Queries & Comments
Divide and Conquer
I have written several times complaining about long articles in your magazines that have more scholarly nit-picking than interesting and informational subject matter. The November/December issue of BAR, however, was great! Lots of variety, brief news items and excellent articles. Thanks.
I plan to subscribe to Archaeology Odyssey. I’m interested in seeing how you divide the subject of archaeology between your magazines.
So are we.—Ed.
I am deeply offended by those readers who find your magazine deeply offensive! Please cancel their subscriptions!
Please stop printing on dark colored backgrounds. It is difficult to read. If this continues, I’ll have to cancel my subscription and ask for a refund.
We agree there’s a problem. We will take up the matter with our designers.—Ed.
Don’t Publish Unsubstantiated Charges
I was really shocked that you printed unsubstantiated charges of forgery (“Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers,” BAR 23:04) against the Tel Dan excavators, led by Avraham Biran, and the Ekron excavators, led by Seymour Gitin and Trude Dothan. The job of an editor is to edit out whatever is irrelevant, erroneous … and slanderous. You failed miserably.
As an Israeli tour guide, I have been recommending your magazine for years to pilgrims who discover on site a fascination with archaeology. If you continue to publish such a low level of “debate,” you will find that your magazine will be ridiculed rather than praised.
Should We Have Protected Lemche From His Own Folly?
In response to your question about whether you should have printed Professor Lemche’s suggestions of forgeries (Queries & Comments, BAR 23:06)—Yes, indeed! You should have published the exchange involving Professor Lemche’s outrageous suggestion that the “House of David” inscription could be a deliberate forgery. An editor is under no obligation to protect a man from his own folly. I, for one, was grateful to see this facet of Lemche’s character. It helps me to view all of his other opinions in a new light.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Lemche: I Cannot Help It If David and Solomon Are Not Historical Figures
In the November/December 1997 issue of BAR (Queries & Comments, BAR 23:06), there seems to have been a campaign of letters against this writer, and little in the way of support. The issue that offends people is that of the Tel Dan inscription, the Ekron one being a poor second. However, the Ekron inscription is undoubtedly—and contrary to my indications, which were preliminary (that is, based on a preliminary announcement)—genuine (it contains the required new information, that is, two new names of kings of Ekron in addition to two other names already known from Assyrian inscriptions).
My evaluation of the Tel Dan inscription is pending the publication of Fred Cryer’s coming study on this text. Cryer possesses evidence indicating that it is likely to be a fake. At the time of writing, 010I have to wait to make up my mind until I have the chance to inspect the inscription for myself.
The angry people, however, react as if I claimed that there is perforce a person (or more) around faking inscriptions. My point is, if the Tel Dan inscription is a fake, and the Ekron also (which it is not), and if more such inscriptions turn up, then scholars have a problem at hand. Normally I would have formulated my doubts about the Tel Dan inscription more carefully than was the case in the BAR interview. I cannot recollect exactly what I said. BAR is in possession of the tapes of the discussion, and it would be interesting to know exactly what was said on that occasion.
As to Anson Rainey’s insinuations (Queries & Comments, BAR 23:06), I have little to say except that the Internet debate he is referring to goes back two years and has little to do with this. When it comes to his attack (published in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research [BASOR] 304 [November 1996]) on my study of the Canaanites (The Canaanites and Their Land [Sheffield, 1991]), I have to say that he left out evidence from the Amarna letters indicating that my reading might be correct. My answer will follow in BASOR in the spring of 1998.
A final note. I understand that people are hurt when they have to part with beloved figures like the historical David and Solomon. I cannot help it—I am not counting voters—but I can try to explain to them what they are gaining in exchange: a Biblical text that is not hamstrung by having to provide historical information. The text as narrative still remains unharmed. The layperson cannot be blamed for not understanding what is going on in a postmodern academic world, but scholars can.
Niels Peter Lemche
University of Copenhagen
The People Behind the Story
I love seeing the human beings behind the scholarly debates. Leave huffy dignity to the lofty professional journals; BAR helps me understand the issues in the round.
Niels Peter Lemche’s arguments are not impossible, merely offensive and outrageous to those he attacks. His approach helps to ensure that his opponents will research and write very carefully, and that’s all to my benefit.
Rainey’s Misguided Criticism
As a former student of Near Eastern archaeology, I was disturbed by the tone of Anson Rainey’s letter (Queries & Comments, BAR 23:06). Condescension and disparagement do nothing to serve scholarship or your readers. Even if one strongly disagrees with a new approach or a new idea, there is no call for delivering anything other than professional, if pointed, criticism.
I find Rainey’s stance towards anthropological approaches particularly inappropriate. While Rainey may be correct in doubting the applicability of a “chiefdom” model for the early Israelite monarchy, this is no excuse to dismiss all anthropological models as “fads.”
Anthropology has much to contribute to the study of the ancient Near East. Traditional approaches offer neither solutions nor adequate research tools for many issues that scholars are now addressing; models drawn from anthropology offer fruitful alternatives. A case in point is the Israelite settlement of Canaan. Scholars drawing on anthropology have made incredible progress towards understanding this complex process. Even those who disagree with the new models have been 014forced to refine their own arguments. The result is a more richly textured reconstruction of the past. This is always the case when issues are resolved through open debate rather than through vituperative, ad hominem exchanges devoid of substance. Scholars who would suppress this debate invite intellectual stagnation.
Tactics aside, if Rainey himself can admit that the Israel of Saul and David differed from that of the later monarchy, why does he scoff at, rather than encourage, scholars exploring new models of state formation in Israel, Moab, Ammon and Edom? We are just beginning to grasp the processes that drove state formation in these four polities. Why cut off with a snide remark a potentially fruitful avenue of study? If we give up trying to refine our understanding of sociocultural processes, all that is left is to scribble footnotes about superstructure. It is sad that this is what Professor Rainey would have us do when there is so much of consequence left to discover.
Were There No Christians on Mt. Zion After 70 C.E.?
Thank you very much for the November/December 1997 issue on Roman Jerusalem, a topic that often stands in the shadow of its Herodian predecessor (see “Searching For Roman Jerusalem,” BAR 23:06). For me, as a New Testament scholar, it was especially interesting to read Hillel Geva’s article (“Searching for Roman Jerusalem,” BAR 23:06) and to learn again how profoundly the Romans destroyed the city and obliterated all traces of Jewish presence and culture. I wonder how this resolute policy of destruction and consequent Romanization might affect the theory of the possible presence of a Jewish Christian community on Mt. Zion, which is based on fourth-century sources like Epiphanius and Eusebius. If Geva is right that no Jews were left in the city after 70 C.E.—and I have every reason to agree with him—this must also mean that all Judeo-Christians were expelled, as Roman authorities would not have made any distinction between Judeo-Christians and Jews in those early years (cf. Suetonius’ note on riots in Rome under Nero).
After reading Geva’s article, I am even more inclined to see the Christian community on Mt. Zion as a later fiction rather than as a fact. As the archaeological picture of post-70 C.E. Jerusalem gradually gets clearer (thanks to articles like Geva’s), the early Christian sources on this matter will need a fresh look that critically puts previous theories to the test.
I am curious to see what Geva and other readers of BAR think about this issue.
New Testament Studies and Patristics
Hillel Geva responds:
In my article I tried to summarize the archaeological evidence from Jerusalem relating to Roman Aelia Capitolina (second-third centuries C.E.) and to draw conclusions concerning the topography of the city during that period. One of my conclusions is that the entire southwestern hill, including Mt. Zion, was occupied by the camp of the Tenth Roman Legion during the second-third centuries C.E.
This reconstruction of Roman Jerusalem contradicts the generally accepted view that the southern wall of Aelia Capitolina followed the present line of the southern wall of the Old City, thus leaving the present Mt. Zion outside the limits of the Roman walled city.
My arguments supporting this idea have been published at length in several places.1 I accept the nature of the Roman-period archaeological material discovered on the southwestern hill, to which I will refer later. I pointed out that in all the excavations carried out along both sides of the foundations of the present southern Old City wall, no remains of a Roman city wall have come to light. My view contradicts that of Bargil Pixner, published in BAR and elsewhere,2 claiming that there was a Judeo-Christian community living on Mt. Zion during the time of Aelia Capitolina. Pixner bases himself on literary sources dating back to the Byzantine period and does not attempt to evaluate the available archaeological data.
The apparent contradiction between archaeological evidence and written accounts is related to a fundamental question in research: Which of the two bodies of data, archaeological or written, has greater weight in those cases where they are mutually contradictory? My frame of reference is archaeological. The archaeological finds from the southwestern hill, including present-day Mt. Zion, are unequivocal. In all of the numerous excavated areas throughout the southwestern hill of ancient Jerusalem (in the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter, located in the southern part of the Old City, and on Mt. Zion, which is located outside the walls, to the south of the city), no significant evidence for occupational strata dating to Roman Aelia Capitolina has been found, with the exception of a limited area in the northwestern corner of the hill, today’s Citadel. Finds on the southwestern hill include mainly broken roof tiles impressed with the initials of the Tenth Roman Legion, very little pottery and few coins. The same situation prevails on Mt. Zion. The archaeological remains are quite disappointing and clearly do not attest to the existence of a residential area here in the period of Aelia Capitolina. It is difficult to believe that the situation is different at the Essene Gate.
Eusebius and Epiphanius describe Jerusalem as they knew it in the fourth century C.E., especially concerning the importance of Mt. Zion in Christianity (in their days, the entire southwestern hill was regarded as Mt. Zion). If indeed there was a Jewish-Christian community on Mt. Zion, why is there no mention of that fact in Jewish sources? The Pilgrim of Bordeaux (early fourth century C.E.) also does not mention a Jewish-Christian settlement here but does mention a synagogue on Mt. Zion, one of seven that had stood there in the past. Some try to identify the ancient remains in the foundation of the so-called Tomb of David as this synagogue, claiming that it served the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem during Roman times. While these remains are clearly earlier than the largely medieval building standing today, it has not been possible to securely date them to the Roman period. The building’s plan doesn’t provide a clear indication that it served as a synagogue. Most important, no other synagogue buildings from this period are known in Israel. Why should one believe that David’s Tomb was originally a synagogue?In my opinion, there was no Jewish-Christian community on Mt. Zion during the Roman period. The entire hill was an encampment for the Tenth Roman Legion. With the legion’s removal from Jerusalem at the end of the third century C.E., civilian settlement began in the area. By the fourth century C.E., the locations of the holy sites on Mt. Zion became established and the large Hagia Zion church was constructed there.
Jerusalem archaeologist Bargil Pixner responds:
Dr. Zangenberg need not be overly concerned that the ancient tradition regarding Mt. Zion as the cradle of Christianity and its ancient synagogue as “the mother of all the churches” stands on very spurious foundations. Even though the New Testament does not specify exactly where the Last Supper and the Pentecost (Acts 2) took place, it seems clear that they must have occurred inside the walls of Jerusalem (Mark 14:13; John 18:1 et al.). Ancient tradition places these events on Mt. Zion, and there is no reasonable alternative. Why doubt it?
When most of the 12 apostles left Jerusalem after the persecution of Agrippa I (42 A.D.), it was the members of Jesus’ family who took up the reins of the Nazarene community in Jerusalem. The first leader of the group was James, the “brother of the Lord,” who after his martyrdom in 62 A.D. was followed by Simon Bar-Kleopha, a cousin of Jesus. Both had come from Nazareth with Mary, his mother. We possess the names of 13 Jewish bishops who followed them. The historian Eusebius speaks of “a very large assembly (magiste ekklesia fudaion) of Jews” in Jerusalem up to the year 135 A.D.
After the terrible destruction of the city and its Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., Jewish inhabitants were not completely absent from Jerusalem. They surely were much reduced in numbers, but knowing the tenacity by which Jews cling to the holy city, their total absence is hardly believable. If that had been the case, the statement by the church fathers that Jews were banished from the city after the Bar-Kokhba revolt in 135 A.D. would not make sense. Even this information, that all Jews were banished from Jerusalem at that time, is reported only by ecclesiastical sources (which could be biased) and cannot be proven. Even then, I do not believe the exodus was complete. It is also doubtful that Judeo-Christians were included in Hadrian’s expulsion order. They had been persecuted by Bar-Kokhba because they refused to join the revolt.
Even if Judeo-Christians were included in Hadrian’s expulsion order, they seem to have drifted back into the city during the lenient reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138–161). The ossuaries on the Mt. of Olives and in Talpiot are evidence of their presence (see Bellarmino Bagatti and J.T. Milik, “Gli scavi del ‘Dominus Flevit’: La necropoli del periodo romano,” [Jerusalem: Studium Franciscanum, 1958]).
Does archaeology tell us more?
In our excavations beneath our monastery (Dormition Abbey) on Mt. Zion, we found evidence that the destruction of 70 A.D. also extended to the remote area of the southwestern hill, just as Josephus said. But underneath that debris we found a Roman-period layer of rather poor houses along a street leading northward and a miqveh (ritual bath) in one of the houses. This could well have been the living quarters of the impoverished first Christian community. The latest coins we found in that excavation were of the second year of the revolt (67/68). I found one of them on the top step of the miqveh. The next three years were missing. Though not conclusive, this could indicate that the Judeo-Christian community left before the arrival of the Romans in 68 A.D. They fled to Pella, beyond the Jordan, and into the mountains of Gilead and Bashan, wandering around in expectation of the return of their Messiah Jesus. When Jerusalem fell, several years had already passed. They then returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Simon Bar-Kleopha—according to one report from the fourth year of Vespasian (73/74).
They found Jerusalem utterly destroyed and the original center of their community, the Cenacle building, in ruins. Since by then they were convinced that the parousia (the second coming of Christ) would be delayed, they rebuilt their synagogue on its ruins. (Luke may have seen it, for he called it, surprisingly, with the definite article, to hyperoon [Acts 1:13]). The building was no longer oriented towards the Temple, which had been destroyed, but slightly to the northwest, towards the place of the 016resurrection (the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church). This apostolic synagogue from the end of the first century is still visible today and surrounds the pseudo-tomb of David, which was erected by the Crusaders.a
Another archaeological indication of the presence of Judeo-Christians on Mt. Zion is the middle of the three tiered gate sills in our Essene Gate excavation area (see Bargil Pixner “Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway—Where the Community Lived in Jesus’ Time,” BAR 23:03). Ceramic material extracted from below the middle sill has been identified as belonging to the Aelia Capitolina period (135–325). In 333 A.D., the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux, coming from Siloam and passing the ruins of Caiaphas’s palace, entered the wall around Zion (murus Sion), saw there the synagogue, evidently Jewish-Christian, and left the wall through another gate. Since the Judeo-Christians did not join the Council of Nicea (325) but maintained their own autonomy, they were ostracized and soon considered heretics or followers of Arius (the Arian Heresy). The Byzantine literature of the fourth century has nothing good to say of the inhabitants of Mt. Zion, although the church fathers acknowledge that those brothers guarded the throne of St. James. From that time on, the Judeo-Christians gradually lost their identity. That, I believe, was a loss for Christianity as a whole, which lost its Jewish counterbalance and became more and more Hellenized.
Is the Cardo Lined with Columns From the Temple?
For some time I’ve wondered where all the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of columns from “Solomon’s Portico” of Herod’s Temple Mount went. Having a keen interest in Biblical archaeology and having led nine teaching tours in Israel, I’ve noticed that columns and column sections are often found in secondary use, either as building stones stuck in among ashlars or as they were originally intended, as columns. Reason would suggest that if one intended to build something requiring columns, and if enough of them were lying about from an earlier destruction, the builders would use these rather than cut new columns.
Is it possible that some of the columns that once rimmed the perimeter of the Herodian Temple Mount, referred to as Solomon’s Portico in some New Testament references, might have been employed in building the Roman Cardo (main street) and perhaps even the later, southern Byzantine Cardo extension? If not, where could so many column sections, capitals and bases have gone so quickly as to be unavailable for use along the Cardo, built within 60 to 70 years of the Temple’s destruction? Could those columns we see displayed along the Cardo today be from the Herodian Temple? Likely? Doubtful? Why?
Love BAR. Have enjoyed and saved every issue since the early 1980s.
Hillel Geva responds:
There is no evidence to suggest that the columns from the Cardo—which date to the Byzantine, not the Roman, period—originated in the Temple.
My eye was attracted to the article “Searching for Roman Jerusalem,” (BAR 23:06) by Hillel Geva. There is a photo and a drawing of the Citadel. However, the symbol showing north in the drawing is pointing in the wrong direction. It should be pointing to the left. Looking at the photo at the beginning of the article, one can clearly see the relationship of the Citadel to the Mount of Olives, which is to the east.
Please be more careful. A small error like this makes one wonder about the rest of your fine magazine.
Three Shekels for the Lord
Why the Widow’s Brother-in-Law Didn’t Marry Her
At the end of Hershel Shanks’s article “Three Shekels for the Lord,” BAR 23:06, he asks “Why wasn’t the husband’s brother, who had already received the wheat field in Na‘amah, required to do his duty by marrying his brother’s widow?”
Reading the widow’s plea from the point of view of a woman, I thought immediately of a possible explanation: Perhaps the widow was too old to bear children.
The purpose of the levirate marriage was to bear children “to his brother’s name, that his name be not put out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5–6). Obviously, if the brother’s widow was too old to bear children there would be no purpose in the levirate marriage.
The widow’s inability to fulfill her part in this marriage could have been the reason for the widow’s plea. An elderly, childless widow had a difficult lot in those times.
El Portal, California
I’d like to propose an obvious answer to the last question posed by Hershel Shanks in his excellent article “Three Shekels for the Lord,” BAR 23:06.
A widow pleads for a share of her deceased husband’s estate. Shanks asks why her husband’s brother was not required “to do his duty by marrying his brother’s widow? Alas, the ostracon does not tell us.”
Shanks tells us that the obligation of the husband’s brother to marry his brother’s childless widow is called levirate marriage and is codified in Deuteronomy 25:5–6.
But had he looked at the next sentence in Deuteronomy, he would have found the answer to his question. Deuteronomy 25:7–10 codifies the halizdah ceremony. It tells us that if the brother refuses to marry his brother’s widow, he may perform halizdah by refusing to take her in the “presence of elders.” She then removes a shoe from him and spits before him (or in his face).
Because the widow’s brother-in-law gave her halizdah, he was not obligated to share his brother’s estate (which devolved upon him) with the penurious widow.
A simple answer to a query in a very fine article.
Brooklyn, New York
The Benefits of the Antiquities Market
After reading Nahman Avigad and Benjamin Sass’s Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (ReViews, BAR 24:01), it becomes crystal clear that Biblical scholars would have very little to do if there were no antiquities market. Out of 1,189 items, Sass says only 180, or a little over 15 percent, are provenanced (Table 1, p. 549).
The museums of the world, including Israel’s, are filled with unprovenanced artifacts. Realistically, it will always be that way. Why? Because archaeology is too slow and too expensive ever to make a dent in the tells that need to be excavated.
Men like Elie Borowski and Shlomo Moussaieff [owner of the “Three Shekels for the Lord” ostracon] have done the world a great service by buying up the available artifacts and having them published. I hope they have all of their artifacts published. These invaluable collections outshine most nation’s museums.
Polishing the Translation
A review of the text of the temple receipt described in the article “Three Shekels for the Lord,” BAR 23:06, suggests to me another possible explanation concerning the silver of Tarshish. Rather than the silver coming from Tarshish, is it possible that the name of the recipient is “Zecharyahu, silversmith of Tarshish?”
Scott F. Moss
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., of Johns Hopkins University, responds:
Since I am neither a paleographer nor an epigrapher, the suggestion I am making is really a query. Is the absence of a word divider in both Beit David and Beit YHWH due to the fact that the words are in the construct state? Does this occur elsewhere?
Lou H. Silberman
The writer is professor emeritus of Jewish literature and thought at the University of Arizona.
P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., responds:
Yes, I think it’s very possible that the absence of word dividers in the expressions byt dwd, “House of David,” on the Tel Dan stela and byt yhwh, “House of Yahweh,” on the Moussaieff ostracon results from both being in the so-called construct state.
For non-Hebraists let me point out that the construct state is the most common way in the Semitic languages of indicating a genitive or possessive relationship between two words. When words are joined in construct, they are treated in some ways, such as accent patterns, almost as if they were a single word. It would not be surprising to find a word divider “missing” between such a pair of words in an ancient inscription that otherwise used word dividers fairly consistently.
It’s difficult to be absolutely certain about this, however, since we don’t yet have a full understanding of the rules that governed the use of word dividers in alphabetic inscriptions from ancient Israel and surrounding areas. It’s clear that word dividers were employed differently in different scribal traditions. Sometimes they were used generously, sometimes scantly or not at all. Occasionally we encounter an inscription that uses two types of word dividers.
In short, the picture is complex and far from clear. At this point, I think we have to admit that our understanding of the use of word dividers is far from complete.
Battle Over Bones
You’d Never Say Those Things About Native Americans
As a long-time subscriber, I was quite horrified at “Fierce Protest Over Bones Threatens to Halt Archaeology in Israel,” by Dina Shiloh, and “Politics—Not Religious Law—Rules Ultra-Orthodox Demonstrators,” by Gabriel Barkay (November/December 1997).
The situation with Native Americans in this country is instructive. Yes, Native Americans, like observant Jews in Israel, are not pleased when archaeologists take the bones of their ancestors into a laboratory to study. They are troubled when the final resting places of their progenitors are disturbed. When the people who are responsible for this disruption claim that their actions are in accordance with Indian law, which is a bold-faced lie, it is even more disturbing. To commit outright character assassination against those who are hurt by saying that their motivations are not sincere is criminal.
The hate, character assassination, vitriol and poison spewed out against “ultra-Orthodox” Jews is unbecoming in a prestigious scholarly magazine like BAR and is truly un-American. However, I will let you and your readers be the judge (if you dare to print this). I would like you to read the following sentences and honestly ask yourself what your reaction is when the term ultra-Orthodox Jew is replaced with American Indian, if Israel is replaced with tribal lands, if Jewish is replaced with the term Indian. Here are quotes from the articles mentioned above, with such substitutions:
“Political power, not religious law, motivates the American Indians in tribal lands who violently protest archaeological excavations, claiming that ancient Indian graves are being desecrated.”
“These people are anti-science. I was excavating in tribal lands once. The American Indians were waiting outside the excavation, and they picked up some animal bones we had put aside—you know sheep, dogs and so on—and were stopping cars on the street saying, ‘Look, here are the bones 021of our ancestors.’ These people are going to stand over me and tell me what is human and what is animal? If they go and learn anatomy for a few years at university maybe I’d be willing to listen to them.”
“Indian religious law does not prohibit moving tombs, if it is done with dignity and respect.” (Imagine what our reaction would be if white Americans would dare claim such expertise in Indian religious affairs.)
“Strange as it may seem, the matter of tombs does not really interest the American Indian. If they were really interested in the sanctity of bones, they would help the Antiquities Authority stop the looting of graves.”
“The ruckus that the American Indians are making is principally a political matter.”
“Today the American Indian can squeeze. And whatever they squeeze from the [Democratic Party], the [Republican Party] offers them twice as much. Thus, they have enormous political power, and naturally they press more.”
I propose that any unbiased individual when presented with the above sentences would clearly label their author as an insensitive bigot.
BAR is in a unique position. Instead of preaching to rabbis about your conceptions of Judaism, do the noble thing: Attempt to create an atmosphere where science is pursued in the pristine method of inquiry that it was Divinely meant to be—one where graves and bodies are not dissected in the name of science, one where respect for the dead and religious groups are maintained. Create an atmosphere where every religious minority, whether Native American or, in your pejorative terminology, “ultra-Orthodox,” can say, “I am proud to know an archaeologist. They are so sensitive to the dead and to religious sensitivities.”
Rabbi Jordan Hoffman
Congregation Young Israel
Patchogue, New York
Teaching from the Grave
There have been many times during my tenure as a BAR subscriber that I’ve had the impulse to dash off a letter (nearly every issue contains something that excites my intellect), but until this morning, I’ve restrained myself. My rationalization for not writing has been that someone with more academic authority than I will put fingers to keyboard to make the point, and usually they have.
What drives me this time, however, is the fact that, although much has been written in the archaeological media concerning the political controversy of disinterring human bones, no one so far has covered my own strong views on the matter.
Protest against the exhumation of graves and the study of human remains, whether by Native Americans or ultra-conservative Jews, seems to me to violate the basic freedoms of those persons most involved—the long dead. Have their rights to freedom of expression ceased with their earthly demise? It’s a philosophical question, I know, but who can presume to speak for them? Who has the right to prevent that person, dead for perhaps millennia, from making one last contribution to the world? Who can say they do not want to be studied with a respect and dignity that this modern world seldom accords its elderly?
The long dead still have something to teach. Who has the right to prevent this transmission of knowledge from one individual to another across seemingly unbridgeable eons?
Carol Ann Caronia
Brooklyn, New York
Never? Or Hardly Ever?
The “Battle Over Bones” articles disturb me. Let’s be honest about something. Are you telling me that archaeologists never carelessly and disrespectfully desecrate (or have desecrated) human remains in Israel? Why not confess to a few poor dig decisions and work from there? The picture you paint claims that the procedures of archaeology should never be held up to scrutiny because archaeology should never be held accountable for any of its actions.
Boca Raton, Florida
B.C. vs. B.C.E.
I write to address the seemingly endless controversy regarding the designations B.C./A.D. and B.C.E./C.E., having just read the recent news item regarding Mr. Safire and his attempt to resolve the matter (Strata, BAR 23:06).
The question of how to measure the great sidereal movement by which time is generally reckoned has evolved over many years. Many disputes over its measurement have taken their toll on human existence. Consider these two examples. In very early times we might have had this discussion between a cave-dwelling couple:
“Dear, what time is it?”
“When will you take out the trash?”
Eventually, there developed a more precise measurement of time:
“Dear, what day is it?”
“When will you take out the trash?”
Fast forward yourself to modern times, when the precise time to the very millisecond may be had over the Internet by logging onto any of a number of sites, such as the U.S. Naval Observatory. The ongoing dispute of whether to measure the years by the dueling designations of B.C./A.D. or B.C.E./C.E. has divided us too long.
I have three possible solutions to this quandary.
Proposal one: All yearly designations shall be preceded by a plus or minus sign, designating whether the year is or was before or after (the nonexistent) Year Zero. For example, one archaeological find might be an ancient memo:
To: All commanders
Crush Jerusalem and bring everybody here. Now.
Likewise, another find might be a newspaper from ancient Rome telling of a distant war:
Roman troops advanced on Jerusalem in +70, routed the resistance, destroyed the Temple and enjoyed a well-deserved hedonistic leave at a Mediterranean resort.
Alas, this suggestion must fail. There is no way to guarantee that a “+” won’t be mistakenly entered as a “-”, and vice versa. The keys are next to each other on the keyboard; one is shift up, and the other is shift down—possibly very confusing and inaccurate. Nebuchadnezzar might be mistakenly portrayed as a medieval figure, and John Wesley might be transposed to ancient Egypt before Moses.
Proposal two: Using this same logic, we might begin using the zero point as the point of demarcation. B.Z. and A.Z. replace B.C. and A.D. This eliminates the Messiah/no Messiah discussion by taking the matter out of the hands of theology. Before Zero and After Zero simply address the issue of the measurement of time.
But with the approaching turn of the century and the uproar about computers falling back to 1900 instead of springing forward to 2000 (sort of an ultimate Daylight Saving Time, I suppose), this suggestion must fail for lack of interest.
Proposal three: Being without another proposal, I must turn to an odd place, Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In Chapter 8, Paul addresses the question of eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Paul tells this early church that the question is not whether to eat this particular meat, but whether doing so offends their brothers and sisters and causes them to stumble in their own faith. If so, don’t eat it, Paul writes. It doesn’t matter. Food is food. Likewise, if insisting on the use of B.C./A.D. is offensive to our neighbors, our brothers and our sisters, then Christians should join others in a way of designating time that does not offend them. Time is time, however we might choose to measure it. The debate is not over the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a question of designating time.
Let us agree about such things and then get about living our faiths, whatever they may be. To B.C. or not B.C. may be the question, but the answer is how well we love our neighbors and how we join together in matters of significance instead of allowing ourselves to be divided over trifles.
B.C. and A.D. have the advantage of being honest, for most everyone knows that “Christ” and “Domine” refer to the Christian Lord. The use of C.E. and B.C.E. as abbreviations for “Common Era” and “Before the Common Era” reflect Christian (or Western hegemonic?) arrogance disguised. The assumption is that everyone recognizes Christian dating as properly “common” (a Muslim friend always asks, whose common era?). My American Heritage Dictionary is not aware of this point. There, C.E. stands for “Christian Era” and B.C.E. for “Before the Christian Era.” That makes the dating game both clear and honest again.
Leonard L. Thompson
I looked up B.C.E. in Webster’s New World Dictionary. It means bachelor of chemical engineering. This makes sense.
The academic “new establishment” is leading a Mao Tse-Tung-type cultural revolution, but hopefully their revisionist movement will die out just like it did in China.
Besides, I never heard them explain what Common Era means and what dates it covers. Was there an Uncommon Era, too?
Much more of this meaningless crap and you can put my subscription in the cancel bin.
Leon T. Kohr
Making Asses of Themselves
The debate about to B.C. or not B.C. is a prime example of what can happen when knowledge and education are wasted on the immature and intolerant. The so-called scholars who insist on using B.C.E. instead of B.C. and C.E. instead of A.D. should date the time before they were born as B.I.G.H. (Before I Got Here) and the time since they were born as A.S.S. (Age of Silly Scholars).
Gerald J. Martinez
Something to Chew On
Reading about those pieces of tar identified in various European countries as 9,000-year-old chewing gum (Strata, BAR 23:05) reminds me of lumps of bitumen from the Dead Sea that we found excavating at ‘Uyun ez-Zara (Kallirrhoe), a Herodian site on the Jordanian coast. (The dig was on behalf of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, in 1989).
Bitumen was, of course, used for very different purposes in antiquity (for making basketry and wood watertight, for sealing and gluing, and for mummification), but when our workers, natives from the nearby village of Mukawer, found the black lumps, they explained to us that until recently it was customary to collect such bitumen from the Dead Sea, grind it and mix it with olive oil to produce—guess what? Chewing gum (‘ilk in Arabic)! They did not refer to any medical uses. Chewing tar was enjoyed, probably not unlike chewing tobacco. This self-made product went out of fashion less than a generation ago, when Western chewing gum became available.
The little item about Stone Age chewing gum in northern Europe reminded me that when I was very young, during the Great Depression, the streets were repaired with genuine tar, not the stuff used nowadays. When the workers left for the day, we kids would break small pieces of tar off the large chunk that was waiting to be melted. We would chew the tar with great pleasure. I 023recall that there was not much flavor, but it was fun to chew and, besides, real chewing gum cost a nickel.
My grandparents came from Denmark, so I may have had tar-chewing in my genes.
El Cerrito, California
Doesn’t Speak BAR-Speak
I find BAR interesting but confusing; it is not intellectually profitable. You are operating as though your readers are professional archaeologists.
It would expand your subscriptions if you defined terms, concepts, etc., that professional scholars take for granted. I suspect that many people don’t renew because they simply do not understand your language. There is too great a demand for our reading time (and money) to have to deal with a foreign language.
Douglas W. Windle
Cast a Wider Net
In the August 1997 issue of GEO magazine (French edition), there is an extensive 42-page article on archaeological sites in Syria, with breathtaking aerial photographs. The article covers, among other sites, Ebla (Tell Mardikh), Palmyra (Tadmor), Apamea, Damascus with its Omayyad Mosque built on top of Roman and Christian buildings, Aleppo, Hamas, Mari, Qadesh and the Orontes River, Bosra and its Roman theater, Ugarit, the Church of St. Simeon the Stylite and the fortress of the Krak Des Chevaliers.The list of interesting places could go on and on. They all have a connection with the Bible.
With the exception of very early articles in the ‘70s on Ebla and Ugarit, BAR has not had any articles like these. What’s wrong? Is Syria off limits for BAR? Is the same true of Jordan? There is so much material published about the archaeological sites in Israel that I wish we had the same on the hundreds of sites and monuments in the surrounding countries that were part of the Biblical world. Hopefully, your new magazine, Archaeology Odyssey will fill this void.
I do not mean to criticize BAR for its shortcomings. The magazine has just whetted my appetite for more articles on a greater geographical area.
Frank J. Beguiristain
We hope to satisfy you in both BAR and Archaeology Odyssey.—Ed.
How High Was the Alexandria Light Tower?
I am responding to a letter from Fred Acquistapace in your November/December issue, which states that for the lighthouse at Alexandria to have been visible 35 miles out to sea it must have been 500 feet high.
His conclusion is only a partial answer and is somewhat misleading.
If we assume that a sailor climbed the mast of his vessel in order to see a greater distance (and sailors have always done this), and if this placed his eye height 49 feet above the water (which is not unreasonable for ships of that time), then he would be able to see an object/light on the horizon at a distance of 10 miles. That, in turn, would mean that the light itself would have to be visible at a range of 25 miles. If the light was located on a hill or bluff, say, 150–200 feet above sea level, that would mean that the height of the light tower was 106–156 feet (the lower the hill, the higher the tower). This is a much more credible height for a structure of that period, but nevertheless represents a considerable engineering achievement.
The higher a sailor can go, the further he can see—and that reduces the range required for a light to be visible.
Life Imitates BAR
I had an opportunity to visit the Columbus Museum of Art, in Ohio and see the display of Akeldama tombs presented by the Israel Antiquities Authority. It was just like being in Jerusalem. Especially if, like myself, they will never be there to witness a dig.
I have been a subscriber to BAR for a few years, and even though I am not very knowledgeable about archaeology, I enjoy it immensely. When I learned about the exhibit in Columbus, I requested that you send me the BAR issue featuring Akeldama (see “Akeldama: Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb?” BAR 20:06 and “Akeldama: Resting Place of the Rich and Famous,” BAR 20:06). I was amazed to find that the display so closely followed the BAR articles.
The scale model of the cave was a wonderful visual description of the burial chambers. The actual ossuaries, lamps, gold earrings and “candlestick” vessels were the same items I had seen in BAR.
Thank you for my introduction to archaeology through your outstanding magazine.
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.
Divide and Conquer