Queries & Comments


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Fall 2023 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters and responses we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

BAR Readers Think Outside the Box

I appreciate Jose Paredes’s letter, in which he lauds the fact that “BAR articles are written by actual researchers, not by people summarizing or interpreting studies carried out by others.” Yet professional scholars must necessarily maintain a delicate balance between pursuing the truth and protecting their credibility, careers, and reputations. Some can’t keep their balance on that wire. So, what should a dedicated layperson do when faced with such academic logjams? We can ask questions and/or offer our own suggestions. BAR’s Queries & Comments is an excellent place to share such outside-the-box thinking.


BAR readers are, indeed, exceptional critical thinkers, and we enjoy presenting your creative thoughts and probing questions to the scholars who write for us. Keep those ideas coming!—ED.

Yahweh vs. Baal

Michael Stahl in his article “Yahweh or Baal?” states that, “The name yhw in Egyptian topographical texts from Amara West and Soleb does not refer to a deity but a people group, the name of which cannot be clearly linked to the god Yahweh.” Egyptologist Donald Redford, in his book Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), disagrees and writes of the reference to Yahweh at Soleb: “It has been generally admitted that we have here the tetragrammaton, the name of the Israelite god, ‘Yahweh’; and if this be the case, as it undoubtedly is, the passage constitutes a most precious indication of the whereabouts during the late fifteenth century B.C. of an enclave revering this god.”

Stahl also mistakenly assumes that the name Yahweh found at Soleb and Amara West is spelled yhw in Egyptian hieroglyphs. There are four glyphs used for this name, not three, and they should be transliterated as “Yahweh.”


Thank you for pointing out the incorrect spelling of yhw, where the last character “disappeared” during the conversion of my manuscript into a design software application. However, the name yhw in these topographical lists refers to a mobile pastoralist group, not a deity. Although many scholars posit a historical connection between this Shasu-group and the later Israelite god Yahweh, some of them correctly conclude that the available Egyptian evidence does not refer to a deity. I discuss this issue in more depth in my article “The Historical Origins of the Biblical God Yahweh,” Religion Compass 14.11 (2020): e12378 (pp. 1–14) (https://doi.org/10.1111/rec3.12378).

The Omride Rulers were Yahwists, but not pure Yahwists. They feared the people wouldn’t accept Yahweh as God unless they dressed him up like the old god, Baal. Suddenly, we can’t tell if it’s Baal or Yahweh decked out like Baal. When Elijah overhears people mistakenly praying to “Baal” instead of “Yahweh,” he demands a clean break, insisting on no images at all. A clean break is the last thing King Ahab wants. He wants a military coalition with neighboring kings, none of whom worship Yahweh. But most biblical prophets view alliances as the equivalent of idolatry, because each alliance comes with a foreign princess (and her gods, altars, and priests). When Ahab’s foreign wife, Jezebel, goes beyond idolatry and connives to violate the Mosaic laws by murdering Naboth and stealing his ancestral property, the prophets vow no more tolerance for compromised Yahwists. They anoint Jehu to conduct a bloody military coup.


I was surprised by Michael Stahl’s insinuation that while the Bible depicts the Omride dynasty as Baal worshipers, they were loyal to Yahweh. Omri has a mere seven verses dedicated to him in 1 Kings 16–19, where it only says that he “walked in the way of Jeroboam.” Jeroboam was not a Baal worshiper but dedicated two sanctuaries to Yahweh with calf idols (1 Kings 12). Even if Omri did worship Baal, there is no indication he did not just add Baal to a mini-pantheon that included Yahweh. There is no question that Yahweh was still worshiped in the Northern Kingdom under Omri.

In the case of Ahab, the Bible suggests that Jezebel influenced him to focus on Baal. In 1 Kings 18:4, it is Jezebel who is “putting away” the prophets of Yahweh. Even in Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal, he tells the people to “stop limping between two different options” (1 Kings 18:21). When Jehoshaphat of Judah repeatedly asks for a prophet of Yahweh in 1 Kings 22, Ahab does not like it, as the only prophet of Yahweh he can think of (Micaiah) never says anything good about him. These do not seem like the words of a dedicated follower of Yahweh.


Books on Byzantium

Sarah Yeoman’s article “Constantinople: Christianity’s First Capital” was fascinating. Are there any books Sarah would recommend to learn more about this city and its rich history, archaeology, and ties to Christianity?


Good entry points into learning more about the Byzantine Empire are A Short History of Byzantium (Vintage, 1998), by John J. Norwich, and A History of Byzantium (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), by Timothy E. Gregory. The first is an old classic; the latter is more of a textbook, which makes it easy to follow. The Oxford History of Byzantium (Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), edited by Cyril Mango, is a more scholarly resource for deeper dives into specific aspects of the Byzantine Empire. To learn more about Constantinople in particular, I suggest starting with Jonathan Harris’s Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Ur of Abraham

The answer to “Where Is It?” states that the great Sumerian city of Ur “was also known to the biblical writers as the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham (Genesis 11:31).” This popular belief and oft-repeated statement is totally baseless, however. Instead, the birthplace of Abraham is to be identified with Urfa (called Ura, in antiquity), located in modern south-central Turkey, 28 miles north of Harran (also mentioned in Genesis 11:31). While I cannot review all the evidence here, suffice to note that Abraham’s homeland was located “beyond the River [Euphrates]” (Joshua 24:2–3), which works for Urfa in northern Mesopotamia, but not for Ur of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia.


Horns of Moses

Gary Rendsburg’s Thesis (“Moses as Pharaoh’s Equal—Horns and All”) that, in Exodus 34:29, ki qaran means that Moses’s face became horned, and that its purpose was to put Moses on an equal footing with Pharaoh, while entertaining, would seem to be an improper rendering, both linguistically and logically. The linguistic problem is the form of the verb. It is in the form known as binyan Qal, which denotes an active rather than passive verb. If the meaning were “became horned,” the proper form would be niqran or hiqrin, which are passive, not qaran.

The logic is also faulty. Had the change taken place in Exodus 7, where Moses confronts Pharaoh, it might make sense to say that the Almighty wanted to put Moses on an equal footing with Pharaoh. However, at that confrontation, there is no mention of qaran. It is mentioned only in Exodus 34, where Pharaoh plays no role whatsoever. What purpose would be served—after Moses had summoned the miracles at the Red Sea, and miraculously supplied water and manna—to have him appear in a manner similar to Pharaoh?


The verb qaran is perfectly fine as a Qal form meaning “was horned,” on par with the usages in Job 7:5 (‘ori raga‘, “my skin is broken”) and Job 30:30 (‘ori shakhar, “my skin is dark”). Mr. Barchaim may be thinking in English, where these verbs may be understood more as passives, but in Hebrew, they all take the active, Qal form.

The Exodus account reserved this one final Egyptianizing element in the book’s concluding narrative about the descent from Mt. Sinai. As such, it serves as one final reminder for the status of Moses throughout the narrative. In addition, we should note that the “logic” of an ancient literary mind may not align with our own modern sensibilities.

Say it isn’t so! Are you really telling me that the early authors of the Bible, particularly of the Book of Exodus—those unerring men who directly speak the word of God—actually had a political agenda? They clearly made up a bunch of stuff so that Moses would be compared to Horus favorably, and by extension to Pharaoh. These men, it turns out, were just men, with foibles, weaknesses, and agendas, and to claim that every dot they put on the page is the unerring word of God is just false.


The Name Miriam

Regarding the piece on the name Miriam (“What’s in a Name?”), I am wondering whether the name Miryam and its variant Mariamene could be more convincingly derived from the Egyptian name Meri-amun, rather than from mery + yam.


Although it may look like the name Mariamne contains the Amun theophoric element, this derivation of the name Miryam does not appear until the Herodian period (37 BCE–70 CE). “Beloved of Yam” rather than “beloved of Amun” (Mer-it-Amun) is thus a better interpretation of the name Miryam.—ED.

Queries & Comments

BAR Summer 2023

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Summer 2023 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters and responses we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

Pleasant Trend

As a church pastor and amateur historian, I’ve always enjoyed BAR and find many of the articles of personal interest. Lately, I’ve noticed a pleasant trend in the overall focus of the articles—that they are, well, biblical. Each article seems to relate directly to the Bible, whereas before some of the articles were a bit more tertiary and critical. For what it’s worth, I appreciate your work.


Invisible David and Solomon

The authors of “David and Solomon’s Invisible Kingdom” point to the paucity of archaeological evidence for tent-dwelling nomads. However, most nomads move with their herds in routine ways in search of good grazing ground. Each location has water and other geography to support tent living. Some nomads might even build permanent features like platforms, tables, or seating to use when they return to a certain location. Looking for these features could also reveal trash heaps, broken crockery, and household goods that they left behind.


Unfortunately, the archaeological study of nomads in the southern Levant proves otherwise. We also should be wary of a positivistic approach that assumes if something existed, it must have left traces. Although it has been observed that nomads in the modern Middle East modify their seasonal campsites, we have no reason to assume that this was the case with all historical nomads. In any case, archaeologists have looked for possible “household” remains, but those are rare, difficult to date, and, most importantly, do not reveal much about the social structure of these nomads.

The reason why archaeologists have not been able to find evidence for David and Solomon’s kingdom is because it was never there. Unfortunately, biblical scholars tend to have tunnel vision about the earliest figures in the Bible. They insist the Bible is accurate, and then have to squeeze the evidence into a false narrative. Is that true scholarship? It seems more like a comedy of errors.


Memorable Maccabees

Thanks to Andrea Berlin for such a clearly written piece on how the Maccabees were able to achieve power (“The Rise of the Maccabees”). I appreciated not only her logic and explanations, but also her memorable historical and archaeological descriptions. What gorgeous writing!


Praise for Gilgamesh

I was pleased to read your article on the Epic of Gilgamesh. I first read Gilgamesh years ago, was deeply impressed, and have reread it several times in different translations. Among its many fascinating qualities are its clear ties to the Bible, especially Genesis. It’s so obvious they have a common source but a different emphasis.


To learn more about the cultural and literary connections between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible, read Adam Miglio’s Bible History Daily article “Genesis and Gilgamesh”: biblicalarchaeology.org/gilgamesh.—ED.

I am an avid supporter of animal welfare and read several magazines on the subject. Amazingly, one of them recently featured an article about the Epic of Gilgamesh! Michael Mountain, a well-known animal activist, wrote about how the ancient epic “captures the essence of our relationship to our fellow animals,” and how the saga encourages us to live in harmony with nature. One of the themes he covers is how the Gilgamesh story addresses our need to accept that we are also animals and instead of conquering nature, we need to find a way to fit into it. It is a different and refreshing take for modern times on an ancient tale.


Paul Pushback

Correct me if I’m wrong, but BAR is an archaeological journal, not a forum for theological debate. The article “Five Myths About the Apostle Paul,” by David Clausen, is not only a poor example of new age religious revisionism, but it isn’t even remotely connected to biblical archaeology. Instead, it only seems to serve as a childish and uninformed attempt at tearing down core Christian doctrines.


BAR does aim to present the latest archaeological discoveries from the world of the Bible. But in our Epistles section, we also highlight new scholarly insights into the Bible’s history and composition, including, in this case, how Paul’s letters would have been read and understood in their own time.—ED.

While I agree there are misconceptions about Paul, Clausen weakens his case by overstating certain elements while eliding evidence that speaks against his arguments. One example: He states, “Paul brought his gospel to those who had no covenant relationship with the God of Israel” (p. 61). This ignores the fact that, as often recorded in the Book of Acts, Paul “brought his gospel” into the synagogues whenever he entered a city, preaching first to his fellow Jews. It is unfortunate that Clausen, in his desire to “de-mythologize” Paul, transgresses Paul’s admonition to the believers in Corinth: “Do not go beyond what is written.”


Because of its late, second-century date, Acts should not be used as an unimpeachable source about what Paul did. In Paul’s own letters, he proclaimed himself apostle to the Gentiles. Undoubtedly Paul stopped at synagogues (where there were any) while he traveled, and likely explained his mission and message about Gentile redemption to their leadership (he says they whipped him a number of times over it), but this did not alter his stated mission.

I read with interest David Clausen’s “Five Myths” but take exception to his assertion that “Historically, we know that there was no such thing as ‘Christianity’ in the time of Paul, and the word ‘Christian’ was likely not in use either” (p. 60). Acts 11:26 states, “For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (NIV). It thus seems that the term “Christian” was indeed in use during the time of Paul. Am I misreading that passage?


Note that Acts does not say when Christianity became a term for the movement in Antioch. If Acts is indeed a second-century composition, it tallies with the time in which Ignatius of Antioch also began using the term “Christianity.”

Space would not permit a full listing of the New Testament passages contradicting David Clausen’s fourth myth that “Paul taught that Christ died for the sins of the world.” Instead, I will just appeal to logic. If Jews already had “ample means of atonement” for sin, why wouldn’t God’s solution for the Gentiles simply be for them to convert to Judaism? It is not surprising that many people believe that Christ’s death is not necessary for them. But it is logically untenable to believe that God has one plan for Jewish salvation and a different plan for the Gentiles.


Paul certainly acknowledged that everyone had to deal with sin. But as any first-century Jew would have known, they had for centuries dealt with sin within their covenant relationship with God, which offered them means of atonement. This does not mean that the resurrected Jesus had no meaning for believing Jews, who found much meaning in his life and message and anticipated his imminent return. Their hope lay largely in Jesus’s ability to restore Israel once he returned, not in forgiveness of sin for individuals.

As for converting Gentiles to Judaism, Paul knew the Hebrew prophecies that spoke of Gentiles (“the nations”), not converted Jews, joining their Jewish neighbors in the worship of God, ostensibly on the Day of the Lord. This was Paul’s message: There was now a means for Gentiles to remain Gentiles yet be redeemed of their sin within a new covenant relationship that would number them among God’s people.

Debating the Bible’s Relevance

In his review of John Dominic Crossan’s Render Unto Caesar, Zeba Crook criticizes Crossan for not showing “why the Bible should not be used to shape modern social, political, and economic policy.” His suggestion is wrong on multiple levels. Although a work of literature, the Bible is considered by Christians to be the revealed word of God. To suggest the Bible is no longer “culturally relevant” goes against the heart of what the Bible says and is entirely wrong. The Bible has endured for thousands of years, and its spiritual truths will endure forever.


A Nice Surprise

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Summer issue’s “Who Did It?” quiz about Barbara Mertz! Only a few hours before, I had been looking at Mertz’s two Egyptian books, which I read not once but twice many years ago. They were some of the most interesting books I have ever read, and I had kept them in a special place. I did not know that she had been a mystery writer as well. I can only say that anyone, especially a person who likes Egyptology, should read her books and enjoy!


Define Error

I had a good laugh reading the answer to “Define Intervention” in the Summer issue where it says: “In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Dilmun is the island reserved for Utnapishtim and his wife, who survived the Great Food” (p. 66). I wonder what may have been on the menu that was revered as Great Food.


Queries & Comments


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Winter 2022 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters and responses we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

Is BAR Losing Its Way?

Most people who care about biblical archaeology do not care about the archaeology of places not mentioned in the Bible or secondhand rehashes of archaeological work done years or decades before. We want to hear about new, spade-in-the-ground archaeology in biblical places by the people doing it. Hershel Shanks figured out how to find that stuff, and if he couldn’t get the archaeologists themselves to write, he told us about it in his “First Person” column. If you cannot recover Hershel’s focus, you will lose us.


Continuing BAR’s Quality Tradition

I heartily approve the outstanding article “Mesha’s Stele and the House of David,” by André Lemaire and Jean-Philippe Delorme, even though I am clueless about Hebrew and the technical details shown in the photographs. I treasure the full disclosure by the authors, who put their argument out there for critique. That gives me comfort, since over the decades BAR has been a place where experts can discuss and debate. Excellent work continuing the quality tradition started by Hershel Shanks.


In the Spring 2023 issue of BAR, Matthieu Richelle and Andrew Burlingame presented another view on this translation (“Set in Stone? Another Look at the Mesha Stele”). Follow this developing debate online at biblehistorydaily.org.—ED.

Genesis of Judaism

I was surprised, to say the least, with what I learned from Yonatan Adler’s article “The Genesis of Judaism” and his timeline for the religion’s development. In my opinion, the one defining sign of being Jewish is circumcision, which was missing from the article. Does Adler have thoughts on this subject?


In the first century CE, male circumcision was one of the primary identity markers of Judeans, for whom it was much more—a fulfillment of a divine commandment enshrined in the Torah. However, Judeans were not the only group to practice circumcision, as the Egyptians, Arabs, and Ethiopians also shared the practice at the time. It appears that circumcision was an early cultural practice whose origins are lost in the mists of time and which may well predate the formation of any kind of distinctly Israelite or Judean identity.

I enjoyed the evidence presented by Yonatan Adler. However, his claim that in “all the books of the Hebrew Bible outside the Pentateuch…ancient Israelite society is never portrayed as keeping the laws of the Torah” is incorrect. There are several references to Sabbath observance in the prophetic books (e.g., Isaiah 58:13-15; possibly 2 Kings 4:23), and it is fairly obvious that the reason Daniel avoids meat and wine in Babylonia (Daniel 1:8) is because he keeps some form of the dietary laws.


The only three passages outside the Pentateuch to refer explicitly to Sabbath prohibitions (Jeremiah 17:19-27; Nehemiah 10:33; Nehemiah 13:15-22) are presented against a backdrop of the general populace not observing these prohibitions, while Isaiah 58 is prescriptive (not descriptive), and 2 Kings 4:23 concerns some sort of (cultic?) festival. Daniel 1:5-16 is the closest we get to someone observing a dietary restriction, although I question whether any of the Torah’s dietary prohibitions are implied here.

An excellent article, tracing evidence of Judaism to the second century BCE. I wonder, though, why Adler does not attribute the assembly of the parts that would become Judaism to the Judean arrival of the Pharisees at that same time? I’ve always thought that Judaism was the product of the Babylonian exiles, with a preliminary report coming with Ezra, and the finished product with the Pharisees.


It seems to me that the initial splintering of the well-known late Second Temple period sects (the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Qumran community, etc.) came only after Judean society at large had already adopted the Torah as their binding law and began to observe its rules and regulations. The Pharisees were then most likely a product rather than the source of the emergence of Judaism.

Lack of communication technology might also have had a role in the slow proliferation of Jewish observance. Imagine Ezra’s frustration (Ezra 7:1-26; Nehemiah 8) speaking in the open air, without benefit of a Greek theater. His stirring message would only have been heard clearly by the first few rows of listeners. This dilemma, of course, was humorously depicted in the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian, in which all that was heard of Jesus’s “Beatitudes” by one listener in the periphery of the audience was, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”


Judah’s Jars

Do archaeologists know the labor and cost involved in preparing the storage vessels used in Judah? How much of the workforce was involved in pottery making, and how much land was used to grow the kiln fuel compared to other agricultural activities? It seems possible that the cost of producing the storage jars would have rivaled the cost of their contents. Do we know if any of the vessels were reused to maximize their value?


Although immense piles of discarded pottery at ancient sites (e.g., Mt. Testaccio in Rome) imply the throwaway mentality, there is some evidence that even transport and storage vessels were regularly reused. (This habit is obvious for tableware and household containers.) Ethnographic observations and Mishnaic texts indicate reuse of storage jars in the ancient Near East. While there are studies for specific sites and uses, there is very little we can say without some more detailed research. A great idea for a future BAR article!—ED.

As I was reading “Enduring Impressions” by Oded Lipschits, a question came to my mind: Why are the storage jars ovoid in shape, with a rounded base? Wouldn’t they tend to roll around when transported? Why not a flatter base?


The jars were carried by donkeys and possibly camels. As shown in ethnographic examples, jars were most likely held in place by rope slings, for which the ovoid shape was better suited. It is also easier to pour contents from ovoid jars. Even in a domestic context, most jars in ancient Judah had an ovoid base. They may have leaned against a wall or against other jars. Some ceramic jar stands have also been excavated.

Calculating Christmas

When discussing the date of Jesus’s birth (“Calculating Christmas: Hippolytus and December 25th”), why does author T.C. Schmidt not also address the evidence from Luke 2:8-14? In those verses, the shepherds are tending their flocks in the fields—in December! Much has been said about the improbability of this activity occurring in December due to Judah’s foul winter weather.


Luke 2:8 does say that shepherds “were out in the fields” watching their flocks at night. But the Greek verb agraulein does not necessarily mean they were simply lying out in the open without shelter; they could have been sheltering under tents, lean-tos, sheds, barns, or whatever else might be in a field. Present-day Bedouins can be observed outside at night with their flocks in wintertime, so we have little reason to suspect that ancient shepherds could not have been doing the same. Therefore, Luke’s statement should probably not be read as specifying the season in which Jesus was born.

Biblical Giants

Jonathan Yogev’s article “The Riddle of the Rephaim” was enlightening and intriguing. I am curious to know why the concept of the Rephaim is conspicuously absent in the New Testament. Do we know at what point the Rephaim began to disappear from ancient writing and literature?


The concept of the Rephaim was already in the process of disappearing when it entered the Hebrew Bible, where they are either being destroyed or in the underworld. As descendants of god(s), they couldn’t be tolerated in most biblical traditions. When mentioned in later periods (Book of Jubilees 29:9–11), the original meaning of the concept was already lost. The lack of evidence for the Rephaim in the New Testament suggests that interest in them had disappeared. Nevertheless, the tradition of Jesus’s conception as the son of God shares similarities with the concept of the Rephaim. As in Ugaritic, Phoenician, or Greek culture and myth, a leader with a divine bloodline has greater authority.

I have always noted how much the Old Testament, like other ancient quasi-historical writings, reflects even older folklore dating back to before the invention of writing. I think it is possible the Rephaim are ancient explanations of findings of Neanderthal or Homo erectus skeletons. In days of yore, strange bones (including of dinosaurs and mammoths) were taken to temples to be displayed and then became the basis of various myths.


An intriguing possibility! To read more about biblical and early Jewish writers’ understanding of the fossil remains that they surely encountered from time to time, read Steven and Elisha Fine’s “Encounters with Fossil Giants” in the Fall 2021 issue of BAR.—ED.

Queries & Comments

BAR Fall 2022


Out of the Park

Your Fall 2022 issue hit it out of the park! It’s common for me to find one or two articles per issue that I’m interested in. But I found every single article in this issue deeply interesting.


Has BAR Become a Subjective Academic Exercise?

Being a BAR reader for the past 20 years, I have noticed a shift in the magazine’s focus. It now seems that “scholarly” archaeologists, with their independent interpretations of discoveries, are the sole repository of truth regardless of what the Bible states. This type of archaeology, which uses the pretext of being “biblical,” amounts to nothing more than a subjective academic exercise. Biblical archaeology isn’t meant to substantiate what the Bible relates; rather, it provides a deeper understanding of the cultures and peoples of ancient times.


BAR has always aimed to bring the latest and best scholarship in biblical archaeology to a popular audience, without any specific religious or ideological agenda. Sometimes this scholarship affirms and supports the biblical narrative, while at other times it poses challenges to the Bible’s version of events. Where we certainly agree is that biblical archaeology can be an invaluable tool for gaining a deeper, real-world understanding of the societies and cultures that produced the biblical text.—ED.

David and Goliath

I greatly enjoyed the article “Taking a Sling.” I would like to add a medical dimension. Gigantism is often the result of a pituitary tumor that secretes abnormal amounts of growth hormone. As this tumor enlarges, it presses on the optic chiasm (the crossing point of the optic nerves), which causes a loss of peripheral vision. Goliath was prepared to do battle with sword, spear, and javelin—all frontal weapons. But David used a sling to take advantage of Goliath’s lack of peripheral vision and launched his missile laterally. Goliath offered no resistance, probably because he couldn’t see. He literally did not know what hit him.


Pilgrims and Immigrants

Jodi Magness’s article “Journey to Jerusalem” was fascinating, but we noticed one error. She describes three burial caves in the Kidron Valley, stating that the Ariston Family Tomb was one of these. However, the accompanying photograph (p. 48) does not portray the Ariston Tomb, but rather the Tomb of the High Priest Annas, which we identified and described in BAR almost 30 years ago (“Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb?” November/December 1994).


Thank you for the keen observation. To learn more about the Ariston Tomb and see photographs of this remarkable site, readers can refer to Gideon Avni and Zvi Greenhut’s article “Akeldama: Resting Place of the Rich and Famous,” in the November/December 1994 issue of BAR.—ED.

Yahweh’s Desert Origins

The article “Yahweh’s Desert Origins,” by Juan Manuel Tebes, may be one of the worst that BAR has ever printed. It is full of unscriptural assumptions and near blasphemy.

Tebes writes that little is known about how God “came to be worshiped by the peoples of Israel and Judah.” The Book of Genesis clearly relates how the Israelites came to worship God. God called Abraham to father a great nation. Abraham, along with his descendants (Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), worshiped God. Within three generations, his descendants moved to Egypt for 400 years. Then God led them to Canaan in the Exodus. By then, Yahweh had been the national God of Israel for over 500 years. Doesn’t Tebes read the Bible?


Tebes’s Article begins with the story of Moses (Exodus 2-4). However, I would suggest that belief in Yahweh originated in the central hill country, not the desert. The first mention of Yahweh is in Genesis (Genesis 13:2-4; Genesis 15), with the stories about the interaction of Yahweh and Abraham set in the hill country of Judah. Genesis, not the later books of Exodus or Deuteronomy, should be where we look for Yahweh’s origins.



Indeed, the name Yahweh is mentioned several times in the Bible before Moses’s time. It was Cain and Abel who first spoke the name Yahweh and made offerings to him (Genesis 4:1-4), while it was in the days of Enosh that people “began to call upon the name of Yahweh” (Genesis 4:26). We are clearly dealing with a parallel tradition about when the worship of Yahweh began. However, no epigraphic evidence of Yahweh has appeared in the Levant before the Monarchic period (c. 1000–586 BCE). The Canaanite god El was the most favored deity before that period, as attested by inscriptions from Ugarit, Canaanite place names, the prominence of El names in the patriarchal narratives, and even the name “Israel.” The Bible itself, therefore, seems to preserve memories of El worship before the beginnings of Yahwism.

The article on Yahweh is almost entirely in the realm of speculation, and the evidence Tebes presents is not compelling. For example, he claims that “during the tenth century, Yahweh was rapidly assimilated into the Israelite pantheon” (p. 40), supported with only a footnote to a book. How do we know Yahweh’s assimilation was rapid and did not occur more gradually?



The referenced book The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) highlights the significant role of the monarchy during the tenth century BCE in supporting the new deity. We know from the Mesha Stele that already in the mid-ninth century, King Mesha associated Yahweh with the Israelites, so the process of assimilation was already well underway by then. Also note that we are talking about the adoption of Yahwism by the monarchy; for the general population, it was another matter, as I recalled also in the article (p. 40).

Identifying Scroll Scribes

The article by Mladen Popović (“Using AI to Identify Scroll Scribes”) does more than present a clever application of artificial intelligence (AI) to the paleography of the Great Isaiah Scroll. It also provides insight into management decisions and production methods. One can imagine that perhaps there were only two scribes available for the project so, for efficiency, they divided the labor, with each scribe taking half the scroll. I can almost hear the master saying to his apprentice, “I’ll race you, Eli. Let’s see who finishes first!”


Three Cheers for Hieroglyphs!

I was very happy to see two articles about hieroglyphs (“The Decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphs” and “The Rosetta Stone: Key to Egyptian Hieroglyphs”). But you do not mention the key that helped Champollion decode the ancient writing. The key was that he noticed the same hieroglyphs appearing together within the same format on the Rosetta Stone. Champollion realized that the format of royal names resembled the cartridge pouch carried by the French soldiers in Napoleon’s army in Egypt. Thus the humble name of a French soldier’s pouch—cartouche—came to denote the names of ancient Egypt’s greatest kings.


Indeed, the ancient scribal habit of encircling royal and divine names in what we call cartouches offered a priceless visual key for isolating, in hieroglyphic texts, names known through Greek (e.g., Ptolemaios, Cleopatra). Crucial in Champollion’s decoding of the Egyptian script, the function of cartouches was probably first guessed by Champollion’s English competitor, Thomas Young.—ED.

Origins of the Gospels

I appreciate Robyn Faith Walsh’s effort to position the Gospels among the noteworthy literature of the first and second centuries (“The Origins of the Gospels”). However, the arguments offered for situating the Gospels in that company deprive them of their uniqueness as the “good news.” John tells us that he wrote his gospel so that people may believe that Jesus is the Christ and so have life because of him (John 3:15; John 20:31). This declaration must count for something in determining the “gospel genre” in relation to its intended audience.



Independent of their stated motives, all writers are shaped by their social position, education, and experience. The gospel authors write in Greek, cite Jewish scriptures, use Stoic terminology and concepts, and engage common literary tropes. That they might be part of a religious group doesn’t preclude us from noticing connections and allusions that help us better understand the world from which Christianity emerges. The Gospel of Luke, for instance, gives a formulaic preamble consistent with ancient biographies, positioning itself within a genre that ancient readers would have immediately recognized.

John 3:15 is not so much a creed but represents a didactic strategy; the author references specific passages from the Torah and Isaiah, giving Jesus greater authority while simultaneously explaining to the audience what to expect from the Son of Man. Ultimately, this “good news” may tell us more about how these writers are inserting Jesus into an established literary mold than anything about the historical person.

Queries & Comments

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Summer 2022 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

Pretty Fun

I just finished reading practically every word of the Summer 2022 issue. I noted in “Digging In” that Glenn Corbett is finishing his first year as Editor, a position that he says has been pretty fun. The past year of BAR definitely demonstrates this fun. I have enjoyed the selection of articles, the clarity of the language, the well-annotated subjects, the explanations of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic words, as well as the photography, the layouts, and the general format of the magazine. I am a retired Lutheran pastor looking forward to my second trip to Israel and Jordan this fall. BAR keeps me up to date and current about “Holy Land” things shoved way back in my memory. Thank you!


The Wrath of Merneptah

I read with appreciation Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wollf’s article “Pharaoh’s Fury” (Summer 2022). In fact, I read it twice! I have a question, however, about the events recorded on the Merneptah Stele. The authors mention that some scholars attribute the destruction at Aphek during the latter years of Ramesses II to the Canaanite king of Gezer. Is it possible the king’s attack could have been orchestrated by the Hittites? As we know, the Hittites and Egyptians never got along. Maybe the Hittite ruler decided to nibble away at Egyptian territory, but using a proxy instead of his own army?



Any scenario is possible, since the conquerors did not leave their calling card. We have no historical sources mentioning a Hittite campaign to the southern Levant at this point in time, using either the king’s own army or an unnamed proxy. We concur with Yuval Gadot (“The Late Bronze Egyptian Estate at Aphek,” Tel Aviv 37 [2010], p. 62) that Aphek was destroyed by a rebellious Canaanite city-state, perhaps by the king of Gezer himself.

Biblical Cyclops?

As a long-time subscriber, I was surprised to see the article on Greek mythology (Classical Corner: “The Cyclops,” Summer 2022). Although it may relate in some remote way to biblical archaeology, I prefer information relating to scripture and the people and places mentioned in the Bible. I could find no relationship in the cyclops article.


At BAR, we take a broad view of the biblical world. Our Classical Corner department offers perspectives on the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean, as their myths, traditions, and values were often well known to the biblical writers. In some cases, like the story of the Cyclops, we even find remarkable similarities to biblical traditions about primordial giants, including the Rephaim, who were thought to have inhabited the land of Canaan before Israel.—ED.

Ezra in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

In her interesting article “Ezra and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Charlotte Hempel wonders why Ezra is not found anywhere in the scrolls (Summer 2022). I suspect he may be there, as the enigmatic “Interpreter of the Law.” There is no scholarly consensus about who he is, but his title (doresh ha-torah) may well be derived from Ezra 7:10, where the phrase describes Ezra himself. Like Ezra, the Interpreter is a reforming figure from the past, but he is also a figure who in the future will accompany the royal messiah. In these eschatological passages, the Interpreter bears a striking resemblance to Ezra in 4 Ezra, who, after being taken up like Enoch and Elijah, now lives with the “son” (the messiah) and will appear with him when he is manifested in Zion. Because he accompanies the Davidic messiah, many scholars suspect that the Interpreter of the Law is the Qumranic priestly messiah. Ezra, of course, was a priest!



The enigmatic ciphers given for individuals referenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls are open to a variety of interpretations, so your suggestion is not impossible. In fact, this suggestion was previously made by scholar Isaac Rabinowitz, while T.H. Gaster identified the Teacher of Righteousness with Ezra.

Might I suggest an alternate reason for Ezra’s absence from the Dead Sea Scrolls? Ezra was from the line of Aaron, and there were many who held that the high priest could only come from the line of Zadok. Although Zadok was also descended from Aaron, it was only his descendants who were thought to be suitable for the high priesthood. Ezra’s exclusion would have been justified by some who rejected all descendants of Aaron who were not also descendants of Zadok.



In my book The Qumran Rule Texts in Context (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), I examined all the references to the sons of Aaron and the sons of Zadok in the non-biblical Dead Sea Scrolls. Although your question rightly notes the prominent position advocated for the sons of Zadok in a small number of texts, references to the sons of Aaron far outnumber those to the sons of Zadok. The small number of references to the sons of Zakok have, however, been extremely effective in convincing us of the superiority of this group by representing them as the pinnacle of the historical development of the movement. In short, the elevated claims made on behalf of the sons of Zadok have successfully obscured the localized profile of references to this group that are outnumbered by a much larger number of references to the sons of Aaron largely getting on with the priestly day job of performing cultic duties.

35,000 Sites in Israel?!

In the Summer 2022 issue, Gideon Avni, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s archaeology division, said there are 35,000 archaeological sites spread over 4,000 square miles in Israel. That’s nearly nine sites per square mile, which seems impossible. Could you please clarify?



It is the policy of the IAA that an archaeological site is any “area which contains antiquities,” where antiquities are defined as any object made by humans before 1700 C.E. or considered to be of historical value. An archaeological site, therefore, would be any place in which even a small quantity of antiquities is found—even a few fragments of pottery uncovered during a construction project. Every site is then classified according to its archaeological, historical, and cultural values, using the UNESCO guidelines.

Memories of Ghazi Bisheh

I appreciate the obituary you published for Ghazi Bisheh, former Director-General of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DOAJ). It was a sensitive and excellent tribute. Ghazi was a dear friend, and if it were not for Ghazi, I would never have been permitted to work in Jordan. When I was first introduced to Ghazi at the DOAJ offices in 1996, I said, “Ghazi, I worked in Israel for 20 years. Will that be a problem?” Ghazi looked straight at me and said, “Mafi Mushkila [Arabic for “No Problem”]. Welcome to Jordan.”


Queries & Comments

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Winter 2021 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

Timely Content

I was reading Herman Melville’s epic poem “Clarel,” which describes a 19th-century journey through the Holy Land, when the Winter 2021 issue of BAR arrived. I was pleasantly surprised to find two places Melville describes featured: the Tomb of the Kings in Jerusalem (Andrew Lawler, “Who Built the Tomb of the Kings?”) and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (“Where Is It?”). Reading the BAR descriptions and seeing the photographs added to my enjoyment of Melville’s challenging poem.


Shapira Scrolls

In your Winter 2021 issue, the two articles on “The Shapira Scrolls” were fantastic! I enjoyed the way both sides were presented, along with corresponding pictures (exhibits). In a time when people cannot seem to agree on anything, it was refreshing to have a debate presented that allowed for both sides to present their arguments. I found it not only educational but also engaging and fascinating! It allows the readers to think and consider while drawing their own conclusions.


Thank you for the wonderful debate about the authenticity (or not) of the Shapira Scrolls. Informative, well argued, with no personal attacks. Decades-long familiar BAR authors Ronald Hendel and James Tabor on opposite sides, paired with reputable scholars new to us, Matthieu Richelle and Idan Dershowitz, added to the seriousness of the discussion.


I really enjoyed the pro/con pieces on the Shapira Scrolls and am challenged to decide which one I find most compelling! The forgery camp seems to base its case on very detailed specifics of paleography, Moses Shapira’s tainted history, and their depiction of the era as one rife with forgeries. The authenticity camp dismisses the paleographic critique by stating that the documents used by the forgery camp to support their claims are patently inaccurate. The literary analysis and the alignment of the scrolls with modern critical theory is fascinating.

My heart wants the authenticity camp to be right, which biases my ability to reach a conclusion, but how exciting would it be if they were authentic?


In the argument over the Shapira Scrolls, it seems that “The Case for Forgery” relies only on paleographic analysis. I, for one, am not convinced. It seems the authors think that ancient scribes created their texts with some sort of ancient typewriter, and that all the letters from the scrolls must conform exactly to standard forms. Graphologists will tell you that nobody writes even their signature the same way twice. It may also be the case that a certain scribe liked the way a letter from another script looked and substituted it for the “official” letter. Then there is the matter of the age of the scribe; young and old scribes no doubt wrote their letters differently. And we must not forget that even an experienced scribe could make errors. I grant that paleography is useful for many cases, but when an argument relies solely or mainly on paleographic analysis, no matter how long or well developed the argument, I tend to ignore it. My “vote,” therefore, is for the authenticity of the Shapira Scrolls.


What I find amazing in the antiquities world is how easily experts allow themselves to be fooled by questionable artifacts. I guess the extreme desire to find that one awesome artifact that would change a huge chunk of history is too hard to resist, even when you know the seller (in this case, Moses Shapira) has a long history of selling fraudulent articles. While I actually found the argument for the scrolls’ authenticity compelling, antiquities dealers should be reminded of the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”: Sell enough fakes and even when you have the real thing, you won’t be believed.


In making their case for authenticity, Idan Dershowitz and James Tabor state, in reference to the Book of Deuteronomy, that certain elements have “an odd literary structure, to put it mildly,” and refer to the book’s “disjointed structure.” This structure may be uncommon in written history but is essential to many types of modern fiction, as well as oral literature, such as folktale, myth, and epic, including Homer’s Iliad. Since this architecture suggests that the Bible’s version is based on oral tradition, it weakens Dershowitz and Tabor’s argument for the precedence and extreme antiquity of the “Valediction of Moses,” which has a linear structure more typical of a later literate tradition.


Not Lost in Translation

Kudos to Elizabeth Backfish for her excellent article “Not Lost in Translation: Hebrew Wordplay in Greek” (Winter 2021). This was a most interesting and insightful article. It brings to mind many fond memories of an evening class I once took with biblical scholar David Noel Freedman (see Bible Review, December 1993). For three hours, at his house, we would read the Hebrew Bible in the original Hebrew. Freedman pointed out wordplay after wordplay, often evoking much laughter from the group. It seemed to me that if any of us had simply written down all the humor he detected in the Bible, we would have had a bestseller. Backfish’s excellent article continues this tradition of bringing out humor in the Bible.


I appreciated Elizabeth Backfish’s article. However, one sentence is in error: “The Hebrew poet’s choice of ‘esoh for ‘I hate’ is a hapax legomenon, meaning that it occurs only this one time in the entire Hebrew Bible.” First of all, ‘esoh is the infinitive construct of the verb meaning “to do”; second, it is not a hapax legomenon. There is a hapax legomenon in the sentence; it is the next word, setim. The word for “I hate” is the following word, saneti.



I am grateful to Dr. Bellis for the correction. The infinitive construct originally identified as the hapax legomenon is actually quite common (occurring about 269 times by my count). The hapax legomenon is the plural noun for transgressors, setim, that follows. The case for wordplay is still strong, since setim is part of the wordplay under consideration, and since many other words in the semantic field of setim are more common (such as khatta’t, ‘aon, and pesha‘ ) and do not contain the “s” sound that makes this example of wordplay so pronounced.

Paul of Arabia

Ben Witherington, in his very interesting article “Paul of Arabia?” (Winter 2021), points out that Paul’s Arabia was the kingdom of the Nabateans, located south and east of the Dead Sea. But a little research shows that Nabatea’s borders extended to and overlapped with Idumea, in the regions of southern Judah and the Negev. In fact, Herod the Great’s father, Antipater, was Idumean, and his mother, Cypros, was Nabatean. I point this out because Paul was born a Roman citizen in the wealthy town of Tarsus, the playground of Antony and Cleopatra, with Antony being Herod’s sponsor at the time. All this begs the question, who were Paul’s highborn and ostensibly wealthy parents? If they and he were indeed Herodian, that might explain why Paul would have spent so much time in Arabia after his conversion.



I don’t think there is any reason to connect Paul with the Idumeans or the Herods. Paul’s family in Tarsus were leather workers. It is likely they obtained their Roman citizenship and wealth from service to the empire, namely the making of tents and other leather products for the Roman troops in Cilicia.

In the article “Paul of Arabia?” Ben Witherington describes the “Paul the basket case” scene as occurring after Paul’s time in Arabia, whereas the referenced Acts 9:25, read in context, clearly states this happened shortly after Paul’s conversion, due to his enthusiastically preaching the gospel for which he had been persecuting believers. Yes, I understand that the author of Acts edited events to smooth over the apparent conflict between Paul and the other apostles, hence some disconnects between Acts and Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. However, there is no evidence of that here.



In the Acts account of the basket story, Luke does, indeed, compress things and doesn’t know about the trip to Arabia. The basket story, which Paul himself recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 and for which he is the primary source and Luke a secondary one, refers to King Aretas being after Paul through his agent in Damascus. This surely has to have happened after Paul did or tried to do something in Nabatean Arabia. What is not clear is whether Aretas already had control over Damascus when Paul was lowered in a basket down the wall.

Queries & Comments

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Fall 2021 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

Thankful and Gratified

I have been reading BAR since the 1970s, before there were color pictures and a slick, glossy cover. For me, BAR has been a way to stay connected with the lands of the Bible. What I have appreciated most about BAR is that it provides current information about excavations and new discoveries. This has informed my teaching of the Bible by providing the historical, geographical, cultural, and archaeological background of the ancient Near East.

I was saddened by the passing of BAR’s founder and editor, Hershel Shanks, but am thankful and gratified that the vision and tradition of BAR continues today.


Congratulations on a fascinating issue, which included an illuminating, multi-article thread related to the Canaanite Hyksos kings of Egypt: A news story in Strata described early alphabetic writing found at Lachish (Canaanite adaptations of Egyptian hieroglyphs dating to the Hyksos), and then Rachel Hallote’s article about Joseph in Egypt presented the “No-Date Theory” that the Hyksos expulsion from Egypt (c. 1550 B.C.E.) was the kernel of the Exodus story! No other magazine offers its readers such intriguing speculations. Bravo!


Do a Better Job!

In the Fall 2021 Issue, Editor Glenn Corbett introduces the new “Digging In” feature, designed to highlight “exciting new discoveries, insights, and scholarship.” He goes on to propose that Rachel Hallote’s article “investigates evidence for the Hyksos in ancient Egypt that may shed light on the historical reality of the biblical stories of Joseph and the Exodus.”

Really? Maybe you have dismissed the idea that the Bible has any historical reality. Maybe you have substituted your reality with undeliberate notions. In any case, your logic doesn’t add up. I take the position that the Bible stands as written and does not need to be allegorized or modified to conform to archaeology or recorded history.

Might I suggest that BAR publish articles that actually contain such investigation and evidence instead of Hallote’s brand of convenient subjective conjecture posing as scholarship? Please avoid confusing actual archaeology with self-serving mythology. That approach will eventually reduce your publication to the irrelevant.


While I remain a devoted fan of BAR, I was surprised to read “unprovenienced” artifacts instead of “unprovenanced,” in the Fall 2021 issue (pp. 58–59). I think Hershel Shanks would have demanded better copy editing for his readers.


Admittedly, choosing between “unprovenienced” and “unprovenanced” is a bit tricky. First, unprovenienced was the preferred term of the scholars we interviewed, which relates specifically to objects that lack a secure archaeological context. This formally distinguishes it from unprovenanced, which means an object (usually from a collection) that lacks a documented origin or ownership history. In practice, however, both terms are often used interchangeably.—G.J.C.

Joseph in Egypt

I was disappointed that the Joseph article did not provide an answer to the question in its title, “Does Archaeology Confirm Joseph’s Time in Egypt?” (Fall 2021). The archaeological evidence presented was used to support the hypothesis that the Hyksos were Canaanites in Egypt and not that Joseph himself was ever there. Hallote further makes a faulty, baseless assumption that Joseph’s family practiced the traditions of the Canaanites. However, Joseph was descended from the tribe of Shem, while the Canaanites were descended from the tribe of Canaan.


I was struck—as if by a lightning bolt from the storm god Yahweh—by the Egyptian royal names Kamose and Ahmose. Is it possible that the name Mose (Moses) comes from these kings?



You are on the right track—many Egyptian names, including Kamose, Ahmose, Ramose, and Thutmose, contain the Egyptian word ms, which means “to give birth” or “child (of).” This word often features in theophoric names, such as Thutmose (“Thoth is born”) and Ramose (“child of Ra”). There are even a few cases where “Mose” appears in Egyptian texts as a name on its own, likely as an abbreviation. Moses of the Bible seems to be one of these abbreviated versions. (See Ogden Goelet, “Moses’ Egyptian Name,” Bible Review, June 2003.)

I noticed what seems to be a mix-up. Hallote writes, “The graves at Avaris were constructed from mudbrick, as was typical in Canaan, but unlike the stone tomb construction found in Egypt” (p. 44). Shouldn’t it say that stone tombs were typical in Canaan (where Israelites were buried in caves), and mudbrick construction was found in Egypt, where the enslaved Israelites had to make bricks from mud and straw?



Although the people of Bronze Age Canaan sometimes buried their dead in tombs (“caves”) dug into the living rock, they just as often cut pits into the earth that they lined with stones or mudbricks—or left unlined. These burials were egalitarian in nature, making it difficult to distinguish tombs of Canaanite rulers from others. This is in contrast with the massive stone and stone-cut tombs common for Egyptian royalty in the periods both before and after the time of the Hyksos.

New Canaanite Temple

I enjoyed reading about the recent discovery of the Northeast Temple at Lachish (“Canaanite Worship at Lachish,” Fall 2021). I would argue, however, that the two corroded figurines found there are none other than Baal and his companion and consort, Anat.

Two almost identical figurines come from Middle Bronze Age Tartus in Syria and are now in the Louvre. They similarly have pegs attached to their feet. The female figurine is dressed for battle; she has a bow and arrows strapped to her chest, is holding a sword in her right hand and an ax in her other, raised hand. The male figurine can be identified as the storm god Baal, wearing his peculiar head ornament.

It is not a coincidence that a bronze ax head with a representation of a bird (denoting femininity) was found in the Holy of Holies. Baal typically had a standing stone (massebah) erected on his behalf, and there apparently were two stones in the main hall at Lachish. I therefore suggest that the temple was built for the worship of the two deities.



Indeed, figurines of goddesses in a “smiting” pose do appear in the Late Bronze Age Levant. However, they are extremely rare. The few smiting goddess figurines are sometimes naked but more commonly wear long dresses that cover their legs and an upper body that has noticeable breasts. In some cases, they have long hair, like the Egyptian goddess Hathor. They are usually depicted standing or stepping forward, but never in a pronounced marching position like the male figurines.

In contrast, the figurines from Lachish are in a marching pose, they wear short kilts, and seem to have short hair and no noticeable breasts. Therefore, they are both examples of the “smiting god” figurines so common to the period.

Jesus on Bathing

MATTHEW THIESSEN’S ARTICLE “Jesus and Ritual Impurity” (Fall 2021) is very insightful. May I suggest that John 13:6-11 signifies the acceptance and approval of ritual bathing? Peter does not want Jesus to wash his feet. When he changes his mind and enthusiastically wants his hands and head also to be washed, Jesus says that those who have bathed need only their feet washed because they are already clean. For Christians, of course, this has always symbolized the greatest purification in baptism.


Archaeology Debate

In “Biblical Archaeology for the People” (Fall 2021), Eric Cline mentioned that unprovenienced artifacts should not be published and that such objects, because they are either looted or forged, have lost 90 percent of the information that makes them useful to scholars. I wonder what he thinks about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were “looted” by non-archaeologists and, by ending up on the antiquities market, were saved from destruction.



The Dead Sea Scrolls are the exception that proves the rule. Although the first manuscripts were looted, and the discovery of the caves was split between archaeologists and looters, in pretty much every case we know where the scrolls came from and their context—especially with those which later came from systematically excavated caves. Those scrolls without known context, such as the ones that appeared on the market in recent years, have turned out to be forgeries, in basically every instance.

Queries & Comments

This issue, we print just a few of your thoughtful letters noting the many contributions of departing BAR Editor Bob Cargill and the recent passing of BAR’s founder, the legendary Hershel Shanks. Even amid these changes, our readers continue to offer impressive insights, reflections, and questions about the many topics covered in the pages of BAR. You can find more letters online, along with a few responses, at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

A Job Well Done

Your resignation, Mr. Cargill, surprised me (not in a good way!), because you brought BAR to a new level of readability and common sense—especially with the redesign, but also by your insistence on a level of scholarship that transcends those people with a preconceived notion of what they think is truth. I hope that your successor will continue pointing BAR in the right direction!


Bob Cargill, thanks for all you have done in the past three years, picking up the ball from Hershel and running with it. About the only thing I disagreed with was your steadfast rejection of publishing unprovenanced artifacts, though, I understood your reasoning. You are a credit to all Hawkeyes!


Congratulations on your successful tenure as editor, Bob Cargill, and very best wishes on your future endeavors. I drank in every drop of ink off the pages of BAR over the past three years, and I do appreciate the diverse views you brought to the magazine. BAR is my go-to magazine to take to the hospital when visiting a friend. When I leave it behind, it always seems to stir up good conversation. Bon Voyage!


In Memory of Hershel Shanks

My most profound condolences on your loss—and the loss to the intellectual world—in learning of the passing of Mr. Shanks. I was much saddened when he retired as I would so miss his commentary. When he acknowledged his retirement traced to a diagnosis of dementia, my thought immediately was how, even in being impaired, he was sharper than the vast majority of people I have met. To his family, colleagues, and friends: Be well. May your loss be lessened by the fact it is so widely shared.


Diversity Appreciated

Thank you for publishing stories about a wide variety of religions, both past and present. In this world today, we need to be considerate of other peoples and their beliefs more than ever. Your articles about past cultures and the interactions they had illustrate that necessity beautifully.

The more I learn about cultural differences, the more our sameness stands out. We should not be angry with people who believe differently. Rather than feeling threatened by our differences, we should be fascinated by the many ways we find to be human. Archaeology shows us that many wars have been fought over our beliefs. It also uncovers stories of people helping others despite dramatic differences in culture. You approach it all with respect and often a touch of humor.


Where’s “Glossary” Gone?

I was recently reading an old BAR, and I really enjoyed the Glossary section. I appreciated the pronunciations for the proper nouns and thought the pictures helped me better understand the terminology. What happened to this section of the magazine?


Thanks for the excellent observation and question. Indeed, in the late 80s and early 90s, BAR did have a regular department called Glossary that featured straight-forward explanations of key biblical archaeology terms, such as ossuary and massebah, as well as simple overviews of complex topics, such as ceramic dating methods and ancient fortification types. While Glossary faded from the pages of BAR, we have recently started several irregular departments that generally communicate similar content: Field Notes introduce archaeological methods; Archaeology Argot explains archaeological terminology; and Biblical Archaeology 101 articles aim to introduce readers to archaeological basics, subfields, theories, and methodologies. We look forward to bringing our readers more of this informative content in future issues.—G.J.C.

I wanted to express my sadness and condolences to all at BAR on the passing of the founding editor, Hershel Shanks, זייל ,whose writings and insights we were privileged to read (and learn from) over many decades. Yehi zichro baruch. HaMakom yenachem etchem betoch shear avlei Zion veYerushalayim.


BAR-Inspired Poetry

I am sharing my poem “The Archaeologist,” which was inspired by my deep interest in biblical archaeology, nurtured and fed through the years by the wonderful trips into antiquity found in the pages of your magazine. I submit this in appreciation of what you have given me.

Miners dig for diamonds / for silver and for gold. / Seeking that which will enrich / the purse with wealth untold.

Yet none so brave / and none so bold / as those who seek / to find the old.

The leftovers of history are what they seek / to know. / They dig the hole and then they peek / into the past, deep down into below.

This earth, you see, is like a book. / These layers are its pages. / It takes our understanding down / through eons and through ages.

Where we will find where we have been / and maybe where we’re going. / The prize you see is not in gold / but rather wealth of knowing.

So, hail to the few / archaeologists to you. / Who brave sun and bugs on the ground. / For, without their hard work / (and never they shirk …) / nothing we know would be found.


Wow, thank you! We are so glad that BAR has nurtured your interest in archaeology, which comes across clearly in your poem, which we have excerpted here. We are posting the full poem on our website.—G.J.C.

For the full poem, go to biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

Jesus’s Infancy Stories

In the “infancy stories” column, the author states that the Hebrew word for “virgin” is bethula (Regina A. Boisclair, “The Whole Christmas Package,” BAR, Winter 2020). The point being that if virgin was meant in Isaiah 7:14, that word would have been used there. According to the article, since the word bethula was not used, “There was no prophecy of a virginal conception in the Hebrew text of Isaiah.” The word bethula, however, appears in Joel 1:8. The young woman (bethula) wails for the “husband of her youth” because of impending disasters. Here, bethula appears to refer to a married woman. Therefore, one cannot argue there was “no prophecy of a virginal conception” in Isaiah 7:14 simply because the word bethula was not used.



In the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14, the word is ‘alma, which means “young woman.” There was no prophecy of a virginal conception in the Hebrew text of Isaiah. Matthew used the Septuagint, where the word ‘alma was translated to Greek as parthenos, which means “virgin.” That the word bethula appears in Joel 1:8 is not pertinent to Isaiah 7:14.

Academic Hit Job

THIS RETIRED HARVARD PROFESSOR knows an academic hit job when he sees one, and that is exactly what the authors did in their article attacking Yosef Garfinkel (“Facing the Facts About the “Face of God,” Winter 2020). The authors slam Garfinkel for his prior article, “The Face of Yahweh?” (Fall 2020).

Note that Garfinkel simply asked a question—and a most interesting one for public and scholarly discussion based on the recent findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa and Moza. But the authors’ refutation treated Garfinkel’s question as a declaration and missed the point of his surmise: that the cultic figurines may have permitted acolytes to see the face of their idol in a temple.

The critics failed to offer any insight into what else Garfinkel’s findings could represent. While they don’t know what he found, they somehow are sure of what he didn’t find. Questioning and disagreement are at the heart of science, but non-substantive attacks are unscholarly as well as unhelpful in seeking to piece together a more accurate understanding of history.


Writing on the Floor

I just finished reading James McGrath’s interesting article “The Writing on the Floor” (Spring 2021). He states that the sotah ritual—in which a woman suspected of adultery is subjected to an ordeal—was discontinued under Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai and that Jesus was subtly criticizing this discontinuation. However, is it not possible that ben Zakkai “discontinued” this ritual because it was no longer possible to perform it once the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.? In this case, of course, his decision would have more to do with not replacing the ritual—to leave it abandoned. Is there any reason to date Mishnah Sotah 9:9 to four decades before 70? Would he have had the clout to authorize such a change?



I agree completely that it is historically unlikely that Yohanan ben Zakkai (or any other rabbi) had significant influence, if any, on what was done in the Temple. The tradition that he himself stopped the practice is thus anachronistic. The parallel passage in the Tosefta in fact does not attribute the decision to Rabbi Yohanan, but simply connects the tradition about the cessation with him. The context in the Mishnah is a longer list of changes in practice which are not connected with the destruction of the Temple. It is thus plausible that they predate that event.

Lasting Expressions

The Whence-a-Word? column on the translation of Job 19:20 (Epistles, Summer 2020) shows the importance of knowing the original languages and the problem of relying on translations in understanding the biblical text. Though “skin of the teeth” has been commonly used by translations since the publication of the King James Bible (1611), it has by no means been the only way Job 19:20 has been translated. For example, the Douay Version, translated from the Latin, has “nothing but my lips are left about my teeth.” The Matthew Bible of 1537 has “only there is left me the skynne aboute my teth.” The translation by James Moffatt (1922) has “my teeth are falling out,” which is similar to the rendering suggested in Whence-a-Word.

Thank you for including such articles, along with those on archaeology. They are why I love reading every issue from cover to cover.


Praise for Popularizers

Robert Cargill’s First Person in the Winter 2020 issue explained BAR’s role very well. Reading it, I was reminded of a biblical archaeology lecture I attended at a local synagogue, given by some scholar whose name I forget. What struck me was how dismissive the speaker was of BAR, barely deigning to even name it. I have to say, it took me very much by surprise.

However, over the years, I have seen a lot of this sort of dismissive treatment of “popularizers” of science and scholarship. I just do not understand the hate. Those dismissive of popularizers almost never try to explain their fields to the general public. On the one hand, they complain about the public’s ignorance, but on the other, pooh-pooh anyone who tries to explain their field in terms a layman can understand.

BAR serves an admirable purpose and needs to keep up the good work.


No Saint Worship!

The Explication of the Raphael Sistine Madonna painting (Clip Art, Winter 2020) is good—with one egregious exception: No saints are worshiped at San Sisto church—nor in any Catholic church. Saints are revered. Only God is worshiped. In the year 2020, one would think that the false idea of saint-worship in the Church had been cleared up ages ago.

BAR remains my favorite magazine, occasional errors notwithstanding.


Our apologies, and we sincerely appreciate this and other letters that noted and corrected our poor choice in wording to describe the exalted position of saints in the Catholic faith.—G.J.C.

Ancient Cancel Culture

On the Letters page (Queries & Comments, Spring 2021), a writer suggests that “Tutankhamun was possibly the earliest practitioner of cancel culture.” But Thutmose III (r. c. 1479–1425 B.C.E.) erased references to his mother and predecessor, Hatshepsut, more than a century earlier. And I suspect even he was not the earliest to try to blot a name out of the history books of the day.


Altar Aromatics

Your column on the discovery of traces of frankincense and cannabis on two altars in ancient Judah states that “Although frankincense is condoned in the Bible, cannabis is not mentioned at all” (Strata: “High Offerings,” Winter 2020). Actually, frankincense is commanded by the Bible (Exodus 30:34), and cannabis may be referenced in the same context. In the instructions for producing the sacred anointing oil, the following ingredients are included: solidified myrrh, fragrant cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and olive oil. The Hebrew for aromatic cane is k’nei bosem, which has been suggested by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (in The Living Torah [Moznaim, 1981]) to have been cannabis. The recent discovery at Arad might corroborate this, as an altar would have to be smeared with such oil before use.


Last Supper Location

Jonathan Klawans in his “The Other Upper Room” (Site-Seeing, Spring 2021) wrote that the Syrian Orthodox church of St. Mark in Jerusalem claims to contain the room where the Last Supper was held. The room is very small and would tightly hold 13 people. As it appears that Jesus’s mother Mary and Mary Magdalene were present in Jerusalem at the time, this Passover Seder would most likely have included these women. Moreover, it is unlikely that the 13 men prepared the meal, so possibly other women were at the feast. Thus, a room snugly holding only 13 people is unlikely to have been the site of the Last Supper.


Pentateuch Picture

You printed the photo of the Sanaa Pentateuch upside down (A Thousand Words, Spring 2021). Since this is a Hebrew manuscript, then the spine of the book should be on the right. I’m used to my prayer books being in Hebrew, so this jumped out at me right away.


We appreciate your close examination of this beautiful manuscript. We double-checked, and the image is printed correctly, as it shows a right-hand, interior page of the Pentateuch, not the cover, as might be suggested by how the image was cropped. To learn more about the Sanaa Pentateuch, you can read the British Library catalog entry at www.bl.uk/collection-items/sanaa-pentateuch-or-2348#.—G.J.C.

I am blown away with all the content the Library, your online archive, offers! It’s not just archived text but full issues of the magazine (and two more, now discontinued, magazines), including photos and illustrations. As an example, I decided to search for “Antioch,” a place I visited many years ago, to see what was available in the archive. You have tons of information and many, many photos and illustrations. Thank you so much for this great and entertaining educational resource.


Queries & Comments

We’ve learned that readers are not convinced that the “face of God” has been discovered at Qeiyafa. We also note that more letters are coming via email as we now use computers for just about everything. Keep those letters coming, and we’ll try to publish and respond to as many as possible, both here and online (see below). It’s the way you let us know how we’re doing and what you want to see.

Cannot Read This

I want to join the chorus of readers calling for an increase in font size. Please do an analysis of your readers. I am 76 years old, and there are limits on what my reading glasses can accomplish. I have been reduced to looking at the pictures but cannot even read the captions.


We have adjusted the font size throughout the magazine. Thank you for letting us know and for your continued loyalty.—B.C.

Heresy or Curiosity?

It was good to see Bob Cargill’s comments in his editorial of the Winter 2020 issue. He clearly defined the objectives of the magazine as being of interest to general readers and academics alike.

I was amazed that Dan Phillips of Georgia said, “I don’t need to know anything about pagan religions” (Q&C, Winter 2020). To have such a restricted view of biblical archaeology is to suppress everything else that exists. The Bible has influenced almost everything that humankind has ever done. But to understand the Bible, we also need to understand the world in which it was written.

I would like to see BAR look a little further perhaps, to include articles on the development of the monastic world. In the United Kingdom, we have so many monastic sites of interest to archaeologists; their builders and residents were much closer to the biblical texts than we are today. Let’s open up a little, encourage more young people to become interested in biblical archaeology.


I was quite amazed by the letter submitted by Dan Phillips. The letter suggested that BAR stop publishing articles related to non-Israelite religions. I sincerely hope that BAR will continue its reporting on the world of ancient Near Eastern cultures and religions, since the Hebrew scriptures are a product of that cultural environment. I appreciate beyond words the wealth of valuable information provided by your publication. I have not found the solution to how the Bible can be communication from divinity and still be the result of the intersection of Israel and her neighbors, but I have spent the greater part of a lifetime of joyful studies to try to figure it out.


In the Winter 2020 issue, Dan Phillips didn’t appreciate content dealing with “pagan religions.” He summed up his view with the statement that “either it’s from the Bible, or it’s garbage.”

This encapsulates a mindset that I ran into a few weeks ago, when I was accused of heresy after sharing (in one of my Facebook groups) a newspaper story about some pottery found in the traditional burial place of Abraham and Sarah in Hebron. I introduced the story this way: “Was Abraham real? The short answer: It’s hard to say.” The fact is that every effort to find historical evidence has failed, not just for the man himself but also the time period in which he could have lived.

One reader had this response: “Either you believe ALL SCRIPTURE or none of it. This is HERESY.” Another agreed with him, and both indicated they were unsubscribing. Isn’t this symptomatic of a profound intolerance for a deeper understanding of the world we live in—not only in the study of the Bible but also in many other spheres of human experience?

The world is a complicated place. We really shouldn’t expect simple explanations. The Hebrew Bible is an amazing record of the relationship between humanity and the God of Israel. What’s wrong with trying to understand it in its full complexity?


Anatomic Anomaly

Edward P. Miller writes of having a “hang up” with depictions of Adam and Eve with belly buttons (Q&C, Summer 2020). There is no mystery as to why artists painted them with navels. They were not intellectuals; they painted what they knew. Humans of their time had navels, so that’s what they painted. It is for this same reason that Renaissance artists painted figures in biblical scenes wearing Renaissance clothing.


Ankara, not Istanbul

You incorrectly state that “the Republic of Turkey emerged with the glorious city on the Bosporus as its capital” (Strata, Winter 2020). The capital of the new republic was from the start Ankara, not Istanbul.


You are absolutely correct. Ankara (formerly Angora) officially replaced Constantinople (now Istanbul) as the new Turkish capital city on October 13, 1923, 16 days before the Republic of Turkey officially replaced the Ottoman Empire on October 29, 1923.—B.C.

Could It Be a Bee?

Thanks for the ongoing work of BAR. One query: You state that “the only explicit mention of bees’ honey in the Hebrew Bible is in Judges 14:8” (Biblical Bestiary, Fall 2020). Just wondering if Psalm 19:10 falls in that category.


Psalm 19 mentions the honeycomb, but not the bee explicitly.—B.C.

What’s Cooking

Thanks for the great recipe for “Unwinding Stew” (Test Kitchen, Fall 2020). I made it, and my family loved it. I did cheat a little and added chicken for their sake. We will try the soup again. The ancient Babylonians had good taste!


Which Love?

I am pleased to read Ben Witherington’s article on the love of God and the four kinds of love in Greek (Text Arcana: “What ‘God Is Love’ Actually Means,” Fall 2020). He writes, “In the Greek New Testament physical or tangible human love is referred to by the term eros.” Please tell me where! I find only agape and philia as the terms for “love” in the Greek New Testament.

Perhaps you can help me with another pressing question: If agape is “unconditional, self-sacrificial love,” the kind we learn from God, why does Jesus say, “even sinners love (agapontas—a verbal form of agape) those who love them” (Luke 6:32)?

I love (eros?) all the new biblical material I’m finding in the new version of BAR.


Apparently, Ben Witherington has forgotten what most first- or second-year students of Greek are taught: While Greek has at least four terms for love, the New Testament only uses two, philia and agape, and a compound of philiastorge (in Romans 12). It would seem the Septuagint prefers philia and agape (including Song of Songs).



Thanks for the queries about the word eros. What the sentence in question should say is that eros is the term in Greek literature (not the Greek New Testament) for physical love. I did not catch this error in time to fix it. Interestingly, Eros is the name of the Greek god of passionate love and fertility.

As for Luke 6:32, the author is assuming that even sinners can love self-sacrificially. As Jesus himself reminds us, God sheds his blessings on us all (Matthew 5:45).

Forgotten Pandemics

I’ve been reading BAR for years and want to say how much I enjoy.

I do have a comment on “Pandemics in Perspective,” by Sarah K. Yeomans (Classical Corner, Fall 2020). It was an excellent idea to list the pandemics of the past—a reminder that our current pandemic is not unprecedented. It really isn’t even as severe as those listed. However, one pandemic is missing. It is one that has been overlooked until recent years and is finally being given the attention it deserves. When Columbus arrived on his voyages and was then followed by the conquistadors, they unknowingly brought their diseases with them, especially smallpox. The results were unimaginable devastation. I’ve seen estimates as high as 90 percent fatality. It’s a tragedy that needs to head the list of pandemics.


Pandemics in Perspective” is an excellent survey, but more could be said. Emerging infectious disease epidemics were identified as a probable cause of the late Neolithic decline in population in the American southwest and northwest Mexico, and probably Europe. The catastrophic effect of diseases unwittingly introduced in the New World by 15th- and 16th-century explorers is well known. Finally, variola virus (smallpox) was identified genetically in northern Europe dating to between 600 and 1050 C.E.—the earliest genetically identified occurrence (although there seem to be archaeological evidence that Rameses V died from a smallpox-like disease).

My only quibble with “Pandemics in Perspective” is the statement that the plague of Justinian was the first occurrence of bubonic plague in Europe. The ancestral clade of Y. pestis was genetically identified at 4,900 years ago in Scandinavia, with connections to central Asia via trade routes. The plague of Justinian was a later occurrence, probably reintroduced from Asia via those same trade routes. All this indicates that epidemic infectious diseases have occurred throughout history and prehistory, generally in situations in which crowding and lack of sanitation encouraged it and in which there was limited immunity. The difference with the coronavirus is that we as a society have become so accustomed to antibiotics that we cannot fathom an infectious disease for which there is no treatment.


I was surprised to read (What’s in a Name? Fall 2020) that Tutankhamun was possibly the earliest practitioner of cancel culture when in your article you wrote, “The name Akhenaten was deleted from official records and systematically chiseled off all monuments.”


Virtual Archaeology

The introduction box of the “Digging Deeper at Tel Hadid” article (Summer 2020) mentioned how a specialized discipline of archaeology includes how some “even reconstruct the site in virtual reality.” What if BAR made arrangements with some of those digs for us to pay a modest fee and go through the BAR website and see some of those? I don’t have much income to spend, but I like BAR and would probably visit the website with electronic access if there were virtual reconstructions of the dig sites.


Great idea. We’ve been planning something similar, and we’ll let you know when it’s ready.—B.C.

Acting Rod

It was very enlightening to read the article “Jesus the Magician? Why Jesus Holds a Wand in Early Christian Art,” by Lee M. Jefferson (Fall 2020). There may be another reason for the appearance of the rod in the hand of Jesus: It may serve as what artists term a “callout.” A callout is usually a short string of text connected by a line, arrow, or similar graphic to a feature of an illustration giving information about that feature. In our case, it would be used much as a “preposition” in a sentence—something functioning to express a relationship between the actor or agent (Jesus) and the object. Without such a marker, how would the uninformed observer understand the scene? A case in point might be the Santa Sabina doors, where Jesus stands beside the multiplied loaves and the water-turned-into-wine—the rod in each case connects, or associates Jesus as the agent responsible for the outcome.


God’s Controversial Portrait

Nowhere in the article “The Face of Yahweh” did I see the basis for the assertion that the heads are male. As an interested and long-standing reader, I can’t see any indications of gender in the illustrations and would appreciate a glimpse of the reasoning.

Thanks for the enjoyment and knowledge I get from BAR, enhanced by being able to read through an article rather than searching for a continuation page.


As usual, your publication stirs up lots of questions and research journeys. I was intrigued by the article “The Face of Yahweh” (Fall 2020). I am curious how it was ascertained (and repeatedly stated) that these figurine heads were male. You mention the facial features and the provenance led to this conclusion. But did the female pharaohs not don beards and male appearances? Or maybe it is the head of a ram or bighorn sheep? I assume that depictions of Yahweh were not permitted even early in the Israelite history. If some of these heads were discovered in a “cult” setting (the site of Moẓa), is it possible that the items discovered there are unique and not along the same cultural patterns as documented in the biblical tradition or other reference points?


I love BAR. It’s the only magazine I’ve ever awaited with anticipation and consistently read cover to cover.

I’m curious why the leap in the “Face of Yahweh” article to assume the figurines are depictions of Yahweh. I appreciate the caveat “may represent,” but it seems like a stretch. What other options were considered? Given the dispersion of these artifacts across multiple sites, could they not just as well be the equivalent of toy soldiers: a representation of warriors of the day for children to play with, especially given the child-like construction of the items? On what basis is it assumed that every item fashioned to look like a human face should be the representation of a god? With that assumption, Garfinkel runs down the rabbit hole that it must be Yahweh and iconoclasty against the Second Commandment. This seems wild speculation not worthy of BAR.


The Rebellious Son

I have read your magazine since I was in graduate school for theology. Today, as I began to read the Winter 2020 issue, I started with the letters and noticed something: all men—no letters by women! Can it be? Do no letters come from women? So, I sat down to write one.

In “Gluttony and Drunkenness in Ancient Israel,” by Rebekah Welton, she begins with the passage from Deuteronomy 21, and I was intrigued by her question, what did the English rendering “a glutton and a drunkard” mean in biblical days? As I read about ancient food practices, in the back of my mind was another question: In Matthew 11:18-19, Jesus is called “a glutton and a drunkard.”

As Dr. Welton says, in both cases the criticized activity was not eating and drinking to excess but being religiously deviant. It is obvious that the criticism of Jesus concerns with whom he eats (tax collectors and sinners).

Thanks for all the years of learning and fun.


Herod’s Unlikely Throne

Your Winter 2020 cover places Herod’s throne in the niche. At the same time, it makes a good case that is improbable. The space between the aligned stones is clearly a walkway, or hall. The steps narrow that hallway and would diminish the size of any group in front of the throne. I know of no place where a monarch wants to use architecture to diminish the crowd of admirers. This supposed placement also means that their view from the niche is obscured by the large stone pillars—both for anyone seated on the throne, and for those looking at the throne. The result is that this architectural reconstruction seems to place the throne in an unlikely place.


Superman and Scripture

I enjoy BAR, and I especially appreciated the column by Nicholaus Pumphrey titled “Superheroes and the Bible” (Fall 2020). As a bit of a comic geek myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this comparison of the Superman story to how we may read Scripture. I noticed, however, a slight mistake in the dating of one of the movies mentioned. Donner’s film Superman premiered in 1978, not 1970.



Istanbul was incorrectly called the capital of modern Turkey in our reporting about Hagia Sophia (Winter 2020, p. 14). In fact, the capital of Turkey moved from Istanbul to Ankara 16 days before the Republic of Turkey had officially been established.

Queries & Comments

We’ve noticed a marked increase in the perspicacity of the letters we’ve been receiving. We attribute this to the greater time we’ve all spent in isolation as a result of the current pandemic. If there is some silver lining to this tragedy, it’s that we’re all working together not only to stay safe but also to keep each other mentally stimulated. Thank you for being such passionate, loyal readers.

Race in Antiquity?

Recent events in the United States and around the world have refocused my attention to issues of race, and how we deal (or do not deal) with them in the disciplines of archaeology and Hebrew Bible studies.

In some ways my thoughts have no place in the reimagining of antiquity and early people groups, since race is a relatively modern human concept that has no basis in biology. Once we divorce concepts of race from any basis in natural science and instead see races as social constructs with roots back to 17th–18th-century C.E. Europe that had profound influence on early American thinking and actions, then it is also impossible to read, see, or reconstruct race in the ancient world. I am not suggesting that there were no differences in outward appearances between ancient people groups—just that the way these differences are considered cannot and should not be essentialized through a modern, biological view of race.

As modern researchers living and working in a racialized society, we need to ensure that the modern concepts do not cloud our thinking, writing, or teaching about antiquity. We also have the moral and intellectual obligation to lift up scholarship by minoritized colleagues and use this work in our own research and in the classroom. This eats away at the implicit biases that white scholars bring to our publications and teaching, and it helps a younger generation understand some of the very concepts that I have already laid out.

One must also be careful of the sin of omission. We know that the powerful Kushite Empire, centered in the region of modern-day Sudan, had political hegemony over Egypt in its 25th Dynasty, c. 760–656 B.C.E. From the perch of Egypt, Kushites influenced the politics and economies of biblical kingdoms in the southern Levant and vied with Assyria for political sway over the region. Kush and Kushites, usually mistranslated as Ethiopia/Ethiopian or Nubia/Nubian, are mentioned almost 80 times in the Hebrew Bible, yet the group—the only sub-Saharan culture with ties to the Hebrew Bible—is literally left out of a recent volume on biblical peoples. This omission is an oversight that prejudices views of the past.

Curricula in Hebrew Bible studies or the archaeology of the Near East rarely consider Kush. We need to embrace the fact that ancient black lives mattered as well as modern. Embracing change in our classrooms and research is one way to reconceptualize and deracialize the past, to create a more just present and equitable future.


Dr. Brody, thank you for this letter. We believe your call to learn more about the Kushites (or, Cushites) is imperative. Please see our article on page 62by Kevin Burrell titled “Representing Cush in the Hebrew Bible.”—B.C.

Comments and Compliments

Thank you for producing a wonderful, highly informative magazine. I am one of your current subscribers with plans to extend my subscription through October 2022. I only wish your publications would come more frequently.

I especially love and appreciate the systematic, insightful, and thorough way in which your authors approach their research and writing. Please continue this outstanding work of yours.

As you know, the Cairo Grand Egyptian Museum opens soon to international acclaim. What better time is there, therefore, to reignite global interest in the narratives leading up to and including the Exodus accounts?

Please stay safe and well during this pandemic.


I’ve been a subscriber to BAR since the mid-1980s and acquired all the previous issues and also the Bible Review magazine. The articles in the Summer 2020 issue are qualitatively different in a positive way. It is the most informative issue I can recall. Congrats. Keep up the good work.


I just want to congratulate and thank you for what your magazine has done. Recently, I have been looking up your biblical references in the articles, and I now find myself actually reading the Bible for the first time in my life. It is fascinating and full of things I never heard about. So thank you for introducing me to a new book in my library.


Don’t Care for Pagan

I am becoming more and more disgusted with the filth you people publish, namely dealing with pagan religions. The title of your magazine is BIBLICAL Archaeology Review. I don’t need to know anything about pagan religions. Either it’s from the Bible, or it’s garbage. Please amend your ways!


Apple of His Eye

About “Apple of his Eye”(Epistles: Whence-a-Word, Spring 2020), English translators who authored the King James Bible often consulted Luther’s German translation of the Scriptures for guidance. They did not mistranslate the Hebrew original; they mistranslated Luther’s German. I located the four examples given in the BAR article in a German Bible where I found (four times) the German word “Augapfel.” Apparently, the translators of the KJB wrongly rendered this German word as “apple of the eye.” “Augapfel” means “eyeball.” In all four instances Luther did not use the German equivalent of “pupil,” “die Pupille.”


As Prof. Millard pointed out in his letter last issue, the Geneva Bible also contained “apple of his eye.” However, I wondered why the Geneva translators made the jump from “eyeball” to “apple.” Your suggestion makes perfect sense. Given that Luther published his German translation of the Old Testament in 1534, and that English translators published the complete Geneva Bible in 1560 (both well before the King James Version appeared, in 1611), it appears the English translators over literalized “Augapfel,” the German word for “eyeball,” which literally means “eye apple,” and rendered the more poetic “apple of his eye.” Fascinating! And thank you. I think you solved the riddle.—B.C.

Biblical Belly Buttons

Let me contribute to the debate over Adam’s navel (“Belly Button Brain-Teaser,” Queries & Comments, Summer 2020): I may be a pagan, but even I know that according to the Bible, man was created in God’s image. So, isn’t the real question, why does God have a belly button?


I enjoyed the exchange between Edward P. Miller and Bob Cargill. But, and I hope this doesn’t spoil the fun, the issue of Adam and Eve’s belly buttons was (and for all I know might still be) a hot topic to some Christians. In the middle of the 19th century, the Plymouth Brethren split over the issue, with one group saying, as Mr. Miller and Mr. Cargill do, that belly buttons on Adam and Eve are out of the question, and the other group taking Adam and Eve as the prototypes on which all humans are based and insisting that, because all people must have belly buttons, Adam and Eve must also have had them. Families split on the issue, brothers never speaking again to one another. There is at least one wonderful book that goes into some detail on the controversary—a memoir by the son of the author of the defining book on one side of the issue: Father and Son, by Edmund Gosse. Gosse’s father, Philip, in addition to being a theologian, was also a biologist and an opponent of Darwin. It is a wonderful and very moving read about a difficult father-son relationship.


Early Manuscripts

In his article,“How Old Are the Oldest Christian Manuscripts?” (Summer 2020), Brent Nongbri states, “The radiocarbon analysis of the shroud has thus proven to the satisfaction of sober observers that it is a product of the 13th or 14th century—and not the first century.” I’m curious to know Mr. Nongbri’s views about the work of Susan Benford and Joseph Marino, supposedly confirmed by original Shroud of Turin Research Team member Ray Rodgers that the samples taken for the carbon-14 tests in 1988 did not contain just ancient linen fibers, but were also interwoven with more modern cotton fiber, thought to have been used to repair the original shroud linen in the 16th century, thus polluting the samples.

I have periodically seen reaffirmations of the 1988 C-14 results confidently stated in the media—most recently in Mr. Nongbri’s interesting BAR article—but I have yet to hear anyone state with the same degree of scholarly certainty that the Benford and Marino challenge to those dates has been disproven. Since Mr. Nongbri cites this example, I thought perhaps he might know the answer to my question. Has the Benford and Marino challenge been put to rest, or is the shroud not quite done surprising us?



The 1988 sample was divided and sent to testing facilities in Oxford, Zürich, and the University of Arizona. All three labs concluded that the Shroud of Turin is an artifact of the 13th or 14th century. Once published, these results were vigorously challenged by some.

Although I see no compelling reason to doubt either the soundness of the procedures or the results of the 1988 analysis, I would welcome additional testing of the Shroud with samples taken from multiple areas.

For the unabridged response, go to biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.

I was just browsing through some recent issues of BAR when I noticed in “The Oldest Christian Letter”report (Strata, November/December 2019) that a horizontal line had been drawn above the Greek abbreviation for “in the Lord.” This being the oldest Christian letter to date, I wondered whether this may not have been the earliest recorded use of the nomen sacrum. Kurt and Barbara Aland’s book, The Text of the New Testament, notes that nomina sacra were introduced by Christian writers when they introduced the codex form, the dating of which has been questioned by others, most recently Brent Nongbri’s God’s Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts.



The Basel papyrus, which can be dated to the 230s C.E., is indeed a very early example of a nomen sacrum abbreviation. Is it the earliest known? Maybe. There are a number of Christian literary manuscripts with nomina sacra that some scholars would say are as early as the second century, but none of them have a secure date. There are also good reasons to think that the famous “Gnostic” Christian inscription of Flavia Sophe, which was found in Rome and contains a nomen sacrum, was made in the second century, but again, we don’t have an exact date.

Thank you very much for the always fascinating forays into the domain of biblical scholarship. Presently living in retirement after 41 years of pastoral ministry in the Church of South India, I thoroughly enjoy all your articles, which are always fresh and elucidative.

I especially commend Brent Nongbri’s contribution in the Summer 2020 issue. The crisp presentation of the critical issues of the New Testament text transmission is well within the grasp of all readers. I look forward to more of such pieces.

Congratulations also on your new layout.


Please forgive this 95-year-old man for bothering you with this letter. A very interesting article in the summer issue—as so many in your magazine—has me puzzled. The last sentence in the sidebar on p. 42 states that the small parchment piece of the New Testament indicates “the end of Luke and the beginning of John.” There seems to be no breaking to indicate the changing of authors. I am aware that much of the writing at that time was done on either parchment or dried animal skin and then “rolled.” Was all writing continuous until the message was ended?


You will find the end of Luke and the beginning of John in the top one fourth of the manuscript page, where one short, centered paragraph says (in Greek) “the Gospel according to Luke,” and another one states “the Gospel according to John.” (In antiquity, titles of literary works could either precede or follow the text; or both.) The two Gospels are separated by a two-line gap. You are quite correct to observe that the text is written continuously, without spaces or marks between the words.—M.D.

Names or Epithets?

Mitka Golub’s analysis of personal names in the biblical and archaeological record (“What’s in a Name?” Summer 2020) is fascinating and points the way to further investigations. We know that some names are the personal name used in daily life, while others are epithets—names earned through personal characteristics and actions. Could many of these names, especially the theophoric names, be epithets instead?



Yes, some personal names are epithets—inspired by the person’s physical traits, such as bald (Kareah; see Jeremiah 40:8); occupation, such as wine grower (Carmi; Joshua 7:1); or origin, such as the Cushite (Cushi; Jeremiah 36:14). Such names, however, refer to a person and are secular. By contrast, theophoric names refer to a deity and express gratitude, supplication, or one of the divine characteristics. Many of these names reflect family crises, such as the events connected to birth or the struggle for survival.

Epithets are generally scarce, probably because so many names are collected from artifacts associated with administrative activities, such as seals, bullae, and issuance of supplies, where people tend to use their personal names rather than epithets.

Time Travel Now?

It seems that BAR is now trying to change history via time travel! I was amused to see on page 32 in the very interesting article on Tel Hadid (“Forced Resettlement and Immigration at Tel Hadid,” Summer 2020) that the Byzantine period is listed as the fourth–seventh centuries B.C.E., rather than C.E.



The Byzantine period dates given in the article “Forced Resettlement and Immigration at Tel Hadid” (Summer 2020, p. 32) should read “fourth–seventh centuries C.E.,” not “B.C.E.”