Saturday, May 27, 2006

Historicity, Historical, & History

In response to a scholar studying the use of the word "historicity" in scientific publications, I quoted Andrew Vaughn's use of "historical veracity", of which "historicity" could be considered a contraction. Also in his dissertation on Chronicles ("Theology, History, & Archaeology in the Chronicler's Account of Hezekiah" [Scholars Press, 1999]), Vaughn used:

"historical data"
"historical value"
"historical reliability"
"historical understanding"
"historically accurate tradition (or source)"

In a more recent radio interview with Gordon Govier, Vaughn pointed out that archeological data such as LMLK handles can only "raise varying degrees of probability".

Based on this, I'd define "historicity" as:

"The quality/value of data derived from present traditions or tangible artifacts of the past that raises/lowers degrees of probability towards an accurate account of what happened in the past."

The actual quality/value should not be thought of as true/false, but "in flux" getting closer to or further from the truth since we will never have all the data of contemporary eyewitnesses. Archeology is ever ongoing. Historians can agree unanimously today, but when a new datum makes headlines tomorrow, history textbooks must change to accommodate it. What's the percentage of scientific publications written a mere 50 years ago that have not already been superseded on one or more points?

I think of History as an interpretation, & Historicity as a quality test (what I've done for a living the past 2 decades) or state of the interpretation, sort of like a thermometer measuring the degree of probability towards certainty.

Recently an article by Nadav Shragai entitled "Temple Mount politics make strange bedfellows" appeared in Ha'aretz, undoubtedly based on info gleaned from Gabriel Barkay:

"Charles Warren, who over 140 years ago excavated vertical shafts and tunnels in the area, discovered that the cornerstones of the five lower support collars were built into a layer of red earth containing shards dating from the First Temple period. The first lamelekh ['to the king'] ring seals found in the Land of Israel were discovered in this red earth. These are official seals embossed on the handles of jugs from the time of King Hezekiah of Judea (late eighth century, B.C.E.). Near the corner of the walls of the Temple Mount, Warren also found the first clay vessel from the First Temple period that was discovered in Eretz Yisrael. During the period of Jordanian rule, archeologist Kathleen Kenyon and Father Roland De Vaux uncovered six support columns from the stones of the eastern wall that had been previously concealed. Barkai notes that in 1967 the Israeli government declared the area a national park in recognition of the importance of the shards there and that the area adjacent to the east of the southeastern wall of the Temple Mount is a key site for finding the ancient remnants of the Temple Mount."

It's fun studying subjects so relevant to recent events, yet tied to important ancient history!

Song of the week: "The Way It Used To Be" by Engelbert Humperdinck (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 24-second sample; 302kb).
G.M. Grena

P.S. This is the first time I've heard anyone refer to them as "ring" seals, which is highly improbable considering that their overall size exceeds a 1-inch oval!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Royal Trash of King Joash

The big news this week was that a report by a highly respected professor of Geomicrobiology (Wolfgang E. Krumbein) argued that the royal inscription commemorating repairs made to Solomon's Temple by King Joash (a.k.a., the Joash tablet) was inscribed "several/many decades or centuries ago." Furthermore, Carbon-14 tests dated the microscopic gold balls to "ancient origin". According to the report, "There is no known technology that enables the manufacture of microscopic gold globules & their insertion of the globules & carbon particles into patina (either ancient or recent)."

Back on March 12, 2005, I made a web page showing & comparing all the letters on the tablet to paleographic statements made by Robert Deutsch in January of 2003. We both agree that the inscription was probably forged, but arrive at that belief for different reasons.

Here's what I wrote:

Out of 200 letters analyzed, the overwhelming majority are normal/typical. No ancient inscription with a large quantity of letters like this was perfect--they were written by hand using a chisel or scribing device on a rough surface, so we should expect a few anomalies. When considering whether an ancient inscription is authentic, one could argue that it is so well executed that it must have been copied in modern times based on an ancient prototype; or one could argue that it is so well executed that it must be ancient & authentic. We know for a fact that this ancient alphabetic script varied as it evolved over the centuries; however, at some points in time, individuals may have made mistakes or developed unique penmanship that eventually became normal. So one could adopt a counter position when studying paleography & believe that anomalies indicate forgeries, or anomalies indicate authentic ancient inscriptions--for example, it would seem nonsensical for a forger to market an obvious error after spending so much time doing the necessary research to forge such a large, complicated inscription.

Having said all of that, the inscription on this Joash tablet appears to be a modern forgery. The surface reportedly contained microscopic bits of gold; if it were in the real Temple, it would have been scribed with greater care. An expert scribe would have been employed for such an important project, & that person would have done a better job of laying out the text on a practice surface, then scribed it on the real tablet from right to left properly spaced & sized. Here are some specific spacing anomalies:

* There is no reason for the first Zayin in the first line to be so narrow, & the Shin in the third line to be so wide.

* The letters in the last line appear crowded.

* The letters on the right side of the last line migrate upward to avoid the fracture, which indicates it was scribed by a forger from left to right on the fragmented tablet rather than right to left on a complete tablet in ancient times.

Furthermore, the second Qof (7th line from top, 2nd letter from the right) was obviously written over the fissure, & a fractured tablet would not have been chosen to carry the important message this forgery purports to preserve.

Finally, the microscopic gold contributes to the authentic appearance, but the real Temple would have been more carefully stripped of its gold prior to its destruction by the ancient Babylonians.

Song of the week: "Shiny Disco Balls" by Who Da Funk (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 24-second sample; 299kb).
G.M. Grena

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Dumb & Dumber Scholarship

This week I engaged in an extremely short-lived debate with 2 university professors (who have no connection to LMLK research) who asserted that a prominent Biblical figure never actually lived. They were offended at my suggestion to keep an open mind on the subject for numerous reasons. I was disappointed/frustrated that people employed by institutions whose goal is to educate, encourage, & open their students minds would not only be intolerant of alternative opinions, but would engage in censorship, mischaracterization, & insults.

Here are some examples of their pseudo-logic (bear in mind that these people are undeniably knowledgeable, with extensive & well-respected academic backgrounds):

1) If you state a differing belief, you're accused of promoting a personal belief--a very bad thing apparently; if you agree with their personal beliefs, you're scientific & scholarly--no problem. (Note that I'm not talking about UFOlogy or divine miracles here; I'm simply talking about whether a particular Biblical figure actually lived.) Bear in mind that modern science is founded on testable observations; historical science BY DEFINITION is merely an interpretation of data--a belief.

2) If you compare the usage of ancient Hebrew texts as evidence to the usage of texts from other ancient cultures, you're imputing the university professors with anti-Semitism. (Sounds like someone has a guilty conscience, doesn't it?) Would the historicity of Biblical figures be more believable if there were no ancient Hebrew texts? Is it my fault that the vast majority of people--from scholars to screwballs--believe Socrates, Plato, & Aristotle actually lived?

3) If you believe any Biblical characters existed that were not mentioned in contemporary texts of external cultures, you're an advocate of Biblical inerrancy (a silly doctrine with no tangible definition). Every single person who believes people like Paul, Jesus, Solomon, Moses, & Abraham MIGHT HAVE existed is ipso facto an advocate of Biblical inerrancy. That includes hundreds of millions of people who for centuries have embraced Judaism, Christianity, & Islam.

4) If you point out #s 1-3 above, you're puerile.

Their demeanor surprised me, but it shouldn't have.

The History section of my LMLK vol. 1 book illustrates academic debates that never needed to be. I don't understand why otherwise-clever people are so eager to go out on a limb & metamorphose their ideas into laws/facts, entirely skipping over the Hypothesis & Theory stages that characterize what I would call Smart Scholarship.

With LMLK research, the gray areas include:

1) Dating--When were the 21+ seals made/used? For many years scholars erroneously divided the seals into 3 classes spread over a long period of time; current mainstream scholars go to the opposite extreme by congregating all 21 types into a single, short-lived chronological class.

2) Meaning--What message did the seals convey? Oh, for the late 19th-century days of an open, unbiased mind! For more than a century, all but one archeologist (R.A.S. Macalister) have assumed the inscriptions represent places & the icons connote pagan symbolism.

Both problems can be summarized in this: How much weight should be given to inference when historical facts can no longer be witnessed? Why are so many scholars afraid to preface their remarks with the simple phrase, "I believe..." or "I don't believe..."? What would be the harm in that? I'd be placated if they'd say, "Most scholars who think just like me believe..." It seems that some scholars have so much info in their brains that it occasionally debilitates their reasoning function!

To a certain degree, we owe a debt of gratitude to Sennacherib for destroying many Judean sites (acting on God's authority per Isaiah 10:5-6), & for bragging about his incomplete/illusory victory over King Hezekiah (in his cuneiform prisms). Otherwise, we would not only be debating over which reign(s) LMLK seals belonged to, but scholars would have another name on their Santa Claus list of Biblical figures who never really existed.

(More along these lines in my next book, which I obtained the LOC Control Number for this week--yippee!!!)

On a less philosophical & more personal note, the latter part of the week involved shopping for minor upgrades to my PC. In retrospect, I'm amazed at how well my computer's performed over its 3-year life (which equates to about 15 dog years). I purchased/assembled it in the spring of 2003 prior to beginning my first book, & aside from an occasional reboot (due to conflicts from my dial-up modem that have now been eliminated thanks to a DSL connection), it hasn't given me much grief. Oh that we could upgrade academia to a better performance!

Song of the week: "Between Two Worlds" by Patrick O'Hearn (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 26-second sample; 317kb).
G.M. Grena

P.S. When I originally posted this last night, I forgot to include a link where you could learn more about the 2 anonymous scholars I referenced above.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Stager, Samrah, & the Light of Milik

Earlier this week (May 2nd), The New York Times picked up on the petition authored by Harvard professor, Lawrence E. Stager. Along with several other scholars, they also interviewed Gustavus Adolphus professor, Andrew G. Vaughn, who began chairing ASOR's Committee On Publications in January. Here's a direct link to the story, Must Looted Relics Be Ignored?

Here's a page set up by BAR magazine with links to the statement & list of signers:

Stager & Vaughn have each made significant contributions to LMLK research, Vaughn's dissertation being a catalyst for my own studies.

Stager excavated Khirbet es-Samrah, which became the subject of his January 1975 dissertation, "Ancient Agriculture in the Judaean Desert". It includes a photo (Fig. 29) of an H2D with Circles found in Room 9, Floor 004 "in gray, chalky soil, some 0.10 m. thick" labeled Stratum 2, what I think of as the Assyrian-Babylonian sandwich. This particular handle is one of 10 elite specimens important to the chronological division proposed in my book.

Earlier excavators had found an unstratified x2x handle, published in BASOR 142 (April 1956; "Explorations in the Judaean Buqe'ah") by Frank M. Cross, Jr. & J.T. Milik. Although they identified it as an M2x based on some lines they thought were Mem strokes, the icon Head matches neither the M2D nor M2U, & the lines are similar to other illusory marks elsewhere on the handle. In light of Stager's handle, it's extremely likely that the Cross/Milik handle is also an H2D. I sure would love to get better photos of both so their ware could be compared!

Józef Tadeusz Milik recently passed away, & a terse obituary with photo appeared on p. 18 of the May/Jun issue of BAR. He was born in Poland in 1922, ordained as a Catholic priest in 1946, gained a licentiate summa cum laude in 1950, & was heralded by Time magazine in 1956 as "the fastest man with a fragment" for his contribution to Dead Sea Scrolls research. It was he who devised the system of designating the fragments; knowledge & technique being what they were back then, he also smoked as he worked, & joined some fragments using commercial adhesive tape. Described as having an "infectious sense of humor", Frank Cross told the UK's Independent newspaper that Milik often broke out in giggles over something he found amusing:

Fluent in Polish, Russian, Italian, French, German, & English, Milik entered the Catholic University of Lublin in 1944 to study Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Syriac, & Old Church Slavonic. As Poland fell victim to restrictive Communist policies, Milik went to Rome to study at the Pontifical Oriental Institute & Pontifical Biblical Institute. There he added Arabic, Georgian, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian, & Hittite to his repertoire of linguistic expertise.

Subsequent to his hands-on work with the DSS in Jerusalem, he left the priesthood, married a Polish woman in Rome, & moved to Paris. There he published several DSS texts (notably The Books of Enoch in 1976), & worked as a researcher for the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique until his retirement in 1987.

Song of the week: "Prism of Life" by Enigma (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 26-second sample; 314kb):

We have a helping hand Who's always aside
Forever light
Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth

G.M. Grena