Queries & Comments
Dig Issue Cover
I just pulled the Digs issue from the mailbox (BAR 40:01). Thank you for remembering the ladies this year. What a good-looking young man in a skimpy top. He is really cute!
I always enjoy your fine magazine even though I don’t always agree, but I always learn something new. Keep up the good work.
Behind Closed Tents
Just a word on the “Jesus Wife” discussion (Strata, “‘Jesus’ Wife’ Update,” BAR 40:01).
I know the issue may have some historical significance, but I see it as being on the same level as his eating, bathing or going to the bathroom.
Personally, I couldn’t care less what goes on behind “closed tents.”
Asherah the Goddess
You owe your readers some clarification regarding some of Professor Edward Lipiński’s statements (in “Cult Prostitution in Ancient Israel?” BAR 40:01) about the use of the term ’āshērā in the Hebrew Bible.
Modern scholars have not “invented” the goddess Asherah, as he claims. Nor are there any of the 40 occurrences of the term where it means “shrine.” Finally, the occasional plural or use with the definitive article proves nothing except that later redactors were confused (as also with the term ’āshtôrêt, presumably the goddess Astarte).
The fact is that the term ’āshērā can refer either to the goddess Asherah, or to her principal symbol—a wooden pole or living tree (which is why the verbs used mean “to cut down,” “chop up,” or “burn”—not suitable for a “shrine”). In at least five or six passages, however, we must read “Ba’al and Asherah,” which can only refer to the goddess.
As for my Khirbet el-Qom inscription (and also ‘Ajrûd), readers should know that no archaeologist or Hebraist renders the term ’āšrātô as “his shrine.” The phrase means either “his (goddess) Asherah”; or “his sign/symbol” (of the goddess), with the former interpretation gaining ground.
I respect Professor Lipiński’s views, but they are decidedly in the minority.
Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Archaeology
University of Arizona
Edward Lipiński responds:
Proper names, either geographical (like Hebron) or personal (like Abraham) or divine (like YHWH) are not used in Biblical Hebrew with the article ha-. They do not have a plural, and they are not augmented by pronominal suffixes (her, his, etc.). Now, all this also happens with the substantive asherah, as recorded in notes 3–5 of my BAR article (“Cult Prostitution in Ancient Israel?” BAR 40:01) and explained in publications written in English and referred to in note 6, on p. 70, of my BAR article. One of these publications goes back to 1972! We are dealing here with linguistic facts, which do not depend on the number of modern writers with a sufficient knowledge of the language to understand these facts.
Later redactors of the Bible were not confused in this matter, as shown by the Septuagint, made in the third–second centuries B.C.E., by the Mishnah and by the Tannaim. In no place in the Septuagint is asherah translated by a divine name. We find everywhere
Unfortunately, one does not find a similar knowledge in some modern publications. Martin Luther still understood that asherah should be translated by “grove” (“Hain”), but there are modern Bible translations with 40 mistranslated passages, in which the word asherah occurs. The plural happens then to be translated by “sacred poles” (e.g., Isaiah 14:8), another invention for which there is no evidence whatsoever.
People having access to Ancient Near Eastern sources also know that aširtu/ešertu in Assyro-Babylonian, ’šrt in Phoenician, and ’trt in Old and Imperial Aramaic mean “shrine” or “worship place,” not necessarily a building, as suggested by some Biblical texts referred to in my article on pp. 53–54. W. Sallaberger rightly records in the Reallexikon der Assyriologie 13/7–8 (Berlin 2013, p. 520a) that the aširtu/ešertu can also designate a sacred piece of ground (as perhaps in the Khirbet el-Qom inscription) or a chapel inside a house (as in 2 Kings 23:7). Hebrew asherah is the same lexeme.
The word ’š(y)rh, derived from the root ’ṯr > ’šr, “place” (noun), “tread” (verb), has been confused by some writers with the Canaanite goddess Ashtart/Ashtoret or with the Ugaritian and South-Arabian goddess Ashratu (’ṯrt). This gross error has been introduced in Bible translations despite the grammatical and orthographic evidence, despite the Greek version of the Septuagint, and despite the post-Biblical Hebrew use of the word in the Mishnah and the Tosefta.
It appears from these texts that asherah could be a sacred grove (already in Deuteronomy 16:21 and Judges 6:25–30) or the place under a tree (cf. Jeremiah 3:6), where a forbidden cult was performed and where an idol was eventually located. Hence the use of verbs referring to these trees and meaning “to cut down,” “to chop up” or “to burn.” There is no evidence suggesting that asherah could be a wooden pole. The “idol” eventually placed in the asherah is called mipleṣet, “relief” (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16), pesel, “hewn stone” (2 Kings 21:7), or ṣōrāh, “moulded figurine” (Mishnah). The pesel was explicitly forbidden by the Decalogue (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8).
The terebinth or oak of Moreh at Shechem (Genesis 12:6) and the terebinth or oak of Mamre (Genesis 13:18; 18:1) marked such sacred places (concerning Mamre, one can now read an article in The Polish Journal of Biblical Research 13 ). Both passages mention an altar and the holy place is characterized there by a large tree called ’ēlōn, what is usually translated by “terebinth” or “oak.” The same tree (’yln) also characterizes the asherah in the Mishnah, but the Tosefta mentions a ḥărūb or a šiqmāh, “carob-tree” or “sycamore.” The evergreen terebinth is very common in the Middle East. It rarely exceeds 33 feet in height, but has broad-spreading branches, thus covering a relatively large piece of ground. This is the 011 reason why the translation of ’ēlōn by “terebinth” seems to be the most appropriate one. Oaks are instead high trees, sometimes exceeding 50 feet in height, but they do not have such broad-spreading branches. The patriarchal holy places are not called asherah because they are related to Abraham, while the asheroth, forbidden since Josiah’s reform (2 Kings 23), has negative connotations. In particular, all the objects made for the shrine put in the Temple area by king Manasseh (2 Kings 21:7) had to be removed (2 Kings 23:4) and the shrine burnt (2 Kings 23:6).
Forty-two years ago [see note 6 of my BAR article], a well-informed scholar could already read:
“The only texts where ’ašērā seems to designate a goddess or her emblems are Judges 3:7 and 1 Kings 18:19. In Judges 3:7 the Israelites are accused of having served ‘the Baals and the ’ašērōt.’ But the parallel passages of Judges 2:13; 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4; 12:10 mention ‘the Baals and the ‘aštārōt.’ Moreover, two Hebrew manuscripts and the Vulgate have also in Judges 3:7 ‘aštārōt instead of ’ašērōt, a reading which must be considered as a scribal error. In 1 Kings 18:19, the words ‘the four hundred prophets of the ’ašērā’ appear as an intrusion, since they were asterized in the Hexapla and since the prophets of the ’ašērā are not mentioned in the subsequent story. In any case, the word ’ašērā does not need to be understood in strict parallelism to Baal; the whole expression nebī’ē hā’ašērā designates rather ‘the prophets of the shrine,’ where the Baal was worshipped.”
Knowledge of Semitic grammar, of Near Eastern sources, and of literature is required to deal with these questions. Of course, one should read the Hebrew text in agreement with the rules of Hebrew grammar. Asherah was a place with cultic elements where one could worship a deity; it was not an object that was worshiped. The inscriptions from Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet Ajrud provide the decisive proof that asherah would designate a Yahwistic worship place, especially in the countryside and before Josiah’s reform.
Shortest Biblical Verses
Other Three-Word Verses
In Strata, “How Many?” of the January/February 2014 issue, you note that Job 3:2, which contains three words [in Hebrew], is the shortest verse in the Hebrew Bible. True enough, but other three-word verses in the Hebrew Bible share this distinction: Genesis 25:14, 43:1, 46:23; Numbers 6:24.
Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy
Chair, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Two Word Verses
I was surprised to see that the three words of Job 3:2 (
Ashley Falls, Massachusetts
Crucifixion in the Nude
I was quite taken by the two fascinating articles on crucifixion in your March/April 2013 issue. One was Larry W. 012 Hurtado’s “Staurogram: Earliest Depiction of Jesus’ Crucifixion,” the other, Ben Witherington III’s “Images of Crucifixion: Fresh Evidence.” I was especially intrigued that two of the earliest crucifixions depicted men who were crucified in the nude. While I have nothing to add to the early pictorial history of crucifixion, your readers might be interested to learn that there is at least one depiction of Christ crucified in the nude, although he did not stay that way very long. The illustration occurs on a Spanish polyptych painted in Barcelona in about 1350 ascribed to Ferrer Bassa and family. In one panel he hangs on the cross nude. In a subsequent panel he is clothed with a loincloth. The episode is based on a devotional text,1 according to which he “is stripped, and is now nude before all the multitude for the third time, his wounds reopened by the adhesion of his garments to his flesh. Now for the first time the Mother beholds her Son thus taken and prepared for the anguish of death. She is saddened and shamed beyond measure when she sees him entirely nude: They did not leave him even his loincloth. Therefore she hurries and approached the Son, embraces him, and girds him with the veil from her head …”
This devotional text clearly inspired the artist.
The polyptych is permanently on view in Morgan’s study at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.
Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Department Head
The Morgan Library & Museum
New York, New York
Hershel Shanks writes that “the idea of a shape-changing Jesus” “goes back as far as Origen in the third century” (First Person, “Why Did Judas Identify Jesus with a Kiss?” BAR 40:01). In fact, it goes back even further. It already occurs in the apocryphal Acts of John, which dates from the second century. Scholars call it polymorphy. In the Acts of John, the brothers James and John look at Jesus at the same moment but see him differently. People also see him as of several different ages. From the Acts of John the idea was taken over into Acts of Peter. (I did my doctorate [University of Groningen, The Netherlands] on these Acts. See also my “Polymorphy of Christ” in J.N. Bremmer, ed., The Apocryphal Acts of John [Kampen: Kok, 1995], pp. 97–118).
Your January/February issue was exceptionally interesting, including Leonard Greenspoon’s column (“Bible in the News”) on salt, which appears frequently in the Bible. But he did not mention the references to salting newborn infants. (See Ezekiel 16:4: “On the day you were born … you were not rubbed with salt.”) Did midwives actually sprinkle salt on babies? If so, why?
Johnstown, New York
In ancient times newborns were rubbed with salt for cleansing. Salt has antiseptic properties. The custom was also associated with the belief that it provided protection from demons. This response is based on a quick search in Encyclopedia Judaica. Perhaps our readers can provide us with a more authoritative answer.—Ed.
When Did Herod Die?
Re: the ongoing discussion in Queries and Comments (July/August 2013; January/February 2014) as to when Jesus was born: Both Matthew and 065 Luke say he was born during Herod’s reign. When did Herod die? It is commonly said to have occurred in 4 B.C. This in turn is based on Josephus, who says that there was a lunar eclipse shortly before Herod died. This is thought to refer to the lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C. Hence, the date of Jesus’ birth is often given as 4 B.C. But physics professor John A. Cramer has pointed out that there was another lunar eclipse visible in Judea—in fact, two—in 1 B.C., which would place Herod’s death—and Jesus’ birth—at the turn of the era.
BAR reader Jeroen H.C. Tempelman replies that the 4 B.C. eclipse is much more likely for several reasons, including the fact that Josephus also says that Herod died shortly before Passover. The 4 B.C. eclipse occurred in March; therefore it is more likely that this eclipse marked Herod’s death.
Professor Cramer responded that Josephus also relates that the lunar eclipse occurred sometime between a fast and Passover (March/April). It is commonly thought this refers to the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (September/October).
However, BAR reader Suzanne Nadaf points out below that there is more than one fast in the Jewish calendar; and the fast Josephus referred to may be the Fast of Esther, which could produce a different date.
A Different Fast
John Cramer responds to Mr. Tempelman’s letter to the editor (“Queries and Comments,” BAR 40:01) that Herod’s death occurred between a “fast” and Passover. Mr. Cramer acknowledges that the fast of Yom Kippur fits the eclipse but doesn’t fit the time frame of occurring near Passover. There is, however, another fast that occurs exactly one month before Passover: the Fast of Esther! The day before Purim is a fast day commemorating Queen Esther’s command for all Jews to fast before she approached the king. Purim fell on March 12–13, 4 B.C. So there was an eclipse and a fast on March 12–13, 4 B.C., one month before Passover, which would fit Josephus’s statement bracketing Herod’s death by a fast and Passover.
Brooklyn, New York
John A. Cramer responds:
This suggestion seems plausible and, if I recall correctly, someone has already raised 066 it. The consensus, if such exists, seems, however, to be that the fast really should be the fast of Yom Kippur, but resolving that issue requires expertise to which I make no claim. Too many possibilities and too little hard information probably leave the precise date forever open.
Your obituary of Robert Bull in the January/February 2014 issue contains an oxymoron. You describe him as “focusing on a wide range of subjects.” “Focus” on a “wide” range?
North Fort Myers, Florida
It’s a Hand, Not a Quiver
I very much enjoyed the article on the Ashkelon marketplace (Daniel M. Master and Lawrence E. Stager, “Buy Low, Sell High: The Marketplace at Ashkelon,” BAR 40:01). I do have one correction, however. On page 44 the lower piece of pottery shows a Greek hoplite. The accompanying caption says that “… a quiver full of arrows can be seen behind his back.” Greek hoplites did not carry archery gear. What is taken as the “quiver” is actually the hoplite’s hand (and lower arm) grasping the spear in the typical over hand thrust fashion.2
Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Near Eastern Studies
Ithaca, New York
Professor Zorn is correct.—Ed.
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