On Sunday, February 16th I dispensed with my regular stairclimb training in lieu of an all-day conference at the American Jewish University. Drs. Shimon Gibson & Gabriel Barkay were both scheduled to deliver 4 lectures spanning the “History & Archaeology of the Three Jerusalems” (the event’s official title).
I arrived a little early (just before 8:30) even though I wasn’t expecting either of them to be the first to speak, & I figured Dr. Barkay would probably arrive after lunch. I’m always curious to see if anybody else is in attendance whom I know. There never is!
As I strolled through the moderately crowded lobby (altogether about 200 people were there), as usual I didn’t recognize anyone; however, as I was standing in line to get my ticket, I heard a man’s voice say, “George!”
My first thought was that the person was referring to some other George who happened to be there, but as I slowly turned towards the person simply out of curiosity, I was shocked to see Dr. Barkay looking right at me!
“Wow! Hi, Dr. Barkay! I can’t believe you’re here already! I’m even more surprised that you actually recognized me after all these years!”
That in itself was an honor, just to be recognized by the star of the show! The last time we had met was about 5 & a half years earlier at Dr. Bruce Zuckerman’s West Semitic Research Center (way before Israel Finkelstein decided to make me famous).
I told him I had some goodies to show him, & asked if he knew when he’d be delivering his lectures. Again to my surprise, he said he was going to be first. As Dr. Ziony Zevit, the event host, explained shortly after 9:00 when the conference began, Dr. Gibson had called a day earlier to cancel his trip due to health-related problems. But he had arranged with Dr. Barkay to deliver his 2 lectures. As much as I like Dr. Gibson, I could easily spend all day listening to Dr. Barkay, & that’s practically what happened!
I had hoped to be able to make a video recording of all the lectures for public consumption on YouTube, but I asked Dr. Barkay & he said I could only make the recording for my own private use. That’s really unfortunate for everyone who didn’t attend, because he gave a magnificent presentation as you can see from the published abstracts advertising the occasion:
Lecture #1: The Footprints of Kings in Jerusalem
- Since the nineteenth century, archaeologists have been excavating the Jerusalem of David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Zedekiah both inside and outside of the walls of the “Old City.” What have they found and what do they claim? How much of what is claimed is true? When pieces of the puzzle are combined, what is the big picture that emerges?
Lecture #2: When the Second Temple Stood
- Hillel, Jesus, and Yohanan ben Zakkai knew the streets and buildings of Jerusalem in the century before its destruction by Rome. Painstaking excavation in Jerusalem during the last half-century enables us to see some of what they saw and to understand aspects of day-to-day life in the city in the days when sacrifices were still offered on the Temple Mount.
Lecture #3: Christian Jerusalem: From Constantine the Great in the 4th Century to Emperor Heraclius in the 7th Century
- Christian Jerusalem continues the pagan, Roman city of Aelia Capitolina but expands it, focusing on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Archaeology enables us to tour fortifications, streets, key churches, and the other public and domestic buildings that defined the character of the Christian city.
Lecture #4: Jerusalem under the Moslems: from Caliph Omar to Saladin
- Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem illuminate changes that Muslim rulers made in the city. Their focus was centered on the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque, both situated on the Temple Mount. This presentation explores schools, courts, bathhouses, and other public buildings, and attempts to shed light on domestic life in the city during the Islamic periods.
My video camera has suffered many rocky bike rides & stairclimb drops, so it’s not always reliable. In fact after meeting Dr. Barkay in the lobby, I made a quick 1-minute overview of the lobby to record how excited I was, as well as to show the scenic view of the mountains outside; however, when I got home I saw that its periodic glitch occurred, & alas, it’s as if it never happened.
This was the 3rd time Dr. Barkay had lectured here, & if you visit AJU’s website, or Dr. Barkay’s website, you wouldn’t know it. It too is as if it never happened. Like Las Vegas, what happens at AJU stays at AJU.
But fortunately all 4 of his lectures are safely on my computer & backed up to my laptop, & I look forward to watching them again sometime. There’s no way I could do justice to the details due to all the other things going on in my life right now, but there’s one moment in particular that I’m going to share here.
About 35 minutes into his first lecture covering the Judean monarchy, he showed a slide of the 3 famous bullae excavated by Eilat Mazar’s team in recent years. After listing their technical details, he explained their importance:
“Now these discoveries of course keep the Biblical scriptures very much alive. These are figures who somehow come alive from the pages of the text. We can visualize them taking their seal & stamping some of the outgoing mail & documents with their seal.”
Next he transitioned the slideshow to a photo of my famous H2D #22 as well as the 3 famous restored jars from Lachish, along with 2 H4L stamps (probably from the same jars), though they’re awkwardly rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise.
“If we mention seals & seal impressions, where’s George Grena? George?”
I stood up from the back row & waved my arm so he could see me.
“Oh, there. Thank you. This is in your honor. A royal seal impression which was stamped on the handles of 4-handled, egg-shaped storage jars, about 1 meter or so in height. Those royal seal impressions were discovered for the first time in Jerusalem in the winter of 1868 by Charles Warren. Since then, more than 350 of them are known from Jerusalem & close vicinity, & you have the emblem of the kingdom, a 2-winged emblem, & here a 4-winged beetle being another emblem which have names of cities on them. This is Hebron. This is Hebron lamelek. Hebron again. In any case, these royal seal impressions belong to the time of King Hezekiah, the 8th century BC. And their spread from Jerusalem can teach us about the urban development of Jerusalem.”
Just when you thought my ego couldn’t get any bigger! Ha! Now I’m going to be one level above the official qualification for “egomaniac”! But seriously, that was a total shock, & I’d still be in disbelief were it not for the video.
His last lecture ended around 4:55, going a little beyond the 4:30 scheduled end. Shortly after 5 when everyone else had left, Dr. Barkay & I sat alone there in the Gindi Auditorium, & chatted about “stuff” for 20 minutes or so. As cool as it is to be able to say that, I’m somewhat melancholy because I had prepared to record a semi-formal interview of him, especially hoping to record & publish his opinion of the Lipschits Scandal. Think of how neat it would’ve been to see him react to me juxtaposing it with his termination from TAU due to the aiding/abetting of dishonesty by Israel Finkelstein. Then I had planned to ask his opinion: Which of the 2 following things is worth less, TAU’s Code of Honor, or a used piece of toilet paper?
I can, however, share with you that the aforementioned “goodies” included a courtesy printout of the abstract for my paper I’m hoping to deliver at the upcoming ASOR conference (I submitted it last month, but probably won’t know if it’s been accepted till this summer), as well as printouts of 2 newly discovered LMLK seal-design features. Not sure where/when I’ll be publishing those, but it was nice to be able to share it with him & see his immediate reaction.
Even though he did not want to make any statements for YouTube, it should be obvious from what he did to magnify me on this occasion how he feels about my original contributions to the subject. I’ll simply close with a statement he made during an October 2005 interview conducted by Shahar Ilan for Haaretz:
“Any idiot on the staff will reach full professorship ahead of his pension.”