Jane Cahill is amazing! She belongs to an unclassifiable class of individuals with exceptional brightness! In the vast field of Ancient Near East scholarship, she brings a fresh perspective from her notable background in the legal field.
I, & at least a hundred others, attended a lecture by her at the American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education (known by long-time attendees–& signs on the road leading to it–as simply “University of Judaism”).
This place itself stores significant history for me. It’s where, back in 2000, I first heard Gabriel Barkay lecture on the Royal Tumuli & tell me afterwards that he was working on a corpus of LMLK seals. It’s where I heard Hershel Shanks lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s where Ze’ev Herzog gave me photos of previously unpublished LMLK seals from Arad. And now it has been permanently inscribed in my history book as the place where I heard Jane Cahill catalog the impressive evidence–in fine legal fashion–for the historicity of the Biblical account of King David establishing Jerusalem as the Israelite capital.
Ironically, as last night’s presentation began, Fred Simmons (whose foundation has generously sponsored the series for 18 years) explained in a melancholy tone that they’re terminating the series after this one ends in December. In his words, he doesn’t see the point in “rehashing the same material” year after year, & “new [material] is hard to come by.”
Quoting Robert Frost, he emphasized that “nothing gold can stay”, but explained what he/they tried to accomplish with the series. Acknowledging the great importance of the Hebrew Bible as a “literary treasure of the western world”, he said the question is not, What does it say?, but rather, What does it mean? And probably his most poignant remark followed: “The more you understand about Biblical Archeology, the more you understand what [the Hebrew Bible] means.”
On the bright side, however, according to Prof. Ziony Zevitt (who’s acted as its moderator for many years) the University may still occasionally have special guest lecturers as new discoveries are made. A specific example he mentioned candidly to several of us after last night’s lecture, was Eilat Mazar after she’s had time to synthesize her current landmark work with the Large-Stone Structure. This particular discovery had figured prominently in Ms. Cahill’s 65-minute lecture (plus a 15-minute formal Q&A session with the general audience afterward, then an additional half-hour or so in candid discussion with several of us).
In his introductory remarks on the series, entitled “Getting Them Together & Getting Them Right: Biblical Texts, Archaeological Investigations & Historical Analyses”, Prof. Zevitt emphasized that Ms. Cahill was chosen to give the first lecture, “Jerusalem in the Days of David & Solomon: What Do We See in Excavations & What Does it Actually Mean?”, because “if you get Jerusalem right, the rest will follow.”
While reciting her extensive background, beginning with excavations in the late 1970s, & listing her publication credits, Prof. Zevitt noted her “remarkable quality & quantity of work” for someone who, technically, doesn’t even devote full-time to the profession–her formal profession being a law clerk in Texas (an extremely prestigious position for someone of the highest caliber of character & academic repute; she earned her B.A. in History & English with “High Honors”, & her J.D. in Law with “Honors”).
Unlike all the other lectures I’ve attended relating to Biblical Archeology, where the speaker looked & sounded like either a college professor or a scientific excavator, Ms. Cahill’s presence evoked a sense of courtroom drama. If America were to elect a female president, this is what one should look & sound like! Unlike most lectures that begin with an ice-breaking bit of humor, she donned a pair of glasses & pretty much got right down to business. Though she never said it explicitly, her attitude conjured up the image of a judge’s speech prior to reading a verdict to someone in big-time trouble!
And on this occasion, that someone was obviously the Biblical Minimalist (i.e., any person who believes the Biblical record is unreliable), though I don’t recall her ever using that exact name; she avoided it as if it were an obscenity.
For a long-time resident of Texas, who has also spent many years in Israel, I was rather surprised by her clear American-English voice lacking any trace of an accent–another characteristic that established the unique tone of her delivery. Unlike most lectures I’ve attended, where the speaker mostly spoke offhand while presenting a slideshow, all of Ms. Cahill’s speech had obviously been carefully crafted in advance & for the most part memorized. Her glasses were the type positioned so that she could focus on her writings when looking down, but focus directly on the audience when looking up. Half the time she was glancing down at her script, & the other half was spent making eye contact throughout the auditorium.
Because of her flawless, clearly enunciated, rapid-fire delivery (reminiscent of Gabriel Barkay, albeit without any entertaining humor or innuendo inserted), the facts & evidence she presented came & went too fast for me to record on my notepad. One quote that stood out for me, though, was her affirmation that chronology is largely based on ceramic typology rather than carbon-14 dating. This statement followed, & seemed like something of a caveat to, a Chalcolithic artifact commonly dated to the 4th-millennium “B.C.E.”
From firsthand experience, she knew all the excavation areas on the City of David hill like the back of her hands. Though many small-scale excavations have taken place in the vicinity (126 between 1853 & 1992 according to the New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land), she emphasized that the major work at that spot has been performed by Macalister & Duncan (1923-25), Kathleen Kenyon (1961-67), & Yigal Shiloh (1978-85; she had participated with the latter; I’m confident that he, who died at too early an age, was very pleased by her delivery this evening).
The vast majority of her presentation covered architectural evidence from these excavations, with emphasis on the Gihon Spring & nearby Stepped-Stone Structure. Other important artifacts included Egyptian Execration Texts (the earliest reference to the city of Jerusalem), Abdi-Heba’s Amarna Letters (who had ruled as the first known “king” of Jerusalem), the Dan/David Stela (the oldest reference to the Biblical historical figure), & the aforementioned discovery by Eilat Mazar (presumably the royal residence used by David).
The important point is not any 2 or 3 artifacts in particular, but how she filled in all the gaps from one to the next … just as in any court case! If you don’t have video from several different angles of the criminal committing the act, you have to build your case on numerous points & connect the dots. Ms. Cahill (figuratively) built a 3-D work of art!
The most surprising revelation of the evening was her frequent citation of Kenyon’s work. Kenyon, best known scientifically for an archeological method she pioneered, but best known historically for her ability to diminish the correlation between the Bible & the ancient world (especially at Jerusalem & Jericho), was & still is not exactly a friend of maximalists (i.e., people who believe the Biblical record is reliable); yet after hearing Ms. Cahill, it’s easy to imagine Dame Kenyon turning in her grave upon learning that some of her work could so backfire. Kudos to Ms. Cahill! There’s no more stinging form of rhetoric than to turn one’s own words against them!
This is a good place to interject a sample of Ms. Cahill’s own words from a 1998 BAR article (see Q3 below for bibliographic reference). Notice how easily she rips Margreet Steiner’s perspective to shreds:
“Unfortunately, Steiner’s ensuing ‘analysis’ ignores most of the published evidence. It also fails to present evidence from Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations … & it fails to critically evaluate evidence that she does present. Consequently, Steiner offers her readers startling historical conclusions that are not substantiated by the archaeological record… [p. 34] …In light of these published reports of stratified remains containing architecture, pottery & other artifacts attributable to the Late Bronze Age from at least four separate areas of the City of David, Steiner cannot cogently argue that ‘no Late Bronze Age remains have been discovered in Jerusalem.’ … Moreover, because she additionally chooses not to describe the methods by which the pottery was gathered &/or quantified–& she has stated elsewhere that Kenyon’s habit was to save only rim sherds, to discard pottery after it had been classified & to omit details such as vessel diameter & surface treatment from descriptions of individual sherds–her quantitative analysis does not appear to be either well founded or statistically valid. [p. 35] … Like her treatment of the Late Bronze Age, Steiner’s treatment of Iron Age I also suffers from the failure to present reported evidence & the failure to critically evaluate the evidence that she does present. [p. 38] … Finally, the architectural features that Steiner cites as corroboration for her dating of the Stepped-Stone Structure do not support her conclusion. The fragment of casemate wall identified by Kenyon is not–despite Steiner’s assertion–connected to the Stepped-Stone Structure; it is located more than 30 feet to its north in Site H. [p. 40] … Steiner’s startling conclusions … are actually nothing more than the premature & unfounded musings of an archaeologist who has yet to complete the difficult task of critically analyzing either the published material or the unpublished material placed at her disposal. [p. 41]”
This lady knows her stuff! Don’t mess with Texas!!! P. 39 of the same article gives a good example of the kind of details I was not able to jot down during her lecture:
“In places where Shiloh removed stones belonging to the structure’s stepped mantle & he excavated sealed areas of the mantle’s fill, he recovered pottery that can only be ascribed to the transitional phase between Late Bronze Age II & early Iron Age I (late 13th-early 12th century B.C.E.). In contrast, where he excavated soil fills that covered the Stepped-Stone Structure, he recovered pottery that can only be ascribed to the final phase of Iron Age I or the early phase of Iron Age II (c. 11th or 10th century B.C.E.). Moreover, in places where he found that stones composing the structure’s stepped mantle had been removed in antiquity, he also found intrusions cut into its fill that contained pottery like that found on top of it, that is, pottery traditionally ascribable to the 11th &/or 10th century B.C.E. Finally, on the earliest floor surfaces built above the Stepped-Stone Structure, he found hand-burnished sherds with a dark red slip traditionally dated to the 10th century B.C.E., unslipped hand-burnished sherds, & fragments of a Phoenician bichrome flask generally datable to the 11th &/or 10th century B.C.E. Evidence from Shiloh’s excavation suggests, therefore, that the Stepped-Stone Structure was intentionally cut & partially dismantled sometime during the 10th century B.C.E. to accommodate new construction.”
Leaving a captionless photo of the late Yigal Shiloh on the screen as a sort of honor I found quite touching, she concluded her formal presentation with a brilliant, articulate observation on the use of common sense when reading commentators who deny the importance of Jerusalem during the 10th century. I think she listed 3 specific questions readers should ask themselves, though it was impossible for me to write them down at the same time I was trying to concentrate on her logic. One of them, for example, involved a commentator who said there was no archeological evidence for a significant Judean presence in Jerusalem during the 10th century, but who failed to recognize the extensive stratigraphical evidence for the numerous discoveries that have been made, had no firsthand experience with archeology in or artifacts from Jerusalem, & expressed no interest in examining them when offered.
She closed with the reading of what I & several others interpreted as her guilty verdict, “If the answers to “any” of these  questions is Yes, then a red flag should be “raised”; if “all” of them are Yes, then the flag should be “waved!”“
After receiving an enthusiastic ovation, she took 7 questions from the audience.
Q1 was asked by a volunteer who excavated in Jerusalem during 1983, & was related to some stone ossuary fragments that had been discovered. She happily answered the question because she herself had published them (1992; Chalk Vessel Assemblages of the Persian, Hellenistic, and Early Roman Periods. Pp. 190-274 in D.T. Ariel and A. DeGroot (eds.), Excavations at the
City of David 1978-1985 Directed by Yigal Shiloh, Vol. III: Stratigraphical, Environmental, and Other Reports. (Qedem 33). Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem).
Q2 related to a news item reported on TV a day earlier about the decision by Israel’s government to delay excavations near the Mugrabi/Mughrabi Gate in compliance with Muslim Arabs’ concerns. She had no firsthand info, but appropriately noted the ironic lack of concern by the same government regarding the Muslim Arabs’ recent construction-vandalism (my words, not hers; she’s way too congenial & tactful) of the Temple Mount for an electrical-service trench.
Q3 asked where she obtained the impressive isometric drawings of Jerusalem in her slideshow: articles she had published in BAR magazine (1998–David’s Jerusalem: Fact or Fiction? It Is There: The Archaeological Evidence Proves It. Biblical Archaeology Review 24/4: 34-41, 63; 2004–Jerusalem in David and Solomon=s Time: It Really Was a Major City in the Tenth Century B.C.E. Biblical Archaeology Review 30/6: 20-31, 62-63; note that this same 2004 issue contains a letter by me on p. 9, & an article about my LMLK friend at the Living Torah Museum, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, on pp. 47-51). I can give specific credit to J.D. Bartell for the one drawing most people are impressed with, which is an artistic rendering of what the City of David might have looked like during the United Monarchy (see p. 22 of the 2004 article).
Q4 asked for a population estimate of the City of David in the 10th century, & whether the architecture she presented was built by natives or slaves from conquests. She first emphasized the speculative nature of any attempts to answer these questions, but said population-coefficient estimates range from ~20 people per dunam (4 dunams per acre) to ~40. Likewise, estimates for the area vary, but I recall her settling on about 15 acres, thus producing an answer of 1,000-1,500 residents within the city. Then she estimated it would’ve taken about half the males ~2.5 years to build it.
Q5 was the best question of the evening, & one she was happy to take. The gentleman noted that she spoke authoritatively on archeology although she worked full-time in the field of law, & asked if she found this to be useful; if so, How? She noted that she had worked as an archeologist several years before she began studying law, & that her formal legal training gave her the ability to distinguish rhetoric from fact.
Q6 related to the observation that no significant cisterns have been found atop Jerusalem proper, & asked why anyone would populate that region instead of living in one of the adjacent valleys. She explained that the residents were able to retrieve water from the Gihon Spring. I should note here that she also discussed this in the candid session following the general session, & is of the opinion (without any doubt) that water was drawn from Warren’s shaft despite some scholars who disagree vehemently. She explained to us that this is the only logical explanation for one of the horizontal tunnels leading to the shaft, which enabled it to fill with water available as needed through the use of a controllable dam. I’ve never been there & haven’t studied it, but her explanation was extremely convincing.
Q7 was a simple one about the date of a particular cistern in Ir David, which she said was Byzantine.
Afterwards, she had more people congregate around her (I counted 14 at one time) than almost any other lecture I’ve been to, the exception being that of Hershel Shanks, who had such a crowd (Joe Zias’ “The BAR Crowd” epithet personified; see ANE-2 messages #4427, #5622, & #5829) that I did not even bother to stay & attempt to wade through. Even if she had had an equivalent crowd, I would’ve waited because my main motivation for attending was her prestigious position as the world-authority on Rosette seal impressions.
But before discussing those, I want to also mention that the dominant topic discussed with the post-show crowd was her opinion of the commentators referred to in her closing remarks. Basically, she’s convinced that they will one day “come full circle” to the only logical, scientific conclusion based on the archeological & textual evidence–namely, that there really were historic figures named David & Solomon who ruled Jerusalem in the 10th century. It’s too bad I didn’t have an audio recorder because she recited example after example of how these commentators have changed their position repeatedly, & are simply running out of options–their latest attempt being the speculation that Beersheba was the capital at this time. She acknowledged that there was significant evidence for its occupation & growth, but that it was only because of support/protection from the government at the real capital–Jerusalem. I’ll also throw in a relevant quote from p. 26 of her 2004 BAR article cited above in Q3:
“Although Israel Finkelstein, arguing for a minimalist position, might date this pottery [from the Stratum 14 floor of the Burnt Room House of the Stepped-Stone Structure] to the ninth century B.C.E., the assemblage is closely comparable to the pottery assemblage from Stratum 12 at Arad, which all scholars–including Israel Finkelstein–agree dates to the tenth century B.C.E.)”
After she had satisfied everyone else & they departed, I finally had the opportunity to introduce myself. We had corresponded on several occasions from 2004-2005, so it was wonderful to finally meet. She graciously signed some of her landmark publications for me–this being the 10th anniversary of her BAR article that changed the entire course of my life (no exaggeration; Royal Rosettes Fit for a King. Biblical Archaeology Review 23/5: 48-57, 68-69).
As I had asked Dr. Barkay how he first became acquainted with LMLK seals, I asked her how she had first become acquainted with Rosettes. In f/n 3 of her first landmark on the subject (Rosette Stamp Seal Impressions from Ancient Judah. Israel Exploration Journal 45/4: 230-252), she had mentioned an “M.A. seminar paper to Profs. T. Dothan & E. Stern (Hebrew University, 1986)”, & affirmed that Prof. Stern had some of these handles that needed to be published, so he assigned her to the task. Altogether now, she’s published 11 articles on them, with at least 3 more written pending publication. Nobody else even comes close; I don’t think anyone else has written more than 1 article or chapter devoted to them.
I showed 2 Rosette handles to her that I had brought along, & it was quite the thrill to see her analyze them firsthand. (For me, it was the equivalent of getting to ask the late Frank Sinatra to sing a few bars of “New York, New York” for me.) One is an amazing new replica made by Kris Udd from a specimen in the world-renowned collection of Michael Welch. She immediately recognized it as belonging to her “Plain” class, & pointed to a sample photo (Fig. 5) in IEJ 45/4. It was cool to see her count a quadrant of 3 petals & quickly/confidently determine there were 12 (I always labor over counting each one, then recount it from a different starting position, & had not imagined any other way of doing it).
At some point I remarked that it was amazing that the classification system she developed (as published in IEJ 45/4) had miraculously accommodated her discovery & allocation of RSH II handles (as published with J. Yellin in Rosette Stamped Handles: The Neutron Activation Analysis. Israel Exploration Journal 54: 191-213); those are the ones made from Jerusalem clay resembling LMLK pithoi. She humbly acknowledged with a big smile that it just happened that way!
I also showed her an unpublished Rosette seal in my own collection with the same design on both sides (it will be formally documented in my forthcoming LMLK vol. 2 book), & noted that it was the right size to match the handle impressions, but obviously not one of the seals used because of the asymmetric design of its petals. The main point of showing it to her was a memory cue to ask her about the Lachish seal she referenced in f/n 4 of IEJ 45/4, which has 2 Egyptian hieroglyphs on one side (identified in the original publication by Margaret A. Murray as “nfr” & “m’`t”). I was curious if Ms. Cahill had ever obtained a translation of them or considered what they might mean relevant to the rosette design on the other side, or to Rosette research in general.
I had meant to look these up on the Internet beforehand, but kept forgetting. She told me “nfr” meant “beautiful”, but wasn’t sure of “m’`t”. While writing this, I just looked them up & confirmed the former, but that it has also been translated as “vitality”, “pure”, “perfect”, & “goddess”. I found that the latter means “truth” in the legal sense. Together, they would seem to convey “Goddess of Law” (see footnote in the 1st paragraph of “FROM THE PAPYRUS OF ANI”). Interesting in light of Ms. Cahill’s credentials!
On the other hand, there was a historical figure named “Nefer-Maat” related to 2 very famous pharaohs. Known as “Son of the King”, “Crowned Prince”, “Overlord of Nekheb”, & “Vizier of King Khafre”, he was a member of the royal family of the 4th Dynasty–a son of Sneferu, & brother to Khufu. His tomb is located just south of the Great Pyramid (see entries for “Maat” & “Nefer-Maat Dn4” at Zawi Hawass’ website).
Then I showed her an authentic Rosette handle from my collection (the only one), & pointed out the extreme thickness of the jar, & asked if she agreed it was unusual. She affirmed it was interesting, but “not really” unique. She must’ve liked something about it though because she immediately called over Prof. Zevitt, who had been talking to someone else in the background, & introduced me to him (though he & I had spoken for a moment after a lecture by Christoph Uehlinger last year). He immediately asked where it was from, but it’s unprovenanced as nearly all antiquities on the market are, so I obviously had no answer. Though the impression on this handle is weak, she immediately identified it as her “fancy” class.
Time & occasion did not permit us to discuss our differences on the subject (e.g., the purpose of the jars, their terminus a quo [i.e., introduction], their Shephelah production center, & her enigmatic class of unclassifiable stamps), but I was extremely grateful for the overall occasion.
Her name is synonymous with their study, & it’s a crown that she’ll deservedly wear for eternity.
Song of the week: “Song of the Rose” by Jordan De La Sierra (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 60-second sample; 721kb; note that the original composition is a breathtaking, mesmerizing 25 minutes long; this sample hardly does it justice, just as my review above hardly does justice to Ms. Cahill’s magnificent presentation).