Queries & Comments
You Never Know Where a Subscription Might Lead
Several years ago, my daughter was selling magazine subscriptions as a fund-raiser for her school. As a dutiful parent, I purchased the last three subscriptions so she could meet her quota. Several renewals later, I have become an avid reader of BAR and look forward to each new issue.
My archaeological interest peaked this year when I decided to participate in an excavation at Beth-Shemesh, in Israel. Your magazine was invaluable in helping me select a dig site. I have just returned from three weeks of digging and want to thank BAR for opening my eyes to this opportunity. It was a fascinating educational, historical and cultural experience. Our group of volunteers was hardworking and committed to our common goal. And after awhile, I didn’t even mind waking up at 4 each morning, as I anxiously anticipated that day’s newest discovery.
At the dig, I had the privilege of meeting William Dever and Trude Dothan. I would like to extend my gratitude to our site directors, professors Zvi Lederman and Shlomo Bunimovitz, who were both instructive and accessible. They concluded their tenth and most successful season at Beth-Shemesh by finding pottery with the Hebrew word kodesh (holy) on it.
Steven C. Siesser
Falls Church, Virginia
Volunteering on a dig inspired one BAR reader to pen this tongue-in-cheek poem.—Ed.
While history one can’t invent
The truth is occasionally bent
If a stone doesn’t fit
Just move it a bit
and later you can always repent.
Keep Us Posted
Kudos for using your magazine to promote opportunities to underwrite archaeological projects (July/August 2000). I suggest that in each issue you provide updates and list additional opportunities.
San Jose, California
Book of Exodus
Exodus as Epic Literature
Regarding Alan Millard’s article “How Reliable Is Exodus?” BAR 26:04: It’s time a literary scholar weighed in on the question of the authenticity of the Book of Exodus. Archaeologists seem unable to understand the nature of this text. Instead of worrying about its historicity, they should be considering its literary qualities, which I suspect few contemporary archaeologists are able or willing to do. Exodus is not a modern historical document; nor is it the ancient equivalent of one. It is a great epic poem. Epic does not attempt to recount history, as Josephus, Herodotus, Gibbon and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., do; it attempts to interpret history, that is, to make sense of history in terms of the larger religious, psychological and social needs of the culture. Epic is largely an imaginative effort, the kind of creative effort the Greeks (and surely the Hebrews, as well) considered divinely inspired. It is an important step in the founding and formation of a culture. In 010comparison with epics like the Book of Exodus, the Iliad, the Aeneid and Ezra Pound’s Cantos, history—even the liveliest ancient history—is pedestrian and plainly humanly inspired. The epic does not necessarily have even a grain of literal history in it; it may be entirely imagined. While archaeology has demonstrated that Troy actually existed, the Trojan War as the Iliad presents it may never have happened, and it did not need to have happened for the poem to come about. The purpose of the Iliad was not to recount a historical event but to simultaneously glorify and critique archaic Greek warrior culture to help account for the development of Greek culture as the author of the poem knew it. If there had been no Trojan War, Homer would have had to (and possibly did) invent one.
Efforts to prove or disprove Exodus through archaeology will never succeed because Exodus is an imaginative work that mingles, in unknown quantities, history and imagination in an amalgam that is subject more to the laws of its genre than to the laws of history as we have come to view them. To view Exodus as history is to deny the very nature of the epic and of imaginative literature in general, and—though some may have trouble understanding this—to demean the possibility that Exodus was, after all, divinely inspired. If archaeology expects to demonstrate that the Hebrews were at one time enslaved in Egypt, it should attempt to do so by its own scientific methods, without worrying about proving or disproving a literary work never intended to be taken as bald fact. A great deal of literary scholarship has been expended in the study of the epic. I have not seen any sign that archaeologists (or even, alas, theologians) interested in the historicity of Exodus have studied this material.
Peterborough, New Hampshire
Moses Wrote Exodus
I commend BAR for publishing Alan Millard’s “How Reliable Is Exodus?” BAR 26:04. As someone who has taught Biblical archaeology for 30 years, I have greatly appreciated Dr. Millard’s publications, such as Treasures from Bible Times (Lion Publishers, 1985) and Discoveries from the Time of Jesus (Lion Publishers, 1990).
It is good to see writings by scholars who take the Bible seriously. Regrettably, Millard does not take the Bible literally. The thrust of his article is that the Book of Exodus, analogous to Assyrian texts, is 012of late origin but tells of actual events that occurred centuries earlier.
Says Dr. Millard, “It is clear that the standard Hebrew text of Exodus was prepared much later than the 13th century B.C. Spelling and grammar make that plain.” And again, “For it is undoubtedly true that the text of Exodus was prepared centuries after the events it describes.” Millard suggests a date prior to the Babylonian Exile (sixth century B.C.). With all due respect to Dr. Millard, one may be permitted to question the late composition of the Book of Exodus as well as the late date (Dr. Millard assigns a 13th-century B.C. date) for the events of the Exodus.
According to 1 Kings 6:1, the Exodus took place 480 years before Solomon began to build the Temple—which, according to Edwin Thiele’s chronology, occurred in 967 B.C. If the Bible is correct, this would indicate a 15th-century B.C. date—to be precise, a date of 1447 B.C.—for the Exodus. Of course, one can explain the 480 years as a round number involving 12 stylized generations, but in fact, there are actually 18 generations between the Exodus and the time of Solomon (1 Chronicles 6:33–37).
If Dr. Millard is correct in his belief that the Book of Exodus is a composition “much later than the 13th century B.C.,” then the traditional view of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch must be jettisoned. Millard does not elaborate what the proofs from “spelling and grammar” are for a late date. But he does assert that “it is undoubtedly true” and that “it is clear” that this is so. In fact, what is clear to those who take the Bible not just seriously but literally is the overwhelming evidence that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Four Biblical lines of evidence demonstrate this fact:
(1) The Pentateuch itself testifies to Mosaic authorship. “And Jehovah said unto Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in a book … ’” (Exodus 17:14); “And Moses wrote all the words of Jehovah” (Exodus 24:4); “These are the journeys of the children of Israel … And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys” (Numbers 33:1–2).
(2) Other Old Testament writers testify to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch: “As it is written in the book of the law of Moses” (Joshua 8:31). Further references are Joshua 1:7–8; 1 Kings 2:3; and 2 Kings 14:6, 21:8.
(3) The New Testament writers attribute the Pentateuch to Moses: “For Moses writeth that the man that doeth righteousness … ” (Romans 10:5).
(4) Jesus Christ asserted that Moses wrote the Pentateuch: “For if ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:46–47).
As one scholar concludes: “Though the Almighty may have employed a subsequent prophet to add the last chapter of Deuteronomy, and insert a few explanatory clauses or parentheses, yet the book of the law [including Exodus] is still to be dated from its first complete draft by the original author” (James G. Murphy, The Book of Genesis ). That original author is Moses, who wrote under divine direction in the 15th century B.C.
Taking the internal testimony of the Bible seriously and literally forces one to subscribe not simply to the authenticity of the events of Exodus, as Dr. Millard has done, but also to the antiquity of the text of Exodus and its Mosaic authorship, as Dr. Millard has not done.
But having said all that, I would like to thank Dr. Millard for using the designation B.C. rather than B.C.E., thus honoring the One who is the focus and center of history and the hope of the ages (Luke 1:68–75).
Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.
Des Moines, Iowa
Scratch Another One Off the List
I have given you guys a shot with a subscription this year. I am a Christian theologian and consider myself somewhat of a scholar. You insult me and my intelligence, as well as the faith, when you state “most scholars say” and then go on to make some sort of liberal statement. The most recent example has to do with the dating of Exodus. Why do you have a problem with the fact that Moses wrote the book not long after the fact? I’m tired of this and will not be continuing my subscription.
Cosmopolitan, Not Jewish, Sepphoris
Mark Chancey and Eric Meyers’s argument that Sepphoris was a Jewish community relies on limited, conflicting and unsupported evidence (“How Jewish Was Sepphoris in Jesus’ Time?” BAR 26:04). They overlook the fact that Sepphoris, together with neighboring Tiberias, was large enough and important 072enough to have strong cultural and economic ties to Rome before, during and after the time of Jesus—not exactly what one would consider convincing evidence of a thoroughly Jewish city. More importantly, the references made in the sidebar (“Debating Rebellion in First-Century Sepphoris,” BAR 26:04) refer to events that occurred when Vespasian was sent to the area by the emperor to restore order some 30 years after the crucifixion—clearly outside of the period of Jesus.
One could opine that Sepphoris may have had a significant Jewish population, but hardly to the exclusion of other peoples. On the other hand, one could propose that a significant number of Sepphorians could have been Jews and that they, as a cohesive community, conducted their religious beliefs in complete harmony with Roman loyalties and practice. However, this too stretches the imagination, lacks documentation and would contradict the authors’ proposition that Sepphoris had an overwhelmingly Jewish population.
The authors have attempted to make first-century C.E. Sepphoris into the Jewish community that it wasn’t. Their own evidence, and that presented by Tsvika Tsuk and Hanan Eshel in the same issue, makes a solid case for Sepphoris as a Hellenized, culturally and religiously mixed city, and not a homogeneous monotheistic Jewish community.
Glen F. Heizer
London, Ontario, Canada
How the West Was Won
I have a minor yet potentially important correction to the article “What’s an Egyptian Temple Doing in Jerusalem?” The Egyptian stela fragment on page 49 does not include Osiris’s title Khentyimentu, “foremost of the westerners [i.e., the dead].” Instead it contains the word imntts, which means “the west” or “western land.” The determinative (an unspoken sign written to aid the reader) for “hill country” appears under the word imntt, looking rather like three hills, indicating that the word refers to a land. The point of the article, though—that an Egyptian temple might be in Jerusalem—is well taken.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Join the Cause
“Restore the Roman Temple at Kedesh,” we urged in our September/October issue (BAR 26:05), regarding a site in Israel’s far north where intricately carved architectural fragments lie scattered near partially preserved walls. Happily, we can report that a BAR reader has quickly responded to our call: Alexe Andronic of Cranston, Rhode Island, has made the first contribution to this worthy project with a gift of $500. Can you join him with a comparable gift (or more!) to make the restoration of this lovely building possible? Please send your tax-deductible contributions to BAS Kedesh Fund, 4710 41st St. NW, Washington, DC 20016.
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.
You Never Know Where a Subscription Might Lead