Fake News and Archaeology

A few days ago, my friend Charles Savelle sent me an email in response to my post “In Search of the Ark of the Covenant.” In his email, Charles said that the archaeologists digging at Shiloh were not looking for the Ark of the Covenant. He also said that the headline published in “Forward” was wrong.

I still remember when I read the article in Forward. I knew that something in the article was wrong. Any archaeologist or any student of the Old Testament knows that the Ark of the Covenant was not to be found at Shiloh. The purpose of my post was to say precisely that. As I wrote in the conclusion of my post, “No one knows what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. One thing we know: the Ark of the Covenant is not in the ruins of the ancient city of Shiloh.”

In case you have not read my post on the Ark of the Covenant, here is an excerpt of the article published in Forward:

Archaeologists funded by Christian organizations are taking a shovel – again – to Tel Shiloh, an archaeological site that was a major center of worship for ancient Israelites.

They’re looking for the ark of the covenant, the holy chest containing the two stone tablets on which Moses is said to have written the Ten Commandments, which was stationed at the ancient city of Shiloh for 400 years.

It is amazing that Forward, a publication written by Jews whose purpose is to disseminate news about the Jewish community, would allow such false information to be published on its Internet edition. This is a clear case of “fake news” because the Christian organization sponsoring the dig at Shiloh is not seeking to find the Ark of the Covenant for they, and every educated Jew, know that the Ark of the Covenant is not in Shiloh.

The problem with “fake news” is that publications are not using copy editors to check the accuracy of the information found in the articles before they are published. This problem is plaguing even major newspapers. Recently the Washington Post published an article in which they report how New York Times staff staged a walkout because of copy editor cuts. Here is how the Post begins the article:

And in the era of “fake news,” averting error is more important than ever.

For these reasons and others, employees at the New York Times are outraged over a recent decision to eliminate the newspaper’s stand-alone copy desk, a team that includes more than 100 copy editors.

In a letter to the New York Times, the copy editors tried to emphasize the important work they do. They wrote:

We are living in a strange time when routine copy-editing duties such as fact checking, reviewing sources, correcting misleading or inaccurate information, clarifying language and, yes, fixing spelling and grammar mistakes in news covfefe are suddenly matters of public discourse.

When an article is published without the benefit of a copy editor, “misleading or inaccurate information” will be published and the reader who has no knowledge of the subject being discussed in the article will believe the misleading information, unless someone tries to correct the mistake, as I tried to do with my post.

So, readers beware! The information published in Forward is “fake news.” The archaeologists digging at Shiloh are not looking for the Ark of the Covenant.

Enters Fox News.

An article published by Fox News describing the archaeological work at Shiloh begins with the following headline:

Experts hunt for biblical tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant

This headline can also be misleading. Archaeologists are not hunting for the biblical tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant. Rather, they are looking for evidence that at one time the tabernacle was located at Shiloh. The discovery of a large amount of animal bones at Shiloh indicates that Shiloh was a holy place where animal sacrifices were made.

The lesson we learn from these headlines is clear. When reading information published in social media one must always be careful about the veracity of what one reads. We live in the age of “fake news.”

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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This entry was posted in Archaeology, Ark of the Covenant, News, Tabernacle and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Fake News and Archaeology

  1. Pingback: Canaanite DNA and Biblically-Illiterate Journalism | Veracity

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