Queries & Comments
Avner Is a National Treasure
My decision to subscribe to BAR turned out to be one of the best decisions, if not the best, I ever made. It increased my interest not only in the archaeology of Israel but in the history of the whole Mediterranean area and the impact various cultures have had upon each other over the years. It has opened up new avenues that are exciting and intellectually stimulating.
If you have an interest in history and enjoy trips that take you to places that offer a unique learning experience, then take a BAS tour. They are not leisurely strolls through old houses or shopping trips but are fascinating, you-are-there glimpses into the past. A BAS tour can be addictive and spoil any other tour for you.
I recently returned from my second Israel tour, the fourth with Avner Goren, and would love to be able to repeat them all. Avner is one of Israel’s national treasures. He is extremely knowledgeable and very generous in sharing his knowledge. He also has an innate kindness that makes those of us who at times may have trouble in keeping up with the group, or who ask stupid questions, feel that we are an important part of the group. He is truly a gentleman.
Clinton, North Carolina
BAR Damages Bible’s Salvational Power
As one who believes that the Bible is one of the primary means of salvation, I find your magazine (especially with such a wide distribution) very damaging to the church in our society.
Michael A. Burris
How About a Loan from Egypt?
Your article on “Peace Politics and Archaeology,” BAR 20:02, made a number of important points. The items from the Sinai that the Israeli government returned to Egypt are of little importance to Egypt.
The Egyptian government’s demands for these items were clearly strictly political in nature, as was Israel’s response. Now that the political/legal issue has been cleared up, and Egypt’s technical rights of ownership have been acknowledged, the Mubarak government should be pressed to return them, either as a gift or permanent loan. This would indeed be a “goodwill gesture” and a sign that such gestures can go both ways. It seems that BAR could play a useful role in pressing for such an arrangement.
Gerald M. Steinberg, Professor
Begin/Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
Ramat Gan, Israel
Jerusalem’s Water System
Encountering Hezekiah’s Tunnel for the First Time
A friend told me about Hezekiah’s Tunnel in about 1966. After the Six-Day War in 1967, I was able to visit the Holy Lands.
On my first morning in Jerusalem, at about 5 o’clock, I walked through the Old City to the Pool of Siloam, where I expected to see someone who would give me information about Hezekiah’s Tunnel. When I arrived at the pool, there was nobody there. I saw the historic pool and a rectangular opening where the water came out of the rock. My normal street wear—pants, shirt and shoes—did not prevent me from getting into the water.
I had brought a small flashlight, which I shined into the tunnel opening. A few steps inside, I realized the water was about waist deep, so, I used a handkerchief to tie my wristwatch around my neck. The floor of the tunnel seemed to be uniform and smooth. The walls on each side were close to my body. I turned off my flashlight for a minute or two to adjust to the total darkness I might experience if I dropped my light. I was also concerned that the water might gush.
Ah, the feeling to be part of several thousand years of history. As I progressed upstream the floor and water height did not vary much, but the ceiling went up and down—one time very high, another time so low I crouched until the water was at my shoulders. With my curiosity, it 012took me about an hour to get to the Gihon Spring, a beautiful sight to behold! During most of my journey I sang the hymns “Jerusalem the Golden” or “Mother Dear Jerusalem” and thought about David and Hezekiah and the workmen who chiseled out the tunnel from each end and met in the middle. It was an adventure I will never forget.
Rev. David M. Paisley
Does Carbon-14 Prove When Warren’s Shaft Was Dug?
I was fascinated by Dan Gill’s article “How They Met: Geology Solves Long-Standing Mystery of Hezekiah’s Tunnelers,” BAR 20:04, which provides a lucid solution to many of the puzzles of Jerusalem’s ancient water systems. I am puzzled, however, by one point: Gill says that a carbon-14 assay of a fragment from the calcareous crust on the walls of Warren’s Shaft indicates an age greater than 40,000 years before the present and that this “provides unequivocal evidence that the shaft could not have been dug by man.”
As I understand it, carbon-14 dating depends on the fact that plants and animals assimilate carbon-14 from the environment during their lives. After death the unstable carbon-14 radioactively decays into nitrogen-14 at a predictable rate until none is left. By assessing the amount of carbon-14 left in a specimen, it is possible to say with some accuracy how long ago the organism died.
Presumably, the calcareous (that is, calcium carbonate) crust in the shaft comes from water percolating through the limestone and dolomite walls, dissolving minerals from the rock and bearing them to the face of the shaft, then evaporating to leave the mineral residue. As Gill points out, the limestone and dolomite were “deposited about 90 million years ago in the Upper Cretaceous era.” These sedimentary rocks develop from accumulating skeletons of marine organisms. But there would be no hope of finding any carbon-14 in the remains of anything that died so long ago, well beyond the 40,000–50,000 year limit for carbon-14 testing. I would think there could be no point in testing the rocks or the crust leached from them: Whether man or water cut the rock today or 5,000 or 50,000 years ago, the test should give the same result—no carbon-14—and would tell us nothing about man’s part in the digging of Warren’s Shaft.
My final sticking point depends not on chemistry but on logic. We know with reasonable certainty that people have been traipsing up and down through Warren’s Shaft at least since the time of Joab. Yet in all that time they have apparently left no carbon-14 to show up in a test. If known exposure to man’s presence has produced no carbon-14 traces, how then does the absence of carbon-14 show that the shaft could not have been dug by man?
Gill’s excellent article leaves me in no doubt about the karstic origins of Warren’s Shaft and Hezekiah’s Tunnel. But I seem to be missing some logical step or crucial bit of information in understanding Gill’s point about carbon-14. Help!
Clyde F. Holt
Dan Gill replies:
Radiocarbon dating is based on the assumption that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere has not changed substantially during the last 40,000 years. The half-life of carbon-14 (the time during which a radioactive element decays to half its original concentration) is 5,570 years. After being incorporated in a calcite crystal, the carbon-14 continues to disintegrate at the above constant rate. Thus, after 5,570 years it will be reduced to 50 percent of the original concentration; after twice 5,570 years (i.e., 11,140 years) it will reach 25 percent of the original, and so forth. After 7 half-life periods, concentration will have reached .78 percent of the original, which is below the detection limit of most analytical instruments. Hence the dating ability of the radiocarbon method is limited to 7 times 5,570 = 38,990 years, or approximately 40,000 years.
Speleothems (cave deposits that include calcite crusts, stalactites, etc.) are deposited from groundwater that contain dissolved calcium and bicarbonate. The carbon in the bicarbonate ion is derived from two sources: A) Organic (decayed vegetation) materials in the soil. These are in chemical (isotopic) equilibrium with the atmosphere and therefore contain the same concentration of carbon-14 as the atmosphere. This value is referred to as PMC (Percent Modern Carbon-14), and it is defined as 100; B) ‘Dead’ carbon from dissolved carbonate rocks (e.g., limestone, chalk and dolomite), in which all the original carbon-14 has decayed, and whose PMC is therefore zero. The PMC of the bicarbonate in the groundwater depends on the partial contributions of these two sources of carbon. In practice it is found that the PMC of present-day groundwater, and of the speleothems deposited from them, is normally between 65 and 95. In other words, when a speleothem is deposited, at least 65 percent, but often much more, of its carbon is derived directly or biologically from the contemporary atmosphere. Therefore, the 014PMC of speleothems provides a good approximation of their age.
The calcite crust from the walls of Warren’s Shaft did not contain any (detectable) carbon-14. This means that all its carbon-14 had decayed. Therefore, it must have been in existence for longer than 40,000 years. And since the crust is younger than the shaft’s wall on which it was deposited, it follows that the age of the shaft must be even older.
Warren’s Shaft Not So Easy to Climb—Or Is It?
The appropriate local comment to Dan Gill is “kol hakavod”—well done! His article was clearly written and honestly presented.
The following items are intended to add bits of information:
Warren and Birtles used more than “a few boards” to climb Warren’s Shaft. That phrase suggests that, if they did it, Joab’s scaling of the shaft was not such a difficult task. On the pages of the book referenced in the article, Warren describes their building three wooden platforms with ladders in between, a much more involved project.
There is also a very puzzling cross-section showing Warren’s Shaft with the entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel located at the bottom of the shaft!
Dan Gill replies:
The point is not how many boards of wood it took to climb the shaft but that it could be managed even with very primitive means. Some rock climbers of my acquaintance claim that Warren’s Shaft can be scaled using bare hands and legs.
The entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel is indeed not in the same vertical plane as Warren’s Shaft, but is positioned a few meters to the south of the shaft. Thus, to be absolutely precise, the annotation should have indicated that this is a projection of the entrance onto the plane of the shaft.
Do You Have a Sense of Adventure?
The fascinating offering on Jerusalem’s underground water systemsa has helped me, as so many of your articles do, relive and re-interpret my past visits to the land of the Bible.
Hezekiah’s Tunnel today is a relatively accessible, absolutely authentic Biblical site that is, I suspect, nonetheless missed by most travelers to Jerusalem. By all means, visit it! All that’s required is a modest sense of adventure, shorts, sneakers and a candle or flashlight; for taller folks I recommend a hat with extra padding to fend off the unpredictable ceiling. Access is via the Kidron Valley, and the local opportunists who may try to charge you “admission” should be politely ignored.
Waynesville, North Carolina
Israeli Journalist Corrects the Record
Regarding your interview with ousted chief scroll editor Professor John Strugnell (“Ousted Chief Scroll Editor Makes His Case,” BAR 20:04), I would like to make the following comments.
(1) Contrary to what Professor Strugnell appears to imply, during our 1990 interview (published in Ha’aretz and later in BARb), the physical and mental problems he was suffering from actually did not seem to affect our conversation. The interview was taped, and I am sure that any listener will find Professor Strugnell’s answers fully coherent—and even highly articulate.
(2) In accordance with Professor Strugnell’s requirements, he was furnished with the typed interview for approval prior to its publication. After reading my selection from the transcript, he offered his approval.
(3) Contrary to what Professor Strugnell states, I published his answers verbatim, with no commentary or glosses.
(4) Prior to and during our interview, Professor Strugnell was most willing to share his perspective regarding his alleged anti-Semitism. In your more recent interview with him, he essentially repeats the same set of unfortunate themes.
The Difference Between Anti-Semitic and Anti-Judaistic
The interview of Strugnell by Hershel Shanks was a disappointment to me, in that he so doggedly tried to pin the “anti-Semite” label upon Strugnell. The distinction between anti-Judaistic and anti-Semitic is just as real as the distinction between those who oppose Christianity and those who oppose 016Christians. It is just as legitimate to oppose the idea that only Jews are God’s chosen people as it is to oppose the idea that only a Christian can “come to the Father.” I had expected much more from our industrious and otherwise open-minded editor.
James W. Deardoff
Far be it from me to tell you who your friends should be or with whom you should establish a “collegial relationship,” even if such a relationship means associating with a mentally disordered alcoholic and unrepentant anti-Semite like John Strugnell. The judgment you exercise in your choice of friends is obviously your own business, but when your relationship with such as Strugnell gives him access to the pages of BAR to reiterate his bigotry, I must protest. I find his attitudes towards Jews and Judaism disgusting, obnoxious and nauseating, and whatever stature Strugnell has as Dead Sea Scrolls expert confers no respectability upon the garbage you have allowed him to scatter on the pages of this magazine. This is the second time you have allowed Strugnell to befoul BAR with his prejudices. Enough is enough!
Incidentally, what do Strugnell’s smarmy opinions have to do with Biblical archaeology?
Jonathan R. Ziskind
University of Louisville
Strugnell Mocks Jewishness of Jesus
Congratulations for providing BAR readers with an in-depth insight into Professor Strugnell’s defense of his “higher 017Christology” (“Ousted Chief Scroll Editor Makes His Case,” BAR 20:04).
I came away with the view that Dr. Strugnell would have given the same interview today that he gave Avi Katzman in Ha’aretz in November 1990. The former chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls’ publication team holds fast to his views that “Judaism is a horrible religion” and takes refuge in his “high Christology.”
Strugnell mocks the Jewishness of Jesus with his Christology devoid of not only forgiveness but of a love that heals, redeems and saves us from our smallness. He also mocks the words of Jesus; Peter asked: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21–22).
Thankfully in Israel I have found a much different sense of religious pluralism than in the parochial rigidity of Dr. Strugnell.
Paul Shalom Treat
Director, Center for Religious Pluralism
What’s Wrong with Being Anti-Judaist?
I must take issue with Hershel Shanks’s lengthy and rather excessive thrashing of John Strugnell’s belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah for everyone, Jews included.
Regardless of what the man has (or hasn’t) done in the past, or what he has said (or hasn’t said) about Jews, what is wrong with a Christian wanting to see Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah? This does not make him a bigot or racist.
You can’t tell me that Jews don’t want to win over Christians—and, for that matter, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus; or that Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus don’t want to convert Jews and Christians to their beliefs.
Isn’t that what a set of beliefs are all about? Wanting to share them with others and win them over to your camp? What is the point of having a religion in the first place, if you don’t believe in it enough to want to convert others?
I want to know what is wrong with a Christian being “anti-Judaist”? If one holds the Bible to be the Word of God, isn’t one automatically “anti-” any other religious doctrine contrary to that Word? Strugnell said he is not “against individual Jews or the Jewish people”; he simply desires—in accordance with the Great Commission—to see the Semites, as well as the Kurds, Mongols, Celts, Belorussians and every other ethnic group, come to know Jesus Christ as Savior from sin (and fulfillment of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament with his sacrifice on the cross—once and for all).
Michael S. Burrier
Compassion for Strugnell’s Mistakes
To be sure, Strugnell made some mistakes. But I cannot imagine any enlightened Jew or Christian who could not find the compassion to overlook some childish vanities.
Attacking the Dead Unfair
I find it unbelievable that I paid for a publication that printed a totally false and libelous story about Yigael Yadin (“Yigael Yadin: ‘Hoarder and Monopolist,’” BAR 20:04). Yadin is a Jewish hero. He achieved many positions of trust and authority in his lifetime and was a great asset to humanity. He is now dead and unable to defend himself against the false and libelous abuse of John Strugnell, a known Jew-hater. I realize that a magazine must have controversy in order to stimulate subscriptions, but allowing Strugnell space to spew his jealousy and hate is unconscionable. Who do you publish next, Louis Farrakhan?
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Judaism Is Defunct
I applaud your interview with John Strugnell. After reading it I have formed a greater admiration for Strugnell, the Catholic scholar, in his seemingly lonely task of explaining his position as a Catholic, and consequently, having to defend himself against the charge of, anti-Semitism. For the opportunity to express himself in your publication, I am very grateful to you.
It is unfortunate for most of your readership that you, however, were unable (or unwilling) to discern the distinction Strugnell made between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Concerning the Judaic religion, he is absolutely correct: It is a defunct religion kept alive by Talmudic die-hards. In the light of Christ’s fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and His institution of the New Testament, this obstinate clinging to a dead thing must be considered horrible. Strugnell’s negative attitude is toward the dead thing, not the living people. If he were truly anti-Semitic, in the conventional sense, why would he have appointed Jews to assist him in his 068Dead Sea Scrolls project? He was only exercising the virtue of charity in his desire to see 20 million Jews converted to Christ so they can save their souls.
Jerry C. Meng
Can We Say That Judaism Is Mistaken?
Because of Hitler and the Holocaust, Judaism has been placed in the unique position of being the only religion of which no one can say he or she believes it to be mistaken without being accused of being a hate-monger. Such a position makes all rational disagreement between religions impossible.
Disagree with Strugnell if you like on the subject of the truth of the Jewish faith. Please do not accuse him of hating Jews merely because he believes certain articles of their faith to be wrong.
Pastor, First Baptist Church
“House of David”
Davies Prejudiced Against Biblical Accounts
Philip R. Davies (“‘House of David’ Built on Sand,” BAR 20:04), while snubbing those who “place the Bible before both archaeology and the conventions of scholarly argument,” claims to prefer “the open mind that refuses to jump to erratic if gleeful conclusions.” Though he may prefer an open mind, he obviously does not possess one.
After comparing the Tel Dan fragment with the Biblical account of Asa’s war and perceiving a conflict, Davies jumps to the excited conclusion that this “must show the Biblical account to be in error!” But why “must” the Bible be in error, and why not the fragment, or Davies’s interpretations?
Davies’s enthusiastic conclusion is not derived from scholarly argument, but rather, springs from a prejudice against Biblical accounts, as revealed in his claim that “the figure of King David is about as historical as King Arthur.” In other words, the Biblical account must be in error because Davies assumes it is in error. A classic case of what has been called an “argument in reverse.”
Absence of Word Divider Proves Nothing
Philip Davies does a service in pointing out that the letters the excavator and his epigraphist translate as “House of David” (bytdwd) may have other meanings than “Dynasty of David.” His proposal to find here a place name, Beth-dod or something similar, is a possibility, although the name would be new.
However, two of the arguments Davies advances are unsatisfactory. Firstly, he emphasizes the absence of a dot, a word divider, between byt and dwd. All the other words preserved on the stone are separated in that way, so these two should be, Davies thinks, if they mean “House of David.”
While such bound forms (where the first word is defined by the second) are commonly separated by a word divider in inscriptions where the dividers are used, there are exceptions. One is
Further, the final t of byt was evidently 070weakened in Aramaic when another consonant, especially a dental, d or t, followed it, so that the word is reduced to by (in an inscription of Bar-Rakkab about 730 B.C., and several times in Aramaic papyri of the Persian period). Running the two words together without division says nothing for or against the interpretation of bytdwd as “House of David.”
Secondly, Davies seeks a possible clue to the meaning of dwd at Tel Dan and of dwdh in the Moabite Stone from cuneiform texts. “The noun dawidum” he says, “is also found in a cuneiform text from Mari (18th century B.C.E.) … though the meaning of this term remains unclear.” The word dawidum, frequently occurring at Mari, was identified over 30 years ago and is now agreed to be a form of the common Akkadian word dabdu, defeat, as a glance at the standard dictionaries will show (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary D 14–16; W. von Soden, Akkadisches Handwörterbuch 148). Its origin is uncertain; I. J. Gelb derived it from the base DWY “to be sick, weak,”2 so it cannot offer any helpful clue to the understanding of West Semitic dwd.
While the interpretation of byt dwd as “House of David” cannot be proved, it is as likely as the one Davies offers. Without the Biblical records, the presence of a dynastic name on the monument would be an acceptable addition to knowledge, just as many other dynastic names of the same type are known to us from other monuments.
As to Philip Davies’s skepticism about an historical King David, his closing questions are most satisfactorily answered by accepting that he did exist! The history of the ancient Near East shows he could have existed and that his “empire” was not “impossibly huge.”
The University of Liverpool
Liverpool, United Kingdom
“House of David” Used Over 20 Times in Bible
I do not claim to refute Philip Davies’s objections to Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh’s reading of “House of David” on the Tel Dan stele. One must keep an open mind to all possibilities. But the basis of Mr. Davies’s principal objection—that Messrs. Biran and Naveh have split a single word into two in order to read “House of David”—is unsound.
The generic phrase “House of … ” as a dynastic reference appears approximately 350 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and 072the specific phrase “House of David” appears over 20 times. This would indicate, even to a “Biblical minimalist,” that this was an important Semitic idiom in Biblical times. “House of … ” was far more commonly used as a dynastic reference than as the name of a town, as Mr. Davies alternatively submitted.
Despite His Wit and Charm, Davies Is Unconvincing
With his characteristic wit and flair, Philip Davies challenges us to be less certain of the so-called “assured results” of critical scholarship. In this case, however, I do not find his argument convincing.
Davies makes three assertions about the recently discovered Tel Dan inscription: First, the six Aramaic letters, BYTDWD, cannot be rendered “House of David,” since they appear without a word divider between the taw and the dalet. Second, the kaph that precedes BYTDWD on the inscription need not be the final letter of the noun in construct, MLK, “king of. … ” Finally, Davies writes, “It seems intrinsically more likely that a place-name composed with beth would be written as one word, rather than a phrase meaning ‘House of David,’ referring to the dynasty of David.” Therefore, he renders BYTDWD “Bethdod” or “Bethdaud.”
(It may be noted in passing that this suggested vocalization requires that the waw be taken as an internal mater lectionis, which is rare but not unheard of in ninth-century epigraphs. The precise vocalization of the yod in BYT is an old crux as well.)
Of these three assertions, only the second carries much weight, and on that point, I am inclined to agree with Davies. As for the third, however, there is no known location called Bethdod/Bethdaud. On the other hand, there are ancient sources, admittedly secondary sources, which do refer to a Beth Dawid. These secondary sources are the Biblical texts. Given the evidence, it seems better to prefer a possible parallel in a secondary ancient source to a modern, conjectural vocalization pointing to an otherwise unknown place.
There is another difficulty with Davies’s third argument. In spite of his claim that it is “intrinsically more likely” to find a place name written without a word divider, Davies himself offers examples from the contemporaneous Mesha Stone in which place names formed with “beth-” are written with a word divider. Place names employing “beth-” frequently appear with word dividers.
On the other hand, there is at least one instance of an entity written with “beth-” and without a word divider, and this may help us assess the first of Davies’s assertions. This is found in the fourth Lachish letter, written by a military commander to his superior officer. In the letter, reference is made to a lack of troops at BYTHRPD. Context does not make this entity any clearer than the admittedly ambiguous phrase BYTDWD in the Tel Dan inscription. However, it is interesting to note that in both cases, the place in question appears to be a spot at which one would expect to find military personnel. In other words, both these places could be more than merely place names; they may be political entities (minor royal dynasties, perhaps?), and thus military targets. I submit that the BYTHRPD could have been a vassal city-state of some kind, a very small entity within the political orbit of the state of Judah. By the same token, the BYTDWD of the Tel Dan inscription could be viewed as a vassal of the MLK YSR’L, “King of Israel,” mentioned in the same inscription. This use of the “beth-” without a word divider might have been characteristic of place names thought of primarily as political entities, though the suggestion is conjectural.
Kurt L. Noll
Union Theological Seminary
For more on the interpretation of the “House of David” inscription, see Anson F. Rainey’s article “The ‘House of David’ and the House of the Deconstructionists,” in this issue.—Ed.
No Other Sensible Restoration Possible
I enjoyed the article on the Mesha stela by Professor Lemaire (“‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscriptions,” BAR 20:03). The possibility of the occurrence of the phrase “House of David” on the stela is of great importance.
It would be interesting and helpful to our acceptance (or rejection) of Professor Lemaire’s assessment to know which letters other than dalet [d] would sensibly fill in the gap and what meanings they would give to this phrase and passage in the text.
Ian J. Todd
West Midlands, United Kingdom
André Lemaire replies:
Mr. Todd’s suggestion to study other possible restorations is natural. From the paleographical point of view, the missing letter could be almost any Moabite letter. However there are not many north-west Semitic words in the form “-WD.” After trying to find other solutions that would fit contextually, I saw none other than “[D]WD.” Since meeting several colleagues during the last few months, none has proposed another letter. I am waiting for any proposition of another reasonable restoration.
Remembering Aharon Kempinski
Your personal reminiscence of the recently deceased Aharon Kempinski (
I first met Aharon Kempinski at Lod Airport when I arrived to take part in the 1964 excavations at Beth Yerah. It was my first trip outside the United States, and I was greeted by a total stranger who informed me—through clenched teeth—that I could stay in his apartment in Jerusalem before the dig began while he visited his family in Nahariya. He saw me to the apartment and vanished, leaving me alone in an unfamiliar city, unable to read or understand Hebrew. (Even today I orient myself in Jerusalem from his Jabotinski Street apartment.)
On the dig I learned that an American staff member had strongly suggested that he vacate his apartment for me, causing him to believe that I had demanded such “hospitality.” Fortunately, Aharon spoke fluent English (as well as Arabic, German, Yiddish and French, in addition to knowing ancient Egyptian, Hittite hieroglyphics and cuneiform, Aramaic, Akkadian cuneiform, etc.). When he learned I was as bewildered as he was, he melted and we thereafter became the warmest of colleagues. To his close friends he was affable, chatty, unusually generous and very witty.
Aharon took a few of us from the dig to the 13th-century Crusader dining hall known as Saint John’s Crypt, in Akko. He suggested we exit via a small doorway leading to a lighted escape route. We found ourselves in a low passageway that branched erratically. Water from leaky drains was running down the tunnel walls. The others turned back, but Aharon and I, fascinated, went on, taking now this turn, now that. Somewhere far overhead was the Citadel of Akko, the Turkish prison used during the British Mandate for executing members of the Jewish underground. (As I recall, in 1964 it was used as an insane asylum.)
We were totally lost. The Crypt custodian, believing the tourists had gone, turned out the lights—including those in the tunnel. Aharon and I now felt our way along the damp walls in total darkness. I remember his cheerfully remarking that the Crusaders had randomly placed deep pits in the tunnel floor to dispose of pursuing enemies. We groped onward until we saw a faint light coming through a crack. Aharon crawled out and then lay flat on the ground to help me up. We came out beneath a ragged hole in the foundation of a house bordering on one of Akko’s market squares.
Once he took me to his home town, Nahariya, proudly showing me the remains of the Ashera of the Sea temple, which had been excavated when he was eight years old, piquing the interest that launched his archaeological career. I enjoyed my visit, talking with his cordial father while his mother plied us with a large dinner and a huge apple pie. One of the most enjoyable days of my life was spent climbing over the unexcavated tells of Kurdani and Kabri, then walking down the coast with Aharon, talking shop until we returned to Nahariya. The publication on Kabri, where he directed excavations, will be a memorial to his work.
When Aharon visited the U.S. for the first time I met him at O’Hare Airport and later took him around my home town. He discovered that Chicago was slightly larger than Nahariya, by a few million people … He told me about BAR and his interest in it; only later did he casually mention he was on the editorial advisory board.
In one of our discussions he suddenly paused, reflected and began a different conversation in mid-sentence. It took me a moment to realize he was finishing a conversation interrupted in Israel some ten years earlier. That was very like Aharon. He was a delightful guest, arriving with a bottle of scotch costing several weeks’ Israeli wages, and a large, handsome, empty suitcase, which he explained I was to use when I returned to Israel. Unfortunately that day never came. Learning I had become very ill, he phoned at great expense from Jerusalem to cheer me up.
We met again years later on his second visit to Chicago. He had been deeply affected by the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when he had helped clear the shattered bodies of high school classmates out of incinerated tanks. He confided to me that he continued to relive the horror of it every morning when he awoke. The war was all the more disturbing to Aharon because of his sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs, whom he respected and among whom he had friends.
Nonetheless, his sense of fun and trenchant wit survived. While stationed in Egypt, he was the only one who could jiggle into life the carburetor on the confiscated jeep his fellow soldiers drove to evening card games. Not a gambler, he seized those moments to look for ruins—and found traces of an ancient Egyptian fort others had missed in a chain of border strongholds. He told me he considered writing an article entitled, “Missing a Fortress?”
Aharon Kempinski, for me, leaves warm memories and a sharp sadness that such a splendid scholar did not have the long life he deserved. I can truthfully say I never met a more brilliant person. We are the poorer for his passing.
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.
Avner Is a National Treasure