ASOR 2014 Review

I finally have some time to share details of my interactions/observations from last month’s conference. In a sense, it’s a very limited view since I only attended about half a day’s worth of lectures, representing a small fraction of what was available to attendees.

The day began in the hotel lobby with the president of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Nelson Glueck. He wasn’t familiar with my work, but I thanked him for allowing me to use his library & examine/photograph his Nebi Rubin weight back in 2006.


Trooper that he is, LMLK VIP Andy Vaughn showed up before most other living humans, challenged me to a staircase race, & paid me a tremendous compliment on my LMLK research (the stuff I’ve done that David Vanderhooft called incompetent; shows how little Vaughn knows!), then autographed his dissertation paperback, & the chapter of Ussishkin’s RAELv4 he co-authored with Gabriel Barkay. You can imagine what a thrill it is for me to finally see all 3 of their signatures in this landmark publication! Later in the day he also signed the chapter he co-authored with Carolyn Pillers Dobler in the Mazar festschrift. I had fun teasing him about provenance & my Lv1 first-impression of his dissertation: “Vaughn’s book proved to be the most boring piece of material I ever forced myself to read.” I was so happy to be able to show him how worn the pages were, because I’ve referred to it so many times over the past decade.


If the day had ended there, even before the first lecture, I would’ve been able to go home completely satisfied, but the fun continued when Steve Ortiz came by & introduced me to Sam Wolff of the IAA. I thanked him for all that their organization does to preserve antiquities.

Soon thereafter, A.D. Riddle & Jeff Hudon passed by. A.D. not only contributes to the heavily trafficked Bible Places Blog, but also made/maintains Riddle Maps Dotcom.


Jeff, of course, is famous in LMLKology for his NEAS article that follows Anson Rainey’s idea on the 4 vineyards of King Uzziah. The genuinely “incompetent” portion of my brain forgot to bring Jeff’s NEAS volume for him to sign, but I’m optimistic we’ll meet again some day. I was very flattered that they both expressed interest in my LMLK research, & I briefly updated them on my Lv2 book (particularly the chronological “layer”).


Since I planned to attend lectures by Yosef Garfinkel & Hoo-Goo Kang while Oded Lipschits & his team were simultaneously presenting lectures on their recent work at Azekah, I decided to visit him first, hoping he’d sign his Yehud Stamps tome, which he did. That was quite a thrill! When I first met him 7 years earlier at the 2007 San Diego conference, he had not yet published anything of interest to me; but now he’s made multiple contributions to the field, with that book being the most important, so that’s why I chose it.

He also updated me on his Ramat Rachel publications. A popular summary in Hebrew should be appearing any day now, with an English version to follow next year, possibly even a German edition. The excavation volumes will be numbered 3-6, with Aharoni’s landmark books from the early ’60s being 1-2.

Volume 3 is in press, & expected to appear next year (2015), & will contain photos of all the handles from his renewed excavations, as well as photos of all the ones previously unpublished by Aharoni, many of which were kept in Rome all these decades. I asked if it would include a CD-ROM, but he said the material would probably be posted sometime on TAU’s website since it’s all stored electronically anyway.

Volume 4 will be the official report summarizing the excavations (probably analogous to RAELv1), scheduled for publication near the end of 2015. Volume 6 will be published asynchronously about the same time, focusing on his specialty: Babylonian/Persian pottery. Volume 5 will be last, sometime after 2015, containing small finds that take the most time to document.

I apologized for not being able to attend his lectures, but asked about his current work at Azekah, & was surprised to learn that he’s planning at least 11 more seasons because “it’s such an unbelievable site“. That’s an impressive statement from someone who’s conducted the most extensive excavation of Ramat Rahel (a royal estate)!

On the way back to the Qeiyafa/Lachish conference room, I met Dr. Garfinkel, & was thrilled to see him smile when he recognized me (after checking the name on my badge). Here’s a great shot of us discussing whether my thumb could’ve made the marks seen on the jar handles his team excavated:


Ditto when I met Hershel Shanks a few minutes later, who also chose that room over the Azekah room. As the lecture was about to begin, I didn’t have time to chat or camcord myself with him. I had hoped to schmooze with him again later in the day, but alas, it didn’t work out that way.

I enjoyed the hour-long presentation by Dr. Garfinkel. He explained that they decided to halt work at Qeiyafa & excavate at Lachish because it does not have the Iron II occupation gap, hoping to connect finds from its Late Bronze & Early Iron strata with analogous ones already found at Qeiyafa.

He confidently explained why the rocks he excavated along Qeiyafa’s south & west perimeter were definitely 2 gates, because the casemate openings in the adjoining walls faced away from the gate (a common architectural feature). This is painfully obvious from the illustrations he showed, but prompted the equally obvious question about what happened architecturally where the opposing casemates met. His team excavated one of the meeting points, but was not able to pinpoint the other one in the opposite wall. He humorously pondered if the other meeting point would have an inscription similar to the famous Siloam Tunnel one!

He only spoke for 2 minutes about the 3 Proto-Canaanite inscriptions, noting that one of them was on a jar smashed into “hundreds of pieces“, which was exceptionally disappointing since they also excavated an in-tact, but inscriptionless specimen nearby. I’m grateful he granted permission for me to post the audio for everyone to hear:

Note especially that he implied how inscriptions at 3 sites represent evidence for the Judahite monarchy rather than a united one with Israel. (And never mind the Safi “Goliath” ostracon.)

He believes that the stone temple/shrine model with triglyphs & recessed frame/doorway is “the most important artifact from Qeiyafa” because it “clearly indicates royal construction was known in Judah in the early-10th century.” He also believes that if Qeiyafa had been excavated by Albright, Yadin, or Benjamin Mazar, it would not have been considered an important site because “everybody knew King David existed.” He explained how his views differ from those of Biblical maximalists & minimalists with regard to the United/Israelite/Judahite monarchies. I did not capture an image of the chart he showed, but it’s something like this:

United 11th-10th
Israel 10th-8th
Judah 10th-6th

Israel 9th-8th
Judah 10th-6th

Israel 9th-8th
Judah 8th-6th

Those centuries might not precisely reflect the dates on his chart, but the basic differences are:

  1. Counter to Maximalists, he doesn’t believe there was a united monarchy.
  2. Counter to Minimalists, he believes Judah preceded Israel.

He concluded by emphasizing 5 points to support his position about Qeiyafa being Judahite, & included a slide showing my H2D Wikimedia photo. My blog readers will recall that it was used in a slideshow by someone else at the 2007 conference, but that was a huge thrill to see it used by him in regard to this prominent subject. Interestingly, after Qeiyafa/Shaaraim was destroyed, he doesn’t believe Judah ever had more than 6 administrative centers: Arad, Azekah, En-Gedi, Hebron, Jerusalem, & Lachish.

Next, Hoo-Goo Kang delivered a lecture on Negebite pottery to refute something someone named Israel Finkelstein wrote about Qeiyafa. I camcorded all of it, but he asked me not to post it since it hasn’t been formally published, so I’m happy to comply with his request. I chatted with him later in the day about the Depression (a.k.a. fingerprint or thumbprint or thumbed) handles. He agreed with me that it would be interesting to know the relative percentage of unstamped handles of the same ware, but said those quantities were unknown (similar to what Bryant Wood had confessed to me at NEAS).

Last week I received a copy of the Qeiyafa v1 excavation report (I had ordered last summer from Eisenbrauns, but its delivery was delayed due to a postal strike), which includes his initial analysis of the first 76 handles (& restored jars) they found, along with a list of excavation sites. Next year the journal named Levant will publish his final report that includes 600 additional specimens & presumably an even more extensive distribution (e.g., see Plate 56 #59 from Azekah (Tell Zakariya) in Bliss/Macalister’s “Excavations in Palestine, 1898-1900” tome); but so far they’ve been reported in Afula, Ashdod, Beersheba, Beth Shean, Beth Zur, Dan, Dor, Hazor, Jokneam, Kedesh, Megiddo, Mevorakh, Qeiyafa, Taanach, Timnah:


Hmmm… I can’t seem to get the phrases “from Dan even to Beersheba” & “Israel Finkelstein” out of my head at the moment. Those skyscraper-staircase racing symptoms must be having a weird effect my brain. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see how my friend, Dr. Garfinkel accounts for this distribution within his No-United-Monarchy/Late-Israel paradigm. (As I said at NEAS, with friends like me, who needs enemies, right?!?!) This sure looks like stronger evidence for the united monarchy than the famous trio of Solomonic gates!

(Note: I deliberately omitted Maqatir & several other sites that were mentioned to me informally at the conference, just to emphasize that the ones shown in this map were already published 5 years ago; & yet I’m not aware of any “competent” scholar who’s noticed their distribution relative to, as Andy Vaughn would say, “what one would expect” for evidence from the united monarchy.)

After Kang’s lecture, I darted back to the Azekah room, just in time to hear Ido Koch lecture on the scarabs that they’ve found so far. By sheer coincidence, I ended up sitting next to Omer Sergi, & it was wonderful to see him smile back when we looked at each other’s badges & realized who the other person was! Ido gave a very slick, professional presentation, & would easily have won the best-dressed scholar award had there been one for the conference!

I was surprised to see him using unprovenanced scarabs for comparisons since that’s against ASOR’s policy … wait, did I just say I was surprised?!?! Remember, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet! Anyway, some were old (Petrie-era possibly), but I also noticed that some had been published relatively recently by Othmar Keel. Anyway, I was thinking about asking a formal question during the brief Q&A, but since someone else asked one, I decided to simply go up to him privately after that. I introduced myself, & asked about the unlabeled color associations on one of his distribution maps. He apologized, & explained that one represented Egyptian estates, another represented Canaanite sites. There were other people waiting to speak with him, so our conversation ended there. Had I more time, I would’ve delved into a remark he made about Canaanite scarab motifs replacing Egyptian ones, thereby reflecting a “diffusion of religion.”

Scarabs in Egypt & Canaan reflect religion, but when they’re on LMLK jars, they reflect Assyrian taxes. Hmmm… I’ll have to remember that one…

During this interlude I also met Avraham Faust, & got him to autograph his chapter in the Mazar festschrift. Then I spotted Robert Cargill of upside-down photograph fame. We actually had a cordial chat for several minutes, during which I thanked him for posting his video of Omer Sergi’s impromptu LMLK lecture; & for crediting me with the correct identification of the seal type. I practically begged him to allow me to camcord us together while holding my camcorder upside down, but he jovially explained that it would violate a contractual agreement he has, so that was a little disappointing, but it was still nice to meet him & discuss the art of humor (I explained how most of my well-planned attempts had bombed during my NEAS lecture). And no, we did not discuss Noah’s Flood; though I got a kick out of seeing him sipping a beverage while we were chatting, which would’ve made a great segue…

Next I met Oded Borowski, who also signed his chapter in the Mazar festschrift for me. I congratulated him on his own upcoming festschrift, & the lectures in his honor that I was not able to attend at Emory. I asked if he had an estimate on when it would be published, & he guessed it would be about 2 years hence. He reminded me that 2 LMLKs were excavated at Tel Halif in 2009, & last week I was thrilled to find excellent drawings of them online, courtesy of the Honors Thesis by Kathryn Rose Reynolds, Analysis of Remains from Field V Excavations at Tel Halif: An Archaeological Source of Identity. These are among the very best LMLK stamp drawings I’ve ever seen, in that they contain accurate renderings of the seal design, allowing them to be positively identified as H4C (possibly from the same jar).

(Parenthetically, last week I also received a copy of the final report on Aroer [ordered last summer along with Qeiyafa v1], & was extremely disappointed by the poor drawings of their LMLKs. Altogether 6 were excavated, 4 were drawn [no photos], & the other 2 are apparently lost. Such tragedies were common in the days of Bliss & Macalister, but inexcusable in modern times [i.e., 1970s onward].)

I had not expected these chance meetings, so I missed most of Michael Hasel’s lecture on the renewed-renewed dig of Lachish. From there I proceeded to Jeff Chadwick’s room, only to learn that he was unable to attend, so his Hebron paper was read by 2 of his students. Both young ladies were a little prettier to behold than he is (& in general, that’s a good rule for all male scholars to follow; if you can’t attend, be sure to send 2 pretty young ladies as substitutes), but I still had wanted to meet him & thank him in person for his important work on this subject. The paper did not mention LMLKs, & focused mostly on Bronze Age data. The most interesting tidbit was “contradictory reports” made by Ofer in an 87/88 ESI preliminary report & a later article in another publication.

As soon as that one concluded, I made a bee-line to Aren Maeir’s room, arriving just as the previous presenter concluded. As soon as he stepped up to the podium, the exchange between him & the session moderator invoked laughter, as his sense of humor has a great reputation! It was a fast review of the recent excavation season at Safi, with the highlight being the ivory bowl. One of his slides showed a similar example from Megiddo dated to the “12th century”, with his specimen dated to the “10th century”, & a remark that although the material was not from the same animal, they were probably made by the same workshop. When I met him later on, I grilled him about that … okay, I challenged him to clarify it, because a workshop that was in business for about 200 years should’ve left more artifacts for excavators to find. He said that the Megiddo & Safi strata were probably 11th century, & the bowl was probably sent from Megiddo to Safi & kept in the same family for a generation as a curio.


This is why I’m never shaken by ballpark dates presented in archeological literature. The current issue over half a century or even a century for the Israelite/Judahite monarchies is a non-issue. In some respects I believe the minimalists are closer to the truth than the maximalists. It ties in to the brief discussion I had with A.D. & Jeff about what I learned while writing Lv2. Most people who read literature about “absolute” dates based on eclipses don’t realize those phenomena appear relatively frequently (depending on factors such as weather & location range), but I digress.

Dr. Maeir’s lecture concluded on a humorous note, with Louise Hitchcock raising her hand for the Q&A, & him responding humorously that she wasn’t allowed to ask a question! Bill Dever asked a serious question about Safi’s citizenry being Judahite or mixed by the 10th century. Dr. Maeir said neither; it was “as Philistine as it gets“, to which Dr. Dever said he must’ve misunderstood one of the slide-figure’s captions. Great example of 2 prominent scholars interacting in a formal manner (unlike my harassment-laden interaction with him). After another question, Dr. Hitchcock was allowed to say what she wanted to say earlier, which was to invite everyone to her ivory-bowl-themed lecture. That’s another one I would’ve liked to have attended, but I met her afterwards, explained my situation, & thanked her for her excellent work.

From there I moved quickly to the room where Jeff Zorn had already begun his lecture on the 61 Nasbeh pits. Sometime later I thanked him for working a “pit-iful” pun into the subject, & very interestingly he described sections of the site where future excavators could work. So there’s still a chance that some of the rarest LMLKs remain buried. He humorously speculated that if he lives long enough, he might become an “Olga Tufnell figure” to them, the way she was to David Ussishkin’s project! Enjoying our conversation, I forgot to get him to autograph his chapter of the Mazar festschrift.

The last lecture I attended was by Liora Freud, regarding Persian pottery at Ramat Rahel. She mentioned a “continuation” of Rosettes in the context of post-exilic jars such as Yehuds. In my notes (not always reliable, especially when the speaker has a heavy accent), her phrase was “same pottery production & tradition.” Since no one else asked a question when the Q&A began, I decided to do so. I said that there was a long time between those 2 types, & asked if she knew of any jars found in Mesopotamia that could be viewed as intermediate between them; if not, how could she account for the Rosette generation of potters getting deported, dying, & their descendants returning & resuming the same practice. Where would they have learned the trade? She gave a lengthy answer that basically boils down to her belief that less than a generation elapsed between the last Rosette & the first Yehud, “about 20 years“. I thanked her for the clarification.

It would’ve been interesting to hear Gabriel Barkay comment had he been there. I know he believes some Jews remained in the land, but I doubt he believes there was such a short gap between the stamped-jar types.

More than 5 hours had elapsed since I had anything to drink, so I took a break, posted my last blog entry for the day, & decided to head home rather than fight evening traffic, & risk driving drowsy. Many scholars were returning from lunch, so I decided to make one more lap around the mezzanine. I scored big-time when I spotted another of my online enemies, Morag Kersel. She turned out to be beautiful in person (when we argued about antiquities on the ASOR blog a couple years earlier, I had imagined the Wicked Witch of the West … green face, pointy-black fingernails, surrounded by winged monkeys, etc.) It’s a good thing I didn’t know the truth, or I might not’ve presented my case so ruthlessly! After introducing myself, we only chatted a couple minutes, but agreed that the antiquities debate was an important one. It’s a bummer that I didn’t camcord the interaction, but it just didn’t seem appropriate to make the request since she didn’t really know me.

I decided that would be a great way to end the day, but alas, I noticed Larry Geraty, & decided to introduce myself. My brain was really having an exceptionally difficult time recalling information, & I wasn’t sure if he or Larry Herr was the one whose autographed seal dissertation I owned. So I decided to just be honest & ask. He knew about Dr. Herr’s work, & said he was nearby, but I explained that I was on my way out. Still it was nice to meet another friendly scholar. Had I a photographic memory, I would’ve been able to chat with him about his excavation work at Gezer with Darrell Lance & G. Ernest Wright. He definitely has an impressive background, which includes being president of La Sierra University as well as ASOR.

My final encounter was on the escalator ride back down to the lobby, noticing Rachel Hallote boarded right behind me! I explained my predicament of having to leave, & regretting not being able to attend her lecture, which was going to be on the provenance of antiquities at the Met, in the same session with Drs. Hitchcock & Kersel.

Definitely having a half-full/empty-cup moment here as I think back on the occasion, regarding all that I missed, but all that I experienced socially in such a short time.

Before going into the parking garage, I made a short video of myself, against a backdrop of 2 high-rise buildings in which I’ve raced. Most of the videos I recorded of me interacting with scholars were ruined by stupid things I said, or the embarrassing way in which I said them. I’m definitely not the Johnny Carson / Gordon Govier hybrid I imagined myself to be! For that & other reasons (e.g., unbeknownst to me at the time, Robert Cargill was in the background all the time Dr. Lipschits was telling me about the RR pubs; most of my clips play awkward since they don’t include earlier remarks for context). So I decided to not post them in their entirety, & simply include the snapshots herein for proof of the historic occasion, & this brief montage of me introducing them.

G.M. Grena

P.S. After posting this, Michael Welch reminded me of the messages he wrote on Yahoo’s Biblicalist 2 years ago (#2422 & #2304) regarding the United Monarchy jars.  As usual, he was way ahead of me on this subject!


One Response to “ASOR 2014 Review”

  1. jmnielsen7 Says:

    Good job on this! You majorly updated me on Garfinkel’s finds at Qeiyafa. The last Biblical scholarship related conference that I was able to attend was in 2010 at the Biblical Archaeology Society’s conference in Atlanta which “borrowed” Garkfinkel for a lecture from ASOR one day. I had taken copious notes from the 2010 findings presented in Garfinkel’s lecture here: I trust that Garfinkel hasn’t lost his sense of humor? And it’s also so exciting that two more proto-Canaanite inscriptions were found! Now all we need is for the archives of Hazor to be discovered and then I think our view of biblical times will be revolutionized. Take care.

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