Saturday, August 21, 2004

PALEOJUDAICA NOW HAS A LINK AT BELIEFNET, one of only five listed blogs on Judaism. The editor characterizes PaleoJudaica as:
Weblog about ancient Judaism (yet updated surprisingly often)

I think this says rather more about the editor's preconceptions than about my site, but I'm glad of the link nonetheless. If you've come here via it, welcome! You can find out more about this blog at the "About PaleoJudaica" link to the right. And, as the Beliefnet blurb says, I have managed to add postings pretty much every day for a long time.
Madonna buys Spears Kabbalah engagement gift

World Entertainment News Network
Posted August 20 2004

Legendary singer Madonna has bought Britney Spears a "priceless" 12th century Kabbalah book to celebrate her engagement to dancer Kevin Federline.

The pop icons are devout followers of the mystical offshoot of Judaism, so the singer is thrilled with the special bound edition of Zohar - also known as Book Of Splendour - and refuses to go anywhere without it.


Between Mel Gibson and Madonna, Aramaic has a whole new lease on life.

Friday, August 20, 2004

THERE'S A DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION IN BRAZIL reported by, and I'm not making this up, Here's their announcement with some comments from me in square brackets:
Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro

Those in Rio are getting the chance to behold one of the most prized historical documents ever: the Dead Sea Scrolls. Recently open to the public at the Museu Historico Nacional in Rio, the exhibit contains three original scrolls and 7 replicas, along with 80 artifacts and translations to better understand the documents (unless you�re fluent in Aramaic and Hebrew) and for comparisons with biblical texts. A little history lesson: the manuscripts were found throughout eleven caves in the desert of Quaran [That's "Qumran."], preserved due to low humidity and high temperatures since, around, 200 to 70 BC [That's 200 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.]. Historians state its importance is that of a link between Christianity, Judaism and Islamism {I think - I hope! - they mean "Islam."], mainly since the original owners of the documents were Essenes, a Jewish Sect said to have had Jesus Christ as a member [Uh, no on that last bit about Jesus.]. The Pinacoteca of S�o Paulo will be receiving the exhibit on the 29th of October.
Plan to remove Mount artifacts criticized (Jerusalem Post)

A group of senior Israeli archeologists have condemned Wakf plans to remove thousands of tons of earth and rubble mixed with assorted archeologically rich artifacts uncovered during past construction work carried out by the Wakf (Muslim religious trust) on the Temple Mount, warning of repeat archeological damage at the nation's holiest site.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday, the nonpartisan Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount deplored such action as "an irrevocable and most serious archeological, cultural, and scientific crime at the state's most important antiquities site."


The piles of earth, mixed in with heaps of garbage and construction materials, have been sitting on the eastern side of the Temple Mount for at least four years, archeologists said, and date back to the massive unilateral Wakf construction work carried out in the late 1990s at an architectural support of the mount, known as Solomon's Stables. The site was secretly turned into the biggest mosque in the country, which can accommodate 30,000 people.

Following its completion, Wakf officials dumped more than 12,000 tons of earth, with history-rich artifacts, at a garbage dump outside the Old City, an action which the Antiquities Authority called "an unprecedented archeological crime."

Concern over a similar, if smaller-scale, move now after the precedent set by the removal of antiquities by the Wakf five years ago, is heightening the archeologists' concern.

"WHAT IS COPTOLOGY?" Jill Kamil reports on the recent Paris conference in Al Ahram. (This is the same conference at which the recovery of the Coptic Gospel of Judas was announced.) Excerpts:
The only absolute certainty is that 'Coptic' has to do with Egypt," observed Professor M Tito Orlandi of Rome's University of La Sapienza in his presidential address to the eighth International Association for Coptic Studies (IACS) congress in Paris last week [Actually, it was in the beginning of July. - JRD].

The astounding fact is that, apart from linguistics (which alone can be clearly defined) there is neither an obvious character, nor can the limitations be set, on all other fields of Coptic studies, whether history, geography, literature or art. This vitally important subject concerning Orthodox Egyptian Christianity has been conscientiously considered, deliberated on and studied in depth at an international level for the last 30 years. But while there have been specialised studies by scholars around the world, seven international congresses and seminars in Egypt and abroad, its parameters are still being debated.


The presentations covered archaeology and art history, the Gnostics and Manacheism, documentary sources including the Nag Hammadi codices, papyrus collections, ostraca and specific inscriptions from various sources, discoveries of wall paintings in abandoned hermitages and in a cave church, and studies on Copts and Muslims in the Late Antique and early Islamic periods. Numerous studies have been made in recent years on textiles, monasticism, theology and magic.

Four important and useful papers were given on the progress made in the period 2000-2004: Research and Publications in Coptic Papyrology by Terry Wilfong of the University of Michigan, Research and Publication in Coptic Art by Karel Inem�e, Actualiti�s des Mus�es et Expositions by Dominique Benazeth, and Copto-Arabic Studies by Mark Swanson.

The core disciplines referred to by Orlandi in his presidential address included the study of the Coptic language in all its synchronic aspects, the study of Coptic literature written in Coptic (although from the intertextual and historical points of view it cannot be distinguished from respective contemporary Greek, Arabic, and Demotic literature); the study of the Egyptian church in all its aspects after the Council of Chalcedon in 451; the study of paleography; the study of ecclesiastical and monastic Egyptian art after Chalcedon; and the study of papyri and similar documents written in Coptic.


And so, while confusion remains over the use of the very word "Coptic", with philologists referring to the last phase of the Egyptian language, theologians to the Egyptian faith, and art historians, until recently, describing as "Coptic" anything that did not fit into other well-defined parameters, the situation looks bleak. "I could not say whether the academic teaching of Coptology has improved in the last 30 years," Orlandi admitted, "or even by how much, because there is no assessment of previous activity".

Although Professor Orlandi ended his address on an optimistic note, recalling important achievements in the last three decades with particular mention of an encyclopaedia, grammatical, historical atlas, handbook of liturgy, and a minor but total edition of the Coptic Bible, a history of Copto-Arabic literature as well as ongoing excavation of archaeological sites and diverse studies, when we observe the overall picture it would appear that the congress, for all its scope, may not have been the success it should have been. Gaps between different disciplines seem to be widening rather than diminishing, and still open to question is a definition of Coptic and the broad parameters of Coptic studies.

There's lots more. Worth a read, although I think the treatment is unduly pessimistic.
MORE ON BIBLICAL TEXTS AND ANCIENT INSCRIPTIONS: In reply to my posting on his article, Lawrence Mykytiuk e-mailed on Wednesday:
Thank you, Jim, for quoting and summarizing my July SBL Forum article, "A Royal Dignitary - Or a "Royal" Disappointment? Who's Who in Biblical Texts and Ancient Inscriptions," in with your comments. It's nice to know that we agree on Smelik's very practical method that aims at objectivity by comparing discoveries with other discoveries before biblical texts. I followed that method in my forthcoming book.

Regarding IDs 6 & 7 in the article, Tsidqiyahu and Hanani, I can say with certainty that the bulla is definitely unprovenanced. I apologize for not making that explicit in my article; in the interest of saving space, I chose to leave it implicit. No uncertainty on my part was involved. The references are Andre Lemaire, "Nouvelles don�es �pigraphiques sur l'�poque royale isra�lite," _Revue des etudes juives_ 156 (1997): 445-61 (these pages reference the whole article); idem, "Nouveaux sceaux et bulles pal�o-h�bra�ques," _Eretz-Israel_ 26 (Frank Moore Cross Volume, 1999): 108* and 111*, no. 10, photograph on 110*, no. 22 (the entire article is 106*-15*).

Stephen Carlson is entirely on target in questioning the second-known bulla of Berekyahu ben Neriyahu has(s)ofer in his journalistically cute question, which I enjoy, "Has anyone compared the fingerprint on this bulla to those of 20th century personages?" (Stephen C. Carlson, "An Antiquities Forgery Ring?," Hypotyposeis, posted Tuesday, February 24, 2004, accessed August 18, 2004, available http: ). Once the first bulla was published, a second would not have been too difficult to forge (though bullae take more steps to forge, therefore forged bullae are more easily detected than forged stone seals), so he is right to emphasize the second bulla. And certainly with the skepticism rightly aroused by recent scandalous developments, it is appropriate and almost irresistible to do so.

But the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the first-known bulla, as Avigad (1986) describes them, seem to me to support the likelihood of authenticity. I'm wondering whether you have given due weight to the details of his description in the book you refer to, _Hebrew Bullae from the Time of Jeremiah: Remnants of a Burnt Archive_ (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1986), 12-13, notably:

". . . Bullae were brought to me in small batches. There was no
reason to suspect their authenticity, and I seriously doubt whether
it would be possible to forge such burnt and damaged bullae.
Despite the delay in the appearance of subsequent batches of bullae,
there was no doubt that all of them belonged to a single assemblage;
identical impressions often occurred in different batches, and
occasionally two fragments of a single bullae [_sic_] from different
batches, could be joined. This was revealed only by means of enlarged
photographs" (p. 13).

Avigad, at that time long the dean of Hebrew epigraphers, goes on to mention "two hundred bullae" of this group in the possession of Yoav Sasson, "forty-nine further items" in the possession of Reuben Hecht, and a small number, less than a dozen, once photographed by Avigad, whose whereabouts had became unknown. So here we have what according to Avigad's photographic evidence began as a relatively gigantic hoard of some 250 to 260 bullae, burned and fragmented, then divided up for sale in small batches. I would like to inquire: what forger in 1975, when skepticism had not at all been inflamed on the scale we see today, would have found it necessary to go to all that trouble forging this huge hoard of bullae, then burning and crushing them--just to sell them to antiquities collectors? Avigad himself doubted whether it was even possible to forge bullae in such bad condition.

Since then, it has become difficult indeed to find any experienced, senior epigrapher who seriously doubts the authenticity of the first-known bulla of Berekyahu. How many can you name? What reasons do they give?

In an era in which impoverished Arab villagers go out at night in large groups to dig illegally (cf. Avigad [1986], 13), one can expect that at least some artifacts that appear on the antiquities market will be authentic but that this fact will not be directly verifiable. So it becomes necessary to rely on technical analytical methods and on the expertise of top epigraphers. Gabriel Barkay and Andy Vaughn are, in my estimation, among the latter. Barkay and Vaughn worked for hundreds of hours documenting and analyzing lmlk inscriptions, as is evident in their publications. Vaughn thought it entirely appropriate to use the hoard of bullae published in Avigad (1986) as a supplement to his provenanced, stratigraphically dated, plainly reliable inscriptions in producing his dissertation (Note: in no instance whatsoever does Vaughn's dissertation base any conclusions at all on unprovenanced material; rather, the unprovenanced bullae, whose letter shapes correspond remarkably well to those of the provenanced bullae, serve only to supplement the provenanced material, on which the paleographic conclusions are clearly based). In the bibliography that follows, the last article demonstrates his concern regarding authenticity, which produced a new, statistical method of detecting likely forgeries in groups of inscriptions.

Vaughn, Andrew G. "The Chronicler's Account of Hezekiah: The Relationship of His-
torical Data to a Theological Interpretation of 2 Chronicles 29-32." Ph.D. diss.,
Princeton Theological Seminary, 1996.
---. "Methodological Issues in the Palaeographic Dating of Hebrew Seals." Paper
presented at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research,
Philadelphia, Pa., November 19, 1995.
---. "Palaeographic Dating of Judaean Seals and Its Significance for Biblical Re-
search." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 313 (1999):
---. Theology, History and Archaeology in the Chronicler's Account of Hezekiah.
Archaeology and Biblical Studies 4. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999.
Vaughn, Andrew G., and Carolyn Pillers Dobler. "A Provenance Study of Hebrew Seals
and Seal Impressions-A Statistical Analysis." In I Will Tell Secret Things from
Long Ago (Abiah Chidot Menei-Kedem)-Ps. 78:2b): Archaeological and Histori-
cal Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday.
Edited by Aren M. Maeir and Pierre M. de Miroschedji. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisen-
brauns, in press.

Of course, if you have indeed avoided "easy skepticism" and done the homework that can justify your views, and if you still remain skeptical of the authenticity of the first-known bulla of Berekyahu and its companion in the same group, the one and only bulla "of Yeraxme'el the king's son," you certainly have your right of independent judgment, and there is little more that I can say.

On second thought, I can offer a second shameless plug for my book that is already shamelessly plugged in the article (smile). I have been hoping that the SBL paperback would appear next month, but I do not know if it will; Brill is advertising their doubly overpriced cloth edition as available in November.

As for not paying enough attention to the matter of forgeries and fakes, the article only mentioned such issues because of space limits and the necessity to stick to the matter of IDs. In fact, the editor suggested the outline of the article for me, which made it convenient to write. The article is intended for the educated non-specialist and for the awareness of professionals in relevant fields. In the current environment, I felt it was only necessary to recognize the problem of possible forgeries and fakes. You may note that each ID or potential ID is presented with some note of whether the inscription that offers it is provenanced or not.

I replied:
Thanks very much for taking the time to reply to my PaleoJudaica post. I used to follow NWS epigraphy very closely, but I have to admit that I haven't had time to for some years. It may be that I was being too skeptical in my post. My point was that there is good reason to fear that a "monster forgery machine" has been churning out high quality fake Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions for quite a long time. As early as the 1970s? Perhaps not. But I will feel better if the Golan trial allows us to map out whether there was a forgery ring and, if so, who was involved, when it started and how long it operated, and, ideally (and optimistically) which pieces it faked.

May I turn the question around and ask you how worried you are about the above and at what point (i.e., around what year) you think the forgery ring may have been putting professionally convincing fakes on the market? Would you agree with me in principle that unprovenanced inscriptions recovered after such and such a year (you fill in the blank) should be assumed to be fakes unless there is unusual collateral evidence of some kind to authenticate them?

He replied yesterday (and my e-mail account only let me see the message today):
Thank you for your kind reply below, Jim. I'm afraid I would have to do a considerable amount of homework in order to be much help to you regarding any forgery ring, monster or otherwise. The most recent piece I've read on the subject is Chris Rollston's strong article, "Non-Provenanced Epigraphs I: Pillaged Antiquities, Northwest Semitic Forgeries, and Protocols for Laboratory Tests," _Maarav_ 10 (2003):
135-93. Part II may appear soon.(footnote 1)

Let's say we knew for certain that a monster forgery ring operated between 1985 and 1995 (I'm picking numbers out of the air and hoping they don't happen to coincide with any real ring of forgers [nervous smile]). The proportion of forgeries on the market would probably increase, assuming no simultaneous, large increase of authentic items on the antiquities market (and if there were, how would we track that?). In any event, there would still be at least some authentic, unaltered artifacts on the market. Suspicion should of course be much greater for items that surfaced during those years, but I would be reluctant to assume that unless there is unusual collateral evidence of some kind to authenticate them, _all_ items from those years were forged or faked.

I sense a strong desire to push back against forgers; this is a good urge, but in my opinion, the way to push back should be as _refined_ as it is forceful. If you will pardon a distant analogy that may ring true psychologically, I recall a description of Marxism that you may have heard. Perhaps it came from a disenchanted Soviet citizen(?). A paraphrase goes something like this: Marxism is an attempt to heal the most delicateand intricate problems of society by the use of an axe. So, although I certainly respect differing opinions, I tend not to follow the idea of a blanket assumption of forgery during
certain years. If the Golan trial should yield specific information, then of course that would be one key to a refined response.

(footnote 1) On February 3, 2004, the Maarav Editor announced,
"Please note that MAARAV 11/1 (2004) will be appearing during mid to
late summer. MAARAV 11/2 (2004) will appear around the time of the
OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST, accessed: August 19, 2004; available:

Fair points all, and I withdraw my objection to the Avigad collection. And I'll go along with "suspicion should be much greater for items that surfaced during those years," as long as it is spelled out that potentially we're up against fakes circulated during those years which were produced by people who knew pretty well what they were doing and who made them with the aim of fooling contemporary professional epigraphers. As to the nature and extent of this alleged forgery ring, I shall be watching the Golan trial closely to see what emerges. Larry Mykytiuk also mentions that he's now thinking of writing an article on when to trust unprovenanced inscriptions. I hope very much that he does. I'd love to read it.
Readers Ze'ev Orzech and Seth Cohen have written separately to inquire about the names of the months in the Hebrew calendar. . . .

Although both Mr. Orzech and Mr. Cohen have confused certain things, they do, between them, mention all four of the different Hebrew calendars known to us historically, i.e., 1) an ancient, lunar, prebiblical calendar, known only from a stone tablet found in an excavation near Tel Gezer halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, that indeed dates to about 1000 B.C.E.; 2) a second lunar calendar, the one used by the Bible, which generally refers to the months of the year only by number (e.g., "the first month," "the second month," etc.), but also calls four of them by name; 3) the Hebrew calendar we use today, which is also lunar and was brought back to Palestine by the Babylonian exiles returning in 538 BCE after the Babylonian empire was destroyed by the Persian King Cyrus; 4) a solar calendar used by some Palestinian Jews (including the sectarians of the Dead Sea Scrolls) who refused to recognize the Babylonian calendar in the last centuries before the Common Era.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

MY E-MAIL HAS BEEN DOWN most of the day. The University server seems to have crashed, perhaps due to the storms and flooding we've been having this week. I was expecting at least one blog-related message today, so apologies if you've e-mailed me and I haven't responded. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

UPDATE (20 August): Still down this morning. Sorry.
Debate flares anew over Dead Sea Scrolls
Was community inhabited by monks or mere farmers?

By Josef Federman
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:42 p.m. ET Aug. 18, 2004

QUMRAN, West Bank - Rival groups of scholars excavating this dusty plateau overlooking the Dead Sea are arguing over who lived here in biblical times � ordinary farmers or the Essenes, a monastic sect seen by some as a link between Judaism and early Christianity.


Yuval Peleg, who has been excavating at Qumran for 10 seasons with fellow archaeologist Itzhak Magen, said artifacts such as coins and pottery they had discovered indicate the community at Qumran "lacks any uniqueness."

"No one can say if they were the Essenes," he said, adding that he had not completed his analysis of the finds and therefore couldn't say more.

However, Randall Price, an adjunct professor at Trinity Southwest University in New Mexico, said his five-week dig at Qumran yielded "new evidence to support old ideas" � that a special Jewish sect lived at Qumran.

Price said he has found animal bones and a well-preserved clay pot. He said the arrangement of the bones � carefully placed together, sometimes along with pieces of pottery � "make it quite clear that this was a religious ritual."

Price said the inhabitants likely held some sort of communal meal. Price, an evangelical pastor, said the meal may have been a precursor for a ritual that later became the Christian eucharist.

He said the pot, roughly 2 feet (60 centimeters) tall and still intact, is the same type of pottery found in the nearby caves that held the original scrolls. This is further evidence of links between the Qumran inhabitants and the scrolls, he said.

TUESDAY'S LECTURE BY GABRIELE BOCCACCINI was a smashing success, with about a hundred people attending. He lectured on his theory of the Enochic origins of the Essene movement and the nature of the Qumran community as a radical splinter group of the Essenes. You can read more about this in his book Beyond the Essene Hypothesis. Many thanks to Professor Boccaccini for sharing his expertise with the people of St. Andrews. It was very much appreciated.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


Relics of ancient faith (Charlotte Observer, requires free registration)

January 12, 2001

In ancient Israel, a family carves a cave-like tomb out of a rocky hillside. Inside, they lay out their dead, burn incense, share food, pour libations. The ritual pottery they use - bowls, lamps, small jugs, an incense burner - sit undisturbed for 2,800 years.

Then, almost 10 years ago, somebody finds them in the same rock-hewn tomb, south of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem.

This centuries-old story got a good, local ending Thursday when the 21 ceramic artifacts - as well-preserved as if they'd been used yesterday - were put on permanent display at UNC Charlotte.


Thomas [= benefactor Tom Phillips?] and UNCC professor James Tabor, whose focus of study is biblical archaeology, said they hope the collection from the Iron Age - the time of the prophet Isaiah - will be the beginning of what could someday grow into a biblical antiquities museum on the UNCC campus.

NADER SADAKA, Samaritan and a commander of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has been arrested by Israeli troops near Nablus.
DNA to reveal source of Dead Sea Scrolls (Jerusalem Post)

Authorities are hoping that DNA testing of animal bones discovered in excavations at the Qumran plateau will reveal the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. . . .

Prof. Oren Gutfield of Hebrew University, who participated in the excavations, is attempting to ascertain the relationship between the scrolls and their place of discovery.

"What we will do now are DNA tests to these bones in order to compare DNA results from these animals with DNA of the Dead Sea Scrolls parchment. A connection was never found between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the site itself, but if a match is found it means that the people who lived in Qumran actually prepared the scrolls from animals at the site itself," Gutfield said.


Archaeologists insist there was a community at Qumran (Ha'aretz)
By Amiram Barkat

The Qumran myth is alive and well, despite recent attempts to disprove it, according to archaeologists digging at the site.
The archaeologists, who are financed by Christian fundamentalist organizations, believe that despite recent theories to the contrary, there was a community at the place sometimes called "the oldest monastery in the Western world."

The archaeologists said at a news conference yesterday that they intend to find the proof that the residents of the site indeed wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in nearby caves.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION WEBSITE IS BACK. And very welcome. (Heads-up, Jim West.)
JOHN THE BAPTIST'S CAVE? Maybe. Some people in the Byzantine period seem to have thought so.
Scholar says he's found John the Baptist's cave

Monday, August 16, 2004 Posted: 2138 GMT (0538 HKT)
Members of an Israeli archeological team enter a cave they believe was used by John the Baptist.

KIBBUTZ TZUBA, Israel (AP) -- Archaeologists said Monday they have excavated a cave where John the Baptist baptized many of his followers -- basing their theory on tens of thousands of shards from small ritual jugs, a stone used for foot cleansing and wall carvings that tell the story of the contemporary of Jesus.

Only few artifacts linked to New Testament figures have ever been found in the Holy Land, and the cave is potentially a major discovery in biblical archaeology.

"John the Baptist, who was just a figure from the Gospels, now comes to life," British archaeologist Shimon Gibson said during an exclusive tour of the cave given to The Associated Press.


Gibson and his team, including volunteers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, cleared out the layers of soil, picking up about 250,000 shards from small jugs apparently used in purification rituals.

The explorers laid bare 28 steps leading to the bottom of the cave. On the right, a niche was carved into the wall -- typical of those used in Jewish ritual baths for discarding the clothes before immersion. Near the end of the stairs, the team uncovered an oval stone with a foot-shaped indentation -- about a shoesize 45 (U.S. size 11). Just above, a soapdish-like niche was carved into the stone, apparently for ritual oil that would flow through a small channel onto the believer's right foot.

On the water-covered floor of the cave, stones and boulders had been moved aside by the worshippers and a middle path had been filled with gravel, apparently to protect those wading from stubbing their toes, said Egon Lass, an archaeological consultant at Wheaton College, near Chicago, Illinois, who also worked on the dig.

Crude images had been carved on the walls, near the ceiling, and Gibson said they tell the story of John's life.


(Via Todd's Thoughts.)
IMAGES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS at the Bibelmuseum Muenster are available online at the Institut f�r neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) website. (Heads-up Klaus Wachtel on the Textual Criticism list.)

Monday, August 16, 2004

Alleged burial site could delay work on new Tiberias hotel (Jerusalem Post)
By Eli Ashkenazi

Some 2,000 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators are expected to arrive in Tiberias this afternoon for a prayer assembly to protest alleged desecration of ancient graves at a hotel construction site.

Local entrepreneurs Yair Webman and Meir Shok are building a boutique hotel that incorporates a Tiberias landmark known as "the old soldiers hostel," in the northeastern part of the city. The existing structure is a large basalt house with arch-shaped windows and painted floor tiles that served until 1948 as a Muslim girls school. Construction has begun on a foundation for six additional floors for 120 rooms with a view of Lake Kinneret. In the course of digging foundations for the southern side of the hotel, ancient remains were uncovered that may be graves, and religious authorities want to halt construction there.

Webman says that the remains found "could be graves, but the Antiquities Authority found nothing here."


No word on how old the "ancient remains" are likely to be. For more on the problem of ancient burials in Tiberias, go here (and scroll down to the update).
I SHALL BE EXTREMELY BUSY for the next few weeks, maybe longer, and whatever blogging time I find will have to be snatched in odd moments. I don't know if this will result in a noticeable reduction in PaleoJudaica posts; it may well. Please bear with me. But I do intend to post two papers that I'm presenting at conferences, so count your blessings.
THE SBL FORUM had an article I've been meaning to comment on for some time:
A Royal Dignitary - Or a "Royal" Disappointment? Who's Who in Biblical Texts and Ancient Inscriptions
by Lawrence J. Mykytiuk
"To attempt to identify a biblical person in an extrabiblical inscription is to accept a number of challenges."

When you see the article or photograph, your eyes cannot leave the page for long. Your lips may slowly, silently form the word: Wow. Here is an inscription from a biblical time and place that seems to refer to someone mentioned in the Bible. You have experienced the wow factor.

Where are biblical persons named? Their names appear on ancient monuments, on their personal seals, in impressions made by their seals, and on pieces of broken pottery. Personal seals are small, rounded pieces of semiprecious stone or other hard material, with a drawing and/or the name of the seal owner carved on them, usually along with other identifying information. Impressions from personal seals appear on some jar handles and on bullae (singular, bulla). Bullae are seal-impressed lumps of dried clay affixed to official documents to seal them shut and to record the names of verifying witnesses.

We now have the names of more than 1,200 preexilic Hebrew persons from inscriptions of that era � plus many names from later eras and other biblical peoples. Yet despite this abundance of inscriptions, making a biblical identification (here abbreviated ID) in them is not easy.


He continues with a list of nine difficulties with identifying a biblical person mentioned in an inscription and concludes:
In the attempt to be objective, no one is going to completely rid Near Eastern archaeology of biblical influence anytime soon (even if that were seen as a desirable goal). Rather, when interpreting and evaluating discoveries that might tend to confirm or discount things to which biblical texts refer, one helpful method (used, e.g., by Klaas Smelik) is to interpret discoveries first in light of other discoveries, as much as possible without biblical input. Only then should they be compared with biblical texts.

I agree completely with this paragraph. He then lists six reasons why it is valuable to have such identifications and then gives as examples six or seven bullae that have been argued to mention biblical figures.

I have to say I am skeptical of all of these identifications except the first two, Gemaryahu and Shaphan, which appear in a seal impression that was discovered in a controlled excavation. Numbers 3, 4, and 5 are in the collection of bullae (clay seal impressions) published by Nahman Avigad in 1986 which were found on the antiquities market and are thus unprovenanced. I'm not familiar with numbers 6 and 7, but evidently Mykytiuk himself is not certain it is authentic (so I assume it too is unprovenanced) and the names may or may not be of biblical persons. (Stephen C. Carlson has some related thoughts on the Baruch bullae somewhere on Hypotyposeis, but I can't find the reference right now.)

For some time I have been following the question of forgeries of inscriptions supposedly from ancient Israel. It's generally agreed now that the "James Ossuary" is forged and it has been claimed that it was one of the productions of a "monster forgery machine" that may have flooded scores or hundreds of forgeries onto the antiquities market. I'm surprised that all this receives so little mention in the article (it's only touched on in difficulty #4).

It's a regrettable side effect, incidentally, that the Jewish-temple deniers are making capital of this problem.

The situation being what it is, it seems to me that, at least until we're quite sure what really happened over the last two or three decades, we should discount the evidence of unprovenanced epigraphic material that surfaced during that period. Unfortunately, that includes some of the most interesting material, such as the Ivory Pomegranate, but if that's what critical evalation of the evidence requires of us, that's what we need to do.

(See also the immediately preceding post, which has some related musings on archaeology and the "minimalist-maximalist" debate.)

UPDATE (20 August): More here

Sunday, August 15, 2004

THE "MINIMALIST-MAXIMALIST" DEBATE (neither side like the name, but I don't know what else to call it) is taken on by David Hazony in the article "Memory in Ruins" in Azure. There's a shorter version in the Forward, which was where I found it). He opposes the minimalists and takes the maximalists to task for not defending their ground better, especially on the popular front. Here's an excerpt from toward the end:
What is the appropriate response to the new archaeology? The first step is to recognize just how fragile are the conclusions which Finkelstein and his school have produced. Traditional biblical archaeology, while far from perfect, has the advantage of corroborative evidence in the form of the biblical text itself. Given two plausible interpretations of an archaeological find, one that matches the biblical account and one that does not, it is reasonable to prefer the biblical reading. This is not because the biblical text is assumed to be accurate in all cases. It is because the two sources - the find and the text - lend support to each other. This way of looking at the Bible is no different from the way historians treat the testimony of any other ancient text that appears to shed light on archaeological finds.

The new archaeology, by contrast, is extremely limited in what it can tell us with confidence, a fact that stems directly from its principled refusal to credit the biblical narrative as a legitimate corroborative source. Thus a stone wall discovered in a dig may be incontrovertibly determined to be a stone wall, but nearly every meaningful conclusion about it - that it is part of a palace and not a citadel; that it was built in the ninth century B.C.E. and not in the seventh; that it was destroyed by one invading king and not another; or even that it was built by one people and not another - is a matter of interpretation. These conclusions are sometimes based on extrapolation from similar examples, or on deduction from theories concerning political or cultural conditions that are themselves highly speculative. Unlike the conclusions produced in the experimental sciences, "purely" archaeological histories are thus based on mountains of guesswork and creative gap-filling. If archaeology is ever going to produce a more reliable history, it needs the input of historical documents. And when one dismisses the most detailed document that exists concerning the biblical period, the result is to set archaeology on a path of unconstrained conjecture.

This is especially important with regard to the new theories concerning the kingdom of David and Solomon. The crucial fact is that there have been no new discoveries in the field of archaeology that cast doubt on the authenticity of the massive structures and fortifications that have until now been attributed to the united kingdom. Moreover, the finds that have turned up in recent years only lend support to the biblical story. Perhaps the most stunning archaeological discovery in the last decade was the first extra-biblical reference to David, an inscription found at Tel Dan in 1993, describing a battle fought against a king of the "house of David." Trapped by their own paradigm, the more extreme skeptics went as far as dismissing the simple reading of the text, concocting alternate readings that relieved them of having to admit that the "house of David" ever existed. But for the vast majority of scholars (including Finkelstein), this discovery was taken as conclusive evidence that, at the very least, a king named David lived and reigned, and founded a dynasty somewhere in the ancient Near East. And although Finkelstein may stand firm in his minimalist reading, maintaining that David and Solomon were nonetheless "little more than hill country chieftains," for most of his colleagues the Tel Dan inscription offered significant support for the historicity of the unified Israelite kingdom depicted in the Bible.

But the most important lesson from the Tel Dan discovery, and others like it, is that there is still a great deal of biblical history that remains buried, waiting to be found. Indeed, if the pace of biblical-era discoveries has slowed dramatically in recent years, it is not because archaeologists have come out of biblical-era excavations empty-handed, but because they essentially called off the search. In this regard, the apathy of mainstream researchers dovetails with the aims of the revisionists: The former stop looking for biblical-era remains, and the latter seize upon the lack of new discoveries to conclude that "after seventy years of digging," anything that has not yet been discovered never will be. But in reality, underneath the surface in hundreds of sites around the Near East, there remains a vast archive of Jewish history, which seven decades of biblical archaeology - regardless of the scholars' exhausted cries to the contrary - have only begun to tap.

Iron-Age archaeology is outside my expertise and I don't have any strong views on this debate. My interests were originally in the Hebrew Bible and the epigraphic texts of this period and earlier but I moved to the later period in part because it came home to me in time that the biblical material is just not suited to the sorts of historical questions that we would like to ask it. I think that Hazony is wrong in the first quoted paragraph, or at least that he oversimplifies. Scholars and archaeologists have to interpret the evidence on its own terms, and that means making sense of the archaeology as best we can on its own before turning to the biblical texts. Often when we do compare archaeology and the Bible we're comparing apples and oranges, because they give us information about very different things. Moreover, the biblical texts that claim to describe events in Iron I and earlier (i.e., from the Judges on back) give every indication of being collections of legends. There is considerably more collateral evidence, especially from cuneiform texts, for events in the Divided Monarchy, and I don't doubt that the broad outline of events in 1-2 Kings is real. My guess is that the biblical texts on the United Monarchy (David and Solomon) fall somewhere in between, in terms of what they tell us about actual history, but I really don't know (and I don't think anyone else does either).

Hazony goes on to say,
The leading biblical archaeologists, whether from Israel or abroad, should return to their calling as it was practiced by the founders of their craft. This means carrying out excavations in Israel and elsewhere, whose purpose is to elucidate the history of the biblical era - a period which is not yet well understood, but which continues to exert a profound influence on the mind and spirit of mankind.

I'm a little surprised by this. Does he mean that archaeologists are avoiding digging sites and strata from the biblical period? I doubt that this is so and I doubt that they could avoid this period in any consistent way, even if they tried. But if he means that he thinks they should be conducting their excavations to try to confirm (or disconfirm) the biblical accounts in the Iron Age, all I can say is that archaeologists need to follow the questions that their own research leads them to and we non-archaeologists are not in a good position to tell them what they should be asking. Sure, it's neat to have direct confirmation (or disconfirmation) of biblical events or stories once in awhile, but, as I said above, any intersection between text and archaeology (including inscriptions) is hard to come by and often very difficult to evaluate even when we have it.

UPDATE (16 August): Cynthia Edenberg e-mails to report "that David Hazony is active in the Shalem Center, which engages in polemic with 'new' Israeli historians."

Also, see the immediately following post for related thoughts on inscriptions.