Queries & Comments
BAR Is Not the Journal of Biological Chemistry
I was happy to read about the peaceful resolution of the personal conflict between BAR and the Israel Antiquities Authority (“
BAR has given me many hours of fascinating reading and has enriched my life. It was always a delight to open a new issue that was not the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, New York
I am so glad you and Shuka [Dorfman] finally made up! But it must have been hard to chat about archaeology without talking about the past!
Middle East Peace Is Easy
If Hershel Shanks and Shuka Dorfman can make peace after years of discord, then perhaps there is yet hope for peace in the Middle East.
Reading BAR with Shame
So, you think the cover (May/June 2010) of the “Attendants of Aphrodite” in the nude is sensational and will get you more subscriptions. I suppose the next cover will depict the male body—or bodies—to be fair.
I have either to (1) turn the cover over and hide it or (2) remove the cover and trash it. I should like to read BAR in peace, not shame.
Ross Waldrop Krape
Ancient Pornography Is Still Pornography
Your May/June cover is offensive pornography. It is not art. It does not matter that it was hidden in the ground for centuries. It is still pornography. Children seeing this will believe pornography is all right with the Lord. In fact, many adults will also. Be careful!
Since the publication of our cover, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired title to a not-dissimilar sculpture of the Three Graces (the attendants of Aphrodite) that, according to experts referred to in The New York Times, is valued between $12 million and $15 million.
The Times calls the Met sculpture “stunning.” According to Met director Thomas P. Campbell, “This is one of the finest pieces of Roman sculpture to come on the market in several decades.” Not to be snide about it, the Three Graces pictured on the BAR cover appear to have more curvaceous torsos (see, for example, the curve of the spine on the center Grace) and slightly thinner thighs, giving them an even more delicate appearance. Moreover, in the sculpture from Aphrodisias on our cover, unlike the Met’s sculpture, the lovely heads of the Three Graces survived.
Incidentally, as we report in this issue, this BAR cover has been banned from Colorado prisons.—Ed.
Friendly Exodus Antagonists
Your interview with Professor Israel Finkelstein was great fun, as well as being a nice little summary of “for and against” the existence of an Exodus (“The Devil Is Not So Black as He Is Painted,” BAR 36:03). And you two gentlemen obviously have the friendship and mutual respect that can make such a repartee between those who hold opposing views end with both laughing.
A “Nobody” Protests
In the interview between Israel Finkelstein and Hershel Shanks, Hershel makes the broad statement that “Nobody says [the Bible’s Exodus account] is fully historical.”
So us “nobodies” are idiots and foolishly follow the Bible in a literal way, teaching that we can know what happened in Egypt.
I’ll finish out my subscription but will probably not renew it. I like many of the articles, but this one undermined the very authority of the word of God. That is heartbreaking!
Pastor Tim Heath
Alphabet Origins Continued
We received an enormous number of letters in response to Orly Goldwasser’s seminal article in our March/April issue, titled “How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs.”
We printed some of these letters in our July/August issue and promised that there would be more in our September/October issue; hence, the letters below.
But perhaps the most important letter, together with Professor Goldwasser’s response, is too lengthy for publication in the limited space allotted for letters in the magazine. Therefore we have published this exchange between two towering scholars in the world of ancient inscriptions—Professor Anson Rainey and Professor Orly Goldwasser—on our Web site.
Professor Rainey challenges Professor Goldwasser’s assertion that the alphabet was invented by illiterate Canaanite miners. Professor Rainey contends that the alphabet was invented by highly sophisticated Semites who knew hieroglyphic very well. He argues that the alphabet was designed to be written on papyrus. The reason that the only examples we have of the early use of this alphabet are on stone, mostly from Serabit el-Khadem, is that the papyrus exemplars from urban sites have not survived. There must have been hundreds of these alphabetic inscriptions on papyrus that have perished in the mists of time, he says.
Professor Goldwasser’s point-by-point refutation of Professor Rainey’s argument follows on our Web site.
BAR readers can decide for themselves which scholar has the better argument. This is an exchange that scholars will be consulting and arguing about for years to come. Indeed, we may even publish on the Web some responses to this exchange.—Ed.
Wasn’t the Sanskrit Alphabet Self-Originating?
In the March/April 2010 issue, Orly Goldwasser’s fascinating article, “How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs,” ends with the claim that “The alphabet was invented only once. All alphabetic scripts derive from this original one, which we may call the Serabit alphabetic script.” I’m curious to know whether 011Goldwasser meant this statement to apply only to Near Eastern, and by extension Middle Eastern and Western alphabets.
Does she include also Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit alphabets of the Indian subcontinent, and those that derived from them such as Hindi, Punjabi, Tibetan and various southeast Asian nonpictographic alphabets? I believe that a strong case can be made for Sanskrit being an independent and self-originated alphabet.
Malcolm Yisrael Wright
Raleigh, North Carolina
Orly Goldwasser responds:
The Canaanite alphabet has a compact, limited set of signs (up to 30) that represent consonants alone. The Greeks added later a few signs for vowels.
The scripts you mentioned are much more complex writing systems that comprise more signs, including signs that stand for combinations of consonants and vowels, such as ka, ki, etc. Their relation to the Canaanite alphabet (if at all) is debated.
Shifting M to N
I thoroughly enjoyed this well-done article. But I am a bit curious about the derivation of the letter M.
On the chart on page 45 (March/April 2010), it shows the jagged line in Egyptian as becoming the letter M.
However, in Egyptian, this glyph/sign is actually the letter N.
I was just wondering how this shift occurred.
Orly Goldwasser responds:
I believe the inventors of the alphabet did not know how to read Egyptian. When they looked at the Egyptian sign (N in Egyptian) they recognized the picture of water. In Canaanite (their language) the word “water” might have been mem or maim. From this word they took the first sound alone—M; which became the letter mem in the Canaanite scripts, and finally the English letter M.
A Prisoner Dreams of Digging
Ever since I was a child, I loved exploring and dreamed of digs and ancient civilizations. Your magazine has been as close to wish fulfillment as I’ll probably ever have, although I do plan on visiting Israel when I get out of prison in 2018 or 2019.
McNeil Island Correctional Center
Biblical Writer Had Early Sources
Someone on your staff cannot count. In the answer to “How Many?” in the May/June BAR on page 78, we are told that the Bible names six Assyrian kings, but the text only gives the names of five. The missing king is Sargon, named in Isaiah 20:1.
The spelling of Sargon’s name in the Hebrew text is very important because the Hebrew text represents precisely the consonants of the king’s name in the 012Assyrian dialect of his time, s r g n. This is distinct from the Babylonian spelling of that time and later, which was sh r k n. The same is true for the spelling of Tiglath-pileser III, another of the kings named in the Bible. This shows that the Biblical writers had sources from the late eighth or early seventh centuries B.C. when the Assyrians were ascendant, even if the Biblical writers were working in Babylon or Judah in the sixth century or after, when the Assyrian dialect would have disappeared.
Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew & Ancient Semitic Languages
The University of Liverpool
A Classroom Cannot Substitute
Soon I will return to Bethsaida to dig once again under Rami Arav, just as I have dug twice under Vassilios Tzaferis at Kursi in 2003 and 2004. The hours spent listening to these great archaeologists explain artifacts can never be duplicated in any classroom or church. It is priceless and invaluable.
Magen David in Honduras
I have read your magazine for years and enjoy it. Last year I saw this relief (below) at the museum and ruins of Copan, Honduras, and was surprised when I saw the Star of David [Magen David]. I was wondering what you think of the relief.
Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University in New York responds:
When I was a young graduate student, I visited a museum exhibition on the Silk Route that included a devotional wall-hanging from Tibet (below). At the center was a six-pointed star, and in each corner, a dancing nude goddess. A woman standing next to me, looking at the kippah on my head, exclaimed, “Look, there are Jews in Tibet!”
The truth is that the Mayan hexagram you cite, the Tibetan one I saw in the exhibit and the Jewish “shield (or star) of David” share a very common geometric shape but are not related. Two superimposed equilateral triangles forming a star is a very common image across cultures.
Within Jewish contexts, the hexagram appears as a decorative feature in the ancient synagogue at Capernaum (above), in medieval manuscripts and in Jewish magical and mystical texts of the Middle Ages (where it is called the “seal of Solomon” and “shield of David”).
Historian Gershom Scholem has shown that the “shield of David” that we know, however, appeared in Prague only in 1354. It was then that King Charles II granted the Jews of Prague the right to have their own flag, later called “King David’s Flag,” 014which was decorated with a six-pointed “shield of David.”1
From Prague it spread throughout the Jewish world in the 17th and 18th centuries, where it became the Jewish parallel to the Christian cross. Its very newness and lack of a deep historical pedigree—unlike the seven-branched candelabrum, the menorah, which had been the central Jewish symbol for millennia—allowed Jews of increasingly diverse opinions—from liberals to orthodox, from anti- Zionists to Zionists—to embrace the “shield of David” as the premier Jewish symbol of the modern era.
Symbols are a kind of shorthand that communities use to express who they are, even as they allow for diversity among those who claim them as their own. They are a sort of communal “branding”—as arches are for McDonalds, the Stars and Stripes for the United States and the menorah for previous generations of Jews. The “branding” of the shield as a Jewish symbol has been so successful that people sometimes identify hexagrams with Jews even when there is no historical connection.
Almost from the outset of the modern Zionist movement in the late 19th century, this symbol graced the Zionist flag and was subsequently adopted on the flag of Israel when the state was declared in 1948. Soon after, Scholem provided his own understanding of the shield of David, evoking the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust and the birth of Israel:
But far more than the Zionists have done to provide the Shield of David with the sanctity of a genuine symbol has been done by those who made it for millions into a mark of shame and degradation. The yellow Jewish star, as a sign of exclusion and ultimately Nazi annihilation, accompanied the Jews on their path of humiliation and horror, of battle and heroic resistance. Under this sign they were murdered, and under this sign they came to Israel.
Some have been of the opinion that the sign which marked the way to annihilation and to the gas chambers should be replaced with a sign of life. But it is possible to conclude quite the opposite: The sign which in our own day has been sanctified by suffering and dread has become worthy of illuminating the path to life and reconstruction.2