Queries & Comments
A Lesson from Playboy
I receive both BAR and Bible Review and am glad to have them available. However, in every issue someone tries to explain to you how certain articles and ads have offended them, yet you do not seem to perceive. Maybe you can understand a baser example. If I buy a copy of Playboy, I expect to find pictures of beautiful young females and articles on the theme of the title of that magazine. I would not expect to find, among the beautiful pictures, articles that tell me that these females do not actually exist. Nor would I read articles that demean me for viewing them. I would not expect to read articles that attempt to persuade me to join the celibate because they claim that Hugh Hefner was not a real person.
I am not terrified of “critical” assessments and opinions. Some of them cause much thought. What does offend is the perceived malice of some of your contributors. They almost reprimand me for reading the article that you paid them to write.
Remember the first words in the names of your periodicals. Please abide by truth in advertising or change your name to Biblical Animosity Review.
The Amazingly Thin-Skinned and Intolerant
I was introduced to BAR a few years ago and was so impressed that I have been a subscriber ever since. The advent of Archaeology Odyssey is another boon for Walter Mittys like me, as it covers the field but without the Biblical overtones. The two publications complement each other very well; you now have something for everyone. Speaking of something for everyone, I am very often tickled with some people’s letters in Queries & Comments. The amount of thin-skinned and/or intolerant people around who write in to complain and cancel their subscriptions amazes me.
Donald R. Kisner
Straight to Her Heart
Thank you for “Babatha’s Story,” by Anthony J. Saldarini, and “How Women Differed,” by Tal Ilan (March/April 1998). I have had great difficulty and minimal results in researching my female ancestors. There are so few resources for reconstructing an ordinary woman’s life even in the 1700-1800s, Babatha’s story went straight to my heart and mind.
My highest praise.
Kay R. Murphree
Who Was a Jew?
I found Anthony J. Saldarini’s discussion of Babatha’s identification of her son as a Jew to be overdone.
Jewish identification is determined through maternal lineage; tribal affiliation is determined through paternal lineage. If a child’s mother is Jewish, so is the child. If the mother is not Jewish, even though the father is, the child is not Jewish. Since the archive merely states that Babatha was the “daughter of Simon from the village of Maoza,” Babatha’s identity as a Jew is 010questionable. In identifying her son as a Jew, she ensured not only her son’s ethnic identification, but also his covenant relationship with the Lord. Babatha was perhaps attempting to guarantee that her son, Jesus, would be raised in the Jewish faith should the guardianship of a non-Jew be required.
Mark J. Ehlers
Anthony J. Saldarini responds:
In attempting to explain why Babatha’s son is specified as a Jew, Mr. Ehlers fills in the gaps in Babatha’s situation a little more and somewhat differently than I would. Historically, we are not sure whether the rabbinic rule that a Jewish birth-mother determines the Jewishness of a child was operative in all Jewish communities in the early second century. Perhaps, as Mr. Ehlers suggests, she was trying to protect his ethnic identification in case she died, but the boy’s Jewish guardian could be expected to do that.
Was Bigamy OK?
I really appreciated the Babatha articles. But one fact concerning Babatha’s second husband surprised me: “Judah already had a wife—Miriam.” Was polygamy common in 128 C.E., and was it acceptable for religious Jews in that era? If not, then the affairs of Judah and Babatha may not warrant some of the article’s conclusions that assume they were representative of the Jews of their day.
Anthony J. Saldarini responds:
The history of polygamy within the Jewish community is in many ways unclear. Polygamy was clearly allowed in the Hebrew Bible and in the ancient Near East, as we know from Islam and earlier civilizations. But whether Jews practiced polygamy with any frequency is very controversial. The majority view is that during the Second Temple period polygamy was not commonly practiced. However, the Babatha archive attests very concretely to one case and we may suspect that there were others.
Contrary to Mr. Lindsay’s contention, the article does not assume that Babatha and her family and friends were “representative of Jews of their day,” but rather argues that we should stop using universal concepts (created by us) such as “the Jews,” “the Jews of the second century,” etc. The Rabbis were creating and propagating the Mishnah and its way of life among Jews in second-century Palestine. We have a tendency to say that their version of Jewish life was universal or dominant. I made the point that another community of Jews at the edge of Judea was living Judaism in a different way. We need to take this diversity into account as we think about early Judaism.
Mishnah and Talmud Are Not Jewish Law Codes
Congratulations on the March/April BAR, with its embarras de richesses: not one, but two illuminating discussions of the Babatha archive and the light it sheds on the status of women; a wonderfully clear photograph and explanation of the scholarly controversy over the “Yahad” ostracon from Qumran (I’m holding my breath for the next installment!); a plain-speaking exposé of the political ramifications of the debate about the historicity of the Davidic dynasty and its eponymous tenth-century founder; and much more. BAR is always a feast, but this time it was a veritable gourmet’s delight!
I would like just to comment on Anthony J. Saldarini’s piece about the Babatha archive. In discussing Babatha’s marriage deed and other documents, he was right in noting that despite similarities in particular provisions, there is no evidence at all of influence from early rabbinic (specifically, Mishnaic) law in either the Aramaic or the Greek contracts, and that the Jews in the Greco-Roman culture of the first and second centuries C.E. routinely used the prevailing legal forms and institutions of that world.
While Babatha’s Aramaic ketubbah (marriage deed) states that Babatha’s husband marries her “according to the law of Moses and the Jews,” there was also a Greek marriage contract specifying the husband’s legal duty to maintain his wife nomo kai tropo, which Saldarini translates as being “Greek ‘custom and manner.’” Finding this somewhat puzzling (there being no standard Greek “custom and manner” of wife maintenance), he concludes that even though the contract says “according to Greek custom” what is actually meant here are Jewish customs—albeit in documents drawn up in the Greek language.
Saldarini could have drawn further support from the fact that the double-barreled Greek expression nomo kai tropo seems to echo the double-barreled Hebrew term dat wa-din, which is found in the Book of Esther (1:13). The JPS Tanakh neatly translates dat wa-din as “law and precedent”—which would be an equally apt translation of nomo kai tropo.
As Saldarini suspected, we seem to have here a Jewish legal concept in Greek translation—a concept, moreover, not “borrowed” from rabbinic Judaism, since it is already attested in the second-century B.C.E. (modern scholarship’s dating of Esther).
My other comment concerns the definitions of Mishnah and Talmud in editorial footnotes. The Mishnah is not an “early rabbinic legal code.” Though people often use the term “code” when referring to the Mishnah, this is a misnomer. A law code is comprehensive in spelling out all the laws governing a given topic: first the basic rules, then the subrules and regulations that fall thereunder. But the Mishnah (most scholars agree) was never intended as a practical law code, as most of its rules relate to the cultic practices of a Temple long since destroyed and were incapable of implementation at the time of its composition; furthermore, it rarely bothers to state the basic rules governing the topic under discussion.
The Mishnah is primarily the fruit of an intellectual debate among rabbinic 064jurists, all of whom were familiar with the basics. These are simply taken for granted, so that the discussion can plunge right into the borderline “hard cases,” which present the anomalies and ambiguities that so fascinated the Mishnah’s creators. Likewise, the two Talmuds, which broadly follow the Mishnah’s format, are not law codes either. Judaism had to wait many more centuries until the task of logical codification was eventually tackled by Maimonides and other medieval scholars.
Another footnote confusingly lists the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds in reverse chronological order. While the rabbis of both Palestine and Babylon began their work at about the same time (right after the redaction of the Mishnah in the early third century C.E.), the ongoing work of the Palestinian academies ceased abruptly around 400 C.E., after Christianization of the Roman Empire led to harsh discriminatory decrees against all other religions. The Babylonian academies continued the work of creating the Talmud until its ultimate redaction around 600 C.E.
Judith Romney Wegner
Professor of Judaic Studies
Providence, Rhode Island
The Way We Were
I was surprised to see my picture from 35 years ago in the sidebar discussing the discoveries in the Cave of Letters. At that time I was a graduate student at Hebrew University, and I served as Yigael Yadin’s chief assistant in the expedition to the Judean Desert.
The picture shows a very typical situation in the excavation of the Cave of Letters. All the finds in the cave were discovered in caches hidden in crevices or beneath rocks, where they had been left by the Jewish refugees. Whenever a new cache was discovered, it was cleared in the way shown in the picture: Yadin himself first examined and identified each object. I sat beside him with a notebook and noted, numbered and described each object. Once this was completed, the object was passed to another assistant (seen to my left) for packing and transferring to our expedition camp. My good friend David Harris, the photographer, stood nearby and recorded everything.
Tel Aviv, Israel
The writer is now professor of archaeology in Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and codirector of the renewed excavations at Megiddo.
Lying Was the Sin
I read with interest “Breaking the Missing Link,” by Frank Moore Cross and Esther Eshel (BAR 24:03), which finds a tie between Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Scholars always seem to try to relate the Essenes, or whatever group was in residence at Qumran, to early Christianity. The authors of this otherwise fine piece draw our attention to Acts 5:1–11, implying that the sale of Ananias and Sapphira’s property is reminiscent of initiation into the Qumran community.
Even a casual reading of this passage, however, reveals that Ananias and Sapphira were at no time “expected to give their entire estate to the church.” In fact, Peter himself says in that same passage “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:3–4, KJV).
Clearly, Peter indicated that this couple was never under any compulsion to donate their estate to the early church. Why then were they struck dead? The key is that they lied to God. Others (see end of Acts 4) had sold properties and donated the proceeds to the church. This couple thought they would put on a pretense of doing the same thing while at the same time secretly holding back a portion of the sale price. The idea is that they would appear to be self-sacrificing, pious people before the congregation, when in fact they were not. They were generous in that they were willing to donate a portion of the proceeds, but dishonest in allowing the congregation to assume that they were donating the entire price paid for the land. The Bible is replete with examples of this principle. The amount donated doesn’t impress God, only the attitude and circumstances of the offering.
I’m surprised that a team of authors whose scholarship seems otherwise meticulous would take this Bible passage out of context in an attempt to make the early church seem to have borrowed its practices from Qumran.
Reverend Kevin L. Benbow
Missionary serving in Rancagua, Chile
Frank Moore Cross responds:
Reverend Benbow’s letter requires a long and technical response, which would not persuade those who read Acts 5 literally and fundamentalistically. For example, I think that Ananias and Sapphira were executed by Peter or by the community at his command, a community that held its goods in common and had a claim on Ananias’ proceeds from the sale. I follow an emendation of the Greek of Acts 5:4 so that it reads to mean that once the property was sold, the pair no longer had any claim to it. And so on.
Byzantine Oil Lamps
A Matter of Continuity
I would like to comment upon the suggestion that Jodi Magness makes concerning the palm branch motif and the formula of “The light of Christ” on the slipper lamps described in “Illuminating Byzantine Jerusalem,” BAR 24:02.
The multibranched candlestick is certainly a possible interpretation. Such a candlestick is still used on the altar table of Orthodox Christian churches, continuing the practice from the times described in the article.
Concerning use of the formula about the light of Christ, this most certainly has a liturgical base, as noted in footnote 10. It is the central theme of the evening service, vespers, in Orthodox Christian churches.
Which Tree of Life?
As I read the article on oil lamps by Jodi Magness, I too was perplexed by the iconography, particularly by the menorah/palm branch motif. Magness suggests several interpretations for this particular motif, and she even hints at a tree of life interpretation as found in Genesis 2. I am wondering if instead of Genesis 2, it could represent the tree of life in the final chapter of Revelation: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the lamb. In the middle of its street, and on the other side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month … There shall be no night there: They need no lamp or light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1–5 NKJV). The lamp on page 40 of the article seems to come close to this description, since the palm branch/menorah image is contained by lines on either side that could represent a road or street. The lamp on the lower right on page 42 has no lines on either side of the palm branch/menorah, but the motif does have a tripartite base that could represent the base of the tree straddling the river of pure water.
Seeing the lamp’s tree motif from this perspective would fit well with the Christian view of the coming kingdom of Christ, where “they need no lamp or light of the sun,” and the common inscription on the lamps, which reads, “The light of Christ shines for all.” Could these lamps have served as a daily object lesson to early Christians concerning their promised new kingdom?
Rockaway, New Jersey
Jodi Magness responds:
In endnote 1 of my article, I cite Stanislao Loffreda, who has suggested identifying the motif on the nozzles of the slipper lamps as a tree of life (Lucerne Bizantine in Terra Santa con Iscrizioni in Greco, [Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1989], see especially pp. 215–218). This is based on the appearance of the inscription “blessing of [the] wood”
The March/April 1998 BAR describes mosaic tesserae as “ceramic tiles,” (see “Illuminating Byzantine Jerusalem,” BAR 24:02). Actually, they are usually, if not always, small squarish hand-hewn bits of colored stone. How did that get by you?
Steven F. Stevens
San Francisco, California
Finkelstein and Ussishkin All Alone
I was unable to participate in the annual meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research or of the Society of Biblical Literature last November, but I have enjoyed, as always, your juicy reports about them (“San Francicso Tremors: Not Earthquakes, Just Academic Rumbles,” BAR 24:02 and “Where Is the Tenth Century?” BAR 24:02). Some of your remarks and interpretations need correction, however.
1. There is no “Tel Aviv School” or “Jerusalem School” or any other learned institution in the matter of the high or low chronologies for the Iron Age. The two distinguished Tel Aviv scholars [Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin] who are trying to convince the archaeological community to lower the chronology of the Iron Age remain, to the best of my knowledge, alone in the field. The fight between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem from the days of Yigael Yadin and Yohanan Aharoni is long ago dead and buried. Why raise this ugly ghost from its grave?
2. The “Solomonic Gate” at Megiddo, or rather, its supposed early stage, was connected to a casemate wall only according to Yadin’s interpretation, never fully published. It should not be taken for granted, as you have done.
3. The credit you gave for assigning the destruction of Lachish III to Sennacherib belongs not only to David Ussishkin, the last excavator of Lachish. Both Olga Tufnell, who published the results of the British excavation (Lachish III ), and Yohanan Aharoni (Lachish V ), have already expressed that view. The persistence of the wrong low dating is to be blamed on Albright’s incorrect dating of his Tell Beit Mirsim Stratum A and his influence on John Starkey, the original excavator of Lachish, and on many others.
I cannot make up my mind if these kinds of debates are good, as they sharpen 068our minds and contribute to the interest of the public, or bad, as they distract our minds from our daily work of excavating, processing and publishing.
Tel Aviv, Israel
The writer is the former director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology, Israel.
First Commandment vs. First Amendment
I was reading a recent issue of BAR and was rather shocked. The first two pages inside the cover were advertisements for the Sadigh Gallery of Ancient Art and the Franklin Mint. The former sells objects of pagan worship, and the latter advertised a reproduction of a statue of an Egyptian cat goddess.
While I appreciate the work done in archaeology to establish a factual history of mankind, I think it is a great mistake to preserve, perpetuate or propagate the very practices that have brought it both devastating loss and needless suffering. I refer specifically to the possession and use of objects and instruments of false worship.
Almighty God, who is the final authority on all things, gave us a good commandment when He said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4).
Round Rock, Texas
BAR seems to be directed to people familiar with certain terms that are foreign to me and that I cannot find in my dictionary. I wonder if you would consider a glossary of scholarly terms?
John J. Clarke
How Easy to Understand
I was reluctant to subscribe to your magazine thinking I probably wouldn’t be able to understand much of it because of my lack of knowledge in this field. But since receiving my first copy (March/April 1998), I’ve read each and every page with surprising joy. You have put things in plain language; it’s so easy to understand.
Robert Joseph LeBlanc
Here’s the Beef
I’ve been a subscriber to BAR for almost five years. I count the days and impatiently wait for the next issue to arrive so I can dive into what for most of us is another world. Granted, every term and concept may not jump up and bite us on the nose; for that we have the tabloids. In this McDonald’s culture of ours, we have gotten used to everything being served fast, hot and ready to eat. But where’s the beef? BAR has beef, though it sometimes may be tough and hard to chew. So please, don’t water down BAR!
San Jose, Costa Rica
Couldn’t you have found a better title for the item on King Tut’s wet nurse (“Teat for Tut,” Strata, BAR 24:02)? I am quite offended, being a lady. Cows have teats, women have breasts. Please leave your female readers some shred of dignity by not lumping us with the animals.
Juanita Leverton Calvin
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.
A Lesson from Playboy