26th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest Lectures

Yonatan Adler

The Origins of Judaism: When Did Jews Begin to Keep the Torah?

When did ancient Jews first begin to observe the laws of the Torah? What do archaeology and ancient texts have to teach us about the earliest emergence of Judaism? Prof. Yonatan Adler will present his exciting and revolutionary answers to these questions from his new book, The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal, published with Yale University Press in 2022.

Elizabeth Backfish

Greater is the Art of the Ending: Poetic Closure in the Psalms

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously said, “Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of the ending.” He might initially have been referring to more existential endings of life and seasons of life, but the same sentiment can arguably be extended to poetry: how poems end is of crucial importance, both for the poem’s meaning, and for how readers are to respond to the poem.

Much study has been done in the field of literary theory and poetics on how poems end, what gives them a sense of “closure” and how that affects the reader. Biblical scholars are also starting to take a closer look at how Hebrew poetry ends, including the variety of closure strategies involved, the methodologies needed to identify those strategies, and how such strategies direct the reader. For example, some endings focus the reader’s attention to the ending itself. Some invite readers to revisit the beginning of the poem in light of the whole. Some bring readers back to a central part of the poem, to emphasize a point or to disambiguate a point. Some poems even refuse to end, but push the reader forward to the next poem or to self-reflection. This lecture will explore various ways that Hebrew poems end by focusing on select examples from the book of Psalms.

Robin Gallaher Branch

Biblical Nicknames

Think of nicknames you may have been called or heard during your lifetime. The Bible likewise has appositives, endearments, and downright slurs peppering its pages.

From Turtledove to Warhorse, Beloved to Fool, Forsaken to Married, nicknames provide a consistent theme throughout scripture. Enlarged by historical insights and enlightened by archaeology finds, nicknames allow us to laugh and weep as we ponder biblical stories and characters.

Join Dr. Robin Gallaher Branch in a fast-paced romp from Genesis to Revelation using nicknames as a guide. She will show how this literary tool of epithets and soubriquets will sweetly deepen your understanding and enjoyment of the Bible, for after all, one of her nicknames is Sweets.

Erika Brown

Panelist (Top Finds in Biblical Archaeology)

Sidnie White Crawford

April DeConick

Where Did All the Christians Come From?

Discover what Professor DeConick has learned as she wrote her book, Comparing Christianities: An Introduction to Early Christianity. Come to understand how an expansive number of early Christian movements emerged from a first-century Jewish messianic movement and why there was so much debate over whose God is really God. Her findings will surprise you.

Jennie Ebeling

Bread on God’s Table: Lechem Hapanim (Bread of the Presence) in Context

Lechem Hapanim (“bread of the presence” or “showbread”) was the only food on continual display before YHWH, Israel’s national god, in the Tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple. Each week, priests were commanded to bake twelve loaves of bread and arrange them on a golden table in YHWH’s presence to the right of the entrance to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the temple. While other food and drink brought to the temple as offerings were burned, the priests were compelled to eat the week-old bread every Sabbath before replacing it with fresh loaves. In this presentation, I will contextualize this practice through an examination of feasting scenes in the art of Israel’s neighbors that depict stacks of bread presented on tables before gods, rulers, and others. I will also compare the placement of bread loaves before YHWH to the baking of cakes for the Queen of Heaven and the arranging of a table for Gad described by Jeremiah and Isaiah. Recognizing the importance of bread and other baked goods in ancient Israelite culture helps us understand the motivation and meaning behind the weekly practice of placing twelve fresh loaves of bread before YHWH in His house.

Yuval Gadot

Ancient Jerusalem: A current archaeological View

Jerusalem is maybe the most excavated place in the world and yet some very basic questions regarding the city’s size and location are still being debated. Recent finds from the Western slope of the South eastern ridge (known also as ‘the City of David’) sheds new and tantalizing light on the city’s development during the 11th-9th centuries BCE, on the wealth of Jerusalem’s elite during the 7th century BCE, on the city’s destruction and on its revival during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.

The lecture will focus on 7th century BCE as it will present the results of recent excavations of an elite associated building (Building 100) that was destroyed by the Babylonians at 586 BCE. The analysis of the plethora of artifacts found inside the building, such as Ivory panels, wooden artifacts and storage jars used for holding flavored wine, exposes before us the elite of Jerusalem: their habits and their worldview as they operated within an empyreal network.

Mark Goodacre

Did the Evangelists Dictate their Gospels to Scribes?

Everyone agrees that the evangelists probably composed their gospels on papyrus scrolls, but the logistics of working with unwieldy book rolls make the process difficult for us to imagine, all the more as there is scant evidence for the use of desks in antiquity. In this talk, Mark Goodacre looks at the widespread ancient evidence for dictation to scribes, and explains how this context helps to explain how the evangelists worked with sources, and how they composed their gospels.

Ralph Hawkins

The Many Temples of Ancient Israel and the Law of Centralization

The conventional wisdom is that the Hebrew Bible prohibited any sites of worship besides the Jerusalem temple, a prohibition that has come to be known as the “law of centralization.” The Bible itself, however, mentions temples at Dan, Shechem, Shiloh, Bethel, and Beersheba, and archaeological remains of temples have been found at several of these sites. In addition, remains of temples have been found at a number of other Israelite sites, as well. In this presentation, we will survey the ever increasing volume of data for the numerous temples in ancient Israel and consider their relationship to the so-called law of centralization.

Oded Lipschits

Jodi Magness

Plenary Speaker

More than Just Mosaics: The Ancient Synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee

Since 2011, Professor Jodi Magness has been directing excavations in the ancient village of Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee. The excavations have brought to light the remains of a monumental Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue building paved with stunning and unique mosaics, including biblical scenes and the first non-biblical story ever discovered decorating an ancient synagogue. In this slide-illustrated lecture, Professor Magness describes these exciting finds, including the discoveries made in last summer’s season. For more information visit www.huqoq.org.

Albert McClure

Iconoclasm in Yehud: What can the Pentateuch tell us about the Returnees?

In the ancient Near East the destruction of cult materials and cultic sites, called iconoclasm, was common enough and may have begun as early as early as the wars between Umma and Lagash. What does the Hebrew Bible have to say about iconoclasm? Biblical iconoclasm appears in a wide range of biblical texts and is used for various literary purposes. It appears in various genres and is enacted by a host of characters within biblical literature. When we look at iconoclasm in the Hebrew Bible’s legal texts we witness debates about marriage and emigration, for example, how to identify the targets of iconoclasm and legally justify their destruction. Using recent research about the Givati Parking Lot Dig, legal texts that command iconoclasm can be better understood as a debate among Returnees living in Jerusalem about what cultic items had to be destroyed, donated, or could become booty to those who found them.

Chris McKinny

Panelist (Top Finds in Biblical Archaeology)

Armageddon – A Royal Reversal

Armageddon (Rev 16:16) is one of the most well-known place names in the Bible. Despite the widespread usage of the term in popular culture, Armageddon’s historical geographical background has not been adequately explored or understood – in my opinion. In this lecture, we will examine the meaning of Armageddon in light of the literary context of the Book of Revelation and the historical context of the late 1st century CE. Most significantly, we will discuss the usage of Armageddon against the background of the death of King Josiah in the Hebrew Bible and recent archaeological investigations in the Jezreel Valley.

Dennis Mizzi

The Burial of Sealed Jars in the Qumran Cemetery: Disposal of Consecrated Property?

During their renewed excavations at Qumran, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg opened nine graves from the cemetery adjacent to the built settlement. Instead of human bones, however, two of these contained sealed ceramic jars containing date honey. This phenomenon has puzzled scholars, and the few explanations that have been proffered remain unconvincing. Magen and Peleg suggest that the jars were buried because they had contracted corpse impurity, rendering the vessels and their contents unusable. Jodi Magness follows the same line of reasoning but sees a reflection of sectarian halakha in this practice. Alternatively, Magen and Peleg offer a more mundane interpretation, positing that the jars were buried to keep away pests. In this presentation, I will discuss the difficulties with these interpretations and then, using both archaeological and textual evidence, I will propose a new explanation—namely, that the burial of sealed jars in the Qumran cemetery can be connected with the disposal of consecrated property. If correct, this evidence would shed important light not only on the ritual practices of the Qumran inhabitants but also on their attitudes towards the Jerusalem temple and its priesthood.

R. Steven Notley

Jesus and the Passover: What Can Archaeology Tell Us About the Last Supper?

Much has been written about whether or not “the Last Supper” of Jesus was a Passover meal. To a large extent how one answers this question is dependent upon their reading of the New Testament accounts. The Gospel of John clearly distinguishes between the Last Supper and the beginning of Passover, while according to Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells those gathered with him, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you” (Luke 22:15). Our predicament is not unique in the study of history where the historical sources do not always agree. Fortunately, archaeological discoveries in the last century and a careful reappraisal of the language in the accounts can greatly assist us. In this presentation we will find that there is little reason to question that Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his followers in Jerusalem on the eve of his tragic death.

Steven Ortiz

Searching for Solomon’s City: Recent Excavations at Tel Gezer

This will be an illustrated lecture on the recent excavations and discoveries at Tel Gezer. Tel Gezer has been at the heart of the archaeology of Solomon. Debates concerning the nature of the Israelite Monarchy have become invigorated due to recent archaeological discoveries and proposals. Tel Gezer is located on the border between the Israelites and Philistines. It is strategically located at an important crossroad guarding the pass from the coast up to Jerusalem. The ancient city is mentioned in several Egyptian and Assyrian texts. Gezer is mentioned in the biblical account of Solomon’s fortifications (1 Kings 9:15). It was continuously occupied from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic Period. Although previous excavations have revealed much of Gezer’s history, there are still many questions left unanswered. A new team has been excavating the site for a decade (2006 to 2017). This lecture will present the latest discoveries at this biblical city: focusing on the transition from a Canaanite City to an administrative center.

James Tabor

Jesus Across the Jordan

Most historical studies of Jesus have emphasized his activities in the Galilee and his final days in Jerusalem as the main areas of his activities and teachings. This focus is understandable, since it is embedded in the gospel of Mark—our earliest narrative account—that is taken up by both Matthew and Luke. However, looking more closely at these sources, as well as the gospel of John, we find that Jesus is exceptionally active on the east side of the Jordan River—in the country we know as Jordan today. This lecture focuses on that often neglected aspect of our Jesus traditions, including the cities of the Decapolis, Wadi el-Yabis and Pella, Herod Antipas’s fortress at Machaerus, the activities of John the Baptizer in both the north and the south, as well as Gadara and other population centers described as “beyond the Jordan.” This research opens up an entirely new perspective on Jesus as more of an urban figure, appealing to Jews as well as Gentiles, in both rural villages as well as major population centers.

Ben Witherington

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Pisidian Antioch

Why did Paul and Barnabas, instead of going from Perge along the coast back towards Antioch by way of Tarsus etc. instead hiked 120 miles over large mountains to get to Pisidian Antioch. The reason has to do with the governor of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, and the inscription stone Mark Wilson and I found outside the Yalvac (i.e. Pisidian Antioch) museum that directly mentions Sergius Paulus, who we know from other sources had family connections to Pisidian Antioch. This shows how archaeological evidence can definitely change the way we read and explain certain Biblical texts.