Queries & Comments
“Curiosities” and “Relics”
Yes, sir, I agree with you; you do inveigh—a lot—causing me, on occasion, to consider cancellation. However, when you come forth with “Of Curiosities and Relics” (First Person, BAR 33:05) and the fascinating and very informative Dead Sea Scroll features (BAR 33:03, 33:04, 33:05), all is forgiven!
Earl A. Taylor
Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Delight in the Past
Please keep on “inveighing”! All scholars and “experts” need that little needling voice to keep them humble (if that is possible). I wonder if those who describe ancient objects as mere “curiosities” or “relics” have ever been delighted to keep for their children a great-grandmother’s crystal bowl or a great-grandfather’s filleting knife. I own my great-great-grandmother’s soup bowls from England. I don’t consider them mere curiosities but a connection with the past.
The Failure to Appreciate Lay Interest
The September/October 2007 issue had two notes that attracted my intention. The first (“In Their Own Words” in Strata) quoted Hillel Geva and Eilat Mazar on the declining interest in archaeology in Israel, and the other (First Person) from Ann Killebrew about the so-called “James brother of Jesus” ossuary.
While I agree with Ann that the ossuary does not provide any real new data on Jesus, I also agree with you that, for the larger world, the emotional impact of objects and sites can far outweigh their scholarly value. A failure to recognize and appreciate this lay interest in tangible aspects of the past may be one reason why there is a drop in interest in the ancient world.
The reason I entered this field is because I found ancient history to be a really great story, full of fascinating, larger-than-life characters and remarkable achievements, every bit as enthralling as Homer’s Achilles, Beowulf or Malory’s Arthur. Sometimes I have the feeling that scholars in the humanities (which is where I place archaeology, an attribution colleagues will debate) forget that what we are studying (literature, art, architecture, music, etc.) is often a part of the ancient world that its creators fashioned in order to awe and entertain those who experienced it. In a way we are the heirs of that blind poet, and when we write too dryly about the past and cannot (or will not) communicate the wonder of that ancient world to the lay public (who pay the taxes that allow academics to have positions in universities, colleges and museums), it is really not surprising that there is a drop off in public interest in what we do.
When I go into Borders or Barnes & Noble there is always a shelf on Egypt, a few books on Mesopotamia, an entire wall on Greece and Rome, but maybe only a single book on Israel. Something is very wrong if the region that produced the Bible does not have more of a presence in major book stores. Remarkably most books on ancient Israel are in the children’s section! One of the legacies of BAR will be that it has provided one of the few fora for informed and entertaining articles especially intended for a lay audience.
Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Near Eastern Studies
Ithaca, New York
Only Two Nights
My questions concerns Matthew 12:40: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
My understanding is that Jesus was in the ground from Friday afternoon until just before dawn Sunday morning. And I understand that there is no conflict between what to me sounds like less than two days and Jesus’ claims that he would be raised again in three days because of the counting of part of a day as a whole day in Jewish tradition. However, is there any contemporaneous 010source to Jesus that can assist me with understanding the apparent discrepancy between Jesus’ prophecy of three nights versus the two nights that he actually spent in “the heart of the earth”?
Bruce Chilton, Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion, Bard College, Annandale, New York, responds:
Three days appears a few dozen times in the Hebrew Bible to refer to a major event happening after a brief interval. Cases that speak of redemption are especially relevant for understanding how the phrase applies to Jesus’ resurrection. For example, it takes Abraham three days of travel to see Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:4), and Hosea 6:2 promises “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up.” Sometimes this Biblical expression for divine intervention after a short time appears as “on the third day” and sometimes as “after three days.” You can see the same variation between Matthew 12:40 and Matthew 16:21. Those who composed the Gospels, and those who used it in worship, clearly appreciated that the phrase does not strictly mark time, but sets out Jesus’ resurrection in the language of Biblical promise.
Only one known witness to the resurrected Jesus directly wrote about his experience, and of the original event “on the third day”: Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3–11. As Paul says, this timing was “according to the Scriptures,” and he means the Scriptures of Israel (since there was no written New Testament in 56 C.E.). Mark’s Gospel is the earliest source that includes the oral testimony of Mary Magdalene. She saw Jesus’ interment near sundown on Friday (Mark 15:42–47); near dawn on Sunday she had a vision of a young man who told her and her companions that Jesus had risen (Mark 16:1–8).
It’s East Semitic, Stupid!
You have done it again!
True to form, your staff, when writing on things linguistic, has made a typical blunder. In the very nice blurb on Mari (Strata Answers, “How Many?” BAR 33:05) you make the misstatement: “The script on the tablets is cuneiform; the language is Akkadian, a West Semitic language related to Hebrew.”
The Mari scribes did write in Akkadian (more specifically the northern version of the Old Babylonian dialect). But Akkadian and its dialects are classified as East Semitic (even though the original Akkadians immigrated to Mesopotamia from Syria). Eblaite, a language written and spoken in North Syria, is related to Akkadian, not to the West Semitic languages that we encounter in the second millennium B.C.E.
However, the people at Mari were Amurrites and had their own native language that we call Amurrite. In fact, Amurrite dynasties were ruling at this time (Middle Bronze Age) in most of the cities of Babylonia, including Babylon itself. King ‘Ammurapi (so-called Hammurabi) and his ancestors were Amurrites.
Unfortunately, there are no texts in Amurrite. So how do we know about their language? Hundreds of personal names from the Middle Bronze Age (also called the Old Babylonian period) reflect the linguistic forms of West Semitic Amurrite rather than forms of East Semitic Akkadian.
For a time, a ruler of Mari was called Yasma‘-Haddu, “Hadad has heard,” while his brother, ruler of the Mesopotamian town of Eshnunna, had the Akkadian name Ishme-Dagan (“Dagan has heard”). Their father had prayed to Hadad/Ba’al in one case and to Dagan, Hadad’s father, in another. In each case, the respective deity had answered the prayer and given a son. This was an age-old custom reflected later in the Hebrew name Yishma‘-El “Ishmael,” i.e., “God has heard.”
The Akkadian texts from Mari do have an occasional Amurrite loan word and from these and from the many personal names (not only from Mari) much can be learned about the historical antecedents of Hebrew grammar (caution is always in order).
Once all this has been said, it must not be forgotten that the closest languages to Hebrew are Moabite and Old Southern Aramaic (not Canaanite/Phoenician). The Bible insists that the ancestors of Israel were Arameans (like Rebecca) or 086intermarried with Arameans (like Isaac and Jacob did). The Arameans appear on the stage of history five centuries after the Mari Age.
The staff of BAR has no right to foist their own linguistic ignorance on their readership. It is just not fair.
Anson F. Rainey
Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics
Tel Aviv University, Israel
BAR Is Disappearing
In my urban medical office in the past, all our magazines would be stolen, except BAR. I am proud to say that now and for the last several years BAR disappears as fast as the others. I consider this to be a good sign!
Dr. Joseph Pinciotti, Jr.
Most People Are Not Christian
I sympathize with your readers who do not like it that some authors use B.C.E. and C.E. Maybe it will help them to come to terms with this if they will stop thinking in religious terms about chronology. We live in a world and society where, in fact, the majority of people are not Christian. There are a large number of readers in countries such as China, Japan and India that have only a small Christian minority, yet we share interests with them over a wide spectrum.
We all use the same dating system as a general convenience to make our world manageable. It is for this reason that “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era” have begun to be widely used. For many years I used B.C.E. and C.E. only when speaking to a Jewish audience. Then I began to use it for any Jewish topic regardless of audience. About five years ago I shifted completely and explain this to my students at the beginning of each term. I should also note that as of January 2007, the American Journal of Archaeology, which is primarily concerned with Greek and Roman archaeology, in its new style sheet requires its authors to use B.C.E. and C.E.
Michael M. Eisman
BAR Fosters Agnosticism
I am saddened that I must make the decision to not renew my subscription to BAR. I cannot, as a Christian, even give $14.97 a year to a magazine that fosters agnosticism and atheism.
Digging for Treasure in BAR
I read BAR from cover to cover. As a believer in the validity of the Bible, I do not let the liberal viewpoint mostly expressed in its pages get in the way of the treasure of information. I do not lose faith; my faith is strengthened. I learn something new about Bible lands with each issue.
BAR is like going on a dig—a lot of hard work, albeit joyful digging. Sifting is often needed, and then at times a treasure turns up—a find that makes the whole effort worthwhile.
Florence G. Greilich
Who Were the Pharisees?
I wonder if BAR could do a major article on who the Pharisees really were, because it is very much needed. The public should know that the Pharisees were deeply religious people who were trying to sanctify everyday life.
“Curiosities” and “Relics”