Queries & Comments
More on the Nephites and the Book of Mormon
It is with great interest that I read the “International Timeline-Mormon Theology” debate in the July/August 1988 issue of BAR (Queries & Comments, BAR 14:04). Dr. C. L. Sainsbury is correct when he cites the Book of Mormon as the principal (and to my knowledge the only) source of the mythical Nephite culture. Typical of many religions, the Mormon church must retreat to emotional experience when challenged by objective archaeological, anthropological and unadulterated historic facts. Truth is not determined by how intensely you believe it and how many believe it. When squared against objective evidence, the facts are:
1. No Book-of-Mormon cities have been located.
2. No Book-of Mormon names have been found in New World inscriptions.
3. No genuine New World inscriptions have been found in Hebrew.
4. No genuine New World inscriptions have been found in Egyptian or anything similar to Egyptian that could correspond to Joseph Smith’s “Reformed Egyptian.”
5. No ancient copies of the Book of Mormon scriptures have been found.
6. No ancient inscriptions of any kind indicate that the ancient inhabitants of the Americas had Hebrew or Christian beliefs—all are pagan.
7. No mention of Book-of-Mormon persons, nations or places have been found.
8. No artifact of any kind that demonstrates the Book of Mormon is true has been found.
Ronald L. Puening
Dr. C. L. Sainsbury’s letter (Queries & Comments, BAR 14:04) was interesting but there are a few more things that the reader should know about Book-of-Mormon archaeology. First, the Book of Mormon was not “translated” in any ordinary sense of that word. Joseph Smith described the process in these words: “I copied a number of them [characters off the gold plates], and by means of the Urim and Thummima I translated some of them.” Ordinary methods of linguistic scholarship were not applied.
It is alleged that the reason for this is that the languages of Book-of-Mormon peoples were lost and unknown to modern linguists. But why should this be, considering that Central American Indian cultures are cited as evidence of the Book of Mormon’s veracity? Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon makes certain internal claims about its people, and these, like Biblical claims, can be examined.
At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the alleged migration of Lehi and his family is described. Lehi is said to be a Jew of the tribe of Manasseh, and with him are two of his sons, Nephi (NEE-fi
For example, if we peruse an Anglo-Saxon dictionary, we will find, once we become accustomed to the phonetic spelling, that many words are recognizable to the modern English speaker (not just the expected ones, either!). Even in cases where languages have been superseded by others of a different family, there are often place-name survivals and other influences. An example of this would be Celtic place names in parts of Britain that are now settled by Germanic-language peoples. Yet where are Book-of-Mormon names outside the Book of Mormon? No internal clues from the book have yet helped to identify any American Indian site.
Furthermore, no serious linguist would classify any known Indian language as belonging to the Semitic family of languages. This is not because American Indian languages are inscrutable: Navajo shows a relationship to Pacific Northwest languages, and other Indian language families such as Algonkian, Siouan and Shoshonean are more-or-less agreed upon. Languages of the candidates for Book of Mormon status were, in some cases, still living when the Spaniards arrived and some survive today. Mayan is an example, surviving in about twelve dialects. Later cultures flourished speaking Mixtec and Nahua and others, yet none of these shows any serious evidence of either originating from or having been influenced by a Semitic dialect, either in spoken or written form.
The question of writing is the most damning to Book of Mormon claims. If the glyphs of Central American and Mexican cultures were related in any way to Egyptian or Hebrew, then a working knowledge of the Old World systems should at least provide some clues to help decipher the New World writings. However, this is far from being the case.
Sometimes the claim is made that the Book of Mormon languages were superseded by later American Indian languages, perhaps from Asia or the Pacific Islands. Still, this does not explain why the loss of Semitic traces was so devastatingly total. Etruscan place names are detectable throughout the history of the Italian peninsula, yet that language was also replaced by a different family of languages at an early period. Extinction of the Nephite culture is no explanation, as the Lamanites were from the same linguistic stock. Besides, it has always been church doctrine that the Lamanites 014figured so prominently in the ancestral makeup of the modern Indian that the church often refers to modern Indians as “Lamanites.” (See Bruce R. McConkle, Mormon Doctrine [Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966]).
To summarize: In order to believe the claims of the Book of Mormon concerning the pre-Columbian history of America, it is necessary to believe that languages behave very differently here than in the Old World. This is diffcult.
Barbara A. Hainsworth
In hundreds of instances, the Book of Mormon, supposedly translated from a language lost for over a thousand years, mysteriously reproduces the exact wording of the 1611 edition of the King James Bible, down to the italicized words.
In an effort to have us accept the existence of a Nephite culture, Dr. C. L. Sainsbury, discussing Mormon theology (“International Timeline,” Queries & Comments, BAR 14:04), would have us believe “principally from its record, the Book of Mormon.” He also would have us accept “its teachings as the writings of the prophets who wrote as commanded, even as the Biblical prophets.” In the process, however, he attempts to place doubt on the Bible, questioning “who wrote the original chapters of the Bible.” Now, it cannot be both ways. If he questions one, he must question both. He then must inform us why he has chosen to ignore the mass of evidence that the Book of Mormon was taken from an unpublished novel written by a retired minister, Solomon Spalding. The romantic novel, Manuscript Found, apparently was taken from the printshop sometime before 1816 by Sidney Rigdon, and then embellished by Joseph Smith prior to its publication in 1830 as the Book of Mormon.
Dr. Sainsbury states additionally that “we have the sober statements of 12 people who saw the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and the record itself remains essentially as originally translated … ” This is pure fiction! There were never twelve people present during the time Joseph was “translating.” The principals involved with the translation process (Emma Smith, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitner) agreed that Joseph’s face was buried in his hat and the golden plates usually were not even present. This flatly contradicts Dr. Sainsbury’s statement that the translation was “directly from the gold plates.”
As for the archaeological evidence for a 015Nephite culture, there is none. No Native Americans made grape wine, wheat bread, silk or linen. None possessed the technology for the metallurgy of iron, steel or brass. There was no wheel (and therefore no chariots), no swords or armor, and no animal-drawn plow. The pre-Columbian world was hand horticulture, mainly corn, manioc or potatoes. It is not possible that the warfare or cultural growth described in the Book of Mormon could have occurred here and not have been discovered by archaeologists. All the anthropology departments previously referred to [“Time Line Reflects Mormon Theology,” Queries & Comments, BAR 14:02] support the nonexistence of this culture.
Finally, Dr. Sainsbury wishes to know who these people were. Obviously, from all the evidence, archaeology included, they did not exist—except in Solomon Spalding’s manuscript and in Joseph Smith’s imagination.
Santa Ana, California
It is difficult to comprehend why a scholarly periodical such as yours would publish a letter filling two full columns of total garbage! Even Professor Ray T. Matheny of Brigham Young University would not endorse Dr. C. L. Sainsbury’s position.
The most damaging argument concerning archaeology and the Book of Mormon comes from Mormons themselves. In Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Summer 1973, p. 46), Mr. Michael Coe states that “absolutely nothing has ever shown up in any New World excavation that would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.”
Noted Mormon archaeologist Dee Green has said, “The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists … No Book of Mormon location exists in reference to modern topography” (Dialogue, Summer 1969, p. 77).
When I received my latest copy of BAR, I hurriedly flipped through the pages until I reached the Queries & Comments section. I could hardly wait to see what controversy is stirring now. What prima donna scholar is having his “feathers ruffled” today? Will I be treated to another Neanderthal letter demanding that their subscription be cancelled because BAR printed an ancient magical formula or included a picture of a 016naked statue? What entertainment! I can hardly contain myself from jumping in and joining the fracas. Should I add my “two cents” to the question of whether BAR should print the photographs of ancient erotic artifacts? Or, how about the issue of the International Timeline, Mormonism and Nephite culture? I just can’t resist!
Allow me to throw my support behind Dr. C. L. Sainsbury’s contention that the International Timeline got a “bum rap” from the letter of Mike Chouinard [Queries & Comments, BAR 14:02)]. It’s unfair to accuse the Timeline of “blatant archaeological deception and historical inaccuracies.” If Mr. Chouinard had read carefully the advertisement’s fine print he would have clearly seen that the World History Chart is an “overview of our history, archaeology, theology and mythology … ” There it is. Mythology is listed. Where’s the deception? I haven’t bought my chart yet, but I do hope it also includes Oz. I’m a great fan of Dorothy, the Tin Man and all the others.
Dr. Sainsbury compared the Mormon belief in a Nephite culture to that of the Christian belief in an Israelite culture. Archaeology and non-Christian historical sources testify to the authenticity of the peoples described in the Bible. We know the exact location of such cities as Babylon, Nineveh and Jerusalem. Museums throughout the world are filled with artifacts from the Israelites, Canaanites and other peoples mentioned in the Bible. But where are the ruins of the great Nephite cities? Where are their artifacts?
Scott J. Klemm
How unfortunate it is to see in your editorial column, someone pushing their religion (C. L. Sainsbury, Queries & Comments, BAR 14:04) due to an advertisement that should not have been placed in your magazine in the first place.
Letting someone ramble on about their religion (hoping to get converts) in your editorial column was absurd and uncalled for.
Thomas L. Faulkner
LeRoy, New York
I am amazed to think that BAR would even consider a discussion on the Book of Mormon. I am enclosing information I received from the Smithsonian Institution regarding the Book of Mormon.
The Smithsonian Institution has prepared a short statement concerning the Book of Mormon, which reads in part as follows (the 017full statement can be obtained by writing to the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560):
“The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution does not use it in archeological research. Because the Smithsonian Institution receives many inquiries regarding the Book of Mormon, we have prepared a ‘Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon.’ This statement includes answers to questions most commonly asked about the Book of Mormon.
“The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book …
“One of the main lines of evidence supporting the scientific finding that contacts with Old World civilizations, if indeed they occurred at all, were of very little significance for the development of American Indian civilizations, is the fact that none of the principal Old World domesticated food plants or animals (except the dog) occurred in the New World in pre-Columbian times. American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492. (Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C. at the time when the early big game hunters spread across the Americas.)
“Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre-Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron.
“There is a possibility that the spread of cultural traits across the Pacific to Mesoamerica and the northwestern coast of South America began several hundred years before the Christian era. However, any such inter-hemispheric contacts appear to have been the results of accidental voyages originating in eastern and southern Asia. It is by no means certain that even such contacts occurred; certainly there were no contacts with the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, or other peoples of Western Asia and the Near East …
“Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared in newspapers, magazines, and sensational books. None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars. No inscriptions using Old World forms of writing have been shown to have occurred in any part of the Americas before 0181492 except for a few Norse rune stones which have been found in Greenland.”—Ed.
I am an avid fan of BAR and an eclectic reader of history, archaeology, Christian theology and philosophy. Count me another subscriber who was misled by your ad from International Timeline Inc. I paid $50 for the top-of-the-line laminated version, which was to be placed in the long hallway of my house for the edification of family and guests.
Before sending that not insubstantial sum, I read the ad carefully several times sifting for clues to either “flake” or “cult.” There are no clues. All specific references in the ad are to mainline history. It promises “15 major civilizations from 4000 B.C. to the present” without giving the slightest hint that it all starts from Noah’s flood. It also neglects to mention its extensive coverage of “Nephites” in North America and the “four rivers of Eden” being actually the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio and the Tennessee. Naturally the revelation that I had unwittingly bought an expensive sectarian document was somewhat disappointing.
I thought the subject was too sensitive for a letter, so I just assumed you would eventually discover the situation and quietly correct the deceptiveness of the ad, or stop running it. Now in Queries & Comments, BAR 14:04, I read two letters from Mormon proponents of the ad who criticize a fellow victim (Mike Chouinard) who wrote a letter of protest to your column. Apparently the subject of Mormon theology is not so touchy as I had thought. Perhaps it is time to turn the eye of scientific archaeology on the ancient American Nephites and their “knowledge of the Jewish God of Abraham and His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Several fascinating mysteries pop immediately to mind. How did Iron Age immigrants from the Middle East apparently manage to forget (during a single boat trip) how to smelt iron, how to fabricate a wheeled cart, how to outfit a draft animal, how to make a potter’s wheel, how to make glass, how to write with alphabetic characters, how to calculate in base ten numbers, and even how to speak their own Semitic language?
Joseph Smith’s golden plates were written in “modified Egyptian.” In all the stuff turned up in the Americas in the thousand-year period between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. no archaeologist has found even one ostracon with a snippet of inscription in “modified Egyptian” that matches a similar one found in the Middle East.
I don’t mind your accepting the International Timeline as advertising, but I strongly feel that somewhere there should have been included a note stating the Mormon orientation of the chart.
Richard G. Belliss, Rector
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
We agree. Henceforth, we will include a statement with this ad indicating that it includes time and geographical references to such events as the Biblical creation, the Flood and events described in the Book of Mormon.
We have also contacted the publishers of the International Timeline who assure us that they will refund the purchase price of the Timeline chart to anyone who is dissatisfied with their copy.—Ed.
Is the Mormon Figure Lehi Connected with a Prophetic Inscription Near Jerusalem?
I have just received a letter informing me of a site called “Beit Lehi” 20 miles southeast of Jerusalem, not far from the ancient fortress of Lachish in the Judean mountains.
According to this letter, in 1961 while constructing a military patrol road along what was at that time the Israeli-Jordanian border, the roof of a burial cave was destroyed by a bulldozer. The walls of the cave, however, were intact. According to my informant, on the walls of the cave were scratched some sailboats and an inscription reading:
“I am Yahweh thy God.
I will accept the cries of Judah,
And will redeem Jerusalem.”
I am told of a Dr. Joseph Naveh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Dr. Frank Moore Cross, Jr., of Brandeis University (Mass.), who had something to do with this find.
Do you know anything about this?
Mrs. Donna Cochran
Most of your facts are correct. But one important identification is wrong; and one less important identification is also wrong.
This Hebrew inscription in Old Hebrew letters was originally published (with several other inscriptions found in the cave) by Professor Naveh in 1963 (“Old Hebrew Inscriptions in a Burial Cave,” Israel Exploration Journal 13 (1963), p. 74). Professor Cross (of Harvard University, not Brandeis University—your less important error) re-studied these inscriptions and offered some improvements on Naveh’s decipherment (“The Cave Inscriptions from Khirbet Beit Lei,” in Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century [The Nelson Glueck Festschrift], ed. J. A. Sanders, Doubleday, 1970, p. 299).
The inscriptions are scratched in soft limestone and are very difficult to read, especially as they have been affected not only by time and weathering but also by extraneous scratches. To appreciate how difficult these inscriptions are to decipher, see Professor Cross’s drawing. (This drawing contains the inscription you have quoted [Inscription A] and the first inscription quoted below.)
You have correctly quoted Professor Cross’s translation of the most important inscription (Inscription A).
Professor Naveh dates the inscriptions from the late eighth to the early sixth centuries B.C., but prefers the earlier date. Professor Cross says the inscriptions can be no earlier than the sixth century B.C. and dates them to that time.
Another inscription in the cave, in the same hand as the one you quoted, reads as follows, according to Professor Cross:
“Absolve (us) O merciful God!
Absolve (us) O Yahweh!”
A third reads:
“Deliver (us) O Lord!”
There are at least two sailboats on the wall of the cave (see drawing). Ships in this connection are not unusual. Three ships were drawn on the antechamber of Jason’s tomb in Jerusalem. Another was found in excavations in the Holy Sepulchre Church. A ship was also incised over a bench at the entrance to a palace at Masada.
A number of papers by Mormon authors have appeared that attempt to connect these inscriptions with the travels of one Lehi who, according to the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 8), sailed to the New World from Palestine about 590 B.C. See, for example, Joseph Ginat in Newsletter of Society for Early Historic Archaeology 129 (April 1972) and Vernon W. Mattson, Jr., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Important Discoveries (Buried Record Productions, 1979, pp. 53–57). The alleged connection with Lehi in the Book of Mormon was based on the name of the site. However, the name of the site is not Beit Lehi, as your letter suggests (this is your important error), but Beit Lei, or, in its older Arabic form, Bayt Layy.
The question is whether there is any linguistic connection between Lei (older Layy) and Lehi. We put this question to Professor Cross. Here is his reply:
“As you know, the site of Khirbet Beit Lei (older Layy) was connected by Mormon authors with Biblical Leh
i (see Judges 15) and ultimately with the Mormon figure Lehi. The connection of the name Lei with Leh i is based on a linguistic blunder, however. The Arabic Lei, classical Arabic Layy, is based on a root lwy, and means “bend, twist,” etc. Hebrew Leh i, on the other hand, is based on the Semitic root lhy, meaning “jaw.” And lyy and lhycannot be confused in Semitic. The his a strong laryngeal spirant in Semitic, somewhat like ch in German Buch or ch in Scottish loch.
“Neither Naveh nor I would for a moment support the equation layy =
lehi, any more than we would confuse (Robert E.) Lee with (John) Locke.
“I should add that when lecturing at Brigham Young University I discussed these issues in detail and made clear my name was not to be associated with such popular, unscholarly claims.”
The inscriptions, which have now been removed and are kept in the Israel Museum, are of unusual importance, despite the absence of any connection between Lei (or Layy) and Leh
Professor Cross believes the inscriptions are not funerary inscriptions, but were scratched on the wall later by someone who got into the cave. The inscription you correctly quoted is, according to Cross,
“a prophetic oracle in which Yahweh speaks in the first person, and in poetic form … [The] language is reminiscent of Jeremiah and Second Isaiah. It is very difficult to avoid the speculation that Inscription A [the one you quoted] is the citation of a lost prophecy, and that it and its companions were written by a refugee fleeing the Chaldeans [Babylonians] who conquered Judah and destroyed the holy city [Jerusalem] in 587 B.C.”
Who was the refugee from Jerusalem who scratched this prophetic oracle and pleas for deliverance on the wall of this cave. Simply an ordinary refugee? Or perhaps the amanuensis of the prophet? Or the prophet himself? We have no way of knowing for sure.—Ed.
Thank You, Mr. King
Philip J. King’s article
Everything you archaeologists find helps me to understand the Bible better, even when you locate things outside the Biblical realm. A few days ago I had the opportunity to use the bit of Amos’s book you describe to encourage a man to hold onto God and leave alone the “
Thank you, Mr. King, for your work and for this article.
W. D. Sanders
Ft. Worth, Texas
Like Israel Finkelstein (“Raider of the Lost Mountain—An Israeli Archaeologist Looks at the Most Recent Attempt to Locate Mt. Sinai,” BAR 14:04), I was somewhat skeptical of Emmanual Anati’s discoveries at Har Karkom prior to going on a field trip there in the spring of 1986. All the artifacts mentioned by Anati in his report are still in situ. Finkelstein had no need therefore to “suspect” or guess at what is there: He too could have gone and seen for himself. Had he done so, would he still want to assert that “almost anywhere” in the Sinai is as good as another as a possible setting for the Biblical account? I lack Finkelstein’s archaeological expertise, but I’ve been to the traditional sites (Jebul Musa, Jebul Halal) and they do not come close to replicating what I saw at Har Karkom.
I challenge Finkelstein to identify another mountain in that region that is anywhere near as topographically or archaeologically illuminating of the Biblical story. If Har Karkom is not the Biblical “mountain of God,” it was at the very least an important meeting place for the peoples of antiquity, and time spent there can awaken a powerful sense of the realities of one of the most important events of religious history.
I am grateful to Anati for the speed and fullness with which he has made the raw data of his discoveries available to a wider public. What a tragedy if all we had to go on was the demeaning caricature of his work by scholars like Finkelstein.
John W. Miller
Professor of Religious Studies
Conrad Grebel College/University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ont., Canada
BAS Vacation Seminar—A Memorable Experience
Kudos to the Bibical Archaeology Society 022for staging such a successful vacation seminar on the beautiful setting of Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina. Special thanks to Janice Krause the travel coordinator, to Carol Wubbena our on-site coordinator and to Drs. Oded Borowski and Charles Hedrick for making it such a memorable experience. Both Dr. Borowski and Dr. Hedrick made themselves accessible to us not only by answering our questions in class but also during their free time as well.
The lectures were informative, stimulating and thought-provoking. Because of one of Dr. Borowski’s presentations, I am now looking forward to applying to the Lahav Research Project for the 1990 excavation season.
We learned together, laughed together and, when we said goodbye, some of us cried together. Congratulations to BAS for an exceptional experience that I will treasure always.
If you would like to know about our 1989 Travel/Study programs write to Janice Krause, Travel/Study Coordinator, Biblical Archaeology Society, 3000 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20008, or call her, toll-free, at 1–800-221–4644.—Ed.
Kudos for BAR’s Visuals
Many thanks for Ehud Netzer’s article, “Jewish Rebels Dig Strategic Tunnel System,” BAR 14:04, and especially for the inset on “Exploring Underground Herodium,” which coordinates maps and photos. The layout of the map with arrows and numbers to associate with the photos made this article a most pleasant reading experience.
I often find myself getting lost in an article when I can’t visualize what is being described. Your article solved that problem for me. I certainly hope to see more of this type of scholarly work in the future. It is a sign of true professionalism when editors and writers can take a subject that could be potentially confusing to laymen and make it come alive through visuals.
Blair A. Gadsby
A Serious Complaint
I have one serious complaint about your magazine. The covers are too close together.
June M. Bowden
Let’s have more cartoons like the one in the July/August issue (“A Reply to Baruch Halpern’s ‘Radical Exodus Redating Fatally Flawed,’” BAR 14:04). It will help lighten up what is sometimes a too-serious journal (for example, the article on the very page where the cartoon appeared). A cartoon like this one demonstrates a serious insight into the archaeology business that is instructive as well as humorous. We need more of this kind of humor, rather than the revelation of ignorance seen in many of the letters you receive.
Bimson Replies to Bietak
Manfred Bietak’s comments in “Contra Bimson, Bietak Says Late Bronze Age Cannot Begin as Late as 1400 B.C.,” BAR 14:04 (replying to the article “Redating the Exodus,” BAR 13:05, which I co-authored with David Livingston) were a model of gracious and constructive criticism, and we welcome them. I would 074like to respond to three points.
The first concerns the date of the MB (Middle Bronze) Age II A/B transition. Bietak says he proposes lowering this by about 50 years to 1700 B.C., and not (as we had said) by 100 years to 1650 B.C. We apologize for misrepresenting him on this point. Actually the date of the start of MB II B is an issue on which Bietak has expressed more than one view in recent years, and our date of 1650 B.C. was not far from one of his published suggestions. At Tell el-Dab’a the MB II A/B transition occurs in stratum F, and Bietak once preferred dates of about 1680–1660 B.C. for this stratum, implying a date of about 1670 B.C. for the transition.1 We are grateful for Dr. Bietak’s unequivocal statement of his current view.
The date of the start of MB II B is not in fact crucial to our argument. Much more important is the date for the end of MB II B, because this in turn affects the dating of the following period, MB II C. In Beitak’s scheme the transition from MB II B to MB II C occurs around 1570 B.C. This undoubtedly requires a major revision of conventional views, which place the transition around 1650 B.C.
The second point concerns the nature of MB II C in Egypt. Bietak warns that MB II C at Tell el-Dab’a was “a local development and cannot simply be used as evidence for determining the end of MB II C in Palestine.” I was fully aware of this, and sincerely hope I avoided any simplistic use of Bietak’s findings in dating the fall of MB II C cities in Palestine. My method was to derive an approximate date for the MB II B/C transition from Bietak’s arguments, but to use evidence from Palestine itself (specifically from Shechem) for the length of MB II C there. It is true that MB II B at Tell el-Dab’a also shows increasing local (that is, Egyptian) influence, but even if this period ended somewhat out of step with its equivalent in Palestine, the discrepancy cannot have been a massive one and it is undeniable that Bietak’s results require a significant redating of MB II C in Palestine.
I’m sure Bietak would agree with this last statement. Indeed, he has expressed the view that in central Palestine MB II C came to an end during campaigns by Thutmosis III, beginning (in the low chronology which Bietak favors) in 1459 B.C.2 This is within 40 years of my own date. In BAR, however, after suggesting that in southern and coastal Palestine the MB II C destructions occurred shortly before 1500 B.C., Bietak says “there is a question as to whether the change to the Late Bronze Age was not regionally delayed farther inland. According to Baruch Halpern’s demonstration (“Radical Exodus Redating Fatally Flawed,” BAR 13:06), there seems not to be much room for such a delay … ” It would be a pity if Bietak drew back from his own radical redating because of Halpern’s “demonstration”; as I have shown in “A Reply to Baruch Halpern’s ‘Radical Exodus Redating Fatally Flawed,’” BAR 14:04, Halpern’s arguments do not stand up to close scrutiny.
My final point concerns the identity of the destroyers of the MB II C cities. Bietak apparently thinks the destructions in southern and coastal Palestine were the work of the pharaoh Ahmose and his immediate successors. The Egyptian evidence is a problem for this view, for it does not indicate the widespread destruction of cities in Palestine during the early XVIII Dynasty; nor is there any evidence that Thutmosis III’s campaigns involved the destruction of cities in central Palestine.3 Hence in my view we need not only a new destruction date (even lower than 1459 B.C.), but also new destroyers, for Palestine’s MB II C cities. The Hebrews under Joshua should be seriously considered for the role.
Thank you for being willing to continue this debate. No other journal has created the opportunity for debating the issues and I am immensely grateful, even if many of the contributions are (from my point of view) negative.
Hats On, Gents
Esther Menamin’s letter concerning the cover of the March/April BAR (“It’s All in the Eye of the Beholder,” Queries & Comments, BAR 14:04) was certainly interesting.
I’m a mother of seven and I never noticed the erect penis on this cover of BAR. Come to think of it, none of my seven children did either. It must be that we’re just not used to seeing that organ in such a strange place. All of the men we know with this problem modestly keep their hats on.
Name Withheld on Request
BAR Walks a Fine Line
A couple of comments on the recurring question of conflict between science and Scripture:
Science is always in a state of flux. The scientific method demands this. Scripture will forever stay the same; its content will never vary, though our interpretation of its intent will.
To be overly dogmatic about the finality of a scientific tenet or a scriptural interpretation is apt to lead eventually to embarrassment. To accept the final authority of Scripture and appreciate the advances of scientific research frees one to love God and learn from his creation.
I appreciate the way your magazine continues to attempt to walk this fine line. I encourage you in those efforts.
Robert L. Ridley, M.D.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
A Good Laugh and a Threat of Ulcers
I just read the comment in the March/April BAR (Queries & Comments, BAR 14:02) from M. J. Antoinette Isaac of Gallup, New Mexico, that the Bible was not written by God. I laughed hysterically.
I can’t believe that anyone who reads such a scholarly journal as Biblical Archaeology Review would have such a poor working knowlege of the Bible.
I suggest to Ms. Isaac that she put down her issue of BAR (with all due respect to its publishers) and pick up her Bible, if she has one.
Thanks for the laugh.
North Brunswick, New Jersey
Thank you for your wonderful magazine. The photographs and maps are the finest. Keep up the good work and don’t pay any attention to those soreheads (like M. J. Antoinette Isaac of Gallup, New Mexico) who refuse to believe the Bible is the word of God and condemn those of us that do. These people will either come to the Lord one of these days, or they’ll get ulcers worrying about us.
I read your publication from cover to cover. This is the only magazine that I have ever found that can keep my attention in that way.
Earl B. Pealstrom
Yucca Valley, California
What’s on a Ring?
I found Yaakov Meshorer’s brief article on the ancient gold ring (“Ancient Gold Ring Depicts the Holy Sepulchre,” BAR 12:03) insightful and most helpful. I quite agree that the image must represent the Holy Sepulchre. Dr. Meshorer’s comparisons of the ring with the Holy Sepulchre lintel motif, medieval woodcuts and other rings show the perspicacity I have long recognized in his work.
In the search for an answer to the question of which structure appears on the ring (the domed rotunda of the Holy Sepulchre Church or the aedicule [the enclosure containing the proposed tomb of Jesus] located within the rotunda), I think Dr. Meshorer’s conclusion that it is the latter can be further confirmed through an examination of Crusader coins and seals. As a numismatist, Dr. Meshorer is, I am confident, familiar with the relevant specimens. For example, deniers of Amalric (1163–1174) and Ioannes of Brienne (1212–1225) picture a structure all but identical with that on the ring. The seal of Amorium I (1137–1162) shows, from left to right, the exterior facades of the Holy Sepulchre Church, the Tower of David and the Dome of the Rock. When the gold ring is compared to this seal, it is clear that the structure on the ring more closely resembles the structures on the deniers than the one on the seal. Therefore, we may assume that the structures depicted on the deniers represent the aedicule, as does the ring. Many thanks for giving us such a fine article and exceptional issue.
Larry E. McKinney
Kansas City, Missouri
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