Queries & Comments

More Queries and Comments Summer 2024

Grateful for BAR

I REALLY CHERISH BAR. As a Christian, reading BAR prompts me to look up events/scripture in the Bible. For this alone, I thank you.

Michael Gordon
Tacoma, Washington


I HAVE LONG been grateful for BAR, never more so than in recent years. I appreciate the up-to-date information and the discussion of controversial issues. Even the letters to the editor explore issues that reveal important elements of biblical writing and history.

The House of Peter: Capernaum or Bethsaida,” by R. Steven Notley, is an excellent example of the research that provides a greater understanding of biblical times, presenting what we know, don’t know, can’t be certain of, and any contradictions.

Reading “Artificial Intelligence and Bible Translation,” by Jonathan Robie, reminds us that biblical scholars, including James L. Kugel in his book The Great Shift, tell us that the Old Testament has been rewritten and revised over millennia. One must wonder if those who wrote the many books of the Bible and those who heard the speakers quoted would recognize what the authors and translators wrote and said in the many transcriptions and translations that have passed from generation to generation.

Thank you for identifying and reporting on the missing elements of the biblical and ancient past.

Monta L. Pooley
Port Orchard, Washington



I AM NOT A SUBSCRIBER but I read your magazine regularly. The issues are extremely interesting, and I can’t take my eyes off of them. Everything is exciting to read, as I learn more and more about the world of archaeology and the Bible. Everything in “The Stone Statues of Ammon,” by Katharina Schmidt, was amazing, but I especially liked “The Seven World Wonders,” by Jennifer Tobin. It was very interesting, and the writing was astounding.

I was also excited to see the “What Is It?” quiz about papyrus, especially how it was used in ancient Egypt. I also liked the “Clip Art” quiz on the Egyptian Narmer Palette. For anyone who loves to read about ancient Egypt, these little boxes are quite fun and interesting. Thank you so much!

Ivy Busenitz
Newton, Kansas


Football and Temples

IN THE COLUMN “The Seven World Wonders,” Jennifer Tobin mentions that the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was “the length of 2.5 football fields.” Her math was a little faulty. An American football field is 100 yards long. Including the end zones, it is even longer. One hundred yards is 300 feet. If the length of the temple was 410 feet, then it was nearly 1.4 times the length of a football field but nowhere near 2.5 times the length. The length of a soccer field (called football outside America) is even more than 300 feet, thereby lowering the proportion to 1.1 times the length of a World football field.

Fr. Ernesto M. Obregón
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese


Star of Bethlehem

I APPRECIATE Nathan Steinmeyer’s article on the star of Bethlehem. The Hebrew Bible contains more than one story in which participants observe what others cannot see. Some battles come to mind when the Israelites are privileged observers of phenomena reserved for their eyes alone. We can never know if the Magi were historical figures or something more accurate—a myth embodying profound truth. But I personally like to think the Magi really saw a star, which no one else saw.

Richard Gercken
Massillon, Ohio


House of Peter

I DUG AT THE BETHSAIDA of Rami Arav (Et-Tell) for 18 years and I also dug at Sussita, for four years. I have two criticisms of Steven Notley’s article “The House of Peter: Capernaum or Bethsaida?” The first is about the church at El-Araj proving that El-Araj is biblical Bethsaida. The presence of a Byzantine church at any site near the shore of the Sea of Galilee cannot be used as evidence that Jesus or his disciples ever lived or visited there. Numerous Byzantine churches have been excavated at Sussita, and yet there is no mention in any source of Jesus ever being at Sussita. The second criticism is that Steven Notley’s method of doing research is backwards. I am a retired science teacher. Normally, scientists collect data and then draw a conclusion from the data. For the excavations at El-Araj, Steve Notley has concluded that El-Araj is biblical Bethsaida, and then he collects data to prove his conclusion.

Barney Trams
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


STEVEN NOTLEY’S ARTICLE “The House of Peter” was very interesting, but I was surprised he did not touch on one possibility: Bethsaida was the hometown of Peter, but he relocated to Capernaum after marrying his wife, who was from there. Thus, the Byzantine structures at these sites commemorate Peter’s birth at Bethsaida and Jesus’s healing of Peter’s mother-in-law at Capernaum, respectively. As Jesus headquartered at Capernaum, this would have been a likely spot to designate Peter as the leading apostle.

Al Vander Hart
Jesup, Iowa

STEVEN NOTLEY RESPONDS: Like with other historical inquiries, our challenge is to move beyond what is merely “possible” to what might be “probable.” As I indicated in the article’s sidebar, the Gospels are not unanimous about Jesus’s healing of the mother-in-law and the identity of a man named Simon, whom only Matthew 8:14, likely the last of the Synoptic Gospels, unambiguously names the son-in-law “Peter.”

It is a common characteristic in developing literary traditions to ascribe earlier ambiguous figures with a specific identity, as we see with the high priest’s servant in the passion narrative, who has no name in the Synoptic Gospels but is subsequently named Malchus in John 18:10. Byzantine tradition regarding the home of St. Peter consistently agrees with our reading of the synoptic tradition—Peter’s home is always at Bethsaida.

If Capernaum were clearly understood to be the home of Simon Peter, as many today hold, why was this detail so starkly ignored in Byzantine tradition? As I have noted, the only two exceptions are missing fragments from the testimony of Egeria that have only come to us through the hands of a notorious 12th–century forger and the testimony of the anonymous pilgrim from Piacenza, who speaks of a “basilica” built over the house of Peter “in Capernaum.” However, the fifth-century octagonal church at Capernaum is not a basilica but a martyrion, and I have suggested that the Piacenza pilgrim has confused his testimony, and he should be read instead to describe our basilica in Bethsaida (El–Araj).

In sum, the Gospels together with Byzantine traditions indicate that the home of Simon Peter was in Bethsaida, commemorated with the basilica that we have unearthed at El–Araj.


Anachronistic Vanilla

READING THE STRATA item “Wine for the Departed,” I noticed that traces of vanilla were found in Canaanite ceramic vessels dating to the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1550 BCE). Since vanilla is native to Mesoamerica and wasn’t introduced to the Old World until the 1500s, surely this is a mistake.

Maria Thouron
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

As reported by researchers examining vanillin found at Megiddo, the compound could historically be sourced also from vanilla species growing in either east Africa or India/Sri Lanka. We are currently working with the lead author to publish an article on this in a future issue of BAR.—Ed.


Woman in the Window

THE “WOMAN IN THE WINDOW” motif is present in many biblical texts, and Crocker Papadakis provides a very interesting overview. I’m intrigued if she would consider the verse in Song of Songs 2:9 to be a part of the same motif? “My beloved is like a gazelle or like a young stag. There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the window, peering through the lattice.”

The verse is seemingly mundane in its original context, but is later viewed as connected to the ritual of the Priestly blessing, specifically the positioning of the priests’ hands and fingers while they offer the blessing (see Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 8:1). Does this fit into the same category or would it be a different context?

Rabbi Howard Tilman
Scotch Plains, New Jersey


Paul Pushback

YOU WILL LIKELY get dozens of letters on this topic, so I’ll just add one more. In the Winter 2023 issue of BAR, David Clausen in his Q&C reader responses to his earlier BAR article (“Five Myths About the Apostle Paul,Summer 2023) stated twice the Book of Acts is a second-century document, but he fails to offer any rationale for this controversial statement, other than a vague reference to Ignatius of Antioch.

The 19th-century New Testament scholar J.B. Lightfoot in his commentary on the Gospel of John—recently edited by Ben Witherington—wrote that the letters of Ignatius date to around 110 AD. Ignatius’s use of the word “Christian” in Letter to the Magnesians (“It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality,” chap. 4) would indicate the word was in circulation before 110. Perhaps well before. The early 20th-century New Testament scholars Ramsey, Edmundson, and Harnack date Acts to around 62.

Finally, if Acts is second century, why is Paul still alive and living in Rome at the end of the book? Why aren’t the deaths of James, Peter, and Paul mentioned? Why is the destruction of the Temple not mentioned?

John Bailey
Medina, Ohio

In that particular Q&C response in the Winter 2023 issue of BAR, Clausen mentions Ignatius of Antioch (died c. 110 AD) because this second-century bishop of Antioch is probably the first to ever use the term “Christianity.” In response to the reader quoting Acts 11:26 (“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch),” Clausen states the following: “If [stress is ours] Acts is indeed a second-century composition, it tallies, with the time in which Ignatius of Antioch also began using the term “Christianity.” Precise dating of biblical books is surely difficult, but it is not controversial in more recent biblical scholarship to date Acts early in the second century. Clausen’s detailed treatment of this very issue is posted here.Ed.

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