Queries & Comments
James and Jehoash
Excavator Shocked by IAA
I read with dismay your report about the Israel Antiquity Authority (IAA) committee on the James ossuary and the Jehoash tablet (“The Storm over the Bone Box,” September/October 2003). You cannot imagine how stunned I am. I think the IAA has gone way too far in this business. The IAA is a governmental agency, and intervening in academic debate is outside their mandate, which is to take care of antiquities in the ground or in their possession. Artifacts in private collections are out of their mandate as long as they were purchased before 1978. I am afraid that if they go on like this they will sooner or later appoint a committee to check if the Exodus was a fake story told to millions as true. It is totally an academic discourse, and governmental agencies should stay out of it.
Name and address witheld by request
The author is director of a major excavation in Israel.—Ed.
The composition of the gold globules in the patina on the questioned Jehoash tablet may be extremely diagnostic (“What About the Jehoash Inscription?” September/October 2003, p. 38). Most modern gold supplies come from a relatively limited number of sources. The precise isotopic and minor element chemistry of each source is well-known to geologists. Gold derived from an ancient source is unlikely to have such a composition. Further, modern mining and milling inherently makes relatively uniform products. Ancient gold is likely to have a higher degree of variation. These two facts might be useful in detecting whether or not the inscription is a forgery.
Doug Rickman, Ph.D (Geology)
Dr. Rickman’s point is another reason why the Jehoash tablet and the James ossuary should be retested by an international team of specialists.—Ed.
How It Cracked
In “What About the Jehoash Inscription?” Hershel Shanks argues that the crack we now observe on the Jehoash tablet would have made inscribing the tablet impossible, since the forger would have broken the tablet if he tried to write on it. Shanks offers as “proof” that this is just what happened: It broke when the police lightly picked it up.
Let’s not forget that the tablet had certainly been handled previously without breaking, but that is a minor problem.
There is a much more serious flaw in Shanks’s logic. The crack might indeed have been smaller or even barely visible when the forger began his work, and it was precisely his inscribing that enlarged the crack almost to the breaking point. It 010might not have been cracked at all until the forger did his work.
Shanks rather inexplicably assumes the crack was the same before the forger got hold of the tablet. I don’t see any basis for that assumption. It is already peculiar that the crack runs the entire width of the tablet—one wonders what kept the tablet together for nearly 3,000 years. How did it survive an illegal archaeological recovery and transport through who knows how many inexpert looters’ hands all the way to Oded Golan’s home? Positing such a survival with a major crack is far more implausible than the theory that the forger created the crack himself—probably by accident.
Richard C. Carrier
Columbia University, New York
Baked to a Crisp (or Crack)
In the conclusion of your article about the James ossuary and the Jehoash tablet, you raise a question regarding the crack on the tablet. I have a thought regarding how a forger might have done his work: Perhaps the forger’s process of patinization of the tablet, which the Israel Antiquities Authority committee noted could involve temperatures of up to 4,000 degrees Celsius, made the tablet more fragile than regular greywake stone. Perhaps the crack existed before the inscription and the patinization process made the crack more pronounced afterwards, or perhaps the crack did not exist before the inscription and the stone became more fragile by the process.
The Meaning of “Bedeq”
A Clarification: In “What About the Jehoash Inscription?” Hershel Shanks quotes me as saying that the word bedeq, which appears in the Jehoash inscription, can mean “repair.” Although I wrote that several months ago in an unpublished letter, I did not say it in my official report on the inscription to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and in any case, I no longer believe it. Bedeq and its Akkadian equivalent, batqu, can never mean “repair,” and the dictionaries that translate it that way sacrifice precision for fluency. In Biblical and extrabiblical examples, it always means “damages.”
Professor Hurowitz was a member of the Israel Antiquities Authority committee that studied the Jehoash tablet.—Ed.
Now that the Israel Antiquities Authority has declared the James ossuary inscription a forgery, are you going to acknowledge your gullibility and that of so many others who apparently are so desperate to believe in the Bible that even patent forgeries are given credence and foisted upon a credulous audience of Christians and Jews? I trust this experience has taught you a bit of humility and skepticism for when the next con man shows up and tries to sell you the original invoice for the construction of the First Temple.
Kudos for Golan
Instead of jailing Oded Golan we should give him a big prize for having fooled some of our leading experts.
David H. Fax
Israelites in Egypt
Reading the Tea Leaves
What an amazing article (“Israelites Found in Egypt,” September/October 2003)! In a few post holes, author Manfred Bietak is able to identify when the Israelites were in Egypt, when they were in Canaan, how they got together with their brethren, and he was able to re-date the Exodus—assuming that it happened.
Imagine if he had some real evidence; he could probably date Moses’ birth and bar mitzvah date. The author seems to have crossed the line between legitimate evidence interpretation and fantasyland. Will you please get back to real archaeology.
The Bible’s Historical Core
Bravo Bietak! Although in the absence of more evidence, Manfred Bietak’s 012reconstruction of the (proto-) Israelite presence in, and departure from, Egypt might be considered a house balanced on one card, it seems to offer the best potential yet for reconciling a historical core of the Biblical narrative of early Israel with the apparent difficulty, so often noted by Anson F. Rainey and others, of attempting to anchor the Biblical narrative solidly in the Bronze Age.
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Book of Exodus
How Old Is Deuteronomy?
Baruch Halpern (“Eyewitness Testimony,” September/October 2003), in discussing variants of spelling in Hebrew Biblical manuscripts, states: “As scribes copied Biblical texts in later times, most spellings were gradually ‘corrected’ as copies multiplied. For this reason clusters of late spellings do not necessarily prove a later date; the spellings may have been ‘corrected.’”
He also states, in an earlier paragraph, that “One of the texts that can be dated by linguistic evidence is Deuteronomy. Its language conforms to the conventions of the seventh century B.C.E.”
Might it be possible that all the Hebrew copies of Deuteronomy extant today derive from a “corrected” copy of the book dating from the time of King Josiah, but that the original text of Deuteronomy is several centuries older?
Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania
Baruch Halpern responds:
In my book, David’s Secret Demons (Eerdmans, 2001), I explain how one dates texts based on their phonology—how foreign names, especially, are represented, and how these representations change over time. We can’t determine how old a text is purely on this basis, but can only stipulate limits as to its age—it can’t be later than 066such-and-such a date, and isn’t earlier than such-and-such. In the case of Deuteronomy we are for the most part dealing with language and phonology from the eighth to seventh century B.C.E., not earlier and not much later.
Lost Tribes in India?
Halkin Responds to His Critics
As Hershel Shanks pointed out in his introductory remarks to the two reviews of my book Across the Sabbath River, in your September/October issue, I didn’t send the book to BAR in the hope of getting another “good” review. Across the Sabbath River had enough good reviews, and in sufficiently prestigious places, to satisfy me. But these reviews were literary ones, and because the book, besides telling an adventure story, argues a case that the best literary reviewer is not fully equipped to assess, it was important for me to bring it to the attention of the scholarly community, as well. I knew, as Hershel observed, that I was taking a risk, since scholars, often with good reason, tend to be suspicious of, and condescending toward, non-scholars intruding on their fields. Yet it was a risk I felt I needed to take.
The reason for this was simple. The old, pre-Christian religious traditions of segments of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo people of the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur that point to a link with ancient Israel can be attested today only by a small number of elderly individuals who still remember them and are part of a dying generation. Within a few years, many of these people will be gone; in a decade or two, all will be. If scholars—Biblical historians, linguists, anthropologists, ethnographers—are going to investigate the many amazing and detailed parallels between these traditions and Biblical religion, and to try to determine what significance they may have, they will have to act quickly, because otherwise there will be little left to investigate. I had hoped—wrongly—that a review in BAR might help to arouse the scholarly interest needed to get such a process going.
I was well aware in writing Across the Sabbath River that the initial scholarly reaction to its conclusion that certain Kuki-Chin-Mizo clan groups have a historical connection to the Biblical tribe of Manasseh would be to consign it automatically to the vast body of lunatic literature on the “Lost Tribes” of Israel, and I went to great lengths to explain why this would be a mistake. I regret that Rivka Gonen and Ronald Hendel, in their reviews in BAR, did not comment on these lengths and do not appear even to have noticed them. But neither of them, I must say, seems to have done more than leaf quickly through Across the Sabbath River with his or her mind already made up. In all of their superciliously dismissive criticisms, there is not a single one that I do not anticipate and deal with fully in the book—yet to read their reviews, you would think I was simply another “Lost-Tribe” crank not worth wasting their time on.
This is unfortunate, not because of any injury done to me, but because of the injury done to a fascinating cultural and historical mystery that is begging for scholarly attention. I can only appeal to those scholars who have the curiosity and desire to explore that Ms. Gonen and Mr. Hendel sorely lack to read Across the 068Sabbath River and decide for themselves. It would be a great shame if we forever lost the chance to prove or disprove the most persuasive claim for a “Lost-Tribe” past that has ever been put forth for any people on earth, and to learn what we can from it should it turn out to be true.
Zichron Ya’acov, Israel
Read It, Anyway
I might not be an ethnographer, as is Rivka Gonen, or a Hebrew linguistics expert as is Ronald Hendel, but I do recognize good writing when I read it. Hillel Halkin’s Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel is good writing. As he makes his tiring and sometimes frustrating trek across southeast Asia for validation of the claims of people who believe they are part of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Halkin succeeds in making the reader feel as though he is shlepping along with him every step of the way.
For that reason, all armchair students of Biblical history, ethnography and language can share in Halkin’s disappointments as one lead after another leads to a dead end, and in his sense of satisfaction as he concludes that some people of southeast Asia may have more of a connection to Israel and Judaism than others would allow.
Ms. Gonen and Mr. Hendel are certainly entitled to their views. So are your readers, who will find Halkin’s book a very enjoyable read.
Stephen M. Flatow
West Orange, New Jersey
It’s in the Genes
Is a remnant of the tribe of Manassah living in northeast India? There is one sure way to find out: Do a DNA study of these people and compare them to closest-known relatives of the Israelites and to their neighbors in India.
Carol A. Hill
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The debate about the burials at Qumran goes on: Are the 54 graves that are oriented east-west ancient (Essene) burials or are they relatively modern Bedouin burials?
The debate in BAR began with an article entitled “Whose Bones?” by Qumran scholars and archaeologists Magen Broshi and Hanan Eshel in the January/February 2003 issue. They refer to these 54 graves in the 1,200-grave cemetery as having “all proved to be Bedouin burials from about the last few centuries.” They relied on research of physical anthropologist Joe Zias for this conclusion.
Joan Taylor of Waikato University in New Zealand took issue with this in the May/June 2003 BAR, p. 12. This was followed by a reply from Broshi and Eshel and their colleague Brian Schultz (September/October 2003, p. 12) defending their position and concluding that “the most reasonable, as well as prudent conclusion” is that the east-west burials are Bedouin, although they recognize this is “not proven.”
Taylor now continues the discussion below by focusing on this apparent concession.—Ed.
Taylor on the Qumran Tombs
I am pleased to see that Magen Broshi, Hanan Eshel and Brian Shultz (Queries & Comments, September/October 2003, p. 12) now accept my point that their earlier assertion regarding the east-west burials at Qumran is in fact “not proven.” Sometimes archaeologists and historians make statements of apparent fact to the general public that are really their own opinions. Broshi, Eshel and Shultz now state that their view is “the most reasonable, as well as prudent, conclusion,” but it is not proven. Indeed, there are other archaeologists and historians who do not agree that it is such a reasonable and prudent conclusion.
I do think that Joe Zias makes a strong argument that some east-west burials at or near Qumran are Bedouin, but I question the hypothesis that all the east-west graves are Bedouin. In the absence of artifactual evidence and carbon-14 results, orientation is only one factor that needs to be considered in making an identification of the date or nature of a grave. To take but one example, about half of the 50 shaft burials at Beit Safafa, published by Boaz Zissu and reported in BAR (“Who Lies Here?” September/October 1999), are east-west, and all have been assigned to the Second Temple period, even to the Essenes.
Broshi, Eshel and Schultz argue that the community of Qumran cared so much about the orientation of graves that they only buried bodies on a north-south axis—that is, except for the east-west burial in the mourning enclosure. When it comes to the special burial in this building, the community suddenly did not care at all about orientation. So they argue. But why?
Let me also correct their assertion that I confused the graves designated Steckoll’s G10 and De Vaux’s T4. In fact, my original letter was edited at this point by BAR and I did not see the edited version until it appeared in print. In my original letter, when I was giving examples of 070east-west burials, I had written: “Solomon Steckoll excavated an east-west grave there (no. 10) with a loculus. In the regimented part of the cemetery T4 was a typical Qumran grave with loculus sealed with bricks and it contained fragments of a Period Ib jar in the fill.” BAR added the reference to the date of Steckoll’s excavation and conflated T4 with G10.
Broshi, Eshel and Schultz say that Steckoll’s publications are “fraught with problems”; this is an understatement; Steckoll’s suggestions are ridiculous and his methodology unsound. Nevertheless, his hard evidence—photographs of graves, drawings and artifact-reporting—cannot be thrown out with the packaging.
Joan E. Taylor
Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies
Hamilton, New Zealand
The photo on p. 88 of the September/October 2003 issue should have been credited to Corbis. We regret the omission.—Ed.
James and Jehoash
Excavator Shocked by IAA