Queries & Comments
Render Unto Archaeology …
James A. Gieseke (Queries & Comments, BAR 27:06) is typical of certain true believers in his self-serving, muddled thinking, which claims that if archaeology verifies empirically verifiable things, the matters that can’t be verified empirically must also be true. Just because there is evidence of the Temple doesn’t mean that God ever dwelled there, responded to sacrifices made there or that the 12-year-old Jesus discussed scripture with elders there. The crucial issues for believers have received no verification from archaeology, nor could they. There are, however, some claims in scripture that the evidence seems to go against, for example, that Jericho was even occupied during the period in which the Bible claims Joshua’s army destroyed it.
Neither BAR’s editors nor archaeologists think that archaeology can show whether there is a God or that Jesus was or is God or that “He” died for “our” sins or that God gave Moses anything at all on Mount Sinai or that God parted the Red Sea. Yet true believers behave as though something of theirs is being attacked when it cannot possibly be attacked by science.
I am a Christian and a devout Bible reader. And I find BAR fascinating! It provides a wealth of information that harmonizes with Scripture. As someone pointed out, if the material seems not to harmonize, it’s just not yet shown in the light of further finds. I love your magazine.
What Can and Cannot Be Confirmed
True believers apparently view the Bible as confirming archaeology. They have it backward. Archaeology can confirm Biblical history, but it cannot confirm Biblical theology. While history can be verified by archaeology and by literary sources, theology can never be verified by archaeology or any other discipline, nor does it really need to be for those who suspend verification in favor of belief. For them, theology is its own reward, and that is as it should be.
James W. Edgren
Reclaiming the Meaning of Inspired
It always amuses me to hear someone speak of the Bible as an inspired text, as a reader did in Queries & Comments, BAR 27:06. The reference of course is to 2 Timothy 3:16—“All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful: for teaching truth, rebuking error, correcting faults and giving directions for right living.”
The word inspire means “breathe into,” and in all of Scripture this idea is found in only two places: the Timothy text and in Genesis 2:7, where we read, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The Genesis text teaches us about the Timothy text. What gave man life, what made him a “living soul,” was the breath God breathed into him. It made man different from other created beings; it meant that within man was the breath of God—but it did not make man perfect. Because the breath of God is within us, we know that the living, breathing Divine Presence is in all human beings, though in some people it does seem to be more difficult to identify. And because humanity is “inspired by God” we are qualitatively different and set apart from the rest of Creation—but certainly not perfect or infallible.
So, too, with our Scripture that is 010“inspired by God”—we know that we may find God’s breath within it, though it’s not always clear where it resides in the text. Scripture, by virtue of its being “God-breathed” is qualitatively different from any other text, but like “God-breathed” humanity it is not perfect or infallible.
Rabbi Joseph P. Klein
Oak Park, Michigan
The Bible Is Different
Your probing question as to why BAR seems to stir up so much controversy, while Archaeology Odyssey does not, is answered by the conclusion you so reluctantly suggested (“First Person: Dogged by Controversy,” BAR 27:06): BAR focuses on the Bible. When people react to articles in BAR about the Bible, they are responding not so much to the articles as to the Bible that the articles discuss. The Bible simply is different from any other book in the world, and it draws a profoundly more powerful response from people who read it.
Leon Hyatt, Jr.
It’s All about Religion
Re: the fierce divergence of opinion in your articles and letters to the editor. You opine that it is not because of religious differences. I must disagree. Religion is precisely the reason.
It is a relatively recent idea that Biblical archaeology should be first about archaeology and only secondly about the Bible. There is a fundamental rift in the profession—between those who view Biblical archaeology as archaeology and therefore independent, and those who view Biblical archaeology as a textual-interpretation exercise and therefore derivative. This rift explains much of the professional dissension. It in effect creates two disciplines with widely divergent goals, sources and methods.
Biblical archaeologists have traditionally been believers. Maximalists and medialists still tend to be, and these believers are finding their beliefs under attack by the new methods and focus. Biblical archaeology is in the same place astronomy and physics were when Galileo collided with Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Judeo-Christian (especially the “Christian” side of the hyphen) Biblical interpretation has been history-dependent in a way found in no other religion. Until recently, history 011has reinforced that interpretation. Now the rules have changed and that change threatens deeply held religious convictions.
Many of the letters to the editor you publish are unremittingly faith-based. A substantial percentage of these letters wholly reject any role for Biblical archaeology other than text reinforcement and justify that position wholly on religious grounds.
At least one side of this argument arises substantially, or even solely, from the religious convictions of the arguers. Your readers admit this openly; your authors keep it more concealed. As with Galileo and the Inquisition, this controversy will not be resolved within the bounds of Biblical archaeology because it is not about issues within the discipline; it is about what the discipline is and ought to be. It is the latest controversy over religion’s authority to dictate the bounds of science.
Everyone Is Influenced
Archaeologists would like to say that their agenda is science only, but beyond doubt their religious beliefs (in either direction) dictate (at least partially) their conclusions. Unlike the articles in Archaeology Odyssey, which have practically no bearing on anyone’s life nowadays, BAR articles are meant to prove or disprove the Bible. If Adam Zertal would have excavated a structure in Spain and declared it an altar, I don’t think anyone would have cared less.a We would have read the article, come to our conclusions and that would have been the end of it. But when he identifies his structure on Mt. Ebal as an altar, the religious beliefs on both sides dictate whether to accept his theory or not. Zertal did not go looking for an altar when he started digging; he wasn’t quick to jump to conclusions. Yet when he finally did declare it an altar and dared to suggest that this may be the altar mentioned in Joshua, the war began.b People who do not believe in the Bible decided that there would be no altar. Their agenda is not science but rather the denial of authenticity of the Bible.
No Preparation H Needed
Aren Maeir and Carl Ehrlich (“Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliath’s Hometown?” BAR 27:06) render “plague” in 1 Samuel 5 and 6 as “hemorrhoids.” A little knowledge of rats and disease (and history) surely tells us that bubonic plague, but not hemorrhoids, could decimate six cities, killing 50,070 in Beth-Shemesh alone!
Your middle name might be “Archaeology,” but archaeology is much less a resource when it fails to ground its hypotheses in broader science and textual work. Perhaps BAR should raise the bar on its contributors!
Aren Maeir and Carl Ehrlich respond:
Mr. Husted is quite justified in asking about our mention of Philistine hemorrhoids in our reference to the Ark Narrative in 1 Samuel. Most modern and even some traditional commentators do in fact understand the term ‘ophalim, which appears in 1 Samuel 5 and 6 in reference to an illness that afflicted the Philistines, as something that might very well be describing bubonic plague. The mention of mice in chapter 6 as part of the Philistine restitution has been taken as evidence of this interpretation. Our reference to hemorrhoids is based on ancient interpretive traditions. One of these occurs already in the Masoretic or traditional text of the Hebrew Bible, where the Kethib (“what is written” in the consonantal text) is ‘ophalim “boils,” while the marginal Qere (“what is [traditionally] read”) is rendered as tehorim “hemorrhoids.” There has been quite a discussion about the exact meaning of these two terms and why they appear together (you can look this up in any modern commentary on 1 Samuel), but at least according to the traditional Qere, the Philistines sorely needed Preparation H! In addition, such a translation conveys for the modern reader the humor and satire inherent in the story.
A Lesson in Geography and Linguistics
“Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliath’s Hometown?” BAR 27:06, is first class, but there are some corrections that need to be made in the geographical discussion. Eusebius does not equate Gath with Saphitha. Saphitha appears only on the Madeba Map, about where Khirbet es
Albright did not use the verse about the Philistine retreat from the Valley of Elah to argue for Gath being farther south. He used 1 Samuel 7:14, about the return of towns to Israel “from Ekron and as far as Gath” in the days of Samuel the prophet. Benjamin Mazar, a devoted disciple of Albright, unwittingly (but correctly) took this verse away from Albright when he recognized that the Gath in question must be another place, elsewhere called Gittaim (and also Gath-Rimmon), which has to be somewhere near modern Ramleh (modern Hebrew Ramlah). In fact, there never was any valid evidence for a Gath in southern Philistia. Maeir and Ehrlich give a nice summary of the frantic search for a southern Gath after Albright’s proposed site was disqualified by excavations. Mazar suggested Tell en-Najîlah (Hebrew Tel Nagila) but again excavations disqualified it; Ernest Wright went to Tell es
I would also like to comment on David Jacobson’s reply to my letter in Queries & Comments, BAR 27:06. Frankly, I’m no angel and I’m tired of wrestling with JACOB-son. When Herodotus mentions that the Syrians known as Philistines practiced circumcision, he is reflecting a fact that is well known to all knowledgeable scholars—that the Philistines had long since assimilated to the local Canaanite culture. This is seen by many of their personal names as they appear in Assyrian texts, for example Mittini (=Matthew). The dedicatory inscription in the temple at Ekron is written in southern Canaanite although the ruler has an Aegean name, Ikayaus. The classic “Philistine ware” exhibits a combination of Canaanite and Aegean artistic features.
As for the Greek penchant for puns, in this case Jacobson’s suggestion is simply ridiculous; it is not punny.
In my letter I noted that the Greek form of the name Philistine is derived from the Egyptian inscriptions where the name is written p-r-s-t, which can be read p-l-s-t. I sent the message by e-mail so I could not have written s
Anson F. Rainey
Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics,
Tel Aviv University
Adjunct Professor of Historical Geography,
Bar-Ilan University and
Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Tel Aviv, Israel
Hershel Shanks (“Is It or Isn’t It—A Synagogue?” BAR 27:06) invites readers to “be the jury” in deciding whether two buildings, remains of which were found in Jericho and Migdal and have been dated to before the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., were synagogues. Before I cast my vote, I need more information. Regarding structures dating to after the destruction that have been studied in Israel and in the Diaspora, a reliable “sign” of a synagogue is its orientation. In early synagogues, the façade, with its entrances and windows, was on the side of Jerusalem. In later synagogues, the apse, which contained the Torah scroll and toward which the worshiper turned while praying, faced 063Jerusalem. Why is this orientation test not discussed in the article?
In regard to the Migdal building, we are told that it is not clear where the entrance was. However, whether it was on the eastern wall, as the excavators surmise, or on the northern side, as Ehud Netzer insists, the Migdal building would fail the orientation test, since synagogues in the Galilee generally face south, toward Jerusalem. As for the Jericho building, we are not given any information on where the entrance might have been. It is not likely that the “strange niche” in the northeastern corner would have been used as the permanent place for the Torah scrolls (aron kodesh), since worshipers in facing Jerusalem, in the southwest, during prayer would have their backs to the Torah. Were any indications of entrances or windows found on the side facing west or southwest?
Of course, it may be argued that we have no archaeological evidence that pre-Destruction synagogues followed the custom of orientation toward Jerusalem. However, there is ample literary evidence, on the basis of King Solomon’s explicit and repeated references to praying “towards this House” and “by the way of this city” (1 Kings 8:31, 33), that individuals followed this custom (Daniel 6:11). Once buildings were designated for public prayer it is more than likely that this custom would have been observed, even more so at a time when the Temple stood in all its glory.
Jewish Studies Department, Bar Ilan University
Hershel Shanks responds:
Dr. Spero answers most of his own questions. Building orientation is not a very reliable test for identifying a synagogue, especially for buildings dating before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. There are too few early examples, there are exceptions even in later synagogues, and the entrances are not clear in either of the buildings discussed in the article. Moreover, the direction of prayer may be different from the orientation of the synagogue building. This appears to be the case when an apse is added to synagogue buildings: Then the apse rather than the entrance is generally oriented toward Jerusalem.
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.
Render Unto Archaeology …