Sunday, December 21, 2008

Behold, a Virgin shall be with Child . . .

...and so Matthew 1:23 invokes Isaiah 7:14 as foretelling the Virgin Birth - Jesus as the Son of God conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Isa. 7:14 (ESV)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his
name Immanuel.
The interesting thing - if you read Hebrew - is that Isa. 7:14 does not use the common word specifically denoting a "virgin." Some say that this ambiguity shows that Isaiah didn't really have a miracle in mind. He wasn't thinking that a real virgin would conceive because he used a word that simply means "young woman." In fact, there was quite a fuss back when the RSV came out and translated Isa. 7:14 with "young woman" instead of "virgin." The translation itself was undermining the Virgin Birth!!! Or so the argument went. One of the revisions the ESV made to the RSV text was to translate with "virgin" again.

The problem is that the words for "young woman" and "virgin" in Hebrew and Greek overlap quite a bit in their semantic fields. The Hebrew word for "young woman" in Isa. 7:14 is 'almah. The more typical word that appears to mean "virgin" more specifically is betulah. The Septuagint (LXX) translated Isa. 7:14 using the word parthenos "virgin" - the more usual equivalent for betulah. So, the connotation of virginity in Isa. 7:14 entered the text more explicitly with the LXX, which was used in turn for the quotation in Matt. 1:23.

In an attempt to understand the semantic fields of 'almah and betulah more fully, I examined every occurrence of each in the Hebrew Bible and noted its rendering in the LXX. The first occurs only 7 times; the second occurs 50 times.

The LXX renders 'almah in two different ways - 4x with neanis "young woman", 1x with neotes "youth", and 2x with parthenos "virgin." On the other hand, betulah is rendered by parthenos 43 out of 50 times. Of the remaining seven, several are left out in translation and some use yet another word such as korasion "girl."

The usage of these two Hebrew words doesn't provide enough information to draw a line between them and say betulah implies virginity and 'almah is ambiguous. Both words are used to refer to unmarried young women who are either betrothed or eligible to be betrothed. The fact that they are eligible for marriage implies they are assumed to be virgins. We can't say betulah inherently implies virginity because the Hebrew writers felt compelled to make that explicit at times, following betulah with a phrase clarifying "who has not known a man" (see Gen. 24:16 and Judges 21:12 for examples).

The ESV, which seems to want 'almah to be "virgin" consistently in its translation, often uses "young woman" or "maiden" to render betulah. This usage highlights a similar overlapping semantic range in English. If you look up "maiden" and "virgin" in an English dictionary, you find that the primary meaning of "virgin" is a "person who has never had sexual intercourse", but the secondary meaning is "an unmarried girl or woman." Likewise, the word "maiden" refers to a "girl or unmarried woman" in its primary meaning, but "virgin" is a secondary meaning.

The problem is that most of the uses of 'almah and betulah don't provide enough context to determine whether a distinction was intended between "young woman" and sexual "virgin." My sense is that 'almah implies virginity because of the positive overtones of eligibility for marriage versus the shame and censure (for a woman) of extramarital sex. I finally found a pair of references indicating that 'almah and betulah are more or less synonymous. We think betulah is more specifically "virgin" simply because it occurs more frequently than 'almah.

Genesis 24 tells the story of how Abraham's servant found a wife for Isaac - Rebekah. Immediately after the servant had prayed that God would show him the right woman, he sees Rebekah coming out for water.
Gen 24:16 (ESV)
The young woman (na'arah) was very attractive in appearance, a maiden (betulah) whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up.
After the servant meets Rebekah and gets invited into her home, he retells the story of their meeting to her father and brother.
Gen 24:43 (ESV)
Behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin ('almah) who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, "Please give me a little water from your jar to drink"
I think it's telling that this story presents the same event twice and uses both betulah and 'almah to refer to Rebekah. Both terms referred to an unmarried virgin woman.

In Isa. 7:14, the LXX is simply drawing out a logical connotation of the meaning of 'almah. From the perspective of Matthew, that explicit detail was precisely the right interpretation.

Update: Ben Witherington also posted on the Virgin Birth on Dec. 12 and addressed some of the same issues of terminology that I've raised. I skimmed his post back then but hadn't looked at it again before finishing my post. If you're interested in more on this issue, go there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Proof" of Noah's Flood Discovered ... Again

Great news, everyone! We've finally found proof of the Biblical flood story . . . again. But I think this is a new theory to explain the flood story, so that's exciting . . . sort of . . . if it wasn't so farfetched and wrong . . . and driven by a bit of dilettantism.
The Jerusalem Post Online Edition
Around Israel
Dec 10, 2008 0:27 - Updated Dec 10, 2008 6:53

Did Noah's Flood start in the Carmel?

A deluge that swept the Land of Israel more than 7,000 years ago,submerging six Neolithic villages opposite the Carmel Mountains, is the origin of the biblical flood of Noah, a British marine archeologist said Tuesday.

The new theory about the source of the great flood detailed in the Book of Genesis comes amid continuing controversy among scholars over whether the inundation of the Black Sea more than seven millennia ago was the biblical flood.

In the theory posited by British marine archeologist Dr. Sean Kingsley and published in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israeli Archaeological Society, the drowning of the Carmel Mountains villages - which include houses, temples, graves, water wells, workshops and stone tools - is
by far "the most compelling" archeological evidence exposed to date for Noah's flood.

"What's more convincing scientifically, a flood in the Black Sea, so far away from Israel and the fantasy of a supposed ark marooned on the slopes of Mount Ararat, or six submerged Neolithic villages smack-bang in the middle of the Bible Land?" Kingsley said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post.

He added that the site, which has been excavated by Israeli archeologist Dr. Ehud Galili over the last quarter-century, offers a "pretty convincing cocktail of coincidences," including submerged
layers of villages in a critical location, and one that was known for its nautical revolution.

But Galili rejected Kingsley's theory, saying Tuesday that it could not be true.

"Based on our archeological finds, the village was not abandoned due to a catastrophic event, but due to the slow rise of sea levels which occurred all over the world," he said. "The pace of the increase in the sea level was very slow, so that it would not be significant enough for people to remember it in the course of their lifetime."


Kingsley, a self-declared atheist, said he had begun studying the origins of Noah's flood five years ago as a result of his interest into "how mythologies came into existence," as well as a desire to connect the biblical story with global warming.
Hmm...I tend to be suspicious of people who study the Bible because of a desire to connect it with current controversial issues.

Add this one to the growing list of potential candidates for the biblical flood. A local flood in Israel around Carmel doesn't explain most of the details of the biblical flood story OR the parallels with other flood stories in ANE literature anyway. This is just standard pop biblical archaeology: get people's attention by making a connection to the Bible. The connection will be called into question immediately after the lead-in, but they achieved their goal - getting us to read it.

Read the rest of the article here if you're interested.

Via Jack Sasson.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

SBL: Rainey's "Levantine Literary Reservoir"

Back at SBL on 11/22, I was sitting in the Ugaritic Studies & Northwest Semitic Epigraphy Section from 9:00-11:30 am. The third presenter was Anson Rainey, and his presentation seemed to be a continuation or elaboration of his recent BAR article on Israelite origins. (To keep my Guild membership intact, I must confess that I only read BAR to find things to debunk and argue with.) I covered that article back in October and raised several issues that Rainey addressed in the SBL talk such as the Canaanite shift and the relationship among the NW Semitic dialects in the area.

In his SBL presentation, Rainey immediately reiterated his position that Hebrew was not a Canaanite dialect. It is most closely related to Moabite and Aramaic. Only Phoenician is Canaanite. This seems to be just playing with terminology and forcing a split among what were otherwise closely related people groups in terms of language and material culture. Remember that Rainey himself had brought up in BAR the evidence for continuity of pottery styles from the Canaanite coast to the central hill country to the Transjordan. In this presentation, he appealed to work by D.N. Freedman who had concluded that Israelite Hebrew was a Canaanite dialect, but Judean Hebrew was not. Rainey claimed that the isoglosses connecting Israelite Hebrew and Phoenician were also found in Moabite and Old Aramaic.

He was trying to strengthen his case for the origin of Hebrew in Transjordan. In my response to his BAR article, I pointed out that the affinities between Hebrew and Moabite are likely the result of Hebrew influence on Moabite, not evidence of common origin in Transjordan. Rainey, however, used this occasion to assert that the Israelites came from pastoralists migrating westward, not disgruntled Canaanites moving eastward from the coast. My main concern with his theory is the fact that it was constructed precisely to provide this sort of counterpoint to the indigenous Canaanite "peasant revolt" version of Israel's origins.

The purpose of the SBL talk was to develop an explanation for how the Hebrew Bible came to have such strong links with Canaanite literature if in fact, they were not Canaanites.

He began by distinguishing Ugaritic from Canaanite. Ugaritic is not Canaanite, but they share a parallel culture. There is no chance that later writers had Ugaritic tablets in front of them, so there must be another explanation for the parallels between Ugaritic texts and Hebrew poetry, especially Isaiah and Psalms. Rainey's answer is that these traditions were inherited from the "Levantine literary repetoire." (He used repetoire and reservoir interchangeably in this phrase.) This body of literature must have existed by 14th century BCE in Canaan.

So, the story goes - the pastoralists migrated in the 12th century BCE into the hill country of central Canaan. There are parallels of pottery and culture between Transjordan and the rest of Canaan and Phoenicia during the Iron Age. (At this point, I was wondering what specific evidence we have, material or linguistic, for making fine distinctions between people groups and language groups during the Iron Age.) Then, they adopted the Phoenician alphabet and started writing.

At this point in the discussion, Rainey addresses the problem of the Canaanite shift. He discusses examples from 15th century BCE Amarna letters and the 13th century Papyrus Anastasi to move the date of the Canaanite shift much later. The only positive evidence he offers comes from the 10th and the 7th centuries. One problem with his attempt to re-date the Canaanite shift is that most of his evidence comes from transcriptions of West Semitic names into Akkadian or Egyptian. How reliable are place names for dating sound change? Proper names tend to be insulated from sound change and preserve an older pronunciation longer. I believe Rainey's Canaanite shift theory was related in some way to the accented syllable, but he kind of lost me there as I was contemplating whether or not names were good evidence.

He appeals to the story of Elijah at Carmel from 1 Kings 18 to show that Elijah could be alluding to things that were generally known about Baal (known because of the common literary heritage of the area). The story is used to show the approximate timing when the Levantine literary corpus could have influenced Israelite literature. Rainey believes the 8th century texts of the Hebrew Bible have the closest parallels with Ugaritic literature. Therefore, this is likely the most fruitful period of Phoenician literary influence. His examples included Isa 22:15, Isa 27:1, Psa 74, and Isa 51. There are parallels even though they didn't know about Ugarit because of the shared literary tradition in the Levant. Hebrew writers are borrowing from the Cisjordanian literary reservoir at a time when diplomatic cooperation with the coastal Canaanites is high and one could only expect the stories to be shared among people working closely together. In this way, Rainey has explained the parallels between the Hebrew Bible and Canaanite literature without requiring the Israelites to have originally been Canaanites. The borrowing was based on areal influence, not genetic relationship.

I actually have no problem with the theory that there was a body of shared literary tradition known among the literati of Syria-Palestine. I'm not sure how it bolsters the case of Transjordanian Israelite origins, but during the questions following the presentation, it became clear that what Rainey really would like to prove is that the ultimate origins of Israel are with some proto-Aramean group in the Middle Euphrates region of Mesopotamia, not Transjordan at all.

I do have a problem with Rainey's subtle attempts to re-draw the map of the dialect geography of Syria-Palestine and to re-date the Canaanite shift. I'm pretty sure there's evidence of the Canaanite shift before the 10th century that he must have forgotten to mention.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXVI by Dr Jim West

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXVI has been posted tonight by Dr Jim West. It's not nearly as witty and creative as say XXXV or XXXIV, but what more can we expect from Jim? Hopefully, this doesn't turn out to be the last one after all. It would be a shame to go out with a fizzle...

But seriously, Jim has done a fair job of rounding up some interesting links for this month's carnival. I'm just bitter that I only got mentioned once this time. (I'm not really bitter...)

Go there. Read up on all the posts that you may have missed because you were spending all your time here.

Kuttamuwa Stele Translation

I intend to work through the Kuttamuwa inscription eventually, but in the meantime, John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has beat me to it. Here's his translation and analysis in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2

I was also asked if I have Pardee's translation, and I do not. I was focused on copying down other details during the presentation. However, I agree with John and Jim Getz who have it but don't intend to publish it without permission.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Commensality as Idolatry in Tannaitic Literature

In honor of Thanksgiving Day, I thought it appropriate to share some thoughts from an SBL session last week on the theme of commensality.

On Friday Nov 21 immediately after I arrived for SBL, I hurried over to the Sheraton (after some confusion over which hotel the Fairfax room was actually in) and enjoyed the meeting of the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins where my friend Jordan Rosenblum was a presenter. While all the presentations were interesting and the discussion following was lively, Rosenblum's talk was, naturally, the best (mainly because it was the most relevant to my interests). His topic was "Commensality as Idolatry in Tannaitic Literature."

He began with a passage from Tosefta Avodah Zarah 4:6 (ed. Zuckermandel 466):
Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: "Jews [literally: Israelites] outside of the Land [of Israel] are idolaters." How so? A non-Jew makes a [wedding] banquet for his son and goes and invites all of the Jews who live in his town. Even if they eat and drink [only] their own [food and wine] and their own servant stands and serves them, they are idolaters, as it is said: "And he will invite you and you will eat from his sacrifice" [Exodus 34:15].
Rosenblum has a penchant for pushing his point with a cleverly constructed phrase. The problem in this passage is "commensal, not culinary." That is, it's not about what you eat but who you eat with. In contrast to the laws of kashrut, the rabbis here are "problematizing the diner, not just the dinner." Note the passage says that even if they eat their own food and wine and are served by their own servant, they are still idolaters. Why is that?

The answer seems to be that eating together = idolatry. But why? Where does the connection to idolatry come from? Apparently, it's guilt by association. The rabbinic logic is seen in Rosenblum's second example from Mekhilta d'Rabbi Shimon b. Yohai on Exodus 34:17 (ed. Epstein and Melamed 222).
Thus, if one eats of their sacrifices, he will marry from amongst their daughters, and they will lead him astray and he will worship idols.
Clearly, "sharing bread" will soon lead to "sharing a bed", so commensal relationships are governed by the proscription against intermarriage found in the Torah in Exodus 34:15-17 (NJPS):
15 You must not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for they will lust after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifices. 16 And when you take wives from among their daughters for your sons, their daughters will lust after their gods and will cause your sons to lust after their gods. 17 You shall not make molten gods for yourselves.
Their "separation at table" indicated a broader "separation of social identity." Sharing a table was the first step toward sharing a bed - the beginning of the slippery slope to idolatry. Rosenblum emphasized that commensality with non-Jews was "problematized but not prohibited." The rabbis use persuasive rhetoric to build up "fences around the table" to convince their audience that sharing a meal with a non-Jew was a social situation best avoided.

Rosenblum strengthened his case with additional examples from Sifre Numbers 131 and Mishnah Avot 3:3, but I think it's convincing that while the rabbis didn't explicitly prohibit sharing meals with non-Jews, they used Scripture concerned with intermarriage and idolatry to persuade their Jewish community to keep separate at meals.

Rosenblum's presentation reminded me of a New Testament parallel. This tendency toward separation at meals appears to be a very early tradition, even preserved in this passage from Galatians about a dispute between Paul and Peter (Cephas) over the proper etiquette of sharing meals between Jews and Gentiles.

Galatians 2:11-14 (ESV)

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

Since this was a presentation at a seminar on Christian Origins, it is interesting that early Christianity took specific steps to move away from this separation at table as a marker of separate social identity. I wonder how long it took before Roman writers started noticing a distinction.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SBL: P, H, and Ezekiel Paper

Jim Getz has summarized Kevin Wilson's paper from this morning at SBL:
In the Pentateuch section, Kevin A. Wilson
(Wartburg College) presented on “The Demotion of the Levites in P and H
.” Wilson had previously given a paper posing the correct order of the
priestly material as Priestly Tradition, Ezekiel and the Holiness
School corpora. He uses it here, but his main methodology is uses more
standard source-critical tools. PT strata of the rebellion of Korah in
Num 16-18 do not portray him as a Levite. Ezekiel 44 makes use of this
PT material when he rails against Levite and sets about their demotion
and expulsion from the cult. The HS then writes this Ezekiel material
into Num 16-18, but turns the demotion of the Levites into a promotion
– they serve as a buffer between the people and the sanctuary. Makes
sense, but questions of whether Ezekiel 44 is authored by the prophet
haunt me. Perhaps I need to reread Kevin’s earlier arguments based on
linguistic evidence to see if this answers my concerns.
I wonder what Michael Lyons thinks of this since his dissertation was based on the argument that Ezekiel was reading and interpreting H.

Adventures at SBL 2

I'm home now after a long boring day of travel. I left the Hilton about 6:30 am and touched down in Madison around 4:00 pm. Here's a brief report of what I was up to on Monday at SBL.

I'd been so busy with sessions that I'd hardly spent any time in the exhibit hall looking for books until Monday. So, Monday was almost entirely devoted to book-browsing and the casual socializing that goes with it. I bumped into Michael Lyons and bounced some research ideas off him. With customary sage-like clarity, he steered me around a few dead ends I'd run into. (Michael's an alum of UW-Madison. He defended his dissertation with Michael V. Fox early in my second year of grad studies.)

Then, I went to lunch with a small crowd of bibliobloggers who had assembled outside the exhibit hall. After lunch, I returned to the book exhibits looking for resources to help me study for preliminary examinations and teach biblical poetry. I ran into Jordan Rosenblum our new rabbinics professor and drank in his words with thirst (an allusion to Mishnah Avot 1 for you non-rabbinic literature folks) as he shared some advice for making friends at SBL. (Jordan's research is on food and identity and it's pretty interesting. I intend to post a summary of a presentation he made Friday night at SBL.)

I continued to look through the various book displays (rubbing shoulders with NT Wrong at one point - restraining myself from "outing" him) and eventually met up with a freshly arrived Michael Wise who had just come in for the evening's panel discussion of Hanan Eshel's book The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State. I walked with him through the exhibits for a while, sharing some of my research concerns and getting his advice. (Wise was my teacher for Hebrew, Latin, and Second Temple Judaism at college.)

Late in the afternoon, I met with Lawson Younger from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who had been gracious enough to agree to a meeting. We discussed potential areas of research in Ugaritic or Aramaic.

After the meeting, I headed toward the food court and ran into Chris Heard (who already commented on our dinner here).

Finally, I attended the panel discussion of Eshel's book which went as most panel discussions tend to. Most of the panel offered glowing agreement with the book in all but minor details. Wise was the most obvious detractor, but his disagreement was directed more towards the consensus camp of Qumran studies in general than Eshel in particular.

I realized later that in my non-systematic coverage of the book room, I must have completely missed the Eerdmans booth. I noticed that a number of publishers had a much smaller booth than last year and many had brought less inventory. Still, I found most of what I wanted. All in all it was a productive final day of the conference for me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

SBL: Cave of John the Baptist Debunked

gibsoncavebook The second most interesting presentation (after Pardee's)in the Paleographical Studies in the Ancient Near East section was Joe Zias's thorough debunking of the mania around the Cave of John the Baptist discovery.

I believe that Zias has given a much more plausible interpretation of all the evidence by demonstrating numerous connections between the iconography found in the "cave" and the iconography of Crusader and medieval times connected with St. Lazarus, the patron saint of those suffering from leprosy (found in the Bible in a parable from Luke 17). The correspondences between what is seen in the cave and the examples that Zias found provide convincing proof that once again there's been much ado about nothing in the sensationalized world of biblical archaeology.

A cautious evaluation of the hype over the find and links to more media attention from back in 2004 can be found at Bible Places.

SBL: Kuttamuwa Stele from Zincirli

The section on Paleographical Studies in the Ancient Near East was packed with seven papers. Dennis Pardee and David Schloen finally presented the new Zincirli inscription around 3:15 p.m. They're calling it the Kuttamuwa stele since it's his mortuary chamber. For background and a partial translation, go here. My previous posts on the topic can be found here.

Schloen provided the archaeological background. The stele was found in Area 5 at Zincirli, a new area of excavation in the north lower town.  The stele was found in situ in a kitchen converted to a mortuary chamber.  The names on the stele are Luwian but the dialect is West Semitic. Zincirli is an important site for studying the interaction of Indo-European and Semitic cultures in the Iron Age.

Pardee gave the overview of the inscription itself. He expressed their intention to have the inscription published by the end of 2009. It has 13 lines, 202 signs, and 52 word-dividers. One of the most difficult issues for reading the text right now is the absence of criteria for distinguishing dalet and resh. He gave at least a half dozen examples where they can't be differentiated.

The question of the dialect of the inscription turned out to not be as simple as originally expected. It's not clearly Samalian because the plural noun ending is /n/ like Aramaic. But it's clearly closer to Samalian than Old Aramaic; despite the fact that the primary isogloss usually identifying Samalian is absent, there are 3 other features of Samalian present. Other features identifying the dialect as Aramaic are also lacking. The text has no examples of a definite article, for example. Pardee's preliminary conclusion on the dialect is that it falls between Samalian and Old Aramaic. It's an archaic dialect of Aramaic, not as archaic as Samalian but more archaic than Old Aramaic. He suggested the possibility of contemporaneous use of 2 closely related but distinct archaic dialects. One was used as the royal dialect seen in the Panamuwa inscription. The other is this new dialect seen in Kuttamuwa, possibly a linearly developed dialect used by lower strata of society. Later Zincirli inscriptions such as BR RKB show how the dominant Old Aramaic dialect eventually displaced the unique dialects in use at Zincirli.

Pardee also highlighted a few of the grammatical features of the text. He pointed out the relative pronoun zy and the demonstrative pronoun znn (the orthography with 2 nun's is unusual this early). He also drew attention to the verb qn apparently with the meaning "oversaw production, had made." He also drew attention to the uncertain word they are translating "chamber" - bsryr/d followed by 'lmy read together as "chamber of my eternity." He made a few other technical comments on the grammar and word choice in the stele. A number of lexical items are found apparently with meanings only previously attested for these roots in very late texts.

Lines 3-5 describe the offerings to be made to certain deities such as Hadad or Shamash, but there are three unknown deity names in the inscription.

The most striking statement of the stele is found in line 5: lnbšy.zy.bnṣb.zn. "to my soul which is in this stele." Is it evidence of cremation? Of the separation of the soul from the body? He was still living when he had it made according to the first sentence:

"I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living." [From University of Chicago's excerpt of the translation published here.]

Based on lines 10-11 (wyhrg.bnbšy "and the slaughter on my soul"), Pardee suggested that the slaughter could have been done on the stele itself as a way of performing the funerary cult proscribed by the stone. The relief on the stele shows Kuttamuwa sitting at a table with food and drink.


That was about all that Pardee had time for. I'm looking forward to the official publication of the stone, hopefully sooner rather than later.

While I was taking these notes on the presentation, Jim Getz was furiously copying down a transcription of the text (since it was on almost every slide).

The picture to the left was found at

Sunday, November 23, 2008

SBL: Transitivity & BH Niphal and Hitpael

Live blog from the SBL session on Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew: 

"Transitivity and the Biblical Hebrew Niphal and Hitpael" by Richard Benton, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Richard Benton attempts to offer insight on distinctions between Niphal and Hitpael in Biblical Hebrew. Transitivity is a salient category.

Transitivity is a relative quality - note examples between a verb like "know" vs "crush." There's a cline reflecting the level of active participation of the subject in the verbal action. The "middle" voice is less transitive than a reflexive.

Rich uses his criteria for relative transitivity to analyze the N and HtD stems in Biblical Hebrew, providing a dozen examples mainly of verbs "to turn" (HPK) and "to cover" (KSH).

N refers to an achieved state where the recipient of the action  is totally affected. HtD relates to the action (process) of bringing about the state. N consistently relates to higher transitivity than the HtD.

Rich uses a highly developed linguistic categorization based on work on transitivity by Hopper and Thompson (1980), Bakker (1994), and Kemmer (1993).

N gravitates toward 2 participant events - higher transitivity, but the HtD tends toward 1 participant events - lower transitivity.  Transitivity represents a key distinction on both the major distribution level and the minor functional level between these two stems.

Adventures at SBL 1

Yesterday was a full and exciting day at SBL, meeting old friends and making new ones, learning new things and enduring new attempts to argue old ideas, and sitting through boring papers to hear one good one.

I will devote more time to report on a couple of papers in more depth in the future, but here's a short account of my adventures so far.

I started the day in the Ugaritic Studies & NW Semitic Epigraphy section. I never expected it to be so popular, but eventually the room was standing-room only. First, Philip Schmitz gave a new reading of the Phoenician Nora stele; then, Rob Holmstedt read a paper on the functions of pronounts in NW Semitic inscriptions.

Anson Rainey spoke at length (a paper had canceled so he took up 2 30 min time slots) about the "Levantine Literary Repertoire." I have 4 pages of notes on that, so I intend to report on it more fully later. Basically, he was further developing his thesis of Transjordanian origins for the Israelites. A few of my questions were answered, but he didn't convince me in his attempt to re-draw the map of dialect geography for Syria-Palestine.

About a third of the room cleared out after Rainey's talk. The last presenter was Aaron Schade on the possibility of reading prefixed verbs as modal in Phoenician.

After the Ugaritic section, I met John Hobbins (of Ancient Hebrew Poetry fame). Hanging out with John for the afternoon was a good way to meet people. We tried to get back into the afternoon Ugaritic Studies session to show our support for Jim Getz's paper, but it was packed again. Who knew Ugaritic was so popular?

Later on, we heard a lecture by Lawrence Venuti, a translations studies scholar, sponsored by the Nida Institute. It was good, but again the room was packed. I saw several people that I met back in September at the Nida School

Finally, I heard the presidential address by Jonathan Z. Smith. He was appealing to biblical scholars to be more involved and aware of their discipline as part of the larger discipline of religious studies.

I spent the late evening socializing at the SBL members reception and the student members reception. It was a busy day and I didn't even get to spend much time looking at the book tables.

Today promises to be just as full and busy.  A friend of mine is reading his paper in a few minutes; then there's the paleography section this afternoon with Pardee's presentation about the Zincirli inscription. Much blogging was done on the preliminary reports of this inscription that hit the media last week. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to post on it. Most posts just linked to Chip Hardy at Daily Hebrew, so I'll direct you there for more information. I hope to be able to blog Pardee's paper live; at the very least, I'll have a report later in the day.  Shortly after Pardee's presentation ends, I'll have to zip down the hall to catch my professor Michael Fox's paper on the use of LXX in the Peshitta of Proverbs.

Tonight is the Bibliobloggers dinner. I believe the group will be much larger than Michael Halcomb expects since several others have said they're coming but aren't on his list. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Biblia Hebraica Goes To Boston

I will be flying out in the morning to get to Boston for the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting. I will try my best to follow Mark Goodacre's advice to make the weekend as enjoyable as possible. Last year I felt obligated to attend as many sessions as possible. This time I plan to focus more on networking - connecting with old friends and making new ones. There are still a few sessions I don't want to miss such as Pardee's paper on the Zincirli inscription and papers given by my University of Wisconsin colleagues. I plan to spend most of my time trying to meet people, though, so if you see me, say hi! I hope to post on some of the exciting new things that I will learn, so check in for updates.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on "The Bible's Buried Secrets'

The NOVA documentary "The Bible's Buried Secrets" aired tonight on PBS. If you missed it, Jim West has "live blogged" the program and has a full summary here.  Overall, I found it to be more even-handed with the evidence for Israel's origins and the formation of the Hebrew Bible than most "Secrets of the Bible" type TV programs usually are. I was a bit disappointed with the way some things were grossly oversimplified, but I guess that's understandable. There's only so much time to devote to each piece of evidence.

Contrary to Jim's contention that they tended to be more maximalist in interpretation, I felt that they waffled somewhat back and forth. The last segment on the writing of the Bible during the Exile in Babylon had more minimalist tendencies and was perhaps the most oversimplified. The claim of P being written and edited during the exile as extensively as they depicted is problematic in my view because of the affinities between P and Ezekiel. I think the problem was that they were trying to tell a story about who wrote the Bible and why, but the evidence is too complex to boil it down to a simple chain of events. Some of their segues were rather humorous, too, if you're familiar with the evidence.  For example, the voiceover asks when did they start writing the Bible and then cuts to Ron Tappy and the Tell Zayit inscription that has absolutely nothing to do with the question of when the Bible was written.

In short, the program is worthwhile as long as it is viewed with the understanding that it presents only one version of the story. Remember that all of this evidence doesn't automatically tell us anything. Everything must be interpreted, and there is often more than one viable option for interpretation. This is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the program - presenting too much speculation as agreed-upon fact.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription Strengthened?

The title has a question mark because I'm not sure what to make of this recent article from The Bible and Interpretation. Scientists seem to have found hard evidence of the antiquity of the patina that strongly supports the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription.

I'm not familiar enough with the discussion around this inscription to know what evidence supports the conclusion that the inscription's a fake. These findings appear to directly counter the main components of Y. Goren's argument. Personally, I don't have a stake either way. If the evidence supports its authenticity, that's great. I'm always happy to add to our corpus of Ancient Hebrew inscriptions. On the other hand, a spectre of doubt will likely always hang over this inscription.

Here's an excerpt from the article:
Our team of scientists spent some time examining the Jehoash Inscription tablet (JI) from the point of view of hard science (Ilani et al., 2002; 2008). Our goal was to determine, based solely on scientific evidence, whether the tablet is a forgery or
genuine. Since t
his tablet represents the only Judahite royal inscription found to date, it is of critical importance to history and Biblical Archaeology. The tablet is engraved with an inscription in ancient Hebrew that commemorates the renovation of the First Temple carried out by King Jehoash (9th century B.C.E. = 2800 years BP). A similar account of the Temple repairs is also found in Kings II: 12.


Analyses of the tablet's epigraphy and philology to date have proven to be inconclusive as to its authenticity (Ilani et al., 2002; 2008). Chemical, geologic and petrographic analyses support the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic.


The patina on the surface carrying the inscription is composed of elements derived from the tablet itself (e.g., quartz and feldspar grains) as well as from the environment (dolomite, limestone, carbon ash particles, and gold globules). The patina on the back of the tablet has the same composition but with some silica and
carbonate in one place (about 2.5 cm in diameter) near the top of the tablet. This siliceous-carbonate material could be an original vein filling within a bedding plane or a joint in the original rock, similar to those found in the clastic rocks exposed in southern Israel and Sinai, and may represent a natural rock fissure along which the rock was detached for further processing as is the case in many quarries. Thus, the remnants of a vein were thought to be the "real" patina by Goren et al., (2004). The fact that it does not appear on the inscription surface was proof that the inscription was forged.

Moreover, Goren et al., (2004) suggest that the patina on the inscribed face of the
tablet is too soft to be regarded as genuine. However, we propose that the softness or hardness of the patina cannot be used as an indicator of authenticity, especially as we reported that the light patina had been exposed to cleaning. But the biogenic black-reddish patina with the pitting made by microorganisms is firmly connected to the stone (Figs. 2-3).

The suggestion by Goren et al., (2004, p. 14) that "heated water was used to harden and ensure good adhesion of the patina" seems to us unfounded.


No indications of adhesive materials or other artificial substances that could indicate addition, pasting, or dispersion of artificial patina on the inscribed face of the tablet have been observed.


Exposures of Cretaceous marine carbonate rocks are abundant in Jerusalem and provide a majority of its building stone. Indeed, well preserved marine carbonate microfossils that were found within the patina were derived from the weathering of these exposed rocks as well as by wind transport. These minute fossils occur in abundance in everyday dust in Jerusalem (Ehrenberg, 1860; Ganor, 1975) as well as in the local soils. But, Goren et al., (2004) claimed that their finding of foraminifera
(microfossils) within the patina of the engraved surface of the JI tablet is a proof of a fake patina. We maintain that these microfossils within the patina can be easily explained as a component of a genuine patina derived from the surrounding Cretaceous marine carbonate rocks that are ubiquitous in the Judean Mountains. Indeed, their absence within a patina purportedly coming from the Jerusalem area
would be suspicious since the entire city is situated upon these marine rock exposures. These microfossils should be as plentiful in the historical past as they are today. We therefore strongly disagree that these microfossils are an indication of forgery.

Goren et al, (2004) claimed that the engraved marks of the letters are fresh. They
said that signs of fresh cuttings and polishing are exposed within the letters. Fresh engraving can be easily revealed by illuminating the tablet with ultraviolet light (Newman, 1990). However, when the tablet was illuminated with ultraviolet light, there was no characteristic fluorescence indicative of fresh engraving scars.
In addition, the biogenic black to reddish patina is covering and firmly attached to the letters with morphological continuity to the tablet surface (Figs. 2, 3 and 6).

Based upon the results of four oxygen isotopic analyses of the carbonate patina, Goren et al., (2004) concluded that the tablet must be a fake. Yet, of the four samples only two can be related to carbonate precipitation from fresh water. The two enriched ("heavy") delta O18 (capital O is the chemistry symbol of oxygen; delta O18 is the measured ratio of the O18/O16 isotopes of the oxygen) values (-1.7 per thousand and –0.9 per thousand PDB) of the patina carbonate presented by Goren et al. (2004) can be attributed to the predominance of a marine carbonate component (upon which Jerusalem sits and its building stone is made). The conclusion that the patina must be a fake is thus drawn upon the basis of the only two depleted delta O18 patina analyses which they compared to the delta O18 values preserved in dated stalagmite caves in the Jerusalem area (Goren et al., 2004, p. 7 and Fig. 9). They
concluded that the delta O18 values of the carbonate patina are too depleted to have been derived from natural meteoric water of the region and therefore claimed evidence of fraud. However, there are ways that isotopically depleted carbonate can be generated and incorporated into a genuine patina. One example is a thermal event. It has recently been brought to our attention that an isotopic study of white
crusts that cover limestones that had been burned during the destruction of the Second Temple at 70 C.E. show depleted delta O18 PDB values (-10.7 per thousand
-13.4 per thousand) (Dr. A. Shimron, personal communication, 2004). Therefore such isotopic depleted carbonate values are found in the Jerusalem area.

So, what should we make of this study? To me, it seems the Jehoash inscription is more likely authentic than fake, but as I said, I haven't been following this controversy. I know one person who has, but he has yet to get back to me on why he concluded it was a fake. Maybe he's just a big Yuval Goren fan.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Old in the New: NLT Romans 1:17

I started reading Romans in my NLT Study Bible recently and the NLTse translation of Romans 1:17b struck me as odd. This is the part of the verse where Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4b. I know committee translations have a different person translating virtually every book and that translators rarely work in both the OT and the NT. However, I think it's nice if a translation has an internal consistency. They could try to make NT quotes correspond somewhat with the OT translation (in so far as the NT quote matches the OT base text, that is). Several popular translations have this internal consistency, at least for the example of Rom 1:17b and Hab 2:4b.

Hab 2:4b: but the just shall live by his faith.
Rom 1:17b: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Hab 2:4b: but the righteous shall live by his faith.
Rom 1:17b: as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
Hab 2:4b: but the righteous will live by his faith
Rom 1:17b: just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
The Hebrew literally translated reads, "The righteous by his fidelity will live." The only difference in the KJV, ESV, and NIV is the missing pronoun "his" which is not represented in the Greek of Romans 1:17b. This is also not a case where the NT quote diverges much from the LXX. The only difference is that the LXX reads "my faith," a clear case of reading a waw as a yod (anyone who's read Hebrew directly from any manuscripts knows how similar these two letters can be).

LXX Hab 2:4b
ho de dikaios ek pisteos mou zesetai
But the righteous will live by my faith.
Grk NT Romans 1:17b
ho de dikaios ek pisteos mou zesetai
But the righteous will live by faith.
[Please forgive the imprecise Greek transliteration. I couldn't figure out how to get a Greek font to work. If you have any tips or fonts to share, please comment.]

Now looking at the rendering of the NLTse, it makes the OT quote virtually unrecognizable. If all you knew was the NLT translation, the Romans quote wouldn't sound familiar at all.

Hab 2:4b: But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.
Rom 1:17b: As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
The NLT of Hab 2:4b is a pretty good translation. They've followed the gender inclusive policy of translating the pronoun in the 3rd plural, and they've added the words "to God" obviously implied by context.

However, I'm still scratching my head over the rendering of Rom 1:17b. The verbal "will live" has become a noun "life" and the object of the verb "has." The subject "the righteous" was made subject of a relative clause and the main clause replaced with a filler "It is." Wouldn't it have been better style to translate, "A righteous person has life through faith"? Or better yet, why not make the text correspond to the NLT rendering of Hab 2:4b with "the righteous will live by faithfulness to God." This would create a similar consistency to that found in the examples from KJV, ESV, and NIV.

Maybe they can work on changes like this for the NLT 3rd edition. It would make the NLT more useful to me as a translation for teaching and study.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

No Longer a Minimalist

Even before today's post on Method in Biblical Archaeology, I was expelled from the Guild of Biblical Minimalists.  I guess I offended them by my sacrilegious misuse of David Clines's photograph, or maybe Jim West didn't like being accused of circling the wagons (I was teasing him because he uses that phrase a lot).  Of course, my quasi-agreement with John Hobbins about the end of minimalism in that same post could have pushed me over the edge. 

It's so hard when you teeter on the edge of center - sometimes agreeing with one side, some times agreeing with the other.  You never quite fit on either side.  I'm too skeptical for the true maximalists and not skeptical enough for the minimalists.  Oh well, I enjoyed my short time in the Guild.  Of course, I knew that sooner or later they'd figure out that I wasn't a pure minimalists.  I enjoy the dialogue with those who hold differing opinions, so I hope the members of the Guild don't shun me now.  At least, I'm not in the "Those Barely Tolerated By the Guild" list.

Method in Biblical Archaeology

Eilat Mazar's most recent discovery of a tunnel in Jerusalem clearly connected to King David has prompted an excellent critique of her find and her method by Todd Bolen.  Like Todd, I'm tired of the approach to biblical archaeology where a discovery is made and immediately connected somehow to the  Bible.  I want to draw attention to Todd's closing paragraphs because they describe quite well what I consider to be the best approach to relating Bible, archaeology, and history.
Both identifications of the tunnel to the Bible (David and Zedekiah) strike me as the sort of “biblical archaeology” that Bible believers like myself wish would go away.  By that I mean, you find a tunnel and without knowing where it begins or where it ends, you assume that it must be the very one that is mentioned in a famous story in the Scriptures.  How is it that such archaeologists, working in a very restricted area, always happen to find exactly what they are looking for?

The solution is not to refuse to make connections to the Bible, nor to deny that the Biblical record is historically accurate, but instead to carefully study all of the evidence, avoiding unwarranted and premature sensationalistic headlines.  It goes both ways; more often it is scholars on the other side who use a scrap of evidence as complete and compelling proof that the biblical story is false.  Abuses on one side do not justify abuses on the other.
See, the minimalists are wrong AND the maximalists are wrong.  That's my concern with Rainey as a maximalist misusing evidence and with the minimalist attempts to deny any historicity to the Bible by offering forced interpretations of artifacts that might connect to the Bible (e.g., the Tel Dan inscription to offer one example among many. If you want bibliography on Tel Dan, I have a file folder two inches thick at home with articles covering both sides of the debate).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

NT Wrong Unmasked!!

With the quest for Wrong well underway and the naysayers weighing in who refuse to undertake the quest, I thought I'd engage in some idle speculation.

For those who don't recognize the photo, it's David Clines from Sheffield.
And no, I don't really think he's NT Wrong or have any evidence to the effect.

HT: Jim West

Bibliobloggers Presenting at SBL

[UPDATED 11/6/08, 11:49 pm. I'm updating the list as others have made me aware of their presentations. I have to confess that some of the latest additions were missed the first time because I hadn't discovered these blogs yet. Always more to add to the blogroll...someday.]

Thumbing through the SBL program book, I've noticed a lot of biblioblogging friends (as in I follow their blogs) are giving papers or participating in sessions. Here's a list of ones I've found so far, listed in no particular order.
Alan Lenzi, Bible and Ancient Near East (3rd presenter, estimated time 10:00 am)
Invoking the God: Comparing Laments in Mesopotamia and the Hebrew Psalter
SBL23-20, Hebrew Scriptures and Cognate Literature
11/23/2008 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Hampton Room - SH

James R. Getz Jr., Ketuvim (4th presenter, estimated time 2:15 pm)
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Seeing Gods in CAT 1.90, 1.164, and 1.168
SBL22-78, Ugaritic Studies and Northwest Semitic Epigraphy
11/22/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 305 - CC

Jason von Ehrenkrook, Ancient Mediterranean Musings (1st presenter, time 4:00 pm)
Monsters in Drag: Effeminizing Tyranny in Josephus Bellum Judaicum and Greco-Roman Political Invective
SBL22-120, Joint Session With: LGBT/Queer Hermeneutics, Gender, Sexuality, and the Bible
11/22/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 201 - CC

Antonio Lombatti, Pseudoscienze cristiane antiche e medievali (last presenter, estimated time 5:55 pm)
Jewish Burial Practices in Second Temple Period, the Shroud of Turin, and the Media
SBL23-109, Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World
11/23/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 202 - CC

James McGrath, Exploring Our Matrix
1. Mark's Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter
SBL22-138, Synoptic Gospels, (4th presenter, estimated time 5:30 pm)
11/22/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Hampton Room - SH
2. Mandaean Polemic against Jews and Christians as Evidence about the Origins and Setting of Early Mandaism
SBL24-80, Jewish Christianity / Christian Judaism (4th presenter, estimated time 2:30 pm)
11/24/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 313 - CC

Mark Goodacre, NT Gateway (1st presenter, 4:00 pm)
Dating the Crucial Sources for Early Christianity
SBL22-108, Cross, Resurrection, and Diversity in Earliest Christianity Consultation
11/22/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Beacon B - SH
[Note that April De Conick from Rice University and Forbidden Gospels Blog is respondent.]

April De Conick, The Forbidden Gospels (3rd presenter, estimated time 10:00 am)
What Can the Gospel of Judas Tell Us about Judas and Why Is This Important?
SBL22-14, Future of the Past: Biblical and Cognate Studies for the Twenty-First Century
11/22/2008, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Commonwealth - SH
[April is also respondent for another session. Details here.]

James Crossley, Earliest Christian History (3rd presenter, estimated time 2:00 pm)
When Is the Ancient Mediterranean Not the Ancient Mediterranean? When It's the Contemporary Middle East! (Re-)constructing “the Middle East” in New Testament Studies
SBL22-72, Reading, Theory and the Bible
11/22/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Beacon A - SH

Ben Witherington, (4th presenter, estimated time 2:40 pm)
No Turning Back: The Epideictic Rhetoric of Hebrews
SBL23-71, Hebrews
11/23/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 313 - CC

Nijay Gupta (3rd presenter, estimated time 2:15 pm)
A New Vision of God: The Power of Cultic Metaphors and Paul's Call for a Cruciform Epistemology in 2 Corinthians
SBL24-95, Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making Seminar
11/24/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 207 - CC

Stephen Carlson, Hypotyposeis (2nd presenter, estimated time 1:20 pm)
Can the Academy Protect Itself from One of Its Own? The Case of Secret Mark
SBL24-97, Synoptic Gospels
11/24/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 302 - CC

Bonus Session - Two for the Price of One: SBL24-103, Aramaic Studies
11/24/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 309 - CC
1. Ed Cook, Ralph the Sacred River (1st presenter, time 4:00 pm)
4Q541, Fragment 24 Reconsidered (Again)
2. Chris Brady, Targuman (5th presenter, estimated time 6:00 pm)
The Development of the Character of Ruth in Targum Ruth

Stephen Cook, Biblische Ausbildung (4th presenter, estimated time 5:15 pm)
The Fecundity of Zion and Spiritual Fulfillment
SBL24-106, Biblical Hebrew Poetry
11/24/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Fairfax B - SH

James Davila, Paleojudaica (3rd presenter, estimated time 2:15 pm)
The Book of Revelation and the Hekhalot Literature
SBL23-65, Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism
11/23/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Beacon H - SH

John Hobbins, Ancient Hebrew Poetry (presiding)
Theme: Daughter Zion's Ambivalent Nature
SBL25-8, Biblical Hebrew Poetry
11/25/2008, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Meeting Room 208 - CC

Chris Heard, Higgaion (1st presenter, estimated time 4:10 pm)
Decoded, Debated, Debunked: Reviewing The Exodus Decoded
SBL23-109, Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World
11/23/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 202 - CC

Kevin A. Wilson, Blue Cord (1st presenter, time 9:00 am)
The Demotion of the Levites in P and H
SBL25-17, Pentateuch
11/25/2008, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Meeting Room 209 - CC

Joel Willitts, Euangelion (5th presenter, estimated time 11:00 am)
The Friendship of Matthew and Paul: A Response to a Recent Trend in the Interpretation of Early Christianity
SBL23-32, Matthew
11/23/2008, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Meeting Room 206 - CC

Brant Pitre, Singing in the Reign (5th presenter, estimated time 11:00 am)
Jesus and the Messianic Priesthood
SBL24-22, Historical Jesus
11/24/2008, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Meeting Room 310 - CC

Ken Schenk, Quadrilateral Thoughts (two presentations)
1. Heaven as the True House of God: Intertextual Soundings in Hebrews (4th presenter, estimated time 10:40 am)
SBL22-16, Intertextuality in the New Testament Consultation
11/22/2008, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Meeting Room 313 - CC
2. Can the Bruce/Thrall Interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:1–10 Account for Romans and Philippians? (4th presenter, estimated time 2:30 pm)
SBL23-92, Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making Seminar
11/23/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Jefferson - HI

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Biblical Studies and Technological Tools (1st presenter, 9:00 am)
Digital Resources for Biblical Maps and Mapping
SBL24-14, Computer Assisted Research
11/24/2008, 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Room: Meeting Room 307 - CC

Danny Zacharias, Deinde (6th presenter, estimated time 6:05 pm)
The Son of David in the Psalms of Solomon 17
SBL23-122, Function of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Writings in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
11/23/2008, 4:00 PM to 6:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 305 - CC

Joe Weaks, The Macintosh Biblioblog (2nd presenter, estimated time 1:30 pm)
Mark without Mark: Problematizing Some Uses of Q as a Primary Source in Studies of Early Christianity
SBL23-87, Q
11/23/2008, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Meeting Room 307 - CC
See, I told you there were a lot. Let me know if I've missed any and I'll update the list. Sadly, Jim West won't be at SBL this year, but I'm pretty sure that NT Wrong will be there and is giving a paper (that is, if I'm right on who he is. Roland's quest could be over if he asks me).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXV is Up!

It's the beginning of the month again and that means another Biblical Studies Carnival.  This time it's number XXXV at Abnormal Interests.  Duane's done a fine job rounding up all these posts and keeping track of the flurry of blogging activity from just these last 4 days.  It's perfect since he asked that nothing be discovered before the end of the month . . . Proof that the Master of the Universe has a sense of humor. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Insider Info on Khirbet Qeiyafa

Jim West has posted a comment from Barnea Selavan of Foundation Stone, one of the organizations closely involved with the work at the Elah Fortress or Kh. Qeiyafa. It's well worth reading in full if you're interested in the site.

Despite their potential for blowing Finkelstein's low chronology out of the water [1], the minimalist watchdogs have been either silent on the findings or strangely supportive of the "reputable scholars in a controlled dig" there.

I think John Hobbins might be on to something with his assessment that we're witnessing "The End of Minimalism as We Know It." Of course, they'll deny it, circle the wagons and all that.

On the other hand, very little has been revealed about the inscription itself so far. The clues are that several words have tentatively been identified - judge, slave, and king, and that it's Hebrew according to Garfinkel based "on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning to do, a word he said existed only in Hebrew." If the verb עשׂה is what he's found, then I'd have to concede that it is probably Hebrew. Aramaic and Phoenician used a different verb for "to do", עבד.

But the words "judge", "slave", and "king" are too common to even warrant speculation on their significance. So we shouldn't make too much of the discovery, claim victory over the minimalists, or make unwarranted inferences about the Book of Judges or 1 & 2 Kings just because we see the words "judge" and "king."

[1] Todd Bolen, commenting on Finkelstein's statements in the NY Times article, says:
"Look at how quickly Finkelstein re-dated the whole enterprise by approximately a century. Earlier in the article the fortress is dated to 1050-970 B.C. Finkelstein makes it late 10th-century with a wave of his hand. This is not accidental, as his recent publications are built upon the theory that the biblical history was written very late and is entirely unreliable. Any discovery which suggests a strong central government in Judah in the 10th century is very inconvenient for his views."

Yet Another Find: First Temple Period Seal

Wow...this really is biblical archaeology bonus week. Yet another find was announced today.

An archaeologist in Jerusalem found a seal from the First Temple era (seventh century BCE) with a Hebrew name on it. It's interesting and important for the Assyrian style artwork with a Hebrew name. We know from the biblical account in 2 Kings what a big role Assyria played in the history of Israel and Judah during the seventh century BCE.
The seal is quite unique since this is the first time that
a private seal has been discovered that bears a Hebrew name and is decorated in the Assyrian style.
The seal attests to the strong Assyrian influence that existed in Jerusalem in the seventh century BCE. It is usually assumed that the owner of private seals were individuals who held government positions. We can suggest that the owner of the seal – Hagab, who chose to portray himself as a Hebrew archer depicted in the Assyrian style – served in a senior military role in Judah.
The possibility's been raised that the seal is a forgery planted at the site. See Robert Deutsch's comments and comparison pictures at Jim West's post (link below).

HT: PhDiva, Abnormal Interests, Jim West

More on 10th Century BCE Inscription

The ostracon that Yosef Garfinkel found is making more news today. The story I posted last night was more on the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa. This one today is more on the inscription. I think caution is in order in identifying it as Hebrew, but Garfinkel has his reasons. Here's an excerpt.
The Israelites were not the only ones using proto-Canaanite characters, and other scholars suggest it is difficult - perhaps impossible - to conclude the text is Hebrew and not a related tongue spoken in the area at the time. Garfinkel bases his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning to do, a word he said existed only in Hebrew.

"That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found," he said.

Other prominent Biblical archaeologists warned against jumping to conclusions.

Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said the inscription was very important, as it is the longest proto-Canaanite text ever found. But he suggested that calling the text Hebrew might be going too far.

"It's proto-Canaanite," he said. "The differentiation between the scripts, and between the languages themselves in that period, remains unclear."
It's still a significant find and I hope it's published soon with a good photo so I can read the text myself. There's also a brief notice on the find here.

UPDATE: Continuing down my blog feeds, I've noticed that Todd Bo
len links to the story in the Jerusalem Post. Jim Davila posted the same news and appears to have been first among the blogs I follow to pick up the additional story from today about the inscription, though he only beat Antonio by about a half hour.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Joash Inscription and James Ossuary Probably Not Fake After All

Well, despite my return to maximalist tendencies, I don't think we should go that far.  However, the case against the alleged forger of these items is not going well.  Apparently enough doubt has been raised and enough scholars have recanted their accusations of forgery that a conviction will be difficult to get, and the whole case may be dismissed after all.  One of my colleagues did a paper on the Joash inscription and felt it was a forgery.  I should ask him why this case isn't as airtight as it seemed.

And, yes, Jim West has written on this, too, even though I heard about it also via Agade.

Biblical Archaeology Bonus Week

First, it was news of the discovery of Solomon's mines. Now, we have not one but two discoveries connected to the Davidic era in Israelite history. It's been an exciting week for biblical archaeology.

Since I'm already fairly conservative and my minimalist tendencies have been called into question anyway, I've decided to abandon skepticism and wholeheartedly endorse any purported archaeological discovery that can be interpreted in some way to prove the Bible. I just can't keep up with debunking every discovery, especially with how productive 2008 has been for biblical archaeology. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

From the Jerusalem Post:
First-Temple era tunnel found in J'lem
Oct. 29, 2008
Etgar Lefkovits , THE JERUSALEM POST

A water tunnel dating back to the First Temple era - but that might have been used even earlier, during King David's conquest of Jerusalem - has been uncovered in the ancient City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.

The opening of the 3,000-year-old tunnel, which was found earlier this year during the ongoing excavations at the site, is just wide enough to allow one person to pass through, but only the first 50 meters are accessible since it is filled with debris and fallen stones, said Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig at the site.

The walls of the tunnel are composed partly of unworked stones, while other parts simply use the bedrock.

The tunnel was discovered under an immense stone structure built in the 10th century BCE that has previously been identified by Mazar as the palace of King David.

The already-existing tunnel was integrated into its construction and was probably used to channel water to a pool located on the palace's nearby southeast side, Mazar said.

Near the end of the First Temple period, the tunnel was converted to an escape passage, perhaps used in a manner similar to King Zedekiah's escape during the Babylonian Siege, as related in 2 Kings 25:4, she said.

At this time, additional walls were constructed to prevent the possibility of anyone entering the tunnel from the slope of the hill and to prevent penetration of debris.

During the dig, complete oil lamps were found on the ground of the tunnel, characteristic of the end of the First Temple period.

But the tunnel's characteristics, date, and location, Mazar said, testify with "high probability" that the water tunnel is the one called "tsinor" in the story of the King David's conquest of Jerusalem (Samuel II, 5:6-8; Chronicles I, 11:4-6).

Archeologists have previously speculated that Warren's Shaft, also located in the City of David, was the tsinor referred to in the biblical account.

"The new discoveries in the excavations in the City of David illuminate the ancient history of Jerusalem and the reality described in the Bible," Mazar said.

The excavation at the City of David, which is located just outside the walled Old City across the road from the Dung Gate, has proven in recent years to be a treasure trove for archeologists.

Mazar, who rose to international prominence for her excavation of King David's palace nearby, has been at the forefront of a series of Jerusalem archeological finds, including the remnants of a wall from the prophet Nehemiah in the area, and two seal impressions belonging to ministers of King Zedekiah.

The current dig is being conducted on behalf of the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem research institute, and the right-wing City of David Foundation, and was carried out under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The latest finding will be made public Thursday morning in an archeological symposium at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
I have nothing to critique about this claim. Like most other archaeological discoveries related to the Bible, it shows that the Bible preserves historical details here and there that are plausible. It doesn't prove anything about David or corroborate the identification of the palace above as David's. It proves people lived in Jerusalem during that time and that they had water tunnels. We already knew that.

From the New York Times:
October 30, 2008
Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David

KHIRBET QEIYAFA, Israel — Overlooking the verdant Valley of Elah, where the Bible says David toppled Goliath, archaeologists are unearthing a 3,000-year-old fortified city that could reshape views of the period when David ruled over the Israelites. Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development.

The five-acre site, with its fortifications, dwellings and multi-chambered entry gate, will also be a weapon in the contentious and often politicized debate over whether David and his capital, Jerusalem, were an important kingdom or a minor tribe, an issue that divides not only scholars but those seeking to support or delegitimize Zionism.

Only a tiny portion of the site has been excavated, and none of the findings have yet been published or fully scrutinized. But the dig, led by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is already causing a stir among his colleagues as well as excitement from those
who seek to use the Bible as a guide to history and confirmation of their faith.

"This is a new type of site that suddenly opens a window on an area where we have had almost nothing and requires us to rethink what was going on at that period," said Aren M. Maeir, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University and the director of a major Philistine dig not
far from here. "This is not a run-of-the-mill find."

The 10th century B.C. is the most controversial period in biblical archaeology because it is then, according to the Old Testament, that David united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, setting the stage for his son Solomon to build his great temple and rule over a vast area from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers.

For many Jews and Christians, even those who do not take Scripture literally, the Bible is a vital historical source. And for the state of Israel, which considers itself to be a reclamation of the state begun by David, evidence of the biblical account has huge symbolic value. The Foreign Ministry's Web site, for example, presents the kingdom of David and Solomon along with a map of it as a matter of fact.

But the archaeological record of that kingdom is exceedingly sparse — in fact almost nonexistent — and a number of scholars today argue that the kingdom was largely a myth created some centuries later. A great power, they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.

Mr. Garfinkel says he has something here that generations have been seeking. He has made two informal presentations in the past month to fellow archaeologists. On Thursday he will give his first formal lecture at a conference in Jerusalem.

What he has found so far has impressed many. Two burned olive pits found at the site have been tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University and were found to date from between 1050 and 970 B.C., exactly when most chronologies place David as king. Two more pits are still to be tested.

A specialist in ancient Semitic languages at Hebrew University, Haggai Misgav, says the writing, on pottery using charcoal and animal fat for ink, is in so-called proto-Canaanite script and appears to be a letter or document in Hebrew, suggesting that literacy may have been more
widespread than is generally assumed. That could play a role in the larger dispute over the Bible, since if more writing turns up it suggests a means by which events could have been recorded and passed down several centuries before the Bible was likely to have been written.

Another reason this site holds such promise is that it was in use for only a short period, perhaps 20 years, and then destroyed — Mr. Garfinkel speculates in a battle with the Philistines — and abandoned for centuries, sealing the finds in Pompeii-like uniformity. Most sites are made up of layers of periods and, inevitably, there is blending, making it hard to date remains accurately.

For example, several years ago the archaeologist Eilat Mazar uncovered in East Jerusalem a major public building from around the 10th century B.C. that she attributes to David's time and was perhaps even, she believes, his palace. While she found pottery, it was in a fill, not
sealed, making it hard to know how to relate the pottery to the structure.

Still, how this new site relates to King David and the Israelites is far from clear. Mr. Garfinkel suggests that the Hebrew writing and location — a fortified settlement a two-day walk from Jerusalem — add weight to the idea that his capital was sufficiently important to require such a forward position, especially because it was between the huge Philistine city of Gath and Jerusalem.

"The fortification required 200,000 tons of stone and probably 10 years to build," he said as he walked around the site one recent morning. "There were 500 people inside. This was the main road to Jerusalem, the key strategic site to protect the kingdom of Jerusalem. If they built a fortification here, it was a real kingdom, pointing to urban cities and a centralized authority in Judah in the 10th century B.C."

Others say it is too early to draw such conclusions. "This is an important site, one of the very few cases from the 10th century where you can see a settlement fortified in a style that is typical of later Israelite and Judean cities," said Amihai Mazar, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University. "The question is who fortified it, who lived in it, why it was abandoned and how it all relates to the reign of David and Solomon."

The Philistines had a huge city, Gath, some seven miles away, but pottery found there looks distinct from what Mr. Garfinkel has found here. He says the David and Goliath story could be an allegory about a battle between the two. Seymour Gitin, an archaeologist and a director
of the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, a private American institution, who has seen the finds, said: "The real value is that there was an urban center in the 10th century. You can extrapolate and say this helps support a kingdom, a united monarchy under David and Solomon. People will rightly use this material to support that."

That is happening. Financing for the dig is now being raised by an organization called Foundation Stone, run by a Los Angeles-born Israeli named David Willner, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat and said the point of his group was "to strengthen the tie of the Jewish people to the land." The group's Web site says that it is "redrawing the map in Jewish education," and that its activities are "anchoring traditional texts to the artifacts, maps and locations that form the context for Jewish identity."

This is an approach to unearthing the land's past that disturbs Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and a prominent skeptic toward a Bible-based historical chronology.

"Some of us look at things in a very ethnocentric way — everything is Israelite or Judahite," he said. "History is not like that. There were other entities playing a big role in the southern part of the country. And even if it belongs to Jerusalem, fine. So there is a late 10th-century fortified structure there. I don't believe that any archaeologist can revolutionize our entire understanding of Judah and Jerusalem by a single site. It doesn't work that way. This is a cumulative discipline."

It is also a divided one. Mr. Finkelstein is among the most prominent advocates of what is called the "low chronology," meaning those who date David and Solomon's rule to closer to 900 B.C. than 1000 B.C. They argue that the kingdom was a minor affair that a later generation of Israelites in the seventh century B.C. mythologized for its own nationalistic purposes.

Ilan Sharon, a radiocarbon expert at Hebrew University, said another problem was that "we are working very close to the limits of measurement accuracy" when dealing with 3,000-year-old objects like olive pits.

He added in an e-mail message: "A measurement is expected to be within about 50 years of the correct date two-thirds of the time and within a century 95 percent of the time." Given how hard it is to be sure that objects found near the tested items were from the same time, "you can
see that this is a statistician's nightmare."

Put another way, basing an understanding of history on two olive pits — or even four — is risky. What is needed, he added, are scores or even hundreds of samples. Mr. Garfinkel is not arguing about that. He says with some 96 percent of this site still to be unearthed, a process likely to take 10 years, he hopes that more writing, more olive pits and more pottery will be uncovered, and add depth to what he believes is a revolutionary find.
I'm curious how they've determined their 5 lines of text are Hebrew and not Phoenician since this text would be from around the same time as the Gezer calendar (and we can argue whether that's Hebrew or not). Of course, it's always exciting to find stuff with writing on it. They mentioned they found an inscription over a month ago, but this is the first I've heard any more details. And whether or not there's a connection to David, it sounds like an interesting site.

[N.B. I don't have a sarcasm category like Jim West.
I was alerted to the existence of these news stories via the Agade list (obligatory acknowledgment of source that must also mention Jim West if he wrote on the topic). For a typical minimalist response to these discoveries, see Jim's post on the Tunnel. He posts on Khirbet Qeiyafa, too, but without skeptical comments (perhaps because Aren Maier's quoted??).]