Queries & Comments
Can’t Stand the Bickering
I am not prepared to renew my subscription to BAR. I have enjoyed the articles, but I’ve become really tired of the bickering in the letters section.
James E. Faubel
Report from the Boonies
Thanks for years of learning from BAR and Bible Review, and now Odyssey! You help those of us studying out here in the boondocks know who the recognized scholars are.
Greenville, North Carolina
Back in the July/August 1999 you reviewed the book The Gold of Exodus very critically (ReViews, BAR 25:04).
Much to my surprise, in your current issue you accepted a full-page ad for the same book, thinly disguised and pretending to be a new book. This about-face on your part is dismaying. Does BAR need ad income so badly that you do not have high standards about what kind of ads you accept?
The book advertised in our January/February 2000 issue, The Mountain of Moses, was not the one reviewed in July/August 1999. Even if it had been, however, we do not censor ads unless they are patently offensive. Would you have us refuse to accept ads for books that received poor reviews? We believe in the values of the First Amendment—a free marketplace of ideas. We encourage our readers to form their own opinions about our advertisers and their wares.—Ed.
From Here to Paternity
Whoops! In Hershel Shanks’s interesting column on the seal of Shema‘, servant of Jeroboam, he misidentified Jeroboam as a son of Solomon (“First Person: Have You Seen This Seal?” BAR 26:01)! Jeroboam son of Nebat (as recorded in 1 Kings 11:26 ff.) was not a son of Solomon; he was the overseer of Solomon’s discontented forced laborers, who were all drawn from the northern tribes—that is, not from Solomon’s own tribe of Judah.
Rehoboam was the son and heir of Solomon. After the death of Solomon, the southern tribe of Judah broke away from the ten northern tribes, leading to the division of the kingdom into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. First Kings 12:11 attributes the break to the churlish behavior of Rehoboam, who announced that he would subdue the northern tribes with an iron fist: “My father imposed a heavy yoke on you, and I will add to your yoke; my father flogged you with whips, but I will flog you with scorpions.” According to the Biblical account, this led to a revolt in which Jeroboam became the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Judith Romney Wegner
Providence, Rhode Island
Popping the Cork
Jeroboam I was the son of King Solomon? I fear that Hershel Shanks wrote his column after celebrating the millennium with a jeroboam of champagne!
Sadya N. Targum
Flunked the Test
A sophomore Bible student with a C average at a fundamentalist college would not confuse Jeroboam and Rehoboam on a pop quiz. Shanks, who graduated from Harvard Law School, deserves an F-, and possibly a rap on his knuckles from the teacher’s ruler.
Walnut Creek, California
Hershel Shanks responds:
Some people never learn. I’ve been making this same mistake for 55 years. Even worse, I sometimes refer to David as Solomon’s son. I blame that on Michelangelo, whose statue of David portrays him as a young man with a sling over his shoulder; he can hardly be the father of the wise old Solomon. I haven’t found anyone to blame for my confusion of Jeroboam and Rehoboam, however. My apologies to the many, many readers who caught my error.—H.S.
Reassessing the Bethsaida Identification
While there can be no doubt that the Bethsaida Excavation Project (BEP) has found a substantial Iron Age site at et-Tell, I am still not convinced that et-Tell is New Testament Bethsaida.
The striking difference between the massive urban remains from the Iron Age at et-Tell and the paucity of late Hellenistic and early Roman remains makes one wonder about the character of the later phases. I do not think that the damage done on et-Tell by Syrian trenches and bunkers prevents us from picturing the character of the late phases.
The remains from the later phases give a very distinct impression: There is not a single convincing piece of urban architecture at et-Tell in this period. Apart from several small domestic structures on top of the ruined Iron Age city gate and wall, only two larger houses were excavated (the Wine Maker’s House and the Fisherman’s House). But they show no sign of being arranged in insulae (blocks), which is a method of public planning often encountered at such urban sites as Capernaum and Magdala. The way the Bethsaida houses are scattered on the plateau of et-Tell indicates a fairly developed, but still rural, village. It is even hard to say if these domestic structures were erected at one time. There is nothing that suggests a “building boom” in the first half of the first century C.E. caused by an influx of new inhabitants, as the historian Josephus suggested happened at Bethsaida.
The lack of urban features on et-Tell disassociates the late Hellenistic and early Roman habitation from the principal passage in Josephus: Philip “raised the village of Bethsaida on Lake Gennesaritis [the Kinneret, or Sea of Galilee] to the status of city by adding residents and strengthening the fortifications. He named it after Julia, the emperor’s daughter” (Antiquities 18.28).
The ceramic spectrum further underlines this. Even if one wanted to argue that it took time to erect the kind of buildings we might expect in a polis (city)—marketplace, gate, storehouses, etc.—it is still striking that the amount of pottery, after a peak in the second century B.C.E., drops during the first century B.C.E., is not abundant during the first half of the first century C.E. and only rises again during the second half of the first and the beginning of the second century C.E., a good 30 to 50 years after the death of Philip in 34 C.E. So it is not just that there was no change on the site (which would only show that Josephus’s report about the founding of a “city” was a bit overenthusiastic), there apparently was a drop in occupational activity during the crucial formative period of Bethsaida-Julias, during the last years of Philip’s life. How are we to explain this decline just when what was formerly a village was being promoted to the status of a city? How can a drop in ceramic material be reconciled with the deliberate increase in population described by Josephus? Either Josephus is wrong or et-Tell is not Bethsaida-Julias.
The excavators refer to a structure they interpret as a temple dedicated to Livia-Julia, the wife of Emperor Augustus and mother of Tiberius. The prime evidence they present includes walls and decorated fragments of architecture discovered ex situ, a fragment of a small clay figurine depicting a veiled woman and a single delicate incense shovel. This is much too little evidence for such a substantial claim. The structure might be a wing of another house rather than a temple, and the figurine fragment is of a very common type without any clear connection to Livia-Julia (it measures only 1.6 inches in any case). The stratigraphic relationship to the nearby domestic rooms is quite inconclusive, so we cannot even know if the “temple” and the domestic occupation date to the same time. It does not help that the excavators suggest that parts of the monumental architecture of the temple were transferred to nearby Chorazim to be integrated into the fifth-century C.E. synagogue. That is a big step! How can we imagine that the authorities would ever have allowed such a thing to happen? One cannot solve a mystery by creating another one.
The large array of small finds does not fundamentally alter the picture. Fishing instruments such as hooks, net sinkers and anchors, loom weights, weaving implements, metal tools, cosmetic instruments, etc., demonstrate the crafts and occupations of the people living in the village, but they do not turn a village into a city. The two fibulae (clasps) reported by the authors at a recent conference (a type with closest parallels mainly in Roman Germany and Gaul) point to a military, but not necessarily an urban, context. Neither do imported pottery and lamps change the picture; they show only how open even a fisherman’s village on the Galilee was, which is no surprise given the 012fact that a major trade route connecting the Mediterranean with the Syrian hinterland ran very close to et-Tell.
Thanks to the careful and swift publication of the finds from et-Tell, especially the small ones, the site provides the best and most complete documentation so far of everyday life in the Galilee. This makes the site unique, even if et-Tell is not Bethsaida. The excavation’s work is pioneering, since for the first time it demonstrates how “cosmopolitan” even a Galilean village of fishermen could be in the first century B.C.E. and first century C.E.
This picture certainly will have an impact on the question of the sociology of the Jesus movement.
On et-Tell we have, apart from a splendid Iron Age city, a village site inhabited by fairly wealthy local fishermen and craftsmen. There is nothing urban, however. It is too early to identify et-Tell with New Testament Bethsaida.
I hope the quick, official “christening” of et-Tell as “Bethsaida—City of the Apostles” does not prevent a critical examination of the evidence.
Let’s See the Fishermen
Several times in their fascinating article “Bethsaida Rediscovered,” BAR 26:01, the authors mention a clay seal showing two figures casting a net from a boat, and even tell us that the seal is the logo for their excavation project—but you never show us the seal or the logo. What gives?
Shown here are a drawing of the seal found at Bethsaida and an artist’s rendition of the scene.—Ed.
My copy of the January/February 2000 BAR, with its account of the rediscovery of Bethsaida, arrived while I was reading A History of Pagan Europe, by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick (New York: Rutledge, 1957). I enclose a Xerox copy of one of the sixth-century Swedish helmet panels illustrated on page 155 of that edition. The similarity of the left-hand figure in that helmet panel to the picture of Bethsaida’s stylized “guardian” on page 50 of BAR is remarkable. As a biologist, I am used to the occurrence of convergent evolution of disparate species. Is it possible that convergent cultural reflexes exist? Even over a period of 1,400 years?
Michael F. Sheff
Barrington, Rhode Island
Was Abraham Born in Haran?
Your discussion as to whether Abraham was born in a southern Ur (in today’s Iraq) or in a northern Ur (in today’s Turkey or Syria) ignores the possibility that Abraham was born in Haran, a view held by scholars as disparate as Nachmanides (1194–1270) and E. A. Speiser (“Abraham’s Ur—Is the Pope Going to the Wrong Place?” BAR 26:01; see also “Abraham’s Ur—Is the Pope Going to the Wrong Place?” BAR 26:02.
Nachmanides, in his commentary on Genesis, argues that Terah originated in the area of Haran, where his two older sons, Abram and Nahor, were born. At some point Terah, leaving Nahor and his family in Haran but taking Abram, travels to southern Ur for business purposes (according to William F. Albright, Terah was a caravaner who operated mule trains between these two distant cities). There another son, Haran (so named out of nostalgia for home), is born and subsequently dies after begetting a son, Lot. (According to a rabbinic tradition, Abram’s iconoclastic tendencies get the family in trouble with the authorities in Ur.) Terah, accompanied by Abram and Lot and their families, returns to Haran. It is there that Abram receives the call to leave his birthplace and travel towards Canaan. This explains the many references by the patriarchs to Haran as the moledet, which in most contexts means “birthplace” (see my article in Jewish Bible Quarterly [July/September 1996], “Was Avraham Born in Ur of the Chaldees?”).
Speiser points to the religious and social background of the patriarchs and concludes, “The weight of the evidence internal as well as external points clearly to the region of Haran (West Semitic cultural orbit) as the actual home of Abraham” (“The Patriarchs and their Social Background,” in The World History of the Jewish People, vol. 11, The Patriarchs [Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1970], pp. 160–162; see also his Genesis, Anchor Bible 1 [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964]).
A photo caption describes the headdress of the royal personage Queen Puabi of Ur as including “seven gold rosettes [that] sprouted from the back” of this heavy ceremonial garment (“Abraham’s Ur: Did Woolley Excavate the Wrong Place?” BAR 26:01). It has always struck me that this crowning element was only secondarily a metaphoric floral representation. The key to understanding this representation lies in the opening of the Gilgamesh myth, where the text proclaims: “Climb upon the walls of Uruk; walk along it; regard the foundation terrace and examine the masonry; is it not burnt brick and good? The seven sages laid the foundations.” The “seven sages” are plausibly the seven circumpolar 013stars, by which the proud singer was adding praise to a description of sound construction by saying that the walls are perfectly aligned on the unwobbling pivot around which the sky revolves. That alignment gave order and virtue to the city, and the ruler would be praised for being a moral axis and a bridge between the heavens and earth. The idea of such a bridge is deeply rooted and widespread, as the Pope is called a pontiff (bridge-builder), having inherited that title from the chief pagan priest of Rome (pontifex maximus), while the Chinese emperor was signified by an ideogram uniting with a single vertical stroke the three horizontal lines representing heaven, earth and the underworld. Accordingly, the seven gold rosettes of Queen Puabi’s very heavy ceremonial headdress could express a celestial honorific—like pontiff, the conductor of moral eternals from heaven.
Senior Curator, Cultural History
What We Can—and Cannot—Learn from the Paul Inscription
Surely I shall not be the sole student of early Christian and ancient Mediterranean history to thank you for “Putting Paul on the Map” (Strata, BAR 26:01). In particular, I am grateful for a clear photograph of the fragmentary inscription that appears to record “Pau]ou/[apo]osto[lou” = “of Paul an Apostle.” The excavator’s reconstruction of this fragmentary text is plausible. We may note his accuracy in omitting “tou” (the definite article) between “Pau]ou” and “[apo]osto[lou.” This particular “apostle” did indeed prefer to identify himself as “an,” not “the,” apostle, as Paul’s own introductory salutations in his canonical letters demonstrate. On the other hand, your correspondent’s enthusiastic report of the excavator’s rather inflated claims for this text demands some correction and comment. I stress that, in what follows, I am not quarreling with your report of this significant find, but with the dubious and flatly erroneous claims made for and about this text.
The clear implication of this epigraphic find as reported in a Milanese newspaper (and in other Italian media) is that in some way or other, this fragmentary inscription confirms the Pauline presence on Cyprus as described in the dramatic 064account in the Acts of the Apostles 13:4–13. I suggest that the new text from Paphos demonstrates something a little different, but no less important: knowledge in later eras of the account of Paul’s activities in Cyprus.
The few extant letter forms of the text might conceivably be late first century C.E., but are more typical of second- and third-century C.E. monumental Greek texts of the eastern Mediterranean.
Professor Giudice’s comparison of “a well-known fourth-century Latin inscription from Rome” is, I think, precisely on target, but not in the sense his reports imply: We have at Paphos—as at Rome—a physical monument to the Christian community’s understanding of the New Testament account of Paul’s “missionary” activities—not objective physical evidence of Saul/Paul’s presence.
The genuinely interesting question, not, as far as I know, explicitly addressed as yet by Professor Giudice, is what on earth this text originally described: not a martyrion (because no one in antiquity or later thought that Saul/Paul was buried at Paphos); conceivably a statue of a Christian holy man? The epigraphic fragment admittedly does not look to be a statue base, but there are many ancient parallels for plaques (which this fragment may well be) identifying a bust or statue, in which instance the genitive (possessive case) of the text would mean something like “[representative] of Paul an Apostle.”
Dr. Giudice’s apparent hesitation as to whether the inscription originally read “Saulos” or “Paulos” is seemingly objective but implausible, unless we are to believe (without, I stress, any available evidence) that this text dates from before the redaction and dissemination of the New Testament Book of Acts. I cannot conceive of a plausible historical circumstance in which “Saul (a Jewish Christian and) an Apostle” would be remembered and memorialized in or near a Christian basilica by his Jewish name—especially not on Cyprus, where the 065Jewish communities had been disrupted if not destroyed in the violent repression of the second century C.E.
We need to discount enthusiastic journalistic (and, in this not-unique instance, an excavator’s inflated) reports of such finds. We have nothing here to prove or disprove Saul/Paul’s existence and activities on Cyprus. What we do have is a fragmentary text testifying to the local (Cypriote Christian) appreciation of the New Testament tradition. That is significant enough.
Paul B. Harvey, Jr.
Bolstering the Case for the Shroud
Queries & Comments, BAR 25:06, included four letters about the Shroud of Turin, two pro-authenticity by non-researchers and two against authenticity by presumed authorities. One of the anti-authenticity letter writers, Dr. Walter McCrone, submitted a painting of a face supposedly showing how the shroud image was produced in 1355 with dilute collagen tempera paint. A query beside McCrone’s painting and a distant view of the shroud asks whether the reader can tell which is the “real” thing and which is the copy. The other “anti-” letter was by a weaver who, in examining many Egyptian textiles of the Coptic period and other Pharaonic fabrics, found none comparable to the complex twill weave of the shroud and so concluded that the shroud fabric could not have been woven in the time of Jesus.
The issue is whether the Shroud of Turin is an ancient cloth showing in remarkable detail the crucifixion of a Jewish male in the Roman fashion (and hence a major archaeological artifact) or a medieval icon of some sort, perhaps of considerable artistic, historical or spiritual interest but not worthy of serious scientific study.
I, too, submit some paintings for your readers’ perusal. Number 1A is Dr. McCrone’s painting and number 2A is the face on the shroud from the 1931 photograph taken by G. Enrie. McCrone’s painting is a very carefully done copy, and is one of the best among the many hundreds of images based on the shroud that I have examined. In case the reader is really confused as to which is the real shroud, I am also submitting the reversal, or negative, images of these two photographs (numbers 1B and 2B). Only number 2B, the reversal of Enrie’s photograph, shows the outline of (a) the stem and calyx of a probable chrysanthemum flower extending to the left from just above the lateral forehead bloodstain (yes, human blood), (b) a desecrated Jewish phylactery (tefillin in Hebrew) between the eyebrows and (c) the x-ray appearance of 24 teeth including the roots. The flower stem is but one of the many floral images visible on the shroud identified by Professor Avinoam Danin, a botanist at Hebrew University. The presence of this floral image, according to Danin, shows that the only place that the cloth could have originated is in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. The phylactery is almost exactly comparable to the head tefillin from the first century found at Qumran and published by the late Professor Yigael Yadin. These autoradiographic features show that the shroud image was produced by radiation, not painting. These and many other images can be examined in detail on the Internet Web site of the Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin (http://dmi-www.mc.duke.edu/shroud/default.htm).
There are indeed threads with red ocher pigments on them that were obtained from the shroud by sticky tapes during the scientific investigation in 1978. It seems to elude Dr. McCrone that these are translocated fibers from the more than 50 “true copies” of the shroud that were painted during the Middle Ages and that were laid face down directly on the shroud. They have nothing to do with the formation of the shroud images.
Regarding the presumed lack of twill fabric at the time of Jesus, I would refer the weaver whose letter appeared in BAR to The Excavations at Dura-Europos, Final Report IV, Part II, “The Textiles,” by R. Pfister and L. Bellinger, published by Yale University Press in 1945. At Dura-Europos in Syria, hundreds of fabrics were found, the latest possible date of which is 256 C.E. Many of these fabrics have complicated weave patterns, including over 25 twills of various types. The authors of this scientific report conclude that there were draw-looms permitting complicated designs in the Near East at the beginning of the Christian era and that “compound twill probably originated in Persia or Syria.” It has been strongly suspected that the shroud fabric originated in Syria.
The shroud is a very complicated object. How one interprets the shroud 066and its possible implications is a matter of personal faith and response. The shroud itself is extraordinary but very real, and lends itself to a variety of relatively objective studies. I hope that BAR will continue to be a forum for these.
Alan D. Whanger
Professor Emeritus, Duke University Medical Center
Chairman of the Board
Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin
Durham, North Carolina
Dr. Whanger also sent us a publication of the Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin (CSST) suggesting that several other relics associated with the Shroud of Turin may be authentic. These include the Sudarium of Orviedo, the Tunic of Argenteuil, a replica of a portion of the titulus that hung above the cross, a band that helped secure the crown of thorns to Jesus’ head and thorns from the actual crown of thorns.
The Sudarium of Orviedo is reportedly the facecloth that lay under Jesus’ head when he was buried. It is said, according to the CSST account, to have pollen on it from the same plant (Gundelia tournefortii) as the Shroud of Turin. Moreover, the bloodstains on the cloth are congruent with the bloodstains on the back of the head and neck of the Shroud of Turin, “showing clearly that the two cloths were in touch with the same body.” Since the Sudarium has been in the same location since the eighth century, the Shroud of Turin must be at least that old and cannot be a 14th-century forgery, says the CSST report.
The Tunic of Argenteuil is supposedly the seamless robe in which Jesus was buried. Here, too, bloodstains may correspond to those on the shroud. This is said to have been but one of the items removed from Jesus’ tomb by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, when she visited the tomb in the fourth century.
On the top of Jesus’ cross, a wooden plaque called a titulus was hung, identifying the victim as “King of the Jews.” It was one of the items Helena found in the tomb. She divided it into three pieces, all of which have disappeared, but a replica of a section of the titulus is in a church in Rome. Letters on the replica indicate that it is “generally accurate,” according to CSST.
What is supposed to be the crown of thorns is in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But it is made of rushes and has no thorns. Thus it may be a band used to secure the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, according to the CSST report. Thorns allegedly from the crown itself, however, are preserved in several cathedrals, and some of them are about the size and shape of Gundelia thorns, the CSST publication says.—Ed.
How Was Jesus Spelled?
The Strata item entitled “Coin of the Realm” (Strata, BAR 25:06) states that 1,000-year-old bronze coins have been found carrying the inscription “Jesus the Messiah, King of Kings” and “Jesus the Messiah, the Victor.”
My question is, How could these coins possibly be inscribed with a name that did not exist a thousand years ago? Not only does the Greek not contain the letter j, this letter only came into existence sometime in the 1500s or 1600s, after the invention of the printing press. If these coins are 1,000 years old, whatever name they bear is not “Jesus.” Could you tell us what the original inscriptions are before translating them into English? It would be great to know the actual letters used and their transliteration.
Gila Hurvitz, Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, responds:
“Jesus the Messiah, King of Kings” and “Jesus the Messiah, the Victor” are translations of the Greek text appearing on the coins. The J is obviously in the English translation only. The actual text on these coins, with variations, is Iesus christos basileo basilei and Iesus christos nike.
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.
Can’t Stand the Bickering
I am not prepared to renew my subscription to BAR. I have enjoyed the articles, but I’ve become really tired of the bickering in the letters section.