Time raced by so quickly. I had met 3 really terrific scholars in a 10-minute span! Again, I must reiterate that it was so frustrating to have to choose to attend one lecture over another. One thing I failed to describe in yesterday’s blog (SBL p.2) was that the rooms in this section of the Grand Hyatt were relatively small & intimate–they seated about 30-50 people, whereas some of the rooms in the CC & Marriott held 100-200. So in the Grand, whenever someone arrives late, it’s extremely noticeable–like walking into someone’s living room! Likewise, when leaving in the middle of a session, it’s quite noticeable. So that’s another reason I preferred not to stay for only 1 person at the small sessions. Especially since the subjects were beyond the scope of my interest. (Prior to attending, I had daymares about walking into one of those rooms, & having to explain to a small group of eminent scholars why I was there. Yikes!)
So from the northernmost region of the Grand Hyatt (see map in p. 1), I snaked my way back to the Marriott. I arrived 5 minutes late, but just in time as Jodi Magness was being introduced in a session called “Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World”. I could follow this lecture a little better than her other one:
“The Current State of Qumran Archaeology”
“Sixty years after their discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls are now fully published and have been accessible to the public for years. Unfortunately, the material from Roland de Vaux’s excavations at Qumran remains unpublished and inaccessible. During the last decade we have witnessed a spate of alternative interpretations of the site of Qumran, most prominently those identifying it as a manor house (Yizhar Hirschfeld) or a pottery production center (Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg). In this paper I survey the current state of Qumran archaeology, including a consideration of the alternative interpretations and the larger trends that are defining the ongoing debates.”
If I could summarize her attitude, it was a lioness out of the cage. To say that she has not accepted these “alternative interpretations” would be quite an understatement. As I reported Jane Cahill methodically proving her case for the 10th-century Israelite presence in the City of David, Dr. Magness did likewise in a very impressive no-holds-barred manner.
I only captured a few quotes, preferring to just sit there & soak in her impressive presence, but the first point I paid particular attention to was that she believes Motza clay from Jerusalem was transported to Qumran, but that Qumran was not a pottery production center. (This particular clay has been linked via neutron activation to the production of large pithoi with very rare LMLK seals made many centuries earlier.) She described several instances where Magen/Peleg’s ideas fall flat based on either their ignorance of evidence from other sites, or based on their deliberate avoidance of the facts. The majority of those in attendance agreed with her as you could tell by their laughter–she basically hung ’em out to dry, & emphasized that this interpretation (i.e., that Qumran was a pottery production center) “flies in the face of all common sense!”
Those must be tough words for scientists, scholars, & archeologists like the ones she’s criticizing to swallow! I just hope I’m never on the receiving end of such remarks from someone with her credentials!
She also received a higher volume of laughter when attacking a broader spectrum of scholars who publish headline-grabbing announcements such as the James Ossuary, John-the-Baptist’s cave, & the tomb/ossuaries of Jesus’ family, noting that the tagline for her own little-known excavation at Yotvata is, “Jesus Never Slept Here!”
Finally, in case anyone in the neighborhood had the slightest doubt as to how she feels about “alternative interpretations” of Qumran, she bluntly accused Dr. Itzhak Magen & Dr. Yuval Peleg of “poor scholarship” & “sloppy research“. (By the way, they both work for the Israel Antiquities Authority.)
After she finished, I slipped out unnoticed to kill 20 minutes in another Marriott session where LMLK Dotcom customer & well-known, well-respected blogger, Christopher Heard, was presiding: “Israelite Prophetic Literature: The Success and Failure of Prophecy”. I had hoped to hear him during a Q&A or interlude between speakers, but when one ended, he simply introduced the next; the discussion was reserved for the end of the session.
This was one of the smaller rooms holding about 50 people, & they had 2 doors–one situated near the podium & table of speakers, the other near the back. Walking up to the room, I had no idea which door to use. It was sort of like the old “Let’s Make a Deal” gameshow, where the contestant has to choose between 1 of 3 doors. On 2 occasions (this being one of them), I chose the wrong door.
I quickly & quietly closed it (as I had seen others do throughout the conference–only one session had a presiding professor clever enough to put a courtesy note on the podium door to use the other door; stay tuned to find out which one). I decided to leave unnoticed through the back door with a few other people after Prof. Heard announced the next speaker.
Back at the “Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries” session, they decided to break for a few minutes before Bruce Zuckerman began, & I noticed Dr. Magness getting up to leave. She said something to the person presiding over the session, which I misinterpreted from afar as excusing herself to leave for the evening (as it turns out, she apparently was chilly as I was, & was merely leaving to get a sweater), & as she came toward me at the doors, I showed her a copy of BAR magazine containing an article she wrote about the importance of pottery, & asked her if she’d be so kind as to autograph it for me. You’ll never guess what she said …