25th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest Lectures

Carol Meyers

Plenary Speaker

The Ancient “Gender Gap”: The Bible, Archaeology, and Israelite Women

The study of women in several disciplines reveals a difference between the images in normative texts and information from other sources. Is this true for ancient Israel? What can we learn about Israelite women if we use information from the Bible and archaeology? Using both these sources provides a glimpse into two important aspects of the lives of ordinary Israelite women—their role in the household economy, and their role in household religion— and offers some surprising conclusions about women’s power.


Charlotte Hempel

Dead Sea Scrolls Panelist

The panel will discuss current and future trends in Dead Sea Scrolls research, 75 years after their initial discovery. The panel consists of Scroll experts, Charlotte Hempel, Dennis Mizzi, and Joe Uziel, moderated by BAR Editor-in-Chief Glenn Corbett.


Dennis Mizzi

Dead Sea Scrolls Panelist

The panel will discuss current and future trends in Dead Sea Scrolls research, 75 years after their initial discovery. The panel consists of Scroll experts, Charlotte Hempel, Dennis Mizzi, and Joe Uziel, moderated by BAR Editor-in-Chief Glenn Corbett.


Joe Uziel

Dead Sea Scrolls Panelist

The panel will discuss current and future trends in Dead Sea Scrolls research, 75 years after their initial discovery. The panel consists of Scroll experts, Charlotte Hempel, Dennis Mizzi, and Joe Uziel, moderated by BAR Editor-in-Chief Glenn Corbett.


Elizabeth Backfish

Conventions and Contributions of Hebrew Poetry

Most of us probably have a good idea of what constitutes “poetry” in our native languages. Ancient Hebrew poetry shares many of these conventions, including metaphor, word and sound play, and personification. It also, however, employs poetic devices less commonly seen in non-Semitic language groups, with parallelism being perhaps the most significant example. In this lecture, Dr. Libby Backfish will explore the richness of Hebrew poetry, explaining and illustrating its various poetic devices, and she will show how attending to these features can help us to read the Bible more fully.


Alice Bellis

Sharing Ethiopic Manuscripts with the World

With the return of the Benin bronzes and the drumbeat increasing for the repatriation of African artifacts and manuscripts to their homelands, universities are under pressure to study the provenance of ancient treasures for their possible return. A powerful new tool for sharing and studying ancient Ethiopic manuscripts in Western university collections is the online digital repository known as Beta Mesaheft (“House of Manuscripts” in Ethiopic), sponsored by the University of Hamburg. This talk reviews the history of the return of the ancient Ethiopic codex known as Tweed MS150 from Howard University School of Divinity and how the Beta Mesaheft program has now made the manuscripts available to anyone with a high-speed internet connection.


Andrea Berlin

Hellenism and its Consequences

Alexander the Great’s conquests made Greek culture fashionable throughout ancient eastern lands – but not for everybody. In the southern Levant, two neighboring peoples reacted in very different ways to Hellenizing styles and ideas. The Idumeans, living in the fertile Shephelah (ancient Philistia), embraced Mediterranean aesthetics. The Judeans, living in the arid central hills, had a more complicated response. In the second century B.C.E., Hasmonean dynasts adopted aspects of Hellenistic culture that reinforced their ruling authority. But when Roman rule replaced the independent Jewish kingdom in the first century B.C.E., Judeans began using native goods exclusively. This “household Judaism” infused homes with a common material and cultural identity – but also led to a radical sensibility that in turn contributed to the fateful decision to revolt against Rome.


Ra’anan Boustan

Dreams of the Big City: Depictions of Cities and Urban Spaces in Rural Churches and Synagogues

This presentation focuses on images of cities and their urban spaces in the floor mosaics of rural churches and synagogues in Palestine, Arabia, and Syria from Late Antiquity (third to eighth centuries CE). The symbolic importance of urban life was especially pronounced in the eastern Mediterranean, where an archipelago of great cities held the Roman world together. Archaeology demonstrates that, throughout this period, cities were regularly sites of building projects that were intended to reshape their built environments and reorient their urban designs in order to accommodate changing civic, imperial, and religious practice and institutions. Contemporary written sources produced by civic and religious elites likewise reflect these developments. Attracted to the intellectual environment and professional opportunities provided by cities, authors often lavished attention on their buildings, monuments, and urban designs as the setting for the civilized way of life they so prized. But how did the residents of small towns and rural villages, who lived beyond the charmed spaces of the big city, perceive this vast investment of both economic resources and ideological value in urban life? Did they turn away from the allure of the big city? Recent discoveries and research suggest that rural populations were no less interested in big cities than those who happened to live in them. Shining a light on this understudied body of visual materials from rural churches and synagogues, we show that these communities likewise used urban imagery to articulate their sense of belonging within the wider world of the Roman east.


Karen Britt

Dreams of the Big City: Depictions of Cities and Urban Spaces in Rural Churches and Synagogues

This presentation focuses on images of cities and their urban spaces in the floor mosaics of rural churches and synagogues in Palestine, Arabia, and Syria from Late Antiquity (third to eighth centuries CE). The symbolic importance of urban life was especially pronounced in the eastern Mediterranean, where an archipelago of great cities held the Roman world together. Archaeology demonstrates that, throughout this period, cities were regularly sites of building projects that were intended to reshape their built environments and reorient their urban designs in order to accommodate changing civic, imperial, and religious practice and institutions. Contemporary written sources produced by civic and religious elites likewise reflect these developments. Attracted to the intellectual environment and professional opportunities provided by cities, authors often lavished attention on their buildings, monuments, and urban designs as the setting for the civilized way of life they so prized. But how did the residents of small towns and rural villages, who lived beyond the charmed spaces of the big city, perceive this vast investment of both economic resources and ideological value in urban life? Did they turn away from the allure of the big city? Recent discoveries and research suggest that rural populations were no less interested in big cities than those who happened to live in them. Shining a light on this understudied body of visual materials from rural churches and synagogues, we show that these communities likewise used urban imagery to articulate their sense of belonging within the wider world of the Roman east.


James Charlesworth

Discovering the Tombs of David and Solomon After 50 Years of Searching

While tourists to Jerusalem are frequently shown the Tomb of David near the Christian Abbey of the Dormition just outside the walls of the Old City, they are almost certainly visiting the wrong place. Why? It is much later medieval tomb, far from the site of ancient Jerusalem where biblical tradition places the tombs of David and Solomon. Now, the tombs of the Bible’s most famous kings have been definitively identified, though remain relatively unknown. This lecture explains where the tombs are to be found in the Holy City, with insights from Dan Bahat, one of Jerusalem’s leading archaeologists.


Christy Cobb

Slavery, Archaeology, and the New Testament

The texts of the New Testament are filled with references to slavery. Enslaved persons appear in parables, are minor characters in narratives, and are given instructions as a part of the household. Yet, these texts do not describe the perceptions of slavery in the Greco-Roman world, which prevents our full understanding of these biblical texts. In this presentation, I will turn to the archaeological examples of funerary monuments to provide insight into how people in the Greco-Roman world might have viewed and depicted enslaved persons. Specific focus will be given to enslaved women and their relationships with their female enslavers. To illustrate the ways these monuments can expand our view of texts, I will analyze three biblical passages: the parable of the wicked tenants (Luke 20:9–18), character of Rhoda in Acts 12, and the household codes from the epistles.


Ralph Hawkins

The Promise of the Conquest of Canaan in the Book of Exodus

In the Book of Exodus, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–21) and the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:22–23:19) are followed by a promise that the Israelites would conquer the land of Canaan (23:20–33). Biblical scholars usually assign this promise to a later source. In this presentation, however, Ralph Hawkins will show that the inheritance of the land was one of the most basic themes derived from Israel’s earliest history and explores its meaning and relationship to the central themes of the Book of Exodus.


Lee Jefferson

Was Jesus a Magician? Wands, Wizards, and Magic in Early Christianity

In many of the earliest examples of early Christian art, Jesus is depicted performing miracles and feats of wonder, such as raising the dead, dividing loaves, and changing water into wine (Cana). What perplexes viewers is what Jesus is holding in his hand in the performance of his miracle: he wields a type of tapered instrument. And to many eyes, it appears Jesus is using a magic wand. Such an iconographic clue leads viewers to assume that the early Christian understanding of Jesus is that he was some type of magician or wizard. Images such as these have led several scholars to arrive at the same conclusion. But what did magic look like in antiquity? And what would it mean for Jesus to be a magician? This talk will explore the context of magic and sorcery in the time of Jesus and beyond and unpack artistic examples of Jesus holding a wand in an attempt to answer the question: was Jesus a magician?


Shelby Justl

The Real Housewives of Ancient Egypt

“Instructing a woman is like owning a sack of sand with a split in the side.” “Let your wife see your wealth but don’t trust her with it.” Such ancient Egyptian quotes reveal some attitudes towards women in ancient Egypt, but the actual reality of women in ancient Egypt is much more complex. Unlike most women in other contemporary ancient societies, they had political and economic rights making them fairly liberated. Women could escape bad marriages by divorcing and remarrying, they were entitled to one third of their husband’s property upon divorce, and they could disown their disobedient adult children! This lecture explores ancient Egyptian women’s many roles of goddess, pharaoh, priestess, landowner, business owner, mother, wife, prostitute, and slave. Together we will examine ancient Egyptian letters, love poetry, fictional tales, and court documents, alongside the iconography in women’s tombs and artifacts, including statuary, stelae, and jewelry. These will reveal gender stereotypes, ideals, identity, the social conditions of women, and interpretations of ancient sexuality.


Morag Kersel

Buying the Holy Land: Tourists, Souvenirs, and Purchasing the Past

“A pot from the city of sin?” or “something from the time of Jesus”: These quotes from tourists make clear that everyone who visits Israel wants to own a piece of the Holy Land (modern Jordan, Israel, and Palestine). Under Israel’sAntiquities Law, it is legal to buy artifacts in shops licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and many tourists take advantage of the licensed trade. As a part of my research into the movement of archaeological artifacts and the laws that facilitate and impede this movement, I conduct ethnographic interviews with tourists who buy artifacts. After many conversations, patterns began to emerge such that I grouped sets of consumers together, creating a series of categories based on shared characteristics. I will present the types of consumers, the shops they visit, the materials they procure, and their rationales for purchasing the past. Whatever the reason, tourist demand for archaeological artifacts from the Holy Land results in archaeological site destruction, theft from museums, and a compromised understanding of the past.


Thomas Levy

Archaeological Science and Biblical Edom

Eighteen years of fieldwork in the Faynan copper ore region of southern Jordan has produced an unprecedented dataset concerning the Iron Age (c. 1200–586 B.C.E.). In this relatively unexplored region of the southern Levant, archaeologists and scientists with the Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project continue to produce new research on data retrieved spanning the Neolithic to Islamic periods. However, it is the biblical Iron Age that has left the most extensive record of copper production, dwarfing even the later Roman occupation. In this lecture, these new data from the lowlands of Edom provide insights concerning the historicity of biblical and other ancient texts that discuss Edom, ancient Israel, and their neighbors.


Daniel Master

Tel Shimron: A city state in the Jezreel Valley

Archaeologists have long known that Tel Shimron was one of the largest ancient cities in the Jezreel Valley, located on the main east-west routes linking the Arabian Desert with the Mediterranean, but no one had every systematically excavated the site. The entire site represented a huge gap in our understanding of the history of the Galilee and the Jezreel Valley. Beginning in 2017, a modern excavation led by Daniel Master (Wheaton College) and Mario Martin (Tel Aviv University) started the process of uncovering almost five thousand years of history across this strategically located mound. This lecture will present the results of four seasons of excavation, with important new results from Bronze Age through the Roman Period.


R. Steven Notley

Byzantine Bethsaida and the House of St. Peter

The aim of this study is to investigate the historical implications of the basilica discovered at Khirbet el-A’raj (Bethsaida) in 2021. In the absence of an alternative church, since 1921 both scholarly and popular writings have redirected the Byzantine testimony for a basilica built over the house of Peter to the Octagon (as the excavator Gaudenzio Orfali called it) in Capernaum. Yet, this modern innovation stands in the face of centuries of Byzantine tradition that consistently identified Peter’s home in Bethsaida and not in Capernaum. In this presentation we will consider the most recent results from the 2022 season at Khirbet el-A’raj, the appropriation of the Byzantine tradition by the Franciscan excavators at Capernaum, and ask whether the newly excavated basilica at Bethsaida might be a better candidate for the traditional church built over the house of Peter and Andrew.

James Tabor

How Does One Follow the God of Israel after 70 C.E.? How the Gospel of Mark is Our Earliest Post-War Proposal

Most scholars date Mark as our earliest Gospel, usually putting it just after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple in the summer of 70 C.E. That means it might well be our earliest surviving textual proposal for how one follows the God of Israel, and the traditions of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets—whether Jew or non-Jew—in the post-war period. Comparisons are made with Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai, who, with his surviving Pharisaic colleagues, forged out their own response to the same core question. What emerged lies at the heart of the surviving forms of both Judaism and what became “Christianity,” in all their variations over the past 2,000 years.


Shelley Wachsmann

“Some Went Down to the Sea in Ships…”: Ships, Boats, and Seafaring in Biblical Times

From Noah’s Ark to the shipwrecks of Saint Paul, and from Jonah’s failed escape to Jesus’s ministry on the Sea of Galilee, the Bible is replete with references to ships, boats, and seafaring practices. The sea—deep, wide, unpredictable, and mysterious—is a powerful symbol for divinity and the subconscious. The Mediterranean, at a more physical level, was the frontdoor to ancient Israel, through which came both treasure and terror and on which sailed some of the most intrepid sailors the world had ever known.

Nautical archaeologists, together with scholars from other disciplines, are working to piece together a coherent picture of seafaring in biblical times. This lecture will delve into discoveries and research that now allows a deeper understanding of descriptions of seafaring in the Bible.


Meredith Warren

The Sweet Hereafter? Transformative Tasting in the Bible and Beyond

From the fruit in the Garden of Eden, prophetic ingestion of scrolls, the sweet taste of heavenly manna, and some other strange ingredients, eating and the sense of taste pervade biblical literature. What does it mean when biblical figures taste heavenly foods? How are they transformed? Multiple ancient Mediterranean texts, including Jewish and Christian scriptures, depict the after effects of consuming otherworldly food. Divine knowledge is revealed, new, shining bodies are bestowed, and access to heavenly (and infernal!) worlds is granted. But why does taste work this way? And why have we been so slow to recognize it? A new category of transformational eating, hierophagy, helps us see how ancient authors used the social and metaphorical qualities of taste to transmit a certain understanding of the relationships between God and mortals, heaven and earth.

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