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

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