Queries & Comments
I love to read BAR cover to cover. I hugely enjoy the readers’ letters—cranky or praising. We can learn so much, yet still know so little. Archaeology can reveal and also frustrate and leave us with further mysteries.
Syracuse, New York
How Babies Were Made
God’s Having Control Is a “Given”
Re: Andrew Lincoln’s article about Jesus’ conception, “How Babies Were Made in Jesus’ Time,” BAR 40:06.
Mr. Lincoln makes very good points from a strictly human-logic standpoint. What he fails to give credence to is a Creator/God’s control over everything in his universe. Could God have provided the Y chromosome necessary for Jesus to be fully human without the sperm of a flesh and blood father? Of course. If Mr. Lincoln can’t acknowledge that one “given,” then he must also question every other event throughout Scripture that defies a human explanation. Cases in point:
Could God have stopped the rotation of the earth for Joshua in a battle with the Amorites (Joshua 10:13–14)?
Could one man like Samson exert the strength needed to cause a large building to collapse (Judges 16:29–30)?
How could the three Hebrew young men survive a blazing furnace (Daniel 3:21–27)?
How did Jesus bypass instantly the distilling/aging process required to make good wine at Cana (John 2:7–10)?
How could a man dead for several days and in the decaying process come out of his tomb with no brain impairment nor other physical disability (John 11:39–44)?
How could a terrible wasting disease like leprosy in advanced stages be healed in a few seconds (Luke 5:12–13)?
If Mr. Lincoln argues that God couldn’t provide something as simple as a Y chromosome so that Jesus could be fully God and fully man at the same time, then he has to discount all other phenomena in Scripture that transcends human logic. However in so doing, he must recognize that he is a mere man and has the audacity to proclaim that the God who created him lacks the power to supersede the laws of nature, biology, physiology and chemistry.
God Didn’t Need Mary’s or Joseph’s DNA
If God did not need Joseph’s DNA, why would God have used Mary’s DNA? Might Mary simply have been the vessel as this was the way children came into the world? As a child born of a woman, he would have been considered human. We assume that it takes two pair of DNA, but what, exactly, did God use?
After Creating Adam, Creating a Sperm Would Be Easy
Andrew Lincoln claims that for Jesus to be fully human, there had to be a male sperm from somewhere and that without that male sperm, Jesus would be less than or more than human. He does, grudgingly it seems, admit that with God all things are possible, but he seems to forget that God created Adam out of dust. Surely it would be a small thing for God to create a male sperm and place it in the proper place to fertilize a female egg instead of placing it in a garden as he did with Adam.
The ancient people may not have understood the scientific explanation for how babies came into existence, but I am certain that God understood it quite well.
It Was a Miracle, and That Was That
I am disappointed that my beloved Biblical Archaeology 009 010 Review even discussed the virgin birth of Jesus, which was a miracle.
If you do not print my letter (or a similar one), I will probably cancel my subscription.
We want you to stay.—Ed.
Conception in the Times of Ancient Kings
Andrew Lincoln’s “How Babies Were Made in Jesus’ Time” provided a fascinating summary of the “third person” in conception, but interestingly it missed noting that three ancient Egyptian kings—Hatshepsut and Amenhotep III of the 18th Dynasty and Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty, all second millennium B.C.E.—each was conceived by a deity, Amun. Thus Lincoln’s material can be understood to have an even deeper history.
Penfield, New York
Andrew Lincoln responds:
Thank you for pointing to this deeper history. In a short article, “Paternity at Two Levels,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96 (1977), p. 101, Cyrus Gordon already observed how the Egyptian phenomenon is illuminating for the material in the Gospels about Jesus. Each pharaoh was regarded as the son of the god but inherited the throne and kingship through descent from a biological human father.
A Catchy Title and an Informative Article!
Your recent article “How Babies Were Made in Jesus’ Time” would have been interesting even without the catchy title! Keep publishing informative studies and opinions.
Jews in Christian Jerusalem
How Accurate Are Helena’s Sites?
The article by Yoram Tsafrir and Leah di Segni about Jews and Christians living in Jerusalem was very interesting (Hershel Shanks, “After Hadrian’s Banishment: Jews in Christian Jerusalem,” BAR 40:05), but it does present some questions in my mind. If Jews and (by extension) Christians for the most part were not allowed in Jerusalem for about 300 years or so (possibly on threat of death), how accurate would the sites set up by Helena be? No living person would really know where things happened, especially since Rome was so successful in totally destroying the city before rebuilding it. It would be similar if England had won our Revolutionary War, and no American was allowed to go into Philadelphia until the 21st century, and then a current politician’s wife 011 or mother was to finally go there and designate areas of importance to American history. Would those handpicked locations be the actual locations where the claimed event really happened? Or would they be more attached to tradition and hearsay?
Leah di Segni responds:
The article Mr. Wagner refers to is not our article but a short adaptation of a small part of it. If he wishes to read the entire article, it is Di Segni and Tsafrir, “The Ethnic Composition of Jerusalem’s Population,” Liber Annuus 62 (2012), pp. 405–454. It can be found online. The chapter on the Jews is at pp. 440 ff.
Hadrian’s prohibition against Jews entering Jerusalem was soon forgotten or at least not enforced. It is far from unusual for an emperor’s order to be forgotten after his death. (And Hadrian’s prohibition against circumcision was formally canceled by Antoninus Pius.)
There is evidence in Jewish sources that Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem never ceased, not after 70 and not after Hadrian. There was always a small community living in the city. Origen in the early third century assumes that Jews could come freely to the Holy City, and Jewish pilgrimage is again attested in the early fourth century by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux. The sermons of Cyril of Jerusalem in the mid-fourth century indicate that part of the audience was Jewish. And of course there were Jews in Jerusalem when Emperor Julian gave permission to rebuild the Temple [c. 360–363 C.E.]. In short, the connection of the Jews with Jerusalem was never interrupted.
The legend of Helena’s being informed by Jews where the True Cross was to be found is just that—a legend.
Even if you believe in the story about Helena and the Jews, I fail to understand how around 190 years of separation (not 300; Hadrian’s prohibition, 135 C.E., Helena’s visit to Jerusalem 326 C.E.) could have made Jews forget about important episodes of their past: This is a people who still remembers everything about coming out of Egypt after some 3,300 years and all the details of the cult in the Temple after almost 2,000 years.
The “Other” Philistines
Philistines Made Music
Re: Ephraim Stern, “The Other Philistines” (BAR 40:06): The author states that “a cow scapula, or shoulder blade, with incised grooves from Dor has also been found at a number of other Sea Peoples’ sites and probably originated in Cyprus. Its purpose is unknown.”
I suggest that the purpose of the scapula is musical. By holding the scapula in one’s left hand and rubbing a stick across the incised grooves with the right, a rasping percussive sound would be produced, and appropriate accompaniment for flutes or lyres.
Such an instrument is still in use today. Called a “guira,” it can be found in any catalog of handheld percussion instruments.
Mount Olive, West Virginia
Ephraim Stern responds:
This is an interesting suggestion discussed by scholars. It is definitely one of the possible options, which unfortunately can’t be confirmed on the basis of the available information.
Philistines Weaved Cloth
Re: The objects described as “a cow scapula, or shoulder blade, with incised grooves” whose “purpose is unknown.” These two pieces might be part of a loom, top and/or bottom beam of the frame, the grooves holding the warp yarn.
Ephraim Stern responds:
To my mind, this suggestion is highly unlikely. The artifacts are thin and breakable and definitely cannot serve as loom frame fragments. Usually loom frames were made of heavy wood parts.
Where Noah Landed
Archaeology and History Support Importance of Site
I was pleasantly surprised to see in the November/December 2014 issue the short piece titled: “Where Noah Landed?” This area, south of the Cudi Dagh in southeastern Turkey, has the potential for some of the greatest archaeological discoveries in history. There are good reasons for this optimistic prediction: First, several extensive archaeological surveys have been conducted in the area by Guillermo Algaze and Bradley Parker, who identified 29 Iron Age sites in the Cizre plain alone. In his monumental work, T.A. Sinclair gives convincing evidence some sites will prove to be the earliest of civilization.1 Second, the area has a rich history. It can be documented that at least three kings visited the area: Ashurnasirpal II in the ninth century B.C., Sennacherib in the seventh century B.C. and Heraclius early in the seventh century A.D. Sennacherib left no less than eight (maybe more) rock carvings of himself featuring his exploits in the area where he brags about burning five cities.2 Heraclius came to see the remains of Noah’s Ark, and the carved image shown on p. 12 is possibly Ashurnasirpal.3 Third, this is the area to which many of the ten northern tribes of Israel were transported by Tiglath-pileser III, Shalmaneser V and Sargon II. Until a hundred years ago, there were still several thousand Jews living in the area (Cizre). Fourth, there is ample evidence from ancient historians that the Cudi Mountain Range is indeed the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. As noted in the BAR article, the Bible does not say that the Ark landed on contemporary Mt. Ararat in northeastern Turkey. Genesis 8:4 states only that the Ark landed on the mountains (plural) of Ararat, the ancient kingdom of Urartu. These rugged mountains were historically always located south of Lake Van and extended to the Tigris River. They begin from the south with the elongated spine of the Cudi Dagh. Authorities who have supported this claim are Gertrude Bell, A.H. Sayce, Boris Piotrovsky, Umberto Cassuto, Paul Zimansky and Edwin Yamauchi, to name a few. I have fully documented the above claims in a paper read in 2013 at the annual conference of the Near Eastern Archaeological Society: “The Geography of Genesis 8:4.”
Western Wall Tunnel
I wish to register my strong objection to the headline “Beneath the Wailing Wall” (BAR 40:06) above the review of Dan Bahat’s The Jerusalem Western Wall Tunnel (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2013). Dan Bahat and most modern scholars refer to this structure as the Western Wall, it being the prominent remaining Herodian structure of Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). This is how all of the directional signs read in Jerusalem. The term “Wailing Wall” is pejorative, meant to mock the emotional response of Jewish people over the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. The term has fallen out of use except by people who willfully or carelessly use terms like “Paddy Wagon” and “gyp.”
Boca Raton, Florida
The image credit for the Assyrian relief on Mount Cudi in “Where Noah Landed?” in the Strata section of the November/December 2014 issue is incorrect. The photograph was taken by Professor Ibrahim Baz of the University of Sirnak, Turkey—not Timo Roller as we reported. Timo Roller also tells us that there probably is (or was) an inscription on the rock relief which is not readable on the photograph we published.—Ed.