Queries & Comments
BAR Draws Blood
The arrival of a new issue of BAR absolutely makes my day. As I read the thought-provoking articles, I applaud the authors, I argue with them, I sharpen my wits against them and I even scold them when they draw blood from one of my sacred cows.
Ila Verne Toney
Cursed With Anger
I am a delighted reader of BAR. Having been trained as a physicist, I know that in the hard sciences there is plenty of disagreement with regard to “fact.” Physicists dispute the mass of the neutrino (which was originally defined as being devoid of same) and astronomers cannot agree on the value of the Hubble Constant within a factor of two or more, although it has been measured with “increased precision” over the last 75 years.
These disagreements, often appearing as Letters to the Editor, are couched in gentlemanly terms and rarely is a hackle raised.
In Biblical archaeology, on the other hand, I cannot help but observe that many disputes are carried out with great vitriol, disdain, even hate. I cannot think of any other discipline that is cursed with so much anger and harsh feelings expressed in public—veiled though they may be. The personal invective is very dismaying to the casual reader, and if it is this bad in public print, just think how much worse it must be in private correspondence.
What is the reason for this most unfortunate and very unscientific carrying-on? Can it be (going from the general to the specific) (a) general religious bigotry, (b) an attempt by zealots to bend the facts to conform to their own beliefs or scriptures or (c) an unfortunate interplay of personalities mostly related to the Dead Sea Scrolls since 1945?
I wonder if there is a way to diffuse some of the rhetoric, cool off tempers and get back to straight archaeology? Is there a anyone who could step into the fray and, without getting his head removed by the combatants, put more professionalism and less personal vendetta into the pages of BAR? Are you the one? Of course, you wouldn’t want to make BAR any less fun to read!
Lewis H. Strauss
Chevy Chase, Maryland
A Different Reconstruction
Elie Borowski makes the case in “Cherubim: God’s Throne?” BAR 21:04, that the cherub’s rear end is that of a bull. In my drawing, I have taken the liberty of presenting another alternative.
First of all, I assume that this was originally an almost square plaque. The evidence for this is in the surviving sections of the frame. One is attached to the crown and the other is the base line. So this reconstruction of the pierced relief considers how the design is bonded to the frame.
Second, as noted by Borowski, the feet end in paws. I take that seriously. I do think that the body of this cherub is indeed that of a lion.
Third, the tails of both bulls and lions end in a brush. Is the fragment attached to the wing a brush? Borowski thinks the 014vertical incision rules against it. I think this is merely a crack or slip of the knife. Now the rump of the animal has a stump. We agree that it initially curls up. It is now a question of finding another example like mine to give it credence.
Elie Borowski’s reply appears after the letter from Joseph Landa.—Ed.
I was amused by Elie Borowski’s attempts to identify the rear end of the figure (which depicts part of the genitals). While I’m only a country boy, it only takes one glance at the figure to know that it’s not a bull. Anyone who has ever seen the reproductive equipment that a bull is endowed with would never again get it confused with a dog, a cat or any other species on the face of the earth, and “that ain’t no bull.”
John J. Dills
A Closer Look at the Rump
I am puzzled by Elie Borowski’s interpretation of the hindquarter of the cherub as that of a bull based entirely on the reconstructed shape of the tail. The shape of the hindquarter does not resemble that of a bull at all. In this region a bull’s spine is almost horizontal rather than curved, and it protrudes as a prominent dorsal ridge in front of where it merges with the tail. In a bull the back and the vertical posterior surface of the thigh meet as a rather abrupt curve around a protruding bone, rather than form the graceful, smooth contour as on the cherub. Surely this artist had the skill to incorporate these features in the carving had he intended to depict a bull’s rump.
As a retired academic geologist, I enjoy the articles and the magnificent illustrations in BAR. They make for great reading.
Elie Borowski’s reply appears after the letter from Joseph Landa.—Ed.
The location of the hind legs would suggest a feline nature, as would the thinness of the hind legs in general. The creature’s body also has a sleekness in keeping with a lion’s form. The object located at the animal’s rear, identified as a fragment of a lotus, does not match the appearance of the petals of the lotus the artist carved at the front of the animal. The fragment appears to be what is left of a tuft of hair that was at the end of the animal’s tail. Finally, the location of the animal’s privates are in a rather different spot from where a bull’s would be.
Joseph A. Landa II
Elie Borowski responds:
I agree that both the hind and fore feet are paws, not hooves. It appears to be customary among the craftsmen of the period to preserve a symmetry of the feet even though the bodies are different, as we see on the well-known bronze stand in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, where the hind part is that of a bull and the fore part is that of a lion.
Furthermore, it is my opinion that the object above the body could not be tufts of hair, because that would be at the end of the tail turned towards the body, as is seen on the tail of the sphinx pictured in the July/August issue (“Cherubim: God’s Throne?” BAR 21:04). In our ivory the tail turns outwards. In comparison with the ivories in Karlsruhe, the fragment with horizontal lines that Mr. Landa believes to be hair may well be the lines of a lotus flower.
The damage to the hindquarters does not permit an exact identification, and I concede that the thinness of the hind legs could indicate a feline thigh. Thus I referred to the bronze cult stand, which shows irregularities in details—such as the feet—to help me form an assessment.
Cherubim—Gateway to the Divine
Elie Borowski writes in “Cherubim— God’s Throne?” BAR 21:04, that the cherub, in combining the strength of a lion, the virility of a bull, the speed and motion of an eagle, and the intellect of man, gives concrete expression to an abstract idea: the omnipotence and omniscience of the divine.
This is an interesting and plausible explanation, but I would like to offer an alternative.
In the course of teaching about sacred portals and the guardians of these gates, I have come across several images dating from the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. One of them is a sphinx-like cherub from King Ahab’s ivory palace in Samaria,1 not unlike the beautiful creature that adorns the
Later on I noticed that in Christian art there are many images of Jesus in a magisterial setting, enthroned within an ellipse and surrounded by the four evangelists. Strangely, the composite beast of the ancient Near East pictured at least a thousand years earlier as four-in-one (Ezekiel 1:10) had come apart and become four separate entities. Each evangelist was associated with one of those four creatures: Matthew was the man; Mark, the lion; Luke, the bull; and John, the eagle (Revelation 4:7), as related in Robin Jensen’s, “Of Cherubim and Gospel Symbols,” BAR 21:04.
Of all the beasts of the field, why these four? And why the same creatures almost a thousand years later? They seem redolent of mysterious symbol.
I was lost until I came upon The Mythic Image, by Joseph Campbell. Campbell explains that Christian iconography adapted the four Chaldean zodiacal signs of the world’s geographical quarters to convey visually how human time and space are related to an all-powerful God, to eternal time and space.
This is how it works: Taurus, the bull, is the image of the eastern quarter, the vernal equinox or spring. Leo, the lion, is the image of the summer solstice and the southern quarter. Scorpio, the eagle or scorpion, is the image of the fall equinox and the western quarter. Finally, Aquarius, the water carrier, the man, is the image of the winter solstice, the north.
In the ancient Near East, these four beasts, combined and reduced to their mythic essence as cherubim, stood guard at the sacred portal. In other words, images of human time and space (the zodiacal, seasonal and directional) flanked access to the divine beyond the portal, whether it was the tree of life or the god/king.
This composite image, in medieval Christian art, also became a preeminent symbol of the Christian divinity.
Two things seem clear. Cherubim are associated with God and with the most sacred space. As two-dimensional images in the desert Tabernacle, they were woven into the inner curtains and the veil that closed off the Holy of Holies. As three-dimensional beings, they were part of the covering of the Ark within the Holy of Holies. In the Jerusalem Temple they virtually filled the innermost chamber, apparently serving as God’s resting place or throne; there are also images of the cherubim as God’s 018high-powered transportation.
It seems to me that the symbolism of the cherubim in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. guarding access to the eternal in the temples of Assyria and Samaria is identical to the symbolism of the evangelists flanking Jesus. And I submit that those very symbols work for the Tabernacle and Temple as well. The cherubim are a visual image that says: We represent human time and space; we flank access to eternal time and space, the mysterious, transcendent reality beyond the portal.
Egyptian Evidence Dates the Patriarchs
Ronald Hendel (“Finding Historical Memories in the Patriarchal Narratives,” BAR 21:04) raised a number of criticisms about Kenneth Kitchen’s article (“The Patriarchal Age: Myth or History?” BAR 21:02), although he basically agrees with Kitchen’s main argument that the Biblical patriarchs could be traced and dated to the early second millennium B.C.E.
In regard to the Egyptian evidence that Hendel found so tenuous, I would make the following points that support Kitchen’s interpretation. The Middle Kingdom story of Sinuhe (see William K. Simpson, ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt) offers a strong parallel that supports dating the Patriarchal Age precisely where Kitchen dates it. Set at the end of Pharaoh Amenemhet I’s reign (1991–1961 B.C.E.), it brilliantly portrays conditions in Syria-Palestine, where Sinuhe had gone into exile, much like those Genesis uses in describing the lives of the patriarchs. There were great chiefs who ruled over large migratory families/tribes, one of which accepted Sinuhe. Sinuhe’s lifestyle and Syro-Palestinian dress mirror closely the stories about the Biblical patriarchs.
Second, in the tomb of Khnumhotep II of the XII Dynasty (1991–1786 B.C.E.) at Beni Hasan, in Egypt, there is a well known depiction of a Syro-Palestinian chief with his family and retinue, coming to Egypt to trade. In this scene, one can see a many-colored coat or robe like the one described in the Biblical story about Joseph. This group of visiting Asiatics provides a possible parallel for the visit by Abraham and Sarah, as well as an image of how Joseph would have appeared.
Finally, with the coming of the Hyksos era (1674–1567 B.C.E.), the whole Near East changed. The Hurrians appeared with horse-drawn chariots and improved weaponry, and their empire ruled Egypt and southern Canaan. In the north, Assyria had coalesced from tribal origins, not unlike those of the patriarchs, into a kingdom. In Babylonia, Hammurabi’s Dynasty ruled. Thus the Patriarchal Age of wandering large tribes, also referred to in the story of Sinuhe, was over and gone. Among the Hyksos-era documents are scarabs naming one Jacob-her—a Hyksos vassal ruler, probably. While not the Biblical Jacob, the inscriptions demonstrate that the name Jacob was current in the Hyksos era.
These data, from Egyptian sources, provide a strong case in support of Kitchen’s dating of the age of the patriarchs. All of it is solidly dated by Egyptian chronology to the first half of the second millennium B.C.E.
Frank J. Yurco
University of Chicago and Field Museum of Natural History
Ronald S. Hendel responds:
Mr. Yurco is mistaken in thinking that I agree with the claim that the patriarchs can be “traced and dated to the early second millennium B.C.E.” Rather, the best we can do is to date some aspects of the patriarchal traditions. As previous scholarship has shown, some aspects are relatively late (some earlier than the late eighth century B.C.E.), whereas I have tried to show that other aspects are relatively early (some perhaps as early as the mid-second millennium B.C.E.). As I said in the article, “We still have no clear evidence concerning the original Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph or the rest of the cast of Genesis.” Mr. Yurco’s remarks do not change this situation.
Regarding the Egyptian evidence cited by Mr. Yurco—the story of Sinuhe and the Beni Hasan mural—I agree that these help us to imagine the cultural milieu presupposed by the patriarchal traditions. But matters of lifestyle, social conditions and material culture would only help to date the patriarchal traditions if such matters were not present at an earlier or later date. But conditions such as tribal societies in Syria-Palestine and Asiatics in Egypt can be documented for many periods of the second and first millennium, and Saul is depicted as a kind of tribal chief. And, as Yurco knows, Asiatics in Egypt are common at various times.
As for the many-colored robe in the Beni Hasan mural, which Yurco claims is the same type as Joseph’s robe, we still don’t know what Joseph’s garment really is. The Biblical phrase ketonet passim (Genesis 37:3) certainly does not mean a coat “of many colors,” as the King James committee guessed.
The case of the Hyksos and pre-Hyksos 020scarabs of a certain Jacob-Har (or the like) is intriguing, though the implications for the patriarchal Jacob are still fairly obscure. See Aharon Kempinski’s fine article, “Jacob in History,” BAR 14:01.
Despite Mr. Yurco’s efforts, the patriarchal era still cannot be located in the early second millennium B.C.E. The data simply do not support this claim.
Jesus Saw Himself as the Messiah
Having been a subscriber to BAR for several years now, I continue to look forward to every issue. Kudos to your art staff, who do a tremendous job in making the magazine beautiful, and to the editorial staff, who ensure that BAR is challenging as well as informative.
I would like to take exception to something that Helmut Koester said in his response to a letter in the July/August issue (Queries & Comments, BAR 21:04). He writes, “It also seems likely that the Christological titles of Jesus (Messiah, Lord, Son of Man, Son of God) did not have their origin in words of Jesus but rather in the life of the church that worshiped Jesus as savior.”
The eminent professor is entitled to his views; however, with all due respect, I believe that such an opinion causes more problems than it solves.
1. Why would the early church (Jewish and Gentile) worship a man unless that man gave them a basis to do so, such as claiming to be the Savior-Messiah? Who would begin to worship a criminally executed itinerant rabbi commonly held to have originated from Galilee without any substantial prior messianic premise to begin with?
2. Virtually all scholars believe that the popular messianic ideal (though not the only messianic ideal) in Israel during this period was that the Messiah would come as the conquering Son of David and vanquish the enemies of the Jewish people, reestablishing the throne of David. (The Gospels present the disciples as believing this [Matthew 16:21–22; Luke 24:19–21].) Jesus of Nazareth did none of these things during his ministry—the Romans went on oppressing the Jewish people, and the Messiah did not rule from Jerusalem. Why would anyone have thought him to be the Messiah at all—especially since his mission did not fit the widely held (even by his disciples) program of the Messiah—unless, of course, he actually claimed to be the Messiah?
3. Why would Mark preserve a “messianic secret” (“‘Who do men say that I am?’”) if there is no basis for it in the life of Jesus (Mark 8:27–30)? What purpose could Mark have for inventing such a story if Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah?
4. Why are so many of Jesus’ teachings about himself if he merely thought that he was a prophet in the tradition of Israel? No prophet in Israel’s tradition made himself the center of his teachings as did Jesus of Nazareth.
5. There is very little time between the crucifixion and the period of his worship by the early church (Acts 2–8:4) for any legends about his claims to messiahship to gel into the uniform testimony found throughout the New Testament (“Lord,” “Messiah,” “Son of God,” etc.). If Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah, then how did the stories very suddenly develop to the point that Palestinian Jews (the last group of people on earth you would expect) would actually worship him so soon after the crucifixion (see James 2:1)?
The Gospels give a very different version of the life of Jesus from what many scholars today accept, yet the Gospel writers, though evangelists, were closer to the events (culturally, historically, sociologically, physically, intellectually, spiritually) than anyone else has been in nearly two thousand years. Shall we, as far away as we are, looking through “a glass darkly,” correct them as to what Jesus actually said? Doesn’t an attempt to do so say more about ourselves than about Jesus or his followers?
Helmut Koester responds:
I find it very difficult to give a brief response. The entire question of Jesus’ messianic consciousness requires detailed argument. As long as the Gospels are taken as historical records of Jesus’ preaching, there is no point in denying that Jesus thought of himself as Messiah, Son of God, etc.
The topic requires an entire article, one that can treat from a critical perspective the character and genre of the Gospels and the development of messianic titles in the tradition that precedes this literature. To be sure, this will be a very controversial piece. However, the general public is so poorly informed in this respect that it would be worthwhile.
We hope to have such an article, by Professor Koester or an equally eminent New Testament scholar, in a future issue of our sister publication, Bible Review.—Ed.
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.
BAR Draws Blood