An extended burrow through the sands covering a Middle Eastern murder.
Seven years ago, British journalist Fox stumbled onto an intriguing footnote in a Palestinian political journal. The note described an American archaeologist, a professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank named Albert Glock, who had been assassinated in 1992 after living among the Palestinians for many years. The layers of political innuendo that swathed the reference set Fox on a quest for the truth. Glock, it turns out, was a midwestern Lutheran minister who gradually strayed from Biblical archaeology—the study of the Holy Land for the purpose of reaffirming the truth of the Bible—into the field of secular, scientific archaeology. In particular, he became dedicated to the idea of establishing a Palestinian archaeology dedicated not to the “wonders” of biblical antiquity, but to the study of Palestinians’ allegedly continuous habitation of the West Bank. Glock was neither a brilliant nor a fascinating man, but he was undoubtedly steadfast: Until the day he was killed, he worked steadily toward his goal, with its technical focus on the detritus of daily life, despite the ever more convoluted political circumstances that engulfed him. Fox subtly and expertly traces the analogies between the conflicting theories about who killed Albert Glock—the Israelis and Palestinians each blamed the other—and the political theories that infect archaeology throughout the Middle East. His point is that no one can ever re-create the past with certainty, and that attempts to do so are inevitably projections of what one was hoping to find in the first place. The problem, however, is that there’s barely enough material here for a book, mostly because putative star Glock, earnest and dull, can’t quite pull his weight.
Not even the excellent reportage rescues this account from the status of an overinflated, albeit remarkable, feature from a Sunday magazine.