Queries & Comments

More Queries & Comments Summer 2022

BAR Fall 2021 Cover

Photo: Assaf Peretz, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Chalk Vessels 

IN A LETTER TO BAR (Q&C, Fall 2021), Yonatan Adler asks for ideas from BAR readers about how chalk vessels could have been treated to prevent leaking. I have an idea for the author to consider. 

Given the porosity of the soft stone and the significant variation in the likely spade-drilled stone cavities discovered so far, it seems reasonable to consider that the vessels had a waterproof lining and then were calibrated and marked. 

Let me speculate that the bladders of slaughtered cows, sheep, or goats would be plentiful and water tight. The bladders could be glued into the carved-out stone, perhaps with fish glue, trimmed to fit, and then calibrated with a mark using an approved, calibrated vessel. Several of these might be carved in the same stone table for holding wine and oil, and perhaps they were available in both Hebrew and Greek liquid measures, such as the log or xestēs. 

This hypothesis would be invalidated if calibration marks were found inscribed directly into the stone hollow. 

Dieter Schlaepfer
Rohnert Park, California




Image credit: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I AM MUCH IMPRESSED by the crozier shown in Winter 2021 issue (Worldwide). One wonders how the piece came to be so worn in places, given that it is a ceremonial artifact and not a handle for some ordinary item. 

But, that is not why I am writing. There is a prone figure just at the crest of the crozier that has apparently lost a wing (it now has flat back rather than rounded) and is apparently writing or scratching with a curved finger. Even more astounding is that the writing is upside down with respect to the figure. Perhaps “ANGOLUS”? 

Myron Palay
Lakewood, Ohio


Kudos for noticing this detail! Indeed, the tiny inscription says “angelus,” which identifies the adjacent figure as an angel. It belongs to the Annunciation to the Shepherds scene, which includes the descending angel (with only one wing preserved), a star, and shepherds with their flock. Whether the angel is actually scribbling and why the inscription is there is difficult to know. It is true that it’s upside-down with respect to the angel (but not the bearer and viewers!), which makes one wonder whether it was etched at a later occasion. Although not an ordinary item, the crozier was regularly used by bishops for almost a thousand years, which might explain the visible wear.—Ed. 


Not Lost in Translation 

IN AN INTERESTING and informative recent article by Elizabeth Backfish on Greek translation of Psalms (“Not Lost in Translation: Hebrew Wordplay in Greek,” Winter 2021), the author deals with the example: “esoh setim saneti,” and translates it correctly: “the work of transgressors I hate.” However, she goes on for nine lines to deal with “esoh = I hate” as a unique word. The errors here are manifold. Esoh means “the work.” “I hate” correlates with the word saneti. Both Hebrew words are as simple and as common as can be. Perhaps the unusual word setim, for “transgressors,” is what Dr. Backfish meant to emphasize. 

Mordecai Rosen
Berkeley, California


IN HER ARTICLE, Elizabeth Backfish comments on various examples of alliteration in the Bible. One of her examples is from Psalm 101:3: “‘esoh-setim saneti,” translated as “the work of transgressors I hate.” 

In further explanation, she states: “The poet’s choice of ‘esoh for “I hate” is a hapax legomenon, meaning that it occurs only this one time in the entire Hebrew Bible.” Although I take no issue with the intent of the article, I do point out that the Hebrew poet’s choice of ‘esoh is for “the work”—which may be a unique occurrence in this form. However, the word for “I hate” is saneti. 

Meir Schecter
New York, New York


Several observant BAR readers noted this mistranslation in Elizabeth Backfish’s otherwise excellent article on how Hebrew wordplay was translated into Greek. To one of these letters, Backfish responded as follows: 

“I am grateful for the correction. The infinitive construct originally identified as the hapax legomenon is actually quite common (occurring about 269 times by my count). The hapax legomenon is the plural noun for transgressors, setim, that follows. The case for wordplay is still strong, since setim is part of the wordplay under consideration, and since many other words in the semantic field of setim are more common (such as khatta’t, ‘aon, and pesha‘) and do not contain the “s” sound that makes this example of wordplay so pronounced.” 


Paul of Arabia 

IN THE ARTICLE “Paul of Arabia?” (Winter 2021) Ben Witherington describes the “Paul the basket case” scene as occurring after Paul’s time in Arabia, whereas the referenced Acts 9:25, read in context, clearly states this happened shortly after Paul’s conversion, due to his enthusiastically preaching the gospel for which he had been persecuting believers. Yes, I understand that the author of Acts edited events to smooth over the apparent conflict between Paul and the other apostles, hence some disconnects between Acts and Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. However, there is no evidence of that here. 

Credit: Biblical Archaeology Society

I want to make four more points. First, the author hypothesizes that Paul preached in Arabia, though I have found no mention of that anywhere. In fact, Paul’s references are to learning directly from Jesus the Christ (see Galatians 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 11:23, for instance), which seems most likely to have occurred during this hidden time in Arabia and would be better done quietly.  

Second, the author assumes that, because scripture includes no epistles from early in Paul’s ministry, this implies a lack of success before his trip to Cyprus. This ignores the evidence that Paul wrote many more letters than are included in the canon, most of which would not have survived, being circulated only in their local communities. It also ignores the explicit references in Galatians 1 to preaching in Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:21). If Paul had not been successful in converting Gentiles, there would have been no need for him to defend his ministry to the apostles in Jerusalem. 

Also, dating the vision described in 2 Corinthians 12 to the time in Arabia has no support in whatever I can find in the scriptures, since we don’t know how much time elapsed between then and when 2 Corinthians was written. And yes, there is much scholarly debate as to whether that letter was actually written by Paul, if I’m recalling comparative textual studies correctly. The vision could as plausibly have happened while he was back in Damascus or while in Antioch, before being sent out on his mission voyages. 

Finally, I will wholeheartedly agree with the author’s assertion that Paul “had both successes and failures, both acceptance and rejection” and persevered through many trials and tribulations, since Acts and the epistles attest to that as well.  

N. Taber
Germantown, Maryland


BEN WITHERINGTON III RESPONDS: Just a couple of comments. To say Paul must have had some successes and there must have been letters before his visit to Galatia is entirely an argument from silence. As Galatians makes clear, Paul had finished his first major mission tour involving Galatia and more, and now must defend what he did there. As for previous letters or successes, we have no evidence during the some 17 or so years between his conversion and the writing of Galatians. In the Acts account of the basket story, Luke does, indeed, compress things and, obviously, he doesn’t know about the trip to Arabia. The basket story, which Paul himself recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:32–33, for which Paul is the primary source, and Luke only a secondary one, refers to King Aretas being after Paul through his agent in Damascus. This surely has to have happened after Paul did or tried something in Nabatean Arabia. What is not clear is whether Aretas already had control over Damascus or not when Paul was lowered in a basket down the wall. 

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