Queries & Comments
The Letters Column
Don Quixote Among BAR Readers
One of my favorite stories from Don Quixote is when the mad knight is preparing to sally forth on his quest and is in need of armor. Finding a rusty helmet that is missing its visor, he makes a new visor out of cardboard.
In order to test the strength of the new visor, he draws his sword and gives the doubtful piece of armor a sound whack. It flies to pieces. Undeterred, the Don makes a new cardboard visor, only this time when he goes to test it he gives it only the lightest touch with the sword. The visor passes this test, and the valiant knight sallies forth to war with the forces of darkness. At the first battle (with the muleteers) Don Quixote’s visor fails, and he has three of his teeth knocked out!
I was reminded of this story while reading the amusing flurry of outraged letters in Queries & Comments, BAR 19:01 issue, regarding your review of Barbara Thiering’s book, Jesus & the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Unlocking the Secrets of His Life Story.
Unarmored by any intellectual foundation to their faith, many of your less-enlightened readers went ballistic over the mere fact that you would even review a book which asked them to think. Mr. Eduard V. Grzelok even went so far in emulating the mad Don as to lose a tooth in his rage!
In the year since my subscription started, about every second issue is decorated with the wailing and gnashing of teeth (and now the breaking of teeth!) from the camps of the armies of the night. Let BAR publish an ad for a non-Religiously-Correct statue or a review of a book that fails to toe the Religiously Correct party line (even a critical one), and these soldiers of ignorance scurry to their typewriters and inkwells to launch a counterstrike reeking of fire, brimstone—and panic!
Where are these guardians of intellectual purity when you run ads for trash such as Devil Worship: The Shocking Facts! , which declares that its contents are “Proven beyond any shadow of doubt—100%! Clear, Positive Proof … Complete Truth” and other such modest claims? “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24).
Would I have BAR censor such intellectual garbage? Of course not! On the battlefield of ideas, I have complete confidence in my intellectual armor. I am not only willing but eager to have my core beliefs challenged, and I am more than willing to replace them when they prove no longer tenable.
In this quest, BAR and its sister publication, Bible Review, have proven invaluable.
How Solid Is the Foundation of Their Faith?
The irascibility of some of BAR’s readers leads me to question how solid the foundation is on which their faith rests. People should know why they believe what they believe. When challenged, a person in possession of the facts has no need for hostility.
I am grateful for BAR’s open market of ideas. Whether or not I agree with these ideas, I am comfortable enough in my faith to consider the possibilities.
George N. Sharik
La Crosse, Virginia
Let’s Get Right to the Good Parts
Ranging as they do from praise through cogent criticism to outright disgust—and with all due respect to editorial content—the letters to the editor in the BAR 19:01 demonstrate once again that no magazine prints anything more fascinating than the letters from its readers (see Queries & Comments). Those whose outrage drives them to cancel their subscriptions are the only losers.
Edward T. Barnard
North Branford, Connecticut
Makes Up His Own Mind
Alas, another issue of BAR and more letters of indignation. Will it never cease? I find some advertisements questionable, so I use my own judgment and don’t buy. I find some articles eyebrow-raising and credit them to a difference in interpretation. Unlike other readers, who profess to be indignant fundamentalist Christians, I do not limit myself to perfection in the printed 016word. If BAR is flawed, it does not limit itself to rote dogma but attempts to expose the truth. It has led me to learn Greek and Hebrew to evaluate the submissions that do make it into print. Keep up the good work.
Alan J. Ames
San Jose, California
Tipping the Scales of Hilarity
I often find your Queries & Comments column almost as amusing as The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and certainly the BAR 19:01 issue is a winner in that regard (seeQueries & Comments). I have never seen such a wonderful paraphrase of that old saw “My mind’s made up: Don’t confuse me with the facts” as the line in Carolyn Gummel’s letter, “I understand your position on reporting the facts, but I do not have to read such drivel.” A classic example of a totally closed mind.
William W. Foster
Haverhill, New Hampshire
Philistine Alphabet Soup
Interested readers (like myself) would have an easier time understanding BAR articles about the Sea Peoples if you would decide on consistent spelling for the names of the various subgroups. Everyone agrees on “Philistines,” but their less famous (or infamous) cousins are virtually lost in a muddle of transliterations.
In the BAR 17:06 issue, Avner Raban and Robert R. Stieglitz (“The Sea Peoples and Their Contributions To Civilization,” BAR 17:06) mention the Shardana, the Sikila (or Sikala), the Lukka and the Danuna groups or tribes.
In the same issue, Bryant G. Wood (“The Philistines Enter Canaan,” BAR 17:06) refers to the Tjeker, the Denyen (or Danuna), the Shardana and the Weshesh.
Now, in the BAR 19:01, I find Ephraim Stern (“When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors,” BAR 19:01) identifying the various Sea Peoples, in addition to the Philistines, as the Sikils, the Sherden, the Shekelesh, the Denyen and the Weshesh.
No problem apparently, with Weshesh or Lukka, but Shardana-Sherden, Denyen-Danuna, and Sikila-Sikala-Sikils is just too confusing. And is Tjeker a version of Sikil or of Shekelesh?
Ellen St. Sure Lifschutz
Scholars are divided over whether Tjeker (a transcription from the Egyptian) refers to the Sikils or the Shekelesh, with the weight of opinion recently shifting to the former. Regarding the more general point of consistency in spelling, you’re right. In the future we’ll try to 017use the following spellings of the Sea Peoples: Danuna, Shardana, Sikila. We hope the rest of the world will follow.—Ed.
Phoenicians Are in the Bible—If You Know Where to Look
I enjoyed “When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors,” BAR 19:01, by Ephraim Stern, but I note his statement that “In contrast to the Philistines, about whom we learn so much from the Bible, the Phoenicians are not even mentioned by name.”
While I agree that you won’t find the name “Phoenicia” in the Old Testament, there is no reason why you should. As he correctly points out, it is a Greek name.
The Hebrew writers did refer to Phoenician cities by city-state name and did refer to them as being seafarers. They were considered skilled artisans and were deemed desirable to work on the Temple that David planned and Solomon built. I think there’s more material out there than Mr. Stern realizes.
Royal Oak, Michigan
When Was Carthage Destroyed?
In your otherwise fascinating article, “The Many Masters of Dor, Part 1—When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors,” BAR 19:01, Professor Ephraim Stern mentions that Carthage was destroyed in 152 B.C.E., which is incorrect. In fact, war was not even declared on Carthage until 149 B.C.E., when Rome, fearful of Carthage’s growing power and its attacks against Masinissa’s encirclement of Carthage, declared war. From the summer of 149 to the spring of 146, besieged Carthage successfully defended itself against the Romans, but the city finally fell, was razed to the ground and had salt sown on its lands to prevent any further occupation (if ancient sources are correct).
Pamela A. Marthinuss
New York, New York
You are right. Carthage fell in 146 B.C.—Ed.
Kudos for Stern, a Lament for Esse
Congratulations to Ephraim Stern for his fine article on the recent discoveries at Dor (“The Many Masters of Dor, Part 1—When Canaanites Became Phoenician Sailors,” BAR 19:01. I would like, however, to point out a few minor corrections and comments for the sake of accuracy:
1. Stern calls his 12th-century fortification wall “the strongest fortification system from this period discovered in Palestine!”. The contemporary fortifications discovered at Ashkelon, built on top of the earlier Middle Bronze Age fortification complex (see Lawrence E. Stager, “When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon,” BAR 17:02) appear fairly daunting as well.
2. On page 31, read Horvat Rosh Zayit for Rosh Beth Zayit and Tharros for Tarsos (for which, see Joan G. Scheuer, “Searching for the Phoenicians in Sardinia,” BAR 16:01.
3. Scilax (often spelled Scylax as well), a Greek sea captain (not Phoenician), did not circumnavigate Africa. He traveled overland to India at the behest of Darius of Persia in about 500 B.C.E. His return by sea was via the Arabian peninsula and up the Red Sea. Stern surely meant to write Necho, pharaoh of Egypt, who is generally credited as being the first to commission Phoenician sailors to circumnavigate the African continent, (about 600 B.C.E.—see Herodotus 4.42).
I would also like to compliment Lawrence Stager for his brilliantly crafted eulogy of the late Douglas Esse (pp. 20–21). Stager succeeds beautifully in capturing the essence of Doug’s spirit and his scientific contributions. BAR readers will recall Doug’s incisive review of Israel Finkelstein’s The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement, Books in Brief, BAR 14:05, where his ability to deal with the main issues of a complex topic is clearly evident. Those of us who were fortunate enough to know Doug personally or through his publications are forever richer for the experience.
Dr. Sam Wolff
Dead Sea Scrolls
H.U.C. Violated No Trust Over Scrolls Concordance
In his review of Ben Zion Wacholder and Martin G. Abegg’s latest fascicle (“Fragments,” BAR 19:01), Joseph Fitzmyer states that a copy of the preliminary concordance that he helped to prepare “was deposited at Hebrew Union College (along with a few other institutions) for safekeeping.” This assertion is incorrect. The library purchased a copy of this work in 1990, catalogued it and made it available.
Professor Fitzmyer’s infelicitous choice of the words “deposited for safekeeping” may suggest that this concordance was given to the library in some sort of trust, a trust which the library might be construed to have violated in permitting the “renegade” scholars to use it in their “bootleg” scholarship.
When A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew and Aramaic Texts from Cave Four: Fascicle One appeared in October 1991, the library was accused by some of violating the conditions under which we had been sent photographs of Dead Sea Scroll materials in 1972. We were accused of permitting Drs. Wacholder and Abegg to consult the negative photographs in violation of an agreement—from which we tried without success to be released—not to allow these photographs to be viewed. We didn’t; indeed, we couldn’t! It was only when the use of these negatives was approved by the Israel Antiquities Authority in October 1991 that Wacholder and Abegg first learned that the library’s set of unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls was far from complete, and that only seven of the twenty-seven plates that they may have wished to consult were included in the library’s set.
The library kept in trust what it was given in trust, and made open that which had been openly acquired.
David J. Gilner. P.h.D.
Librarian, Hebrew Union College
Joseph Fitzmyer replies:
Reader Gilner is right in his criticism of what appears over my name in a review of the book 018by Wacholder and Abegg. What I originally wrote was the following, in the sentence that follows the quotation from Wacholder, used by The Washington Post, now at the end of the second paragraph of the review: “So using the preliminary concordance, the cards of which had been photographed in the 1980s and made available to editors of the Cave 4 texts, a copy of which came to Hebrew Union College, Wacholder and Abegg proceeded to reconstruct texts from it. “My original had nothing about depositing the copy for safekeeping.
In time, I received an edited form of the review, which contains indeed the sentence about a deposit at Hebrew Union College for safekeeping. I did not query that because I judged that the editors of BAR knew more about that than I did. Alas, they introduced the error about the deposit. I regret that I did not query that at the time, and now I apologize if feelings at Hebrew Union College are offended by what has appeared over my name.
The editors would like to apologize both to Father Fitzmyer and to Hebrew Union College.—Ed.
Did Jesus Speak Greek?
The Pun on Peter Works Better in Hebrew
Our thanks to BAR for facilitating a discussion of the language situation in first-century Israel, and a tip of the hat to Joseph Fitzmyer for his significant contribution to this debate (“Did Jesus Speak Greek?” BAR 18:05.
In his reply to a BAR reader’s letter (Queries & Comments, BAR 19:01), Fitzmyer demonstrated his approach to the Synoptic Gospels. Assuming an Aramaic substratum, he first reconstructed the Greek of Matthew 16:18 in Aramaic, and only then suggested an interpretation.
This recognition that the Synoptic Gospels are derived from a Semitic source or sources seems essential to any productive methodology of interpretation. Scholars of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research have found that unless one first translates the Greek texts of the Synoptic Gospels to Hebrew, one cannot fully understand their meaning.
Fitzmyer suggests that Jesus employed an Aramaic wordplay (Kepha’-kepha’) in his declaration to Peter, and not the Greek Petros-petra wordplay. However, Fitzmyer acknowledges a difficulty: He wonders why the Matthean Jesus did not say, “on this petros I will build my church.” This difficulty is a product of Fitzmyer’s Aramaic reconstruction: He has been forced to reconstruct Jesus’ wordplay using only one Aramaic word; therefore, he is unable to preserve the wordplay reflected in Greek, a play on two different words.
Fitzmyer’s Aramaic hypothesis presents other difficulties: One, Peter is known in the Synoptic Gospels only by the names Simon and Petros. Peter’s Aramaic name, Kephas (Cephas), is not used in these sources.1 Two, in this period, Jewish sages ordinarily taught in Hebrew, not in Aramaic.2
We suggest a solution: Jesus spoke to Peter in Hebrew, not in Greek or Aramaic. Jesus probably said, ’atah Petros ve‘al ha petra hazo ’evneh ’et ‘adati (You are Petros, and on this petra I will build my community). This solution assumes that Jesus employed a Hebrew wordplay, that is, that both Petros and petra were Hebrew words.
The Greek petra was borrowed by ancient Hebrew speakers, just as the French words detente, gaffe and cliche were borrowed by modern speakers of English. Such loanwords gain currency because they have a special flavor or satisfy a deficiency in the host language. Not only did petra become a Hebrew word, but petra is the key word in a rabbinic interpretation that is strikingly similar to Jesus’ declaration to Peter:
An anonymous interpreter, commenting on “From the rocky heights I see them” (Numbers 23:9), described the dilemma that God confronted when he wished to create the world:
“It can be compared to a king who desired to build a palace. He began digging, searching for solid rock on which he could lay foundations, but he found only mire. He dug in several other sites, always with the same results. However, the king did not give up. He dug in still another location. This time he struck solid rock [petra].
“‘Here,’ he said, ‘I will build,’ and he laid foundations and built.
“In the same manner, the Holy One, blessed is he, before he created the world, sat and examined the generation of Enosh and the generation of the Flood.
“‘How can I create the world when those wicked people will appear and provoke me to anger?’ he said.
“When, however, the Holy One, blessed is he, saw Abraham, he said, ‘Here I have found solid rock [petra] upon which I can lay the world’s foundations.’”
(Yalkut Shim’oni to Numbers 23:9)
Yalkut Shim’oni is a very late (13th century A.D.) collection of rabbinic interpretations; however, it contains much early material. Some scholars might argue that this rabbinic source can tell us nothing about what a first-century Jewish sage may have said.3 However, we think the similarity between Jesus’ declaration and the rabbinic interpretation is too great to be 019coincidental. It seems likely that Jesus alluded to a tradition with which his disciples were familiar, the tradition that God built the world on the sure foundation of a dependable man.
Along with petra, Petros entered the Hebrew language: Petros was the name of the father of a Palestinian rabbi, Rabbi Yose ben Petros (Genesis Rabba 94; of Jerusalem Talmud, Moed Katan, 82d), who was active around 200–250 A.D., placing his father Petros in the second half of the second century A.D. There also was a town or village marketplace named Petros in the vicinity of Antipatris near Lydda (Tosefta, Demai 1:11). Although there is still no early occurrence of the Hebrew name Petros, these examples demonstrate that Hebrew-speakers could borrow the Greek word petros and use it as a personal name. Many Greek personal names had already become Hebrew names by the time of Jesus. The Greek name
Apparently, Jesus’ most prominent disciple bore two Hebrew names:
A Hebrew hypothesis provides solutions to the difficulties raised by Fitzmyer’s suggested reconstruction of Matthew 16:10: It preserves the Petros-petra wordplay that is reflected in Greek; it permits one to reconstruct Jesus saying using Petros, one of Peter’s names in the Synoptic Gospels; it lets Jesus speak in the language of contemporary Jewish sages—Hebrew.
A Hebrew hypothesis can also explain why the name Petros did not exist in the Greek language in the time of Peter: Provincials who spoke Greek as their second or third language borrowed the Greek word petros and turned it into a nickname in their local language, Hebrew. Peter’s nickname may have existed only in Hebrew until it was transliterated into Greek in the New Testament.
Simply put, our argument is this: There exists a rabbinic interpretation that contains the Hebrew loanword petra. Jesus’ statement to Peter contains the word petra. The similarity of the two teachings is so great that coincidence seems improbable; it seems likely that Jesus alluded to this rabbinic interpretation. If so, he probably uttered petra in Hebrew. If petra is Hebrew, then Petros, which Jesus paired with petra, is probably Hebrew. The likelihood of this assumption is strengthened by the evidence in rabbinic sources: Before the second century A.D., Hebrew-speakers had borrowed the Greek word petros and used it as a personal name. If the Petros-petra wordplay is Hebrew, then Jesus probably delivered his famous saying to Peter in Hebrew.
Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research
How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pun?
I read with great interest Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s article on the language of Jesus (“Did Jesus Speak Greek?” BAR 18:05) and Dr. Abraham’s response (Queries & Comments, BAR 19:01) regarding the Peter/rock example of Greek/Aramaic wordplay, and I suggest that both have missed the boat when it comes to punmanship.
Regardless of who wrote, or spoke, the pun, the passages translate into more than one level of wordplay in more than three languages. To begin with, the context of Matthew 16:10 cannot be seen without a deeper probe into the role Simon plays in his position as the first of the disciples. He is, after all, the first of a group of 12, much like the sons of Jacob. Reuben is referred to as the PTR RHM, “the ‘firstborn’ or ‘opener’ of the womb,” thus to be named head of the tribe upon Jacob’s demise. As we know from Genesis 49:3 and I Chronicles 5:1–2, Reuben is demoted from this position and the lead goes not to the second born, who is Simeon, but to Judah (Genesis 49:8–12). Reuben lost his inheritance by bedding his father’s concubine, and Simeon’s violent actions (in vengeance for the rape of Dinah) make him low man on Jacob’s totem pole (Genesis 49:5–7).
In a neat twist, the author of the New Testament passages set up the first (Judah) to be last (Judas), and the last (Simeon) to be first (Simon)(Matthew 10:1–4). Simon becomes the figurative PTR (Hebrew) “firstborn,” or in Aramaic PeTRA (not PeTRE), “the rock” foundation of the Church, and the new “head honcho” of a tribe of 12. 076The pun, however, is extended further in his being called Cephas (Aramaic for “stone”) and played against the Latin caput—“head,” “leader” (first in line).
The Hebrew KePHaTH means “bound,” and in Matthew 16:19 (the verse following the rock pun), Peter is told, “Whatsoever thou shalt find (KaPHeTH) on earth shall be bound (KePHaT) in heaven, and [it follows that] whatsoever shalt loose [Hebrew PaTeR, “set free”] on earth shall be loosed [PiTuR] in heaven.”
So we might, if we can free our minds, conclude that the author of these words had a sense of humor, and dabbled in four languages, not three, all of which were contiguous to the locale.
The incidence of Biblical punning is rampant in the first 15 chapters of Exodus, where the gods of Egypt are decimated with Egyptian/Hebrew wordplay. There are at least 50 such puns. I challenge your scholarly readers to find them.
I have a suggestion regarding “New Mosaic Art from Sepphoris,” BAR 18:06 (by Ehud Netzer and Zeev Weiss,). The authors mention that Nilometer measuring devices were placed next to the Nile River to measure its annual flood. The authors suggested that the numbers on the Nilometer represented the height of the water in cubits. But they also state that the numbers were used to determine applicable tax rates for the coming year.
They further explain that different Nilometers have been found in different locations but that the inscribed numeration scales were not mutually consistent as a measurement of river height. About this they say “we have not yet been able to explain this difference.”
Perhaps the numeration represents not the height of the river in cubits (thus eliminating the unexplainable inconsistency), but differing tax rates applicable in different municipal tax zones.
The numbers do not refer to percentages, as do modern tax tables. I surmise this because in all my readings of ancient history I have never seen mention of percentages. On the other hand, I have frequently read ancient references to fractions, such as “the sixth part,” “the seventh part” and the like. Note that the Nilometers are numbered from the bottom up, thus leading to the 078understandable conclusion that they signified the height of the water in cubits. But I propose that they refer to ever-decreasing fractions!
Consider the revenue that would be yielded by a tax administered as I suggest. Let us suppose that the government has a fairly regular annual cost for its maintenance. In a poor-harvest/low-water year, in order to obtain the needed fixed amount of revenue, the government must take a proportionately larger share of the smaller annual production, 1/6;, for example. In a good-harvest/high-water year, the percentage tax is less, say 1/10; instead of 1/6;. But when the lower tax rate is applied to a greater overall production, the revenue is the same, which is what the government wanted anyway.
Do you think this argument will hold water? And if so, at what rate?
Deloitte & Touche Accounting
Reads Carefully, Like a Good Reader Should
I am very disappointed with you! The BAR 19:01 issue contains an article entitled “Tell-ing It Like It Is,” BAR 19:01. BAR is purportedly a scholarly magazine, and for a long time now I have patiently ignored the use of the term “that” when “who” or “which” is correct, but the title addressed above is so grammatically incorrect that I had a lot of trouble delving into the text. If you have a problem with where the error lies, try the title “Tell-in” It As It Is.”
Kansas City, Missouri
Don’t Stifle the Debate Over Controversial Books
All the wringing of hands over BAR’s review of a controversial book is scary (Queries & Comments, BAR 19:01). Do these writers have no appreciation for freedom of thought?
BAR merely reviewed a very controversial book. I hope these readers appreciate the fact that most of us prefer to be our own judge. So keep reviewing all the noteworthy and controversial books you can.
John Griffin, Jr.
You Could Help This BAR Reader, or You Could Turn the Page
I semirecently discovered your fine magazine, and now I am thoroughly hooked! I have been to Israel on pilgrimage twice, and BAR brings to life so many of the sites I have seen. I cannot get enough of Israeli archaeology. I now try to scour all imaginable sources to get cheap back issues of BAR. I have found a few, which I devoured, but I get sick when I think of all the subjects you’ve covered that I missed, perhaps never to be published again. I laugh and cry when I read the letters to the editor criticizing your articles and threatening to cancel subscriptions.
My funds are too limited to pay much for back issues, but I can pay the postage and a little if someone wants to throw some old issues my way. I just mailed off my check for a subscription so as not to miss anymore, but I hunger for more! If possible, reply to:
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A Note on Style
B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era), used by some of our authors, are the alternative designations for B.C. and A.D. often used in scholarly literature.
The Letters Column