Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pining for Publication

The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) magazine contains the long-awaited article by Gabriel Barkay on Ramat Rahel, originally promised on p. 19 of the May/Jun 2003 issue.

Back on September 2nd, I submitted a 1,200-word response to the editor, Hershel Shanks, which I'm hoping to see some fragment of in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue (though I admit it's unlikely since they printed another letter of mine on p. 8 in the current issue). I basically pointed out the overwhelming evidence against Barkay's hypothesis associating MMST with Ramat Rahel, & I didn't even mention that there were people named Ziph (1Chr 2:42), Socho (1Chr 4:17), & Hebron (Exodus 6:18 et al)!

My contributions on this subject are sorely needed; just listen to the response by Keith Schoville ("That sounds reasonable to me as well, & especially in light of the fact that so many handles were found at this place") on Gordon Govier's radio broadcast this week (show #1058). Nonetheless, if BAR rejects it, I'll print it here, or whichever portion doesn't make it to the ink edition.

Tidbits from the current excavation have been leaked here & there by Oded Lipschits, who's been working at the site for 3 seasons now (2004-2006). Apparently, the crowning achievement thus far has been the discovery of a complex water system dating to the Judean monarchy. According to a Jerusalem Post article last month (Aug. 21, 2006), it was "cut deep into the rock foundation, includes large underground water reservoirs, 5 open pools, small canals that transported water between the pools, & 3 underground canals."

Naturally, when one thinks of water systems made during the Judean monarchy, King Hezekiah immediately comes to mind, but this article mentions the 7th century BC, not the late 8th century (the traditional dating for the zenith of Hezekiah's reign).

The article goes on to mention "a large collection of seals marked 'The King,' 'Lion,' & 'Yehud.'" The author, Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, did not realize that the lion seals were strictly iconic, not actually mentioning "lion" in writing.

But my main focus is a more controversial article published by the Jerusalem Post last week, written by David A. Smith, entitled "Fit For a King", with the astonishing statements:

While Barkay holds the palace belonged to King Hezekiah, Lipschits & colleague Yuval Gadot, a professor at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, maintain it was an administrative center used by the Assyrian empire to collect taxes from Judah, one of its vassal states. ... Lipschits agrees that the l'melech handles belonged to jars containing wine as tax revenue, but holds that Hezekiah was responsible to the Assyrians for collecting the produce, then delivered it to them at Ramat Rahel. Whether the taxes were intended to pay for Hezekiah's building projects or were levy to a governing empire, these jar handles seem to testify to the truth of 8th-century prophet Isaiah's criticism of governors who have "eaten up the vineyard" (Isaiah 3:14) through taxation.

I love it when I hear new ideas expressed! The importance of brainstorming lies in its ability to make others think different, even if the original suggestion proves to be useless.

I certainly don't know the details about what's been excavated thus far by Lipschits' new team, but it will undoubtedly have an impact on historians' perception of Hezekiah's reign. Until now, the common belief has been that Sennacherib devastated Judah, & left Hezekiah amid a deteriorating ghetto of sorts in Jerusalem, surrounded by ruins everywhere else. If I understand Lipschits correctly, at least he's suggesting there's new evidence for the continuation of the Judean economy, albeit with the profits being redirected to Assyrian landlords/governors.

(Parenthetically, I don't trust any reporters. Every time I've ever had firsthand experience with a newsworthy current event, the published report had mangled the truth.)

Right now I'm unaware of any evidence to suggest the Assyrians were paid tribute by King Hezekiah following Sennacherib's compromised campaign. Life continued in Judah, but after the destruction of so many Shephelah cities, new ones grew around & to the east of Jerusalem, especially en-Nasbeh, el-Jib, el-Ful, & Ramat Rahel (probably el-Burj too). These sites have a significant majority of x2D & x2T stamps, none of which have been found in a clear/undisputed pre-Assyrian-destruction context.

Furthermore, none of the content of LMLK seals (icons & inscriptions) changed after the Assyrian campaign. This is the most obvious argument Lipschits will have to contend with. Surely if the taxes were redirected from the Judean military (the popular theory), Judean economy (Andy Vaughn's theory), or the priests/Levites (my largely-ignored hypothesis) to Assyrian governors, something in the seal designs would've changed, especially if the inscriptions represented places destroyed by the Assyrians.

The report also made another fascinating revelation:

Since the site was a reminder of Judah's vassal status, Lipschits believes the place name is not prominent in the Bible, but proposes that Jeremiah 41:17, which refers to gerut kimham (possibly translated "foreigners like them"), as near Bethlehem might be a reference.

Strong's 3643 also appears in 2Sam 19:37-40, & is usually translated as "longing" or "pining".

Song of the week: "Ancient Pines" by Loreena McKennitt (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 28-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"A" in "ANE-2" = Antisemitism?

In keeping with the guidelines for Yahoo's ANE-2 group, which misleadingly claims "to provide a forum for the exhange [sic] of ideas on [Ancient Near East] topics", I've decided to reveal another message rejected by the falsely impartial, objective, unbiased moderators named in my blog last week.

That message was a response to Bob Whiting (the high priest of Helsinki), & the rejection from the moderators was forwarded by Niels Peter Lemche (the Copenhagen cult leader). I submitted this one back in May in response to a couple of remarks by Lemche (Messages #1495 & #1498), & the rejection from the moderators was forwarded by Whiting (apparently they work like a pro wrestling tag team in defense of their dogma):

> We have to discuss on the basis of available evidence
> Niels Peter Lemche

But what evidence is there for Socrates & Manetho aside from quotes by later writers & copies of copies? The difference between them & Moses is about 1,000 years of time--the same span from the DSS to the Leningrad & Aleppo codices, & the core writings attributed to Moses didn't change much over that period. It should not seem unreasonable to form scholarly opinions based on this long-term, consistent copying. It's fascinating how Mesopotamian cultures were conquered & their core literature (e.g., that Marduk-Slaying-Tiamat nonsense) was not propagated by their remnants, yet the Jews somehow managed to preserve theirs. A consistent body of literature spanning thousands of years is impressive (especially when so many hands were messing with it as you ANE scholars are well aware). Wouldn't that count as evidence in a court of law?

> So no discussion about Moses as a historical person
> Niels Peter Lemche

If we were to discuss the composition of The Song of Moses, who would be the likely candidates? I'd nominate someone from the -Meses/-Mosis (18-19th dynasties) timeframe who had a grudge against Egyptians, & I'd respect your right to believe it was some late, anonymous fiction writer. At some point logic has to be considered as evidence in the absence of an external contemporary text or autograph. Which other ANE culture would have preserved any texts of Moses besides Israelites & Jews? If he existed, he was not very popular among the Egyptians while he lived there, & he was dead before the Israelites crossed the Jordan.

Numerous OT voices (Sam/Kings, Chron/Ezra/Neh, Isa, Jer, Dan, Mic, Mal, & Psalmists galore) unanimously respected & repeated the theme of that guy NPL says never existed & his old Hebrew song about an event that NPL says never took place. Would Moses be more historical if the Jews had never preserved texts about him?

George Michael Grena, II
Redondo Beach, CA


According to the united ANE-2 moderators, the message above was rejected due to its being "puerile" & "completely unacceptable in a scholarly forum."

Out of the kindness of the moderators' hearts, I was given an analogy between belief in Moses & belief in Santa Claus. Apparently it doesn't bother them that we don't have a 2,000-year-old corpus of literature for Santa Claus, including references to more ancient historical events such as the confrontation between Hezekiah & Sennacherib, with detail that could not have been possible without a literary archive contemporary with the events. Oh, & the fact that no reasonable adult has ever believed Santa exists!

Apparently all people (especially Jews) who believe Moses was a real person should be treated as gullible children. Thus saith the Cult of Copenhagen. Let's all bow before the high priest of Helsinki.

The moderators' response was merely another way of saying, "You're right; we're wrong, & we can't think of any logical rebuttal, so it's our duty to put tape over your mouth." What the banner of ANE-2 should say based on the moderators' prejudice is, "Send us your ideas as long as they ignore or demote the historicity of the OT record (i.e., the history of Jews prior to the Roman era) because we're afraid of the implications if the Jews actually did keep an accurate record of their history."

Apparently, censoring/burying alternative ideas is considered a scholarly duty by some academicians. Does my calendar actually say "2006"?

Same song as last week (I figure if the shoe fits, play it): "Javert's Arrival - Little People" by Les Misérables Dream Cast (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 29-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Evangelistic Diatribe

Way back on Aug 31, 2006, Robert M. Whiting posted a message (#2379, under the title "Re: Tel Zayit and Izbet Sartah abagadaries" that he in a later message re-titled "Science and 'Silliness'") that I felt compelled to challenge. However, my response was rejected due, according to the 6 united moderators, to its being "nonfactual evangelistic diatribe". Note that Bob Whiting's original message was not dubbed "nonfactual minimalistic diatribe" or "nonfactual atheistic diatribe" despite the fact that his message contained no references, facts, or specific examples--it was just a flippant exposure of his personal bias against the value of faithfulness when recording history. Here is my response (in italics) that they believe is irrelevant to ANE research--you decide for yourself whose message was more scientific, factual, & objective (Bob's original remarks preceded by ">"):

> science is based on evidence

No, science is based on an interpretation of evidence! A subtle but important distinction.

> Silliness is based on claims of what *might* have happened
> based on speculation or on the possibility of evidence
> exisiting that *might* be discovered some day.

Let's take a specific ANE example. One chronicler at one period of time wrote that Sennacherib confined Hezekiah to Jerusalem like a bird in a cage, & another writer during a later period said Sennacherib left Jerusalem with shame of face. In LMLK seals, I have contemporary archeological evidence to support the Biblical version; namely, the fact that about half the specimens can be attributed to the period immediately subsequent to the Assyrian destruction layer [ref. #1]. Judeans were not confined to Jerusalem; they apparently shifted eastward away from the Assyrian destruction region, & possibly resettled some sites in northwestern Israel [ref. #2]. LMLK seals also complement the Biblical chronology of an Assyrian destruction occurring in the middle (i.e., 14th year) of Hezekiah's 29-year reign. Note that LMLK seals don't mention Hezekiah by name; they're found in stratified contexts attributable to Assyrian destruction. We have to thank Sennacherib for mentioning Hezekiah by name, & for bragging about his conquest of Judea!

The story about the angelic massacre is irrelevant to my knowledge/science. If anyone wants to challenge my interpretation of this evidence, I'd be very interested in hearing from you; all I ask is that you argue from evidence, & not your perception of my theological position.

> Science is not about what *might* have happened or what
> *might* exist.

Sure it is. Pick up any history book. Even if it's an eyewitness account, it's an interpretation of what *might* have happened or what *might* exist. It *might* be accurate, or it *might* be inaccurate. It has to be considered in its totality (author, publisher, content, references, etc.).

The excavators of Ramat Rahel are hoping that a Hezekian archive *might* exist there. Is such an expectancy unscientific? Does any minimalist really believe Hezekiah had no literary archive?

> In general, science is not necessarily even about what did
> happen or what does exist.

Science is about knowledge, & knowledge is about what may or may not have happened, what does or doesn't exist, & what is expected to happen/exist or not happen (e.g., Global Warming).

> Science is about what can be proved with evidence to have
> happened or to exist.
> Bob Whiting

That's a nice statement for the black & white regions of our world, but what about the gray regions? Are they off-limits to science, or are they the exclusive territory of minimalists?

George Michael Grena, II
Redondo Beach, CA

Ref. #1: The page shows a majority of x2D & x2T types stratified above the Assyrian destruction layer (rows colored blue), & a majority of x2U, x4C, & x4L types stratified below it (rows colored purple). The "Inscription Styles (i.e., Seal Sets)" chart near the bottom of the page lists 354 x2T & x2D specimens, & 388 x2U, x4C, & x4L specimens. That's about half & half according to my North American arithmetic.

Ref. #2: x2T & x2D types are prevalent at east-Judean sites such as Khirbet es-Samrah, Hurvat Shilhah, Jericho, el-Ful, & en-Gedi, as well as northwestern-Israel sites such as Kiryat Ata & Jezreel, not to mention core Judean sites such as en-Nasbeh, Gibeon, Jerusalem, & Ramat Rahel. x2U, x4C, & x4L stamps dominate the Shephelah, particularly Lachish & Beth Shemesh. Map showing all relevant sites available on the page.

Again, the above was deemed "non-factual, evangelistic diatribe" by:

Trudy S. Kawami, Ph.D., Columbia University Art History & Archaeology, Director of Research, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation

N. P. Lemche, Professor Dr.Theol., Department of Biblical Exegesis, The University of Copenhagen

Marc Cooper, Missouri State University, Department of History

Robert Whiting, University of Helsinki

Charles E. Jones, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Jeffrey B. Gibson, D.Phil. (Oxon)

In their joint rejection letter forwarded to me by Minimalist authority, Niels Peter Lemche, they stated that my opinions reflect a "North American orientation", & that their opinions belong in northern Europe, with the implication being that that's where all the "fact-oriented", scientific scholars are.

Cult: a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.--Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Song of the week: "Javert's Arrival - Little People" by Les Misérables Dream Cast (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 29-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena

Saturday, September 02, 2006

King X vs. King Y

This week, Aish sent out an E-mail from Rabbi Zev Leff who cited an interesting parable from Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. It struck a chord with me because of the tendency in some Christians to ask (not always rhetorically), "What would Jesus do?"

I'm not aware of any Biblical support for this theology. I don't know of any Old Testament story where someone asked, "What would God do?", or any New Testament record asking "What would Jesus do?" If anything, it's "What would God (or Jesus) have me do?"

"Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth."--1Sam 3:9-10

"And he trembling & astonished said, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?'"--Acts 9:6

Sure, there are instances where we do the same thing Jesus might do, but there's a subtle distinction. Keep the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) in mind as you read this story (which I took the liberty of modifying slightly from the original version):

King X bet King Y a billion dollars that he could convince King Y's prime minister to disrobe publicly. King Y could give his prime minister any instruction he wanted as long as he did not reveal the wager.

King Y, wondering if his prime minister was faithful, informed him that he was being sent to visit King X's country for a week, & he could do whatever he pleased with one exception: under no circumstances was he to disrobe in front of others.

A few days after his arrival, King X called in the prime minister & asked him how he had become a eunuch. The prime minister responded politely that he was not a eunuch. King X was not easily persuaded, so he wagered a million dollars that the prime minister was lying out of embarrassment. To establish who was right, the prime minister was to simply disrobe in front of the royal court.

The prime minister accepted the wager despite King Y's order. He reasoned that the bet was a sure thing, he was proving the truth of the matter, & King Y would be pleased with the financial success of his visit. The prime minister disrobed, & promptly proved his point.

The royal court acted surprised, & reluctantly concurred that he was not a eunuch. The prime minister restrained himself from smiling with pride, & King X also restrained himself from laughing as he paid the prime minister a million dollars.

Upon returning home, the prime minister promptly reported his profit, & paid King Y a tithe of $100,000. King Y then made an inquiry as to the details of the prime minister's trip, who in a roundabout way eventually admitted to disrobing, albeit in the name of Truth & Honor for King Y.

But instead of being delighted, King Y became wroth. "You think I'm pleased with your measly hundred grand, but you're a fool! You cost me a billion dollars because you failed to follow my solitary order! I thought I could trust you, but now your service is of no value to me at all!"

The analogy between this story & that of the Bible from Adam in the garden to Jesus on the cross is self-explanatory & striking.

Song of the week: "Leaving On A Jetplane" by John Denver (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 19-second sample; 262kb).
G.M. Grena