ASOR 2007 (p. 2)

Throughout this series on my experience at the ASOR & SBL conferences, rather than edit previous parts as I recall new details, I’ll simply add them to subsequent parts.

Before the lecture by Oded Lipschits began, I chatted with a gentleman named Allen Shapiro who sat in front of me, & he mentioned that he had excavated at Ramat Rahel the past 2 seasons. What was really cool, though, was that he had found 1 of the many new YEUD jar handles.

Another interesting thing was that I heard another voice chatting that I distinctly recognized from one of Gordon Govier’s many interviews from his show, “The Book & the Spade”. I turned around & didn’t recognize the face, but definitely recognized the name tag–Oded Borowski, excavator of Tel Halif (probably Biblical Rimmon). It’s amazing how in that short period from about 8:25 to 8:30, so much happened for me to absorb as the (real) scholars began to congregate. Later on (after leaving the room for other sessions & then returning) I noticed that Anson Rainey had been sitting almost right behind me, but because he didn’t talk, I didn’t recognize him.

I should also clarify (Hi Mike!) that when Prof. Lipschits mentioned “LMLKs … under the floor”, the context seemed to imply (contra-Aharoni, who only found them in fills for the palace; his ghost-stratum VB) that these handles were in a clear context that predated the construction of the palace, but I’ll ask him to clarify it if I get a chance to chat with him at SBL.

So at 8:54, the Ramat Rahel lecture concluded & I left. Daniel Browning, Jr., who presided over the session, announced that there would be time for questions at the end of their entire 2-hour session. Here I want to interject that I really disliked this format. Some sessions were like this, but others, which I much preferred, allowed 5 minutes following each individual lecture for Q&A. To cut to the chase, when I did return later for this Q&A, nobody asked any RR questions, instead focusing on Uzi Leibner’s paper about Early Roman Galilee, & Deborah Cantrell’s paper on horses. I’ll revisit this interesting latter subject in due course.

I made my way downstairs to the session with Chang-Ho Ji, who has written the most extensive material thus far on the Concentric Circles phenomenon. I noticed Bill Dever & Larry Stager in attendance at this one. Cory Crawford was in the process of concluding his discussion of the Et Tell (Ai?) citadel.

Prof. Ji began at 8:59, his paper titled “The Iron I-II Settlement and Cultic Structures at Khirbat ‘Ataruz, Jordan: Excavating the High Place, Sanctuary, and Settlement Village”:

“The excavation at the acropolis of Khirbat ‘Ataruz, Jordan, has uncovered an Iron Age temple and other building remains dated to the late Iron I and early Iron II periods, which most likely came to an end due to the Moabite conquest of the site, as recorded in the Mesha Inscription. The evidence indicates that during its peak days, the temple was a multi-chambered sanctuary with at least three parallel rooms containing a variety of cultic installations and a copious amount of diverse cultic objects. To the east of this main sanctuary area was a possible high place equipped with stairs and a couple of auxiliary cultic structures. The excavations also uncovered mid-late Iron II remains associated with a post-Mesha village, part of which appear to have been used for religious purposes. Given their potential ties with the northern kingdom of Israel and the tribes of Gad and Moab, as implied in the Mesha Inscription, ongoing excavations at ‘Ataruz may shed light on the religion and history of Iron I-II Transjordan society and the northern Israelite kingdom.”

This site had been previously excavated in 1966 & 1985. He pointed out its significant mentioning in the Mesha stela, which he characterized as “the longest inscription ever found in the Levant.”

“And Omri took possession of the whole land of Medeba, and he lived there in his days and half the days of his son: forty years. But Kemosh restored it in my days. And I built Baal Meon, and I built a water reservoir in it. And I built Qiryaten. And the men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times; and the king of Israel built Atarot for himself, and I fought against the city and captured it. And I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Kemosh and for Moab. And I brought back the fire-hearth of his uncle from there; and I brought it before the face of Kemosh in Qerioit, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharit.”

This version of the translation is courtesy of K.C. Hanson, & I emphasized “his uncle” because Ji supplied this translation:

“…I brought back the fire-hearth of DWD from there…”

Then he showed 25 pottery cross-sections, #1-10 belonging to “late 10th – early 9th century BCE”, & #11-25 to “early & mid-9th”. This latter group was from a stratum destroyed by fire, presumably by Mesha.

He gave a detailed presentation with excellent maps dividing the site into 3 main sections, a “Main Sanctuary”, a “Double Altar Room”, & an “Iron II Domestic Structure” from the site’s post-temple phase. Ji suggested that this might have been an Israelite temple related to Mesha’s inscription, based on the pottery assemblage’s similarity to that of northern Israelites.

He also showed some very interesting photos of the remains of cult objects, particularly an elaborately decorated jar rim featuring the heads of 4 bulls & 1 ibex, referred to as a “bull storage jar”.

The Q&A session began with a quick, loud, disgruntled correction from a lady I didn’t recognize, P. M. (Michele) Daviau, who pointed out some discrepancy regarding the connection between the temple & the gate. Ji received this sharp correction rather well. She didn’t say this, but her attitude sounded like “I can’t believe you just wasted my time with this obvious mistake! How annoying!” Actually, I was impressed by how strongly she felt about a seemingly trivial detail.

Next, William Dever commented on the dating. I wasn’t able to jot down the entire statement he made, but it began, “If you have a secure 9th-century…” dating for an Israelite temple. Then he mentioned an article he had in preparation for publication in BAR, & he couldn’t resist inserting the humorous disclaimer, “a magazine for which I write, but don’t read…”

Then Beth Alpert Nakhai gave Ji glowing congratulations on his presentation. I have to interject here how wide these 3 respondents ranged, from negative, to questionable/speculative, to positive. She commented on one cultic stand that displayed 2 males standing side-by-side, noting that if it had been a male & female, everyone would be quick to reference “Yahweh & His consort”; so she wondered if everyone would be equally prompt in wondering, “What the heck is going on here!?!”, & tagging the Israelite deity with some sort of homosexual context.

Chang-Ho shied away from any direct answer saying it was “politically very dangerous”, but Dr. Daviau jumped in & argued with Dr. Nakhai directly to the effect that it was no big deal. I was so engaged by their interaction, which was swift, that I didn’t have time to record any direct quotes. It was fascinating to be in among the crowd where these diverse scholars sit, as opposed to being a general-public audience with 1 scholar on stage (or in a classroom) delivering a single viewpoint. It was refreshing to experience a realtime, 3-D, sensurround debate, in contrast with the usual academic convention of someone writing 1 article, then months or years pass till someone writes an opposing response.

Another point that Dr. Nakhai made was that this cult-stand, which Ji had thought might be the only known specimen of a 2-tiered type of this design, was actually known in other specimens, & I think she said they were not provenanced, or not this well provenanced, but I could be wrong.

Yorke Rowan, who presided over the lecture moved on to the next presenter, & I exited to a 3rd session in progress…

(I also want to interject here an anachronism–my 1st day at today’s SBL conference was nowhere near as exciting as ASOR’s, but there were a few good moments I’ll talk about in due time.)

G.M. Grena

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