much greater discomfort, also voiced to the directors and others, regarding the presence of Robert Deutsch on the project staff. I felt and still feel that being a graduate student in archaeology and a dealer in antiquities is a contradiction in terms; one is a position of scholarship and stewardship; the other is a position of commodification that traffics in objects and scholarship. But Megiddo was not my project, and the price of my participation was being Deutsch’s colleague (a wholly benign experience in itself), and benefiting from Moussaieff's patronage. Again, mea culpa. I should also confess here to having cashed a check from BAR. They reprinted one of my reviews of their books. This was a more calculated deed on my part. I knew they were going to sandbag me, but I reasoned that the controversy over my critique of their book might be useful to BAR's readers. I believe I got forty bucks. Maybe it was fifty. As I have said elsewhere, we all have our price. These were mine. Business acumen has never been my strong suite.

But Robert Deutsch is an acute businessman. One of my most vivid memories of the 1995 survey of the western Jezreel Valley came at the site of Mizpe Zevulun, an Early Bronze Age "enclosure," where the team found several seal impressions. I was given permission to publish these, and I did so in the memorial volume for my late friend Doug Esse. But these discoveries reached an audience far more quickly. Standing there on the site, within a few moments of their discovery, Robert Deutsch was talking on his mobile phone to Shlomo Moussaieff in London describing the finds.

Robert Deutsch states he did not sell Shlomo Moussaieff any objects in the latter's collection. If he did not, then I offer my apologies. That Robert Deutsch wrote an M.A. thesis on objects in Moussaieff's collection, later published, as well as many articles, and co-edited a festschrift for Moussaieff, is beyond dispute. That these publications acted as catalogs of Moussaieff's vanity, testimonials for antiquities collecting, and for Deutsch's own business is also beyond dispute. The question of sales notwithstanding, in my view, Deutsch's activities constitute unwholesome collusion in processes that have both demonstrably degraded the archaeological record through looting and debased our evidentiary foundations through forgeries and frauds.

My hypocrisy is probably not limited to the matters described above. Yet I have tried in my various professional lives (and there have been many) to proceed as ethically and consistently as possible. No doubt my success has been limited. But in the context of the present discussion, I suggest that the inconsistency between being a scholar and an antiquities dealer is of considerably higher order. In this respect at least, my conscience is clear.

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