SBL 2007 (p. 10)

Upon leaving the National Association of Professors of Hebrew at 10:25 (God that sounds weird coming from me), I decided to check my voice-mail, because at that time I thought I might be able to arrange a lunchtime meeting with Andy Vaughn. Sure enough, he had received my E-mail from the night before, & gave me the disappointing news (left 15 minutes earlier):

Hello George, this is Andy Vaughn. I just got your message about half an hour ago, & I’m at the airport. … I’m headin’ home today. … thanks for your E-mail; sorry I didn’t get it sooner, &, uh, maybe we can get in touch some other time. All the best, bye.

I said hello again to Prof. McCarter when I reached the southernmost end of the CC, & immediately went into the same room where I had caught the tail-end of Jodi Magness on the first day (the tail-end of her lecture, that is). The previous speaker was just finishing in this session, “Literature and History of the Persian Period”, & at 10:43, Prof. Oded Lipschits began his:

Ramat Rahel as An Administrative Center in Judah during the Late Iron Age and Persian Periods

Ever since Yohanan Aharoni began his excavations at the site of Ramat Rahel five decades ago, it became clear that this was a unique site. The overall plan, the impressive architectural remains and the numerous stamped jar handles all indicate that the site must have played an important role during the days of the Judean kingdom. The discovery of 256 Yehud stamped jar handles dated to the Persian and early Hellenistic periods suggests that the site maintained its function and its ancient prestige during the Persian period. But what exactly was done at the site? And whose authority does it reflect? These questions and others still remain unsolved. The new excavations at the site conducted by the Archaeological Institute of Tel-Aviv University and the Theological Institute of Heidelberg University have revealed many finds that illuminate the questions presented above. The lecture will present the new finds and will evaluate their importance for understanding the role of Ramat Rahel during the Iron Age and the Persian period.

He began with a light-speed reprise of his ASOR lecture the previous week (the first one I attended in this entire series). Upfront, he cautioned those of us in attendance that the first part of his lecture would be a presentation of archeology, & humorously told us, “Don’t run away!

Again he emphasized that Aharoni’s excavation was “poorly published“, & showed the same slides with the same recurring Question Marks. This time I was ready for the ones of the excavation team lying on the ground to form Hebrew words, & saw that one of them was “LHR TMR” (“Ramat Rahel“)!

The night before, I had written down 4 key questions I wanted him to address. One was a clarification of his statement during the ASOR lecture that his team had found “LMLKs” (plural) “under the floor … Rosettas above“. I had asked him this in the elevator the day before, but he didn’t have time to answer. He ended up answering my question during the lecture by stating that only 1 had been found “in the field” corresponding with the level “under the floor“–it had not been found in-situ directly under the floor, made of “crushed limestone“. However, during our semi-private discussion after the lecture, he added that he did find one in the fill, & “several in the field“.

Prof. Aharoni had found many of his in association with this floor–above it, & in the fill for its foundation–so this new one adds no startling breakthrough, though it will be interesting, nonetheless, to see which seal design is on this particular handle when it’s published. The important point is that the ASOR lecture left open the question that an unknown quantity–possibly many–had been found in a distinct occupation layer directly under the floor, whereas now we know that such is not the case. So no matter which seal designs were in the fill for this floor, if there is no clear occupation layer containing LMLKs under this floor, any of the ones associated with the construction of the floor could have been from any portion of Hezekiah’s reign, even carryovers into Manasseh’s reign, if you believe it was constructed during his reign instead of Hezekiah’s; but more about this later.

In this lecture Prof. Lipschits also said, “We didn’t locate the earliest plan of the site…“, & as at ASOR, reiterated, “Where is the Vb citadel?” As a “working hypothesis“, he suggested that there was “only one Iron Age phase“, during the late 8th century, & that the palace was probably built at the beginning of the 7th century. He again emphasized that there was no sign of destruction during the 7th-4th centuries, “or even the 3rd“–more specifically, “no evidence for specific breaks” in the site’s occupation during those turbulent eras.

This reconstruction of the site’s history is “totally different than the simple picture” painted by Aharoni. The palace was “much bigger” on its east & south sides. At some point, a “large part of the outer court” was “artificially leveled“, & overlaid with a “chocolate-like soil” that had been “brought from elsewhere“, which Lipschits described as “garden soil“. What Aharoni had thought was the “southwest corner” of the palace, has apparently been found to be “an enclosure“, part of a largescale plan to “reshape” this hill & “create an impressive architectural monument“.

Here my notes tell me that he showed some nice slides of the pools that may have been associated with the watering of this garden, but they were going by me so fast that I didn’t have time to describe each one (you can see some of these on the excavation’s official website). I made a little drawing showing the relation between this “garden” & the citadel & the palace, based on a really nice illustration shown during the lecture. Basically the garden area spans at least twice that of the 2 buildings combined.

On an architectural note, he mentioned the “sudden” use of “proto-Aeolic capitals” about “150 years after the Omrid” dynasty in northern Israel.

This time, he allowed enough time for me to copy down the quantities for each of the major stamped handles found at the prominent sites:

LMLKs:
413 Lachish
283 Jerusalem
175 Ramat Rahel

Rosettes (235 known):
24 Lachish
84 Jerusalem
54 Ramat Rahel

Yehuds (415 known):
0 Lachish
76 Jerusalem
251 Ramat Rahel

(Note that the abstract to an article in Tel Aviv vol. 34 #1, 2007, co-authored by Lipschits & David Vanderhooft [whom I’ll speak about later], states that 532 Yehuds are known–a huge difference from 415. I’m ordering a copy of this & will eventually write a detailed review.)

Obviously when juxtaposed like this, you can see a shift in the majority. Though Prof. Lipschits didn’t specifically say it, you can see that he’s suggesting that as Lachish was an important economic center prior to its Assyrian conquest, & as Jerusalem was an important economic center prior to its Babylonian conquest, Ramat Rahel served the same capacity during the Persian period. (Later in the lecture, he said that Mizpah was the center for the Persian government, & it’s interesting that the significant handle quantities from en-Nasbeh were omitted from this list, not to mention el-Jib’s!)

One problem with this suggestion is that I don’t know anyone who would believe Lachish was ever a more economically prominent/active Judean site than Jerusalem–LMLKs be darned. Nor can I imagine Ramat Rahel being more economically prominent/active than Jerusalem during the Persian era. Ezra & Nehemiah didn’t lead Jews back to a site near Jerusalem, they led them back to Jerusalem.

He said that whoever built Ramat Rahel, “they were aware of” the importance of having “eye-contact with Jerusalem“, & Ramat Rahel presented a “rivaling image“. Again, he showed a great number of excellent photographs looking from/to Ramat Rahel as he was speaking.

He noted that this area was “nearly empty” prior to the build-up at Ramat Rahel. Its valley is the “widest & richest to the south of Jerusalem“, & was the best around for “growing vines without terraces“. The scope of this development was “wider” than ever before, being bounded by Motsa to the northwest, Jerusalem to the northeast, Ramat Rahel to the southeast, & Rogem Gannim between Motsa & Ramat Rahel. He said that Motsa “supplied grain after the loss of the Shephelah“.

Though not saying so directly, towards the end he seemed to want to say that Ramat Rahel was Biblical Beth Haccherem, but he never said it like that; it’s clear that this is the belief he’s leaning toward, & I certainly have no problem accepting it. I think the not-so-subtle suggestion is that he definitely does not believe it was MMST (counter to Gabriel Barkay).

If you were to take this 24-minute lecture & slow it down to my speed (or P. Kyle McCarter’s talking rate), it would easily have exceeded an hour!

The Q&A was very brief, & the only noteworthy remark I recorded was that of Lester Grabbe, who was sitting behind me, who commented on the major break that occurred during the 3rd/4th centuries, which was actually a Hasmonean destruction in the middle of the 2nd century.

After another presentation (by John Kessler, accompanied by a very well-written 14-page handout–pity that every lecturer during ASOR & SBL didn’t present take-home material of this caliber as I thought they would), the session concluded.

Prof. Lipschits spoke with people for about half an hour afterwards, including a student who expressed an interest in joining the excavation at Ramat Rahel. During this time I chatted with my LMLK friend, Robin DeWitt Knauth, who had also attended this session–disproving her prediction/doubt at ASOR that we would meet again at SBL, & she stayed to join me in conversation with Prof. Lipschits when he became available around noon.

I thanked him for clarifying the “handles-under-the-floor” issue. He said that he assigned separate students the responsibility of publishing chapters on the major handle types: one for LMLKs, one for Rosettes, one for Yehuds, one for YRSLMs, & even one for the Lions.

Rogem Gannim figured prominently in both of his lectures I attended. While waiting to speak to him, I asked Dr. Knauth what it meant in Hebrew, & she didn’t know “rogem”, but correctly translated “gannim” as “gardens”. I should’ve known this because I have the first 2 chapters of Genesis memorized, & of course, EGN (“the garden”; singular) plays a prominent role. Later I asked Dr. Lipschits, & ironically, he wasn’t sure of “gannim” (spelled that way in his maps & a TAU publication; spelled “ganim” elsewhere online), but correctly knew “rogem” as the famous tumuli west of Jerusalem where Gabriel Barkay excavated 2 LMLKs & 2 Circles handles in 1983 (BAR vol. 29 #3, May/Jun 2003).

Prof. Lipschits informed me of a recent issue of Tel Aviv journal (vol. 33 #2, 2006) wherein a LMLK handle was published that had been excavated by a fellow Tel Aviv University professor. Here’s the abstract from the article by Raphael Greenberg & Gilad Cinamon, “Stamped and Incised Jar Handles from Rogem Gannim and Their Implications for the Political Economy of Jerusalem, Late 8th–Early 4th Centuries BCE”:

Twenty-two stamped and incised jar handles found at the site adjacent to the largest of the tumuli west of Jerusalem provide evidence for the continuous administrative/ commercial activity in the region during the late Iron Age and Persian Period. This evidence underscores the highly specialized character of economic activity in the Nahal Refa’im basin, borne out by the discovery of several dozen wine presses of Late-Iron-Persian date. A significant connection with the administrative centre at Ramat Rahel is indicated, suggesting that the expansion into the previously underexploited ecological zone was state-sponsored, necessitated by the sudden growth of Jerusalem and the Judean economy in the late 8th-7th century BCE.

I spent a portion of today researching this site, & discovered that a team led by Dr. Rafi Greenberg has apparently been digging there for 3 years to preserve it for the Ganim community. They even have a web page showing drawings of some of the handles (LMLK x2x at top, followed by what looks like a Rosette, then a Yehud on the left & Circles on the right; I’m not sure what to make of the 2 bottom ones).

It was really confusing for me, & still is to a certain degree since I didn’t see Kiriat Menahem (or Kiryat Menah’em) named on these websites for Ganim, but the important point is that now in addition to Dr. Barkay’s 4 handles found in the tumulus, there are at least 2 more (1 x2x, & 1 Circles) found in close proximity. Where exactly, I don’t know. The real kicker is that this new work at the site recovered a Rosette … but was it found in the tumulus, or merely some inhabited site near it? And why would a tumulus be located so close to a thriving agricultural site (or vice versa)?

You’ll recall that a major thrust at the end of Dr. Barkay’s article was that Tumulus #4 was probably constructed in honor of King Hezekiah, but now this Rosette may, in one fell swoop, eliminate that possibility.

The 2 most prominent scholars who have written about Rosettes in recent years, Jane Cahill & David Ussishkin, have dated the Rosettes after Josiah’s reign, & interpret their purpose in relation to military supplies. Ms. Cahill assigns the earliest specimens to Jehoiakim’s reign, while Ussishkin prefers Zedekiah. Now for him, this new discovery poses no problem because I seriously doubt he associates the tumuli with honor-mounds for Judean kings (I could be wrong though). As for Ms. Cahill, she has not published an opinion on the tumuli either.

But if you, dear readers, believe these tumuli were honor-mounds for the Judean monarchy, & Tumulus #4 is one of the largest (if not the largest), & it contained a Rosette, you have to wonder which king later than Josiah–if not Josiah–did it belong to? Just ask yourself which ones were popular leading to the downfall & ultimate destruction of the entire kingdom!

I’m anxious to examine the excavation report in detail (I’m ordering a copy & will update the LMLK Corpus after I’ve read it; & may write a blog report to clarify the issue if the Rosette proves to be completely unrelated to the tumulus), but at this point, it seems that Tumulus 4 may have belonged to this very popular king, who led a very important worship-reformation following Manasseh’s reign, of which these Rosette-stamped jars testify to. Furthermore, the Hebrew caption under the Rosette drawing on the Ganim site names Josiah (LYASYEU EMLK; “of Josiah the king”), so this could be a major turn of events on this subject! Very exciting!

Since he had answered 3 of my 4 key questions during the lecture, there was only one I had left. It’s clear from both of his lectures, that he believes the Assyrians built Ramat Rahel’s palace after they conquered King Hezekiah (albeit leaving him like a caged bird in Jerusalem), & occupied it throughout the remainder of his reign & his son’s reign. In this context, I asked him as succinctly as I could:

What evidence do you have for the Assyrian occupation of Ramat Rahel during Hezekiah’s reign as opposed to Manasseh’s reign? How can you distinguish them archeologically?

I asked this knowing that the Biblical record states unequivocally that Hezekiah reigned unmolested after Sennacherib suffered a devastating loss of military personnel by an angel, & some years later, 2Chronicles mentions Assyrian officials temporarily dethroning Manasseh.

Dr. David Vanderhooft (Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible, Department of Theology at Boston College), who had presided over the session, was listening in at this point, & correctly answered, “You can’t!

I was very impressed with his response! (I was not familiar with him or his background prior to this occasion, & noticed today that there was a controversy over his appointment to the prominent position at Boston College back around 2000/2001; but notice that one article says, “He is apparently well liked by everyone, & then in a later one, “Former students of his said they enjoyed his classes and were impressed with his depth in Old Testament history.)

Prof. Lipschits answered by saying that we know from Assyrian sources & Judean archeology that Hezekiah was defeated by the Assyrians.

It’s really unfortunate that I didn’t have a tape recorder for this encounter–most of what I’m writing in this blog is from my faulty memory. It will probably only take you a couple of minutes to read this section of my report, but the entire discussion lasted nearly half an hour!

I quickly countered this suggestion by asking how he interprets the purpose of the LMLK handles.

General administration.” He does not believe they were strictly used for military supplies.

I said that other prominent scholars, particularly David Ussishkin, insist that they strictly predate Hezekiah, & yet Aharoni found many still in use apparently after the construction of the palace at Ramat Rahel, not to mention Gabriel Barkay who believes the palace predated the Assyrian attack. If they were used before & after the palace, how can he be certain the palace was built by the Assyrians & used almost exclusively by the Assyrians after Hezekiah was “caged”, especially if everyone but me believes the “king” of “LMLK” refers to Hezekiah? Why would the Assyrians use them?

He explained that “En Gedi is crucial” to understanding the LMLK phenomenon, as well as the Yehuds, one of which was found in Mesopotamia.

At some point, Dr. Knauth asked him to explain how he believes the jars actually functioned; for example, were they transported after being fired, or were they filled & then transported, etc. As they spoke, I was jotting down a few of the quotes you see italicized in this section. Another point I noted was that he believes the primary contents was oil, not wine.

At some point I backed up my belief that they were part of King Hezekiah’s worship reformation per 2Chronicles. He reaffirmed the position held by the consensus of scholars that it’s a biased document, & this section of the narrative is fictitious. Getting back to my opening question, I said that this is archeological evidence for the reliability of 2Chronicles–there is no scientific evidence to support the consensus position. 2Chronicles is the best explanation I can think of for the LMLKs found at the northern sites. I asked how he interpreted them.

He basically shrugged them off, “So you have 7 handles from 4 sites,” (to paraphrase him) “So what? Big deal.” In other words, they don’t impact his ideas when viewed as a general-admin phenomena; he’d expect to find them all over the place, including Mesopotamia like the Yehuds, as remains from the economy. He asked if I had read Nili Fox’s book on this subject, & I mentioned that she signed it for me the day before! (I didn’t mention that I haven’t had time to read it in its entirety–just the sections relating to LMLKs specifically.)

I countered his point about the Yehuds with the quantities, noting that LMLKs far outnumber the Yehuds, & yet none have ever been found outside of Israel, & the ones found so far line up fairly well with territories mentioned in 2Chronicles.

Eventually I conceded that he made some good points, & I had not been aware of the Mesopotamian Yehud handle. Nonetheless, I’m still waiting for someone to produce evidence that 2Chronicles is unreliable & unrelated to LMLKs. And if Prof. Lipschits is successful in publishing his evidence for LMLK jars in use at Ramat Rahel–even if by Assyrians, then David Ussishkin will have to rethink his interpretation of their usage at Lachish. Tel Aviv University can’t have it both ways: short-term military supplies in a limited territory (i.e., Judah) vs. long-term general administration over a relatively huge territory (i.e., everywhere the Neo-Assyrians ruled).

I was surprised by how much time he was willing to spend discussing this subject with me, & thanked him very much. He could have left immediately after the session & enjoyed a lunch instead of staying behind 55 minutes after the session had ended.

Dr. Knauth & I headed north together; her destination was the Marriott, & mine was the Grand Hyatt. We walked at a brisk pace, & agreed that it was terrific of Dr. Lipschits to take the time to chat with us like that! She’s attended these conferences for many years, but for me, since this was my first, I was thrilled beyond belief. It was an occasion I’ll treasure forever (even if I can’t remember all the details)!

And it just now dawns on me that all the time we were having this conversation with him, I had totally forgotten about how disappointed I was for not getting to meet Andy!

G.M. Grena

P.S. Apologies to the 2 or 3 people (& maybe I’m overestimating) who read this blog regularly–there was a 2-day lapse in this series because I worked overtime Thursday & Friday at my engineering job.

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