Abu el-Haj is the author of Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, a very controversial book that deals with archaeology in Israel. In her book, Abu el-Haj considers Israel to be an illegitimate, “colonial settler” enterprise.
Abu el-Haj wrote in her book that “what was considered to have been ancient Jewish national existence and sovereignty in their homeland” is “a tale best understood as the modern nation’s origin myth transported into the realm of history.”
In his evaluation of Abu el-Haj’s book, Trueman wrote:
Although it may seen incredible that a book could commit a more flagrant violation of scholarly standards than to dismiss the vast body of archaeological and documentary evidence for the existence of the ancient Jewish and Israelite kingdoms, Abu El Haj manages to do so when she excuses the deliberate destruction of archaeological sites when it is done by Palestinians for political purposes. In Abu El Haj’s view, deliberately destroying ancient buildings is not to be condemned, it is to be “analyzed as a form of resistance to the Israeli state.”
The deliberate destruction of archaeological artifacts, “Needs to be understood in relation to a colonial-national history in which modern political rights have been substantiated in and expanded through the material signs of historic presence. In destroying the tomb, Palestinian demonstrators eradicated one’’fact on the ground.’”
An extensive and critical review of Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society was written by Alexander H. Joffe and published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies 64 (2005) 297-304. Those interested in reading a scholarly review of Abu el-Haj’s book can read it here in a PDF format.
The issue of tenure in universities and seminaries is directly related to the issue of academic freedom. Academic freedom is concerned with free inquiry in the classroom. However, academic freedom does not obviate the requirements for responsible scholarship.
Professors should be free to discuss controversial issues in the classroom. However, when a professor writes on controversial issues, it becomes imperative that the professor does not violate standards set by an institution to guide the work of its professors.
Theological schools and universities have different criteria for granting tenure to their professors. In theological schools professors must teach within the parameters of a doctrinal statement. Faculty members are free to teach, carry on research, and publish in their area of competence. Faculty members in a theological school also represent their institution. For this reason, faculty members agree to subscribe to a doctrinal standard that will guide their work in and out of the classroom.
Faculty members in a state university are free from these limitations. In secular universities professors have the freedom to teach and write in their area of competence and they do so without harassment or limitations. Joffe’s review of Abu el-Haj’s book indicates that the book is biased, ill-informed, and without scholarly merit because she is writing outside of her area of competence. However, because of the university’s system of academic freedom, it is doubtful that Nadia Abu el-Haj will be denied tenure.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary