Queries & Comments

More Queries & Comments, January/February 2020

Readers respond to their favorite Biblical Archaeology Review articles

Gender Equality

Please stick to biblical archaeology and leave the social engineering to others. We are all bombarded with politics 24/7 and I have no interest in learning the wokeness quotient of the new editor.

Hugh Lefcort
Spokane, Washington



Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August September/October 2019

I enjoyed the powerful special issue of BAR. Only the prolegomenon seemed self-conscious. I wonder if an issue written only by

women, without a breathy invocation, would have been even more powerful. As though a magazine of research chiefly female was not exceptional but a matter of course.

I appreciate Dr. Cargill’s solid presence as editor. I continue to enjoy BAR and will renew my subscription.

Eric Bourland
Washington, District of Columbia

Eric, your instincts may be correct. We considered having BAR’s Managing Editor, Megan Sauter, write the editorial for this issue and discuss something other than gender equity. Perhaps then many of the men who wrote us to complain wouldn’t have. Then again, I think they still might have.—B.C.

I’ve enjoyed your magazine for years. As a woman, I appreciate your effort to give women opportunity thru open doors for publication. However, please, allow women to shine academically, those who are interested and available, and do it without pushing down men. You seem to have taken it on the men, for what your female colleagues were unavailable or uninterested to join. If women need men beat up in order to engage, are we really treated equally?

We women are equal to men and the same time we are not the same as men. Forgive my simplistic picture, but like the two sides of a coin, male and female, constitute the whole essence of humanity and culture.

I’ve seen the culture pendulum flung way too far to the pro-women, anti-men lately. History attests to this swinging trend in civilizations. Can we help avoid falling into the same error of choosing one against the other? Black for white, minority for majority, female for male—can we rise up the value of both?

I look forward to a Special Double Issue that might read: “By the Hand of Man and Woman.”

BAR, thank you for taking your time to read my two-sided 2-cents.


Yolie Fernandez Brown
Colorado Springs, Colorado

I will leave it to others to comment on the content of the latest issue featuring women (how did you leave out Eilat Mazar?) archaeologists.
To this long-time subscriber, the issue will be forever known as the “BAR’s Affirmative Action issue.”

Stephen M. Flatow
Long Branch, New Jersey

Dear Mr. Cargill,
I am a long-time reader of BAR. I look forward to every issue, and one of the reasons is that BAR has, until now, offered a respite from the political correctness that is permeating all aspects of life. BAR was a safe place to escape on the weekend from all of that and focus on excellent scholarship and enlightening articles. You now appear to believe that your job description and BAR’s mission includes the task of social justice warrior. That is not your job, that is not a proper role for BAR, and that is not why your subscribers subscribe to BAR.

Finally, Hershel Shanks always maintained a bit of Indiana Jones-type adventure and fun to new discoveries and the underlying tone of BAR. That is probably verboten in this age of political correctness, and I know Indiana Jones is one of those “charismatic, loud, entertaining, obnoxious, white males” you do not like, but he brought a sense of adventure and fun. It would be nice to have some of that adventure and fun back in the magazine.

Mark Nydam
Wellesley, Massachusetts

Mark, I’M one of those “charismatic, loud, entertaining, obnoxious, white males.” I think they bring a sense of adventure and fun to things as well. I think the complaint is that there are a lot of women out there, whose scholarship is superior to that of mine, who are tired of being passed over because they are not as loud as I am. As far as the fun and adventure, that’s what we’re going for with the redesign. And for those asking, Hershel Shanks is doing quite well in retirement. I’ll tell him you asked.—B.C.

Why the racist, sexist insults: “but for the most part the field has been dominated by men—often charismatic, loud, entertaining, obnoxious, and mostly white men”?

By devoting a whole issue to women authors, the editor declares that biblical archaeology is not the most important concern of his. What if Physical Review declared that all of its articles for a given month or two would be by women, so as to correct the gender divide in physics? No serious research journal would do this. So I guess BAR is not a serious journal.

I never noticed the sexism of BAR until now! I don’t want your publication any longer. Please cancel my subscription and refund the remainder.

Royal Skousen
Professor of Linguistics
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah

Prof. Skousen, while I’m familiar with your career’s work of attempting to determine the original words dictated by Joseph Smith from the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon, I’m unfamiliar with what is “racist” and “sexist” about calling men like myself “charismatic, loud, entertaining, obnoxious, and mostly white.” Most of us would describe ourselves as precisely that. Second, BAR is not a “research journal” but a credible popular magazine. As for your charge of “sexism” because we published articles by women, please see my response to Charles Wente of Newport, Kentucky on pages 9–10 of the Jan/Feb 2020 print edition of BAR, in which I stated,

“I do not see gender equality in our field as taking “substandard” women’s scholarship and elevating it to the level of “superior” men’s scholarship for the sake of meeting a quota. That is the traditional myth driven by the fact that there haven’t been as many women in our field in decades past. Today there are just as many women graduate students and junior scholars in archaeology and biblical studies as men, if not slightly more. Their scholarship is just as good as men’s scholarship. One problem is that those typically senior male scholars who offer the invitations to conferences and edited volumes tend to invite more scholars like themselves, that is, male. I’m not trying to hit an arbitrary quota; I’m trying to reflect the reality that there are a lot of women in the field doing a lot of solid research. The special issue was one way to draw attention to that.”

Beyond that, I’d have to say that any claim that the promotion of women’s scholarship is somehow “sexism” is a generational and cultural difference of opinion about which we shall simply have to agree to disagree. I do not believe it “sexist” to promote a group of individuals who have traditionally been, and in some circles still ARE, suppressed simply because of who they are.—B.C.


Civil Disagreement

Regarding Mr. Notzon’s earlier letter requesting the cancellation of his subscription (Queries & Comments, BAR, July/August/September/October 2019), I share his opinion of John Dominic Crossan, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t like all the material my hometown newspaper prints either, but I still want to know what’s going on in my town.

Lois Merritt
Huntington, West Virginia


Perverse Pleasure?

The first thing I do when I open an issue of BAR is read the Queries & Comments section to see if some closed-minded reader is demanding that their subscription be canceled due to a scholarly article that conflicts with their faith. Call it a perverse pleasure, but I take my laughs where I can get them. I appreciate the scholarly, nonsectarian, and nondenominational mission of BAR to “present archeological and biblical data from the best scholars in the world,” and to let the readers draw their own conclusions based on the articles.

Keep up the good work.

Scorpio Steele
Denver, Colorado

I’ve subscribed to BAR for years and don’t plan to stop. But a comment was made by “B.C.” that I must refute.

B.C.’s comment is in answer to Carolyn Lumsden (“Queries & Comments” Vol 45:4). B.C. said, “But you can always trust that what we publish in BAR is credible and designed to inform.” Say what? I beg your pardon, but I remind you of the article that one of your “best scholars in the world” authored in which he presented the case that Eve was created from Adam’s penis bone and that is why men do not have a baculum today.

Such an article was sophomoric (focusing on the penis), unscientific (saying the loss of a bone in one man will cause that bone to be missing in all his future male descendants), unbiblical (nowhere does the Bible suggest that), and certainly unfounded speculation. Such an article is unworthy of a self-proclaimed “scholarly” publication such as Biblical Archaeology Review.

Jerald Brown
Los Angeles, California

Jerald, the article you mention (“Was Eve Made from Adam’s Rib—or His Baculum?BAR, September/October 2015) was authored by Ziony Zevit, an excellent scholar of biblical literature at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. To this day, that article is one of our most-read BAR articles. I assign it every time my Hebrew classes read Genesis 2:21. I will defend that article, Professor Zevit’s authorship of it, and Hershel’s decision to publish it, until I die. The idea that the “rib” taken from Adam was an etiological explanation for why human beings are among the few species of mammals that do not possess a baculum certainly makes more sense than why God would take an actual rib. As for the article being “sophomoric” simply because it is “focusing on the penis,” you do realize that the entire Jewish religion and its covenant with God began as one requiring circumcision, a practice that is largely one…you know… “focusing on the penis.” And yet I would hope that you wouldn’t consider Judaism or discussions of circumcision as “sophomoric.”—B.C.


Steps to Purity

In “Stepped Pools and Stone Vessels” (BAR, July/August/September/October 2019), Cecilia Wassén says that the stone water jars in John 2:6 were mentioned because John associated the large quantity of water in them with ritual purification. I suggest that John’s message was that, just as the ritual purity of the stone jars could not be defiled by an unclean person touching them, just so Jesus was not personally defiled by taking the sins of his followers upon him when he shed his blood (symbolized by the wine in the jars) on the cross. His purity overcomes the impurity of his followers. Otherwise, he would have had the servants fill the many empty wine containers at the wedding with water.

Dale Partin
Ray, Michigan


Evil God of Love

I have subscribed to the Biblical Archeology Review for over 30 years, and loved it! I really enjoyed your article on what a dig is like! But it was sad and offensive to me, to read in Gudme’s article that she equates Judaism and the Temple with evil, degrading pagan cults and places of worship. Worst of all was her lumping Yahweh-Jehovah with angry, vengeful, pagan gods. As I read through the Hebrew Scriptures, I see the Creator God of love reaching out to men over and over again, only to be rejected. I believe that a majority of your readers are Jews who honor the Hebrew Scriptures, and Gentile believers in Yeshua who honor Israel and the Hebrew Scriptures like me. That is why we subscribe to BAR.

Marilyn Mansi
Ventura, California


Samaritans Deactivated?

It is remarkable that the article “Reactivating Remembrance: Interactive Inscriptions from Mt. Gerizim” (BAR, July/August/September/October 2019), by Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme, makes no mention of the Samaritans, the Yahwist sect who built the temple there, except in passing in a single book title.

One footnote actually claims that “There is only an indirect link between the Hebrew Bible and the sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim…”, and that “there is no indication that the people on Gerizim were familiar with the Hebrew Bible.” While the Samaritan version of the Hebrew Pentateuch is not known as well as the rival Masoretic version, it in fact was well known to the Samaritans, and even contains an explicit commandment that a temple be built there.

J. Huston McCulloch
New York City, New York

Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme Responds: The religious group we call Samaritans today is different from the people who worshipped Yahweh on Mount Gerizim in antiquity. The modern Samaritans see themselves as descendants of the biblical Israelites and count the Samaritan Pentateuch as part of their sacred scriptures. But there is no indication of Samaritan worship at Gerizim during the Persian and Hellenistic periods. It is therefore prudent to distinguish between Samarian Yahwists on Mount Gerizim (before the destruction of the temple there, in 110 B.C.E.) and Samaritans, who also center around Mount Gerizim but are a later historical development.


Always Educational

BAR content is always interesting and educational. Your recommendation to read William Dever’s Beyond the Texts was no exception—a challenge to write and a rewarding challenge to read. It took a while for both!

At 82, I’m finally taking formal archaeology courses at Georgia State University to further understanding of what I’ve seen and experienced in Europe, Turkey, Central America, Mexico, and the USA. It’s all great fun and informs my understanding of how humanity got to where it is and IF it’s going anywhere.

Many thanks.

Bob Jarrett
Decatur, Georgia


Raise the BAR

As an avid reader of BAR, I have a suggestion to enhance the value and clarity of your articles: label figures and illustrations. For instance, the fascinating article “Baking Bread” in the July/August/September/October 2019 issue has a picture of a house at Tell Halif with two long rooms and a broad room. It would be helpful to number them in the photo. Similarly, the article “Baby Burials” in the same issue has illustrations of jar burials where contents could have arrows of different size corresponding to the descriptions in the captions.

I hope that you find these suggestions useful and look forward to the next issue of your magazine.

Leslie B. Holmes
Tuscon, Arizona

Leslie, great suggestion! But here’s why we don’t. Many archaeologists permit us to print the official photos of their dig sites, but we cannot alter them in any way. This includes adding text captions in the photo itself. We can do this with photos and maps we generate ourselves at BAR, but not with others’ photos.—B.C.


Bring on Archaeology!

In her article “Blurred Lines—The Enigma of Iron Age Timnah” (BAR, July/August/September/October 2019), Mahri Leonard-Fleckman raises interesting questions regarding ethnic identity, borders, and the development of the textual history of the Samson cycle in the book of Judges, mainly in relation to the town of Timnah. Though the article mentions archaeology of the site, it does not cite any of the archaeological publications where many of the topics have already been discussed.

Yet the archaeological publications enable any of the suggestions raised in the article: Timnah was a prosperous town in the 12–11th centuries B.C.E. Philistine pottery and several figurines and seals show that Timnah’s material culture did not differ much from that of Philistine Ekron some 4 miles away. In the 10th century, it was rebuilt, yet the Philistine material culture traits disappear. There is plenty of evidence for the fate of this town in the eighth–seventh centuries B.C.E., including clear evidence for Judean presence there in the late eighth century B.C.E., its destruction by Sennacherib, the rebuilding in the seventh century as part of the kingdom of Ekron, and its destruction by the Babylonians ca. 604 B.C.E. The insertion of the literary history of the Samson Cycle into this complex history of the city is of course a matter of different views among biblical scholars.

Amihai Mazar and Nava Panitz-Cohen
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Mahri Leonard-Fleckman Responds: I am grateful to Amihai Mazar and Nava Panitz-Cohen for their thoughtful response to my article. Because of issues of space in the article, and because I was contributing specifically as a text specialist, I was unable to communicate explicitly with the archaeological data. Yet my larger project (in process) reflects an ongoing commitment to communicate between text and archaeology, and the desire to draw textual scholars back into debates of the Shephelah in such a way that contributes to, and respects, the ongoing archaeological discourse. I have, of course, read carefully and thoroughly Mazar and Panitz-Cohen’s reports on Tel Batash/Timnah, as well as the many and varied interpretations of the data (from Tel Batash and other Shephelah sites). I am very interested in how the Bible is used to interpret archaeological data, including the notion that Tel Batash becomes “Judahite” in the 10th century, and that it is linked with Ekron subsequent to Sennacherib’s campaign c. 701 B.C.E. (indeed, the very fact that Tel Batash is connected with biblical Timnah comes specifically from Joshua 15 and, secondarily, Genesis 38 [which may be a different Timnah altogether, but that’s neither here nor there]). Even more fascinating to me is the ongoing debate of how to interpret the archaeological evidence specifically in relation to identities or “ethnicity” (e.g., the articles in Lipschits and Maeir 2017) and how our ideas about the changing political landscape (e.g., whether and when Timnah was under highland versus coastal control) bleed into assumptions about the social landscape. Do identities change when political control changes? I am fascinated, for example, by discussions of how to interpret the rise of red-slipped and hand-burnished pottery at Tel Batash in the 10th century B.C.E., and whether that reflects Judahite or Philistine (or what?) ethnicity (e.g., Mazar 1994, 1997, 1998; Mazar and Panitz-Cohen 2001; Bunimovitz and Lederman 2006). Equally fascinating are the debates of how to interpret faunal remains (e.g., Faust 2018; Sapir-Hen 2019), and discussions of ongoing “interregional interaction” in the Shephelah in the 12th-10th centuries B.C.E. (Koch 2017). But as a non-archaeologist, I can only go so far with the archaeological data. My expertise and contributions lie in the realm of the Bible. In the case of Samson, the texts reveal a core, ambiguous and shifting social landscape. How, then, does the textual evidence speak to the archaeological, and vice versa? Well, I hope for many meaningful discussions with Mazar, Panitz-Cohen and others going forward.

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