Tuesday, November 27, 2007

ASOR 2007 (p. 12)

I patiently waited for Douglas Clark to finish, & at 3:10 Randall Younker was introduced.

My reason for attending was simply that he's published 2 LMLK-related articles (BA vol. 48 #3, September 1985; Ministry vol. 64 #7, July 1991). His 1985 article made a small LMLK connection with the Clark's topic, "Israel, Judah, and Ammon and the Motifs on the Baalis Seal from Tell el-'Umeiri". The scheduled subject of Younker's lecture was "Fifteen Years at Tall Jalul":

"This presentation will review the results of the half dozen seasons of excavations at Tall Jalul, Jordan conducted between 1992 and 2007. It will begin with a description of the history of research at the site in the context of the broader research goals of the original Tall Hisban Excavation Project and its successor, the Madaba Plains Project. It will then describe the specific finds at Jalul proper, including remains from the Bronze Ages, the Iron Age I, Iron Age II and the Persian periods. It will also attempt to set these discoveries within the broader historical and cultural contexts of both Trans- and Cisjordan."

But as it turns out, he announced that he was going to switch topics, & instead present a 5-line (actually 6) ostracon discovered this past summer at Jalul. ... At least that's what he said at the opening.

Of all the speakers I heard throughout the ASOR & SBL conferences, Dr. Younker was hands-down the clearest speaker, a deep voice that flowed at just the right pace. Were he not a scholar/professor/archeologist, he'd easily be able to make a living as a salesman or motivational speaker! The only problem was that, having baited us on the discovery, we had to endure a 15-minute speech thanking everybody associated with the excavation. It was a textbook example of how to overstay your welcome during your acceptance speech at an awards ceremony. The session itself was titled, "The Madaba Plains Project After 40 Years [part] I", & it truly felt like we were reliving a good majority of that time!

He was very enthusiastic about sincerely wanting to express his appreciation to all the people (& I do mean all in every sense of the word) who helped with the excavation project, so I don't fault him for that; I just think it would've been more appropriate to plan it out a little better, & reserve that many details for an occasion where he's lecturing for a couple of hours on the "big picture" rather than 15 minutes on a single aspect of it. I think the problem was that because of the exciting ostracon discovery causing him to deviate from his planned lecture, he ended up going down a side road & simply lost track of time.

Sorry, but I didn't find much worth noting, aside from one anecdote regarding the daughter of the owner of Tall Jalul. The first day he was setting up the excavation equipment at the site, a chauffer-driven luxury automobile came racing right up the side side of the mound, & out stepped the owner demanding to know what was going on. To save 15 minutes of your life, Dr. Younker ended up convincing him that the excavation had scientific merit, & the man--who was quite elderly & has since died--brought his daughter on the next visit, & put her in Younker's care as part of the excavation team.

At 3:25 he introduced Dr. Roy Gane, who gave an excellent technical presentation of the ostracon. First he showed an undoctored photo of it, then using Photoshop, he demonstrated how he could increase its contrast to emphasize the letters, then he completely erased its background color leaving only the black-ink letters against a plain white background. Amazingly, it looked like a professional drawing of the object, but whereas a drawing could be subject to minor misrepresentations of the data, this was still the actual photo we were looking at.

It was written in "Ammonite cursive script", & because of my position in the far back of the room, & because some of the words were foreign names, the following transcription is definitely not 100% accurate, but until the formal publication comes out, it will at least give interested individuals a general idea of the content:
  1. 20 Son of Aba 4

  2. 20 Hallas son of Abtu ab?

  3. 20 Haila 3

  4. Nama son of Amaya 1 seah

  5. 20 Beqal son of Edu 2 seahs

  6. 'Awal

The quantity of "20" is a single Egyptian Hieratic symbol, & the obvious context is a rations list, as "seah" is an ancient volume measure for dry food. Unfortunately, it was 3:31, & I had to exit in the middle of Dr. Gane's discussion of the text to go back downstairs for what I thought would be a more important topic. It's a double-bummer because as I proceeded to the door, I walked in front of Chang-Ho Ji, & that was the last time I saw him, so in hindsight, I regret not having stayed to introduce myself & get him to autograph his landmark NEASB publication.

On my way downstairs, I walked past Steven Collins, excavator of Tall el-Hammam (who believes it to be Biblical Sodom; & a very good candidate, I might add, for those who believe the Dead Sea is tens of thousands of years old, even though Genesis 14:3 seems to indicate that it used to be a valley dry enough to stage a battle in) talking to LMLK VIP Jeff Zorn, who is the leading authority on the site of Tell en-Nasbeh, Biblical Mizpah--#5 on the LMLK corpus.

So there I stood. I had just made 1 tough decision to leave the interesting presentation of the ostracon, made a 2nd tough decision to continue leaving even though I saw a LMLK VIP sitting there, & now had to decide whether to proceed to the next lecture, or stay & wait to greet my LMLK friend, Dr. Collins (who's also curator of the Museum of Archaeology & Biblical History), & possibly get Dr. Zorn to autograph my foundational issue of BAR magazine that Jane Cahill had already inscribed for me last month.

As it turns out, these 2 gentlemen were talking & in a rush. I stood there staring for a minute waiting to see what would happen, & then they finished speaking & went separate ways. Dr. Zorn disappeared toward the hotel lobby, & Dr. Collins happened to be coming my way. It was great to see him again--it's been about 3 & a half years since I photographed the handles under his care there. I recall having to make a similarly difficult decision to finish my photography while he was lecturing in a nearby museum hall. Here's the title & abstract of the presentation he'd be giving about an hour later (notice that it does not refer directly to the Bible or Sodom):

"Tall el-Hammam: A Key Witness to the Archaeology and History of the Southern Jordan Valley, Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations from the '06/'07 Excavation Season

This paper overviews the activities and discoveries of the Tell el- Hammam Excavation Project in Jordan, Season Two, from December 22, 2006 through February 5, 2007 (Collins 2007). The author is the Project Director. Although much speculation has surrounded Tall el-Hammam's stature and occupational history, until recently very little work had been accomplished at the site other than surface sherding (Ibrahim, Sauer, Yassine 1988) and extremely limited probing on the lower tall (Prag 1991). As a result, theories abounded as to the nature and relative importance of the site, but the upper tall, which contained the bulk of the stratigraphy beyond the Early Bronze Age, remained untouched. Excavation through Season Two has now revealed several phases from Iron Age II, replete with both residential and monumental architecture, and significant indications of a Middle Bronze Age city fortified by a massive mudbrick/earthen rampart system, a segment of which has been exposed to a height of six meters, revealing about nine meters of its outer 30, a glacis. Artifacts suggest that grain and textile production were among the city's principle economic activities. With its footprint spreading as much as a square kilometer, the collective occupations of Tall el-Hammam--from at least the EBA through the MBA, then during the late Iron Age attest to its position as the dominant urban center in the southern Jordan Valley, except for an extended occupational hiatus between the MBA and Iron II (cf. Flanagan, McCreery, Yassine 1994).

We exchanged pleasantries in under a minute--both in a hurry to go somewhere--& I told him I would not be able to attend his lecture (again) later that evening since I absolutely had to be in a parallel session for the Zayit Stone. Or so I thought...

G.M. Grena

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