UCL Institute of Jewish Studies Lecture Series

They have a number of lectures forthcoming.  These are the ones related to Biblical Studies that may be of interest to you all:

6pm GMT
Nili Samet (Bar-Ilan University)
(Re)contextualizing Qohelet after Two Centuries of Modern Research
Chair: Lily Kahn (UCL)
Register (free or donation ticket): https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/424489017077


6pm GMT
Ra’anan Boustan (Princeton University)
Making Space: The Huqoq Synagogue Mosaics and the Viewing Experience
Chair: Sacha Stern (UCL)

Register (free or donation ticket): https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/424555736637

Conference Announcement: Writing in Biblical Times

Fenster zur Vergangenheit der Bibel / Windows to the Past
Conference of Biblical Archaeology

To be held from October 7-9 (2022) at Chr. Gästezentrum Württemberg, Schwäbisch Gmünd (S. Germany) Live and digital participation (via Zoom) possible.  Registration: Pieter Gert van der Veen Email: van_der_Veen@gmx.de.

Hybrid (English/German) conference: Schreiben in biblischer Zeit / Writing in biblical times

Freitag den 7. Oktober / Friday October 7

  • 16:00–18:00h Anmeldung / registrations
  • 18:00h Abendessen / supper
  • Abendprogramm (chair Prof. Dr Th. Kinker)
  • 20:00h Begrüßung / Welcome (PD Dr. habil. P. van der Veen)
  • 20:15–21:45 h Prof. Dr. U. Zerbst (online lecture): Zur Entstehung biblischer Bücher: Quellen, Hypothesen, Datum (in German only)
  • 21:45–21:55 h Aussprache / Questions

Samstag den 8. Oktober / Saturday October 8

  • 9:30–10:35 h PD Dr. P. van der Veen: Die Entstehung der Schrift im Nahen Osten (in German only)
  • 10:50 h Prof. Dr. B. Noonan: The Textual History & Transmission of the Pentateuch (German translation by Prof. M. Heide / Dr. W. Ertl)
  • 13:30–14:00 h Ausstellung / exhibition (in Forum 5)
  • 14:00–15:30 h Gemeinsames Programm / joint programme (chair F. Biberger MA)  Prof. Dr. B. Noonan: Dating the Pentateuch’s Composition in Light of Linguistic Features (translation by Prof. Dr. M. Heide / J. Dams)
  • Programm A im Festsaal/Altbau – in German only (chair A. Späth, Zoom J. Schweinsberg)
  • 16:00–17:00 h A. Späth / Dr. U. Wendel: Funde aus der biblischen Archäologie
  • Programme B in Forum 2 (chair PD Dr. P. van der Veen, Zoom J. Dams)
  • 16:00–16:45 h Dr. R. Deutsch (online lecture): The New Bulla of “Shema, Servant of Jeroboam”: real or fake? (in English only)
  • 17:00–17:45 h J. Dams, Die Rolle der Alphabetschrift in Babylon (in German only)
  • 20:00h Informationen zur Arbeitsgruppe ABA (P. van der Veen)
  • 20:20h David Hendin (online lecture): Sepphoris During the First century AD: Coins and other Finds (in English, dt. Texte auf Folien)

Sonntag den 9. Oktober / Sunday October 9

  • 9:30h PD Dr. P. van der Veen: Die Entzifferung der Berg Ebal-Bleitafel: der früheste Hinweis auf Jahwe, der Gott Israels – in German only
  • 12:00h Mittagessen / lunch
  • Abreise / departure

That Newly Repatriated Fragment Naming Ishmael You’ve Heard About…

Yeah, that one.  Calm down.  Christopher Rollston has, per usual, sane advice on the thing.

On September 7, 2022, various press outlets ran stories about a First Temple Period Hebrew papyrus, with an Old Hebrew inscription. Four lines of text are partially preserved, with the first extant word of the first extant line reading “To Ishmael” (thus, it seems most reasonable to consider this an ancient letter). According to the press reports, the Israel Antiquities Authority has stated that this manuscript was acquired (either purchased, or as a gift) in ca. 1965 from a Director of the Rockefeller Museum named Joseph Sa’ad and from famed antiquities dealer Khalil Iskander Shahin, the latter most commonly known as “Kando” (famous for his connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls during the late 1940s, scrolls which date to the Second Temple Period).

According to the press reports, the existence of this manuscript recently came to the attention of my esteemed colleague and friend Professor Shmuel Ahituv. And through various channels, the papyrus was ultimately located in Montana. It has now been returned to Israel, a laudable move. Moreover, I am pleased to see that it is in the hands of the Israel Antiquities Authority. And I am also especially pleased that Dr. Joe Uziel, the Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Judean Desert Scrolls Unit, has been a major point-person for this papyrus, along with Dr. Eitan Klein, Deputy Director of the Theft Prevention Unit. These are all very good signs. The various press reports have noted that Professor Ahituv will soon be discussing this papyrus in more detail. I look forward to that.

At this time, therefore, I simply wish (at this preliminary stage) to mention certain things that need to be considered as part of the totality of the discussion of this find….and things which (therefore) require that we refrain from drawing too many rapid conclusions, or making too many problematic assumptions. In other words, I hope that we can “tap the brakes” a little with regard to this “find.”


Maarav 25 and Further News

Via Chris Rollston

Christopher Rollston

Volume 25 of Maarav has appeared and will soon be sent out to subscribers (and is also available via http://www.Maarav.com). In addition, Volume 26 (2022) is complete, has been typeset, and will soon be going to press as well. We are all so very pleased about this.

Moreover, we (Bruce Zuckerman, Chris Rollston, Marilyn Lundberg, and Jason Bemry) are also very pleased about some very auspicious, recent developments with regard to Maarav (which have been in discussion for some time now). Namely, although some of the final details are still in discussion, we are happy to state that ASOR is desirous for Maarav to be among its prestigious journals. We believe that this is a particularly auspicious move and we are fully supportive of it (and we were part of these discussions, from the beginning and through to the present, etc).

It is envisioned that Maarav will continue to publish the sorts of articles that it always has, but it will soon be done (starting in 2023, with the two issues of Volume 27) under the auspices of ASOR. There will be a new editor, a new editorial board, and there will be staggered terms (just as is the case, for example, with BASOR and NEA, etc). This, though, will be something that BASOR’s Committee on Publication and the University of Chicago Press (etc.) will navigate, and we would imagine that ASOR and Chicago will be making some formal announcements about such things in the coming weeks.

Again, we are very pleased about these moves, as it will put Maarav on secure footing for the future, and we believe that to have Maarav become part of a learned society’s publications will strengthen and expand Maarav’s impact on the field. In other words, for us, this is very much a dream come true. We wish to thank you profoundly for your support of Maarav through the years, and we look forward to the continuation of your support (by sending articles, subscribing, etc.) of Maarav. And we trust that you will join us in celebrating this auspicious transition of Maarav to its place within a sterling learned society’s esteemed journals.

Bruce Zuckerman (senior editor and publisher), Chris Rollston (editor), Marilyn Lundberg (associate editor), Jason Bembry (assistant editor)

“Like ‘Ilu Are You Wise”: Studies in Northwest Semitic Languages and Literatures in Honor of Dennis G. Pardee

Available in print, or freely in PDF.

This volume honors Dennis G. Pardee, Henry Crown Professor of Hebrew Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and one of the preeminent experts in Northwest Semitic languages and literatures, particularly Ugaritic studies. The thirty-seven essays by colleagues and former students reflect the wide range of Professor Pardee’s research interests and include, among other topics, new readings of inscriptions, studies of poetic structure, and investigations of Late Bronze Age society.

The Decipherment of Linear Elamite Writing and a Curious Way of Doing  Journalism: A Rejoinder to Andrew Lawler and the Smithsonian Magazine – A Guest Post by Gianni Marchesi

The Decipherment of Linear Elamite Writing and a Curious Way of Doing  Journalism: A Rejoinder to Andrew Lawler and the Smithsonian Magazine

An article published by Andrew Lawler a few days ago in the Smithsonian Magazine, the official  journal of the Smithsonian Institute, bears an intriguing title: “Have Scholars Finally Deciphered a  Mysterious Ancient Script?” 


I am one of five scholars who recently claimed to have deciphered Linear Elamite. When I started  reading Lawler’s article, I quickly realized that it was focusing on an article of my colleagues and  mine, which appeared in July in the last issue of the journal Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und  Vorderasitische Archäologie (henceforth ZA): 

“The Decipherment of Linear Elamite Writing,” by François Desset, Kambiz Tabibzadeh, Matthieu  Kervran, Gian Pietro Basello, and Gianni Marchesi. 


Andrew Lawler is a widely respected journalist. His website notes that “he has written more than a  thousand newspaper and magazine articles from more than two dozen countries,” including The  New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Science


It was, thus, dismaying to read the following in his piece: “If the findings are correct—and the  claim is hotly debated by the researchers’ peers—…” 

Which peers is he referring to? And what debate? As far as my co-authors and I are aware, our ZA paper—which underwent a double-blind peer review—has only received positive reactions. Moreover, the incontrovertible facts and solid arguments presented in support of the decipherment  are such that I would not expect there to be much disagreement about our conclusions. That said, the article in question has only just appeared and begun circulating in the scholarly community. It is too soon for it to have generated the kind of scholarly debate Lawler suggests it has. 

It was additionally frustrating to note a major infelicity in Lawler’s article: the singling out of one  of the authors of the ZA paper, François Desset, with no mention of his four co-authors. The paper  we wrote was the product of our collective efforts. Lawler’s omission of this detail is mystifying. Journalists, no less than scholars, should be wedded to facts. 

Lawler’s article gives the false impression that François Desset was solely responsible for deciphering (or, for claiming to have deciphered) Linear Elamite, with the support of bit players,  anonymous members of “a team of European scholars” under his direction (note, additionally, that  Kambiz Tabibzadeh is Iranian-American, not European). What was Lawler’s purpose in obscuring  the collaborative nature of our decipherment work? Was it to provide his readers with the romantic  image of a modern-day Champollion (the decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphics)? Was it to simplify  the story, by focusing all criticism on just one member of our team? The decipherment of Linear Elamite was only possible thanks to the combined efforts and talents of five scholars, but Lawler  deprives readers of this crucial fact. Does he believe they are not able to track such details? 

After reading Lawler’s article, the decipherment team wrote to him requesting appropriate revisions  to his article, to which he responded “Smithsonian’s editorial policy is not to cite every author in a  paper unless there are only one or two co-authors. This is a usual practice among all U.S. major  publications, including Science, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.” 

Brian Wolly, Digital Editorial Director of the Smithsonian Magazine, weighed in similarly: “This  policy exists for readability and concision.”  

This practice is reasonable in cases of research groups with specified team leaders or of papers with  exceedingly large numbers of cited authors, such as papers on genetic studies, which can have hundreds of named authors. But neither is true in our case. As we suggested to Lawler, he could  simply have referred to us, collectively, as “the authors” with no compromise to the readability or  concision of his article. It is a fact of some importance that among the writers of our study there was  no lead author (we were simply a group of scholars contributing equally to a group effort). What’s  the use of the Smithsonian Magazine’s editorial policy if it obscures the truth? Lawler simply  invented a lead author—Desset—with no concern for the ethics of accurate reporting. 

Journalists should be more attentive to the critical feedback of the persons they write about. In the  case of the decipherment team, our sole interest is that our work is properly presented to the public.  Journalistic license is, of course, permissible, but not when it results in a distortion of the facts. 

Finally, for the benefit of the readers of Lawler’s article in the Smithsonian Magazine, it is worth  pointing out a few additional minor inaccuracies: 

1) “Part of the challenge is that the Elamite language—which may have been spoken in the region  for more than 3,000 years—has no known relatives, making it difficult to know what sounds the  symbols might represent. ‘The translations in some cases remain problematic,’ the authors  acknowledge.” 

Yes, “the translations in some cases remain problematic,” but not because of the difficulty of  reconstructing the sounds of the symbols (to use Lawler’s terminology). In fact, the phonetic values  of the vast majority of signs are well-established, albeit with some approximation, as is always the  case for reconstructed ancient languages. It remains problematic because the grammar and the  lexicon of the Elamite language are still imperfectly understood. 

2) “But Desset argues that Linear Elamite takes an approach more like the modern alphabet. He  concludes that the script draws solely on syllables, making it the oldest known writing system to do  so.” 

This is not correct. Linear Elamite is not a syllabic writing system; it is an alpha-syllabary. Linear  Elamite signs represent syllables of the type CV (consonant plus vowel; e.g., /pa/) or have  alphabetic values (e.g., /p/, /a/). Despite its alphabetic components, the Elamite writing system did  not exploit this potential and never became a purely alphabetic script. 

3) “Desset says his data strongly suggests that Proto-Elamite is a predecessor of Linear Elamite, as  French experts first asserted in the early 20th century. That theory gets little support from scholars  such as Oxford University’s Jacob Dahl and the University of Toronto’s Kathryn Kelley. They  argue that Proto-Elamite is likely a mix of syllables and logograms and underscore the 800-year gap  between the two writing systems.”

This way of presenting things is quite misleading: there is no contrast at all between what Desset  says and what Dahl and Kelley (Dahl’s former pupil) argue. It is rather the journalist who has  created such contrast. In fact, it is self-evident that the Linear Elamite signs derive from the older  Proto-Elamite signs. It is equally self-evident that Proto-Elamite and Linear Elamite function differently (the latter, significantly, has no signs representing words—the so-called logograms). No  one claims that they work in  the same way. However, it is entirely plausible that the phonetic values  we reconstruct for Linear Elamite signs were the same ones for their Proto-Elamite “ancestors.” If  that does prove to be true, then scholars should be able to read those parts of the Proto Elamite texts —if any—that were written phonetically.

Gianni Marchesi, also on behalf of Gian Pietro Basello, François Desset and Kambiz Tabibzadeh. 

I Don’t Say this Often, Because It’s So Overused By so Many, But this Book is One You Really MUST Read

Brooke has done a magnificent job here and I think her book will genuinely make waves and change minds and shift paradigms if it gets a fair reading.

American Biblical Archaeology and Zionism: The Politics of Objectivity from William F. Albright to William G. Dever

This book examines the relationship between several of the most prominent American biblical archaeologists and Zionism. While these scholars have been studied and historicized to some extent, little work has been done to understand their role in the history of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict.

Two defining differences in the archaeologists’ arguments were their understanding of culture and their views on objectivity versus relativism. Brooke Sherrard Knorr argues that relativist archaeologists envisioned the ancient world as replete with cultural change and opposed the establishment of a Jewish state, while those who believed in scholarly objectivity both envisioned the ancient world’s ethnic boundaries as rigid and favored Zionism. Combining readings of the archaeologists’ writings with archival research, this book studies the views of William Foxwell Albright, Millar Burrows, Nelson Glueck, George Ernest Wright, Paul Lapp, and William G. Dever regarding the establishment of an ethno-national state in Palestine in detail. The volume culminates with an epilogue commenting on the relevance of this topic in the present regarding the political ramifications of archaeology in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

American Biblical Archaeology and Zionism is of interest to students and scholars of Biblical and Near Eastern archaeology, American religious history, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly its role in regional archaeology.

Remembering Joseph Aviram

Via Jack Sasson

Archaeologist Joseph Aviram, Who Led Excavations in Pre-state Israel, Dies at 106

From the Sea of Galilee to the Judean Desert, Joseph Aviram witnessed and participated in many of the most important archaeological discoveries in Israel

Ofer Aderet

Joseph Aviram began his long journey in the world of archeology in 1936. The immigrant from Poland, then a 20-year-old student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, signed up for a trip to Galilee. He did not forget the spectacle that unfolded before his eyes at the archaeological site in Beit She’arim. Alexander Zaid, the legendary founder of a precursor to the Hashomer Jewish defense organization, appeared before the students on his horse. “He brought a ladder and let us peek into the cave. We saw the menorah,” he said, referring to a relief they were shown.

In 1943, Aviram began working as a secretary in the Israel Exploration Society, founded in 1913. “Everyone had already explored here – the Americans, the French, the British, the Russians. So the Jews said, ‘What’s going on here? This is the land of our forefathers, and all the foreigners are excavating. We will establish a Jewish society to explore the Land of Israel.’” He went on to head the organization, and accepted the Israel Prize on its behalf. “Shaper of the organization’s image and its life and soul in all of its areas of activity,” the society described him, noting his involvement in planning and producing archaeological projects, scientific publications and conferences.

In the 1940s, Aviram organized the first professional excavations in the area of Lake Kinneret. In the 1950s, he brought Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion one of the treasured Dead Sea Scrolls from the Judean Desert. In the 1960s he climbed up Masada with Yigael Yadin. “He witnessed and participated in many of the most important archaeological discoveries the country has known, and his voice was heard in all the great debates about its different sites, their findings and their meaning,” Nir Hasson wrote about him.

At one of the society’s meetings, which Yitzhak Ben-Zvi attended, the future Israeli president asked Aviram for his name. When he said “Avramsky,” the archaeologist received his new name by way of reply. “Avrahami – that will now be your name,’ Aviram recalled to Hasson. “Afterward I changed it to Aviram.”

The meeting gave rise to Israel’s first archaeological conference, in the city of Tiberias, on the eve of the outbreak of the War of Independence, in 1947. Participants feared that they would not be able to return to their homes, but were encouraged by Yadin, the head of the Haganah’s operations division, who addressed them and said: “One does not stop Torah [learning], so continue and you will be able to get home,” Aviram told Hasson.

In 1954, the Israel Exploration Society formed its first research expedition to Masada. “Shmarya Guttman and Micha Livneh, who were in charge of taking youth groups up to Masada, came to us. They showed us very interesting photographs from the site,” he said. “The result was the first Jewish exploration delegation, consisting of students and volunteers, to the Dead Sea site,” Hasson wrote. “Aviram was in charge of supplies and managing the delegation. The chief of staff, Moshe Dayan, sent the IDF to help. A convoy of Bedouin-led pack mules made the arduous climb up the Snake Path every day, carrying food and water.”

“Amazing things were found,” Hasson quoted Aviram as saying.

“One day in 1960, Yigael invited me to his home. The director of the American School of Oriental Research [renamed the Albright Institute in 1970] was there. He said Bedouin were selling fragments of ancient scrolls to anyone who wanted them, in the Old City of Jerusalem… I asked Yadin what we should do. He said he would go to Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion told him to ask the chief of staff, Haim Laskov, and he, Ben-Gurion, would accept whatever Laskov suggested,” Aviram related to Hasson. “Laskov said a large operation should be mounted to check all the caves. We were given an elite unit, Golani. The soldiers laughed at first, but when they saw what we found they became enthusiastic. The work itself was horrible − it was very dangerous to go down with ropes. But we found some extraordinary things. When a fine scroll was discovered, Yadin said we should show it to Ben-Gurion, so he would see that there was something to it.”

In 1964, Yadin led a team to dig Masada, in a project that has become iconic. This time, as well, Aviram oversaw the operation. Before starting the work, Yadin invited Aviram to London and showed him a box with a small scroll fragment, swearing him to secrecy. “He said it was part of the longest [Dead Sea] scroll,” Aviram related. A U.S. broker asked for a down payment of $10,000, which Yadin got from a donor – but the middleman disappeared, Aviram said.

Fast-forward two years, to the Six-Day War. Aviram was summoned to a house in Jerusalem, where the Temple Scroll – the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls – was spread out on the floor. It came from an antiques dealer in Bethlehem. One piece was missing – the fragment he saw in London. “The whole generation of the 1940s and also the ‘50s is gone. I am the last survivor. These days, if there is a scandal, the public takes note, but the everyday [archaeological] work doesn’t interest the young generation,” Aviram told Hasson in 2013.

Aviram died … [on July 27th, 2022] [JW] in Jerusalem at 106. He is survived by a daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

.  May he rest in peace everlasting.

Chris Rollston Responds to Gershon Galil: A Guest Post

Déjà Vu…Gershon Galil’s Sensational New Claims: A Response from Chris Rollston


Gershon Galil announced (on July 7, 2022) that he has “deciphered the Jerusalem stone tablet” (https://www.facebook.com/gershon.galil). Various press outlets have reported on Galil’s “decipherment,” including the Times of Israel, Ynetnews, Israelhayom (links below). Within this blog post, I will cite Galil’s own statements (https://www.facebook.com/gershon.galil), rather than the citations of him in press stories. This will ensure that it is his views that are being conveyed. I will also convey my concerns about his readings and interpretations. Indeed, I am far from convinced that this is an “inscription.” In fact, one could make an entirely plausible case that these are not letters but repetitive decorative motifs and striations.

In terms of background, Galil has that this “inscription” was discovered by Eli Shukron in 2010 “in a compound of the Temple near the Gihon Spring.” Galil states further that: “In these excavations, a temple and a pillar were also unearthed.” As for this putative “inscription,” Galil states that “the inscription was written on a rectangular stone tablet 26.7 cm wide and 20.8 cm long. The edges of the stone have only been partially preserved, but the inscription has been found in its entirety, and its preservation is excellent.”

In terms of date, Galil states that “the stone slab, which dates to the end of the Middle Bronze Age IIB or to the Late Bronze Age, is deliberately perforated, with about ten holes arranged in a round outline that resembles the shape of a head.” Galil goes on to state that the “inscription” “consists of 20 words, and 63 letters” and he states that the script is the “ancient Proto-Canaanite script.”

Here is Galil’s transliteration of the text which he believes he can read on this stone: “ARWR, ARWR, MT TMT; ARWR, ARWR, MT TMT; SR H’R, MT TMT; ARWR, MT TMT; ARWR, MT TMT; ARWR, MT TMT.”

Here is Galil’s translation of it: Cursed, Cursed, you will surely die; Cursed, Cursed, you will surely die; Governor of the City, you will surely die; Cursed, you will surely die; Cursed, you will surely die; Cursed, you will surely die.”


Before turning to detailed citation of Galil’s interpretation of this “inscription” and his understanding of its significance, I would wish to state the following: Although it is perhaps possible that there is some sort of “inscription” here, these readings and translation of Galil’s are not at all convincing. Furthermore, it is worth emphasizing that Early Alphabetic inscriptions (nota bene: I generally prefer the term Early Alphabetic to the term Proto-Canaanite) are notoriously difficult to read. Part of the reason for this is that the alphabetic script was not really standardized during this period, and so the morphology, stance, and rotation (etc) of alphabetic writing exhibited fairly dramatic variation (i.e., prior to the standardization of the alphabet, as attested, for example, in the Early Royal Byblian Phoenician inscriptions). In addition, the direction of writing was not fixed in Early Alphabetic Writing and so Early Alphabetic inscriptions could be written, and were written, in various directions, namely, dextrograde (left to right), sinistrograde (right to left), boustrophedon (literally: “as the ox plows,” that is, with one line written dextrograde and the line after that sinistrograde, and then the next line dextrograde, and so on), and columnar (i.e., vertically). In addition, spacing between letters was not all that consistent in Early Alphabetic. And these are just some of the problematic features of Early Alphabetic. In any case, the convergence of these sorts of factors results in enormous difficulties in positing readings that are accurate or translations that are entirely compelling. In short, caution must be the modus operandi. Sensationalism is especially problematic, and sensational interpretations just do not stand the test of time.

Citation of Gershon Galil’s Dramatic Statements regarding this “inscription”.

Galil states that “This is the earliest and most important inscription discovered to date in Jerusalem.” I suspect that some might contest Galil’s dating of this “inscription” (including me), and I suspect that the same is true regarding Galil’s statement regarding the premiere importance of this “inscription.” As for me, I consider the Amarna Letters from Jerusalem to be among the most important, for a number of reasons. Significance, though, is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. If this were Galil’s most sensational assertion about this “inscription,” I would probably not be terribly troubled. After all, he would not be the first scholar to exaggerate the importance of some archaeological find. But Galil’s assertion about this putative inscription’s importance pales in comparison with some of the rest of his claims. Let’s move along to some of these.

According to Galil’s own readings and translations, there are no economic terms in this “inscription,” not a single one. And there is no reference to a temple. Nor to a palace. Nor to a king. Nor to a priest. And there are no references to levies. And there are no references to temple grants. Nevertheless, Galil speculates that the operative context for this “inscription” was “perhaps about economic or personal issues such as levies, temple grants, etc.” And he speculates further that there was perhaps a conflict between the governor of the city (a term he reads in this “inscription”) “and other priests or officials of the king of Jerusalem.” Alas, when my undergrad students attempt to do such things in a class, I remind them that this is eisegesis, reading something into a text which is actually not present.

But Galil goes still further than eisegesis. According to Galil, “the new inscription proves that Jerusalem was not only a fortified city, but also a very important cultural and cultic center.” I too believe that Jerusalem was an important center at this time, and I believe that Jerusalem was fortified during the 2nd millennium BCE (the period from which this “inscription” putatively hails). However, according to Galil’s own readings, this “inscription” does not mention any city or its fortifications! So, yet again, even if someone were to embrace Galil’s readings, the “inscription” cannot carry the freight with which he is saddling it.

Galil goes on and states that it was “excellent scribes and sophisticated magicians [who] managed to write this important monumental inscription, as well as hold voodoo ceremonies” (ceremonies which Galil posits because of some perforations in the stone). Of course, if this is to be considered an inscription, someone obviously wrote it (i.e., a scribe of some sort). But to assume that we must have had “sophisticated magicians” and “voodoo ceremonies” of some sort does not follow from the inscribed content which Galil considers to be present. And to compare this “inscription” with the Egyptian Execration Texts (Berlin or Brussels group) is hardly apt, for all sorts of reasons (including the very precise content of the Execration Texts, something not at all present in anything approximating the same fashion here in this Jerusalem Stone “inscription,” even according to Galil’s readings).

Then Galil states the following “Being the earliest known inscription of this sort in Canaan, it must have served as a model for other writers and priests in later periods and in different places in the land.” This is quite a statement as well. And it is pure speculation that it could have been some sort of a model for later periods.

It is also worth emphasizing that Galil posits the presence of internal matres lectionis in this “inscription.” Within the field of Northwest Semitic languages, the use of consonants as vowel letters is an attested phenomenon, and consonants used in this fashion are referred to as matres lectionis (I discuss this phenomenon at some depth, with reference to additional secondary literature in my article entitled “Scribal Education in Ancient Israel: The Old Hebrew Epigraphic Evidence.” Bulletin of the American Society of Overseas Research 344 [2006]: 47-74, with one section devoted to the subject of final matres lectionis and internal matres lectionis). In any case, suffice it to say that matres lectionis are not attested in Iron Age Phoenician. And internal matres lectionis are not attested in Hebrew or Aramaic until much later (e.g., in Old Hebrew, they first begin to be used in the late 8th century BCE). Galil refers to Ugaritic as a parallel, but this is not correct. Ugaritic never uses a consonant as a vowel letter (i.e., no matres lectionis are used). Rather, in Ugaritic we have three different forms of the letter aleph, and these three letters can represent an “aleph plus vowel combination” (See Stanislav Segert, A Basic Grammar of Ugaritic, p. 22 [section 21.4]), but this is entirely different from the phenomenon known as matres lectionis. And the fact that Galil believes there are some seven examples of a vav mater lectionis in this “inscription”….well, this erroneous assumption entirely erodes any confidence in his readings and translation.

Galil understands there to be a definite article in this inscription. It’s perhaps also important for me to mention that I also find the reading of an article in this “inscription” to be problematic (note that the article is not present in Ugarit). Moreover, Randall Garr has noted that “the definite article is a morphological innovation which appeared during the early first millennium BCE” (Garr, Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine: 1000-586 B.C.E., p. 89). I find it very difficult to believe that the definite article is present in this “inscription,” and I also find Galil’s drawing of the putative article to be terribly schematic and quite distant from the photo.

“Same Song Second Verse, a little bit louder, a little bit worse.”

I’m also struck by something else. Namely, not so very long ago, namely, on March 24, 2022 at Lanier Theological Library (in Houston, Texas), Scott Stripling (Provost of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas; and the Director of Excavations for the Associates for Biblical Research at Khirbet el-Maqatir and Shiloh, Israel), along with Pieter van der Veen (Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz), and Gershon Galil (University of Haifa) held a press conference to announce the discovery and putative decipherment of a 2 cm x 2 cm folded lead inscription. According to Stripling, Galil, and van der Veen, the forty letters on the inside of this folded lead object are not discernible via the naked eye. However, via imaging that was conducted in Prague at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, they (i.e., van der Veen and Galil) believe that forty letters can be seen, that these letters can be read, and the words that result can be deciphered. Here is their translation: “Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God Yhw [Yahweh], You will die cursed. Cursed you will surely die. Cursed by Yhw – cursed, cursed, cursed.”

And at that March press conference, there were some very sensational claims as well. For example, on the basis of their reading of that inscription, Stripling stated that: “One can no longer argue with a straight face that the Biblical text was not written until the Persian Period or the Hellenistic Period, as many higher critics have done when we clearly do have the ability to write the entire text [of the Bible] at a much, much earlier date.” Galil makes the same basic statement: “No one can claim the Bible was written in later periods, the Persian Period or the Hellenistic Period.” Similarly, Galil stated: “the person who wrote this was a genius, not only a scribe, but a theologian!” Stripling also stated that “our friends from the other side of the academic aisle have disparagingly spoken of us [that is, those] who believe that the Bible was written at an early date as this, because that was not [supposed to be] possible because there was no alphabetic script with which to write it. Clearly this [inscription] flies in the face of that.” Galil goes on to state that “the scribe who wrote this important text….believe me…he could write every chapter in the Bible.” Galil also goes on and states that this “is the most important inscription ever found in Israel.” These are some pretty sensational claims from Galil and Stripling! And it’s probably also worth observing that just a few months ago, Galil referred to some other inscription as the most important!

Moreover, as I mentioned back on March 26th (http://www.rollstonepigraphy.com/?p=949), in a fairly detailed assessment of the sensational claims made then about that “inscription”, even if we assume everything that Stripling, Galil, and van der Veen state about the readings and translation is correct (and that’s a big assumption), they have told us that there are 40 letters, 30 of which are the word “accursed” (i.e., the trilateral root ‘rr). And the remaining 10 letters are used to write “God,” “die,” and “Yhw.” If we do have those four words or roots: namely, “curse,” “God,” “die” and “Yahweh,” I’m happy to say that somebody back then and there could write, and hopefully somebody else back then and there could read that text. But to say that based on those four words or roots that somebody could write the whole Bible….well, that’s a bridge (way) too far for me. After all, there are 8500+ words in the Hebrew Bible (counting verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, particles, common nouns, proper nouns), and four is a pretty small fraction of the whole, therefore!

Some Conclusions about the Totality of these Claims

Ultimately, I’m particularly struck by the fact that in both cases (the Mount Ebal Lead “inscription” and this Jerusalem Stone “inscription”) we have such similar content, namely, content revolving around the repetition of the same two roots: “curse” and “death,” and not much else at all in terms of other words! And we have one scholar connected with the readings of both: Prof. Gershon Galil. And there are some very sensational claims regarding both. And with regard to both of these putative “inscriptions,” the data on the ground just don’t support the high flying claims. In due time, scholars will have full access to these and sober interpretations will come forth. But these sensational claims just don’t work, not for the Mount Ebal Lead Inscription and not for this putative Jerusalem “Stone Inscription.”

Prof. Christopher Rollston (Rollston@gwu.edu), George Washington University, Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Some links to press stories about Gershon Galil’s claims:

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.


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:


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

Liste der behandelten Qumranschriften

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.