Friday, May 15, 2009

ROBERT DEUTSCH has published an article on an epigraphic mystery in Biblical Archaeology Review:
Tracking Down Shebnayahu, Servant of the King
How an antiquities market find solved a 42-year-old excavation puzzle
You can read the article yourself, but it concludes:
Thus, the Shebnayahu seal impression found at Lachish can now be positively identified as belonging to the “servant of the king,” who is very probably the same person against whom Isaiah prophesied and whose tomb still overlooks the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. He probably sent a letter from King Hezekiah’s court written on papyrus to an official at Lachish. After wrapping the papyrus letter in string, he placed a blob of clay on the string and stamped it with his seal. What the letter said, we will never know.
A few observations:

1. The bulla inscription that provided the solution comes from the antiquities market. A smart forger would produce just this sort of fake, which seemed to solve a longstanding problem. That said, presumably it would be quite difficult to forge a second seal impression when a genuine impression was already available, and this may rule out forgery. But I would like to know more about the authentication of this bulla and I wish Deutsch had addressed the issue.

2. This story well illustrates the antics of Carol Newsom's angel Lacunael, whose divine vocation is to go around smiting ancient inscriptions at just the spots that will leave maddening ambiguities for epigraphers.

3. Robert Deutsch himself is a somewhat controversial subject at present, since he is one of the accused in the (seemingly endlessly) ongoing Israel forgery trial. A BAR promotional e-mail says:
In the current issue of BAR, editor Hershel Shanks explains why we published "Tracking Down Shebnayahu, Servant of the King" by Robert Deutsch, a scholar and antiquities dealer in Israel who has been indicted for forgery. Shanks explains that not only is Deutsch eminently qualified as a scholar but that the Israeli prosecution has failed to produce any evidence of his guilt at the trial that is now entering its fourth year. "Now it is time to apply the rule that a man is considered innocent until proven guilty," says Shanks--and certainly we all benefit from Deutsch's scholarship.
Shanks's editorial in defense of publishing Mr. Deutsch is here. Some background to the forgery trial is here.