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Queries & Comments
Hershel Shanks’s interesting First Person (“Privies and Privacy,BAR 38:02), on royalty receiving guests while on the toilet, calls to mind the recent case of President Lyndon Johnson. As Nigel Hamilton puts it in his American Caesars (Yale, 2010). “[Johnson] was rude, boorish, taunting, humiliating, thinking nothing of urinating into the sink in his office while still interviewing someone ... or [in his bathroom] leaving the door open and defecating while dictating, or speaking with an aide or visitor” (p. 210).
Richard Hayes
Waynesville, North Carolina
“I Am Joseph, Your Brother”
As a Roman Catholic, septuagenarian armchair archaeologist with a neophyte’s knowledge of the Bible, I thoroughly enjoyed Amy-Jill Levine’s “What Jews (and Christians too) Should Know About the New Testament” (BAR 38:02). My early parochial education (beginning in the late 1940s) included mandatory attendance at Lenten Friday observances of the “stations of the cross” amid shouts of “Crucify him, crucify him” by the Jews. Fast forward to the mid-1960s and the post-Vatican II atmosphere of “aggiornamento,” and Pope John XXIII (Giuseppe Roncalli) declaring in Hebrew “I am Joseph, your brother” (Genesis 45:4) to Roman Jewry. A welcome thaw, indeed.
Dennis A. Grohman
Pomona, New Jersey
Bridge Between Church and Synagogue
I passed out copies of Amy-Jill Levine’s “What Jews (and Christians too) Should Know About the New Testament” to my Sunday school class. This was an excellent article and demonstrates Dr. Levine’s continuing efforts to provide a bridge between church and synagogue. Thank you for the article.
George Seaman
Cape Carancahua, Texas
“My Lord Was a Jew”
Several years ago, while in an internet chat room, I found myself talking to a young Jewish girl in Australia who was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. We discussed the Hebrew alphabet, the Torah, the text she would be reading and many other things related to her preparations. I happened to mention that I was a Christian pastor. After a long pause she asked, “How come you know so much about these things?” I replied, “Because my Lord was a Jew.” After another long pause she said, “Oh, I never thought of that before.”
Pastor Jim Tweedie
Ocean Beach Presbyterian Church
Seaview, Washington
Were Tombstones Laid to Rest?
I read the “Death at the Dead Sea” by Konstantinos Politis and “Tales from Tombstones” by Steven Fine and Kalliope I. Kritikakou-Nikolaropoulou (BAR 38:02) with great interest. I found Steven Fine’s e-mail address and asked him if the archaeological evidence suggests that the tombstones were originally upright, or if they were laid horizontally across the graves. He responded that this was a question that also interested him; he suggested putting the question to Politis.
Dan Merritt
Beverly Hills, California
Konstantinos Politis responds:
Unfortunately most tombstones were found in disturbed context, but salt encrustations on the flat side of some tombstones and accounts by local residents who found some of the tombstones indicate that some were laid flat over the tombs and others placed upright.
Did Nabateans Assist the Romans at Masada?
At the end of the magnifique article “Death at the Dead Sea,” Konstantinos Politis writes about the conquest of Masada by “Roman soldiers with their Nabatean allies.” That’s the first time I’ve read about the Nabateans participating in the conquest of the Jewish rebels on Masada. I would like to know the source of this observation.
Rabbi Yehuda Hochmann, Ph.D.
Arad, Negev Desert
Konstantinos Politis responds:
The sentence you refer to in the article inadvertently got it wrong. I, too, believe that the Nabateans were allied with the Jews rather than the Romans.
Hannah from the House?
I enjoy your wonderful publication and always eagerly await the next issue. You have opened my eyes and mind to the history and everyday life of our ancestors.
I never thought I would write a letter to the editor but here goes! I have a question for Steven Fine, who wrote the interesting article on Jewish grave markers. On line 1 of Hannah’s grave marker you translate: “Hannah daughter of Levi.” Doesn’t the word beyt in Aramaic translate to “house of”? Shouldn’t we then read the marker “Hannah (from the) house of Levi”?
Suzanne Nadaf
Brooklyn, New York
Steven Fine responds:
Thanks for this lovely, deliciously technical question. The Aramaic text reads Hannah berat Levi, which clearly translates “Hannah daughter of Levi.”
One of my very fine students also saw what Ms. Nadaf suggests—a yud (y) instead of a resh (r), which might read beyt, “house of” Levi. In fact, during this period, the letter yud had a form similar to resh, though its extender was generally (but not always) shorter. Short-legged resh and long-legged yud are rather common in ancient Jewish epigraphy; berat appears regularly in the Zoar corpus and in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic as “daughter of.”1
Burial Directions in the Bible?
Death at the Dead Sea” says that, “Christian graves were aligned east-west.” I am aware of the tradition of facing east for the resurrection. What is the Biblical source for this tradition?
Bill Hayes
Lincoln, Nebraska
Adela Yarbro Collins, Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School, Yale University responds:
There is no explicit Biblical source for this practice.
The drawing accompanying the “What Is It?” (BAR 38:02) answer shows a man supposedly corbelling a floor. He is rolling out the wet plaster while, at the same time, walking on the wet plaster he has just rolled out. I know for a fact that this doesn’t work with cement. How does it work with wet plaster? Just wondering.
Pastor Jim Tweedie
Ocean Beach Presbyterian Church
Seaview, Washington
We have not been able to get a good answer to this question. The archaeologist who excavated these rollers has told us that “the individual who rolled the stone on the floor stepped on the plaster, as in road building to the present day.” Maybe one of our readers can take it further and explain what happened to the footprint.—Ed.
Count the Council of Jerusalem?
I find your “trivia” article (How Many? BAR 38:02) on the “21” ecumenical councils interesting. My gut reaction was to say, “That’s incorrect!” After researching a Catholic site, I was indeed informed that there were 21 councils, the “first” being the Council of Nicea. But should the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) not be included? The first Pope (St. Peter) and the various bishops/overseers/presbyteroi/episcopoi were indeed present from the entire Christian world. And the decisions were certainly considered binding on all Christians.
Glenn Lanham
High Point, North Carolina
Western Councils Weren’t Ecumenical
How many ecumenical councils were there? The answer that was given is not correct. The ecumenical councils were all convened by the Emperor. They all took place in the East. The Bishop of Rome did not attend any of the early councils but did send delegates to several of them. The Roman Catholic Church held several councils in the West following the Schism of 1046 when Rome and Constantinople mutually excommunicated each other, but none of these can really be described as ecumenical, because they only consisted of the Western Church.
Rev. Donald P. Owens, Jr., Ph.D.
James A. Knight, M.D. Chair of Humanities and Ethics in Medicine
Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry
Chaplain, Episcopal Ministry to Medical Education
Tulane University School of Medicine
New Orleans, Louisiana
Several readers astutely pointed out our error in the wording of the How Many? in the March/April issue. It should have more accurately asked, “How many ecumenical councils have been held, according to the Roman Catholic Church?” That answer is 21, as we published, but the letter writer above correctly points out that there are many who would not consider all of these councils ecumenical, or universal, because other Catholic and Christian denominations did not participate.—Ed.
What Burned?
Archeologists often talk about fierce fires, conflagrations, raging fires, etc. And yet these cities seem to be built almost entirely of stone, brick, and mud. How could such fierce fires be ignited in such an architecture? Are the beams and roofs sufficient to maintain such a blaze (and subsequent destruction is from the elements)? Or were there more combustibles I am not imagining?
Pastor Don Neuendorf
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Amnon Ben-Tor, Emeritus Yigael Yadin Professor in the Archaeology of Eretz Israel in the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University, responds:
I see absolutely no problem with the burning of sites in antiquity, even if some accounts of those responsible are a bit exaggerated. Even when it says that a site was destroyed by fire, it does not mean that each and every building went up in flames.
Buildings in the ancient Near East (and in many places in that region today) had roofs of branches as well as wooden beams. Window frames, shutters and doors were made of wood. Beds, chairs and tables inside were also of wood. And clothing, too, was easily combustible.
At Hazor, where I have long worked (and am still working), all major buildings were violently destroyed by fire. Take the ceremonial palace in the heart of the acropolis: Our excavation revealed that, in addition to a great amount of timber placed in the walls, the façade, the floor and the roof were also made of wood.
In addition, we uncovered 20 huge pithoi (storage jars) nearby that originally contained olive oil. When the palace went up in flames, so did the combustible oil in these vessels, as evidenced by the marks of burning liquid still discernible on the surface of the pithoi.
The combination of an enormous amount of wood with several hundred liters of oil resulted in an intense fire. Add to this the strong winds prevailing at Hazor and the result is extraordinary: The bricks of the walls were vitrified and clay vessels were melted, indicating a fire temperature of more than 1300 degrees Celsius (a normal fire burns at 700–800 degrees).a
This fire made such a great impression, that when the author of the book of Joshua describes the fall of Hazor, he states that no other site except Hazor was set on fire at the time (Joshua 11:10–13).
Even in relatively “modern times,” with much more stone and cement construction, there were great historic fires in cities such as London and San Francisco.
An Englishman Called an Israeli; He’s Now Editor-in-Chief
Your report “Five Years and Counting—The Forgery Trial” (BAR 38:02) contains three errors that I would like to correct.
You write “Matthew Kalman, an Israeli freelance journalist, attended almost every session of the trial, the only journalist to have done so. He has conveniently gathered the statistics for us.”
First, I am not “an Israeli”—I am a British journalist resident in Jerusalem. Second, I am not a “freelance journalist”—I am the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report, as you know, since you mailed me a copy of the magazine addressed to me in that capacity.
Third, I did not gather the statistics for BAR, as readers might infer from the phrasing of your report. I have never written for BAR, nor have I gathered any information for BAR on the forgery trial or anything else. The statistics you cite were taken from lectures on the ossuary trial that I delivered in Jerusalem at the Albright Archaeological Institute and other institutions. I understand your reporter was sitting in the audience taking notes, but apparently not very accurately.
Matthew Kalman
The Jerusalem Report
Jerusalem, Israel
A Welshman Called an Englishman; Garfinkel’s Claims “False and Stupid”
On the Web site Bible and Interpretation, Professor Philip Davies wrote a response to “The Birth and Death of Biblical Minimalism” by Yosef Garfinkel (BAR 37:03). With Professor Davies’s permission, we reprinted on our Web site ( Professor Davies’s response that had appeared on the Bible and Interpretation Web site. We then received the following letter from Professor Davies regarding errors in the introduction we provided on our Web site to his response to Garfinkel.
My attention has just been drawn to my response to Garfinkel on your Web site and your announcement of it in BAR (38:02, p. 4).
Two corrections:
1. I am actually not English. I will accept British but I am Welsh, which is especially important in the Rugby Union season. I don’t call for a retraction, but get it right next time, if there should ever be one.
2. Most Israeli scholars seem to agree with me, including A. Mazar, I. Finkelstein, Zvi Lederman and S. Bunimowitz. This does not surprise me at all, and should not surprise you. Why don’t you exercise some editorial judgment; most decent journals do not allow false and stupid claims such as Garfinkel’s. You should have known how stupid his article was and advised him to correct it. But the impression abroad is that you do not care for these standards but that sensationalism is your only concern. I fear you need to do more to correct that opinion if you think it wrong.
Philip Davies
University of Sheffield
Sheffield, United Kingdom
I have been in the ministry for 60 years. But only in the last four years have I subscribed to BAR. I totally enjoy it. I wish I had seen it years ago. While I don’t agree with some points of view expressed in the magazine, I still want to read them. After all, in 60 years not everyone has agreed with me.
So keep up the good work you are doing and I will keep reading and enjoying.
Paul Raymond
Shasta, California