Sunday, May 21, 2017

Collins Rebuts Grabbe

The May 2017 issue of The Ancient Near East Today (v5, #5) includes an article by Lester Grabbe, "Why 1 and 2 Kings?" I attended one of his lectures at the 2007 SBL conference, so his opinion of Holy Writ now, nearly a decade hence, doesn't surprise me. In fact, Steven Collins (Dean, College of Archaeology, Trinity Southwest University; Director of long-term excavations at Tall el-Hammam in Jordan) distributed an excellent rebuttal via his E-mail list, & he kindly granted permission for me to re-post it here.

In the most recent edition there's an article by Lester Grabbe which begins like this: "Why were the books of 1 and 2 Kings written? Some would affirm that they are meant to be a history of Israel in the time of the kings. Yet the Hebrew Bible is not a history book; it is a book of religion." Seriously?

I'll be brief with this, but let me start by saying that the historical books of the Old Testament represent the pinnacle of history writing in the ancient Near East (ANE). They, along with the writings of the Hittites of the Central Anatolian Plateau, viewed history as being cause-and-effect, forward-moving, and meaningful. Actions had consequences. They reported the good, bad, and ugly relative to everyone from patriarchs to prophets to judges to kings, even to the nation of Israel, and finally the kingdom of Judah. Not a few scholars have observed that no people concocting a fictitious history of themselves would paint so negative a picture of their ancestors! It can be safely stated that, in the category of historical objectivity, the OT writers laid a foundation for modern historiography. We write history because of the way they wrote history.

There are other facts to consider as well. One is that there is no such thing as an ancient author who didn't incorporate his/her religious beliefs and prejudices into the fabric of writing. For example, the most detailed Egyptian battle accounts, such as those of Tuthmosis III, are full of interventions by deities. Yet scholars use those records to reconstruct Egyptian 'history'. To say that the OT historical books like 1 and 2 Kings are merely works of religion and not historically worthwhile is to consign every piece of ancient writing to that category using the same logic. This is because religion was not a part of ancient life, it was life itself, and everything in ancient life 24-7-365 proceeded in conjunction with sacred rites, rituals, and ceremonies, from the royal to the laborer, from womb to grave. If the Hebrew history is dismissed as historically unusable because of its religious tone, then there would be no possibility of writing histories of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, or Anatolia.

Another fact is that most ancient accounts constitute socio-religious propaganda, particularly those of the Egyptians. Writing on monuments and in official records aggrandized the accomplishments and lives of kings and queens, often borrowing pieces of history from other rulers, expunging the careers of predecessors, even making up glorious fictions of foreign campaigns that never happened. This was particularly egregious when Pharaohs made claims of conquering "The Nine Bows," the perceived traditional, perennial enemies of Egypt.

Yet another fact is that the archaeological record often confirms the details of the Hebrew history. I say "often" because archaeology is not an exact science by any means, and has only succeeded in investigating perhaps one or two percent of the physical remains from the ancient Near East, even less in the Levant. Archaeological data is also open to interpretation, often emended by later discoveries, and can only be declared 'consistent' or 'inconsistent' with historical records. Only multiple lines of archaeological, geographical, and other varieties of scientific evidence can collectively provide 'proof' of an alleged historical person or event. But such is the exception rather than the rule.

To pontificate (on the basis of what?) that 1 and 2 Kings are religious and not historical books is, thus, a breakdown in the handling of historical and archaeological data, and a failure in the application of logic and reason. It is history with a religious perspective (even agenda!) to be certain. But that in no way prevents the mining of authentic historical details from these biblical books. In terms of historiography, they stand head and shoulders above accounts written by ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian scribes.

Evidence, man, evidence! Yes, and all this collected and assessed carefully and deftly by scholars who know how to read ancient texts for embedded historical and geographical information. In this light, 1 and 2 Kings must be seen, objectively, as historical works influenced by a particular worldview (religion, if you like). They are typically Near Eastern in this regard. But to dismiss them in assembling a history of the ANE is nonsensical. Additionally, trusting Egyptian and Mesopotamian annals out of hand is woefully naïve. Favoring them over the Hebrew historical books is bias without logic or scholarly rigor.

Again, the above quotation comes courtesy of Dr. Collins, & I applaude his remarks.

G.M. Grena

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The 1883 Dead Sea Scroll

Aren Maier recently posted videos from the RIAB Minerva Center annual meeting, March 2, 2017 at the Israel Institute of Advanced Studies, Jerusalem. For reasons tangential to this blog post, one of particular interest to me was Christopher Rollston's, "The Jerusalem Papyrus: Another Perspective". 7:19 into the video, he mentions the famously fake inscriptions offered for sale in the late 1800s by Moses Wilhelm Shapira:

"the Shapira forgeries ... those inscriptions ... as Clermont-Ganneau would argue, those were blazing forgeries, all of them..."

Whenever the subject of fake antiquities arises, Dr. Rollston mentions Shapira's wares. For example, in footnote 12 of his 2009 blog post, Modern Epigraphic Forgeries, he said that "with the exposure of the 'Moabite Potteries' and the 'Shapira Fragments' as forgeries, [Shapira's] status plummeted, and he ultimately committed suicide. It is my opinion that Shapira himself forged the 'Shapira Fragments'."

In a 2012 blog post he made the highly tautological point that "Religion and politics are also strong motives for the production of a forgery. For example, there was arguably a strong religious motivation for the production of the Shapira Fragments (and the initial aura surrounding them)."

Religion & politics are related to artifacts pertaining to the history of Israel? Really? Wow, it's a good thing all the rock-solid genuine artifacts like the Siloam inscription & Ketef Hinnom scrolls have nothing to do with politics & religion!

It's worth noting that earlier in his lecture, Rollston says he was wrong about the famous Moussaieff ostraca until being corrected by Joseph Naveh. As someone who's been proven wrong over past beliefs, I hold others in strong admiration when they publicly acknowledge their mistakes (even if they're not actually mistakes, which also happens occasionally). In this instance, it would be nice to hear Dr. Rollston review his position on these Fragments.

Clermont-Ganneau was not the only LMLK VIP to mistakenly denounce these items. In the latest issue of PEQ (v149, #1, March 2017), Shlomo Guil's surprising article, The Shapira Scroll Was an Authentic Dead Sea Scroll, I learned that Claude R. Conder said the following in 1883 with regard to the leather fragments of Deuteronomy Shapira had offered for sale to the British Museum:

"I do not think any archaeologist will suppose that leather, as limp & supple as that on which this manuscript is written, could exist for such a length of time in the damp atmosphere of a country which has a rainfall of 20 inches ... the difficulty of the great age which it is necessary to suppose leather to be able to attain without rotting in a damp cave is even more fatal to this clever forgery."

A third LMLK VIP, Archibald H. Sayce embarrassingly chimed in at the same time:

"It is really demanding too much of Western credulity to ask us to believe that in a damp climate like that of Palestine any sheepskins could have lasted for nearly 3,000 years."

Shucks! After I had so much faith invested in my western credulity! Ha! Ha! Ha! Less than 7 decades after those prominent academic proclamations, multiple 2k-year-old DSS surfaced with legible OT inscriptions preserved quite well on ... you guessed it: leather (sheep & goat skin in particular, according to a recent article on LiveScience). OUCH!!!

Before summarizing Guil's fascinating article, it's worth noting a 4th LMLK VIP he quotes therein, Gabriel Barkay. Following the IAA's witch-hunt of antiquities dealers in 2012, he urged insightful caution:

"The existence of linguistic & paleographic anomalies is not a reason to dismiss inscriptions & to say that they are fakes or forgeries ... There are anomalies in provenanced inscriptions & every ancient inscription actually has some peculiar characteristics of its own, some of which do not fit the rules & laws of either linguistics or paleography. Every inscription is a human-hands product of the human mind, & as such it has its own peculiarities as we all have our own characteristics."

In his 20-page PEQ article, Guil relates the arguments between Clermont-Ganneau & German scholars, particulary Prof. Konstantin Schlottmann (mentioned by Rollston in Maeir's video). Although C-G correctly debunked Shapira's Moabite pottery as forgeries, he blew it on these leather strips (15 offered to the British Museum, though at least 16 were originally noted by Shapira, & probably several smaller scraps). Shapira reported their find-spot as being near the Wadi Mujib (the Biblical river Arnon leading to the Dead Sea). Primarily because they were fragmented along one edge & clean-cut on the other, C-G suspected a modern forger cut them from the blank edges of a more-modern Torah scroll. He was so convinced of this argument that he even misinterpreted page-folds for line/margin-rulings.

Guil presents nearly a dozen pieces of circumstantial evidence for the authenticity of Shapira's fragments:

1) The text was written on leather. 19th-century scholars were not aware of ancient Hebrew leather manuscripts, so a forger would've chosen stone for a medium.

2) It was discovered near the Dead Sea. Shapira didn't know the DSS were going to be discovered a century after his suicide.

3) Shapira commented on linguistic mistakes in the fragments. He was a competent linguist, whom Conder lauded "as a Talmudist of 20 years education" when Shapira assisted him with the July 1881 PEQ publication on the Siloam-inscription translation.

4) The scroll was reportedly wrapped in cloth & smeared with asphalt. Cave I DSS were preserved in the same manner, particularly the Habakkuk Pesher/Commentary & the Manual of Discipline (a.k.a. the Community Rule).

5) Horizontal & vertical rulings appear in the fragments, similar to that of DSS specimens: 1QIsa, 4QpaleoGen-Exod, & 11QpaleoLev.

6) Efforts by an expert on behalf of the British Museum (Christian Ginsburg) to translate the fragments. Had the BM's scholars been convinced they were fake, they would not have displayed them (which they did).

7) Their paleography doesn't match that of the Mesha stele. C-G assumed the same forger who produced the Moabite pottery produced the Deuteronomy fragments. The Paleo-Hebrew DSS bear similar paleographic distinctions, which supports Dr. Barkay's point.

8) Shapira's mixed forms of the Paleo-Hebrew Aleph resemble that used in the DSS 11QpaleoLev rather than being strictly in lapidary or cursive scripts.

9) The only Paleo-Hebrew DSS are the Torah & Job. The odds were against Shapira choosing an OT book to forge in Paleo-Hebrew.

10) Shapira's fragments not only resemble 11QpaleoLev in their blackened tan appearance, but also in their overall dimensions.

11) Shapira's fragments bear an arc-like shape when unrolled similar to that of 11QpaleoLev.

It would be nice to see a future issue of BAR magazine inform its readers on this interpretation of these Deuteronomic fragments.

Guil dedicated his article to the late Prof. Menahem Mansoor (Chairman, Dept. of Hebrew & Semitic Studies, University of Wisconsin) whose 1958 article challenging the alleged forgery of Shapira's fragments is available on UW's website (Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & letters, v47, pp. 183-225, assisted by Mary Ann Fruth), The Case of Shapira's Dead Sea (Deuteronomy) Scrolls of 1883.

Therein Mansoor notes the 1956 independent call for the re-examination of Shapira's document by Shmuel Yeivin at Jerusalem's Dept. of Antiquities (which would eventually become the IAA). LMLKologists know Yeivin for publishing the "First Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tel Gat (Tell Sheykh 'Ahmed el-Areyny)", suggesting the site may have been MMST. Again, just because a scholar is wrong on one point doesn't make him/her wrong on all points!

Mansoor also cites the work of LMLK VIPs Albright, Aharoni, & Cross; & footnote 105 will amuse/delight LMLKologists, wherein he quotes someone who criticized the Shapira text for eliminating "nearly all the vavs & yods which serve as matres lectionis, in order to bring his work in harmony with the ancient Phoenician inscriptions. But he had forgotten to be consistent. ... The innovations introduced by the forger were ridiculous." For the benefit of non-LMLKologists, some seals were inscribed both as ZF (defectiva) & ZYF (plene), HBRN was defectiva, SUKE was plene! And of course MMST was a ridiculous innovation since that word does not appear in the OT or any ancient Semitic texts!

Finally, it's worth noting that the fate of these scrolls is unknown. Guil concluded his article by stating that Dr. Philip Brookes Mason of Staffordshire aquired them circa 1888/1889, exhibited them at the Burton-on-Trent Natural History & Archaeological Society on March 8th, 1889, & probably kept them till his 1903 death. His widow reportedly sold his collection at an auction. It sure would be nice to see them surface in the Green Collection when Museum of the Bible opens later this year!



G.M. Grena

Saturday, April 22, 2017

My New Backpack


The lower pouch isn't in focus, but here's what it says:

"But now, O LORD,
thou art our Father;
we are the clay, &
Thou our Potter..."
Isaiah 64:8

G.M. Grena

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Royal Magnetism

While recovering on the night of Valentine's Day, after returning home from a 900-foot, 50-pound stair-climb training session, I received an exciting Tel Aviv University (TAU) press-release E-mail from Joseph Lauer on a subject near/dear to my "heart":

Ancient Jars Found in Judea Reveal Earth's Magnetic Field is Fluctuating, Not Diminishing

It's about an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS): "Six centuries of geomagnetic intensity variations recorded by royal Judean stamped jar handles" by Erez Ben-Yosef, Michael Millmana, Ron Shaar, Lisa Tauxe, & Oded Lipschits.

First curiosity in the TAU announcement:

"Data obtained from the analysis of well-dated Judean jar handles [indicate] a fluctuating field that peaked during the 8th century BCE."

It's well known that the field's strength has been decaying based on measurements during the past century. In fact, the currently measureable magnetic field of planets is one of the many scientific metrics that indicate our solar system is relatively young, not billions of years old. For example:

Uranus: The Strange Planet

Neptune: Monument to Creation

Mercury—The Tiny Planet that Causes Big Problems for Evolution

For a short overview of Earth's field with 2 helpful illustrations, see this more recent article where our "Rapidly Decaying Magnetic Field" is #5 of the "10 Best Evidences From Science That Confirm a Young Earth" by Dr. Andrew A. Snelling.

So to say Earth's field "peaked" in the 8th century BC is misleading in 2 ways. One is that we don't have enough measurements from around the globe spanning human history to know when it peaked. Another is that the actual publication refers to 2 unusual spikes: one in the 8th century around the time of LMLKs, & another in the 10th century (roughly 980 BC per Fig. 7 in the other article, Earth & Planetary Science Letters 301 (2011) p. 303). Each of these datasets is extremely sparse, so the magnitudes of the spikes are indicative, but don't necessarily represent the full extent of their respective event.

The article GLARINGLY omits the Depression handles (usually referred to as "thumbprint" marks), which were excavated in mass quantities at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which I speculated in my 2014 NEAS lecture date to the early years of the Israelite monarchy for collecting tithes/offerings to God. One possible reason for the omission is that the mark on those handles did not bear an inscription; however, nor do the CCs & Rosettes used in the study. Another possibility is that the authors did not have, or could not get, access to handles not excavated under the auspices of TAU (though one of the co-authors, Ron Shaar, is from Hebrew University, which co-sponsored the Qeiyafa excavations).

Another anomaly is the statement by lead co-author, Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef:  "The field strength of the 8th century BCE [...] is the strongest field recorded in the last 100,000 years."

This misleadingly suggests a direct correlation between the field measurements & chronology; but one of the purposes of this research is to simply correlate the known or presumed dates of archeological artifacts (or geological material such as bricks & slag) with the measurements.

My first reaction to Fig. 1 in the article was to think, "Wow, this test independently confirms the chronological division of LMLKs I proposed 14 years ago!" It shows red & black bars for "Maximum Age Range" & "Likely Age"; however, these are both based on theories, not on data presented in the article. Dr. Ben-Yosef clarifies it this way:

"The period spanned by the jars allowed us to procure data on the Earth's magnetic field during that time."

This next statement illustrates another caution regarding the use of magnetic fields for dating:

"The improved Levantine archaeomagnetic record can be used to date pottery and other heat-impacted archaeological materials whose date is unknown."

Like radiometric dating, the method becomes circular without an absolute reference. In this case, LMLKs act as the absolute reference because they're correlated to the Holy Bible via adjacent archeological strata that connect kings (Hezekiah & Sennacherib) & events (the 2 destructions of Lachish) mentioned therein.

However, like radiometric dating, you can NOT reliably use this method to date anything, because you have no way of knowing whether your item's material has been reliably preserved. In this particular study, only 74% of the samples initially submitted "passed the threshold values of the criteria used to establish paleomagnetic reliability". Furthermore, only "27 out of the 67 samples measured yielded reliable paleomagnetic results." In other words, only 40%--less than half.

Facts notwithstanding, according to Dr. Ben-Yosef:

"The new data can [...] provide an excellent, accurate dating reference for archaeological artefacts."

I like optimism, but not when it masks contradictory facts. As demonstrated conclusively via rock samples collected from firmly dated geologic events (e.g., Mt. St. Helens & New Zealand), radiometric dating is a game of craps disguised as a science.

That being said (& yes, I feel much better getting that & the 50 pounds of weights off my chest), I'm grateful to Dr. Ben-Yosef for making his PNAS paper available via his Academia account.

The only other major gripes I have about the article are the completely erroneous timeline for Rosettes in Fig. 1 (rectified by Table 1), & the misidentification of 2 of the LMLKs used in this study that may represent chronologically distinct periods: JH12a is identified as "IIa mmst" but is actually an M2D, & JH21e is identified as "IIb mmst", but is actually an M2U. Another misidentification that doesn't adversely impact the findings is JH20a, identified as "IIc mmst" but is actually a G2T. Some of the Rosettes are not even classified. Sloppy work, so I didn't bother scrutinizing any of the Personals, Lions, YEUDs, or YRSLMs.

Minor gripes are the poor photographs by Pavel Shrago that don't necessarily highlight important features of the seal inscriptions, when it would've been fairly easy to orient the light to do that. The inconsistent orientation of the photos also has complete disregard for the inscriptions. In fact the photo of JH11a (RR2294/1) is a completely mirrored image (evident even if you're unfamiliar with the seals because the metric scale is backwards).

And my last but not least gripe, an asterisked footnote to Table 1 states that a 2016 article (which I have not read) by Nadav Na'aman "argues for a likely start date at ca. 715 BCE" for LMLKs Ia, Ib, & IIa; but this misleadingly disregards other respected scholars (Ussishkin, Barkay, & Vaughn) who believe all LMLKs & Privates predate the Assyrian destruction layer.

A multitude of news-based websites posted their own versions of the press release, but for the most part were just truncations of it by C-student journalists. I'll list several that were probably written by B- & possibly even A-students.

From Haaretz, the website that insists on cramming as much unrelated content onto your computer as possible via sidebars & pop-ups, "Ancient Judean Jar Handles Prove the Earth's Magnetic Field Won't Kill Us All" by Ruth Schuster. As annoying as the unrelated material is, this article includes some nice photos of Ramat Rahel artifacts provided by Dr. Lipschits: a near-perfect H2U handle, some near-perfect CCs on a small fragment of a handle, & an overhead shot of a restored jar bearing 2 Yehud handles (a 3rd presumably blank, & a 4th apparently not recovered).

It also contains a 4th photo of an H2D by someone (or something that occasionally has iron weights affixed to it) named Funhistory via Wikimedia. Its inclusion adds no intellectual value to the report, but elevated my spirit with joy, way beyond the 900 feet I had climbed earlier in the evening!

Schuster makes a profound, bold statement about the overall project I never would've expected back in 2002 when I began my LMLK research: "It is of interest to all scientists..." How cool is that?!?!

"TAU and HU scientists: Weakening of Earth’s magnetic field is not new" by Judy Siegel & Daniel K. Eisenbud for The Jerusalem Post.

"Judean archeological find proves fluctuating geomagnetic field" by Mordechai Sones for Arutz Sheva / Israel National News.

"Ceramic Pottery Reveals an Ancient Geomagnetic Field Spike" by Stephanie Pappas for Live Science.

"Biblical artifacts provide reassurance about Earth's magnetic field" by Bradley J. Fikes for The San Diego Union-Tribune. His article not only includes the chart of the jar-handles arranged chronologically (PNAS Fig. 1), but also the top of LMLK jar 10091 from Lachish. Unfortunately he makes a false statement out of ignorance of the iconography, "There was no exalted religious significance to the artifacts themselves..." I don't know about you, but I didn't see any images of winged lights or starbursts on any of the IRS tax forms I filed last month! Aside from that minor glitch, I'm thrilled that he linked to the LMLK Research Website with an accurate statement about the seals, "A great amount of research has been done on their significance."

I don't subscribe to the fake News published by the failing New York Times, but even they published a free mobile version of their article, "Ancient Jars Hold Clues About Earth’s Fluctuating Magnetic Fields" by Kenneth Chang.

"Iron Age Potters Carefully Recorded Earth's Magnetic Field — By Accident" by Rae Ellen Bichell for NPR. She provides a longer quotation by Ben-Yosef not reported in the other articles concerning the Iron Age spike: "It was the strongest it's been, at least in the last 100,000 years, but maybe ever."

She also includes comments from Steven Forman of Baylor University, whose research indicated a similar spike around 3k years ago in Texas:

"When dealing with such large-scale phenomena, we don't usually think it can occur within a few decades. We usually think it would take thousands or tens of thousands of years," Forman says. The finding, he adds, "opens up a big can of worms" because researchers just don't know how or why that would happen. So there's something missing about scientists' concept of goings on in the Earth's core.


Hmm. Do we know of any anomalous global events that occurred around this time?

"Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days 15 years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that He hath spoken; Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, 10 degrees backward. So the sun returned 10 degrees, by which degrees it was gone down."--Isaiah 38:4


Earth's magnetic field protects it from solar wind & cosmic rays, particularly those from the sun. Significantly more sunlight on one occasion would warrant the need for a counter-amount of magnetic field strength, at least on one side of the planet. Of course God could just as easily have worked the overt miracle while performing a covert one that simultaneously protected the planet from excessive radiation. Unfortunately, this explanation cannot account for the multi-year duration of the spike, nor the 10th-century spike (assuming the scientists dated it properly); but if true, it would also mean we should expect a bigger spike several centuries earlier that would've coincided with Joshua's famous long, sunny day while defending Gibeon.

The PNAS authors conclude by noting similar spikes found in nearby regions ca. 3k years ago, but caution that such short events "can be easily missed" by researchers. On the "sunny" side, there's pottery from all over the world that dates many centuries older (especially cuneiform tablets), so one day scientists might be able to reconstruct a more-detailed timeline of these magnetic markers. SD Tribune reporter, Fikes said PNAS co-author Tauxe is currently studying "places where iron was smelted in association with the ancient and renowned temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia." That's very encouraging to hear!

G.M. Grena

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Plain of Jars

Recently saw this fascinating 4-page report by the Archaeological Institute of America:

"A Singular Landscape" by Karen Coates.

See also this brief accompanying video:



G.M. Grena

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hollywood Bowl Lecture

Such a small crowd was in the little room at the 2014 NEAS conference.
Imagine how big the crowd would be if I could hold a lecture at the historic Hollywood Bowl...



G.M. Grena