You may have seen the exciting newspaper headlines last summer: “‘Golden Calf’ Found in Ashkelon,” they declared. The quotation marks around the first two words were prudent—the object was actually of silver-covered bronze—but the allusion to the Golden Calf worshiped by the Israelites in Exodus 32 was apt: The newly discovered cult figurine was as highly regarded in ancient Canaanite religion as it was later vilified by the Israelite faith. But this stunning find, important as it is, should not draw our attention away from the myriad other discoveries now being made at Ashkelon. This 5,500-year-old city along the Mediterranean coast, often mentioned in the Bible, has been home to Canaanite, Philistine, Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic cultures. Lawrence E. Stager reviews the city’s history during the first two of those periods in “When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon,” and marshals an impressive array of evidence—ranging from lowly loomweights to Homeric epics—to answer the longstanding question of where the Sea Peoples (of whom the Philistines were one) came from. The answer belies the dictionary definition of “philistine.” Of course, 5,500 years of history is a little too much even for BAR to attempt in one sitting, so the second part of Stager’s article—covering Ashkelon from the Phoenician period to medieval times—will appear in our next issue.
Stager is Dorot Professor of the archaeology of Israel at Harvard University, director of the Harvard Semitic Museum and director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. He previously appeared in these pages with “Child Sacrifice at Carthage—Religious Rite or Population Control?” BAR 10:01 (coauthored by Samuel R. Wolff) and “The Song of Deborah—Why Some Tribes Answered the Call and Others Did Not,” BAR 15:01, for which he won the Fellner Award for the best BAR article of 1989.
Imagine what an archaeologist must feel knowing that he is about to excavate a site that he has every reason to believe will yield rich finds. That’s the position Yizhar Hirschleld is in regarding Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee’s western shore. Tiberias was an important city in the time of Jesus (the Gospel of John twice refers to the Sea of Galilee as the Sea of Tiberias) and it became the capital of Jewish culture following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But only now is it receiving the systematic excavation its status has long warranted. Hirschfeld describes the important finds already uncovered, including what he believes to be the academy where the Palestinian Talmud was in part created, in “Tiberias—Preview of Coming Attractions.” And if you’re not quite sure what the Palestinian Talmud is or how it relates to the Babylonian Talmud, see the sidebar “A Tale of Two Talmuds” for some enlightenment on the matter. Hirschfeld directs the Tiberias excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He received his Ph.D. from Hebrew University and conducted post-doctoral research at Yale University. He has excavated at Ashkelon, Emmaus, Hammat Gader, in the Judean desert and on Mt. Carmel. His book, The Judean Desert Monasteries in the Byzanane Period, is forthcoming from Yale Univ. Press. Hirschfeld, together with Giora Solar, contributed “Sumptuous Roman Baths Uncovered Near Sea of Galilee,” BAR 10:06.
Among the flotsam left in the wake of John Strugnell’s dismissal as chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the disturbing issue of anti-Semitism. In “Silence, Anti-Semitism and the Scrolls,” BAR editor Hershel Shanks examines the reactions of scholars and officials in both the United States and Israel to Strugnell’s barrage of insults against Judaism, Zionism and Israel. He finds a reluctance to face the issue, typified by the disingenuous reasons given for Strugnell’s dismissal, as well as a longstanding “gentleman’s agreement” of silence concerning Strugnell’s opinions.
Strugnell’s view of Judaism reflects the discredited theological concept known as “supersessionism.” In “The Church’s Teaching on Supersessionism,” Fisher explains what supersessionism is and what the Catholic church’s position is with regard to it. Fisher is the Director of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Since you can’t tell the players without a program, we also present photos and short biographical sketches of the “Major Players” in the Dead Sea Scroll scandal, that is, the Israeli oversight committee, the co-chief editors and the other principal members of the editing team.
Comparing the situation in the scholarly world to the Soviet Union before glasnost, the New York Times has endorsed BAR’s position on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In its lead editorial for December 23, 1990, “Christianity and Judaism: Censored,” the Times added its influential voice to the many others calling for an end to the scroll editors’ monopolistic control. We reprint the editorial in the sidebar
Like death and taxes, the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Schools of Oriental Reseach is an inevitable, albeit happier, event. Hershel Shanks takes his yearly look at what happens “When 5,613 Scholars Get Together in One Place—The Annual Meeting, 1990,” and discovers that exciting work is being done by a rising generation of young scholars. Nevertheless, the equally inevitable William G. Dever, professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Arizona, is in no danger of being overshadowed, as he proves in his insightful look at the cult of Asherah, “Women’s Popular Religion, Suppressed in the Bible, Now Revealed by Archaeology.” As an adaptation of a paper he delivered at the Annual Meeting, Dever’s article maintains his principle of writing in BAR but not for BAR.
You may have seen the exciting newspaper headlines last summer: “‘Golden Calf’ Found in Ashkelon,” they declared. The quotation marks around the first two words were prudent—the object was actually of silver-covered bronze—but the allusion to the Golden Calf worshiped by the Israelites in Exodus 32 was apt: The newly discovered cult figurine was as highly regarded in ancient Canaanite religion as it was later vilified by the Israelite faith. But this stunning find, important as it is, should not draw our attention away from the myriad other discoveries now being made at Ashkelon. This 5,500-year-old city along the […]