Queries & Comments

More Queries & Comments, Fall 2021

A Good Bye and a Welcome

I WANT TO THANK ROBERT CARGILL for what he did for BAR. Succeeding Hershel Shanks was truly a task of “biblical proportions.” I like not only what he did for the “look and feel” of BAR, but also for reducing the number of hyper-technical articles. His plans for the next stage of his life sound wonderful!

I have always found the biblical “minimalist” perspective to be close minded and counterproductive. It is perfectly acceptable to study the pharaonic bombast on a pylon, obelisk, temple, or tomb and ask, “Might there be something to this, historically speaking?” As such, it’s equally appropriate to read Old Testament historical accounts and ask the same question. To view either the pylon or the biblical text as “fact” for which archaeological evidence must exist—if you just keep looking—is wrong.

Mark Johnson
Colleyville, Texas


CORBETT, LET ME CONGRATULATE you on your editorship of BAR. After reading
5 Questions: Meet BAR’s New EditorSummer 2021, I wanted to reach out to you as a South Carolinian from the Upstate. I really appreciated getting to learn a bit about your background.

I have long enjoyed my subscription and have often used BAR and the BAS Library to research for the weekly Bible study class that I teach. My class would confirm that I often pull archaeology into our discussions (perhaps some of those cases were a bit of a stretch). I have always been thankful for the accessibility of the content to the layperson. I look forward to seeing your efforts going forward.

Russell Davis
Greenville, Texas


Watertight Vessels?

BAR Spring 2021 CoverALTHOUGH INTERESTING, Yonatan Adler’s article “Watertight and Rock Solid” (Spring 2021) raised as many questions as it answered about the use of ritual vessels in Second Temple Judaism. I especially want to know how, if the vessels were made of chalk, they didn’t leak? Were they fired? Also, what were these vessels used for? And, finally, what do you mean by “tableware”?

Meg Haag
Hartland, Wisconsin

YONATAN ADLER RESPONDS: Great questions! About the leaking: The chalk vessels show no signs of having been fired. It seems likely to me that they were treated in some way—both to prevent absorption of liquids into the walls of the vessels as well as to prevent chalk dust from sullying the food and drink. However, there are no remains of any such treatment, and I must admit that I do not know precisely how this might have been accomplished. Perhaps BAR readers have some ideas?

As for their possible use, the bowls and mugs would have presumably been used for eating and drinking while the large jars would have been used for storage of food and liquids. Unlike vessels made of pottery, which would have been susceptible to ritual impurity (see Leviticus 11:33; 15:12), chalk vessels would forever remain pure. So perhaps they were used by pure people to ensure the ritual purity of their food and drink. Or perhaps they were used by impure people who wanted to avoid spreading impurity further. Think of masks during a global pandemic: They both guard the wearer against contracting infection as well as prevent an already infected wearer from spreading the disease to others!

Finally, as already implied in the previous answer, by “tableware” we mean dishes, or containers used for serving food and dining: cups, plates, and bowls.


Curious Crucifixion

I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW why about 98 percent of artists chose to depict the crucified Christ with his head dropped to his right and down. Why not the left side?

Frank Barham
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This is an interesting observation, to which we don’t have an authoritative answer. Nevertheless, two points may be worth considering. First, iconography (the manner of visually representing a certain subject) of Crucifixion changed substantially during the first two Christian millennia: from showing Jesus as clean shaven to bearded, wearing a long tunic vs. loin cloth, with eyes wide open and looking straight ahead vs. with eyes closed and head inclined. You are probably referring to medieval and early modern depictions. Second, there might be an artistic, compositional reason for having Jesus’s head inclined to his right, because that’s where the wound in his side is located, making it the focal point of the composition.

Whatever the original reason, the prevalence of a certain way of portraying visual subjects is the very substance of iconography, namely that certain things are portrayed in a certain customary and traditional way.—G.J.C.


Noah’s Box

BAR Summer 2021 CoverI MUCH APPRECIATED the latest issue of BAR, especially the evidence presented by Shelley Wachsmann in “The Curious Case of Noah’s Box” (Summer 2021), showing that in ancient times, people conceived of Noah’s ark as a box on legs. This contrasts with modern depictions of the ark as a ship with a flared bow and a keel. But ships are designed to pass efficiently through the water, whereas the ark merely needed to float. So Noah’s ark didn’t need to be a ship; it needed to be a barge, and a barge is a box. A barge would also be much easier to build. Like any large watercraft, the ark would need to be constructed on blocks or supporting timbers to allow access to the bottom and to ensure structural integrity. Since the ark didn’t move through the water, those supports could be built into the barge itself as legs. What’s important is that the barge needed to be able to land on rugged ground as the waters subsided, so it needed to have legs. Otherwise, if the midsection settled onto a big rock, the rock might punch through the bottom, or the ship might break in half. So the ancient depictions of the ark as a box on short legs seem perfectly reasonable.

Richard Brown
Durham, North Carolina

SHELLEY WACHSMANN RESPONDS: You raise an interesting hypothesis. Unfortunately, all we have to go on regarding Noah’s ark are a few sentences in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 6:14–16; 8:6, 13). This is thin gruel, indeed, on which to build any reconstruction. Adding anything beyond this basic description—including legs—is an interpolation and, therefore, to be avoided in my view. Additionally, the appearance of the ark as portrayed during the period under discussion is clearly not that of a barge but rather of an actual box, which fits the term used for the ark in the Septuagint (Gk. kibotos).

On the more abundant details of the ark of Utnapishtim, in the parallel Mesopotamian flood story recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh, see Ralph K. Pedersen “Was Noah’s Ark a Sewn Boat?BAR May/June 2005


High Altars

I READ MY FIRST COPY of BAR in 1985. Some of the articles give me pause and I wonder if sometimes authors have been smoking residue off the ancient “High Altar” (Winter 2020), but I do actually appreciate the different viewpoints they bring. The controversial insights often lead me to dig deeper into the issues, not necessarily to refute the arguments, but to look at the Bible again to understand where the positions come from. As a minister, I have also found many sermons in some of the interesting positions that BAR authors take. 

Danny Draper 
Little Rock, Arkansa


Holy Sepulchre

BAR Spring 2021 CoverTHE ARTICLE ON THE HOLY SEPULCHRE in the Spring 2021 issue (Justin L. Kelley, “The Holy Sepulchre in History, Archaeology, and Tradition”) was interesting and informative. I was saddened, however, that it did not include even a mention of the Ethiopian church that is part of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the roof of the complex. It is beautiful and an inspiring place to worship.

Louis Engle
Eugene, Oregon

JUSTIN L. KELLEY RESPONDS: The Coptic/Ethiopian monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is indeed a beautiful space. Although outside the scope of my article, it has its importance and a unique history. Known by its Arabic name Deir al-Sultan, the “Monastery of the Sultan,” it was named either for its alleged founding during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik or after the great sultan Salah al-Din, who confirmed Coptic ownership of the site.

Ethiopian control of the Deir al-Sultan is a relatively recent development. Ethiopian Christians have long held space in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and maintained close ties to the Egyptian Copts, who controlled the Deir al-Sultan. In the early 19th century, Ethiopian monks were hosted by the Copts in the Deir al-Sultan, and tension began to brew between the two communities—each claiming rightful ownership of the monastery. In 1961, the Jordanian government put the Ethiopians in control, but this decision was overturned by the Egyptian government. Twenty years later, in a surprising move, the Israeli government allowed the Ethiopian authorities to change the locks on the doors of the passage between the monastery and the roof, barring the Copts from accessing the monastery. In 1971, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Copts, but the Israeli government has yet to implement that ruling, while tensions between the two communities continue.


Hershel Shanks

BAR Summer 2021 CoverI WAS QUITE SAD to hear of the passing of Hershel Shanks. I never met him but I have been engaged with BAS for a very long time. He was a visionary with an astounding sense of integrity and objectivity in his love for biblical archaeology. I have a deep respect for him and his memory even without having met him. We need more people like him in the world, and I hope BAR will continue with the mission of which he laid the foundation.

Many thanks!
Maan M. Hamze

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