Archive for the ‘archaeology’ Category

Jacob Wright’s course, week two

Last week I offered some first impressions of Jacob Wright’s excellent MOOC The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future.

The second week’s lecture material has been interesting for two strikingly different reasons. Jacob presents a mediating view between “Minimalists” and “Maximalists”, sensibly taking the best ideas and arguments from both “sides”. Though many conservative viewers will feel in this week’s that he is too ready to ditch the Bible’s account in favour of alternative ways to explain the archaeological data. And therein lies the rub, for although usually careful to present the evidence and arguments that underlie his presentation [my impression was that] here and there at key points the viewer is asked to accept a scholarly consensus or the views of a few named scholars without the evidence being presented. [ Inaccurate example deleted, see comments below.]

The interviews with three scholars about their work on Assyrian imperial intentions, the lemelek seals and the Judean Pillar Figures were excellent at presenting data and reasoning.

I understand that in such a brief course one cannot argue and present evidence for every point, but I suspect that the lectures would carry more people with them if there had been time to lay the foundations more solidly.

For me the formal issue raises questions about my own teaching.

The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future: First Impressions

Since this session concerns the background to the emergence of “Israel” in Canaan the Mereneptah Stele is mentioned and shown several times, photo from Wikipedia

When Jacob Wright’s MOOC “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future” was announced and promoted I posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve enrolled and have begun the first week (the course started on Monday, but my first criticism is that I did not get an email reminder until I visited the course site again today – one of the biggest problems with MOOCs in my experience is lack of feedback for the student1 ).

Jacob is a fine teacher he keeps his material lively, and has an engaging presence and voice. The video “lectures” are broken into convenient chunks (of varied size from a couple of minutes to nearly a quarter of an hour2 which for me works well (as someone who as a teen would have been diagnosed ADHD, if the designation existed in those far off days, I have a short attention span and lectures bore me). Each is closed by one or two simple multichoice questions. This is brilliant, it gives the student instant feedback, and if we get them right instant reward and the sense that we are learning something. (Or if we are ourselves Hebrew Bible teachers at least the sense that we listened closely enough ;)

The videos make very skillful use of animated still shots of artifacts and places with the occasional video clip thrown in to create the sense of a video production. The technical values are as one would expect from an official university production.

That’s the good news, and if you are thinking of enrolling, do! The list is not yet closed, and if I have not yet learned much that is (to me) new, I have gained some interesting perspectives and ideas on how to put the material together. This is a MOOC for beginners that specialists can learn from! A fine achievement.

The bad news is that the videos are not optimised for viewing on tablets or phones. On my Phablet the screen resolution is small enough that the video (if played in the browser) overlaps the screen. I have tried the two different formats, and turning my screen around etc. but so far have not found a comfortable way to use the mobile device. (On a PC, even a netbook, all is fine, I guess university testers unlike poor adjunct faculty and students use phones with hi-res screens!)

At this stage I’ll also add a comment that perhaps reflects my context. Jacob uses a lot of Latin expressions, more than my usual audience of Kiwis, Pacific and Asian people would be comfortable with. I am not sure why, as usually the Latin expression is less familiar to me than kit’s English equivalent (like “divide and rule”) perhaps US audiences need “long words” to demonstrate academic credentials? It’s odd because in most ways the presentation is very simple and accessible with the few technical terms explained…

  1. see below. []
  2. so far. []

Disbelieving the same god

“Unfortunately I was not able to gain access to the actual site.”

Deane Galbraith was kind enough to link to my podcast Was God married? Part two: the death of the goddess, as you might expect we do not see eye to eye. Deane prefers Stavrakopoulou’s version of things, pointing to a more recent TV show  in the BBC series, Bible’s Buried Secrets, in particular in episode 2.

In the programme Francesca rehearses much the same arguments more fully and in doing so the BBC provide stunning imagery and Stavrakopoulou presents the evidence well. The trouble is, she here also confounds history and theology, what happened in the past with what was written about it in the (more recent) past.

Her agenda is clear, and well-signposted. Near the beginning of the video she says:1

But there’s something about this ancient world that the Bible is not telling us… Hidden in its pages is a secret.

And according to her this “secret”:

Rocks the foundation of monotheism to its core.

Somewhat confusingly as the programme continues She changes her mind and says:

I think there’s evidence that the ancient Israelites also worshiped any gods… yet if you examine the biblical texts you find references to more than one god here in Jerusalem itself.

So, this is a “secret” when that suits her rhetorical needs “to undermine monotheism” but is clearly acknowledged in Scripture when admitting that suits her needs. This sort of fudging the evidence is not worthy of a scholar of her standing, though it does make “good television”.

In short (laying aside the places where Stavrokopoulou misrepresents the Bible, because she herself corrects those!) the facts are not at issue. Except at one point. She claims that biblical monotheism worships a male god, and she does not believe in such a god. I do not believe that the Bible presents Yahweh as a male god, and like her I do not believe in such a god.

  1. All quotations are my own transcriptions of the sound track, if there are any errors in the citations are problems of my hearing and I regret them.  []

Carnival time

The October Biblical Studies Carnival is up a blt Biblical Studies Carnival, blame the lateness on the storms of various genres that have struck the USA in recent weeks, or perhaps it was waiting for the added bacon to be ready ;) It is a fine collection with a wider than usual catchment, so everyone will find something new (to them) and potentially interesting :)

For even more added bacon I have used a photo from a post Poutine – It’s Canadian for heart attack  from Richard’s latest foray into blogging (or at least using WordPress as a public diary).  Is the carnival more poutine than BLT? Go see for yourself!

“Marriage Equality”?

The discussion/debate/fight about proposals that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry continues to provoke heat, rhetorical flourishes, opinion polls and petitions, but little light. Many people seem to have made up their minds, or at least to know where they stand on the issue,1 but for those of us who would like to think things through there is little food for our thought. Two articles provoked my thinking (from different directions) today.

First, David Instone-Brewer’s visual sermon “Jesus likes Children” with its visual from the Warren Cup2 was a harsh reminder of the brutal sexual cruelty Graeco-Roman culture took for granted. David wrote (only exaggerating a little?):

Here is a picture of a boy Jesus may have played with. I mean that quite literally.
– it comes from a silver goblet which was made near Bethlehem in about 10 AD
– so the model for this artist was born about the same time as Jesus
– he is dressed in the rags of a slave, but perhaps the model wasn’t a slave
– it is a cute picture, but you can’t see here what he is looking so worried about

It comes from the Warren Cup, which is on exhibit in the British Museum
– other museums had refused to buy it and the USA even refused it entry
– the USA customs considered it too pornographic to allow into the country
– but by the 1960’s when the British Museum bought it, attitudes had changed
– it shows two graphic scenes of adult male homosexual acts in progress
– and in the middle, is this door and the little boy worried by what he sees
– he is worried, probably, because he has been sent to service one of the men

Multitudes of children like him were victimised throughout the Roman empire
– Roman morality didn’t think that this was wrong, especially for slaves
– but Jesus thought this was wrong, and was incensed by it.

Detail from the Warren Cup, from Wikimedia


Whatever our “modern” liberal culture believes sexuality is dangerous and left without social and legal controls will cause untold harm. (This recognition could be used to argue either side of the “debate”, but for me it instantly disposes of the trite claim that the decision is a small one.)

The second food for thought came from an article with the off-putting title “Those kinky Hebrews: marriage in the Judeo-Christian scriptures“. I expected the usual simplistic Abraham, Isaaand Jacob (not to mention the Hebrew kings) had decidedly dodgy family structures, so anything goes. However, though Alan Austin does descend to such depths often he works at a more sophisticated level. Not least he points out clearly how the laws of the Pentateuch attempt to legislate (and mitigate?) some decidedly odd sexual and family practices.

The better parts of his article are a sharp reminder that simplistic arguments from Scripture do not work. All in all I thoroughly recommend to those in or near Auckland the forthcoming Carey Conversation on Same Sex Marriage.

  1. Which is not always the same things at all, for many seem to simply accept their community’s understanding as “obvious” without thought. []
  2. David and the British Museum assume it to be genuine, I’m more sceptical of such dubiously provenanced “antiquities” of great value, but actually  it does not matter for my point here, since the genuineness of the artifact is not germane. []

West and Southern Baptists

Dr Southern Baptist Convention the famous blogger, biblical minimalist, pastor and insomniac

The Southern Baptist Convention is apparently considering a name change. Jim West is upset (about this, as he is about so many other things). He’s thinking himself  that he’d “like to follow suit and consider a name-change for myself “.

I have a great suggestion:

How about changing your name to “Southern Baptist Convention” the first name echoes your existing surname, the second reflects your adherence, and Convention reminds us that names are merely convenient conventions :)

And besides, that way we’ll still have a Southern Baptist Convention to moan about even after the existing one is gone West ;)

Encyclopedia of Hebrew terms for tools

What a great resource, and free online instead of expensive dead trees from Brill :)

The כלי Database: Utensils in the Hebrew Bible from Het Oudtestamentisch Werkgezelschap (the Dutch and Flemish society of Old Testament scholars) looks really excellent a great source of information on all those awkward terms that refer to various sorts of tool or implement. Unfortunately the first term I looked up מִזְרָק from Am 6:6 does not appear to have been entered yet :( but the list is already impressively long.

The format is a series of PDF files, which allows the appearance to be controlled, but makes usage somewhat less easy and reuse much less easy compared to XML and CSS, but it will have made production easier :) It is sad that there are few or no illustrations. At a time when images are getting easier to find and permission to use more likely to be freely given. However, entries have a section pointing readers to illustrations in reference works in their library.

In short this seems a really useful tool, and one we can be grateful they are publishing in such an open fashion. It also offers an interesting set of compromises between traditional forms and the new medium. It will be fascinating to see over coming decades how many and which such compromises continue to be made, representing what is culturally important about print. For example in this case the physical layout of print with page and line breaks was deemed significant.

HT: Jim West

The Bible’s Buried Secrets: Did God have a wife?

Image from a pot found at Kuntillet Ajrud above the inscription mentioning "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah" (from Wikipedia)

I’ve not been posting much here recently because I’m horribly busy, but also because I’ve been podcasting like mad around topics related to the BBC program The Bible’s Buried Secrets well actually we don’t get to see quality programming like that down here, so it was more in response to ideas raised by the Daily Mail puff piece “Why the BBC’s new face of religion believes God had a WIFE

If you are interested inWhy do you read? Or: Was God married? and Are you an idolater? (Not – Was God married? Part Two) I claim Yahweh definitely had a wife indeed the evidence comes mainly from little-read parts of the Old Testament. In this morning’s podcast Was God married? Part two: the death of the goddess I try to begin answering the question left open at the end of Stavrakopoulou Mail piece:

I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like had the goddess remained.

Tomorrow’s podcast promises more on Yahweh as female :) But more about that tomorrow ;)

Spammed by Biblical Archaeology Review

I won’t link to their site, but if you are interested you know the URL. Love it or hate it BAR is a significant commercial enterprise interested in the archaeology of the Ancient Near East, and in the days before Flickr I benefited from their photo sets for teaching. But when someone identified as:

Author : Sara Murphy (IP: 216.156.120.90 , 216.156.120.90.ptr.us.xo.net)
E-mail : smurphy@bib-arch.org

posts a lengthy advertising piece with two links to their site on my “About” page (Do I even have an about page? Let alone one that mentions “Biblical” archaeology?) I see red! This is spam, and I’ve labeled it as such. If you use WordPress and they spam you please mark it as Spam, that way the innocent may be protected by Akismet from giving nearly free advertising to BAR.

PS: I have also written to Ms Murphy suggesting that her employer may not appreciate being labeled as a spammer. I will post any reply here.

Divine kings in “Israel”?

Shapur II investiture at Taq-e Bustan: the "God Mithra emerges from a Lotus flower, crowned by a lightning sun, holding the Barsum (wood bundle symbol of divine power). At the right side, god Ahuramazda wearing his classical crenellated crown gives the king the Farshiang ( ribboned ring symbol of royal power). ... their heads are on the same level suggesting the king is equal to gods.


It’s all Steve’s fault, though all he seems to have intended (by his post at Sects and Violence in the Ancient World) was to start a fine old argument about ancient space aliens and pyramids ;) But then Duane took it up and threw an interesting (Naturally and abnormally interesting one ;) )) spanner, into the works, asking how Christian talk of Jesus as divine impacts our reading of talk of divine kingship in the ANE.

But it is Jim Getz’ Musings on Divine Kingship that really got me thinking.1 After an all-too brief tour of the ANE, and some highly pertinent remarks on the small and insignificant nature of whatever “Israel” actually was at the time, he wrote:

There are hints of divine kingship in the Bible. Psalm 2 is the premiere example, but others could be cited as well. However, these data are always somewhat cryptic. Surely the Deuteronomists saw the king’s role in the cult highly conscribed. Both P and H pass over the king in silence. The writer of Ezekiel 40-48 envisions an extremely limited role for rulers in his eschatological temple. Does this indicate a reevaluation of the king’s divine status in light of the realities of foreign hegemony, or does it hearken back to ideas found in Ugaritic texts?

I wonder, is this all? There are admittedly few ascriptions of divinity, or even permanent sacral status, to kings in the Hebrew Scriptures (though Psalm 110, especially in the light of its use in Hebrews, is an interesting addition to his list), but there are more passages that directly or indirectly protest against or undermine such claims. Ezek 28 is the most obvious example, though of course one might claim that the wrongness of the prince of Tyre’s aretalogy2 consists (in part) in the fact that he had no “real” claim to be an emperor. And yet, since I am teaching Gen 2-3 currently, I have to admit that I wonder how far the burlesque elements of that narrative are crafted to subvert such claims. And if it was then surely the claims being subverted must have been nearer to the writer than the prince of Tyre?

The lady [or at least Scripture] doth protest too much, methinks.”

  1. As opposed to merely listening with interest. []
  2. First person text, usually a poem, in which a deity lists their attributes and titles, the Isis aretalogies have been compared to the self-presentations of Lady Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures. []