by Gordon Franz
Is Robert Cornuke’s Ph.D. at an Unaccredited School Based on an Unoriginal Dissertation Partly Written By Others?
Robert Cornuke has gained a wide following as a Biblical archaeologist and a “Christian Indiana Jones.” His claims include finding the real Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia, the real mountains of Ararat in Iran with what he believes might be Noah’s Ark, the real anchor stocks from Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, and the real Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia. He also promotes an object he claims bears the name of the Lord, “Yahweh,” which he claims comes from Jebel al-Lawz (Saudi Arabia) where he locates Mount Sinai. (The object later turned out to be a modern-day forgery; see link below.) One expects solid credentials to back these bigger-than-life claims, and Cornuke indeed claims academic credentials but they are not what they seem to be.
Cornuke claims to have an earned Ph.D. degree. But investigation shows his doctorate comes from an unaccredited school, Louisiana Baptist University, and is based on a doctoral dissertation so unoriginal that it is partly or wholly written by someone else and copied verbatim from already published work. In reputable scholarship, dissertations are supposed to be original and not previously published. His dissertation asserts some of his claimed archaeological “discoveries” but does not satisfy minimal standards for academic research, even according to the unaccredited school’s own rules.
People have questioned why there seems to be no record that Cornuke has an undergraduate degree. The degrees attributed to him are a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and a Ph.D. in Bible and Theology, both from Louisiana Baptist University in Shreveport. Normally one needs an undergraduate degree to enter graduate school. Larry Williams, his co-adventurer on his Saudi Arabian expeditions, said Cornuke was a “stocky former college football star” but does not identify which college he attended and whether he graduated from it or not (Williams 1990: 138).
While a degree from an unaccredited institution may be questionable, there is an even more basic issue, and the main point of this article: That is whether Cornuke’s Ph.D. dissertation was legitimate, scholarly, and fulfilled the requirements of Louisiana Baptist University dissertation guide.
Is the Cornuke Dissertation Proper Scholarship?
According to academic norms, a Ph.D. dissertation is an “original contribution to the field or major modification of known work.” The dissertation by Robert Cornuke is neither, because his thesis on locating Mount Sinai at Jebel al-Lawz was originally asserted by Ron Wyatt (Franz 2000) and the location of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia was a thesis originally espoused by Graham Hancock in a bestselling book (1992). Nor does the dissertation meet minimum levels of scholarly competency for several additional reasons as will be demonstrated below.
Ordinarily a requirement of doctoral programs in North America is to publish the dissertation through UMI Dissertation Publishing so that the research is available to other scholars. The first clue that this dissertation does not pass scholarly muster is that it is not available to scholars. The Louisiana Baptist University Library refused to send me, and other libraries, a copy of the dissertation when we requested it via inter-library loan. I also requested a copy of the dissertation directly from Cornuke in December 2005, and he did not respond to that request.
Despite these obstacles, I have obtained a copy of Cornuke’s dissertation. It is entitled “Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant and Mount Sinai in History and Tradition” (Ph.D. diss., Louisiana Baptist University, May 2005, 399 pages).
As I will document below, the Cornuke dissertation is essentially a word-for-word “cut and paste” of the three popular adventure books he co-authored with David Halbrook, and published with Broadman-Holman, except for one book that was “cut and pasted” in part (Cornuke and Halbrook 2000, 2001, 2002). There is very little scholarship in these superficial adventure books.
Unfortunately, where Cornuke does interact with scholarly material he does not understand the issues, is selective in what he reports, and ignores material that refutes his claims. Adventure books are not scholarship. I invite the reader to read the articles at the links below that critique Cornuke’s shallow scholarship and lack of research skills. In none of his books that make up his dissertation has he produced any credible historical, geographical, geological, archaeological, or Biblical evidence to support any of his claims.
When the respected evangelical Egyptologist Professor James Hoffmeier critiqued Cornuke’s “Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia” theory, he stated that Cornuke was an “amateur” and “dilettante” whose work “lacks academic credibility.” Hoffmeier’s criticism was published in his Oxford Press book Ancient Israel in Sinai (2005: 132-136), and has not been refuted by Cornuke. Dr. Hoffmeier then proceeded to itemize the “monumental blunders” that “Cornuke and his colleagues” have made that “trained archaeologists and biblical scholars would not make.” After cataloging the criticism of Cornuke theories, Dr. Hoffmeier concluded:
“I concur with Gordon Franz’s devastating critique of Cornuke’s theory and his conclusions that ‘Mt. Sinai should be located in the Sinai Peninsula right where the Bible places it, not in Saudi Arabia.’ ”
Is the Cornuke Dissertation Legitimately Original?
As an ethical matter, it is very unlikely that the faculty at any accredited graduate school would view Cornuke’s dissertation as original research given that the authorship was shared by David Halbrook. Candidates for a Ph.D. cannot hire someone else to do their work for them, take tests for them, or write material for them, even if they are acknowledged by name and thanked.
In fact, Halbrook’s co-authorship is nowhere mentioned in the text of the dissertation. In the acknowledgements of his dissertation, Cornuke states:
“Two individuals deserve special acknowledgement for their contribution in research and inpute [sic] in the compilation of this dissertation. I would like to offer these men the enormous credit they are both entitled and would also wish to extend my deepest appreciation for their kind and valued work. Thank you David Halbrook and Kenneth Durham as I would not have been able to accomplish this dissertation as completed without you” (2005: 3, emphasis added).
Although Mr. Cornuke credits these two for their “research” contributions, nevertheless he does not state that David Halbrook was in effect the co-author of this dissertation.
The dissertation is taken directly from Cornuke’s three adventure books, co-authored with Halbrook. Proof of this cut-and-paste method is embarrassingly apparent in some of the dissertation’s endnotes or footnotes that come from chapters of one book not included in the dissertation so they don’t actually “footnote” anything in the dissertation! These footnotes (endnotes) are orphaned.
In the section on Noah’s Ark, several chapters have been omitted from the previously published Cornuke-Halbrook book, In Search of the Lost Mountains of Noah. No reason is given for this omission and it leaves those orphan endnotes. Missing from the dissertation are the Cornuke-Halbrook book’s acknowledgment (Cornuke and Halbrook 2001: ix), prelude (2001: 5-12), and chapters seven (2001: 58-63), eight (2001: 64-69), and thirteen (2001: 102-107).
In the Noah’s Ark book Acknowledgment, which was left out of the dissertation, Mr. Cornuke profusely thanked his co-author Halbrook:
“An extra special word of acknowledgment and appreciation goes to … David Halbrook, whose monumental effort, skilled literary abilities, and cherished friendship have made the writing of this book both an extreme pleasure and a blessing, which could never be adequately conveyed with mere words” (2001: ix).
The phrases “monumental effort” and “literary abilities” suggest that Halbrook did the major portion of the writing – of work that was later copied by Cornuke into Cornuke’s dissertation as if it was Cornuke’s own work.
Honorary vs. Earned Doctorates
Completed dissertations often find their way into published follow-up books by the scholars. But dissertation requirements do not allow for the reverse to take place – for the author’s already published books, especially books that are co-authored, to make their way, verbatim, into the author’s dissertation.
Previously published work, even if written by the same author, is not “original.” And here, it is not even clear what was written by Cornuke and what was written by Halbrook, and what possibly may have been written by still other individuals (for example, Durham). Previously published work may merit honorary degrees such as honorary doctorates (D. Litt. – Doctor of Literature, often honorary), but not earned doctorates. If the Louisiana Baptist University doctorate had been merely honorary then we would not have the major problem that we have, but in fact it is assertedly an earned doctorate so it must adhere to the standards for earned versus honorary degrees.
Does Cornuke Fulfill the Requirements of the Dissertation Guide?
I invite the reader to decide, based on the evidence cited previously and in the linked articles (below), if Robert Cornuke’s dissertation fulfills the requirements of the Louisiana Baptist University “Doctoral Dissertation Requirements.” In my opinion and that of other scholars, this dissertation does not “exhibit originality and thoroughness of research”, and it was not “an exhaustive treatment of the subject chosen”; therefore it does not the meet the standards of “high quality of research and knowledge expected of doctoral projects” (quotes from the LBU Doctoral Dissertation Requirement guide, emphasis added).
For links to my critiques of the scholarship, or lack thereof, in Cornuke’s books that were copied directly into the Mount Sinai and Noah’s Ark sections of his dissertation, see:
The Conclusion of the Matter
Cornuke is promoted as having an earned Ph.D. degree to back his extravagant claims of archaeological “discoveries.” Despite his claims, an investigation into his Ph.D. dissertation reveals that he does not have the respectable academic credentials one would expect and there appear to be ethical problems in submitting a dissertation that is not solely his own work. To award a “Ph.D.” for an unscholarly, academically questionable dissertation of dubious authorship cheapens the high standards of legitimate scholarly Ph.D.’s. These are earned by putting years into university research and library work, learning ancient and modern languages, writing and re-writing countless pages of original, scholarly research to hone a work into one of academic excellence.
For links to other critiques of Cornuke’s ideas, see:
2005 “Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant and Mount Sinai in History and Tradition” (Ph.D. diss., Louisiana Baptist University, May 2005).
Cornuke, Robert; and Halbrook, David
2000 In Search of the Mountain of God. The Discovery of the Real Mt. Sinai. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.
2001 In Search of the Lost Mountains of Noah. The Discovery of the Real Mts. Of Ararat. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.
2002 In Search of the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.
2000 Is Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia? Bible and Spade 13/4: 101-113.
1992 The Sign and the Seal. The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. New York: Crown.
2005 Ancient Israel in Sinai. New York and London: Oxford University Press.
1990 The Mountain of Moses. The Discovery of Mount Sinai. New York: Wynwood.
About the author
Gordon Franz is a Bible teacher who holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Columbia Biblical Seminary, SC. Since 1978, he has engaged in extensive research in archaeology and participated in excavations in and around Jerusalem, including Ketef Hinnom and Ramat Rachel; as well as the excavations at Lachish, Jezreel, Hazor, and Tel Zayit. He has taught the geography of the Bible and led field trips in Israel for the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies, the Institute of Holy Land Studies, and the IBEX program of The Master’s College. He also co-teaches the Talbot School of Theology’s Bible Lands Program. Gordon is on the staff of the Associates for Biblical Research.