Queries & Comments
Why Readers Do (or Won’t) Subscribe to BAR
Stop the Sensationalism. But Read It All Before Making Accusations
Your review of The Jesus Papers (“Jesus’ Confession: I Am Not the Physical Son of God,” ReViews, 32:05) is ridiculous and sensationalist. I would think that you would want to hold your reputation to a higher standard.
As a result of this ridiculous article, I will no longer subscribe to BAR. Please reconsider your responsibility to your readers.
We received several similar letters from readers. Like Ms. Kochin, they apparently misread or failed to read all of our review of The Jesus Papers by best-selling author Michael Baigent, published by a major publisher of religious books (HarperSanFrancisco). Baigent claims to have seen a secret document in which Jesus confesses that he is not the physical son of God. Our review reported the claim and then made fun of it. Just to make sure readers got the point, the reviewer noted that what his review did was “expose not only the foolishness of [the book’s] central thesis, but the obvious lack of any conceivably reliable evidence regarding the papyrus letters [in which Jesus supposedly makes this confession].”
For the reasons stated in the review, we, too, believe the book’s central claim is ridiculous.—Ed.
How to Counter the Opposition
While I have become more orthodox in my Christian beliefs as I’ve aged, I don’t subscribe to BAR to look for a reflection of my own conservative views. Rather, I am interested in a broad spectrum of archaeological and Biblical research, in order to keep abreast of what ideas are being promoted amongst both scholars and lay persons. How else does one learn to “counter the opposition”?
When I need to encourage my own faith, I will look to other readily available resources. Over the several years that I have subscribed to BAR, I have enjoyed the balanced editorial stance that has been maintained. This reader will continue to subscribe!
Daniel G. Stayner
Youngstown, New York
From Sad to Happy
Having been a subscriber to BAR for many years, it was with no little sadness that I decided to drop my subscription at the time of my next renewal. There just didn’t seem to be enough of an interest for me to invest the time.
It was with great pleasure that my mind was changed completely after reading the last two issues of “the new, enlarged, enriched BAR.” You have a continuing subscriber who will be proud to read and pass along your issues to friends and students.
Reverend David W. Beach
Chatham, New Jersey
Pottery Making at Qumran
I enjoyed reading the well-written and well-photographed September/October article “Qumran—The Pottery Factory,” reviewing the findings 008and conclusions of Qumran excavators Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg. Their assertion that Qumran served primarily as a pottery manufacturing establishment is an interesting and plausible alternative to the traditional consensus that this site was a monastic settlement of Essene ascetics.
One issue kept coming to mind as I thought about the supporting evidence for their theory that Qumran was a pottery plant. The article makes brief mention of the presence of kilns with which to fire the pottery, but there is no description of any kiln remains. It is also puzzling as to where these industrialists of antiquity would have obtained the copious amounts of acacia wood, brush or similar fuel to keep production-capacity kilns fired in sustained operation.
New ideas and reasoning past old paradigms are always good things. Magen and Peleg point out how Qumran excavators carried a preconception that the site was an Essene settlement and thus bent the interpretation of their findings to fit this idea—a common trap in all areas of research. Unfortunately, they then go on to do nearly the same thing themselves in their concrete assertions, such as Qumran’s existence as simply a pottery factory being “inescapable.” Why is it that so many well-educated archaeologists and historians never learn phrases such as “the evidence suggests …”, “the most reasonable conclusion we can make is …” or “could it be that …”? Nothing personal against any individual, but the rock-solid conclusion-jumping that we commonly read based on (literally) fragmentary evidence from an excavation would be dismissed from any courtroom and would command no respect within the hard sciences. Where’s the old “scientific method”?
Good article; renew my subscription!
Rochester, New York
One point not addressed in the Qumran article was fuel. In order to sustain the many kilns found, there would have to be a forest available to feed the kilns. If the terrain in ancient times was anything like the desert conditions of today, it would have been impossible, unless wood was carried over great distances.
Yizhak Magen responds:
As Yuval Peleg and I noted in the report from which BAR’s article was taken, four kilns were excavated in the eastern part of the site and four more were excavated in the western part of the site.
As to the wood for the kilns, hundreds of thousands of trees were available at Ein Feshka by the Dead Sea, less than a kilometer from the site. Moreover, it would not be difficult to bring wood from, say, the land of Benjamin (the area adjacent to Jerusalem in the north, where I have excavated). Two donkeys could bring wood enough for a week.
Ink on Pots
I have a simple solution to the inkwell mystery at Qumran. Finding inkwells in the “scrollery” without a single scroll 010fragment is only a mystery as long as Qumran is considered a monastery that copied scrolls. However, if Qumran was a pottery factory, then the inkwell finds without documents are easily explained. In pottery factories, inkwells are reasonably needed for the ink or dye used to “write” or draw designs on the pottery.
If the pottery dye used at the time was not applied with an ink pen, then those who applied the dye on the pots may have followed guidelines drawn on the pottery by the “scribes” who did use pens and inkwells.
South Pasadena, California
Ignoring the Literary Links—Who’s at Fault?
One of the unfortunate by-products of archaeologists’ hunger for publicity is illustrated by the presentation of Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg’s theory in the media. According to The New York Times (August 15, 2006), their findings challenge the link between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes. Readers who innocently assume that objective historical truth emerges only from the excavation of ruins are told next to nothing about the literary links that exist between the ancient accounts of the Essenes and what is found in the scrolls.
The organizational parallels between the two groups became obvious at the very beginning of modern research in the 1950s. Since then, a whole list of detailed similarities in daily life has made Professor Frank Cross’s identification of the scrolls with the Essenes more and more plausible.
Archaeologists can argue about the function of the ruins—pottery factory, villa or communal center, but they should not neglect to read the Scrolls found in the surrounding caves.
Joseph M. Baumgarten
The writer is a leading Dead Sea Scroll scholar.—Ed.
Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg say nothing about the connection between the Scrolls and the Essenes. They write only of the alleged connection between the site of Qumran and the Essenes. The fault lies with The New York Times’s 012headline writer who erroneously wrote “Archaeologists Challenge Link Between Dead Sea Scrolls and Ancient Sect.”—Ed.
Timber Source for Edom’s Copper Smelting?
Many thanks to Thomas Levy and Mohammad Najjar for their fascinating but altogether too brief article on Edom and Copper (“Edom and Copper,” 32:04). The article unfortunately raises many more questions about the site and copper smelting than it provides answers.
Where did the wood come from that was used to fuel the smelting process? Unless the climate was vastly different in the tenth century B.C.E., there doesn’t appear to be any obvious local source of timber for making charcoal. Has any identification of the species used in fueling the furnaces been made, and does it tell anything about ancient trade routes for this vital ingredient of the smelting process?
Thomas E. Levy responds:
Based on samples of carbonized wood retrieved from the fortress (the building associated with slag crushing as well as a slag mound representing over 400 years of smelting activities), over 90 percent of the wood used for the charcoal (analyzed by our paleobotanist Professor Mark Robinson of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History) was of tamarisk trees. This was a surprise to us, as we anticipated finding large quantities of juniper charcoal. It had been available in great amounts up on the plateau of Edom until the early 20th century, when the Ottoman Turks depleted the natural juniper forests for wooden railroad ties in the famous Hijaz railroad. Tamarisk grows easily in the wadi bottoms of the Saharo-Arabian desert zone, which characterizes the Arabah/Arava valley where our site is located, near the present border zone of Jordan and Israel. Rather than “import” juniper charcoal from the plateau more than 12 miles away, the Iron Age metal workers and smelters at our site used the wood that was most readily available around the site. You can read more about this in my recent book (edited with Tom Higham), The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science (London: Equinox).
Did God Have a Wife?
I just read Shmuel Ahituv’s review “Did God Really Have a Wife?” (32:05). I think I’ll recover sometime next week!
It’s been a long time since I’ve read such scathing remarks about the credentials of a colleague. While Professor Dever may not be grateful for this type of publicity, I’ll bet he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
Fascinating, but Full of Venom
Shmuel Ahituv’s attack on Professor Dever’s book Did God Have a Wife? was fascinating reading but so filled with venom that he did very little to assist this reader in better understanding the subject. All he seems to have done is muddy the waters even further. Now I am totally confused.
On page 64, for example, Professor Ahituv tells us that Dever’s meaning of miphleset as being an abomination is incorrect and that it means rather to “make one shudder or tremble.” What’s the difference?
Certainly any object that threatens death is forbidden or dirty; such an object carries with it the very real potential to make one shudder or tremble. This was my first indication of the biased direction in which Professor Ahituv was headed.
Neither Ahituv nor Dever has provided me, as a reader, with enough of an argument to form a final conclusion on the subject as to whether YHWH had a consort. Both scholars have, though, managed to raise my level of curiosity. At the moment, I believe William Dever has laid out a more convincing argument for the possibility of the existence of a cultic worship devoted to God’s consort, wife or tree. This may be, in part, a reaction to Ahituv’s negative attacks directed at Dever on an almost personal level, which I found distasteful.
Walter Del Pellegrino
Keansburg, New Jersey
Personal Attacks Don’t Make a Good Argument
Shmuel Ahituv, in the Neusner tradition, feels it is necessary to descend to contumely in his attempt to debunk distinguished archaeologist William Dever’s argument that YHWH had a wife (Asherah) in ancient Israel’s folk religion. Ahituv goes out of his way to present unrelated evidence that Dever is “unreliable” and “makes a fool out of himself” regarding Bible texts, apparently so as to discredit him regarding the textual base for Dever’s core argument.
I am not put off by BAR sensationalism; I am only put off by your nurturing 013of the nastiness that is, for some reason, naturally endemic to “discourse” between scholars in your field. If you would edit out the ad hominem material that is not related to the debate, such as found in the last paragraphs of Ahituv’s article, you could help reduce the incivility instead of nurturing it.
Seal Beach, California
Not “Grading,” Just Setting the Scene
In his critical review of William Dever’s book “Did God Have a Wife?” Shmuel Ahituv describes Dever as “grading” his colleagues for their studies in religion, archaeology, anthropology and feminist studies, but isn’t Dever simply setting the scene for his ideas by informing readers about the state of scholarship on the topic to date?
Ahituv criticizes Dever’s “severing” of popular religion from theology and believes that Dever ought to be able to define ancient Israelites’ ideas about divinity. However, in archaeology, while it is easy to identify things like tools and speculate about how they might have been used, it is much more difficult to identify a religious object and to say with absolute confidence what people who used it thought or believed. Even if ancient Israelites had various concrete ideas about the nature of their God(s), without texts it is difficult to know for sure what they really thought.
We can see the material remains and speculate from there, but we cannot see inside ancient people’s heads. Therefore Dever is right not to enter into theological speculation in this case.
The Fortification of Ekron
What Dates a Wall?
I was surprised to read David Ussishkin’s discussion (Another View, 32:05) as to whether the earliest Philistine city at Ekron was fortified with a wall. The Ekron excavators Seymor Gitin and Trude Dothan say it was fortified, and Ussishkin says the wall the excavators found with no plaster on it was from a later period. Perhaps I should not be surprised because Isee Professor Ussishkin (and his colleague at Tel Aviv University, Israel Finkelstein) adamantly storm every tenth-century B.C.E. city wall they encounter.
It was Ussishkin who taught me (and Finkelstein) many years ago that what dates a wall is notthe lack of preserved plaster on the face of the wall, but the floors that attach to the wall. The date of the construction of the wall should be determined by the latest finds in the foundation trenches of the wall. Walls must postdate the latest find in the foundation trenches. None of this information is provided in Ussishkin’s critique of the work of the Ekron excavators. Instead, Ussishkin discusses Biblical stories about Samson, David and Goliath; and he attempts to compress two different strata with different pottery finds into one, in order to serve his purpose.
The city walls of Bethsaida, where I direct the excavation, were all plastered and covered with white wash (“Bethsaida Rediscovered,” BAR 26:01). Extremely little was preserved of this plaster, but very little is enough to testify that 3,000 years ago there was plaster on the walls.
It is no wonder that Ekron had tenth-century B.C.E. city walls. Bethsaida had themtoo.
Director, Bethsaida Excavations Project
Not Bother with Fortifications?
David Ussishkin’s theory that Philistine Ekron was unfortified is interesting, but is there any precedent for what Ussishkin calls “a large, prosperous city” at this time period in Canaan being unfortified?
It strikes me as strange that the warlike Sea Peoples, having invaded Egypt, and having now carved out a home for themselves at the expense of both the local Canaanites and their Egyptian overlords, would feel so comfortable that they would not have to bother with fortifications! The early Iron Age, by all accounts, was an extremely turbulent time period.
Mark P. Nelson
Ekron excavator Seymour Gitin declined to respond to Professor Ussishkin’s article.—Ed.
How Did They Breathe in There?
“Hyrcania’s Mysterious Tunnels” (32:05) was fascinating. On the last page author Oren Gutfeld mentions the lack of oxygen in the tunnel and the quick fix with a leaf blower and a laundry drier duct—but he never offers any speculation as to how the original tunnel diggers survived!
Francis P. Galletti
Oren Gutfeld responds:
The lack of air in the tunnel—only increasing as we continued descending—and the inability in antiquity to compress air over such long distances indicates the probable deaths of laborers during the hewing of the tunnel. It appears as though the thin air of the tunnel and the use of oxygen-consuming oil lampsmay have beenwhat prevented the completion of the tunnel.
Vassilios Tzaferis’s Great Voice
Thank you so much for the wonderful column by Vassilios Tzaferis (“From Monk to Archaeologist,” Archaeological Views, 32:04). I worked as a volunteer under him for two seasons at Capernaum. As a housewife who wanted to try archaeology, I was truly blessed and wonderfully privileged to gain experience under Vassilios. He is a kind teacher and really has a feel for the site and those about whom we try to learn.
Vassilios arranged a Greek Orthodox service for us at St. Peter’s house on our site. We knew that he had been a monk, and our group wanted to experience this type of worship. Wow! What a great voice he had as he sang and chanted the service.
Thanks so much for a great column by a great teacher.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
What’s Sauce for the Goose Is Sauce for the Gander
William G. Dever responds to Shmuel Ahituv’s review/essay of Dever’s “Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel” (BAR 32:05):
A review of any work is only as valid as the reviewer’s credentials. I’m sorry to say that Professor Ahituv, whom I know well, has no credentials in the disciplines necessary to do justice to my book Did God Have a Wife?: in particular archaeology, but also anthropology, ethnology, art history, the history of religions and even theology. He is a traditional Biblicist, a philologian who privileges texts, but is largely oblivious and even hostile to the truly revolutionary light that recent archaeology sheds on the history and religion of ancient Israel. With such “colleagues” there is no possibility for the dialogue that I have pleaded for these past 30 years.
Ahituv shows no concern or sympathy for my central topic, “folk religion,” or the overwhelming material culture data that illuminate it. He can only object to my interpretation of the Biblical texts referring to “a/Asherah.” But all of his arguments to the contrary were anticipated and dealt with in my 013book. Ahituv is entitled, of course, to differ with my interpretation of these texts, but he is not entitled to dismiss me as incompetent, a “fool,” he says. His gratuitous and slanderous claim that I do not “read Hebrew or any other ancient language” does him a disservice, not me. The fact is that in seminary and at Harvard, I had exactly the same training in languages as today’s mainstream Biblical scholars: three years of Greek; four years of Hebrew; two years of epigraphy and Northwest Semitic languages (including Aramaic, Ugaritic and Phoenician); and one year of Akkadian.
BAR readers should know that in print many leading Biblicists have praised my integration of artifacts and Biblical texts, including Susan Ackerman, David Noel Freedman, Richard Elliot Friedman, Baruch Halpern, Ronald Hendel, Peter Machinist, Carol Meyers, Kyle McCarter, Mark Smith, Ziony Zevit and others. Readers can choose their referees.
It is a pity that the editor chose a marginal and hostile reviewer. Having exercised such poor judgment, the editor compounded the error by agreeing on submission to publish such a venomous review. From one of the Biblical scholars above—or from any one of many archaeologists—we could have had an exchange of authoritative views, which I would have welcomed, and from which we all could have learned something. Fortunately, other reviews are filling that bill.
Professor Ahituv declares that I should “go back to school.” Perhaps it is he, not I, who needs retraining. I shall send him the syllabus for my first-year course in archaeology.
William G. Dever
Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies
University of Arizona
Letters on the Web
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Why Readers Do (or Won’t) Subscribe to BAR