In Pursuit of Visibility: Essays in Archaeology, Ethnography, and Text in Honor of Beth Alpert Nakhai

In Pursuit of Visibility: Essays in Archaeology, Ethnography, and Text in Honor of Beth Alpert Nakhai includes fifteen essays that honor Beth’s important contributions to the field of Near Eastern Archaeology and tireless efforts to acknowledge and support women in the profession. The volume was presented to Beth in Tucson this week and is available through Archaeopress for sale as a hard copy or open access as a PDF eBook.

Qumran

Die Schriftfragmente und Ruinen, die 1947 – 1956 am Toten Meer entdeckt wurden, geben bis heute Rätsel auf. War die Gemeinschaft, die hier lebte, eine Art Kloster, eine absonderliche Sekte oder eine Schreibwerkstatt? Kam Johannes der Täufer oder Jesus hierher? Der renommierte Bibelwissenschaftler  Reinhard Kratz verabschiedet in seinem bahnbrechenden Buch viele der gängigen Hypothesen und zeigt, dass wir in Qumran Zeugnisse des entstehenden «biblischen Judentums» vor uns haben, das sich von anderen Jahwe-Verehrern abgrenzte und bis heute in Judentum und Christentum lebendig ist.

Die Fragmente von rund tausend hebräischen, aramäischen und griechischen Handschriften, die in Höhlen nahe der Siedlung Hirbet Qumran zutage gefördert wurden, sind eine der spektakulärsten Entdeckungen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Die Texte geben Einblick in die Lebens- und Vorstellungswelt einer bis dahin völlig unbekannten Gruppe des Judentums der hellenistisch-römischen Zeit. Reinhard Kratz erklärt die Geschichte der Funde und ihrer Erforschung, rekonstruiert die Organisation der Gemeinschaft und erläutert, wie und warum hier so viele Texte entstanden. In einem souveränen Durchgang durch die wichtigsten Schriften macht er deutlich, dass die Gemeinschaft Teil einer Bewegung war, die sich auf die biblischen Schriften, besonders Tora und Propheten, berief und vom traditionellen jüdischen Opferkult distanzierte. Klar und anschaulich entsteht so ein neues, plastisches Bild von der Vielfalt des antiken Judentums und der frommen Bewegung, aus der auch das Christentum hervorging. 

One could be forgiven for thinking that surely by now everything that can be said about Qumran and its famous scrolls has been.  The subtitle of the book goes a bit of the way in justifying its existence: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origin of Biblical Judaism.  It’s 320 pages, 29 images, 16 table, and 2 maps take us a little further on the path to justifying its existence.  And its description (above) by its publisher takes up even further.

But the real justification for the existence of this volume is in the reading of it itself.  Nothing clarifies the reason a book exists better than a reading of it.  Reviews, descriptions, blurbs, advertisements, and everything else used these days to get people to open books and read them are merely the appetizer.  The real meal is in the reading.  And this meal is a feast.

The contents, as found at the link above, list the ‘menu’ for the feast:

Einführung

I . «Bücher in hebräischer Schrift»: Ein spektakulärer Fund
II . «Um in die Wüste zu gehen»: Kirbet Qumran und die Essener
III . «Abgewendet vom Weg dieses Volkes»: Die Textüberlieferung
IV . «Damit du Einsicht gewinnst»: Die Textentstehung
V . «Dies ist die Ordnung»: Die Statuten der Gemeinschaft
VI . «Wir aber sagen»: Die Auslegung der Tora
VII . «Wir und unsere Väter vor uns»: Die Aneignung der heiligen Geschichte
VIII . «Seine Deutung ist»: Die Kommentierung der Propheten
IX . «Gepriesen seist Du»: Die Anbetung Gottes
X . «Das Geheimnis des Gewordenen»: Die Erforschung von Himmel und Erde
XI . «Wir haben uns abgesondert»: Qumran im antiken Judentum

Anhang
Liste der behandelten Qumranschriften
Zeittafel
Glossar
Anmerkungen
Literatur
Bildnachweis
Stellenregister 

A reading sample is provided by the publisher here.  The complete table of contents is there available, and worthwhile reading it is indeed.  There are also at that link the Introduction and the first chapter.

Kratz describes the aim of the book wonderfully after discussing the importance of the Scrolls’ discovery:

Üblicherweise werden Qumran und die Texte vom Toten Meer als ein singuläres historisches Phänomen für sich betrachtet und allenfalls mit dem zeitgenössischen und späteren rabbinischen Judentum sowie dem frühen Christentum in Verbindung gebracht. Dieses Buch beschreitet einen anderen Weg, den der Untertitel «Die Schriftrollen vom Toten Meer und die Entstehung des biblischen Judentums» zum Ausdruck bringt. Da in Qumran Handschriften biblischer und außerbiblischer (parabiblischer und qumranischer) Werke gefunden wurden, setzt die vorliegende Darstellung beides miteinander in Beziehung und erklärt eines aus dem anderen. Die Gemeinschaft von Qumran erweist sich so als ein fortgeschrittenes Entwicklungsstadium des von mir so genannten «biblischen Judentums», dessen Anfänge sich in der Entstehung der Hebräischen Bibel widerspiegeln.

Accordingly, this isn’t a book about Qumran itself so much as its a book about how the Scrolls discovered there have a veritable boatload of information relevant to the development of Judaism itself.  And that is why this book is different from so many others, and so very much worth studying.

As usual, Kratz has provided a volume which while appearing on the surface might run the risk of rehashing old well known tropes in reality he brings readers cutting edge, helpful, informative, learned scholarship.  Read this book if you have any interest in the development of Judaism.

#ICYMI – An Interview With Philip Davies of the Palestine Exploration Fund

Prof. Davies was gracious and generous and granted an interview about his work with the PEF

What exactly is the PEF, and when was it founded?

The Palestine Exploration Fund was set up 150 years ago ‘for the purpose of investigation the Archaeology, Geography, Geology and Natural History of the Holy Land’. The word ‘Fund’ appropriately designated its primary activity of raising money by subscription and donation in order to finance this ambitious undertaking.

After a meeting on May 12th 1865 in the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster, London, chaired by the Archbishop of York, the Fund, with the patronage of Queen Victoria, held its first meeting on June 22nd. Here the Archbishop declared three principles: whatever done must be on scientific principles; the Society should abstain from controversy; and it should not be started, nor conducted, as a religious society.

The meeting resolved further ‘that the exploration of Jerusalem and many other places in the Holy Land by means of excavations would probably throw much light upon the Archaeology of the Jewish people’. Accordingly, although there was obviously a focus of interest on biblical antiquity, the meeting called for a systematic survey, including the collection of plants and minerals, of the ‘Holy Land’, and recommended that ‘facts requisite for a systematic history be noted by competent observers on the spot’. So geography, geology and ecology were also part of its remit. In addition, it was noted ‘that the Biblical scholar may yet receive assistance in illustrating the sacred text from careful observers of the manners and habits of the people of the Holy Land’. This last comment reflects a view that might be criticized as an aspect of colonial mentality and ‘orientalism’—that life in nineteenth century Palestine very closely resembled that in the biblical period. But it was born, I think, less of an imperialist mindset and more from a mixture of naivety, curiosity and enthusiasm. Nor was it totally untrue in every respect, although many of those sent out on the Fund’s behalf to carry out research quickly came to realize that it was far from being entirely the case.

Among those who have explored Palestine under the Fund’s patronage are Charles Wilson, Charles Warren, Claude Conder, Horatio Kitchener, Gottlieb Schumacher, William Flinders Petrie, Frederick Bliss, Robert Macalister, Leonard Woolley, T.E. Lawrence, John Garstang, John Crowfoot, Kathleen Kenyon and Olga Tufnell.

What is its mission?

We still maintain the original aims of the Fund: to promote knowledge and understanding of every aspect of the land of Palestine at all periods, though archaeology, ethnology, anthropology, geology and any scientific means. In keeping with the founding principle of non-controversy, too, we continue to disclaim any political or religious ideology, though our membership obviously embraces a wide range of interests. The Fund initially published a Quarterly Statement of its activities, which became the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, and this we continue to produce, along with the PEF Annuals and other books. We have accumulated a great deal of material from our activities—written records, an extensive repertoire of pictures and photographs, and some artifacts—and these need curating, preservation, editing and digitizing. We also maintain a large library, to which our members and visitors have access. In addition, we provide grants for research and, in conjunction with the British Museum, we organize monthly lectures. We also lend materials to exhibitions and hope to continue to be able to organize touring exhibitions of our own.

How did you become involved with the organization?

Like many scholars, I have long known of, and used, the Fund’s facilities, and when I was asked whether I would like to join the Committee, I had little hesitation in agreeing because I have been so often to Palestine and developed a great affection for it, and a concern for its past, present and future. Having been elected as the Chair of the Committee I shall, I hope, remain actively involved with it for five more years. Biblical scholars have always contributed to the work of the PEF but our interest in the entire history and culture of Palestine means that a very wide range of people and of expertise is represented at every level. This makes us a bit different from societies interested mainly in biblical antiquity.

How might others become involved?

First of all, by joining: there are no restrictions on membership; the subscription is modest and includes the PEQ. There is still a wealth of material in our possession that requires analysis and we are keen to encourage new members to participate in our ongoing work to make the material more accessible through publication and digitization. We are also in the process of increasing our international profile by establishing a North American presence, which, under current plans, will be centred in Chicago. Although a lot of information is already accessible on our website (www.pef.org.uk), we are also planning to provide a members’ area which will afford restricted access to further materials, including videocasts of our lectures.

What do you see as the most important aspect of its work?

Different people will give different answers, because we cover so much ground and from so many different angles. But we would all accept that Palestine’s history and culture are nowadays strongly contested and subject to a great deal of popular misunderstanding. Much of its heritage is disappearing, and the PEF is an important, neutral promoter of all aspects of that heritage. As a biblical scholar, I naturally have a professional interest in just one small part of that history, though I was trained also as a student of Islam and I have an interest in Palestine especially as a place in which both imperial powers (from Egypt to Britain) as well as major religions, have settled, fought and sometimes come to some accommodation. As a bridge between three continents, it is also in its own right a very special part of our planet. I think the PEF’s dedication to the whole of its history (and prehistory) makes us special.

How does the PEF refrain from the trap of the politicization of archaeology?

Politicians always seek to control our understanding of the past, and the PEF’s own efforts were from the outset subject to attempts at political influence, especially in the years before the war of 1914-18. It is also, I think, well known that archaeology in modern Israel is part of a national effort not only to neutrally explore the past but to promote knowledge of Jewish connections with it. We are often approached from many sides by those interested in what we regard as political agendas, and we take care not to be seen to lend support to these aims. We encourage scholars and non-scholars of all persuasions to make full use of our resources but also to share our own aims and principles.

What are the perils involved in even using the name ‘Palestine’ in the organization’s title?

We have always used Palestine as a geographical designation, including Israel, part of Jordan and some of Syria, and it has been used continuously for the region for 2000 years. There really is no sound reason to abandon this usage. I am aware that ‘Land of Israel’ is the Jewish name for Palestine, and there is of course an Israel Exploration Society that covers the same geographical area as the PEF and publishes a corresponding Journal. But ‘Israel’ belongs to only a part of Palestine’s history and geography, and the same would be true of any territory occupied by a State of Palestine.

What are the future aims and goals of the PEF?

We need, most of all, to continue the digitizing of our collections, and with that our use of social media and digital communication, in order to offer members from outside the UK the tangible benefits they should enjoy of having access to news and material online as well as visiting our offices when in London. So in the last few years we have created in addition to a Facebook page, our own blog and Twitter feed, and we plan to create a members’ area on our website through which they can freely access some of our archives and download podcasts of our monthly lectures at the British Museum.

How can those interested in archaeology in the Levant help the PEF achieve its goals?

First of all by helping to finance our work. This can be through becoming members, but we are also most grateful for any other contributions in the form of bequests or endowments or donations of books to our library. We are a charity and while our income matches our expenditure there is much more we would love to be able to do to display our collections more fully and to develop them further. Second, by contributing to our publications, and participating in our online activity. For those living in London or nearby, we also have work to offer to volunteers. The Fund was not established as a learned society, and its membership is by no means dominated by scholars. We want to attract anyone with a genuine interest in any aspect of the land of Palestine.

Thank you, Philip!

Heinrich Schliemann: The Amateur Who Inflicted Irreparable Damage on an Ancient City

When German businessman Heinrich Schliemann discovered a cache of ancient artifacts in the place now known as Hisarlik, Turkey, in 1873, he was quick to identify the gold jewelry, silver vases and other precious objects as the treasure of Priam, the legendary king of Troy. An amateur archaeologist with a penchant for embellishment, Schliemann smuggled the trove out of Anatolia and touted it as proof of his claim that Hisarlik and Troy, the besieged city immortalized in Homer’s Iliad, were one and the same.

Schliemann may have correctly identified Troy’s location, but another key aspect of his story—the discovery of Priam’s treasure—failed to hold up under scrutiny. Archaeologists soon realized that the loot predated the Trojan War by some 1,250 years, meaning it belonged to an entirely different civilization than the one featured in Homer’s epic poem.

Assuming that Priam’s kingdom lay at the lowest level of the archaeological site, the adventurer rushed excavation of the upper layers, inadvertently destroying almost all traces of the very city he’d set out to find. As classicist Kenneth Harl jokes in the Great Courses’ Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor series, Schliemann accomplished what the Greeks could not, finally leveling the walls of Troy.

Later on

After his first excavation season failed to yield promising results, Schliemann adopted a new tactic, instructing his team to dig an enormous, 45-foot-deep trench. His methods, note Jill Rubalcaba and Eric H. Cline in Digging for Troy: From Homer to Hisarlik, were “savage and brutal,” even by the standards of the 19th century. The authors add, “He plowed through layers of soil and everything in them without proper record keeping—no mapping of finds, few descriptions of discoveries.” Some 150 years later, Turkish archaeologists are still working to address the damage inflicted by Schliemann’s single-minded quest for Troy.

Read the whole.  And maybe stop thinking amateurs are heroes when they are, in fact, the inflictors of immense damage.

New Aramaic Papyri from Elephantine in Berlin

It’s Open Access so if you want a pdf copy you can get one free.

The famous German excavations between 1906 and 1908 of Elephantine Island in Egypt produced some of the most important Aramaic sources for understanding the history of Judeans and Arameans living in 5th century BCE Egypt under Persian occupation. Unknown to the world, many papyri fragments from those excavations remained uncatalogued in the Berlin Museum. In New Aramaic Papyri from Elephantine in Berlin James D. Moore edits the remaining legible Aramaic fragments, which belong to letters, contracts, and administrative texts.

Bob Becking’s Lecture Today Was a Brilliant Description of Proper Historical Research

Beginning with failed methodology:

And moving on to how history should be done:

Moving beyond the Maximalist/ Minimalist debate:

Beginning with epigraphy and moving to climate, landscape, archaeology, and finally the Hebrew Bible, the impasse between minimalists and maximalists can be overcome.  Two examples of how that works practically were given.  The book Bob recently published explores the issue in depth.

I hope you had the chance to sit in on the lecture.  62 folk did. It was super.

How to write a history of ancient Israel? – Bob Becking

Institute of Jewish Studies, UCL
Wed, 11 May 2022
13:00 – 15:00 EDT

Via zoom-

Writing the history of ancient Israel – Judah – has traditionally been undertaken starting with the Biblical text. The data from the Hebrew Bible have been used as a framework with the archaeological evidence as illustration and sometimes as correction. This way of doing has been forcefully criticized by a variety of scholars. Their endeavors seem to lead to the possibility that it is impossible to write a history of ancient Israel. In their view the ’sources’ in the Hebrew Bible are of such a late date (Persian or even Hellenistic) that they cannot be considered as trustworthy evidence for deeds and doings in pre-exilic Israel.

In my book Israel’s Past Seen from the Present: Studies on History and Religion in Ancient Israel and Judah (2021), I have been looking for a way out of the dilemma by combining insights from Manfred Weippert with the concept of re-enactment as proposed and developed by Collingwood. In this lecture, I will present the idea of the ‘circle of five’. The five steps: 1. Landscape; 2. Climate; 3. Archaeology; 4. Epigraphy; 5. Hebrew Bible, will be taken in that order. It will concentrate on a few examples such as the life of David and the Babylonian Exile.

Bob Becking is Emeritus Senior Research Professor of Hebrew Bible of the Faculty of Humanities of Utrecht University

Sign up for the lecture here.

New From Israel Finkelstein

Essays on Biblical Historiography
From Jeroboam II to John Hyrcanus I
by Israel Finkelstein

This volume is a collection of articles and new essays by Israel Finkelstein that offers an outline for reconstructing the evolution of biblical historiography over 700 years, starting with Israel in the early eighth century BCE and ending with the days of the Hasmoneans in the late second century BCE. Special emphasis is given to North Israelite traditions which were committed to writing in the days of Jeroboam II; to the arrival of these traditions in Judah after the takeover of Israel by Assyria; to Judahite ideology of the seventh century BCE; and to the legitimacy needs of the Hasmoneans in the days of John Hyrcanus. The analysis is based on the most recent archaeological discoveries, biblical exegesis and ancient Near Eastern records.

9783161608537
Publication Date: November 2021
Regular Price: $230.00
Special Offer Price: $184.00
CLICK TO ORDER

Declaration re Mt. Ebal lead inscription by Reinhard G. Lehmann

In sum, he’s not having it.

There are good reasons, as already recently has been said (http://www.rollstonepigraphy.com/?p=949), to let the dust settle on this one. However, as an epigrapher myself and since the name of my former University is involved, with all due respect to my former theological faculty and to my esteemed colleagues in Ancient Hebrew studies and Northwest Semitic epigraphy from Germany and overseas, and in responsibility to my former students, Ifeel compelled to declare the following:

This is not what I, as former head of the Research Unit on Ancient Hebrew & Epigraphy at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (retired since 2020), have taught for more than 20 years as a methodologically sound epigraphy and as scholarly behav[iour] to be taken serious[ly] within a worldwide scholarly community.

I therefore insist on not being involved in the hype about this lead inscription from Mt. Ebal, and further declare not to be connected to it methodologically or in any form of academic affiliation, community or personal network.

Happy 73rd Birthday, Israel Finkelstein!

Today is Israel’s birthday. He’s an incredibly influential Israeli archaeologist and he has overseen the excavation of most of Israel’s most important sites. Over the years he’s been a great friend and I appreciate his great work. Check out a plethora of posts in celebration of his birth-iversary and a gallery of images:

Happy birthday!

More Thoughts on the so called ‘Ebal Curse’ Thing

Crazy archaeological claims about the land of Israel-Palestine occur regularly. One of the most recent sensationalist claims is by Scott Stripling, a man who has a ‘PhD’ from an apologetics seminary called Veritas, established by Christian apologist Norman Geisler.

Scott Stripling claims to have found a curse tablet written in Hebrew from about 1400 BC, with the name of the Jewish god Yahweh on it. It’s a type of curse tablet, a defixio, that is known from about 1000 years later, in Greco-Roman contexts.

Is there really “paleo-Hebrew” writing on Scott Stripling’s curse tablet? Does it contain the earliest divine name, YHW (Yahweh)? No – “YHW” is based on badly flawed speculations about paleo-Hebrew by Douglas Petrovich, disproved by several experts in Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.

Scott Stripling co-teaches a course on biblical archaeology with the idiosyncratic Douglas Petrovich, at an apologetics institution called The Bible Seminary – whose motto is “rooted in the world”. Indeed.

Unfortunately, these claims are eagerly reported by media in the US and Israel, so spreading the disinformation quickly. – Deane Galbraith

Exactly!

Chris Rollston on the ‘Ebal Curse’ Thing

Read the whole, of course.  It’s tremendous.  Here’s the apt conclusion:

In sum, I would mostly suggest that we step back and let the dust settle on this one.  It seems to me that Stripling, Galil, and van der Veen have made a fair number of big assumptions. Moreover, I am far from convinced of their readings….especially since they have not even provided so much as a single good image!

And it also seems to me that the best predictor of the future is the past, and in the past, time and time again, sensational claims turn to ash in the crucible of serious, philological and epigraphic analysis. So, let’s wait and see how this turns out.  But as for me, I’m afraid that I’m too methodologically cautious to embrace the sensational assumptions of Stripling, Galil, and van der Veen.

When An Ancient Text is More Rorschach Text Than Astonishing Find: The Newly Discovered ‘Curse Text’ From Israel

Archaeologist Dr. Scott Stripling and a team of international scholars held a press conference on Thursday in Houston, Texas, unveiling what he claims is the earliest proto-alphabetic Hebrew text — including the name of God, “YHWH” — ever discovered in ancient Israel. It was found at Mount Ebal, known from Deuteronomy 11:29 as a place of curses.

If the Late Bronze Age (circa 1200 BCE) date is verified, this tiny, 2-centimeter x 2 centimeter folded-lead “curse tablet” may be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever. It would be the first attested use of the name of God in the Land of Israel and would set the clock back on proven Israelite literacy by several centuries — showing that the Israelites were literate when they entered the Holy Land, and therefore could have written the Bible as some of the events it documents took place.

“This is a text you find only every 1,000 years,” Haifa University Prof. Gershon Galil told The Times of Israel on Thursday. Galil helped decipher the hidden internal text of the folded lead tablet based on high-tech scans carried out in Prague at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Based on epigraphical analysis of the scans and lead analysis of the artifact, Stripling and his team date the curse tablet (or defixio) to the late Bronze Age, before or around 1200 BCE. If this dating is verified, it would make the text centuries older than the previous recordholder for oldest Hebrew text in Israel and 500 years older than the previously attested use of the tetragrammaton YHWH, according to Galil. Writing in a similar alphabet was discovered in the Sinai Peninsula dating to the beginning of the 16th century BCE.

However, the researchers have not yet published the find in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Likewise, they are not yet releasing clear images and scans of the inscription for other academics to weigh in on.

Wonder why… Could it be that they see a dog in a cloud and someone else will see a kitten on a lily pad?

However, I’m willing to suspend judgment till Chris Rollston chimes in.  Till then, I just don’t see it.  Chris?

Look for yourselves:

Do you see it?

Do you see it now?  Here’s the artist’s rendering:

Yeah, but where?

UPDATE:  So apparently the inscription is on the inside of the fragment where, lo and behold, it can’t be seen.  But we’re supposed to accept its existence and accept the reading sight unseen at this point.

Sight unseen doesn’t work for me.  If you have it, show it.

Inscription, Touch, and Worship in the Synagogue of Dura Europos, a lecture by Prof. Karen Stern

MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2022 AT 11:45 AM EDT

The murals of the assembly hall at Dura Europos are unprecedented in ancient synagogues, simultaneously reflecting and projecting visual modes of biblical interpretation for their audiences. Seeing was not the only medium of experiencing devotional landscapes in ancient Syria, as there were other sensory means by which visitors meaningfully engaged with their elaborately decorated surroundings to perceive, encounter, and interact with the holy and each other.

This talk reimagines this reality, by considering the significance of additional types of sensory experiences historically conducted in the Dura synagogue, as mediated through properties of touch. It argues that reconsiderations of archaeological evidence for ancient peoples’ interfaces with the walls and architecture of the Dura synagogue, as documented by unofficial inscriptions, drawings, and modifications to the paintings, allows us to theorize, in new ways, about ancient relationships between visitors, their devotional activities, the paintings they regarded, and their tactile encounters with the divine.

email to register: secretary@aias.org.uk

The Most Detailed and Careful Review I’ve Read Since James Barr Died; Because it’s his Birthiversary

8631Aren Maeir has written what can only be classified as a thorough, honest, forthright, exceptionally balanced, extremely helpful and brilliantly worded review of Avi Faust’s latest tome.

Two words: wow.  Wow!  You owe it to yourself to read it for two reasons:  1) it’s that good; and 2) it’s a model review the likes of which I have not seen since our dear brother and colleague James Barr passed away.  Indeed, I would call Maeir’s review ‘Barr-ian’ and no higher compliment can be paid to either review or reviewer.