For the past two years I have reported on the Annual Meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). It is the most important professional archaeological convention that deals with the lands of the Bible. Its ongoing research should be of interest to anyone, academic or otherwise who values the study of the Bible. Members and supporters of ABR wholeheartedly fit this description!
A second motivation to report on these meetings is to dispel the notion that biblical archaeology is dead. It may be that certain methods and research goals as practiced in the past are no longer acceptable to the academy. Today we expect archaeologists to be thoroughly trained with years of experience in the field. No longer are novices allowed to go rooting about for artifacts to prove preconceived notions, biblical or otherwise. And it is true that there has been a backlash against excavators who openly espouse biblical goals in their research. Despite these new realities, much of the archaeological work done in the Near East is still sustained by the public's interest in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. And this is reflected in the topics of the lectures given at the Annual Meetings.
ASOR's annual meetings are its focal event of the year. Approximately 750 scholars, students, and interested members of the public come together for three intensive days of academic lectures, poster presentations, business meetings, evening receptions, and general conversation. This past year they were held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Some of the sessions are directly related to the Bible; for example two sessions on the exciting new finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which are associated with the reign of King David. Another group of papers dealt specifically with the archaeology of Israel. Two separate sessions were devoted to the Philistines while 'Hebrew Bible, History, and Archaeology' was the subject of another. In addition to these are the papers given by the archaeological component of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Near Eastern Archaeological Society (NEAS).
There were a total of eight papers given in two sessions on Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified site in Judah from the time of King David. Not surprisingly, anything so closely linked to the United Monarchy arouses intense interest from all quarters. Three excavation seasons have been completed (2007-2009) under the direction of Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. David Adams of the Concordia Seminary discussed the candidates for site identification and concluded that the best option is Shaarayim mentioned as part of the tribal allotment of Judah (Joshua 15:36) and connected to the events of David's battle with Goliath (1 Sam 17:52). However, Professor Gershon Galil from the University of Haifa has recently proposed the biblical city of Neta'im (1 Chron 4:23) as the likely candidate, based among other things on the preservation of the name Khirbet En-Nuweiti' nearby.
Khirbet Qeiyafa is the only known fortified city in Judah dated to the time span from the end of the 11th century to the beginning of the 10th century BC. The excavated pottery places the site in the Iron IIA period and includes finger-stamped jar handles, 'pre-LMLK' jars, and late Philistine decorated pottery known as 'Ashdod Ware.' Petrographic analysis shows that the Philistine vessels were not made locally and were probably imported to the site. Dr. Aren Maeir, director of the excavations at nearby Tel es-Safi/Gath confirmed during the response period that the pottery assemblage was definitely not Philistine. Interesting comments were also offered by Bill Dever and John Holladay, both of whom compared the Qeiyafa pottery assemblage to Gezer level 8 below the Solomonic Gate and Jane Cahill believes it parallels material found in Jerusalem above the stepped-stone structure at a time that coincides with an expansion of the city. Ron Tappy spoke about a new early 10th century phase found at Tell Zayit that predates the famous abecedary inscription and which appears to be contemporary to the pottery assemblage at Qeiyafa.
The Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon has been subjected to a variety of tests to better understand the ceramic material and discern the written ink characters. Though the precise reconstruction of the text is yet in question, the excavation's official website states that it consists of a social statement relating to slaves, widows and orphans and uses vocabulary familiar and unique to Hebrew society and elements similar to those found in biblical prophecies. The overall implication is that a writing tradition already existed at the time of the United Monarchy early in the 10th century BC.
During a particularly spirited session of responses, Professor Bill Dever grandiloquently pronounced that 'he had come not to praise…but to bury' the so-called minimalists, most pointedly referring to Israel Finkelstein. He severely criticized those who choose to down date the Monarchy to the 9th century BC and cited the growing list of evidence for centralized political authority during the 10th century BC. Anson Rainey defended the use of Joshua 15 as a reliable early geographic document (see reference above to Shaarayim) and Josef Garfinkel dismissed the critical scholars who continue to date the biblical texts too late.
Professor Dever went on to applaud the focus on Judean sites as a welcome change to all the recent emphasis on Philistine cities. Unfortunately for Dever, research on the Philistines continues to excite interest from Turkey to Cyprus to Syria to Israel. Two separate sessions dealt with 'Philistia and the Philistines.' The excavations at Tel es-Safi/Gath cited above have now uncovered a complete Iron I period sequence of pottery that corroborates the now well-known transition from Mycenaean IIIC monochrome to bichrome, which has been previously documented at Ekron, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Adam Aja presented the results of his doctoral research on Philistine domestic architecture. It would seem that, in addition to other notable traditions like pottery and hearths, the Philistines brought with them ways of constructing housing, possibly by way of Cyprus. Several unique features were discussed, such as vertical bricklaying, peripheral work areas, and 'linear axial' entry and exit. These 'Linear' houses were designed to provide increasing levels of privacy and were much different from the typical four-room houses used by the Israelites. The closest parallels to such domestic architecture are found in contemporary mainland Greece, particularly the site of Korakou in the northeast Peloponnese near ancient Corinth, which may suggest the origin of the Philistines.
Another interesting presentation was given by Jeffrey Zorn of Cornell University entitled 'Reconsidering Goliath: An Iron I Philistine Maryannu.' In it he revises the notion that Goliath was an infantry soldier through a textual analysis of his weaponry and accoutrements. Zorn asserts that the fish scale body armor, probably attached to an underlying tunic, bronze greaves, which are only found in Mycenaean Greek contexts c. 1200 BC, and his being accompanied by a shield-bearer, all point toward Goliath being a maryannu. Maryannu is a Hurrian term for an elite warrior who fought on chariots, usually alongside two attendants, as attested in Egyptian depictions at Medinet Habu of 3-man Egyptian and Hittite teams fighting at the Battle of Kadesh (c. 1275 BC).
Evidence for the 8th century earthquake mentioned in Amos 1:1 at the site of Tell es-Safi/Gath was provided by Jeff Chadwick. Remains of a sloping mud brick wall were found collapsed but not eroded. They were intact and fallen in one direction from their original stone wall foundations.
Papers in the session on 'Archaeology of Israel-New Developments' included 'The Reurbanization of Megiddo in the Middle Bronze Age,' continuing excavations at Bethsaida under Rami Arav that have revealed massive terracing like that in contemporary 10th century Jerusalem, and the defensive fortification system at Gezer, where more terracing structures were found like those in Jerusalem and Bethsaida.
'Hebrew Bible, History, and Archaeology' featured papers by Anson Rainey, who made the case for identifying biblical Ziklag at Tell Sera', based on biblical and medieval texts and Jeffrey Hudon of Andrews University, who proposed that the now famous LMLK storage jar seals had a longer period of production and use that originated during the reign of King Uzziah in the 8th century instead of the later reign of King Hezekiah as is commonly believed. The circumstances in 2 Chron 26:9-10 in its description of royal estates and viticulture occur in the same areas that the stamps have been found. They served as important royal symbols of the Judahite kingdom. These estates were established all across the kingdom from 'En Gedi to the Shephelah and were the functional explanation for the LMLK stamps according to another paper by Hayah Katz of The Open University of Israel.
Female scholars took center stage in the session 'The World of Women: Gender and Archaeology' in which biblical themes were prominent. 'Rachel's Teraphim: Abducting the Royal Birthright' proposed a parallel between Rachel's theft of the teraphim (Gen 31:19) and the Mesopotamian myth wherein the goddess Inanna steals the mes of the e-kur (representing divine authority) and is unsuccessfully pursued by her father Enki. Inanna's installation of them in her city establishes divine authority similar to Rachel's transference of royal authority via the teraphim to her descendents, who go on to rule the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel.
Jeannette Boertien of Groningen University (Netherlands) answered her self-posed question entitled 'Who Is the Queen of Heaven' by tracing archaeological remnants of the mysterious goddess, her cakes and woven garments (see Jer 7:18, 44:17-25, and 2 Kings 23:7). These include figurines, backing molds and loom weights from across the Levant that point to Astarte, Asherah, and Anat and their expressions of unofficial 'folk religion' during the Iron Age.
Finally, mention should be made of presentations by ABR scholars Leen Ritmeyer of Cardiff University, who lectured on 'The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,' and Steve Collins with his review of results from the fourth season of excavations at Tall el-Hammam, which may be the biblical city of Sodom.
The 2009 Annual Meetings were rich in biblically-oriented talks. Unfortunately, space limits me from discussing them all, much less the papers given at the Near Eastern Archaeological Society that featured Bryant Wood, Steve Collins, Randall Price, Peter Flint, and Brian Janeway, among others. The strong interest and reliance on the Bible for archaeological research shows no signs of abating, despite the proclamations of the critics.