Queries & Comments

More Queries & Comments, Spring 2020

Readers respond to their favorite Biblical Archaeology Review articles

Jacob “Safely” in Shechem

Seriously? Shalem is a city near Shechem and Malchizedek was the king of Sodom? (First Person: “From Shalem to Jerusalem,” BAR November/December 2019) Has the editor read the text in Hebrew, not a translation? It appears not to be the case.

The original Hebrew reads that Jacob arrived whole/safe in the city of Shechem. “Shalem” is used as an adverb to describe how he arrived. It is very clear from the text. After his experiences with Laban, Esau, and the wrestling angel, he arrived safe in Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan. Our commentators tell us he was happy to be safely there.

Secondly, Malchizedek is the G-d’s most high priest, and Bera is identified as the king of Sodom. The text reads that Abraham refused anything from the king of Sodom but did accept wine and bread from Malchizedek. Shalem he is referring to is the city of peace. Anything else is a misread of the Masoretic text in the original Hebrew.

Rabbi Yosef Ashkenazy
Jerusalem, Israel


Rabbi, that is literally what chapter six of my book is about. There I challenge the Hebrew interpretation of שלם as “safely” in Genesis 33:18, and offer extensive evidence from the Bible why it should not be interpreted as such—and why the Septuagint correctly translated it as “Salem.” As for Bera and the identification of the king of Sodom, that’s the central thesis of my book: that the Masoretic text we have was altered early on to prevent Abram from having dealt favorably with the king of Sodom.—B.C.


L=Γ; What Is Gamma?

The letter in your November/December 2019 issue concerning symbols in garments mentions an inverted L on a garment worn by Jesus in a mosaic. Γ (Greek gamma) may be the intent, but I have no idea what it may have signified about Jesus.

Arnold Karr
Columbia, South Carolina


Criticism of Criticism

Your recent focus on race and sex is already producing “racism and sexism” as seen in Crawford’s book review (Reviews, BAR, November/December 2019). You are going to become as silly as most of academia these days as you criticize a long-term publisher of Protestant Christian material for publishing Protestant Christian material. Why should you obsess on the sex, race, and religion of the contributors to the Archaeology Study Bible? Why would we expect “alternative voices” in a publication directed to “conservative evangelical Protestants”? Your review lacks substance for any reader who desires to know what the book contains.

Carol K. Tharp
Winnetka, Illinois


Gospel Arithmetics

Please answer how Jesus was buried three days when he died on Friday afternoon and rose up on Sunday at sunrise. That is not three days. I can find no one to answer this.

Linda Jones
Ocala, Florida


Linda, this is because Jesus wasn’t buried for three days! Interestingly, the gospel authors Matthew and Luke knew of this problem as well. So while Mark 8:31 says, “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” the authors of Matthew (16:21) and Luke (24:46)—both of whom have a copy of Mark sitting in front of them as they write their own gospels—changed this slightly to reflect the reality of the tradition and wrote, “and on the third day” be raised. You have noticed the same thing that Luke and Matthew noticed—that Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is not three full days, but it is three separate days. Good eyes!—B.C.


Bible, Not Archaeology

After getting BAR for 25 years or so, somehow, Hershel Shanks managed to make us Bible-believing Christians feel included in his wonderful editorials, articles, and magazine, even though we had our many differences. Your book review of the Archaeology Study Bible (Reviews, BAR, November/December 2019) is an example of a mean-spirited review (except for the end), totally on the side of those who do not believe a shred in the reliability and truth of the Hebrew Scriptures. Many of your readers do know a lot of history and evidence for the Bible’s truth.

I have been in Israel over ten times, and in almost every Middle Eastern country but Iraq. I have seen the names of Noah’s 16 grandsons, from the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, all over the Middle East. For example, the sons of Shem (the Semitic line) are Elam (ancient name of Persia), Asshir, Phut (Libya), and Aram is Syria. The ancient name of Egypt is Mizram. My husband is Egyptian and in Arabic Egypt is still called Mizram, Ham’s son. Cush and Seba are also grandsons. Another example, National Geographic has a wonderful movie out about the latest Jericho destruction dates, disproving Kenyan’s pottery dates, and fitting the biblical timeline. And there are many, many other examples of the truth of the Hebrew Bible.

Marilyn Mansi
Ventura, California


I’m really surprised to see how BAR has treated evangelical Protestants nowadays. We are certainly a considerable part of BAR’s readers, but content like book review of the Archaeology Study Bible (Reviews, BAR, November/December 2019) insist to disrespect our faith. It is a huge prejudiced mistake. I’m a Brazilian pediatrician who loves God’s words and I read BAR in order to learn more about the places where biblical facts took place. Brazil is distant from Israel, and BAR has helped us to be closer to the places where Jesus lived.

We do believe in Bible’s divine inspiration and that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation, and we have the right to express our faith. What’s wrong with you? A study Bible is designed for the ones who want to study God’s words, not for archaeologists. It is a genuine way for a Christian to study biblical archaeology. Your arguments are about Middle East archaeology. Why use the term biblical archaeology if you don’t believe in the Bible or even respect this divine book? And use the list of contributors to diminish the book’s value is ridiculous. Why cannot we, reformed Protestants, express ourselves? The “deliberate lack of alternative voices” compromises the merit of BAR’s point of view.

Sáhlua Miguel Volc
Curitiba, Brasil


With all due respect, this particular Bible doesn’t market itself as simply a “study Bible,” but as an “archaeology study Bible.” Once it does that, the publishers invite archaeologists to critique the archaeological claims made in the study Bible, as the science of archaeology found in its pages should be sound. If it is not, professional archaeologists and biblical scholars will point this out. That is their job.

I don’t care what any person of faith personally believes. That is up to that person. But once someone invokes archaeology as part of a faith claim, then it opens the claim up to scientific scrutiny. And what archaeology has shown us is that in some cases, the science does not fit the claims made in the text of the Bible. In some places it does. BAR exists, in part, to examine these claims and show where archaeology supports the claims made in the Bible, and where it does not. It has nothing to do with disrespecting faith or people of faith. On the contrary—I have given my life to the pursuit of these truths and to professional interaction with those doing the same from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions. That common mission stands at the heart of the Biblical Archaeology Society.—B.C.


Pigs of Revenge?

Hi! I am behind in my reading. Just now reading the November/December 2017 issue. Really love this issue. A few nights ago, I was reading about Jesus sending a legion of demons into a herd of swine. I wondered out loud (maybe a prayer) why pigs? Why were the people so angry? Now I’m reading the article on the Jerusalem Cave site! The Te’omim Cave (“Into the Te’onim Cave,” BAR, November/December 2017)! There is reference to a herd of pigs being thrown into a pit as a form of sacrifice, and I am wondering if this could be related in some way. It seems that if they were planning on tossing the pigs into a pit as a sacrifice to their god, then Jesus “tossing the pigs into the sea” would be seen as a great insult to their religion.

Just a thought. I apologize if it is irrelevant. I love your magazine! Thank you!

Kelly Dee Barndt, reader since the early 1990s!
New York, New York


Maccabean Revolt at Huqoq

I was surprised to read the academic debate regarding what historic event is represented in the so-called “Elephant Mosaic” at the Huqoq Synagogue in the Galilee (“Inside the Huqoq Synagogue” and “Artistic Influences in Synagogue Mosaics,” BAR, May/June 2019). The authors debate whether the panel represents “a scriptural narrative… from the Hebrew Bible…; events from the period of the Maccabean revolt…; the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish High Priest; or the Seleucid siege of Jerusalem… and the subsequent military alliance between the Seleucids and the Hasmonean High Priest, John Hyrcanus.” They also claim the story represented on the panel develops from the bottom (aftermath of a battle) up (meeting of leaders).

What is clearly represented is a famous episode recorded in 1 Maccabees and Josephus that in effect launched the Maccabean revolt. The story begins at the top register, which is no meeting of leaders; rather, it is a confrontation between the priest Mattathias from Modi’in in Judea and a Greek officer. In this episode, a company of Greek soldiers—shown on the right-hand side of the panel—has been dispatched to forcibly implement King Antiochus Epiphanes’ (167 B.C.E.) ordinances regarding sacrifices to idols. As a respected priest, Mattathias was chosen to begin the offerings. The Greek officer is seen holding a bull to be used for sacrifice in the mosaic. When Mattathias refused, a villager was chosen and began to fulfill the king’s order. Mattathias rose up and declared, “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come with me!” The Jewish elder opposite the Greek officer in the mosaic is certainly Mattathias, pointing heavenward and making his famous declaration. Mattathias subsequently slew both the complying Jew and the Greek officer. Mattathias’ left hand is holding something, according to the authors, possibly a sword. That would certainly make sense in this context, with the panel actually showing Mattathias slaying the Greek officer.

Mattathias is backed by eight smaller armed figures, his supporters, who are poised for confrontation. According to 1 Maccabees, Mattathias, his five sons—who came to be known as the Maccabees—and his supporters fled to the desert and began the Maccabean revolt. In the middle panel, Mattathias is seated in the center, surrounded by the same eight armed Judeans pictured in the top panel, each now standing under an arch with their swords sheathed. They have apparently been victorious in their initial confrontation, as beneath them, in the lower panel, the Greek army complete with soldiers, elephants, and the sacrificial bull, all lie dead. Above the heads of the victorious rebels are lit oil lamps which represent the Miracle of the Oil, celebrated during the eight nights of Hanukkah. I believe that is why specifically eight tunic-clad Judean rebels are pictured. By the time of the construction of the Huqoq synagogue (fifth century C.E.) the ritual of lighting the Hanukkah menorah was well established. There are nine oil lamps over Mattathias’ head, not eight, and the tradition to this day is to keep a separate, ninth lamp burning so that the sanctified Hannukah lights are not used for mere secular activities like reading—that would be the function of the extra lamp.

There was no need to identify any of these characters on the mosaic, as this story was well known to all. Mattathias only led the rebellion for one year before his death, but as the spiritual driving force in the story, he is memorialized as the leader and victor in the Huqoq mosaic.

(Rabbi) Seth Landa
Teaneck, New Jersey


Dangling Face

In “Dangling Assyriology” (BAR, November/December 2019), on page 24, did anyone else notice the face chiseled in the rock above and to the right of the two men? There is a head, forehead, eye, large nose, lips, and chin.

Rosalyn Becker
Fort Myers, Florida


Show Me Your Money

Greetings from a new subscriber. I’m enjoying the magazine. I read the article “Searching for Portraits of King Herod ” (BAR, November/December 2019) and have this question: Where did Herod get the wealth to be such a patron across the eastern Mediterranean? I always had the impression that Judea was an economic backwater in the Roman Empire.

Gary Werner
Sheboygan, Wisconsin


Wrong Flour

The descriptions of the species of wheat found in the Zenon’s jars (“Zenon’s Flour,” BAR, November/December 2019) are either mistaken or misleading. Let me correct them.

Durum wheat (Triticum durum), also called pasta wheat, is “hard” wheat because of its milling characteristics. It is the hardest of wheat, commonly grown with a higher gluten content than other wheats. It is used for making pasta.

Common wheat (Triticum aestivum) is also known as bread wheat. It is softer than durum but still considered “hard” wheat. It is used to make yeast breads.

Pure, soft wheat gives pastry flour and is used to bake cakes and other batter goods. The all-purpose flour commonly marketed is a blend of hard and soft wheats. It can be used to bake yeast breads and batter products.

Hard winter wheats are generally planted in the autumn, are dormant during the cold weather, and continue growing in early spring. Spring wheat is planted in the spring.

Daniel D. Stuhlman
Chicago, Illinois


Bronze Age Babies

I wish to correct statements made by Beth Alpert Nakhai in “Baby Burials in the Middle Bronze Age” (BAR, July/August/September/October 2019). Quoting from Leviticus 12:2–5 regarding women’s ritual impurity following the birth of males (7 days) and females (14 days), she concludes that “after this period of seclusion, babies were integrated into their families.” Whilst women as menstruants were not permitted to their husbands for marital relations (33 days for males, 66 days for females) but could still function in the household, newborns were certainly brought into the home following birth. There is nothing in the Bible that says otherwise.

Herbert Burack
Teaneck, New Jersey

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