Archive for December, 2012

Vaughn’s Response to Millard

December 24, 2012

A response by Dr. Andrew Vaughn (Executive Director of ASOR) to a lecture at Lanier Theological Library by Dr. Alan Millard (Emeritus Professor and Honorary Senior Fellow, University of Liverpool) entitled, “Did Moses Know the Alphabet? Was There Writing in Ancient Israel?”

It is quite an honor to be here. I’ve had the honor & privilege of being on 3 or 4 panels or groups with Prof. Millard, & every time I learned so much. This time I had the task of giving a response without having a manuscript in advance, so it gave me a chance to re-read much of what he’s written, & I was reminded how much he knows. Mark [Lanier] told me today, ‘Man he knows a lot!’ I’m humbled, I must say, to give a response following his lecture, which was very instructive for me.

I want to make 4 points based on the lecture we’ve heard, & then conclude with an observation.

Before that, I want to bring you greetings from the 1,600 members of The American Schools of Oriental Research. Many, almost all of the scholars sitting here are part of our organization. Greetings from the 67 affiliated digs. We have 91 member schools. And Mark Lanier, our host, is on our board, & he is a part of our organization as well. So it’s truly an honor to be here, & all of ASOR is glad that we can take part in an event like this. If you’re wondering who we are (I have to put in a plug for us), I have some brochures down here, or you can go to www.ASOR.org.

So my 4 observations, I want to make a few observations about Moses & how he wrote, & all of the observations are going to focus on what I think was an underlying presupposition, that the Israelites in Moses’ time had writing that we don’t have today; & the reason we don’t have that is it was found on papyrus, & not on documents that would have survived. So I’m going to make 4 observations that I think will support the conclusion that there might have been historical sources written on papyrus that have not survived, or we have not found yet.

I will assume that Moses lived somewhere between 1250 & 1200; I’ll narrow down the time in making my observation. I also draw on Gordon Hamilton & Anson Rainey, who’ve used the names of letters to argue that members of the elite society invented the alphabet. I’m not sure if Prof. Millard agrees on all of that, but I think that’s consistent with Moses being trained, having grown up in Pharaoh’s court, knowing the alphabet.

But it comes down to, if cuneiform is preserved, why haven’t the papyri been preserved? And that’s the point that I want to turn to next.

One of the texts that Prof. Millard showed us, were some silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom; & I had the privilege of working on these amulets about 12 years ago, & publishing them with 3 other people (Gaby Barkay, Marilyn Lundberg, Bruce Zuckerman). By doing some photographic investigation & looking at the letters, we were able to decipher parts of them that were previously unreadable. And it’s actually the parts that are above the Priestly Benediction (the Biblical quote) that I think have the most relevance for positing that there were historical sources that survived.

One of the quotes that I wrote down from Prof. Millard’s lecture was that ‘these amulets do not prove the book of Numbers existed at that time.’ Another one was, ‘Evidence does exist to support the existence of literature at an earlier date.’ I’m not sure I got those exactly right, but they’re close. I think by going through these 2 amulets, & the confessional statements above the Biblical quotes that are found there, provides evidence that there were historical sources, even if Numbers wasn’t written down shortly before the destruction of the first temple. I think there probably was a text there, but I think these amulets show us that this source was a little more fluid.

So I’m going to read Ketef Hinnom 1, just the translation, mainly the parts above the Biblical quote. It’s something like, ‘Yahweh the great (& then the text is broken) Who keeps the covenant & graciousness to those who love Him & keep His commandments (then the text is broken), the eternal One (the text is broken again, assumed) is a blessing more than any snare or evil, for redemption is in Him, for the LORD is our restorer & rock. May the LORD bless you, & may He keep you. May the LORD make His face shine (& then the text breaks off).’

Notice how much text there is before we get to the Biblical quote, & that these texts are confessional statements.

Ketef Hinnom 2, it’s about the same size, but the writing is much larger so you’re not going to get as much text. Also, it has more of the Biblical quote, so you know that both of them were there. It has ‘For (the name’s broken; ends in) Yahu (so somebody with the name -yahu). May he be blessed by the LORD, the warrior & rebuker of evil. May the LORD bless you & keep you. May the LORD make His face shine upon you, & grant you peace.’

So both of these quote this Biblical text, but beforehand they both contain confessional statements about God, showing that this text can be quoted in the late-6th century, & quoted in different ways. I think this is important for the idea that there were historical sources that people could quote, & they were still in flux.

It’s instructive when we look at Numbers 6:22 following, we see the LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to Aaron & his sons saying, “Thus you shall bless the Israelites; you shall say to them, ‘May the LORD bless you & keep you. May the LORD make His face shine upon you, & grant you peace.'”‘ Notice that the Biblical text doesn’t have either one of the confessional statements that we find in these extra-Biblical texts, showing that although it’s only a few verses, there was a memory or historical remembrance or a text that had been preserved; & I think that lends credence to the argument that Prof. Millard has made tonight.

I want to make a few observations on Jerusalem, just a couple. Prof. Millard, who referred to some challenges scholars have made about the united monarchy, & whether it could be strong, given the character of Jerusalem, Prof. Millard said, ‘I don’t know if “city” was the right word.’ In another article, another study, I have built on Albrecht Alt’s theory of an administrative center; & I would suggest to you that it’s our idea of what a capital city is, that gets in the way of us thinking of Jerusalem as being the head of the united monarchy.

Alt proposed that Jerusalem was chosen as the neutral administrative center, & was the home only of the king, the king’s family, the mercenaries, & the king’s army. This led scholars to propose that Jerusalem never spread beyond the Bronze Age city mound, & 12-15 years ago when I wrote my book on Hezekiah, I assumed that Alt was wrong because it was proven that in the 8th century the city had grown beyond those confines. I actually think that my reasoning was faulty now, & that he was right in the 10th century, it was a limited city, but it was our understanding of what a capital city is, that’s influenced us in reading the Biblical text. So I would say that ‘city’ is the right word, but that it’s our understanding of what a capital city is.

An analogy here could be Washington, DC. Before the Civil War, Washington, DC was fairly limited in its size. One of the reasons is, Richmond to the south didn’t want Washington, DC to grow. After the Civil War, the federal government didn’t care so much what Richmond thought, & there was a natural progression of growth, & Washington, DC grew. I would argue, & I don’t want to get too far off here, but that Jerusalem grows after the death of Solomon because it’s at that time that there’s no longer the need to have a neutral city, because Jerusalem’s the capital of the kingdom of Judah in the south.

So I think all of this is consistent with seeing the united monarchy as being a strong kingdom; & the writing evidence we see from several of the papers we’ve heard this weekend of writing in the 10th century, is consistent with there being records & historical sources during this time.

I want to come back to the question of papyri, & could sources have been preserved, & again go back to my book of 12 or 15 years ago on Hezekiah. I wrote on the Chronicler’s Account of Hezekiah, & one of the things that I investigated was why the Chronicler’s account is much longer than the account in Kings. And some people have proposed that the Chronicler made it up. Well, I questioned this because in other places the Chronicler’s account was shorter.

For example, the Chronicler’s account of David leaves out a very important story. If you were going to make David seem better, what one story would you leave out?” [Audience replies, “Bathsheba!“] “Bathsheba. It’s not there! The result is, David looks better in Chronicles. Well likewise, what I did was a historical reconstruction of the late-8th century looking at seals & archeology; & all of the historical evidence, I think, showed that Hezekiah undertook prolonged siege preparation, not just of a few years, but built up the kingdom, & that all of this is consistent with the text that we have in Chronicles. It doesn’t prove that the Chronicler had a source, but, I think, offers up a certain amount of evidence in support, that the Chronicler had a source that he referred to, & it was probably written on papyrus; & I think this is consistent with other Biblical sources that might have existed & been available during the time of the united monarchy.

So does all this mean that Moses had a complete, written history? That’s hard to say, but I think it is consistent that Moses would have been able to write, Moses would have been able to read, documents would have been written down; when they were codified, or when the text of the Hebrew Bible developed as we have today, is difficult to say. But for me, it’s helpful to see the fluid development of the Bible, & how these texts, that are held as sacred texts for many people, developed by, I would say as a person of faith, God inspiring humans to write them.

I’m going to finish with one story describing a lecture that I heard in seminary. I was in seminary, & the professor gave a talk about the sources in the Pentateuch; & she explained that there were at least 4 sources according to her theory, & I think she’s right, that wrote the Pentateuch. The other thing she explained was that nowhere in the Bible did it say that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. It said that it was ‘of Moses’, but not necessarily written by Moses, & I think Prof. Millard referred to this earlier.

After the lecture, some of my classmates were asking me, ‘Well, what do you think about this? Isn’t this disturbing?’ I said, ‘To tell you the truth, I have to go read my notes over & think about it. This is all new to me; I’ve never thought about that, but this is really liberating for me.’ And they said, ‘Why? How could this be liberating for you?’ I said, “Well, I’ve considered myself a pious person, a person of faith, & I’ve always been a little disappointed that I haven’t been pious enough to be put in a trance like Moses, & be told what God is saying.’

Since then, I think that the evolution & development of the text shows that God used people like me to write the text, & that it has a more fluid development; & that was helpful for me to see that, yes, there could be historical sources; but like these amulets from Ketef Hinnom, the final version didn’t take place until somewhat later. And that, to me, has made the Bible come alive, & not threatened my faith, but rather built it up.

Thank you.

Although I think Dr. Vaughn did an overall excellent job of responding to Dr. Millard, I have to disagree strongly with his (seminary prof.’s) statement that “nowhere in the Bible did it say that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.” 2Chronicles 33:8 (cf. 35:6 & Nehemiah 8:14, 9:14, 10:29) records God referring to “all the Torah … by the hand of Moses.” And that’s obvious from Exodus 17:14, 24:4, 34:27, Numbers 33:2, Deuteronomy 31:9, 31:24 (affirmed by Sadducees in Mark 12:19 & Luke 20:28, & by Philip in John 1:45). If it were strictly an oral tradition, God probably would’ve said “by the mouth of Moses.” From these passages, it’s safe to say that other phrases translated “the law OF Moses, should be specifically understood as “the law [written for posterity] BY Moses.”

I discussed a similar aspect of this subject in depth with John Hobbins back in May, challenging his assertion that “the Pentateuch embeds into its narrative divine prescriptions received in various historical periods and narrativized in terms of reception by Moses.” Readers can see that he was not able to defend any of his points without clumsily contradicting himself.

As I wrote on the YouTube page regarding Dr. Vaughn, world-class scholars readily admit when they’re wrong (though it may take some time for them to see their problem; me too).

G.M. Grena