Queries & Comments
I would like my subscription cancelled. Throughout all the issues I have received, you have allowed the near-encompassing use of B.C.E. [Before the Common Era—Ed.]—so much so that I was surprised to find the traditional reference B.C. in an article in the last issue.
I am appalled at the politically correct trend of denigrating Christ and removing any reference to God in public. Furthermore, what gall do the BAR editors have to decide, themselves, that suddenly a tradition that has been used for hundreds of years to mark time should be done away with?
I will not support such a magazine by continuing my subscription.
Adam J. Zwierko
We do not decide which designations to use—we let our authors decide. B.C.E. and C.E. (Common Era) are the terms widely used by scholars. Staff-written articles use the terms B.C. and A.D.—Ed.
BAR Giveth and BAR Taketh Away
I regret to say that I am not renewing my subscription to BAR. I am tired of learning something in one issue and then learning that it’s not true in the following issue. Whether it’s the case of the Qumran potsherd receipt or the Jerusalem watershaft or the precise location of the Temple, etc., BAR chronically asks me to invest in reading that yields practically no net gain in knowledge.1 It’s one thing to have an article’s thesis be augmented or clarified by lucid peer review; it’s something else when one article after another gets completely refuted.
Also, I believe that minimalism merits zero expression in any publication devoted to archaeology. A philosophy that asserts that history is altogether a creative enterprise is innately opposed to the idea that some interpretations of archaeological evidence are right while others are wrong. When archaeology ceases to be an empirical science, it ceases to be archaeology.
The pursuit of knowledge is, unfortunately, not a straight, simple path with all scholars in agreement with a single truth. The world is not so neat. We’re just trying to give it to you as it is. Please come back.—Ed.
Keeping Evil at Bay
In “Idol Pleasures,” BAR 26:05, you speculate that some of the figurines in the Bible Lands Museum’s latest exhibit may have had apotropaic value. There is evidence for that. Many examples like those shown on page 22 of that issue have been found in Syria and sold on the antiquities market (two appear in the advertisement on page 73). Archaeologists have found a few in situ, buried under doorways. The best explanation is that they were meant to keep evil out of the house.
Slightly different examples from Iron Age Assyria and Babylonia were certainly made and deposited with the aim of averting evil. Humanlike figures would sometimes be inscribed “Enter, good spirit; depart, evil spirit!” Figures of dogs might bear the words “Don’t stop to think: Bite!” Similar formulas were recited when the figurines were buried. Other figures served as substitutes to carry away evil or sickness. These might be buried, burnt or thrown into a river. The customs recorded for Assyria and Babylonia may well have been observed in the Levant, although no texts survive to describe them.
Descriptions of some figures can be found in A.R. Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq 45 (1983), pp. 86–96, pls. 9–15. The rituals were translated into English long ago; see O.R. Gurney, “Babylonian Prophylactic Figures and Their Rituals,” Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 22 (1935), pp. 21–96.
Rankin Professor of Hebrew
and Ancient Semitic Languages
University of Liverpool
“Dirty Pictures” Not Funny
When I saw the beautiful cover of your September/October 2000 issue, I wondered if it signified a positive article about non-Biblical ancient worship. It was not; it was merely a humor article. While there is an amusing side to an exhibit of idols in the land of the God of Moses, equating figures that celebrate the sacred Feminine with the cultural denigration of women, as is implied in your use of the term “dirty pictures,” is not at all funny. Even given the editorial bias of your publication, Mr. Shanks, I had thought better of you.
As to the number of female figures compared to male figures, if the figures were indeed used in the home, then it is not surprising that they are mostly female. Female worship would have centered on the home, and the figures could represent the Goddess in Her aspects of creator/protector of home, hearth, childbearing and rearing, baking, brewing, weaving, pottery making and other home crafts. Male worship would have been public and would not have needed individual focus in the home.
One note on the odd male figurine. My first impression was of a severed head impaled on a fortification wall. If my surmise is correct, then far from being an “incarnation of wisdom,” as you suggest, he would be a supreme example of the unwisdom of either felonious misdeeds or failed military strategy.
Perhaps we should not speculate overmuch on the exact nature and use of these beautiful objects—possibly the mere act of creating them was a form of worship, a human striving after the immensity of Divine Creation.
Gail A. Larson
Wisdom Is a Lady
I was bemused by some of your words in your nice piece “Idol Pleasures.” On the one hand, you amuse yourself by suggesting that a female figurine might be an ancient version of a “dirty picture,” and on the other hand (for our amusement?), you suppose that a bald-headed bearded chap dressed as a radiator seems like an “incarnation of wisdom.”
The stiff white nude female figurine (probably from a girl’s tomb), with her diadem, her bulging eyes in a birdlike mask and her supernatural pubic triangle, seems to be a representation of death and regeneration, rather in the line of grave goods that stretch back to the Paleolithic period.
And the personification of wisdom as female long precedes the patriarchs. Her grandeur is only hinted at in Proverbs:
“Doth wisdom cry and understanding put forth her voice?” (Proverbs 8:1).
“O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart” (Proverbs 8:5).
Bob J. Baker
Spencer, West Virginia
Do the Necklaces Mean Something?
Enjoyed the magazine as usual, but I was intrigued by the photos in “Idol Pleasures.” The majority of them wore necklaces even when nude and when no other features or clothing were indicated. There was no reference to this detail in the article, but I am curious about whether there is a special significance to the necklace.
Thanks for a wonderful contribution to scholars and to us nonprofessionals as well.
Sister Genevieve Sachse
Sacred Heart Monastery
Joan Goodnick Westenholz, chief curator of the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, responds:
The emphasis on necklaces and other pieces of jewelry as bodily adornment reflects their use as symbols of sexual allure and feminine beauty. In love poetry, comparisons are made with precious metals, gems and jewelry; the brighter the metal and more mesmerizing the sparkling ornaments, the more lovely the beloved. Many poems describe how the Sumerian goddess Inanna adorns herself from head to toe in jewelry, and narrative tales tell how she is stripped of these jewels on her descent to the netherworld.
These images simultaneously embody several layers of meaning: the literal, metaphorical and erotic. On the most mundane level, the finery was the woman’s dowry, with which she arrayed herself. Second, beauty (at least in the Mesopotamian world) rests on adornments, not on natural attributes—the more glittering decorations, the more attractive the woman. Further, jewelry represents not only wealth, prestige and beauty, but also sexual allure and attraction. Unfortunately, from our cultural perspective, we are unable to appreciate the erotic overtones and magnetism of these enticing gems.
Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic
In the article on the synagogue mosaic in Sepphoris, Zeev Weiss makes several observations about the architecture of the synagogue. He notes that the orientation is such that the Torah scrolls would be at the west end of the building. Since Jerusalem is south of Sepphoris, he concludes that the worshipers did not face Jerusalem when praying. This is not necessarily the case. The worshipers, bound by the city plan, may have had to build their synagogue in this orientation, but may have turned to face Jerusalem while saying the Amidah (the standing prayer), the prayer that requires such body orientation. People are, thankfully, mobile and more adaptable to a change of direction than a city plan would allow.
University Heights, Ohio
Down the Middle
In “2,700-Year-Old Tower Found?” BAR 26:05, you write that “[Warren’s Shaft] itself was never used to draw water. The tunnel … actually led to a plastered pool near the Gihon Spring.”. These are critical points in understanding the City of David’s protected access to water in time of siege.
May I suggest that you not state unequivocally that the shaft was never used to draw water? Your experiment [of lowering a bucket down Warren’s Shaft—Ed.], described in the November/December 1999 issue (“I Climbed Warren’s Shaft (But Joab Never Did),” BAR 25:06), was performed incorrectly, since you did not lower the bucket from the center of the shaft. Father Vincent stood on a platform and was able to find a point where he could lower his bucket without striking the walls of the shaft. He wrote in Underground Jerusalem (1911): “But this proved, at any rate, that it was quite possible to draw water from the top of the shaft, and it must have been easier to do it with the water skins of the country than it was with buckets.”
It is indeed possible to lower a bucket in this way, but if the shaft had been intended to be used for this purpose, wouldn’t the ancient Jerusalemites have smoothed the sides of the shaft and removed the protrusions, especially after digging such a beautiful tunnel to the spring?—Ed.
Not the Only Game in Town
I enjoyed reading your First Person article regarding the paucity of Biblical archaeology displays at museums in this country (“First Person: The Poverty of Biblical Archaeology in America,” BAR 26:04). While I think the Jewish Museum exhibit is a little better than you portrayed, your 013comments are very well taken. I would have hoped that after visiting the Jewish Museum you might have walked a few blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There you might have seen the cylinder of Sennacherib, on loan from the British Museum, which details his conquest of most of Judea (except Jerusalem) and contains his comments regarding King Hezekiah [see the article
Harvey A. Herbert
Brooklyn, New York
In Defense of the Jewish Museum Exhibit
Hershel Shanks criticized the artifacts displayed in the Ancient Worlds section of the Jewish Museum’s reinstalled permanent exhibition, Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey (“The Poverty of Biblical Archaeology in America,” July/August 2000). He noted a paucity of finds from modern Israeli excavations and wrote that, in his opinion, the objects on display seemed inert and lifeless.
The Ancient Worlds galleries were not intended to be a definitive exhibition on the archaeology of the Biblical world. Rather, these displays tell the dynamic story of the emergence of Jewish identity based on archaeological evidence. Object types were selected and interpreted within the context of larger themes of national, religious and geographic identity. Furthermore, this ancient story is part of a much larger exhibition that explores the transformative nature of Jewish culture and its ability to survive over 4,000 years. Its goal was to present a few crucial themes in the early development of Judaism rather than the treasures of recent archaeology in Israel.
While we share Mr. Shanks’s interest in the great finds of recent excavations, obtaining them for a permanent exhibition is quite different from borrowing them for a temporary one. All recently excavated finds are under the control of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and all loans, even to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, are granted through the IAA. The most exciting pieces, which do not have duplicates, are on permanent loan to museums in Israel and are only loaned elsewhere, if at all, to high-visibility temporary exhibitions. Short-term loans of unique works to permanent exhibitions are extremely rare.
Nonetheless, we were able to borrow 14 objects from the IAA, including an Israelite column capital and ivory furniture inlays from Samaria, an ostracon from Arad, a mosaic synagogue floor from Meroth, and a coin hoard from Rimon. Unfortunately, other works we 066requested from the IAA were not available for long-term loan because of their rarity or importance. We borrowed other excavated works from half a dozen American museums.
Fortunately, we were able to represent most of the exhibition’s themes with pieces from our own collection, many of which were excavated from sites such as Lachish, Tell el-‘Ajjul and Tell el-Far’ah South. We feel that these objects are as interesting to the general visitor as similar examples that were recently excavated. Further, it is part of any museum’s mission to showcase its collections in a permanent exhibition.
The Jewish Museum does mount temporary exhibitions of exciting new archaeological finds from Israel. Notably, in 1997 we showed a synagogue mosaic floor from Sepphoris that was excavated in 1993 (Revealing An Ancient Message: A Synagogue Mosaic from Sepphoris). [The floor was described by excavator Zeev Weiss in “The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic,” BAR 26:05.—Ed.] This fall the Jewish Museum exhibited Drink and Be Merry: Wine and Beer in Ancient Times, which featured recently excavated materials from Beth-Shean, Maresha and Masada.
Fred Wasserman, Associate Curator
Susan L. Braunstein
Curator of Archaeology and Judaica
The Jewish Museum
New York, New York
Go to Philly, Young Man
Hershel Shanks harshly criticized the poverty of Biblical archaeology in the newly installed exhibit in the Jewish Museum in New York. He also lamented “how very little Biblical archaeology is on view in the United States.” As a promoter of Biblical archaeology for so many years, he should have known better. Just across the Delaware River, about two hours from his office in Washington, D.C., a museum exists that meets all his expectations. This museum, housed in a charming building in the heart of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, displays “the richest collection of Biblically related artifacts anywhere in the country,” to quote the words you used to describe what you had expected to find in New York.
I have skimmed through hundreds of pages of recent issues of BAR and noticed that except for a tiny announcement in theSeptember/October 1998 issue (Strata, BAR 24:05) on the opening of the Canaan and Ancient Israel exhibit, no details have appeared on the rich collections and exhibits of the University Museum, let alone on its permanent gallery on Biblical archaeology. [BAR’s sister magazine did, however, profile the museum; see “The University Museum: The House that Hilprecht Built,” Archaeology Odyssey, May/June 2000.—Ed.]
I am sure that BAR’s readers would like to know more about this museum and, like the nearly 200,000 visitors who frequent it annually, might wish to take advantage of its exhibits and educational and scholarly activities. The University Museum holds the largest and most extensive collection of artifacts from Israel and Jordan in North America and has hardly a rival in size and scope outside Israel. (Comparable, though smaller, collections may be found at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London, which houses artifacts from William Flinders Petrie’s excavations in Palestine from 1926 to 1938, and the British Museum, which highlights John Leslie Starkey’s excavations at Lachish from 1932 067to 1938.) This superb collection of more than 13,000 registered objects was derived from the museum’s excavations at major sites such as Beth-Shean (1921–1933), Beth-Shemesh (1923–1933), El-Jib (Biblical Gibeon, 1956–1962), Tell es-Saidiyeh (in the Jordan Valley, 1964–1967) and Sarepta (on the Lebanese coast, 1969–1974). It is no wonder that this major resource has become a Mecca for scholars around the world, who come to study the fascinating cult objects from the rich temples of Beth-Shean, examine the unique jar handles with Hebrew names from the wineries at Gibeon (where “the sun stood still”), look at the intriguing anthropoid clay coffin from the northern cemetery of Beth-Shean, and so on.
Regrettably, except for a handful of objects on display in a dark corner of the museum, this exciting treasure, so well known to the scholarly community, was until very recently stored in the basement, away from the public eye. In 1994 I drafted a pilot plan for a permanent exhibit of a portion of the museum’s Biblical archaeology holdings. In the fall of 1998, the museum inaugurated the permanent exhibition From Canaan to Israel—Crossroads of Civilizations, curated by Linda Bregstein and Bruce Routledge. The primary theme of the Philadelphia exhibit is unique even when compared to museums in Israel. The gallery focuses on the interaction of cultural life and religion between the peoples of Canaan and ancient Israel and neighboring civilizations—Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Aegean—during the Bronze and Iron ages. The exhibit completes the sequence of ancient world galleries (Egypt, the Near East and the Mediterranean world) at the museum and makes it the premier place in the United States to learn about the cultures and art of Israel and the ancient world.
The exhibit examines Canaan and ancient Israel through such aspects as religion and cult, death and burial, technology, trade, writing and administration. Ancient Hebrew writing is displayed by numerous seals and seal impressions from Beth-Shemesh and Gibeon bearing private names, as well as a few jar handles with the famous royal seal lamelekh, “belonging to the king.” Of particular interest is a group of inscribed jar handles from the eighth- to seventh-century B.C.E. wine-production center at Gibeon. The Hebrew inscriptions mention the place-name Gibeon (gb’n) at least 27 times, followed by proper Hebrew names commonly found in the Bible, such as Azariah, Amariah and Hannaniah.
I hope that you will find the time to pay a visit to the University Museum in Philadelphia and to share with BAR readers your impressions and criticisms. You may rest assured that, unlike the New York display, our gallery in Philly has no replicas, but authentic objects only. Similarly, not a single object was acquired from antiquities dealers; all came from scientifically controlled excavations. Needless to say, such an exhibit sends a clear message on the importance of archaeological context and discourages trading in antiquities and illicit digging.
I cannot speak for New York, but there is demonstrably no poverty of Biblically related artifacts in Philadelphia.
Eliezer D. Oren
Department of Bible and Near Eastern Studies
A Little Bias Never Hurt
Regarding the debate over Biblical minimalism, I suggest that valid archaeological discoveries can be made even if the archaeologist starts out with a bias for either proving or disproving the accuracy of the Bible. After all, Heinrich Schliemann had an almost religious belief in the existence of Troy and the basic accuracy of the Iliad, and he made the initial discoveries that led to the confirmation that Troy had indeed existed.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
In Queries & Comments, BAR 26:05, you published an interesting letter about Biblical figures whose names are used to designate various sizes of wine bottles—Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Methuselah, Shalmaneser, Balthazar, Nebuchadnezzar. Does anyone know how these names happened to be chosen?
Ellen R. Epstein
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Your brief mention (“One For the Road,” Strata, BAR 26:05) of the excavations at a monastic complex on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives failed to mention Irina Zilberbod, David Amit and Jon Seligman, who all appear on the excavation permit.
Israel Antiquities Authority
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.