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??).]

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Copper Mine in Jordan MUST be PROOF of King Solomon

Or maybe it's just a copper mine in Jordan from the 10th century BCE with no connection to King Solomon.

"Write the news, make it plain in the papers, so that the one who reads may run with it." 
(Hab. 2:2 . . . sort of)

This morning I read that a 10th century BCE copper mine had been discovered in Jordan.  The headline suggested a connection to King Solomon.  I dismissed it as yet another example of sensationalized speculation about the Bible and archaeology.  These archaeologists sure know how to get press time. 

To be fair, Thomas Levy's comments about the biblical connections are cautious and limited.  The original story I saw even cautions that the biblical connection is "an open question."

I discovered by mid-afternoon that the story had garnered a lot of attention in blogs and other less reliable forms of media.  The LA Times proclamation that the "Copper ruins in Jordan bolster biblical record of King Solomon" was particularly distressing since Levy made no such strong claim.  It's typical of the media's treatment of artifacts potentially related to the Bible.  They read the press release and then run with it, blowing it up into something bigger than originally claimed.  More examples can be found from the London Times and Science News.  At least the Science News version is more balanced.

It's not even clear at this point whether the mines were controlled by Israel or local Edomite rulers.  All it does is suggest plausibility for one potential source of revenue for a renowned wealthy king from the appropriate era.  Levy's conclusions are cautious and preliminary.  He seems hesitant to make a strong claim until he has more data (though at the same time he's happy to exploit the publicity garnered by a tentative biblical connection).  He even seems to distance himself somewhat from the Bible and the spade style of biblical archaeology from the mid 20th century.

Here's a run-down of blogs weighing in on the discovery.  Read Duane for the Mark Twain quote. Read Paleojudaica for quotes of Israel Finkelstein raining on the parade (via Science News) and for Jim's helpfully cautious comments.  PhDiva reproduces the original press release.  Jim West was one of the first to blog on it.  Dr. Claude Mariottini also reproduces part of the original story with a few comments on the significance of the find.  Finally, Todd Bolen has posted some pictures of the site, reminding us that it's not a new story at all and linking to a NY Times article from 2006 on it along with links to the official university press release and a video.  Perhaps the hype is meant to promote BAR's latest round of DVD lectures from their 2009 catalog.  After all, Levy's lecture is titled "King Solomon's Mines and the Archaeology of the Edom Lowlands: Recent Excavations in Southern Jordan."

Monday, October 27, 2008

If You're Not a Maximalist . . .

Then you must be a . . . minimalist? Apparently, the categories of minimalist and maximalist in Biblical Studies exist in a bi-polar opposition. That is, you must be one or the other. Since I critiqued Anson Rainey's BAR article in my last post and Rainey is clearly a maximalist, then I must be a minimalist. This appears to be the logic used by Jim West to induct me into the quasi-facetious illustrious Guild of Biblical Minimalists. While I appreciate the honor of receiving the attention of the guild, I feel compelled to point out that I will critique all equally, and membership will not restrict me from similarly pointing out the issues, weaknesses, and logical fallacies found in the published work of the other members of the guild, especially the Council of Five. Some of their attempts to venture into Semitic epigraphy have been just as ill conceived and illogical as Rainey's mishmash of archaeology, Bible, and linguistics. You see, I'm a true minimalist . . . questioning everyone and finding everyone else is wrong. No one is safe. Besides, when you have two opposing forces driven by powerful ideological commitments arguing over an issue, you'll often find the truth (i.e., the best probable answer) is somewhere in the middle - unacceptable to each side because it brings in more of the other side than either would like to admit.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rainey's Selective Use of Evidence For Israelite Origins

I've only just had the time to read over Anson Rainey's recent BAR article on Israel's origins. I have to admit I was baffled by his selective use of evidence and his conflation of archaeological, historical, and biblical material unrelated to his primary claim.

He starts off on the wrong foot and continues down the non sequitur path. I'm sure his argument made sense in his own mind, but what he's presented is a jumble of selectively chosen facts, a false dichotomy of competing theories, and a caricature of the evidence and arguments for Israelites as native Canaanites. There are so many issues with his assumptions and use of evidence that I can't imagine taking the time to offer a complete critique.

Fortunately, I don't need to do all the work on this one. Several others have pointed out some of the issues with Rainey's article already.

N.T. Wrong gives a rather detailed critique demonstrating how confusing Rainey's use of evidence is.
"Anson Rainey’s article in the latest BAR (34:06, Nov/Dec 2008) is a confused and misleading piece of popular apologetics. The best to be said for it is that, in trying to prove a Transjordanian origin for ‘Israel’, it has managed to undermine its broader thesis (which argues that the biblical account of Israel’s origins are historically true)."
Jim West commented on it briefly a few days ago:
"Rainey paints the portrait of Israel which differs not at all from the biblical portrayal and in so doing becomes an apologist rather than an historian."
Duane at Abnormal Interests also offered some insightful thoughts on Rainey's conclusions:
"I'm not even sure that Rainey is completely wrong. What I think is that he may be seeing a part, how big a part I do not know, of a far more complex picture. He then reproduces that partial picture as if it were the whole picture."
The first thing that jumped out at me reading Rainey's article was his immediate invocation of the Bible as the starting point in his inquiry.
"The Bible is very clear. They were pastoral nomads who came from east of the Jordan."
Where does the Bible say such things? He gets there after a brief interjection admitting that the real evidence for Israelite settlement in central Canaan comes from the Iron Age.
"In the period archaeologists call Iron Age I, from about 1200 to 1000 B.C.E., approximately 300 new settlements sprang up in the central hill country of Canaan that runs through the land like a spine from north to south. Almost everyone also agrees that these were the early Israelites settling down."
From this brief factual tidbit about Iron I, he makes the jump across time and space through a mythical inter-dimensional portal to the clear progenitor of true Israel . . . Abraham.
"According to the Bible, Abram (later Abraham), the first Hebrew, was born in Ur, a city far east of the Jordan. Then the family “set out ... for the land of Canaan,” though they first sojourned in Haran, a site in the modern “Jezirah” of northeastern Syria
(Genesis 11:27–32)."
Never mind that the Bible is the only evidence for Abraham's historical existence. Never mind that even if he did exist it was likely sometime in Early Bronze IV or Middle Bronze I (ca. 2100-1700 BCE), far too early to offer direct evidence that the Israelites migrated into Canaan from the Transjordan in Iron I. Never mind that he's coming to Canaan from the northeast in Paddan-Aram (or Aram-Naharaim) and likely would not have entered from directly east in Transjordan. Never mind that he's only "the first Hebrew" because the Bible says he's "Abram the Hebrew" (Gen. 14:13). Never mind that the grandson of Abraham and his children . . . ummm . . . left the region.

The main point of departure for Rainey's logic here (you know, the part where it actually walked out on him) is the forced identification of the Israelites with Arameans. In order to prove that the Israelites were not indigenous Canaanites, Rainey must connect them with a group of pastoral nomads - some of whom could have moved in and settled central Canaan during Iron I. The strange thing is that he's trying to connect the biblical story of Abraham with Israelite settlement of Canaan that would have been the result of the Conquest (according to the biblical account). So, he mixes his evidence and oddly barely mentions the Exodus and Conquest narratives. Incidentally, there's little actual evidence of Arameans as a people before the Late Bronze Age. Making it difficult for Abraham to have been one. (To be fair, there's the odd reference here and there to Aram before LB, and there were other similar pastoral tribes around.)

Rainey's forced connection of Israelites and Arameans extends to dialects as well.
"The linguistic affinities between Hebrew and the Transjordanian languages evidence the common heritage of the early Israelites with other pastoral nomadic Transjordanian tribes such as the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites, and further east, the Arameans. This area is a single isogloss, as linguists call the area of a common dialect of languages. Coastal Phoenician (Canaanite) does not share these features.


Another significant link between Hebrew and Moabite is the use of the relative pronoun “that” (asher). It has no relationship to the Phoenician word ’is that performs the same linguistic service."
He gives a few examples of differences between Phoenician and the other Canaanite dialects like Hebrew (Canaanite is not just Coastal Phoenician). An isogloss isn't the area of a common dialect of languages. It's a linguistic feature that separates related languages and dialects. Closely related dialects have fewer distinguishing characteristics.

By sneaking the Arameans into his list of tribes, he ignores a MAJOR isogloss separating the Canaanite dialects from Aramaic - the Canaanite shift of historically long /a/ to long /o/, attested in Hebrew, Phoenician, and Ammonite. Claiming that Hebrew is more related to the Transjordanian dialects Ammonite, Edomite, and Moabite than to Phoenician does not prove that the Israelites came from Transjordan. Throwing in Aramaic to claim that they really were from the East is just a red herring. Very little is attested in those Transjordanian dialects. Yes, Moabite is similar to Hebrew. Yes, they use the same relative pronoun. But, Phoenician 'es has a lot more in common with asher than the Aramaic relative d-. Related dialects share some features and differ in others. If the isoglosses didn't separate them, they'd be the same language. So, pointing out a few differences with Phoenician doesn't make a bit of difference for the argument that the Israelites were a Canaanite people.

Rainey should know all of this assuming that he's read Randall Garr's Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine, 1000-586 BCE (Univ of Pennsylvania Press, 1985). There he would have learned that the linguistic environment of the area is a dialectal continuum:
"At one linguistic extreme of the dialect chain is standard Phoenician, and at the other end is Old Aramaic. Of the dialects known, Ammonite was most closely related to standard Phoenician. Edomite was related to Phoenician as well as to Hebrew. On this dialectal continuum, Hebrew lies closer to standard Phoenician than it does to Old Aramaic. Moabite was most closely related to Hebrew; it also possessed distincitive Aramaic features. . . . Finally, Old Aramaic lies at the end of the continuum. . . . The position of Hebrew, however, in terms of this continuum, is unclear because it did not exhibit any diagnostic Aramaic traits. Rather, its unique characteristics suggest that Hebrew was a minor linguistic center within the Canaanite domain. While Hebrew participated in those changes which took place in Phoenician, Ammonite, and Edomite, it also displayed a series of independent innovations. Some of these innovations spread to neighboring Moabite and, perhaps, to Edomite."
(emphasis added; Garr 1985, 229-230)
Basically, it's not that simple to say - Look, Hebrew's related to Moabite! The Israelites must have migrated from Transjordan. The linguistic relationship could reflect Hebrew influence on the Transjordanian dialects. Of course, Rainey tries to change the rules to make his case appear stronger.
"All this linguistic material provides a very strong argument for classifying ancient Hebrew and Moabite not as Canaanite dialects, but as Trans-jordanian languages. And this provides a nearly airtight case that the speakers of ancient Hebrew came from the same area as the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Arameans—and not from the Canaanite cities on the coastal plain."
First, the linguistic material he provides does not make a strong enough argument for a major reclassification. He wants Canaanite to only mean Phoenician and wants to separate Canaanite from Israelite. Even in the biblical account, "Canaanite" doesn't just indicate people on the coast. The entire area is populated by Canaanites. They're ALL Canaanites.

Second, as I've already said, the close relationship of the Transjordanian dialects and Hebrew does not provide any evidence for the origins of the Israelites. The case is nowhere near airtight.

Third, he threw in the Arameans again. There's absolutely no justification for grouping Hebrew with Aramaic against Phoenician in a dialectal grouping.

Rainey also spends a great deal of time developing an argument against Gottwald's "peasant revolt" theory of Israelite origins because it was the original theory that claimed the Israelites were indigenous Canaanites. William Dever had claimed that the pottery found in central Canaan reflected coastal Canaanite traditions, so the Israelites were displaced Canaanites. Rainey says Dever was wrong and the same traditions were found in Transjordan, concluding the "new hill-country settlers acquired their pottery traditions from their life on the Transjordanian plateau and the Jordan Valley." Isn't Rainey making the same mistake? If the same pottery traditions are reflected in all three areas, doesn't that make the problem even more complex and not subject to a simple conclusion?

It seems that what Rainey wants to do - though he never spells it out - is show that the biblical accounts of Abraham's settlement in Canaan, the biblical relationship of Israel to Moab and Ammon (cousins), and the entrance of Israel into Canaan across the Jordan are rooted in archaeological and linguistic evidence. The problem is that he has to ignore the evidence of archaeological and linguistic affinity with Phoenician to do it.

A wise man once told me that it was much easier to destroy than to create. That is, it's much easier to see what's wrong with someone else's argument than to produce a coherent one of your own. The evidence for Israelite origins is so complicated - a mixed bag of biblical account, archaeological record, and linguistic evidence - that any explanation committed to a particular version of events is destined to fail. If I come up with my own theory of Israel's origins, I'll be sure to publish it. I'm neither minimalist nor maximalist, so I'm sure I'll come up with something both will hate.

Update: Duane has posted more about Rainey's selective use of linguistic evidence. I wonder if Duane noticed how Rainey tried to change the rules and undermine Garr.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Waltke's Interpretation of Lady Wisdom

If you don't regularly read Ancient Hebrew Poetry, you may have missed these 5 posts interacting with Bruce Waltke's interpretation of Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. I think John's analysis of Waltke's position is even-handed and insightful. Definitely worth reading for anyone interested in the interpretation of Proverbs. I don't find Waltke's interpretation satisfying either (perhaps because I'm also a student of Fox), but John lays out the reasons in this series.

1. Wisdom as Special Revelation: Waltke’s Interpretation of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9
2. The “Strange Woman,” “Lady Folly,” and Waltke’s Interpretation of “Lady Wisdom” in Proverbs 1-9
3. Proverbs 1:1-6 and Bruce Waltke’s Interpretation of Lady Wisdom
4. Proverbs 4:5-6 and Waltke’s Interpretation of Lady Wisdom
5. The Sources of Wisdom: Waltke’s Interpretation of Lady Wisdom

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Christological Interpretation and Teaching in a University Classroom

At present I am teaching a class entitled "The Bible in the Middle Ages" at UW-Madison, and the experience is providing me with a lot to consider. It's a secular environment (as opposed to confessional), and I offer a few thoughts on that.

A central feature of historical-critical scholarship is its refusal to integrate (or re-integrate?) the disparate features and perspectives of the biblical text. At its worst, the whole endeavor can degenerate into a flurry of sources and voices that leaves students baffled and confused. Few people, however, talk about what historical-critical scholarship does well, which is provide a common ground for everyone to come and discuss the text, regardless of prior commitments to it.

As I dip into the posts, comments and links here on a Canonical approach to the Bible, I am impressed with their articulate formulation of the comments as well as the subtlety of the arguments. Many bright, capable people are arguing for the unity of the Bible as well as the idea that all of the Bible really does talk about Jesus. Ultimately, I have serious problems with the project.

At the risk of making inflammatory comments, I'll try and state my ideas without too much equivocation. I dislike the Canonical approach because ...

(1) As a classroom teacher, it places me in the position of having to classify development and innovation in Christianity as inherent across the entirety of the text (i.e. the Protestant Christian canon; there are others). I am then unable to analyze a particular text unless I drive home the correct "moral of the story" within the class full of students, most of whom have no commitments to the Bible or the God of the Bible. However, I am ethically bound to include all the people who come into the classroom, regardless of their prior commitments (note that I didn't say "legally" bound--it's deeper than that).

(2) As an educator in a more general sense, a commitment to Canonical approach to the Bible is deeply suspect because it undermines the act of reading. The requirement that the student must have the right conclusions and commitments in place before beginning tells students that reading doesn't work and that the Bible doesn't stand up to analysis.

(3) As a scholar, I am forced commit myself to the idea that the Hebrew text really doesn't mean what it seems to mean. It's not really talking about Ancient Israel and all the rest of it. No, the text is really talking about Jesus and the Church, and all of that work done in order to handle the text responsibly as the product of a particular time and place is pointless; unless we suddenly want to talk about the historical realia of the text in order to defend the idea that the events of the text really did happen.

(4) As a competitor in the Confessional Marketplace, I am placed in the position of having Theologians and New Testament scholars determine the orthodoxy (or not) of my perspectives about the Hebrew Bible rather than the content of my analysis of the Hebrew Bible. I don't see a lot of gatekeepers doing much with the Hebrew Bible, and it's a lot easier to think about issues of orthodoxy from 10,000 feet.

-Tod Twist

Saturday, October 11, 2008

More Insight on Christological Interpretation

Phil at Narrative and Ontology has added two more posts about the issue of Christological interpretation of the OT. One is directly responding to the question that Josh raised at A New Testament Student which I gave my thoughts on already.

I've found all of Phil's posts on this issue to be interesting and insightful:

1. Why Exegesis Needs Dogmatics
2. Can a Christian Respect the Old Testament?
3. Is Christological Interpretation OK?
4. Jesus in the Old Testament?

He's shown me new ways of thinking theologically about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He mentions the dialectical relationship of Old and New Testaments in posts 2 and 3, and while he never links to my post on the issue, he seems to be responding to my general approach when he says:
I think a lot of people struggle with the concept of Christological interpretation because they think it means reading the OT through the lens of the NT, subordinating it to the NT's own agenda. But that simply assumes that the NT on its own has somehow grasped the full reality of who Christ is. OT scholars such as Childs and Seitz, however, argue that both OT and NT are equal witnesses to the one Christ who transcends both testaments. This was the assumption of the NT writers, who read the Jewish Scriptures in order to understand Christ (see my thread on this), not in order to speciously back up their claims. The early church, too, read the OT to understand Jesus, and not just to apologetically back up the NT's own particular construal (though that did happen too).
I use that image - reading the OT through the lens of the NT - when I discuss how some interpreters are unable to separate the OT text from its NT fulfillment. They can't understand why everyone doesn't just realize that this or that passage is about Jesus. I expressed similar sentiments in my post about Christological interpretation.

If I'm understanding Phil correctly, he's saying that OT and NT are both separate theological witnesses to Christ. Therefore, one shouldn't be privileged as the lens through which the other is read. I suppose that is fine if one is doing biblical theology - searching for an overarching theme or unified witness through both testaments.

But, theology isn't what I do. Canonical exegesis imposes unity on the text and searches for a theological point. It's not critical biblical scholarship because it requires the presupposition that Old and New Testaments are equally divine revelation and the words themselves point to some coherent higher reality. This is subordinating both texts to a theological agenda. Now if one is approaching the text from a Christian theological perspective, then there's nothing really wrong with that. A theological reading and a coherent unified interpretation taking into account the full witness of Scripture is necessary for the Church. As Brevard Childs said, "much of the confusion in the history of Old Testament theology derives from the reluctance to recognize that it is a Christian enterprise" (Old Testament Theology, 8) [quoted by Phil here].

However, if we're looking at the history of interpretation, it's obvious that the NT came later and built on the traditions of the OT. While I would never call the NT writers' use of Scripture "specious," I think there is a sense where they are trying to "back up their claims." Jesus gave them a new way of understanding their Scripture, and the NT is primarily a witness to their transformed way of understanding the revelation of the OT. Continuity and change - the catchwords of the rise of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism.

So I've learned a lot from reading Phil's posts about OT theology. I don't claim to be a theologian and don't aspire to be one. For me there's a big difference between being an OT theologian and being an OT scholar.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

NOVA: The Bible's Buried Secrets

NOVA has made an announcement intended to reach Bible scholars and students, so I thought I would reproduce it here.
NOVA is preparing for this fall's premiere of "The Bible's Buried Secrets," a special two-hour documentary which takes viewers on a fascinating archeological and scholarly journey to the beginnings of modern religion. Premiering November 18 on PBS, "The Bible's Buried Secrets" vividly recounts the saga of the ancient Israelites and digs deeply into both the Bible and the history of the Israelites through the archeological artifacts they left behind. The documentary focuses on the Hebrew Bible as the foundation for the great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-- probing beyond questions of historical authenticity to explore the deeper meaning of the biblical texts that continue to resonate through the centuries.

We would like to spread the word about "The Bible's Buried Secrets" to scholars and students in the field. We' are developing short video clips from the film which we hope scholarly organizations will want to post on their Web sites, an html "postcard" which can be emailed to constituents as a reminder about the show. We will be holding screening and panel discussion events around the country in the lead-up to the premiere.

You can read more about the film and watch a clip at our temporary "landing site,"

Kate Becker
One Guest St, Boston MA 02135
I think the program looks interesting. Better than the typical "Mysteries of the Bible" things that come out every so often that profile the people who have "found" Noah's Ark and Mount Sinai.

[Via Jack Sasson.]

Monday, October 6, 2008

Christological Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible

My friend Josh at A New Testament Student has posted today raising some important questions about Christological interpretation of the OT. His questions were part of a larger debate over whether OT scholars, NT scholars, or theologians are better at interpreting the Hebrew Bible, an issue that has come up on this blog related to the messanism issue.

Josh seems a bit put out that Hebrew Bible scholars think they are the best ones to interpret the Hebrew Bible. Hmm....seems to make sense to me. Hebrew Bible scholars interpreting the Hebrew Bible. In that regard, I tend to agree with Jim Getz's post from today. Jim says Hebrew Bible scholars are "the only ones actually taking the text seriously. The only ones reading the text to hear what it is saying in and of itself." However, I also agree with Doug Chaplin's comment to Jim's post that texts never really speak for themselves, regardless of who is the interpreter. Jim, for his part, is weighing in on two duelling blog posts I read this morning between Phil Sumpter and Chris Tilling.

The point I think Jim was trying to make was that Hebrew Bible scholars often do better exegesis of what the text meant in its original historical and literary contexts (I'm using "original" in the sense of the earliest recipients of the text as well as the world the text describes). NT scholars tend to read the text with the perspective of what it meant for the NT audience, and theologians tend to read the text looking for what it means for their contemporary audience. Rabbinics scholars tend to read Torah with an eye for how the Mishnah or the Midrashim interpreted it. Different specialties bring different perspectives. The various interpretations aren't necessarily wrong - you just need to share the presuppositions that informed the interpretation.

I don't mean to imply that all OT scholars are objective or only OT scholars can objectively interpret the OT. The history of Hebrew Bible scholarship proves otherwise. Every generation of scholars had its POV just like the different branches of biblical studies/theology have their POV. The important thing is recognizing the presuppositions that inform the interpretation.

I think both Chris and Phil recognize they're asking questions from the framework of OT Theology. Phil's conclusion is that OT theologians are best for giving us the big picture on the OT because the OT and NT scholars' "job is just to work with the fragmentary bits and pieces." I'm not sure what that means, but as a Hebrew Bible person, it suggests to me that he doesn't exactly know what it is that OT and NT scholars do (I've explained what I think we do two paragraphs up).

Back to Josh's post, he asks:
"[W]ere the NT authors being fair in their hermeneutical practices? Were they
allowing a text to speak for itself or were they ripping it out of context? Can
one have a Christological interpretation that also pays due respect to the
particular OT text in its particular context, or is this having one's
theological cake and eating it too?"
The simple answer (in my opinion) is that you cannot "have a Christological interpretation that also pays due respect to the particular OT text" in context. Yes, that's trying to have your cake and eat it too.  I elaborated in a comment on Josh's blog post:
Christological interpretation is an innovation of the NT, not something inherent in the OT text. That doesn't mean the NT writers were "ripping it out of context." They were interpreting within a specific theological framework. The rabbis of the Mishnah, Talmud, etc. were equally innovative in their use of the Hebrew Bible. Jewish exegesis demonstrates that Christological interpretations aren't necessary readings of the text. Therefore, it can't be inherent in the particular context unless you take the theological commitment that reading Christologically is the only right way to read it.
I think the various insights brought to the study of the Hebrew Bible by OT & NT scholars, ancient historians, archaeologists, OT theologians, preachers, and rabbis are all important for different audiences and for different purposes.  We're trying to do different things.  Don't get me wrong - the interpretations produced aren't all equally valid, but there's nothing inherently wrong with having a multiplicity of approaches.

Of course, the Hebrew Bible/ANE scholars have the best shot at being right about pretty much anything...except for the minimalists and any others who don't agree with me.

UPDATE (10/7/08, 9:30 am):  Phil has posted additional reflections related to the relationship of dogmatics and exegesis, proving that he knows what Bible scholars do, but finds it inadequate in providing a coherent understanding of the text.  I can't really argue with that because he's also proving my point about the difference of a theological approach to interpretation.  Calvin is also reflecting on a similar issue at The Floppy Hat - N.T. Wright's position on the relationship of theology and biblical studies.

UPDATE (10/8/08, 10:10 am):  I think I can learn a lot about OT theology from Phil at Narrative and Ontology.  He continues this discussion with a very insightful post on the dialectal relationship between Old and New Testaments.  I highly recommend it.

New Discovery - Inscribed Sarcophagus

Maybe I haven't been paying attention as much over the past few years, but it seems like 2008 has been a big year for archaeological discoveries connected to the biblical world. We've had Gabriel's Vision (I know only hyped this year, discovered years ago), the Gedalyahu ben Pashur seal, a Samalian inscription from Zincirli, a Hasmonean wall, a 10th century BCE inscription from the Shephelah, the Chrestou cup, a revived discussion of the Jehoash inscription (odd considering the forger confessed), and now the announcement that a sarcophagus from the Second Temple Period has been found in Jerusalem with the inscription "ben hacohen hagadol" (son of the high priest). Unfortunately, that's all there is. Not enough to make a positive identification. No doubt someone will find a way to connect it to a well known high priestly family from the first century - perhaps Caiaphas. After all, more has been done with less evidence.

Here's an excerpt from the Press Release by the Israel Antiquities Authority:
A unique discovery was revealed in excavations that were conducted north of Jerusalem: a fragment of a sarcophagus cover was found that is engraved with square Hebrew script, characteristic of the Second Temple period. The fragment (length 0.60 m, width 0.48 m) is made of hard limestone, is meticulously fashioned and bears a carved inscription that reads: “…Ben HaCohen HaGadol…”.

Numerous high priests served in the temple during the latter part of the Second Temple period and there is no way of knowing which of the priests the inscription refers to. However, it should probably be identified with one of the priests that officiated there between the years 30 and 70 CE. Among the high priests we know of from the end of the Second Temple period were Caiaphas the priest, Theophilus (Yedidiya) Ben Hanan, Simon Ben Boethus, Hanan Ben Hanan and others.
Other posts about the find today: Jim West, Antonio Lombatti, Todd Bolen.

UPDATE (10/6/08, 9:30 pm): I've corrected my misspelling of "sarcophagus" in this post. Also, Jim Davila has posted the news story, and Ed Cook has offered some thoughts on the orthography of the inscription.

[HT: Jack Sasson, Agade Mailing List]

Friday, October 3, 2008

No More Excuses for Not Learning Aramaic

If Anne Bedian can teach herself Aramaic, what's stopping the rest of you?  There's now no excuse for not learning Aramaic.  Anyone can teach it to themselves. 
And you are a follower of Kabbalah. Were you born into this, from a Jewish heritage?
No, absolutely not! Kabbalah predates Judaism. Actually, it predates all religions. Judaism came out of Kabbalah. This is ancient, ancient wisdom. The major works of the Kabbalah are the books of the Zohar, which are over 4,000 years old. It's a commentary on the Old Testament. One of the things I really love about it is, because I'm such a language buff - I already have five languages down - is that Aramaic is one of the languages. It's such a powerful language, it's the language Jesus spoke. So, I taught myself to read Aramaic, so I can read the Zohar out loud.
Her interview also demonstrates how little people really know about their own religion's origins and how there can be a big difference between the historical reality and the traditional story passed on by adherents.  To set the record straight, the Zohar was written in Spain around 1290 CE by Moses de Leon.  It is traditionally attributed to Shimon Bar Yohai, a disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the early second century CE.  So, I'm not sure where the "predating Judaism" and the "4000 years old" stuff and the "predating all religions" is coming from.  The Old Testament itself is probably not 4000 years old.  (It's 2008, add even the earliest dating of Moses of 1446 = 3454 years.) Also, if it predates all religions, how can it be a commentary on the Old Testament?  So, we have a nice incoherent mishmash of comments about Kabbalah, the oldest religion in the world. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chrestou the Magician or Jesus Christ, Magic Man?

The latest archaeological sensation to have its "biblical" connections overblown by the media is a bowl with a Greek inscription that is being touted as "possibly" the earliest reference to Jesus Christ.  

I'd heard of this bowl from Alexandria a few weeks ago (also here) and how it could have the word "Christ" on it.  It might say "Magician through Christ" or "for Christ the Magician."  Or it might be "Chrestou", a proper name, not "Christos" anyway. 

But now despite the ambiguity, the cup's finders are making the most of the possible biblical connection. Their story's been picked up by the Discovery Channel, which like most media outlets has sensationalized the discovery by treating speculation as fact.  It is, of course, much ado about nothing, as has been pointed out on the web by Antonio Lombatti (who's pretty sure it's a fake),  Dorothy King and Ed Cook.  Tom Elliot at Current Epigraphy is also a good resource for the developing discussion of the cup and its ambiguous inscription.  There is also a running bibliography of stories related to the find here.

UPDATE (10/2/08, 2:55 pm):  April De Conick has weighed in with her opinion that the cup's inscription does not refer to Jesus Christ.  In fact, it could refer to a Sethian Gnostic archon named ATHOTH since Chrestou is one of his titles.  Jim Davila has also posted excerpts of the MSNBC version of the news story with comments.

Photo: Der Spiegel

HT:  Dorothy King

[N.B. An earlier version of this post was published at Wisconsin Hebrew.]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Minimalist Blogging

Jim West's very excited that his friends from Copenhagen and Sheffield have started a blog called "The Guild of Biblical Minimalists."  There's no content to speak of there yet, but they're looking for people to join the guild.  Don't worry, Jim.  I'm sure they'll let you in.

Clay Bullae and the Bible Again

The Gedalyahu ben Pashur seal and its potential connection to the Bible in Jeremiah 38 has made the news again.  There's nothing really new in the this article, but it is notable that Eilat Mazar has been getting a lot of press time lately for a biblical archaeologist.

For background on the seal and some links to discussions of its significance around the blogosphere, go here.

HT:  Jim Davila