MMySTery Reigns at Ramat Rahel

[Preface: I originally wrote about 1,200 words in response to the article, “Royal Palace, Royal Portrait?” by Gabriel Barkay in Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 32 #5 (Sep/Oct 2006) & knew it would be too long for inclusion, so I hacked away ruthlessly to present a 500-word version. Still, I knew their space for the Queries & Comments section is limited, so with much weeping & gnashing of teeth, I reduced it to 150 words. Since they chose to print it neither in their Jan/Feb 2007 issue nor on their web page for extra letters, I’m posting all 3 versions here, per chance someone else in the world may find my opinion of interest.]

150-Word Version

Gabriel Barkay says the “first 3 cities are well known from the Bible,” but omits the fact that there were 2 Judean cities named Sokoh & 2 named Ziph (Joshua 15).

Similar handles have also surfaced at sites in the northwestern region of Israel, so a geographical association is doubtful.

MMST, like Strong’s Concordance #4475 (MMSLT), was probably related to the ownership of property (2Kings 20:13) or people united for a purpose (2Chronicles 32:9) such as a religious reformation–Hezekiah’s hallmark.

The inscriptions were probably votive (e.g., “HBRN LMLK” = “Allegiance to the King”), & marked the jars for the collection of tithes circulating to priests/Levites serving throughout the kingdom.

It may interest your readers to know that only about 10% of these jars were stamped, & the “king” on the seals might refer to God (Isaiah 6:5).

G.M. Grena
Redondo Beach, CA

500-Word Version

Why does Gabriel Barkay say the “first 3 cities are well known from the Bible,” but omit the fact that there were 2 Judean cities named Sokoh & 2 named Ziph (Joshua 15:24,35,48,55)? About half of today’s scholars believe the 4 inscriptions represent 4 towns clustered near Hebron; the other half favors 4 regions described by Barkay (p. 42). Two completely different scenarios. Which one is correct, or are both wrong (like Aharoni & Yadin)?

He says the inscriptions “refer to some kind of administrative centers in the kingdom of Judah”. If the function of an administrative center was to collect taxes from neighboring communities & then redistribute them to government/army stations in the same region, we’d expect to find the 4 LMLK inscriptions relatively segregated geographically. If it were for the purpose of collecting taxes from anyone who happened to be passing by the city & redistributing them to military stations anywhere in the kingdom, then there would be no purpose for inscribing the jars with anything other than “LMLK”!

Neither of the scenarios is represented by the evidence, which shows the 4 inscriptions to be equally distributed within the center of ancient Judah. Furthermore, LMLK handles have surfaced at several sites in the northwestern region of Israel (which complements 2Chronicles 30) again with a mixture of the inscriptions. Wouldn’t it make sense for there to have been a 5th inscription representing this distinct region?

Why did Dr. Barkay omit the fact that more HBRN & ZYF inscriptions have been found at Ramat Rahel than MMST?

He identifies Ziph as representing “fringe areas”, when in fact more ZYF stamps were found at Ramat Rahel than anywhere else!
2nd & 3rd place awards go to Lachish & Gibeon. Are these also mere fringe areas “in the southern & eastern parts of the kingdom”? What about the LMLK handles found at Beersheba, Aroer, Arad, En Gedi, & Jericho? Wouldn’t one of their names have been more suitable to represent the south & east?

Does Dr. Barkay really believe “Hebron represents the southern Judean Hills; Sokoh, the areas of the Shephelah” when 75% of the handles found at the most prominent southern Shephelah site (Lachish) & 80% at the most prominent northern Shephelah site (Beth Shemesh) say HBRN?

Because of these facts, “If anyone can find a better candidate for [the geographic location of] MMST, I challenge him to make his case” is like asking an innocent husband the cliche, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”.

Hezekiah’s hallmark was his religious reformation, not his military might. The inscriptions were probably votive (e.g., “HBRN LMLK” = “Allegiance to the King” or “Company of the King”), & marked the jars for the collection of tithes (i.e., “tenths”) circulating to the priests/Levites serving in the Temple & throughout the kingdom (2Chronicles 31). It may interest your readers to know that only about 10% of these jars were stamped, & the “king” on the seals might refer to God (Isaiah 6:5).

MMST, like Strong’s Concordance #4475 (MMSLT), was probably related to the ownership of property (2Kings 20:13) or people united for a purpose (2Chronicles 32:9) such as a religious reformation.

G.M. Grena
Redondo Beach, CA

1,200-Word Version

I’ve been looking forward to the Sep/Oct 2006 issue of BAR since May/Jun 2003 when you baited us on p. 19 of that issue. You did indeed deliver the goods! Overall the article was well written & informative! Sure to be a BAR classic!

Dr. Barkay’s comment about Aharoni & Yadin (“both antagonists were right & both were wrong”; p. 38) applies also to the proponents of the Geographic Names (GN) theory for the LMLK inscriptions, & that is my present focus.

It’s safe to say that the scholars familiar with this subject remain divided; about half believe the 4 inscriptions represent 4 towns clustered near Hebron (including Khirbet Shuweikeh southwest of it & Tel Ziph southeast of it; see footnote on p. 51, BAR Sep/Oct 1997), the other half favors 4 regions described by Barkay (p. 42). They are both right when they criticize each other, but they are both wrong because there is no artifactual evidence to support either theory.

Why does he say the “first 3 cities are well known from the Bible,” but omit the fact that there were 2 Judean cities named Sokoh (Joshua 15:35,48), & 2 named Ziph (Joshua 15:24,55)? Maybe a map would’ve been helpful; but then his association of Ziph with “the fringe areas” would’ve seemed strange, especially if he had chosen Tel Ziph, only about 5 miles from Hebron (the location of the other Biblical Ziph is unknown). And both Sokoh sites are equidistant from Hebron. (Note: All pertinent LMLK sites are shown on the map in my 2004 book, but a better version is now available online at www.lmlk.com/research/lmlk_geo.htm or the “LMLK seal” entry of the English Wikipedia.)

He says the inscriptions “refer to some kind of administrative centers in the kingdom of Judah”. First, I’m not exactly sure what he (or any other scholar) believes the function of an administrative center was. If it were for the purpose of collecting taxes from neighboring communities & then redistributing them to government/army stations in the same region, we’d expect to find the 4 LMLK inscriptions relatively segregated geographically. If it were for the purpose of collecting taxes from anyone who happened to be passing by the city & redistributing them to military stations anywhere in the kingdom, then there would be no purpose for inscribing the jars with anything other than “LMLK”! (In fact it would be more sensible to inscribe them with the Hebrew word for “army” rather than “king”.)

Neither of the scenarios is represented by the evidence, which shows the 4 inscriptions to be equally distributed within the center of ancient Judah (see Figs. 71-4 on pp. 358-9 of “LMLK–A Mystery Belonging to the King vol. 1” by G.M. Grena). The only significant difference among the 4 inscriptions is their quantity: there are about 3 times as many HBRN stamps as the other 3 (Table 19, LMLK vol. 1 p. 74). The mystery is further complicated by the fact that sometimes only 1 handle on the 4-handled jars was stamped, & sometimes 2, possibly 3, or all 4.

Your caption on p. 41 proclaims that “scholars now agree that l’melekh handles all date to the reign of Hezekiah”, which as you know covered only a small timeslice of the Israelite/Judean monarchy (from Saul to Zedekiah). Here’s one flaw in the GN theory: Was there no such administrative system during the rest of the First Temple period?

A second flaw lies in the fact that LMLK handles have surfaced in the northwestern region of Israel (reported since 1965 in Hadashot Arkheologiyot [pp. 8-9], which complements 2Chronicles 30 by the way, & Dr. Barkay knows more about this subject than anyone else alive), again with a mixture of the inscriptions. Wouldn’t it make sense for there to have been a 5th inscription representing this region?

Why did Dr. Barkay omit the fact that more Hebron & Ziph inscriptions have been found at Ramat Rahel than MMST (30, 35, & 25 respectively; Table 32, LMLK vol. 1 p. 360)? In fact more Ziph stamps were found there than at any other site (Lachish & Gibeon win 2nd & 3rd place awards with 22 & 17, respectively, & no scholar considers them “fringe sites” as implied by Barkay’s geographical identification of the ZYF inscription)!

Because of these facts, asking “If anyone can find a better candidate for [the geographic location of] MMST, I challenge him to make his case” is like asking an innocent husband the cliche, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”.

Speaking of abuse, again you barf the same false data: On p. 42 Barkay says, “at Lachish more than … 400 [the caption on p. 41 erroneously says 500] such stamped handles were found in a clearly dated stratum (the famous Stratum III)”. The facts beg to differ. As I reported in a letter you chose not to publish (4-Jul-2005 in response to “Why Lachish Matters”, July/August 2005), only 42 classifiable stamps (10%) were found beneath Level III.”

This datum is critical because it suggests that about half of the stamped handles relate to Level III immediately preceding the Assyrian destruction, & the other half belongs to a brief period immediately subsequent to it. According to the Bible, this attack occurred in the middle of Hezekiah’s reign (14th year of 29), which means they are unrelated to army provisions, & provide an excellent complement to the Biblical chronology. Besides, Hezekiah’s hallmark was his religious reformation, not his military might.

Therefore, the inscriptions were probably votive in nature (e.g., “HBRN LMLK” = “Allegiance to the King” or “Company of the King”), & marked the jars for the collection of tithes circulating to the priests/Levites serving in the Temple & throughout the kingdom (2Chronicles 31; the king on the seals referring to none other than God–the supreme King; LMLK vol. 1, p. 366). It may interest your readers to know that slightly more than 10% of the jars of this type were stamped (based on the excavations of David Ussishkin at Lachish & Amihai Mazar at Timnah; see LMLK vol. 1, p. 377; the quantity over 10% possibly represents firstfruits).

Do you & Dr. Barkay really believe “Hebron represents the southern Judean Hills; Sokoh, the areas of the Shephelah” when 75% (255 out of 341 identifiable impressions) of the handles found at the most prominent southern Shephelah site (Lachish) & 80% (32 out of 40) at the most prominent northern Shephelah site (Beth Shemesh) say HBRN??!!

Attempts by scholars (primarily Aharoni) to associate MMST geographically with Jerusalem based on the Hebrew word, MMSLT (Strong’s Concordance #4475), have failed for similar reasons. MMST, like the other 3 ambiguous Hebrew words, was probably related to the ownership of physical items (2Kings 20:13) or people joined together for a purpose (2Chronicles 32:9). (Both of the verses I referenced are relevant to the reign of Hezekiah; for all Biblical citations of it, see LMLK vol. 1, pp. 54-6.)

I’m sure that Hebrew scholars will dismiss my suggestion that the LMLK inscriptions were votive because there is no contemporary linguistic or literary evidence to support it, so let me reiterate what I said above: There is no artifactual evidence to support the GN theories; if anyone can find some, I challenge him to make his case.

G.M. Grena
Redondo Beach, CA

*******

See, I told ya the long version would never fit into their limited/narrow space!

Song of the week: “Mystery” by Anita Baker (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 29-second sample; 361kb).
G.M. Grena

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: