Queries & Comments
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Summer 2023 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters and responses we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters.
As a church pastor and amateur historian, I’ve always enjoyed BAR and find many of the articles of personal interest. Lately, I’ve noticed a pleasant trend in the overall focus of the articles—that they are, well, biblical. Each article seems to relate directly to the Bible, whereas before some of the articles were a bit more tertiary and critical. For what it’s worth, I appreciate your work.
Invisible David and Solomon
The authors of “David and Solomon’s Invisible Kingdom” point to the paucity of archaeological evidence for tent-dwelling nomads. However, most nomads move with their herds in routine ways in search of good grazing ground. Each location has water and other geography to support tent living. Some nomads might even build permanent features like platforms, tables, or seating to use when they return to a certain location. Looking for these features could also reveal trash heaps, broken crockery, and household goods that they left behind.
ZACHARY THOMAS AND EREZ BEN-YOSEF RESPOND:
Unfortunately, the archaeological study of nomads in the southern Levant proves otherwise. We also should be wary of a positivistic approach that assumes if something existed, it must have left traces. Although it has been observed that nomads in the modern Middle East modify their seasonal campsites, we have no reason to assume that this was the case with all historical nomads. In any case, archaeologists have looked for possible “household” remains, but those are rare, difficult to date, and, most importantly, do not reveal much about the social structure of these nomads.
The reason why archaeologists have not been able to find evidence for David and Solomon’s kingdom is because it was never there. Unfortunately, biblical scholars tend to have tunnel vision about the earliest figures in the Bible. They insist the Bible is accurate, and then have to squeeze the evidence into a false narrative. Is that true scholarship? It seems more like a comedy of errors.
THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS
Thanks to Andrea Berlin for such a clearly written piece on how the Maccabees were able to achieve power (“The Rise of the Maccabees”). I appreciated not only her logic and explanations, but also her memorable historical and archaeological descriptions. What gorgeous writing!
Praise for Gilgamesh
I was pleased to read your article on the Epic of Gilgamesh. I first read Gilgamesh years ago, was deeply impressed, and have reread it several times in different translations. Among its many fascinating qualities are its clear ties to the Bible, especially Genesis. It’s so obvious they have a common source but a different emphasis.
To learn more about the cultural and literary connections between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible, read Adam Miglio’s Bible History Daily article “Genesis and Gilgamesh”: biblicalarchaeology.org/gilgamesh.—ED.
I am an avid supporter of animal welfare and read several magazines on the subject. Amazingly, one of them recently featured an article about the Epic of Gilgamesh! Michael Mountain, a well-known animal activist, wrote about how the ancient epic “captures the essence of our relationship to our fellow animals,” and how the saga encourages us to live in harmony with nature. One of the themes he covers is how the Gilgamesh story addresses our need to accept that we are also animals and instead of conquering nature, we need to find a way to fit into it. It is a different and refreshing take for modern times on an ancient tale.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but BAR is an archaeological journal, not a forum for theological debate. The article “Five Myths About the Apostle Paul,” by David Clausen, is not only a poor example of new age religious revisionism, but it isn’t even remotely connected to biblical archaeology. Instead, it only seems to serve as a childish and uninformed attempt at tearing down core Christian doctrines.
BAR does aim to present the latest archaeological discoveries from the world of the Bible. But in our Epistles section, we also highlight new scholarly insights into the Bible’s history and composition, including, in this case, how Paul’s letters would have been read and understood in their own time.—ED.
While I agree there are misconceptions about Paul, Clausen weakens his case by overstating certain elements while eliding evidence that speaks against his arguments. One example: He states, “Paul brought his gospel to those who had no covenant relationship with the God of Israel” (p. 61). This ignores the fact that, as often recorded in the Book of Acts, Paul “brought his gospel” into the synagogues whenever he entered a city, preaching first to his fellow Jews. It is unfortunate that Clausen, in his desire to “de-mythologize” Paul, transgresses Paul’s admonition to the believers in Corinth: “Do not go beyond what is written.”
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA
DAVID CLAUSEN RESPONDS:
Because of its late, second-century date, Acts should not be used as an unimpeachable source about what Paul did. In Paul’s own letters, he proclaimed himself apostle to the Gentiles. Undoubtedly Paul stopped at synagogues (where there were any) while he traveled, and likely explained his mission and message about Gentile redemption to their leadership (he says they whipped him a number of times over it), but this did not alter his stated mission.
I read with interest David Clausen’s “Five Myths” but take exception to his assertion that “Historically, we know that there was no such thing as ‘Christianity’ in the time of Paul, and the word ‘Christian’ was likely not in use either” (p. 60). Acts 11:26 states, “For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (NIV). It thus seems that the term “Christian” was indeed in use during the time of Paul. Am I misreading that passage?
RUSSELL V. OLSON JR.
DAVIDSON, NORTH CAROLINA
DAVID CLAUSEN RESPONDS:
Note that Acts does not say when Christianity became a term for the movement in Antioch. If Acts is indeed a second-century composition, it tallies with the time in which Ignatius of Antioch also began using the term “Christianity.”
Space would not permit a full listing of the New Testament passages contradicting David Clausen’s fourth myth that “Paul taught that Christ died for the sins of the world.” Instead, I will just appeal to logic. If Jews already had “ample means of atonement” for sin, why wouldn’t God’s solution for the Gentiles simply be for them to convert to Judaism? It is not surprising that many people believe that Christ’s death is not necessary for them. But it is logically untenable to believe that God has one plan for Jewish salvation and a different plan for the Gentiles.
DAVID CLAUSEN RESPONDS:
Paul certainly acknowledged that everyone had to deal with sin. But as any first-century Jew would have known, they had for centuries dealt with sin within their covenant relationship with God, which offered them means of atonement. This does not mean that the resurrected Jesus had no meaning for believing Jews, who found much meaning in his life and message and anticipated his imminent return. Their hope lay largely in Jesus’s ability to restore Israel once he returned, not in forgiveness of sin for individuals.
As for converting Gentiles to Judaism, Paul knew the Hebrew prophecies that spoke of Gentiles (“the nations”), not converted Jews, joining their Jewish neighbors in the worship of God, ostensibly on the Day of the Lord. This was Paul’s message: There was now a means for Gentiles to remain Gentiles yet be redeemed of their sin within a new covenant relationship that would number them among God’s people.
Debating the Bible’s Relevance
In his review of John Dominic Crossan’s Render Unto Caesar, Zeba Crook criticizes Crossan for not showing “why the Bible should not be used to shape modern social, political, and economic policy.” His suggestion is wrong on multiple levels. Although a work of literature, the Bible is considered by Christians to be the revealed word of God. To suggest the Bible is no longer “culturally relevant” goes against the heart of what the Bible says and is entirely wrong. The Bible has endured for thousands of years, and its spiritual truths will endure forever.
A Nice Surprise
I was pleasantly surprised to see the Summer issue’s “Who Did It?” quiz about Barbara Mertz! Only a few hours before, I had been looking at Mertz’s two Egyptian books, which I read not once but twice many years ago. They were some of the most interesting books I have ever read, and I had kept them in a special place. I did not know that she had been a mystery writer as well. I can only say that anyone, especially a person who likes Egyptology, should read her books and enjoy!
I had a good laugh reading the answer to “Define Intervention” in the Summer issue where it says: “In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Dilmun is the island reserved for Utnapishtim and his wife, who survived the Great Food” (p. 66). I wonder what may have been on the menu that was revered as Great Food.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments about our Summer 2023 issue. We appreciate your feedback. Here are a few of the letters and responses we received. Find more online at biblicalarchaeology.org/letters. Pleasant Trend As a church pastor and amateur historian, I’ve always enjoyed BAR and find many of the articles of personal interest. Lately, I’ve noticed a pleasant trend in the overall focus of the articles—that they are, well, biblical. Each article seems to relate directly to the Bible, whereas before some of the articles were a bit more tertiary and critical. For what it’s worth, I appreciate […]