Queries & Comments
Wait No More
The Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia—Israelites in Tennessee—I can hardly wait to read the next Queries & Comments!
Learns from the Debates
When I first subscribed to BAR, I didn’t know whether I liked the magazine or not. At first I was like the gentleman from Idaho, who wrote to you to complain about the debates of the scholars (Kenneth M. Claar, Queries & Comments, BAR 19:04), and I thought, “What have I wasted my money on?”
After a few issues, however, I found I read these debates first. What a source of great minds I’m learning from.
I’m a career lady, own a business and don’t have time to go to lectures on the things I want to learn more about. BAR teaches me many areas of religion that I knew nothing about.
The story about the Ark of the Covenant (Ephraim Isaac, “Is the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia?” BAR 19:04) was a fascinating article.
For the first time in my life I am wondering: What are the religions in Ethiopia? What are the people like? What is their lifestyle? I highly recommend BAR to anyone wanting to raise their horizons.
Ruth E. Crank
American Mutual Life Insurance Company
Des Moines, Iowa
Are They for Real?
I just read the letter from Bill Thompson (Queries & Comments, BAR 19:04), and I must congratulate him for producing the King of Hilarious Letters in all the time I have been reading BAR. I am a Christian, and I can’t help wondering why we will need a time capsule of Christian material “for the benefit of people living during the millennial reign of Christ” when, presumably, we will have the real thing.
The second-most hilarious letters come from the befuddled readers who have banned your magazine from their lives because you advertised a rather garish statue of Isis. Amazing!
Which gives me pause. Are these really letters from readers, or is it a clever invention of someone in the editorial department? I suspect I know the answer already, because it would be difficult to make up this kind of thing. My compliments to all letter writers, real or fictitious. The letter column is the first thing I turn to when I get BAR, and it always gives me a belly laugh, for which I am eternally grateful.
Diane Joy Baker
The Bat Creek Stone
I Wish the Inscription Were Historical
J. Huston McCulloch’s article (“Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee,” BAR 19:04) was so interesting. It is too bad that there is really so little evidence for his theory of the Bat Creek inscription. The year of discovery (1889) and the place (Tennessee) are really just too close to the Mormon explanation for the Nephite Lammanite model of ancient pre-Columbian North and South American Indians. Like McCulloch, I too wish that the inscription were historical.
The rebuttal by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04) just rings true. That kind of paleo-Hebraic alphabet was available to anyone working in a Bible seminary near the site of discovery. In 1889, the Bible was still the only game in town. “Discovering” something from Bible times would have been much more interesting than finding in the Bible-belt South something from the Maya, Incas, Toltec or Mixtec peoples.
Alan Albert Snow, Director-Minister
Independent Humanist Ministries
Balboa Island, California
I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion in Huston McCulloch’s article “Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?” BAR 19:04 and Kyle McCarter’s response (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04). I would have to say that Professor McCulloch makes the more persuasive argument.
I would certainly take issue with McCarter’s assertion that Emmert committed a fraud, since the knowledge of this form of paleo-Hebrew was beyond his capability and especially that of Blackman.
If the Judeans did travel to the New World 1,300 years before Columbus, that would certainly rewrite many history books.
Paul Luskin, J.D.
Sarcasm Was Seriously Unserious
In “Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04 author P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. begins, “Let me see if I have this straight.”
Of course he has the right to utilize any literary style he chooses, but this sarcastic approach indicates that he does not intend to “be serious” about it at all. For me, this attitude weakens the impact and conclusions of his very excellent research.
L. C. Ogden
McCarter, Shame on You
Dr. McCarter, shame on you (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04). Your attempt to answer a scholarly article by Huston McCulloch (“The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?” BAR 19:04) with contempt is not worthy of serious consideration. The first third of your article is nothing but sarcasm, while in the last third, you once again leave the scholarly realm to spend your efforts despoiling the reputation of a dead man (John W. Emmert).
L. H. Buck Yancey
Why Wasn’t Forgery by the Book?
With respect to the criticisms in the article by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04), why would someone forge this inscription with books to use as a guide and purposely carve erroneous letters? If this person wanted to produce a forgery that would be accepted without question, he would be sure to make no mistakes.
Columbia, South Carolina
I think P. Kyle McCarter’s Anchor Bible volumes on Samuel are some of the finest books in an outstanding series. However, I wish Professor McCarter had been a little more careful in his criticism (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04) of J. Huston McCulloch’s article on the Bat Creek inscription.
Okay, so it’s improbable that Jews wound up in Tennessee in the first century A.D. However, it is improbable that Old World brass bracelets would wind up there, too. It also seems rather unlikely that a script that is more or less like paleo-Hebrew would be found in an Indian mound in Tennessee. But the idea that a forger would put wood from the proper era, Old World bracelets and a fake paleo-Hebrew inscription into an excavation in Tennessee sounds at least as unlikely as the possibility that the things are genuine.
I wish Professor McCarter had critiqued “Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?” BAR 19:04) with the same care with which that article was researched, instead of relying on sarcasm to diminish the effect of this intriguing article.
But whether carefully researched or just bull, keep these controversial and interesting topics coming.
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Scholarly Orthodoxy Still Prevails
Thank you for publishing J. Huston McCulloch’s article on the Bat Creek inscription (“Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?” BAR 19:04). Of course, it discusses only one of many alleged Biblical and Old World artifacts found or planted in America’s Indian mounds during the 19th century.
These artifacts, along with a strong belief that the Indians simply could not have been the Mound Builders, created a fog of myth over America’s prehistoric past. In the 19th century, many more Americans looked to the Bible as the authoritative source of ancient history than do today. So it was only natural that the mounds of middle America were thought by many to be the work of descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of the Old Testament.
Here in Ohio it was said then that the Great Serpent Mound was the site of the Garden of Eden and that Ohio’s Mound Builders, as descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes, buried the five stones inscribed in Hebrew found in mounds in or near Newark, Ohio (McCulloch has written a number of scholarly papers about these stones).
This Biblical view of American prehistory was for the most part dispelled in the 20th century by the sober, scientific study of the mainstream of evidence by archaeologists. The anomalies were ignored as fakes even though it was well known that some of the Mound Builders placed a high value on exotic goods imported from faraway places. The Bat Creek stone could have been considered a valuable exotic item. It could have been carried by traders to Tennessee from 1,000 miles away as was the Rocky Mountain obsidian found in Ohio mounds.
Nonetheless, closely following the mainstream of evidence was sound scientific procedure, and it has been shown that Native Americans did build the mounds and earthworks of eastern North America and had their own unique cultures. But this focus also created an automatic “none before Columbus” response that 20th-century archaeologists could use to eliminate all bothersome, distracting claims of pre-Columbian contact with the Old World.
It has been shown that the Atlantic can be crossed in very small boats with good luck and good weather. There were such Atlantic crossings before Columbus, but nothing much came of them; they certainly appear to have had little impact on North America’s pre-Columbian culture. The now accepted brief visits of the Norse to Newfoundland around 1000 A.D. are an example of these, and there were probably others. But all of these were no big deal; nothing compared to Columbus’ arrival.
But American archaeologists overreacted to the anomalies and created an orthodoxy. This orthodoxy still prevails. Those who feel comfortable dwelling in this orthodoxy would do well to consider that before Helge Ingstad’s 1963 work in Newfoundland, all evidence of the presence of the Norse in America was summarily dismissed as fraudulent.
William D. Conner
Were the Ancients Perfect Spellers?
Please let me ask P. Kyle McCarter (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04) a question: With the minute levels of literacy in ancient days, why do archaeologists quibble over what could be understood as misspellings?
Mt. Vernon, New York
McCulloch Responds to McCarter
Professor P. K. McCarter, Jr. (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04) finds that the Bat Creek inscription is too much like paleo-Hebrew for the similarity to be mere coincidence. However, since it contains several irregularities relative to known examples of paleo-Hebrew, he deduces that it must be a forgery by a local stonecutter or by the Smithsonian agent who discovered it. He concludes that it should be expelled from the archaeological record.
As an undergraduate at Caltech, I was taught that if archaeology or any other discipline is to be an empirical science based on observation, and not just a dogma based on faith in the truth of received doctrine, its theories must be made to conform to its data, and not vice versa.
Primary scientific data such as the Bat Creek inscription cannot be dismissed as fake simply because they are at variance with 015what McCarter believes authentic paleo-Hebrew “should” look like, any more than they can be ignored because they are at variance with the type of artifact that archaeologists Robert Mainfort and Mary Kwas believe “should” appear in North American mounds.
Surface finds and amateurishly excavated artifacts must always be received with caution, of course, since they could easily be pranks or fabrications for profit. It was precisely to avoid this problem that the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology set out in the 1880s systematically to excavate undisturbed mounds, using its own handpicked and hand-trained staff to determine the true circumstances of any discoveries. All finds of any value or interest were to become the property of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), not of the excavator or landowner, thereby eliminating any possible profit motive.
To be sure, hoaxes can be slipped in even on the most carefully controlled professional excavations, and perhaps this occasionally occurs. However, there must be at least a strong presumption that artifacts that have been excavated by legitimate scientific institutions like the Smithsonian are on the level. Otherwise, there would be no point in ever conducting such digs.
McCarter emphasizes that the Smithsonian agent who conducted the Bat Creek excavation, John W. Emmert, was fired in March of 1887, reportedly for drinking while on an assignment. However, this did not stop his supervisor, Cyrus Thomas, who best knew the circumstances, from rehiring him in 1889 to do some additional work, nor from publicly certifying all of Emmert’s work, including the Bat Creek stone, as being genuine and authoritative in his 1894 final report.’1
If there were any real reason to retract Emmert’s numerous contributions to the Mound Survey, Bruce Smith, curator of anthropology at the NMNH, would surely have mentioned it in his preface to the 1985 Smithsonian Institution Press reprint edition of Thomas’s report. He did not. A moccasin-shaped clay pot that Emmert found in another mound has been on display in the NMNH in Washington for years, with no questions asked, despite Emmert’s drinking habits, and even though no textbook had ever suggested that a genuine moccasin could be ceramic.
As recently as 1991, Harvard University anthropologist Stephen Williams was still praising Thomas’s 1894 volume, Bat Creek stone and all.2 The Mound Survey is either an authoritative source or primary scientific data or it isn’t. You can’t have it both ways.
It is true that John Emmert was not a perfect human being, but then which of us is? He was merely the best person available for the job. The only reason anyone has ever seriously questioned his integrity, however, is because he found the Bat Creek inscription, which, being an “impossible” Old World inscription in a North American context, must “surely” be a hoax. But it is circular and therefore unscientific reasoning to reject the Bat Creek stone as a fraud on the grounds that it was found by John Emmert, who in turn is to be impugned for having discovered the “fraudulent” Bat Creek stone.
In a recent article, I examine these and other arguments against the authenticity of the inscription in greater detail.3 Of particular interest here, however, is the patina of the letters on the stone. When ferric oxide is scratched, a red-orange dust appears on the scratched surface under a microscope, and indeed such a dust is present in the two vertical scratches on the upper left-hand corner of the stone that were made sometime between 1894 and 1970. In the original characters, however, the orange dust that must originally have been present has entirely reconsolidated into the amorphous dark-gray structure of the crust on the stone. Under a microscope, it can be seen that the originally sharp edges of these grooves have become rounded by redeposition, and that beads of black iron oxide have accumulated on the light-colored bottoms of the grooves that have penetrated the crust, as if the inscription had aged for many centuries under the wet conditions in which it was found. Those portions of the original letters that do not penetrate the crust are very difficult to read without oblique lighting. The new scratches, on the other hand, are very easy to see even with front lighting, despite the fact that they do not penetrate, because they are brightly colored by the freshly pulverized iron oxide that is still on them. The base of one of the original letters actually has a small speck of silica or other foreign matter that has become fused into the groove by the iron oxide as it reconsolidated.
I turn now to the paleographic aspects of the incription. To the proposed he, McCarter specifically objects that its vertical stem does not extend below the bottom horizontal, “as is always the case with the paleo-Hebrew he.” (Emphasis added.) However, had Professor McCarter read my original Tennessee Anthropologist article more closely, he would have known that in the late Hasmonean coins of Antigonus Mattathias (40–37 B.C.), this tail is in fact sometimes absent.4 Tailless hes also occur 016on the coins of Hyrcanus II (63–40 B.C.).
And had he examined the stone a little more closely, he would have seen that the E-like letter on the Bat Creek stone actually does have a tail. This feature is quite apparent in the obliquely lit photograph of my BAR article. The Bat Creek tail is only vestigial, but then so is that on the fourth letter from the right in line 3 of the Abba inscription. This letter is an alternative form of he that also “should” have a tail, as it does in the highlighted word yhwd in line 6, for example. The fact that this Abba letter, like the Bat Creek letter, has only a minimal tail does not make it inauthentic, or even “undecipherable,” but at worst merely inelegant.
Letter 5 is somewhat unusual for he, in that it has the vertical stance of the Jewish War coins, rather than the tipped stance of the late Hasmonean coins, without the pronounced overhang of the top horizontal beyond the vertical that typifies the Jewish War coin he. This is why in my Tennessee Anthropologist reply to Mainfort and Kwas, I cited plate 13 of Mark McLean’s 1982 Harvard dissertation, which shows a vertically standing he with no overhang from a bulla of Alexander Janneus (103–76 B.C.). Bat Creek letter 5 is therefore a perfectly adequate late Second Temple he, Professors McCarter and Cross to the contrary not withstanding. The tail on McLean’s drawing of the Alexander Janneus he is much more pronounced, but otherwise it is essentially the Bat Creek letter.
As for letter 6, the proposed waw, I refer the reader to endnote 16 and to the illustration of the Wadi Daliyeh bulla in my BAR article, which McCarter simply passes over in silence. To this I would add that while Bat Creek letter 6 is not an unexpected form of waw, and appears to make sense as waw, the only other place I know of that a waw with this elongated yet curved S form has actually been found is on the Wadi Daliyeh bulla itself, first published by Frank M. Cross in 1969. Professor McCarter charges that “Emmert got himself a book containing drawings of ancient inscriptions, [and] used it to forge the writing on the Bat Creek stone,” but does not explain where Emmert could have located a copy of Cross’s 1969 article in 1889!
McCarter also objects to the readings lyhwd and lyhwdm, as either Hebrew or Aramaic. I disclaim knowledge of either language, and so defer to Cyrus Gordon on the subject:
“[W]e can read the five letter sequence as lyhwd ‘for Judea.’ yhwd ‘Judea’ is attested since the Achaemenian period (Daniel 2:25, 5:13 [bis], G:14; Ezra 5:1, 8, 7:14). It occurs as yhd on all of the six known Hebrew coins of the fourth century B.C. ([Ya’akov] Meshorer [Jewish Coins of the Second Temple Period, Am Hassefer, Tel-Aviv, 1967], pp. 116–117, plate I).
“The Bat Creek text, however, has traces of a letter after lyhwd. The traces are not compatible with the form of y and h of this inscription and accordingly preclude the obvious readings lyhwd[h]; or lyhwd[y][m]. However, the traces might possibly reflect m so that lyhwd[m] is conceivable though not without difficulties (for yhwdym or yhdym, with two yods, is how ‘Jews’ is written on the Maccabean coins; note Meshorer, op. cit., nos. 14, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25). Yet this difficulty is not insurmountable, for these is a tendency in the orthography of the biblical text to indicate consonantally only one of two long vowels that occur in the same word; thus
yÿhuÆdiÆmcould conceivably appear as yhwdm as well as yhdym.5
While I am sure McCarter knows his Biblical orthography, I gather Gordon does as well, and so will leave it to them and others more knowledgeable than myself to wrangle out the exact sense of the inscription.
McCarter dismisses my citation of the word yhwd in the Abba inscription as being “beside the point,” on the grounds that the word simply was not current at the late Second Temple date of the Abba inscription. I indeed fail to see the point of this objection, since there it is. In closing, we should note that a casual 19th-century forger working from letter charts would be unaware of the use of the commalike word divider in paleo-Hebrew.
J. Huston McCulloch
Professor of Economics
Ohio State University
Another Expert Weighs In
P. Kyle McCarter’s ideas about the Bat Creek stone (“Let’s Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone,” BAR 19:04) cannot be taken seriously for two reasons: (1) his ludicrous scenario to explain how “Judean expatriates” sailed up the rivers of America to Tennessee, a trip that could only be envisioned by an armchair admiral; and (2) his faulty arguments on Hebrew orthography.
We have at Bat Creek a stone inscribed in a paleo-Hebrew script of the second century C.E., but found in a sealed tomb, now dated by correlated carbon–14 to 427 C.E. If this stone is not a plant, as I had assumed in my 1974 article cited by McCulloch, it can only mean that ancient Jews did land—probably somewhere along the east coast of the New World. Their arrival was surely accidental. In 1500 Pedro Cabral was trying to reach India when he was blown across the Atlantic and discovered Brazil. Such a voyage could have also happened in the second century C.E.
In any event, we can conjecture that the inscribed stone was passed along from its original location (its left edge is now missing), subsequently coming to its final resting place in the Amerindian tomb at Bat Creek. I do not believe that ancient Jews reached Tennessee, only the coast.
Any archaeologist knows that noncontemporary inscribed finds in ancient 018tombs are not uncommon. Suffice it to mention Egyptian scarabs found in much later Phoenician and other burials in the Mediterranean world (for example, an XVIIIth/XIXth Dynasty scarab in a seventh century B.C.E. tomb at Athlit).
As for orthography, the carver of the Bat Creek stone was certainly not a professional scribe. The reading of the first word on the stone has thus proven rather difficult even to modern scholars. The second word, reconstructed as a plural without the yod, is quite unusual but not impossible.
Contrary to McCarter, defective spelling is attested even in Judea in the Roman era. Thus, Hebrew Letter No. 22 from Murabba‘at, dated to the Bar-Kochba War year I (131 C.E.) (see Les Grottes de Murabba‘at, ed. P. Benoit, J. T. Milik and R. de Vaux, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert II [Oxford: Clarendon, 1961] p. 118) has the word hym (life) with no final yod, and ‘lm (eternity) with no waw, while other documents from the same site utilize all matres lectionis in these two words.
Therefore, a defective Hebrew spelling dated to the Roman era—even if found in Tennessee—is not an anachronism. McCarter would certainly not suggest that Hebrew Letter No. 22 from Murabba’at was written by Luther Blackman.
I dare say that if the inscription were shown to scholars and they were told it was found in Israel, there would be no controversy at all. The problem is the findspot itself. Until we have better proof that it was a clever plant, we should regard it possible that it is authentic.
Robert R. Stieglitz
Associate Professor of Hebraic Studies
Newark, New Jersey
P. Kyle McCarter responds to Stieglitz, McCulloch and AbiNader:
Professor Stieglitz is right on target when he says that “The problem is the findspot itself.” This problem looms in the background of any discussion of the Bat Creek stone. The alleged paleo-Hebrew inscription exists in complete isolation from any other shred of evidence, real or imagined, of an ancient Jewish presence in the Tennessee River Valley. No other site with such evidence has been found or alleged to have been found in the region. Nothing in the culture of the indigenous peoples of the region suggests that they were influenced by or even had contact with anyone from the Old World before the arrival of European explorers and settlers. Clearly, then, the allegation that a 2,000-year-old Hebrew inscription has been found there must be received with very great skepticism. On the basis of everything else that we know, the likelihood of such a discovery is extremely remote. Those who defend the allegation must accept a very heavy burden of proof since their case can be considered plausible only if it stands up to the most rigid kind of scrutiny. It is no case at all, however, if its defenders permit themselves broad latitude in dealing with the evidence. And they do. Professor Stieglitz says, for example, that “defective spelling is attested even in Judea in the Roman era.” That is true, but note that he doesn’t say it’s “the rule in Judea” or its “common in Judea” he says it is “attested even in Judea.” By his choice of language, he indicates—quite correctly—that defective spelling is unexpected and rare in the period. So we are asked not only to believe that a paleo-Hebrew inscription has been found in a wildly unlikely place, but also to overlook the fact that its not a typical paleo-Hebrew inscription. Now at this point, I realize, someone will say, “Well, of course its not typical. Its from Tennessee, and we can’t expect someone there to have produced a typical paleo-Hebrew inscription.” But when the debate reaches this point—and I think it has—I can only withdraw, since anything I might urge against the authenticity of the inscription can be cited in its favor. (Just think, however, what extraordinary propositions one could prove using this kind of argument.)
Archaeologists Remain Unconvinced
The matter of putative Old World inscriptions occurring in archaeological contexts in North America was largely resolved by the end of the 19th century. The fact is that not a single artifact bearing markings that represent an Old World language has ever been found in context during the course of a modern professional excavation at a prehistoric archaeological site anywhere in North America.
This leads us to the so-called Bat Creek stone, which, if legitimate, would represent an exception, making the stone of particular interest to proponents of pre-Columbian Old World contacts. But the stone clearly does not represent a legitimate paleo-Hebrew inscription as attested by two leading Semitists, Frank Moore Cross and P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. The opinion of an economist, such as J. Huston McCulloch (“Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?” BAR 19:04), seems no more germane to the matter than that of a plumber or a physician.
Since we have published a comment on the controversy in a minor journal, there are a few other points raised by McCulloch upon which we wish to briefly comment here. The stone has not lain “virtually forgotten” at the National Museum of Natural History since the late 19th century. Rather, it was simply seen for what it is—a fraud—076and ignored. Cyrus Thomas, director of the Bureau of American Ethnology Mound Survey, published two descriptions and illustrations of the stone in 1890 and in 1894. At the time, Thomas regarded the inscription as Cherokee, thus supporting his thesis that the Cherokee built mounds (which, in fact, they and other Native American groups did).
If authentic, the discovery of a pre-1821 example of Cherokee writing in a burial mound would have represented an enormously important and exciting discovery, but subsequent to its appearance in Thomas’s 1894 report, the Bat Creek stone was virtually unmentioned in archaeological and ethnological publications—hardly a worthy, much less logical, fate for an artifact of such apparent significance. Thomas subsequently published three major works (in 1898, 1903, 1905) on North American archaeology and ethnology, but did not mention the stone in any of them. Thus it is quite apparent that Thomas came to realize that the stone was a hoax, as did other early researchers. That a formal retraction did not appear in print is hardly surprising. For example, in the 1890s, Frederick Ward Putnam of the Harvard Peabody Museum allowed his silence to speak for itself with regard to the fraudulent Holly Oak gorget.
Professional archaeologists were hardly “incredulous” upon publication of Cyrus Gordon’s various pronouncements about the stone. The “stone wall of silence” to which McCulloch refers stems from two factors. First, Gordon’s comments on the stone appeared in two books aimed at the general public and a family history volume. Since his views were never presented at a professional conference of North American archaeologists nor published in a professional journal, it is unlikely that most professional archaeologists were even aware of Gordon’s interest in the stone. Moreover the stone has long been regarded as a fake and hardly a matter worthy of attention.
McCulloch’s BAR article states that in our rebuttal of the stone, we “relied entirely on the views of Frank Moore Cross” for “analysis of the Hebrew aspects of the find.” It is correct that we requested an assessment of the inscription from Cross and that he generously provided us with a written commentary thereon. We would point out, however, that we also cited various comments by Cyrus Gordon (himself a stone proponent), who has expressed reservations about the identification of several of the inscribed characters. A picky detail, perhaps, but in our judgment McCulloch is all too quick to ignore or overlook certain facts in attempting to bolster his own views.
We will also reiterate our previously published conclusion that the “finder” of the Bat Creek stone, John Emmert, made a number of highly questionable archaeological “discoveries” (including, as our colleague Stephen Williams has called to our attention, some during his employment with the Peabody Museum). This, in addition to Emmert’s documented problems with alcohol. The sentiments of professional archaeologists about the Bat Creek stone and similar frauds were ably summarized over 100 years ago by the Reverend Stephen D. Peet in his American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal 14 (1):
“One of the greatest among many annoyances to archaeologists is that so many fraudulent relics are found in mounds. It seems difficult to fasten the frauds on anyone, for they are planted probably in the night and are adroitly covered up. Some of them are wrought with reference to the special sensation that may be made, and are very startling in their resemblance to foreign articles. These are very easily detected and are rejected at once; others, however, bear a resemblance to the relics of the Mound-builders, and are very deceiving. The most of these have some ancient alphabet, Hebrew, Phoenician, Hittite, and are recognized as frauds by these means. Among these are the Grave Creek Tablet, the Newark Holy Stone, the Pemberton Ax, the Stone from Grand Traverse Bay, and a great many others. Not one of these has been accepted by the skilled archaeologists, but they have been discussed and defended by others until they have grown wearisome.”
Mary L. Kwas
Curator of Education
C. H. Nash Museum—Chucalissa
Memphis State University
Robert G. Mainfort, Jr., Ph.D.
Tennessee Division of Archaeology
What’s Next, the Cardiff Giant?
No more Bat Creek bull. What’s next, the Cardiff Giant? While you’re not quite the National Enquirer or Mad Magazine yet, you’re moving in that direction. How about less buffoonery and irrelevance, and more scholarship?
Elmore, New York
Ark of the Covenant
Not in Ethiopia
Because I lived in Ethiopia for many years, I especially enjoyed the article, “Is the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia?” BAR 19:04 by Ephraim Isaac. When I went to Ethiopia in 1984 to work for the Ethiopian government at the Menelik II School in Addis Ababa, I was asked to teach Ethiopian history at the secondary level. Since there were no textbooks, I had to write my own. In doing the research, I found that there was no record in Ethiopian history of the Ark of the Covenant being in Ethiopia until the end of the 13th century.
At that time there was a dispute over who should be king. One of the claimants to the throne said he was a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. When Ykuna Amlak became king (1274–1285 A.D.), the legend of the Ark being in Ethiopia entered Ethiopian history.
In addition to doing as much research as possible in the country, I visited historical sites several times, including four trips to the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum, where the Ark is supposed to rest under the high altar.
The legend that the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia is not based on any known facts as far as I could find, and my conclusion is that it never was in the country.
Harry R. Atkins, M.A., F.R.G.S.
Is Christmas Christian?
Readers Natalia Fitzpatrick and Sister Rose Christopher take umbrage at the Christmas tree being called a relic of Druidism (Queries & Comments, BAR 19:04). Yet Christmas itself is of pagan origin, a well-camouflaged descendant of the ancient Roman saturnalia, which was observed at the end of December and when, incidentally, the temples were decorated with greenery and gifts were exchanged. The Yule log, Christmas candles and lights, the wreath, mistletoe—all these are pagan accretions to the Christmas holiday, as any encyclopedia will readily point out.
Regarding the struggle between paganism, especially the Eastern mystery religion of Mithraism, and Christianity in the early centuries of the Church, James Frazer noted in his monumental work The Golden Bough, page 416:
“Mithraic religion proved a formidable rival to Christianity … An instructive relic of the long struggle is preserved in our festival of Christmas, which the Church seems to have borrowed directly from its heathen rival. In the Julian calendar the twenty-fifth of December was reckoned the winter solstice, and it was regarded as the Nativity of the Sun, because the day begins to lengthen and the power of the sun to increase from that turning-point of the year.” Frazer adds that “Mithras was regularly identified by his worshippers with the Sun, the Unconquered Sun, as they called him. Hence his nativity also fell on the twenty-fifth of December. The Gospels say nothing as to the day of Christ’s birth, and accordingly the early Church did not celebrate it.”
The Christmas tree may only be a decoration, and a nice decoration at that, but it is definitely not a Christian decoration. And no matter how thick the camouflage, Christmas is not Christian either.
Glen Ridge, New Jersey
Dead Sea Scrolls
A Plea to the “Empire Builders”
In my previous letter to the editor of BAR I presented the vegetables—a criticism; I now come forward with the dessert—well deserved praise. Over the years I have been delighted by the steady and unrelenting effort of BAR to make the Dead Sea Scrolls and their interpretation public.
While one could theoretically argue that, because expenses are involved, ancient artifacts themselves might be personal, institutional or state property, surely properly monitored inspection, photographing and learning about them should be in the public domain. No government, no agency, no scholar should be entitled to hoard these potential sources of enlightenment for any reason whatsoever!
Although not an archaeologist, I am aware of the petty jealousies that can exist among academics—particularly in the university setting, where obtaining grants, building up graduate programs and surviving the publish-or-perish principle sometimes take precedence over advancement of knowledge. I have been astounded by the sheer arrogance of some of the scholars who have carefully guarded their scrolls for decades on the pretext that only they can interpret them.
I plead with the “empire builders” to be reasonable. The Dead Sea Scrolls and similar finds should never be used as blackmail or as selfish academic ladders to the top. I find it difficult to accept the academic standards of a person who in other aspects of the work seems to behave like a scoundrel! I should also add that legal action, such as was recently taken in Israel, guarding interpretation of artifacts strikes me as entirely counterproductive. Surely if there is knowledge available it should be a delight to 079spread it as widely as possible. While I come from a discipline that is not devoid of pettiness or greed, I commend a colleague of mine who was the first in the world to do a total knee-replacement operation. He refused to patent his design on the presumption that he should not selfishly benefit from this very helpful operation. Would that more people had this selfless attitude.
H. T. Huebert, M.D., F.R.C.S(c).
In Business for the Wrong Reason
I was extremely disappointed at the outcome of the BAS/Qimron copyright lawsuit (“Paying the Price for Freeing the Scrolls,” BAR 19:04. If scholars hoard the writings only to make a name for themselves, they’re in the business for the wrong reason.
Jeffrey J. Samoska
The Branch of David in Jeremiah
In “Traveling Scrolls Debate Touches Down in Washington,” BAR 19:04) (Fragments), the author states: “Branch of David does not appear explicitly, but related terminology from Isaiah 11, the source of the phrase, is used by Paul and in Revelation.”
I would like to suggest that Jeremiah 23:5 (Revised Standard Version) is more likely the source: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch … ”
Robert Paul Johnson
BAR Is Too Commercial
After receiving my first issue, I request that you do not send me another. I do not want to continue this magazine.
I believe the magazine is far too commercial in its advertising. I was appalled to see an ad for an Eddie Murphy movie in the issue. Eddie Murphy talks trash, and I do not believe Hollywood has a place in a Bible-related magazine.
Grand Blanc, Michigan
Against Proselytizing Ads
I am aware that your magazine is Christian oriented. This has not kept me from anxiously awaiting each issue. However, in the BAR 19:04 issue there is a full-page color ad for audiocassettes entitled The Jewish New Testament which has one purpose and one purpose only: to diminish Jewish belief and to proselytize, which I find very, very disturbing.
During a television interview in 1973, Carl Stern asked Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel his view on proselytizing. When asked if it would be a better world with less strife if there were only one religion, Dr. Heschel said:
“No. As far as I can judge, and I try to judge God’s will from history, it seems to be the will of God that there would be more than one religion.
“I think it’s a very marvelous thing to realize. You know if I were to ask the question, whether the Metropolitan Museum should try to introduce that all paintings should look alike, or I should like to suggest that all human faces should look alike, how would you respond?
“As you may know, I’ve been very much involved with the Ecumenical Council in Rome. I was the major Jewish consultant to Cardinal Bea. And I had conversations with the present pope, Pope Paul. And it’s no secret anymore, that one of the issues I fought for in the preparation of the schema about the Jews was to eliminate once and for all the idea of mission to the Jews. One of the biggest scandals in the history of the Church was to try to make Christians out of Jews. Now Christianity is a religion for which I have very great respect. I have great reverence for many Christians. But I also have to remind them that my being Jewish is so sacred to me that I am ready to die for it.
“And when a statement came out from the Ecumenical Council expressing the hope that the Jews would eventually join the Church, I came out with a very strong rebuke. I said, ‘I’d rather go to Auschwitz than give up my religion.’
“And I succeeded in persuading even the pope, the head of the Church, who personally crossed out a paragraph in which there was a reference to conversion or mission to the Jews. The pope himself. And the declaration published by the Ecumenical Council, if you study it carefully, you will notice the impact of my effort. There isn’t the slight reference to a mission to the Jews.
“This great, old, wise Church in Rome realizes that the existence of the Jews as Jews is so holy and so precious that the Church would collapse if the Jewish people would cease to exist. If there are some Protestant sects who still cling to this silly hope of proselytizing, I would say they are blind and deaf and dumb.”
Your magazine has always been generous spirit and sensitive to other’s beliefs. This advertisement is not in keeping with the high integrity usually evidenced by ads in BAR, and it tarnishes and diminishes your image. In fact this ad shows a disrespect for you and your readers that surprises me. I hope it will be discontinued.
Florence M. Horn
New York, New York
We do not knowingly accept ads aimed at converting people of one religion to another. The Jewish New Testament is a borderline case. The translator and his wife, he tells us in the book, are Messianic Jews, born Jews who have come to accept Yeshua, as they refer to Jesus, as their personal messiah. This alone does not disqualify their work from BAR. Their introduction, however, indicates that their work is directed to Jews, doubtless with the intent of converting them. On the other hand, the text itself simply places Jesus and the New Testament in a Jewish context by using Hebrew names and words. Jesus is Yeshua, Paul is Sha’ul, Matthew is Mattityahu, Jerusalem is Yerushalayim, Bethlehem is Beit-Lechem, the Land of Israel is Eretz Israel, disciples are talmidim, etc. A major thrust of current mainstream New Testament scholarship seeks, as does this book, to place the world of Jesus in its full Jewish context. We will not refuse this advertisement either because the translator is a Messianic Jew or because of the introduction. This does not mean, however, that we endorse his work. Moreover, we oppose efforts to convert Jews to Christianity, as we oppose efforts to convert Christians to Judaism. One further comment: The advertiser advises us that the response to the ad was such that he will not advertise it again in the pages of BAR. He is free to change his mind.—Ed.
No Sacred Texts Should Be Mutilated
In your BAR 19:04 issue, the ibex-headed scepter pictured in Zvi Greenhut’s “The City of Salt,” BAR 19:04, has five ibex heads rather than the four noted in the accompanying text. Part of the back of the fifth head is clearly evident in the photograph.
A somewhat more jarring discrepancy appears between the advertisement selling pages from the 1500 Textus Receptus (with a page from the 1611 King James Bible tossed in for free) and your response to the letter from Dr. Stefan C. Reif in the same issue, in which Dr. Reif takes issue with BAR for running ads for cut-up, hand-written Hebrew texts as inappropriate commercializations of sacred texts. Your response promises not to carry advertisements for those texts again. Please note that mutilating sacred texts for profit is equally reprehensible no matter what 080language, religion or initial means of production is involved. A more equitable and responsible editorial policy for BAR would ban all such advertising.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the issue as usual, although some of the content seemed a bit off the main path.
Karl A. Fritch
Bay Shore, New York
A Word from the Surveyor
I read with great interest Mattanyah Zohar’s “Unlocking the Mystery of Rogem Hiri,” BAR 19:04. As chief architect and surveyor for the 1990 excavation season at the site, I often pondered the mysteries of this most enigmatic of sites.
I would like to state my great admiration for Matti’s monumental single-handed effort in recording the full extent of this site before Yonathan Mizrachi began his excavations there. Matti’s work was originally published in the Israel Exploration Journal (39 ). However I would like to point out, as reflected in the credits, that the site plan published in Mizrachi’s article (“Mystery Circle,” BAR 18:04) includes some of my own work and not only Matti’s work; specifically, the excavation areas marked in yellow, some of the details of the cairn itself, as well as the burial chamber. These portions of the overall site plan are based on much larger scale (1:50), stone-by-stone drawings done by myself while the Mizrachi excavation was in progress. My perspective view of the site was derived mostly from Matti’s original plan of the site.
I look forward to the continuing debate on the significance of Rogem Hiri, as well as to future excavations that may answer some of the questions posed by the site.
William P. Kennedy
Bronx, New York
Just a Big Sheep Pen
Regarding Rogem Hiri (Mattanyah Zohar, “Unlocking the Mystery of Rogem Hiri,” BAR 19:04): The “tomb” of the “great man” notwithstanding, this, and all of the other enclosures, were built by nomadic pastoralists driven by necessity to protect their herds and flocks from predation at “lambing time.”
“Lambing” is bloody business as any sheep rancher can tell you. With the scent of blood and death in the air, predators would come for miles. The structure around the “great man’s tomb” is most likely a sheepcote for orphan lambs.
The predators were the Asian lion, the Syrian bear, the leopard, the wolves and the jackals. Walls 8 feet high wouldn’t stop the lion or the leopard, but it might hinder him until the shepherds got close enough to kill or drive him off. The stones of the walls then also provided ammunition. Even if the predator was successful, the herd or flock was not scattered.
The tent camps of the nomads encircled the corrals as a kind of early warning system—if a small clan, at cardinal points; if large, at points between.
I wonder how many of these enclosures were discovered and studied before the one with a great man’s tomb. It seems to me that whoever wants to find a “cultic shrine” will certainly find one.
A number of ancient stone enclosures have been found in the area where Rogem Hiri was discovered. We hope to examine them in an article in a future issue.—Ed.
Disputes Ziklag Identification
Volkmar Fritz’s proposal to identify Tel Beer Sheva’ (Arabic: Tell es-Seba’) with Biblical Ziklag (“Where Is David’s Ziklag?” BAR 19:03) is disappointing in view of his considerable experience as an archaeologist, a Biblical scholar and a historical geographer. His main argument is archaeological. He claims that the finds at Tel Sera‘ (Tell esh-Shari‘ah) are not suitable for Ziklag. On the contrary, I find that they are strikingly appropriate (most recently summarized by Eliezer Oren, “Sera‘, Tel” in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4 vols., ed. Ephraim Stern Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Carta; New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993], vol. 4, pp. 1329–1335). The deciding factors in identifying Ziklag (see Rainey, “Ziklag,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. G. W. Bromiley [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988], vol. 4, p. 1196b) are (1) it is in the Negev according to Joshua 15:31; (2) its place in that list (which runs from east to southeast to west to northwest) indicates that it should be in the western Negev, close to Philistia; (3) its association with the Negev of the Cherethites (1 Samuel 30:1–3) certainly suggests that it was within the Philistine controlled sphere of the western Biblical Negev; (4) it could hardly be located within the very areas where David claimed to be making his attacks on behalf of Achish, king of Gath (1 Samuel 27:10)! All these considerations rule out Tel Halif (Tell el-Khulweilfeh), Tel Masos (Khel-Meshâsh) and Tel Beer Sheva‘ (Tell es-Seba‘). It is amazing that so many scholars have failed to reckon with these simple considerations!
Anson F. Rainey
Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv, Israel
Volkmar Fritz replies:
The occupational history of Tel Sera‘ (Tell esh-Shari‘ah) does not permit its identification as Ziglag. The excavator, Professor Eliezer Oren, is fully aware of this fact and speaks of the “problematic identification of Tel Sera’ with Biblical Ziklag” (New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 4, p. 1332). Moreover, no one knows the exact orders of the different parts in the Biblical Negev.
City of Salt Corrections
Zvi Greenhut’s “The City of Salt,” BAR 19:04 was interesting and Pesach Bar-Adon was a fascinating character! However, I found three errors in the article: (1) The author transliterates the Hebrew word for salt as melech; this is the word for king. The word for salt is melach (2) Because of the similarity in sound between the English word “persimmon” and the Hebrew word aparsemon, the author states that persimmons were a valuable crop. The persimmon is a western hemisphere fruit not known in the Middle East until modern times. Aparsemon is properly translated in English as “balsam” (from which word we also get “balm”), which was a valuable crop used for medicine and perfume in ancient times. (3) The reference to the Babylonian Talmud in endnote 1 is erroneous. The correct reference is Shabbat 26a.
Brooklyn, New York
Soot in at Least One Kernos
When reading the Queries & Comments section of the BAR 19:04 issue, I found a strange inconsistency. Two readers had suggested that the kernos found in Cabul may be a type of water pipe similar to the kind used by college students in the early 1970s. The reply by Professor Oded Borowski was that, “No kernos has been found with soot in it.” However, when rereading the original article by Zvi Gal I was surprised to see that it stated, “soot still remaining inside the cup suggests that incense was burned in it.”
Rochester, New York
Oded Borowski replies:
Susan Albright-Wierzbowski is indeed correct in saying that Zvi Gal’s BAR article mentions soot in the cup of the kernos. I stand corrected. However, in all other publications by Zvi Gal concerning the kernos, I did not see any mention of this fact. Thus, the context in which this kernos was found has to be examined carefully, and the source of the soot has to be determined, to learn whether it was related or not to the way the kernos was used. If this is confirmed, then other kernoi will have to be examined with this in mind. But, as I said in my initial reply, I do not know of any kernos (except now the one from Cabul) that has soot.
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.
Wait No More
The Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia—Israelites in Tennessee—I can hardly wait to read the next Queries & Comments!