For one week last november as described in the accompanying article, San Antonio was a dizzying whirl of scholarly lectures, thanks to the thousands of academics who were meeting under the auspices of various learned societies. But there was also a more manageable, though no less learned, gathering going on at the same time. For the seventh consecutive year, the Biblical Archaeology Society, publisher of BAR, sponsored Bible and Archaeology Fest, our annual study program designed for lay people. We take advantage of the fact that every year many of the top scholars in the worlds of Biblical studies and archaeology are in one place for their academic meetings. Since 1998 we’ve arranged for some two dozen scholars to lecture to our participants over a two-and-a-half-day period while the academic sessions are taking place nearby.
The latest BibleFest was one of the most successful ever, with 220 enthusiastic people taking part. A highlight of every BibleFest has been a gala Saturday-night dinner, followed by a question-and-answer session with a pair of leading scholars, moderated by BAR editor Hershel Shanks. In San Antonio I had the pleasure of being at a table with a small group from a church outside of Cleveland. This was their second BibleFest; they had also attended the one two years earlier, in Toronto, and had gone to see the James ossuary while it was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (we had arranged a special viewing for BibleFest participants). My tablemates wanted me to know that we could not print too many stories on the James ossuary as far as they were concerned. Tell Hershel, I told them, and of course they promptly did. Hershel couldn’t have been more thrilled. (To be fair, though, other people at BibleFest, like some readers who have written to us, said we allot too much space to the topic.)
The scholar-guests at the post-dinner Q&A this year were archaeologists Ann Killebrew and Ronny Reich. Killebrew is now at Penn State University, after having spent two decades in Israel; Reich teaches at the University of Haifa and has excavated longer in Jerusalem than any other living archaeologist. During the discussion, in addition to speaking about their work, both touched on personal matters. Killebrew spoke of what it was like being a single, American woman in a world of mostly male Israeli excavators, and Reich described his most recent project—translating German poetry intro Hebrew.
The discussion was enlivened by the presence of other scholars at the dinner. When a point having to do with Jerusalem archaeology came up, Hershel invited Jane Cahill, who had dug with the late Yigal Shiloh in the oldest part of the city, to come up and share her knowledge. And when Killebrew dismissed the inscription on the James ossuary (no getting away from it!) as clearly a fake, Bezalel Porten, of Hebrew University and the world’s leading authority on the Elephantine Papyri (Jewish documents from mid-first millennium B.C. Egypt), strode to the podium to make a point. He told the audience that he is collaborating on a project with Ada Yardeni, one of Israel’s top specialists in ancient Hebrew writing, who believes the James ossuary inscription is authentic. Porten told the audience that Yardeni is so convinced that she told him that if the inscription is a fake, “I quit.”
This November, BibleFest will take place, as will the academic meetings, in Philadelphia. If you’re interested in a unique learning experience, come join us. Or try one of several other BAS Travel/Study seminars. You can find details on our Web page, www.bib-arch.org.—S.F.