Outstanding, as Always
I have subscribed to BAR for decades and like the comments of Scorpio Steele posted under “More Queries & Comments” on the web regarding the January/February 2020 issue; I, too, quickly open the magazine to read all the letters, subscription cancelations, and argumentative comments from readers. It is where I get my laughs. The amount of ego that goes into these letters is somewhat astonishing to me. I subscribe to the saying, “would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”
I was also surprised at the backlash and rather negative comments about the recent double issue written by women, and the comments about gender equality. I guess the world of white male patriarchy is alive and well. My message to you at BAR is to keep up the excellent work. The magazine is outstanding. It always has been.
Women Finally Recognized
Please accept a heartfelt, if belated, kudos for the “By the Hand of a Woman” issue (BAR, July/August/September/October 2019). When my wife (who holds two master’s degrees) began working on an all-male team, she was often asked to get the coffee. She quickly learned to tell the guys, “The coffee maker sits near the fridge. Get me a cup while you’re up.” For too long bright women have worked unrecognized. Thank you for showing that brilliance knows no gender.
Cargill, as a reader of BAR for many years, I want to offer here my congratulations on the new eye-catching design. I’m wishing you much success in your role as editor of this important journal.
I’d like to comment on the topic of mikva’ot (מקואות) and ritual purity. David Fensterheim is mistaken that in biblical times the mikveh was used only to clean hygienically and that “Ha’arev Shemesh,” or sunset, was the actual ritual purification. It is true that certain levels of ritual purity, such as to eat Terumah, were only achieved through sunset, but other levels, such as to eat Ma’aser, were achieved just by the ritual bath (Talmud Yevamoth 74a).
Thanks for your great work,
Rabbi Chaim Halberstam
Brooklyn, New York
Magic and Miracles
Thank you for Robert Knapp’s thought-provoking article “How Magic and Miracles Spread Christianity” (BAR, January/February 2020). I was disappointed, however, that Dr. Knapp did not say anything about the collection Papyri Graecae Magicae, since these contain innumerable spells which were spoken by both semi-Christians and pagans. By far the most common magical name invoked in these papyri is that of “Iao” or “Yao”—ordinarily taken to be a Greek way of spelling the name of the God of the Hebrews, יהוה, or YHWH (sometimes written as “Jehovah”).
Since in some of these magical papyri (particularly towards the end of the corpus) the name Iao can be identified as Christ, I have long been convinced that this name does not only refer to YHWH, but also to Jesus: ΙΑΩ as Ιησους (Jesus) + Alpha + Omega. Morton Smith, one of the eminent scholars who worked on the Greek magical papyri (and the author of Jesus the Magician), most likely had the same understanding.
The name Iao consists entirely of vowels, and, interestingly, spoken vowel sounds clearly had great magical power in these papyri. My own presumption is that the reason for this apparent curiosity is that such vowels are breathed out when spoken and that they therefore represent God’s “pneuma” or “Spirit/breath/wind.” Hence, two of the members of the Christian Trinity—Jesus Alpha and Omega and the Holy Spirit—were represented by the name ΙΑΩ, or Iao.
It is reasonable to suppose that the ancient magicians who used the spells written on papyri understood that the Old Testament God, YHWH, was actually the Father of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. If so, then God the Father, or YHWH, would also have been Iao—just as Jesus and the Holy Spirit were represented by the name Iao. It is a striking fact, then, that the name Iao could conceivably represent all three members of the Trinity simultaneously. Moreover, the name itself is a triplet of letters, so that it could doubly represent that powerful Trinity.
We do not know how often such magic spells were spoken by ordinary people, but it is conceivable that the impact of Christianity upon semi-Christians and even pagans was very great in the first centuries after Christ.
(It is unlikely that you will actually print this rather long letter, but I had a good time writing it for you, anyway!)
Robert Knapp’s history of the growth of the early Christian Church was very interesting and informative, up to—but not including—the final sentence, where he asserted that the spread of the Church was more “… than Jesus of Nazareth could ever have imaged.” I suppose that assertion might be true if Jesus were only a magician of such extravagant guile and prodigious capabilities that he was willing and able to fool thousands upon thousands of people. But, if Jesus is the Son of God—as he claimed, as his miracles proved, and as his disciples died for without recanting—then he surely “imaged” the eternal nature of the Church and its global impact, as well as what is yet to come.
There would be no issue if Knapp had instead observed that the Church spread more “… than the disciples and followers of Jesus of Nazareth could ever have imaged.” Alas, his choice implies that he is selective in what evidence he relies on in formulating his views, which is, of course, unfortunate.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Measure for Measure
Not all BAR readers are familiar with the American measurement system. I would like to ask that, whenever an article gives a measurement, it provides both the metric measurement and the American/imperial equivalent—so as to make it easier for all readers to understand.
I believe this small addition will help your objective of bringing to the readers the understanding of the biblical realia.
This is not a bad idea. I’ll be happy when we all use the metric system.—B.C.
A Good First Step
I read the January/February 2020 issue over the holidays and I like the re-design so far; I consider it a good first step. There are still a couple of glaring problems, though, and the first is having the 8 full-page advertisements interspersed among the editorial content. I suggest those pages either be moved to the back of the magazine or put into a special advertising section in the middle of the issue.
The second problem (and I hope it is just a one-time) is that the issue was 12% shorter than the January/February 2019 issue. Please add editorial content.
Dennis B. Swaney
Palermo, California / Prescott, Arizona
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