Queries & Comments
Raising The Bar By Reading BAR
When I first subscribed to BAR, I would skim through it hurriedly and then toss it in the trash—like, geez, this is way too scholarly for the likes of me! But after the third or fourth issue, I began to get used to it and really read it—attentively, pensively.
Now I’d rather read Q&C than watch the Friday night fights. I especially enjoyed reading Mr. Fenstermacher’s letter (Q&C: “How Rare Is the Sinai Hieroglyph?” BAR 36:04) about a prisoner who taught himself hieroglyphic—not only for the content (which, in itself, is amazing), but for the wonderful “vibe” that arose inside of me—that feeling of: I can do anything I really want to do, no matter what the odds are! There’s always a way—even if I must create my own flash cards from small milk cartons.
Nona B. Goodman
Ussishkin Should Have Checked with Ussishkin
I very much enjoyed David Ussishkin’s “Jezreel: Where Jezebel Was Thrown to the Dogs” (BAR 36:04). However, he says that we know precious little about Israelite chariots at the time that Ahab and Jezebel apparently used Jezreel as a royal chariot center (mid-ninth century B.C.E.). Dr. Ussishkin writes, “Unfortunately, we have no archaeological evidence of Israelite chariots. They probably looked much like the Assyrian chariots of the time.”
But we do have archaeological evidence of Judahite chariots from the late eighth century B.C.E. The Assyrian king Sennacherib carved beautiful reliefs in his palace at Nineveh that include at least one chariot from Judah. Sennacherib conquered the Judahite stronghold of Lachish in 701 B.C.E., and his artists portrayed a Judahite chariot among the spoils (pictured below, top). It was probably the Judahite governor’s ceremonial chariot rather than a typical Judahite war chariot; note its close similarity to Sennacherib’s ceremonial chariot (pictured below, bottom).
Did the Judahites make or buy chariots like the Assyrians? Or did the Assyrian artists simply portray the Judahite chariot in the style they knew so well? We cannot answer these questions, but we can appreciate this one clear picture of a Judahite chariot from the period of Assyrian domination.
Interested readers can find beautiful portrayals of this Judahite chariot in Figs. 69 and 90 in The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib, by, of all people, David Ussishkin (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1982).
Professor of Old Testament Studies
St. Paul, Minnesota
Why Did God Destroy Pompeii?
In “The Destruction of Pompeii—God’s Revenge?” (BAR 36:04), Hershel Shanks concludes that the Jews of Pompeii “may well have made the connection between the events of 70 and 79”—the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. He does this on the basis of an inscription “Sodom and Gomorrah” in one of the Pompeii houses destroyed by the volcano. No doubt this is one possible interpretation.
However, isn’t it more likely that the writer of the inscription was connecting immoral activity wrought by the eruption of Vesuvius? Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their sinfulness (Genesis 18:20).
Before Pompeii, It Was Babylon
“The Destruction of Pompeii—God’s Revenge?” asks whether some Jews at the time saw Pompeii’s destruction as God’s revenge for the Roman destruction of the Second Temple nine years earlier. A key bit of evidence is the graffito on one of the destroyed houses of Pompeii: “Sodom [and] Gomor[rah].”
This suggestion is reinforced by a parallel in Isaiah dealing with the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. The prophet speaks of the punishment of Babylon for destroying the First Temple and uses the same metaphor with Sodom and Gomorrah:
And Babylon, glory of kingdoms,
Proud splendor of the Chaldeans,
Shall become like Sodom and Gomorrah
Overturned by God.
Nevermore shall it be settled
Nor dwelt in through all the ages.
Was the graffito in Pompeii inspired by this passage in Isaiah?
Hershel Shanks writes: “The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia and other nearby sites occurred, according to most commentators, on August 24 or 25 in 79 C.E. According to Seneca, the quakes lasted for several days.”
However, Seneca (the younger) was describing the earthquakes of 62 C.E. Seneca committed suicide in 65 C.E., about 14 years before the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in 79 C.E.
Dr. Jack Pastor
Chair, Department of History and Land of Israel Studies
Oranim, the Academic College of Education
Kiryat Tivon, Israel
Dead Sea Scrolls—Don’t Forget Sukenik
The July/August 2010 issue gives due recognition to two pioneers who early recognized the antiquity of the Dead Sea Scrolls: one, to Gerald Lankester Harding (Strata: “Decision to Buy Scrolls from Bedouin Reflects ‘Greatness’”) and, two, to John C. Trever (“The Nash Papyrus,” by Marvin A. Sweeney).
Another who deserves recognition is archaeology professor Eleazer L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (father of Yigael Yadin). Sukenik was the first to buy Dead Sea Scrolls and recognize their antiquity. On November 29, 1947, he traveled by bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to a dealer in antiquities named Feidi Salahi, who had for sale some scrolls in pottery jars found by Bedouin in caves near the Dead Sea. Professor Sukenik instantly recognized the antiquity of the scrolls, bought some scrolls in jars and returned to Jerusalem.
He was convinced of the scrolls’ antiquity, but over the following weeks and months many other scholars remained skeptical. So Sukenik sent a piece of a leather scroll and a sample of the linen wrapping to the radiocarbon-dating lab of Professor Willard Libby at the University of Chicago. The reply from the lab was: “Plus or minus 200 A.D.”
I worked for Professor Sukenik from the end of 1949 until his death in 1953, and translated several scrolls into English with the indispensable help of Jacob Licht, then Sukenik’s assistant and later Professor of Bible at Tel Aviv University.
Ruth (Landman) Rigbi
Israel Association of University Women
Former head, Department of English as a Foreign Language
The Hebrew University
The Nash Papyrus—A Tefillin Slip
I very much enjoyed Marvin Sweeney’s article on the Nash Papyrus (“The Nash Papyrus—Preview of Coming Attractions,” BAR 36:04).
However, in one respect Sweeney did not represent the latest state of research on the papyrus. Sweeney writes that the Nash Papyrus, which William F. Albright initially used to date the Dead Sea Scrolls, was “most probably an early liturgical text used in a prayer service.”
The more recent and more likely view is that the Nash Papyrus is the slip of text from a pair of tefillin (phylacteries in English). Today, tefillin are little leather boxes containing scriptural passages worn on the forehead and left arm by observant Jews during morning prayers. This is in fulfillment of the commandment that these words shall be “a sign upon your hand and as a frontlet between your eyes” (Exodus 13:9, 16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18). In antiquity, tefillin initially may have functioned much like a protective amulet, thus the Greek term phylacterion and the derivative English term.
The view that the Nash Papyrus is a tefillin slip is based on the discovery of fully intact tefillin (slips and casings) among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The fact that the Nash Papyrus is of a similar size to the Qumran tefillin slips and likewise has folds in it suggests that it, too, is a tefillin slip.1
Another possibility, although less likely, 012is that the Nash Papyrus is a slip of text from a mezuzah (literally “doorpost”), the little encased slip of text affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes, commanded in the same Biblical verses.
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander
Department of Religious Studies
University of Virginia
Faith & Reason at SBL
Professor Hendel’s BAR column (Biblical Views: “Farewell to SBL: Faith and Reason in Biblical Studies,” BAR 36:04) has elicited a thunderous and widespread response, both in support and in opposition, and among both the academic community to which it was largely addressed and among BAR’s more scholarly readers.
We can print here only a small sample of the letters we received. We have tried to make them representative.
We received no direct response from SBL, but the new SBL executive secretary, John F. Kutsko, did e-mail a lengthy personally addressed letter regarding Professor Hendel’s column to each of the thousands of SBL members. This may be found in the Scholar’s Study on our Web site. In addition, a lengthy online discussion among SBL members—nearly 50 pages long—also followed the publication of Professor Hendel’s BAR column. This, too, may be found on our Web site. Among the participants in this discussion are a number of major scholarly voices, including J. Harold Ellens, Adela Yarbro Collins, John Van Seters, William H.C. Propp, Mark S. Smith, Ed Greenstein, Michael V. Fox, Ernst Axel Knauf, Larry Hurtado, Philip Davies, Leo Perdue, Ralph W. Klein, William J. Fulco, S.J., and others.
The concerns raised by Professor Hendel will also be a major topic of discussion at SBL’s annual meeting this November.—Ed.
Saying Hard Things Softly
Is the character of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) changing? Yep. Ron Hendel is right, sort of.
Biblical Studies as a discipline is an odd duck. The texts we study are sacred texts, not just to others, but often to those of us who study them. This makes normal critical study very difficult.
I taught for 22 years in a seminary (progressive in its theology and fiercely conscientious about academic freedom) and I know there were many times when I pulled my punches. I didn’t say all I needed to say, or I said the hard things in a way that made them seem less troubling than they were. Everyone does this; it is very human. But in the end, much of what critical Biblical scholars write in this context doesn’t sound very critical, and it isn’t very honest. Our secular colleagues see this and wonder.
Conservatives have an even harder time of it. Evangelicals and fundamentalists have worked very hard over the last 20 years to raise the standard of scholarship in their work. They’re taking degrees at Tübingen and Cambridge, learning the languages, mastering the literature, and writing tomes that are 50 percent footnotes. The result? It looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck … but it’s not a duck, not even an odd duck.
Take a typical scholar in this camp: He (maybe she) teaches at an evangelical seminary or Bible college where he (a few shes) must sign a statement of faith, which, among other things, affirms that the Bible is without error—historical, ethical, theological or otherwise. I recently overheard a prominent evangelical scholar explaining how, exactly, scholarship fits into this world: If truth is One, he began, then all roads will lead to the same ultimate place. Good scholarship will always confirm good doctrine. Sorry, but that odd duck just won’t fly in the secular academic world.
The kind of scholarship the SBL has fostered through the years was born into a world in which the Bible was central to the task of creating meaning in our lives. But this has changed. The Bible is no longer the text to which people turn for answers to life’s big questions. I have just moved from my seminary home to teach at a small liberal arts university with a very secular ethos. More and more, the Bible is becoming the text from which people have turned in search of something better. The Bible for these people represents sexism, bigotry and magical thinking. Many in SBL come from this newer reality, and their questions are shaped accordingly.
Is the Society of Biblical Literature their society, or does it belong to the conservatives, who embrace more readily the world in which the SBL was born more than a century ago, a world in which the Bible still functioned as a source of revealed truth?
Stephen J. Patterson
George H. Atkinson Professor of Religious & Ethical Studies
They Dare Not Teach What They’ve Learned
I support Ron Hendel’s view. I saw the trend toward “faith-based” scholarship in the SBL already in the 1970s.
SBL was founded at Union Seminary in 1875, precisely to sponsor and encourage critical Biblical scholarship within the context of the growing “fundamentalist/modernist” controversy of the last quarter of the 19th century (see my “The Bible at Union: 1835 to the Present” in the Union Seminary Quarterly Review (1999, pp. 123–130). Union was struggling at the time against such trends, especially in its battles with Princeton Theological Seminary, which at the time was very conservative.
True, faculty at conservative schools require a Ph.D. from a reputable institution in order to be hired, but when they get to those schools they are constrained and dare not teach what they’ve learned about critical study of Scripture. I have had personal experiences talking with such faculty at those schools when I have been invited to lecture for them on the Dead Sea Scrolls and such “neutral” topics.
James A. Sanders
The writer is founder and president of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center, 068professor emeritus of Intertestamental and Biblical Studies, Claremont School of Theology and professor emeritus of religion at Claremont Graduate School.
President of Evangelical Theological Society Speaks
I have been an active member of SBL and the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) since 1965 and have attended most of the regional and national meetings of both organizations from the beginning. In addition, I currently serve the ETS as its national president. I therefore consider myself in a unique position to assess the religious and intellectual traditions reflected by both societies and to pass judgment on the quality of the scholarship they represent. Professor Hendel does not refer to ETS by name, but I suspect it is among the groups he considers unfit to replace “distinguished academic organizations like ASOR [American Schools of Oriental Research] and AAR [American Academy of Religion].”
Professor Hendel’s central concern is that SBL is being co-opted by “evangelical and fundamentalist groups.” As an example, he cites Bruce Waltke (who, he must admit, has earned respect as a scholar) as one who condemns “the ordinary methods of critical scholarly inquiry, extolling instead the religious authority of orthodox Christian faith.” By inference, Professor Hendel disqualifies Waltke from the academy without citing a single instance of Waltke’s deficiency in scholarly protocol. He admits that Waltke is “entitled to his views,” though apparently not in the academy. Hendel has not demonstrated any methodological error in Waltke’s work so it is not likely that Waltke’s conclusions are the sticking point, but Waltke’s world view as opposed to Hendel’s that causes the irritation.
The angst that has driven Ronald Hendel to leave SBL is particularly regrettable at a time when SBL and ETS are finding more and more common ground, if not in ideology at least in the common pursuit of satisfying answers to perplexing questions that must rightly be addressed by both traditions.
To my mind, the fears that impel Hendel are groundless. At the same time, I urge evangelical scholars to hear what he has to say and to be more careful than ever to do their work thoroughly and critically in the best understanding of the term.
Eugene H. Merrill
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies
Dallas Theological Seminary
President, The Evangelical Theological Society (2009–2010)
Liberals Unwilling to Tolerate Other Views
Instead of boycotting the SBL, Professor Hendel should answer Professor Waltke, who has, after all, a Ph.D. from Harvard. The problem with old-fashioned liberal higher criticism is that so often it is unwilling to tolerate views it disagrees with and insists that its views are the only views that are “reasonable.”
Postmodernism is much more “reasonable” and open. Hendel should learn from it.
Dr. Leslie Robert Keylock
Myth Can Transmit Truth
I thank Ron Hendel for airing his views so openly, though some might consider them to be offensive. The dumbing down of solid science by rigid and idolatrous interpretations of Holy Scripture is lamentable in such a storied institution as SBL. Sound reasoning and direct observation seem to be trumped by intransigent dogma—the root of conflicts between faith and reason going back to Copernicus and Galileo.
Narrow Biblical literalism also strips the Holy Scriptures of their richness of meaning and reduces them to pseudo-science textbooks and dubious historical accounts. Myth and story are powerful means of transmitting truth without being literal events or descriptions of real persons. Obviously there is some historical data in Holy Scripture and many of the people did exist, but do people who take the Bible literally believe that David killed tens of thousands of men, or can they instead see the use of hyperbole in a song used to exalt David over Saul (1 Samuel 18:7)? Literalism is a straitjacket that binds the power of God
Martin Toepke-Floyd, United Methodist Pastor
Wishek, North Dakota
Creationist Scholars Are Not Snake-Handlers
When Dr. Hendel uses terms such as “faith-healers” and “snake-handlers” to describe a group of creationist scholars, his righteous indignation degenerates into hateful bigotry. There are brilliant scholars who are committed to objective truth and reason who also happen to be conservative Christians.
Fort Worth, Texas
The Exodus—Shanks’s Hogwash and Ignorance
It is with great umbrage that I read Hershel Shanks’s comment in his interview with Israel Finkelstein (“The Devil Is Not So Black as He Is Painted,” BAR 36:03) that “everyone accepts that two million people did not cross the Sinai Desert” and that “nobody says it’s fully historical.”
This is hogwash and just plain ignorance. Yes, people do accept this and there are even scholars and archaeologists and a whole lot of other well-informed, very knowledgeable people with these views.
Mr. Shanks, it appears, does not wish to engage in simple fact checking or is simply demeaning people in an insulting and lazy manner.
I do love reading your material, but most of the time it is simply to understand the liberal mind and sharpen my knowledge of how to intellectually engage those who cast doubt upon the Word.
Brandon L. James Bowden
No Laughing Matter
Your magazine is on a very high scale that few publications can duplicate. But it grieves me to see your standards lowered by the unnecessary Cartoon Caption Contest. However unintended, this does make fun of Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Remember the outcry in Denmark? Christians and Jews are no less sensitive than Muslims.
Richard C. Gern
St. Germain, Wisconsin
Raising The Bar By Reading BAR