Friday, November 16, 2007

ASOR 2007 (p. 1)

In one day--November 15th, 2007--I met more scholars, historians, & archeologists than in all the other days of my life combined! All the way home, all I could say, over & over, was, "Wow!" So many terrific memories were made on this occasion--I'll treasure them forever! A big huge THANK YOU to everyone who was there!

At other Biblical Archeology lectures I've attended where 1 or 2 VIPs speak, I might end up taking 1, none, or possibly 2 pages of notes. Yesterday at ASOR 2007 I took 10 while attending 16 mini-lectures! I woke up at 5 this morning, taking another vacation day from work, planning to condense/summarize it all for 1 blog today, before heading back to the SBL conference tomorrow, but after doing miscellaneous catch-up errands, it's already 6pm! So instead, what I'll have to do is convert this report into an ongoing series, & just run through as many as I can each day.

Traffic from the L.A. area to San Diego was OK. The first lecture was scheduled to begin at 8:30, so I attempted to get there at 7:30, & ended up about 15 minutes early. This worked out great because it turns out that I had parked at the wrong Sheraton hotel! After walking around the lobby for a few minutes & not seeing any scholarly looking types, or ASOR signs, I made the embarrassing discovery that it was being held at the Sheraton tower about a quarter-mile down the road. I must have a real pathetic look about me, because instead of charging me the $4 minimum for the 15 minutes wasted there, the attendant gave me directions to the other lot, & away I went!

Based on the pre-registration list & scheduled presenters, I was anxious to see who would be the first VIP I'd meet. The first scholar I corresponded with during the infancy of my LMLK research was Robert Deutsch, so it was a heck of coincidence that he was the first one I saw from a distance, but only briefly as he was walking toward the hotel's restaurant, & I decided not to bother him.

I was hanging around the reception area waiting to obtain my name tag (people who had been there for the opening of the conference already had their tags), when I noticed a pair of familiar faces, & they turned out to be the long-time co-directors of excavations at Beth Shemesh, Zvi Lederman & Shlomo Bunimovitz. They were with some other people, then separated, & only Prof. Lederman remained. I introduced myself, or at least tried to, & he didn't understand me. I was trying to say that I'm the guy who studies the royal jar handles--George--the jar handles with royal seal impressions--Grena. He had a frustrated look & still didn't understand. I told him Gabriel Barkay said he--Zvi--had showed him my book while he was at Beth Shemesh one day. Then he made the connection with a big smile on his face: "Oh! You're the guy who sends those E-mails! I saw the one you recently sent, but didn't have time to read it all." He was referring to the one I sent to a private mailing list last weekend announcing my drawing of the Zayit-Stone abecedary.

Around 8:10 I went back out to my car for a quick refreshment because I didn't know if I'd have time for another break till about 1:00, & on the way back, I saw this walking-photograph coming out of the lobby:

Exactly like that! Hat, smile, & light blue shirt! Incredible! What a thrill to finally meet him after all the terrific correspondence we've had on & off his world-renowned Safi/Gath blog.

Continuing on to the room where the first lecture was scheduled, Oded Lipschits was chatting with some people, but after a few minutes, I finally had a chance to introduce myself, & was greeted with another warm smile.

And I can save time by interjecting here that part of what made the day such a memorable event was the equally warm reception I felt from every important scholar I've been corresponding with for the past 5 years or so upon meeting them for the first time. I usually have to work at making some sort of humorous remark to put a smile on a person's face (I don't have a very likable appearance), so it's refreshing--& amazing actually--on exceptional occasions like this to simply introduce myself & generate the same effect!

After I asked Prof. Lipschits how his trip was, he said that California was too far, & that I should work on moving it a little closer to Israel. I agreed--that sure would be nice! While waiting to speak with him, I had been browsing through the program book, & couldn't find an abstract on his lecture. I mentioned it to him, & he said he was surprised by its omission too, especially since he had turned it in on time. I'll be pasting the abstracts for each of the lectures I attended throughout this blog series, but that's the reason this one's absent.

At 8:25 Hershel Shanks entered the room. I had attended a lecture by him several years ago, & have exchanged E-mails, paper mail, & phone calls, but had never met him. After introducing myself, he hit me with a shocker: "Oh, you're just a young kid!"

That really made me laugh. I've been balding with half-gray hair for over a decade--a poster boy for over-the-hill past middle age. It was a very kind thing for him to say. Then Robert Deutsch walked in. I greeted him with an extended hand & a "Royal greetings to you, sir!", simultaneously pointing to my name tag. I really wanted to hug him because I am so grateful for all of his encouragement & advice over the years, not to mention all the incredible LMLK handles he's arranged for me to purchase over the years; but I decided not to since I didn't know if it would embarrass him, & sort of regret not doing it because apparently he & Mr. Shanks had earlier had some discussion about whether people were avoiding him since his indictment relating to forged antiquities. After shaking his hand, he said something like, "See, Hershel, they're not afraid of me...", & I emphasized to Mr. Shanks (& anyone else who was listening) that Robert Deutsch has been like a spiritual father to me in antiquities. More about all of this in later blogs...

Prof. Lipschits began his lecture promptly, & overall it was terrific--organized, captivating, & informative! The official title was, "New Discoveries, New Interpretations and a Fresh Look on the Administrative Center at Ramat Rahel during the Late Iron Age and Persian Periods". He showed numerous slides relating to his 3 seasons of work from 2005-2007 at Ramat Rahel. One humorous theme running through the 25-minute presentation was a recurring Question Mark--doctored photos of fireworks arranged as a "?", clouds arranged as a "?", volunteer excavators laying on the site in the form of a "?", etc.

He showed photos of several jar handles including LMLKs, Rosettes, & Yehuds, but they went by too quickly for me to completely associate with specific ones I've seen before--there's a good chance they're new. I noted 1 M2D & 1 M2U side-by-side, possibly intended to taunt Gabriel Barkay's hypothesis that this site was a town named MMST (this topic will recur later in this series too).

I thought the most interesting photo was one showing old trunks full of documentation from Yohanan Aharoni's excavations from the early 1960s.

Quotes from his lecture:

"...interpreted as a Judean palace even though we have no other parallel."

"...3 more seasons planned."

"...LMLKs...late-8th century under the floor...Rosettas above" [note--he consistently used "Rosetta" rather than the more common "Rosette"]

"...did not find Aharoni's [level] VB ... Where is the VB citadel?"

"...built at the beginning of the 7th, until the beginning of the 6th century..."

" sign of destruction from the 7th until the 4th or even 3rd century..."

" proof or exact knowledge of its construction..."

"...the picture is much more complicated [than what Aharoni presented]..."

I need to interject here in my own language that Prof. Lipschits presented very interesting drawings of the building layouts, & noted that what Aharoni interpreted as an outer gate for the citadel has turned out to be only an inner-wall, meaning that this sucker was huge! Much bigger than what everyone has believed up till now. Another apparent error was that the remains of a wall discovered by Aharoni were actually constructed during the 1948 war for Israel's independence! He showed photos from that era of the bunker as it was constructed, compared to its present condition.

" least 2 or 3 outer pools ... 2 rock-cut tunnels ... no visible outlet for water..."

At this point, about midway through, the focus changed from the palace/citadel itself to the general purpose of the site that might have parallels only in Mesopotamia (i.e., Babylon & Assyria)--particularly a "huge garden". But he emphasized that he was still only "in the middle of research on this subject."

For what it's worth, he showed a photo of Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na'aman, & Ronnie Reich visiting him at the site. The implication being that these new discoveries might have a significant impact on their interpretation of the site &/or its dating &/or the Biblical record regarding the Judean monarchy.

He also showed a 3x3 3-D Column chart (presumably made with MS Excel). One axis contained Jerusalem, Lachish, & Ramat Rahel; the other axis contained Yehud, Rosetta, & LMLK. The height of the towers represented quantities ranging from 0 to 450. Though I didn't have time to note all 9 quantities, the 2 tallest ones were Lachish LMLKs & RR Yehuds. The obvious point being a parallel--a transfer from an 8th-century administrative center at Lachish to a Persian-era center at RR.

When I see him again at the SBL conference, I'll try twisting his arm to see if I can get a copy of this chart to put online. I'd also like to ask him how/if he plans on distinguishing between the reigns of Hezekiah & Manasseh.

He concluded his lecture by spending a few minutes discussing the Rephaim Valley. A prominent name on the map he displayed was Rogem Gannim. I'm not familiar with this name, & need to review TA v33 #2 published last year before discussing it. It looks & sounds very interesting! What I surmised from this map was a connection between sites such as Manahat & Er-Ras that may have produced wine & oil vs. Motza, which might have produced/delivered/stored grain vs. royal estates at En Gedi. He mentioned Aharoni's hypothesis about RR being Biblical Beth-Haccerem, but I don't recall him tying the loose ends on it with any connection to this map.

Like the rest of this series, I guess we'll just have to wait...

G.M. Grena

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