Queries & Comments

More Queries & Comments, Summer 2021

BAR-Inspired Poetry

I AM SHARING MY POEM “The Archaeologist,” which was inspired by my deep interest in biblical archaeology, nurtured and fed through the years by the wonderful trips into antiquity found in the pages of your magazine. I submit this in appreciation of what you have given me.

Miners dig for diamonds / for silver and for gold. / Seeking that which will enrich / the purse with wealth untold.

Yet none so brave / and none so bold / as those who seek / to find the old.

The leftovers of history are what they seek / to know. / They dig the hole and then they peek / into the past, deep down into below.

Where rivers wound and dust did flow, / their treasures lay, deep down below. / Just waiting there to be found/ centuries later, underground.

They check their maps and then they dig, / they scrape and brush and build a rig. / To cover over their precious find, / they set it firmly in the rind.

The planet earth, alive and writhing, heaves in undulation. / The layers found deep down below create a strong foundation.

Therein we find the distant past, / secured and tightly bound, / fettered there within all time, / encapsulated underground.

This earth, you see, is like a book. / These layers are its pages. / It takes our understanding down / through eons and through ages.

Where we will find where we have been / and maybe where we’re going. / The prize you see is not in gold / but rather wealth of knowing.

This terrestrial ball that has carried us all / since beginning of our time here on earth. / We gathered in groups—to hunt, fight, and farm— / and lay claim to the lands of our birth.

When hungry, we’d fish and relish the dish, / and we’d drink from the spring, cow, or vine. / Our tools, made of stone, / some of wood or the bone / of the beast that we slew down the line.

Paper and pen, / we had none back then. / So we scratched and we etched and we drew / on pieces of clay / that back in the day / was a piece of a jar when once new.

These things were done / by the light of the sun. / The night sky was crystal and clear. / The depth up above / a view of God’s love / from the forefront of heaven to rear.

The heavens at night / are a beautiful sight: / The moon and the stars in full being. / Not filtered by dust / nor from smoke, fog, or rust. / There’s nothing to hinder what’s seen.

A primordial scene, / so fresh and so clean, / greets the eyes that look up to the sky. / An asteroid or two / might blow up in view, / and comet tails glow and then die.

Cosmic dust from above / falls gently to earth, / enriching the rind as it sets. / The things that then grow / get more of a go, / and life is as good as it gets.

The world that was then / exists once again, / when found and brought back into view. / With trowel, brush, and double, / the time and the trouble, / they find it and make it look new.

Those hard working souls / that dig up the bowls / and, if lucky, an arrowhead or two. / Whatever they find / they know in their mind / will answer a question for few.

So, hail to the few / archaeologists to you / who brave sun and bugs on the ground. / For, without their hard work / (and never they shirk …) / nothing we know would be found.

William E. Henry
Phoenix, Arizona

Wow, thank you! We are so glad that BAR has nurtured your interest in archaeology, which comes across clearly in your poem.—G.J.C.

 

 

Jesus’s Infancy Stories

REGINA A. BOISCLAIR’S COMMENTARY on the two Christmas birth stories (“The Whole Christmas Package: Jesus’s Infancy Stories,” Winter 2020) is very well done. I would add a conclusion to it to answer the following question: What is then the message of having two narratives?

In Matthew, the birth story is a very public and God-revealed event, and enacted through the actions of men. Matthew, I think, wants the story to be seen as a public, anticipated, proclaimed and, most importantly, prophetically foretold event. Though the “wise men” are not directed by biblical prophecies in following the star, it has the same effect, for Matthew is telling us that all of history is planned and directed by God. For Matthew, God intervenes and changes personal decisions by dreams and heavenly voices.

In Luke, it is just the opposite, the birth is a very private affair and, beyond the “first family,” it’s only the lowly shepherds who are aware of the event, which quietly and unobtrusively takes place in a stable (and the shepherds apparently don’t tell anyone). Luke’s story presents the birth of a lowly prophet more than a lofty king. Jesus is born in a stable, among the homeless, and the news of his birth comes only to the lowliest of the social stratum (the shepherds), and God is not directing the action. And, importantly, the story is advanced by individuals making their own decisions. The message of Luke’s Gospel is that by righteous personal decision-making will God’s plan of redemption be accomplished.

Does it matter that there are two different and differently intended Christmas stories in the Gospels? Not so much, because together they proclaim two important messages of faith: For Matthew, God is in control and will bring the world to its appointed end. For Luke, we are in control as God guides us to prepare and ultimately redeem the world.

Joe Klein
Rochester, Michigan

 

IN “JESUS’S INFANCY STORIES,” the author states that the differences in the accounts in Matthew and Luke are significant and mutually exclusive. Boisclair says: “Matthew’s story brings the family to Egypt to escape Herod the Great’s massacre of the boy children in Bethlehem,” but that “in Luke’s story the family goes to Jerusalem,” where Jesus was presented at the Temple, Simeon recognized him as the promised Messiah, and Anna the prophetess thanked God for him. The different details in the gospel accounts are not discrepancies but rather different emphases.

Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and angels announced his birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:4–20). The fact that Matthew doesn’t mention this journey to Bethlehem does not mean that Matthew is implying that no trip took place. Matthew simply states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea (Matthew 2:1).

When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph took him to the Temple in Jerusalem, about 10 miles from Bethlehem. There he was worshiped by Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22–38). Back in Bethlehem, the wise men came from the East and found the “king of the Jews” (in a house, no longer in a stable, implying that the “registration crush” or influx of travelers to Bethlehem had passed, and things had settled down). This was probably more than a year later, since Herod, after inquiring when the wise men had first seen the star, ordered that all baby boys two years old and younger be killed. When warned by an angel in a dream, Joseph took his little family to Egypt, until Herod was dead. When an angel advised Joseph that it was safe to return, they went to Nazareth in Galilee, since they feared Herod’s son, who was now ruling in Judea (Matthew 2:1–23).

Pam Prichard
Los Alamos, New Mexico

 

IN “JESUS’S INFANCY STORIES,” the author writes, “there was no prophecy of virginal conception in the Hebrew text of Isaiah,” but that statement is impossible to prove.

Obviously, Matthew quoted the Septuagint, but to infer that the author did not know the original Hebrew is a huge stretch. Most scholarship understands the Hebrew word ‘almah to refer to an “unmarried woman of good reputation,” and, both during the time of Isaiah and Matthew, that would automatically indicate the lady in question was a virgin! It has been shown that ‘almah has multiple meanings, including “young woman” and “a woman of marriageable age who is not yet married and/or a virgin.” An example would be Genesis 24:43, where Rebekah comes on the scene and is called an ‘almah, yet clearly (by the context) she was a virgin given to Isaac as his wife.

Rod Ovitt
Ft Wayne, Indiana

 

 

The Trial of Bitter Waters

I GREATLY APPRECIATED James McGrath’s article “The Writing on the Floor” (Spring 2021),BAR Spring 2021 Cover which did so much to explain the story in John 8:2–11. The author describes the woman in this story as a young, betrothed virgin who was found to be pregnant, and her fiancé did not accept the child as his. In such cases, McGrath points out, the woman could be subjected to the sotah, or the trial of bitter waters (Numbers 5:11–31). McGrath also points out that Jesus was criticizing the Temple authorities for the cessation of this ritual practice, because it let the guilty get off unpunished.

Jesus may have had an additional reason for being critical of the abolishment of this legal option. His mother, Mary, may have been subject to the trial of bitter waters. In the late second-century C.E. apocryphal text The Protoevangelium of James, in section 16, the high priest gives both Joseph and Mary “the water of conviction” or “the water of refutation,” and sends each of them into the wilderness, and each of them returns whole. This clearly is a reference to the water of bitterness in Numbers 5:16–18, 23–24. In the Protoevangelium, after Mary and Joseph return unharmed, the high priest says: “If the Lord God has not made manifest your sins, neither do I condemn you.” This is just what Jesus says to the woman in John 8:11. Possibly the author of the Protoevangelium knew the story in John 8 and was quoting from it (he incorporates other New Testament passages elsewhere in his work), but he is in error on the Jewish law (as he is elsewhere in his work), because in Numbers 5:11–31 the bitter waters are only given to the woman, not the man. In the Protoevangelium and in John 8, both the man and the woman are held equally responsible for their actions.

Barbara Sivertsen
Oak Park, Illinois

 

 

Economy or Ecology?

IN THE WORLDWIDE section of the Winter 2020 issue, you picture a bronze triton shell. Since these are naturally found 100 miles from Igbo-Ukwu, where the “shell” was found, you note this may indicate trade by sea. The idea of trade seems to be a common conclusion when artifacts are found a distance from their normal location. And this is surely a correct assumption when great distances are involved, such as between Cush and Syria. However, there is another possibility when small distances, such as a mere 100 miles, are concerned, especially when dealing with biologically related artifacts. As one with advanced degrees in both biology and theology, I believe the possibility of a change in the ecology of the region should be considered. It may be that such artifacts may be used to track changes in the environment and ecology over time, rather than trade patterns. I would encourage those much more expert than I to consider this possibility when analyzing such artifacts.

Steve AuBuchon
Aviston, Ilinois

 

 

Biblical Cannabis

IN “HIGH OFFERINGS” (Winter 2020), the author says that finding cannabis on eighth-century B.C.E. temple altars was unexpected and that there is no mention of cannabis in the Bible. But cannabis IS mentioned in the Bible, and in association with temple mixes.

In 1936, an etymologist named Sula Benet wrote a treatise “Tracing One Word Through Different Languages.” It was a study of the word cannabis in ancient Hebrew texts. She tells us the word cannabis was thought to be of Scythian origin, but her research showed it had an earlier root in the Semitic languages, such as Hebrew. She asserted that the biblical herb kaneh-bosm is cannabis.

There are at least five biblical passages mentioning kaneh-bosm or one of its forms: Exodus 30:23; Song of Solomon 4:14; Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; and Ezekiel 27:19.

Jeremiah 6:20 links the herb to burnt offerings, and Exodus 30:23–25 tells us it was used in the holy anointing oil.

Another probable hallucinogen, found in Exodus 30:34–36, is onycha, called shecheleth in Hebrew, which is possibly the fingernail-like closing flap of certain snails of the murex family. This flap is ground and added to smoke as a psychotropic.

Lisa Lebo

 

 

Image courtesy of Robert Howe and Bloy House

Remembering a Legend

THANK YOU FOR THE REMEMBRANCE of the world-renowned biblical scholar James A. Sanders (Milestone, Spring 2021). Jim and I sat two pews apart in Christ Episcopal Church, Ontario, California, for nearly 30 years. He was a kind, gracious, humble, brilliant man, who will be greatly missed by those of us who had the honor and privilege to call him friend.

Kathleen Marble
Fontana, California

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