ASOR 2007 (p. 5)

Following Eric Cline’s narrow-minded viewpoint that archeology proves the Biblical record to be a figment of some ancient Jews’ imaginations, Zvi Lederman opened his lecture with the clever quip, “I hope the following will not be considered junk science.”

Though this opening remark sparked some laughter, if Eric Cline is correct, then it was top-of-the-heap “junk science”. And I absolutely loved every minute of it! Prof. Lederman speaks with a very heavy accent, & is not as slick as some of his peers who are more fluent in English, but like Oded Lipschits earlier in the morning, he had me on the edge of my seat with a well-prepared slideshow chock full of fascinating information!

“‘Come, Let Us Meet Face to Face:’ The Archaeological Implications of Amaziah’s and Jehoash’s Clash at Beth-Shemesh” was billed as being presented by both Lederman & co-excavator, Shlomo Bunimovitz, who was in attendance, but only the former spoke. They’ve directed excavations at Beth Shemesh since 1990, & though this lecture focused on only one facet of the excavation, it has broad implications.

He began by reviewing the 6 major strata (with 3 sub-strata) excavated by his predecessors–Duncan Mackenzie (1911-2) & Elihu Grant (1928-33), & focused on the division between IIb (“950 – 8th century”) & IIc (8th – 586). Like Lipschits, who earlier in the day had criticized Aharoni’s interpretation of Ramat Rahel, Lederman described Grant’s field notes as “chaotic”.

His revised labeling renames these 2 particular sub-strata to Levels 4 & 3, & he discussed several areas. Area B has a residence, silo, & granary; Area C has a reservoir, & Area E is a “commercial” area. He listed several categories of artifacts, sorted according to quantities recovered, & at the top were scoops representing a whopping 51.4%. Listed in 2nd place were kraters at only 7%, & from there the numbers dwindled further including “LMLK-type jars” equivalent to those from Level 4 in Lachish (sorry, the slide changed before I could note all the categories listed). It’s this majority of scoops, though, that helped identify the activity & purpose of the ancient constructions.

At this point he mentioned the earthquake recorded in Amos 1:1 & Zechariah 14:5, which other excavators have suggested as the cause for destruction layers at Lachish (level 4), Arad (level 11), Gezer (level 6), Goded/Judeideh (11b, lower phase; Biblical Moresheth-Gath?), Beersheba, & Ein Haseva (Biblical Tamar?). However, he’s seen no evidence for earthquake damage, & stated unambiguously that the destruction layer was caused by a “human disaster”.

In the Commercial Area, he observed that it had been evacuated or looted before being set to fire–something that wouldn’t happen during an unexpected earthquake; & he humorously described the uncracked floor as being “flat as a dancing floor!” In sum, “Level 3 can’t be tied to a mid-8th-century earthquake.”

Instead, he suggested that this destruction was caused by Israelite King Jehoash when he defeated & captured Judahite King Amaziah per 2Kings 14:8, 11-4:

“Then Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash, the son of Jehoahaz son of Jehu, king of Israel, saying, Come, let us look one another in the face. … Therefore Jehoash king of Israel went up; and he and Amaziah king of Judah looked one another in the face at Bethshemesh, which belongeth to Judah. And Judah was put to the worse before Israel; and they fled every man to their tents. And Jehoash king of Israel took Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Jehoash the son of Ahaziah, at Bethshemesh, and came to Jerusalem, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem from the gate of Ephraim unto the corner gate…”

He concluded with a brief mention of Avigad’s Broad Wall & Barkay’s “phantom wall”, & another unambiguous declaration that seemed shocking for an employee of Tel Aviv University to make:

This “breaching of the Jerusalem wall should be considered reality.”

Compare this to the traditional, fundamentalist Christian’s words (not mine, nor Prof. Lederman’s words): “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!”

So that’s my version of his magnificent lecture! Here’s the formal, published abstract:

“A major destruction that ended the flourishing Iron Age IIA administrative town (Level 3) was exposed during the current excavations at Tel Beth-Shemesh. The identification of this destruction as the outcome of the encounter between Jehoash king of Israel and Amaziah king of Judah (2 Kings 14) in the beginning of the 8th century BCE, must lead to a revision of the current understanding of Iron Age II in Judah with implications concerning the status of Jerusalem at the early stage of the Monarchy. The heavy destruction was traced everywhere at the site by all three expeditions. E. Grant and G. E. Wright used it to separate Stratum IIb and IIc, but they were confused regarding the possible agent of this destruction. Their suggested long list of possible agents included the Assyrian kings Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib and even the Philistines in the days of Ahaz (2 Chron 28). Another possible agent for the destruction attributes it to the earthquake during the days of Uzziah and Amos. A critical review of the causes for the destruction of the Iron IIA city of Beth-Shemesh (our Level 3 = Stratum IIb) coupled with current pottery chronology enables us to link this violent event with the biblical narrative of Jehoash’s and Amaziah’s clash. Moreover, since Beth-Shemesh was destroyed by Jehoash, then his breaching of the city-wall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 14:13) may also be considered a reality reflecting Jerusalem as a walled city already at the end of the 9th century BCE.”

Earlier in this blog series, I mentioned that I didn’t like the format of some sessions where attendee questions were withheld until the end of the session. After hearing this fascinating 21-minute lecture that ended with such a forceful statement, it seemed really strange that the Q&A session began with Prof. William Dever offering a commentary on Cline’s previous lecture regarding a documentary movie he had reluctantly appeared in, namely that its “edited version makes us both look foolish”. In classic Dever-elitist tone (which I enjoy hearing when he uses it to support the Biblical record, but which sounds immature in other contexts such as this one), he also mentioned the “dreadful ignorance of the American public”.

His comments lasted about 4 minutes (1/5th that of Prof. Lederman’s entire lecture), & included laments over an appearance he made on a show hosted by news-reporter/icon, Ted Koppel; & someone else chimed in on what could be done to educate the general populace about information scholars consider to be true science. As another person began to ask a question, I could see some commotion, & heard chuckles coming from the front row where Lederman & Bunimovitz were seated next to BAR editor, Hershel Shanks. When Dale Manor (who presided over the session) interrupted to ask what happened, Mr. Shanks said, “Zvi just threw his paper in my lap!” This prompted the most uproarious laughter I heard during the entire ASOR/SBL conference!

Oded Borowski observed that “We should stop being so hard on ourselves”, & addressing Cline said, “You’re spending too much time on popularizing…”; but Cline retorted that “for every popular thing” he publishes, he also publishes “2 scholarly things.”

It was extremely apparent (especially now that the entire ASOR & SBL conference is over) that this was a very popular subject for these scholars to discuss. You could hear it in their voices, & discern their desire from their promptness in comparison to other sessions.

I didn’t recognize half of the speakers, & didn’t know Carolyn Rivers, but saw her name tag (it’s too bad the people presiding over these sessions didn’t announce each speaker, or ask them to state their name prior to commenting for the benefit of newcomers like myself); she asked, “Could ASOR do better P.R.?”

In a rare occasion when I agree with Eric Cline, he noted that “universities have P.R. departments”, & suggested that the blame shouldn’t be placed entirely on publishers such as ASOR. Personally, I don’t understand why so many years have elapsed, & still so many colleges & universities seem to have a problem getting their I.T. departments into gear to facilitate their Sciences & Humanities departments in this regard. I haven’t searched for any statistics, but I’m sure there’s a great number of students with MySpace pages & other personal sites simply because they’re not directed or guided to an opportunity to publish in a manner that contributes useful/lasting info for the education of others (instead of on fan sites, for example; I’m guilty of the equivalent of this back in my days where instead of typing it on a computer, & uploading it to the Web, I’d type it on a typewriter & send it to friends via paper mail). Chances are good that the time I spent doing that could’ve been diverted if I had been motivated by the university system in subjects that interested me (such as Egyptology). But again, I digress…

Naturally, Hershel Shanks had a few things to say on this subject: “If something important comes out, it’s hard not to write about it…”, & there’s a “tendency to be critical of Biblical insight … scholars are afraid to make Biblical connections … It’s OK to be a little unsure … We need more respect on both sides…”

Anson Rainey concluded the 12-minute session with a humorous comment: “I thoroughly endorse [this work at] Beth Shemesh–[it’s the] one excavation from my university–Tel Aviv–of which I can be proud!” This, too, generated laughter, but also resounding applause from people like me.

This single, 33-minute slice of the day was well worth the price of the conference. You could spend much less buying a book on this subject, but to be in the room where the principals are in attendance is priceless.

But the day’s not even half over yet…

G.M. Grena


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