ASOR gets off to a traditional start

Opening evening shows how traditional approaches of archaeology still defy postmodern theory
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The opening event of the annual gathering of members of theAmerican School of Oriental Research (ASOR) got underway in San Diego this evening. Scholars and archaeologists from many parts of the world gathered to hear the opening comments and lectures.

What was evident was an organization that was fighting back against the tides of post modernism that influences so much in academia today. In his opening remarks, president Eric Meyers of Duke University harked back to a discussion with Yigal Yadin who had anticipated a divide in the academic sphere. Yadin’s solution was to establish endowed chairs in biblical archaeology in at least 10 American universities. As a start toward raising the necessary funds, he had offered his draw as a speaker.  Sadly, Yadin left for Israel after that meeting and died the next day without being able to start on the challenge. In his place, Norma Kershaw rose to the challenge and with her husband endowed two chairs in Southern California.

Norma Kershaw was part of the welcoming committee this evening, as was David Noel Freedman of the University of San Diego. In his remarks Freedman followed Meyers lead in discussing a ring found on a female skeleton at Meggido 75 years ago in a controlled dig supervised by a licensed archaeologist. The inscription on the ring has challenged epigraphers ever since. Freedman offered his interpretation. In his opinion, the inscription lines up with a woman mentioned in Judges 5:28the mother of Sisera, a warrior who battled against the Israelite forces under the leadership of Deborah and Barak. To Freedman, the inscription on the ring is cause for accepting that the Bible contains historical information relating to the beginning of Israel.

The focus of the evening was a lecture by Jodi Magness, a religious studies professor of at the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill, titled “The Current State of Qumran Archaeology.”  Magness tied the confusion on the subject to those who wished to separate the archaeology from the textual evidence associated with the site. For Magness, this is characteristic of the post-modern approach to archaeology. Magness went on to show that by the use of both archaeological and textual evidence an understanding of the intimate purity regulations of the Essenes could be understood.

Eric Meyers, in a brief discussion during the reception following the meeting spoke to the vitality of the traditional approach to archaeology. According to Meyers, the difficulty is that younger members are too interested in anthropology by itself and won’t consider the textual evidence that needs to be brought into the discussion.

So the first evening ended on a high note with a reception.

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Essenes, Qumran, ASOR, Eric Meyers, Jodi Magness, Norma Kershaw, post-modernism, Yagel Yadin

Why the Silence?

Where is an offical report on archaeological discoveries in Jerusalem?
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Eilat Mazar

Last week we noted that a conference about archaeological finds inJerusalem was to be held at Bar-Ilan University.

Results of those discussions of recent archaeological finds inJerusalem – part of Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies Seminar have been very sparse, despite the possible nature of the finds. The National Geographic Blog handles one of the reputed discoveries with great care; an approach that would have benefitted it well with previous ‘great discoveries’ on which it sought to capitalize.   

But the only source for the National Geographic appears to be the World Net Daily. Interestingly the WND provides no details of any responses or divergent views from the elite of Israeli archaeologists who were also part of the seminar.  The original announcement for the Seminar indicated that several leading archaeologists had other interpretations of Mazar’s finds.  And no Israeli newspapers appear to have covered the seminar.  I asked Joe Zias, a former Curator of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who is involved in archaeology and lives in Israel about any official statement on the seminar to which he replied that there were “none . . . which I saw" but that he knew  "that no one accepted her theories.”

Interestingly, the Shalem Center of which Eilat Mazar is a senior fellow, and the source of the finance for her excavations is also silent on the matter.  They have posted no news reports on the conference or any discoveries.

Tags: jerusalem, Archaeology,, Mazar, National Geographic, Shalem Center, Zias

Aleppo Codex in News

Additional section of text given to Israeli Foundation
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Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex holds a special place in the study of the Hebrew Bible.  Copied in about 920 CE, it was the oldest complete copy of the Masoretic text until it was partially destroyed during riots against the Jews in AleppoSyria, which occurred in 1947/48.   

The majority of the Codex was smuggled into Israel in subsequent years. However some of the pages and parts of pages have been held by members of theAleppo community who have migrated from Syria to other parts of the world.

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz has a report on the recovery of one section of the codex. Lest you take everything for granted in the Haaretz report, please read John Hobbins comments and corrections on his blog at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.  Better still have a personal inspection of the Codex on its website.  The Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem with funding and assistance provided by the George Blumenthal Foundation, has produced a great site in which you can turn the pages of the Codex, as well as learn of its history – if the links are working.


H/T to Paleojudaica and Ancient Hebrew Poetry.

Tags:, Aleppo Codex, Hebrew Bible, Masoretic Text

Paula Fredriksen's Lectures On-line

Video feed available of current Spencer Trask lectures

Paula Fredriksen, Aurelio Professor of Scripture at Boston University, is the presenter of this years Spencer Trask Lecture Series, provided by Princeton University Press. This years presentation in the annual lecture series, established by a gift from Spencer Trask in 1891, is entitled Sin: The Early History of an Idea. Videos of these lectures, from which we have already provided some excerpts (see here and here), are available on-line in various formats at:

Good work Paula!

Tags: Paula Fredriksen, Sin,, Princeton University, Spencer Trask, video

Paul in Context

Paula Fredriksen locates the point of decontextualising Paul

"But when he is talking about the gentile sanctification, he is not speaking as it can sound in English – oh it’s nice . . . they’ve been made holy. It means something special. It means something ritual.  It means that they are fit to come into proximity with the zone of holiness that is represented first of all by the temple. When Paul uses temple language – as he does continuously to his gentile audiences -- he says you are a temple; you are God’s temple -- God’s spirit dwells in you.  

"Way back in the 20th century when I was at university, we were told that meant that Paul didn’t like this temple in Jerusalem and that this was a substitute temple and that the community was a new temple. If you train yourself to remember that if Paul is writing before the year 70, he doesn’t know that there’s going to be no temple.  What he is doing is in fact bringing these nations under the umbrella so that they are turning to the God of Israel just like people like Isaiah, Hosea and Micah had said they would before God’s last ‘put out the light’ is spoken.

"What happens after the temple is destroyed is that this vocabulary remains in Paul’s letters but the typography that interprets the vocabulary begins to switch from temple and ritual space to the idea of the Greco-Roman universe.  And it’s that transposition, the way that Paul’s letters and the way that the early Christian message will be translated in the period after the destruction of the temple and where sin will be imagined with different nuances and with different points of exit and entry that I will get to tomorrow night." 1:04:26

Paula Fredriksen, "Sin: The Early History of the Idea: Lecture 1: God, Blood, and theTemple" October 9, 2007 -- Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press.

Tags: jerusalem, Temple, Paul, Paula Fredriksen, early Christians, Spencer Trask Lectures, typography,

The Context of Jesus Christ and His Followers

Dramatic Change in Perspective

"One of the biggest changes that’s happened in the scholarly world since I was introduced to it back in the 1970’s is the way that Judaism . . . is seen as the context of Christianity rather than as its contrast.”  44:18 

Paula Fredriksen, "Sin: The Early History of the Idea: Lecture 1: God, Blood, and theTemple" October 9, 2007 -- Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press.

Tags: Judaism, Paula Fredriksen, early christianity, Sin, Spencer Trask Lecture

Why Should We Suffer?

Columnist raises age old question

Theodicy -- an unfamiliar word that relates to the question of why a benevolent God would allow evil and suffering to exist in this world.  Stanley Fish, a columnist for the New York Times examines two new titles that address this problem.

Something we can easily forget in a world that prizes rationalism is that this problem  has perplexed people throughout time.  The Hebrew Scriptures tell us about Job whorestled with this issue and Fish appropriately notes the statement by a 3rd century BCE Greek philosopher:

These questions are as old as Epicurus, who gave them canonical form: “Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence, then, evil.” 

The circumstances that held in the time of Jesus Christ and the early church gave plenty of opportunity for these questions to arise again.  Jesus himself drew attention to those who had been killed by a tower falling on them as well as the case of the Galileans who had been slaughtered by Pontus Pilate as they were sacrificing in the temple to their God! (Luke 13:1-5).  Nor was this the only occasion in which Jews had been slaughtered in the temple by the Roman authorities or other rulers before them.  Nor were such events the limit of the problems that the church faced.  Think of the opportunity for raising the question of God’s apparent absence when Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:58-59), or when James the brother of John was executed by Herod Antipas (Acts 12.1-2), or when persecution made the brethren flee from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).  Add to that famine in Judaea and the situations Paul describes as he pursued his calling to preach the gospel to the nations (2 Corinthians 11:23-30).  His challenges were more than sufficient to require a normal person to consider a change of occupation.  Yet the early church was able to mourn the loss and carry on with its mission.  Paul was undeterred by the challenges.

Despite facing all the types of personal “anguish” that Bart Ehrman takes to himself, somehow these people had a vision of the future that put present suffering into context and made it bearable.  They had an explanation for theodicy that we seldom consider. The idea of eschatology that is so often discussed in terms of the early church implies another factor that is frequently overlooked.  If the present age had to come to an end and be replaced, then something was clearly wrong with the current situation.  Many saw it in geopolitical terms: the Jewish nation was downtrodden and, better times would only come when that changed.  But Paul addressed this question, not in terms of geopolitics but by reference to the fact that this was not God’s world. The world was ruled by another god who was able to transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:14-15).  Paul, like the rest of the early church believed in a spirit world that was able to influence the physical domain. His eschatology was based on the replacement of the malevolent power by that of the true God of Israel.  Today, that is seldom part of our thinking.  So often we see things only on a physical plane and hence the divine has no real place in our life.

Much kudos to Stanley Fish for raising the issue and addressing the two books that he does.

Tags: Jesus Christ, Paul, eschatology, suffering, Theodicy

Important Conference on Jerusalem

Leading archaeologists gather to debate the meaning of recent finds in Jerusalem

Over the last year, some remains of monumental buildings have been found in Jerusalem, which the principal archaeologist involved in the discovery dates to the 10th Century BCE.  As with any discovery, alternative views exist.  To that end Aren Maeir advises of a conference scheduled for this week in Israel:

Heads up for some really interesting lectures!!!

Next week, on Thursday, Nov. 8th, the 13th annual conference of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies will be held at Bar-Ilan University. As usual, the conference will have a very interesting collection of lectures (all in Hebrew), which will be published in a full-size conference proceedings (in Hebrew with English abstracts).

For those of you who read Hebrew, I have attached the program:


There are several very interesting sessions, but I would like to point out two in particular:

1) The first session (which I will chair) will be VERY interesting and will deal with Jerusalem during the early Iron Age II. Dr. Eilat Mazar will present her excavations in the City of David and her interpretation (she believes she has discovered the Palace of David); Ronny Reich and Ely Shukron will argue against Eilat’s recent suggestion (in last years Rennert conference) to locate the eastern wall of MB II Jerusalem at the bottom of the City of David; and then, David UssishkinZeev Herzog and Israel Finkelstien will each present papers arguing for different interpretations of the public building in the City of David that Eilat claims relates to David. Without a doubt, this session will be VERY interesting, and I’m sure that there will be VERY lively and important discussions during and after the session.

Later on during the day, the Rennert Center will present an award to Prof. Ehud Netzer, who will then present a lecture on the Tomb of Herod.

Altogether, these and the other lectures at the meeting promise to make this an very interesting and exciting day. The conference is open to the public - so perhaps, those of you who are abroad can still reserve plane tickets and make it for next Thursday! :-)


Tags: jerusalem, Archaeology, 10th Century BCE., Eilat Mazar

Virtual Qumran Creator Interviewed

Qumran and Dead Sea Scrolls links explained

Robert Cargill, a doctoral student at UCLA is interviewed on Biblioblogs.  Links are provided to his project of creating a three dimensional model of Qumran.  In the interview, Robert outlines how his interest in both Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls developed. Robert provides a succinct outline of the personalities that have driven the research in the area, including Norman Golb Not too much info on how he came to produce the model. For more on that see his blog

Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Qumran, Golb, Robert Cargill

A Question as Old as Humanity

Of Priests, Atheists and Book Reviews

The Times Literary Review this week generates some interest for those concerned about religion It provides a review by John Polkinghorne, a priest in the Church of England of two books by atheists – Richard Dawkins and John Humphrys.  In reality, he confronts Dawkins by reviewing a book written by John Cornwell against Dawkin’s ‘God Delusion’ Actually all three are larger than life individuals who hold a place in the public arena. 


You will learn some of the two atheists and their approaches in the review. But Polkinghorneis not just a priest.  Prior to taking up orders in the Church, he was a Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University for some 25 years.  Following time as a priest and Canon he returned to academia as president of Queen’s College Cambridge, a position from which he retired in 1996.  He has published widely on both science and the interaction of science and religion.

As with blogs, the comments by readers are always worth considering.

Tags: religion, Atheism, Atheists, faith

Biblical Carnival XXIII

Monthly Summary of the best of the 'Biblioblogs'

On the first day of each month, one 'Biblioblogger' -- those individuals who write blogs that are related to the Bible and Biblical studies -- is assigned the task of producing a Carnival of the best blogs of the month from Bibliobloggerdom.  This month the challenge fell to John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry who excelled himself.  No, the blogs weren't translated into Hebrew, outlined in prosody or parallels, but John brought his fine mind to bear on the scope of coverage of this part of the Internet.

In fact, John went over and above by producing two additional postings, beside the carnival itself. The second provided a summary of what didn't get included.  A third post gave John the chance to do some mapping of this sphere to help put the various blogs into a context. John is clearly aiming to generate some heat and excitement among his fellow bloggers. Well done John for extending yourself and each of us as you have.

For his part, Mark Goodacre of NT Gateway noted and thanked John for the effort but noted the omission of the discussion of Monotheism a subject that has been posted on several times in the later part of the month.

Tags: bible, Monotheism, Biblioblogs

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