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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:2, Spring 2020

Queries & Comments

Many of you wrote in asking about certain terms used by BAR and its authors. Dating conventions (B.C.E./C.E. vs. B.C./A.D.), place names (Palestine, Shalem), and other terms often connote ideas and evoke feelings that are not contained in the simple denotative definition of a word, nor intended by an author. We were also reminded of just how smart and observant BAR readers are, as you will see below. Keep those letters coming and remember to read additional letters online (

Shalem in Jerusalem

Regarding your editorial (First Person: “From Shalem to Jerusalem,BAR, November/December 2019), I observed that the LXX and St. Jerome both use “Salem”/Shalem instead of “safely” in Genesis 33:18 (as did Luther and the King James committee later). For those of us who probably aren’t potential buyers of a “highly technical book,” can you clarify which “subsequent ancient translations” didn’t and why did the 16th-century Geneva translators and the 19th–20th-century ones (RV, RSV, etc.) choose to follow them? Did they care about Shalem=Jerusalem?


Howard, while the Septuagint (LXX) rightly read “Shalem” in Genesis 33:18, the Masoretic Text (MT) ultimately did not. This means that those textual traditions that follow the MT over the LXX read “safely,” thereby obscuring the clear reference to Shalem in Samaria, and thus allowing the tradition that Jerusalem is Shalem to develop unhindered by rival claims. Interestingly, the KJV here is an exception in that it (rightly) followed the LXX on this verse.—B.C.

Too Harsh

I was disappointed to read Dr. Sidnie White Crawford’s harsh criticism of the Archaeology Study Bible (ASB) (ReViews: “In the Disservice of Biblical Archaeology,BAR, November/December 2019). She seems to think that all archaeological literature should provide critical scholarship, and any writing that doesn’t fit that need represents a “disservice.” She doesn’t seem to recognize that there are many different levels of archaeology, scholarship, perspective, and study needs. She acknowledges the narrow, intended audience of the ASB as conservative Protestants who believe in inerrancy, but doesn’t consider that to be a valid audience for an archaeological work.

I’m a nonprofessional who believes that the ASB provides a wonderful introduction to archaeology to an audience who might otherwise never encounter it. Anyone who reads the ASB can easily move on to find other, less conservative perspectives about Joshua and source criticism (Crawford’s examples), and other issues, in more critical works. If anyone wants to hear what critical biblical scholarship has to say, they know where to find it. But if not, the ASB will nicely fill the niche for which it was intended.


Daniel, your argument essentially boils down to this: “Don’t tell us the actual science and scholarship unless it supports the Bible.” While I agree with you that there are different levels of perspective and study needs, I adamantly disagree that there are different levels of archaeology. Archaeology is a science. There is good, methodologically sound archaeology, and there is bad, methodologically suspect, motivationally compromised archaeology. Science is not something we can simply set aside when it is inconvenient. So while I agree that people of differing levels of education, interest, and faith require different study needs, and while I encourage various perspectives, there are not different levels of archaeology that should be used in Bible study. Bad archaeology should be discarded, and good archaeology should be embraced—whether it corroborates the claims made in the Bible or not. It appears Dr. White Crawford was making that very criticism of the archaeology in this “archaeology” study Bible.—B.C.

Errr, Wrong Answer

I received my first issue recently and was very disappointed. I’m one of those Christians that actually interprets the Scriptures through a grammatical , historical, and literal hermeneutic. Your suggestion to a 13-year-old boy in response to his letter to the editor that “we don’t know if the Tower of Babel even existed” is contemptuous. Your capitulation of dating nomenclature (B.C.E. instead of B.C.) is offensive to historical Christianity and history in general. Please cancel my subscription immediately, and, if possible, send me a full refund.


Rob, please see our policy on the use of B.C.E./C.E. and B.C./A.D. on page 2. Authors have the option of using either dating convention. As for the historicity of the Tower of Babel, this has been a point of contention between fundamentalists and scholars for well over a century.—B.C.

In response to your answer to Michael (Queries & Comments, BAR, November/December 2019): Genesis 11 does not treat the account of the Tower of Babel as a myth. My Bible says the tower existed, and that settles it. There are parables in the Bible, but this is not one of them.

Thank you for your magazine and the extensive research and study you do to get the information to us.


Thank you for producing a first-class magazine that my wife and I read from cover to cover as each issue arrives.

I read with interest the letter from the young person Michael asking for information related to the Tower of Babel. I can add to your response. In 1978, I lived in Mosul, Iraq, where I taught petroleum technology at the College of Science. This meant that on weekends I had time to move around with a goal of visiting all of the biblical sites. I was able to accomplish this in the company of a very knowledgeable member of the Iraq Antiquities Department. The site that impressed me was the ziggurat at Ur of which only the large mastaba remained. A site that was visible some miles away and, being close to several major trade routes where the intermingling of the various languages would have been heard, could well add up to being the Tower of Babel.


Business Trip to Palestine?

Andrea M. Berlin’s article (“Zenon’s Flour,BAR, November/December 2019) includes some nice photos, but parts of the article read like a piece of fiction or joke. Specific and anachronistic dates like “November 23, 260 B.C.E.” and multiple references to Zenon’s “business trip to Palestine” call into question the accuracy of everything else in the article. Northern Galilee certainly had a name in 260 B.C.E., but it was not Palestine. As you very well know, Palestine did not exist until the second century A.D. If Berlin insisted on such terminology, BAR editors ought to have cited the correct terms in footnotes. After all, you do not refer to “ancient Turkey” or “ancient Jordan” in articles about those territories.


Andrea M. Berlin’s article mentioned “Palestine” five times as a destination for Zenon 2,260 years ago. This is very interesting, since there was no such place at that time. The area was first considered Palestine in 1516 as a province of the Ottoman Empire and it was officially named a state on the basis of a UN Security Council Resolution #242, in 1988.


The name Palestine was one of the many names used to refer to the region that is now home to the State of Israel in written historical records (if not THE historical record of the time) at least as early as the fifth century B.C.E. Here are the words of the Greek historian Herodotus (The Histories 7.89.1–2), written in 440 B.C.E.: “The number of the triremes was twelve hundred and seven, and they were furnished by the following: the Phoenicians with the Syrians of Palestine furnished three hundred; for their equipment, they had on their heads helmets very close to the Greek in style; they wore linen breastplates, and carried shields without rims, and javelins. These Phoenicians formerly dwelt, as they themselves say, by the Red Sea; they crossed from there and now inhabit the seacoast of Syria. This part of Syria as far as Egypt is all called Palestine [Greek: Παλαɩστίνη].”—B.C.

The sidebar to Berlin’s article lists the amount of flour purchased from different cities, with a total at the bottom—much like a modern-day spreadsheet. In reviewing the list, I thought I might have discovered the oldest documented arithmetic error. The numbers listed in the English translation add up to 69, yet Zenon’s total is 79.

Given that Zenon was clearly a thorough and precise auditor, such an error seemed unlikely. So I decided to research the numbering system used by Ptolemaic accountants and to study the pictured papyrus for myself. According to the papyrus, Zenon purchased 14 (Iota-Delta) artabas of flour in Lakasa, while the English translation lists only 4 (which would be Delta only). There were the missing 10 artabas!

But I am not writing to point out a picky typo. I am writing to say, “Thank You!” No other publication inspires me to learn and research new ideas. Until today, I knew nothing about the Greek numbering system and had never pulled out a magnifying glass to study a papyrus. I’m going to add Greek Arithmetic and Papyrology to my LinkedIn profile and wait for the job offers to come pouring in!


Paul, you are absolutely correct (and awesome for doing so)! You would have made an excellent ancient scribe (and a wonderful modern copy editor). The mistake is ours. Somewhere in the publishing process, we lost the original and correct “1” in “14.” And you caught that mistake examining a photograph of an ancient papyrus, once again proving that BAR readers are among the best and brightest! Thanks for the help. And Zenon thanks you too!—B.C.


The amount of flour listed as collected in Lakasa in the sidebar to “Zenon’s Flour” (BAR, November/December 2019, p. 36, line 7) should read 14, not 4.

Confusing Alphabets

The double issue (BAR, July/August/September/October 2019) was most enjoyable to read. Its female contributors mostly brought a more practical and rational perspective to analyzing the findings of the past than that prevalent in previous issues.

One note: Readers may be confused when BAR presents photos of ancient inscriptions in extinct alphabets, states that they are written in Hebrew, equates them with modern Hebrew text, and gives loose English translations, inasmuch as said inscriptions look nothing like current Hebrew script. Does the bulla on p. 10 contain Hebrew language words written in what I call the Phoenician Hebrew alphabet? Can you provide transliterated letters in the English alphabet?

I suggest that henceforth BAR state exactly the language and alphabet present in each inscription, transliterate each letter of said inscription into readable English, and then provide an English translation.


Irene, for foreign inscriptions, we typically transcribe the characters into their Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text, followed sometimes by an English transliteration, and then offer an English translation. We put Palaeo- or Old Hebrew texts into square Hebrew as the letters are consonantal equivalents, but are easier for most people to recognize and read.—B.C.

Domestic Menorah

The fascinating pottery sherd pictured in “A light in the wilderness” (Strata, BAR, November/December 2019) may indeed show a conventional seven-branched, rather than a nine-branched, menorah. The outer two branches depicted do not appear like the others: They overlap the stem and reach much higher than the other branches, extending beyond the first horizontal line above the menorah. In addition, the other lines form the outline of a circle, unlike the other menorah branches, which are angular.

The prohibition of creating a seven-branched menorah seems to have been honored in the breach. Most authorities limited the prohibition to an actual menorah reproducing that of the Temple in Jerusalem. Seven-branched illustrations can be found on Jewish artifacts throughout history.

I’ve been a subscriber to your fantastic magazine since the 1970s. Keep them coming.

Biblical Archaeology Review