Queries & Comments
Gracing the Cover
Sin from Within
If a nude statue causes you to think pornographic thoughts (Q&C, BAR 36:05), is the sin in the statue or in you? If you practice gluttony, the sin is not in the food; it is in you.
How’s It Look?
I’m not writing because I need to see my name in print; I actually don’t want to. But I’d like to say in a more private way that I love your magazine.
As a born-again, tongues-speaking, foot-stomping, arm-waving, hand-clapping, hallelujah-shouting, 72-year-old Christian woman, my only reaction to your cover of the Three Graces on your May/June issue is envy!
Cement Creates Temple Mount Time Bomb
Hershel Shanks recently commented on the unsightly appearance of the repair of bulges in the Temple Mount walls that was done several years ago and the scaffolding that was left behind (First Person: “Temple Mount Repairs Leave Eyesores,” BAR 36:05). The Waqf (Muslim authority over the Temple Mount) and the Israelis have accused each other of having caused these bulges. In reality, however, these bulges were simply caused by water collecting in the inner core of the walls. If that water does not drain out quickly enough, then the water causes the inner core to expand, resulting in the walls bulging out and eventually collapsing.
Over the past few years, more bulges have appeared, both in the outer Temple Mount walls and in buildings on the mount. From a close examination of the cement that was used in these repairs and in all the other recent building activity we have seen on the Temple Mount, it appears to me that ordinary cement was used, probably acquired from the Israeli Nesher Cement factory. Large areas of new pavement have been laid in the southern part of the Temple Mount, again with ordinary cement in between the joints. This causes a greater flow of water toward the outer walls, which simply cannot absorb so much water.
One of the first lessons I was taught during the M.A. course in the Conservation of Ancient Buildings at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies of the University of York (UK) was that one never uses ordinary cement (known as portland cement) in the repair of ancient buildings. It prevents ancient walls from “breathing” and eventually causes the collapse of these walls. The continued use of modern building materials in the repair of these bulges and other walls is the equivalent of putting a time bomb in the walls of the Temple Mount.
Hershel asked himself the question about the remaining scaffolds: “They’ve been there now for several years. How much longer?” I can’t answer that question, but I am sure that the unsightly repairs won’t be there forever as the ancient Temple Mount walls keep absorbing not only the normal amount of rain water, but also the added amount of water that runs off the new paving. When ancient walls can’t breathe, they eventually collapse.
Ritmeyer Archaeological Design
Penarth, United Kingdom
The writer was architect to the excavations at the southern wall of the Temple Mount led by Professor Benjamin Mazar in the 1970s.—Ed.
Did Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?
Why the Israelites Ate Matzah on the Exodus
In addition to providing a wonderful summary of the scholarly viewpoints that govern pertinent questions of translation and artifact identification, Michael M. Homan’s article “Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?” (BAR 36:05) should alert readers to another relevant insight.
Some of the world’s major universal art museums—those with significant collections of Egyptian artifacts (like the Metropolitan here in the 009010USA)—display beautiful miniature models of daily activities that were buried with the departed. These models carried support services into the afterlife for the tomb’s deceased. Presumably accurate (otherwise they wouldn’t be functional in the hereafter), these representations always show beer making and bakeries adjacent. The breweries and bread making must have shared common technologies and, more importantly, the same raw materials and by-products. Accordingly, Egyptian bread was probably baked from a very loose starter, almost a batter (perhaps including wort) and not a firmer dough.
This culinary distinction crucially illuminates a famous but generally misunderstood passage: “And [the fleeing Hebrews] baked unleavened cakes [matzah] of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual” (Exodus 12:39). A firm bread dough could easily have been carried in baskets (toted athwart poles in baskets with handles or balanced atop heads). But a liquidy batter/dough cannot be carried or it would slosh out of the containers. Haste would have meant waste. Hence, it was baked quickly before the much longer rising and leavening required for bread made in conjunction with brewing beer, which accounts for the laws of Passover in Exodus 12:8–20 on eating unleavened bread in commemoration of the flight from Egypt. That’s an image we can all raise a glass to.
Senior Curator, Cultural History
Egyptian Bouza Beer
Michael Homan’s “Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?” serves to highlight the ongoing problem of rendering terms current during the first millennium B.C. in ways that reflect the realities of the Asiatic context in which they were used. Some of your readers will already be familiar with my views on this issue in the article I contributed to Archaeology Odyssey in the Winter 1999 issue on “Opium for the Masses: How the Ancients Got High.”
Homan is right in identifying three of the reasons for the lack of references to beer in English translations of the Bible, but there is a fourth. As Michael Zohary tellingly points out in Plants of the Bible ([Cambridge, 1982], pp. 12–13), discrepancies, inaccuracies and confusion abound in translations due to inadequate knowledge of the native plants and a tendency to assign to plants of the Bible names familiar to the translators. English and other European versions are, he says, the worst culprits.
That said, I missed in Homan’s paper (an otherwise convincing, not to mention stimulating, survey of the data) a reference to the recent Egyptian practice of making “bouza,” a form of beer produced in the same way as was used in ancient times. It was described by a 19th-century A.D. traveler as more like soup or porridge than a beverage and sounds like the last thing you’d drink to refresh yourself after a hard day’s trekking in the desert. All this and more is recounted in the still indispensable Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries (4th ed. [London, 1962], pp. 10–16) by Alfred Lucas, revised by John Harris.
More surprising is Homan’s omission from his article of Israel Museum curator Michal Dayagi-Mendels’s very informative and well-illustrated catalog of the 1999 exhibition Drink and Be Merry: Wine and Beer in Ancient Times. This catalog not only supports his identification of shekhar with beer but includes one picture that would cause BAR’s more puritanical readers even greater apoplexy than the Three Graces!
Mailly le Chateau, France
Robert Merrillees is a former ambassador of Australia to Israel.
Now you’ve done it! First you say that God drank beer. Next you include a statue of a bare-breasted woman making beer. Please continue my subscription.
The Zodiac as Jewish Mysticism
Martin Goodman has provided us with an excellent review of the influence of Hellenism on ancient Jewish life (“Under the Influence,” BAR 36:01). But I fear he has seriously underestimated the importance of at least one element in his discussion: zodiac mosaics on Byzantine synagogue floors.
He describes these floor coverings as indicative of Hellenistic influence on Jewish life. While that may be partially true, it certainly isn’t the whole story. If zodiacs were simply Hellenistic themes and designs, as argued, how can we explain the fact that of the hundreds of Byzantine sites we know in Israel and the world, there is not one single zodiac anywhere in a church until the Renaissance, and very few after that? And that no zodiac has ever been found in a Jewish context that was not in a synagogue. Surely that tells us that something more is going on.
Zodiacs were far more important than simply decorative designs. They certainly were not calendars, because the signs of the wheel most often do not match up with the seasons of the year. Zodiacs were a literature, telling us what the rabbis did not allow to be written in books. They were in fact documents of Jewish mysticism (which normative Judaism did not encourage).
Passing through the synagogue from the front door to the ark at the opposite end of the mosaic floor can be seen and felt, to this day, as a journey from the mundane earth of our experience through to higher worlds. We start at the beginning of the mosaic with our righteous ancestors—our connection between this world and the next in many religious traditions—advance to the zodiac through the seasons of the year, past the stars and constellations, even through the Invincible Sun itself, and then—far beyond nature—to the Torah. It is a mystical, vertical ascent to the throne of God.
This is what those zodiacs are telling us.
Walter Zanger is a well-known Israeli tour guide who is often featured on Israeli TV.—Ed.
Achziv’s Buried Treasure
Dead Sea Scroll Pottery Forged
Eilat Mazar mentions Immanuel Ben-Dor as the first archaeologist to explore the Phoenician tombs of Achziv (“Achziv Cemeteries: Buried Treasure from Israel’s Phoenician Neighbor,” BAR 36:05). In the late 1960s Ben-Dor taught Hebrew at Emory University. He told us of the first pottery fragments from Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) being brought to his office, as he had expertise in pottery. He laughed at his having declared them fakes. He had never seen anything like them; the walls were too thin to withstand water pressure, and the handles were too small for lifting the jars.
Gray Summit, Missouri
More Phoenician Crematoria
Vassos Karageorghis, formerly director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, a professor at the University of Cyprus, a leading scholar of ancient Cypriot culture and currently director of the Foundation of Anastasios G. Leventis, has written us about other Phoenician cemeteries on Cyprus that may include crematoria similar to the one found in the Achziv cemetery in Israel excavated by Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar and reported in our September/October issue. Dr. Karageorghis’s letter is too long to print here, so we are posting it on our Web site.—Ed.
In our November/December issue, we published a letter from Professor Boyd Seevers concerning Israelite chariots in the Assyrian period in response to an article in our July/August issue by David Ussishkin, titled “Jezreel—Where Jezebel Was Thrown to the Dogs.” Professor Ussishkin’s response to Professor Seevers arrived too late for publication with Professor Seevers’s letter. So we have placed both Seevers’s letter and Ussishkin’s response on our Web site.—Ed.
Dan Warner is a director of the Gezer Water Expedition, not Dan Walker, as published in the sidebar “It’s Finally Being Done” (September/October 2010, p. 66).
Gracing the Cover