Queries & Comments
Akhenaten, Obama and Moses
Your July/August cover was a good photo of President Obama dressed for a Cabinet meeting.
Huntington Beach, California
Several readers have noted the resemblance of our cover photo of Akhenaten to President Obama.—Ed.
Two Monotheisms at Same Time
I read Brian Fagan’s article on Akhenaten (“Did Akhenaten’s Monotheism Influence Moses?” BAR 41:04) with great interest and appreciated his detailed recounting of Akhenaten’s attenuated career as a monotheistic pharaoh. Having two monotheistic faiths arise from the same general area in about the same timeframe certainly leads to fascinating speculation. I’ve always held out a possibility that Akhenaten might have developed his monotheistic faith from contact with the foreign nomads from Canaan, who years before had brought with them a belief in one supreme god who transcended borders. It makes an interesting narrative to also consider the possibility that Horemheb in his purging of the Egyptian kingdom of this monotheistic heresy might expel these foreigners (come to be known as Hebrews) from the land.
Woodland Park, Colorado
Don’t Slight 5
In the July/August letter columns, Marc Brettler gives much attention to the number 4 in the Bible, but none to the number 5 (Q & C, “The Bible’s Repeated Numerals,” BAR 41:04). Obvious instances of 5 are “the five fifths of the Law,” the 5 books of the Psalms collection, the five megillot (Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes [Qoheleth] and the Book of Esther), the five divisions of Ethiopic Enoch (noncanonical for most), and the somewhat less obvious instance of the structuring of the Book of Genesis with two series of toledot (generations) each with five units. Many ancient societies and groups favored and even revered the pentagram, the Pythagoreans, for example, and it was known to the learned in both Egypt and Greece that 5 is not just a prime number but the sum of two prime numbers. In the Hebrew Bible, the number 5 is especially in evidence in accounts of architectural details: Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:15), the tent shrine in the wilderness (Exodus 26–27, 36, 38), Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezekiel 40–41), and Solomon’s temple beloved of Templars and Masons in which the pilasters and doorposts are in pentagonal shape (1 Kings 6–7; 2 Chronicles 3–4).
Professor Emeritus Biblical Studies
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana
Stolen In Israel?
I was happy to see BAR’s article (“The Mystery of the Missing Pages of the Aleppo Codex,” BAR 41:04), including a reference to my 2012 book on the subject.1 The codex’s story is a fascinating and important one, and there is no better academic scholar of this manuscript than the article’s author, Professor Yosef Ofer, who was unfailingly helpful to me in my own research.
Regarding the key question about the missing pages of the codex, however—when, precisely, and where they went missing—I must respectfully differ.
Professor Ofer doubts the pages went missing in Israel. The document he mentions to support this view was ostensibly written in the 1950s by Rabbi Yitzhak Chehebar, who 009 010 left Aleppo in 1952 for Buenos Aires and was one of the Aleppo community’s most respected leaders.
In my book, I cite a filmed testimony from 1989 in which the same rabbi asserts that when he last saw the manuscript in hiding in Aleppo in 1952, only a small number of pages—“not even dozens”—were missing. This testimony is crucial, because it suggests that the disappearance of some 200 pages, including the Torah, happened after the book left Aleppo. This matches testimony from two other community members.
The document mentioned by Professor Ofer contradicts Rabbi Chehebar’s own filmed testimony, asserting instead that in fact “nearly a quarter” of the manuscript was missing while it was still in Aleppo. If true, this would mean that suspicions about a theft in Israel are unfounded.
In other words, we have two testimonies from the same person, and one of them must be wrong. Discovering which is a matter of importance to this mystery. I believe it is the later, filmed testimony.
The document presented by Professor Ofer in BAR, which I studied closely, demands more careful scrutiny. The five pages, found in files from the Ben-Zvi Institute, were written or edited by someone with a good grasp of modern Hebrew, including clear academic influences—chapter headings referring to the book’s “time and place” and its “scientific value,” for example. This seems unlikely to match the young Syrian rabbi, as Rabbi Chehebar had recently arrived in Argentina from Aleppo in the 1950s. Indeed, a surviving Hebrew letter from Rabbi Chehebar written in 1958 (and signed by him, unlike the document in question) is entirely different in its language, and was written on a different typewriter. Thus, this document can safely be regarded, at best, as a translation or transcript produced by a third party. Oddly, the document is written as if the codex is still in Aleppo—that is, before the fall of 1957—but stamped with a contradictory date: April 24, 1960, by which time the codex had been in Israel for more than two years. This is another warning sign.
A final detail settles the argument, in my view. Sometime after the codex arrived at the Ben-Zvi Institute in 1958, someone there (almost certainly Itzhak Ben-Zvi himself) calculated that 23 percent was missing. This was an error—in fact, 40 percent was missing. Here is a very strange coincidence. Writing, or so we are to believe, before the codex ever left Aleppo, Rabbi Chehebar made precisely the same mistake as Ben-Zvi—that “nearly a quarter” was gone. We can hardly believe in such coincidences. The signs indicate that this odd document was prepared at the Ben-Zvi Institute, and only after the codex left Aleppo. It was meant to be attributed to the rabbi, but it cannot be. His later filmed testimony is the more credible by far. (Unfortunately, he is now deceased.)
Perhaps understandably, many scholars in Israel would like to believe that the disappearance of the codex’s pages had nothing to do with scholars in Israel. I would like to believe that too. Unfortunately, the available facts do not allow us to draw that conclusion.
Einstein Explained It
Re. First Person: “Time Inflation” (BAR 41:04), my brother, who is about your age, suggested that time does not move any faster than it did when we were younger; rather, we have slowed down and it takes us longer to do things. This makes us perceive time as moving faster. Didn’t Einstein say something like that?
What a great piece on “Time Inflation.” Who can’t relate!
The BAR Legacy
I love BAR. I want it to continue to offer its erudite, irascible, irreverent, penetrating insights for decades to come. To do that, it needs to be prepared to function if some of its leadership suddenly is no longer able to lead. I trust that a lively effort is being made to assure that it will continue for years to come.
Hyde Park, New York
You’re right, and we are.—Ed.
BAR Reader Is Archaeologically Up-to-Date
I have been a BAR reader since the early 1980s when I was a student at U.C. Berkeley. So BAR truly is like an old friend. I was in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, and I was blessed to receive a first-class education with kind and honorable instructors like David Stronach, Guitty Azarpay, Wolfgang Heimpel, Ruggero Stefanini and others. In 1981, I was a dig volunteer via the Hebrew Union College and excavated at Tel Dan under Dr. Avraham Biran. In 1986, I returned to Israel and excavated at Tel Dor under Ephraim Stern. However, my life’s path diverged from an academic one; I married, had three children and two stepchildren, and I stayed home to raise them. Through the years when we could afford it, I subscribed to BAR. I want to thank you so much for giving your time, money, blood, sweat and tears to its publication. You have blessed my life considerably, keeping me abreast with the archaeological world.
Reading BAR Cover to Cover
Since my retirement, I have become one of those who reads BAR from cover to cover as soon as it arrives. I don’t necessarily intend to do that, but one item simply leads on to another.
B.C.E./C.E. Censors His Faith
I am inclined not to renew my BAR subscription. I strongly oppose and am offended by the growing use of B.C.E. and C.E. You should know I wrestled with the thought of writing this letter, not wanting to sound like a reactionary. I also would never insist all people should be made to acknowledge the importance of Christ in world history. But I can’t help feeling this is a selective censoring of one faith and one faith alone.
I must also say I have learned much from reading BAR and will miss it.
Degree in Archaeology Not Required
I have no degrees in archaeology, Hebrew, Semitic studies, etc. Zilch. No background whatsoever that would qualify me to read 070 and enjoy BAR. But yet, I do! If you’ve got a brain and a desire to know, then you can read and even enjoy BAR. It might take a little effort, but you can do it.
How well I remember receiving my first few issues of BAR. I thumbed through them and thought, “This is so far out of my league, no need to even try to read it!” So I tossed them. I honestly did. About the third issue is when I got serious and started reading it. And now? I can’t wait to get it.
Akhenaten, Obama and Moses