A gate temple at Lacish?

From several passages in the Bible we see that the city gates played an important part in government in ancient Israel.  But after the reforms of Josiah the only recognized shrine with a holy place was the Temple in Jerusalem.  Did the city gates before Josiah play a religious role as well?

Here is a link to news of a new find at Lachish.

I am a little confused by some details from the article.  It says that the find mostly dates from the time of Assyrian invasion during the reign of Hezekiah.  However, there were inscriptions to “the king of Hebron” (amelek hebron).  According to the story of David, he ruled from Hebron for a while.  I do not know what “the king of Hebron” would mean in the 8th century.  So were these inscriptions 200 years older than that?

From the article:

Steps to the gate-shrine in the form of a staircase ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed,” Dr. Ganor said.

“An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the holy of holies; to our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars and scores of ceramic finds consisting of lamps, bowls and stands in this room. It is most interesting that the horns on the altar were intentionally truncated.”

“That is probably evidence of the religious reform attributed to King Hezekiah, whereby religious worship was centralized in Jerusalem and the cultic high places that were built outside the capital were destroyed: ‘He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles…’ (II Kings 18:4).”

Hmmm. I think the article leaves some things out.  So I would like to know more about this find.

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Dijkstra-Iron Age 1 on the coast and in the hills

I am finishing today with my treatment of Meindert Dijkstra’s “The Origins of Israel Between History and Ideology”. He uses both Israelite and Egyptian documents. But he thinks both are obscured by ideologies that require us to go behind them critically to see what might have really happened.

So what happened after the time of Merneptah, at the end of the 13th century BCE, and before Pharaoh Sheshonk I invaded around 950 BCE?

We do not have much outside the Bible about the growth of Israel. The growth of a village culture in the highlands happened during this period. Most reason that this must have been Israelite.

But Dijkstra says that we can know a lot about what was going on in the coastal regions of Palestine. He makes claims for three realities.

First, Egypt continued to control and influence the ports, roads and fortresses throughout much of the 12th century. He cites new archeological finds as far north as Damascus showing continued Egyptian power. Also they kept appointing an official called the “overseer of northern foriegn countries” until at least mid-century. The records show that the same was true of military and other officials.

So the idea that the Bronze Age collapse suddenly ended Egyptian hegemony is false. However there was a decline in Egyptian power and influence. But, especially along the coast and in the south of Canaan, Egyptian influence remained until around 1100 BCE.

Second, there was a rise of Phoenician power and influence. The Phoenicians appear to have been left alone by the Sea Peoples who destroyed Ugarit and some cities on Cypress. There is archeological and documentary evidence that Phoenician territory expanded south to Acco and eventually to Dor.

Also a Philistine presence arose along the southern coast, especially in Gaza. This did not result from a Sea Peoples blitzkrieg. It seems to have come about through a relatively peaceful settlement process. There was a Sea Peoples enclave at Dor for a while. It eventually became Phoenician. But the process of change seems to have been gradual if not peaceful. In the end, Dijkstra thinks the Yarkon River became the border between the Philistines and the Phoenicians.

Judges chapter 1, although late, recognizes the reality that Israel did not extend into the coastal or Gaza regions. Dijkstra holds that Gezer–a crucial outpost on the road north from Egypt– probably never fell into Israelite hands until after Sheshonk I.


Recent studies of climatic change, hydrology and palaeometeorology in Egypt and North Africa have indicated correlations between solar activity, rainfall, Nile flooding and climatic change. Climatic change or variation affects environment and civilization.

So he proposes that, although the historical record outside the Bible is sparse, we can partly explain the rise of Israel through climatology. He brings up several studies that connect the Bronze Age collapse to environmental factors. It seems that in the Eastern Mediterranean there was a sharp increase in humidity and rainfall from 1400 to 1000 BCE. But it leveled off and dipped toward the end of that period. So food production probably stagnated and there were periodic droughts.

Dijkstra relates this to the claim of Finkelstein and others that the settlement of the Canaanite hill country happened intermittently over thousands of years. However, he warns that just because the early Iron Age settlement was one of these cycles, it did not necessarily happen the same way the others did. This time it happened during a time of Egyptian retreat, Phoenician expansion, and Philistine settlement.

Dijkstra acknowledges that there are several feasible theories about who the original Israelite settlers were. The migration probably had much to do with the need to produce more food. He thinks ideas from several theories probably contribute to the truth.

The Bible has verses that may recall the complexity of Israelite origins. For instance, there is the Exodus text about the Israelites including “a mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38).  In addition, he suggests that Joshua’s story about the Gibionites who became woodcutters and water bearers for the Israelites (Joshua 9:27) might go back to a historical reality that the settlers appropriated the agricultural skills of others, who then became a part of Israel. New agricultural skills would have been needed to adapt to settlement in the highlands.

As Israelite documents are mostly silent about the Egyptian power in Canaan, so Egyptian documents are mostly silent about the presence of Israel in Canaan. Egypt cared mostly about the roads and the ports near the coast. Israel may have been trying to eek out an existence in the hills.

Egypt lost control of the coast, but not to Israel. Israel occupied the central highlands, but did not, for a long time, penetrate to the coast.


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Dijkstra-Merneptah’s footnote

I read Meindert Dijkstra’s article “Origins of Israel Between History and Ideology”.

He accepts the common view today that Israel’s history writing is biased and of a late date. From this the minimalist school on Israel’s origins brackets out the biblical text and discovers minimal results through archeology and, sometimes, sociological models. But D. is not a minimalist either. He says it would be unwise to ignore the Bible. Even late sources have nuggets of truth and buried information. For an example, he sees the claim in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10:6) that Canaan is a son of Ham along with Nubia and Punt as a reflection of the fact that Egypt dominated Canaan in the Bronze Age.

Thus he believes that if you use archeology and extra-biblical sources along with a critical reading of the Bible, you can partly restore the most ancient tradition about Israel’s origins.

The extra-biblical materials he turns to are the documents and monuments of ancient Egypt. You have to do a critical reading of these as well, because they reflect the royal ideology of the Pharaohs. Thus his title talks about Israel between history and ideology.

The most discussed Egyptian monument in this regard is the so-called Israel stele of Pharaoh Merneptah. Calling this inscription the Israel stele is a misnomer because it is actually all about the Merneptah’s war with Libya in the fifth year of his reign. The mention of Israel is just a footnote. But maximalist scholars have turned this Israel into one of Egypt’s major enemies, while minimalists have sometimes questioned whether the stele is even talking about the same Israel as the Bible.

D. goes another way. He tries to see the Merneptah stele in its context. First, it is part of the Karnak Temple and, particularly, the part that comes from Ramses II and his successors. The text is coupled with battle reliefs that are damaged and open to several interpretations. But if you are going to understand all this in context, you should note that the prime monument there is the one that records the peace treaty between Ramses II and the Hittites from about 1258 BCE. The decoration of the eastern interior wall of the Karnak temple came after Ramses’ death. It shows scenes from the Libyan war. It shows Merneptah slaying his enemies before the god Amun. That is where the Karnak version of Merneptah’s victory stele is. So the eastern wall served as a Libyan War Memorial.

Many scholars interested in Israel have interpreted some of the damaged reliefs there as showing a Merneptah campaign into Palestine. One of them does seem to be of a battle fought at Askelon, and Askelon is one of the places listed in the stele along with Israel and defeated by Mernephah. However, we can’t tell what the other reliefs depict. It is possible that the reliefs go back in time to show scenes from Ramses II’s more important campaign in Palestine. It is not as easy to see why Merneptah would put reliefs of a little side war into what is essentially a memorial for the major war with Libya.

Z. does see that there is enough evidence that Merneptah did send a punitive force north to secure the highway by the sea. But the evidence is that this was not a major war but a normal Egyptian operation to secure trade routes after other enemies had been defeated.

Merenptah outflanked the coastal settlements around Gaza and recaptured the crucial cities of Askelon and Gezer to secure the southern approach of the Via Maris and the junction of the road at Gezer to the Jordan Valley and beyond, turning them once more into Egyptian Highways. And then, somewhere in the margin ‘Israel’ appears, but it is clear that the confrontation with this ‘Israel’ had no lasting impact on Egyptian politics
and administration in the years to come of the 12th Century bce, as the actions of the Sea Peoples and the Shosu did. In the regions of Canaan dominated by the Egyptian government and their allies, that is outside the Highlands of Canaan, there was as yet no place for Israelite settlement or expansion (Dijkstra p. 58).

This is a very impressive exercise in reasoning about the Merneptah stele. Both maximilists and minimalists have, indeed, gone too far.

There is something we know from archeology that might fit in somewhere. Hazor, the most important city-state in the buffer region between Egyptian and Hittite territory, was burned a few years before Merneptah by people who defaced both Canaanite and Egyptian gods. We can’t know for sure if Merneptah’s punitive expedition had anything to do with this or if Israel had anything to do with the fall of Hazor. But I think it is an intriguing possibility.

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Some Saturday links

As I am between blogging projects and involved in some temporary church responsibilities, I want to share a few links that interest me instead of writing a post on a book.

Trying to imagine life in ancient times is one of my interests.  Here is an amazing article and video about Roman life in 79 CE.  This was during the time the New Testament was being written.

We get a video of a digitally reconstructed Roman familia home from Pompeii.  It is the home of Iucundus, a moderately wealthy Roman.  The video is short a 3-D tour.

Jumping forward 2000 years we have the much-to-be-desired end of the American election campaign approaching.  As I have said before, I am utterly alienated by both major party candidates.  I don’t plan to vote for either of them.  I have tried to filter out posts and ads about the election on television and social media.  But I like this caption:



Since I decided months ago not to vote for either of them, the debates, ads, and scandals don’t interest me.

What does interest me is the situation I see around me.  I live where there is much open support for Trump and much quiet loathing of the Clintons.  Many are proudly adopting the “deplorable” label.

A lot of people are perplexed by our divided country.  We see similar divisions in other countries as well (Brexit).

So I am calling attention to two links that speak to this.

The first is by Chapman demographer Joel Kotkin.  He goes beyond the red state/blue state theory.  He says that America is divided between the Ephemerals who live in enclaves mostly on the coasts and make their livings off of “ephemeral” things like digits, images and clicks.  I would add that today money is one of these ephemeral things, largely being digital.  So tech, entertainment, higher education and finance fall into this category.

His other America he calls the Heartland.  This is what I have sometimes called pickup truck country.  It is the America that still makes some kind of a living off of tangible things like food, fiber, energy and manufacturing.  This article is The New War Between the States.

The other article is by David Wong and appears on the humor site, Cracked.  This article is How Half of America Lost Its F**kng Mind.    I do not like the title, not because of the profanity, but because Wong shows how half of America is having an understandable reaction to what is happening to them.  The better title, perhaps the author’s first choice, is “6 Reasons for Trump’s Rise That No One Talks About”.

So Wong is saying much the same thing that Kotkin is saying only his article is more of a rant.  It is full of images and examples.  It is funny and it is true.   For instance, he says:

It’s not just perception, either — the stats back up the fact that these are parallel universes. People living in the countryside are twice as likely to own a gun and will probably get married younger. People in the urban “blue” areas talk faster and walk faster. They are more likely to be drug abusers but less likely to be alcoholics. The blues are less likely to own land and, most importantly, they’re less likely to be Evangelical Christians.

So this is somewhat about religion. It is a lot about how people relate to each other.

Kotkin is more optimistic about his Heartland than Wong is about his “blue America”.  I don’t know.  I live in that part of the world and I am sensing great loss no matter what happens on election day.

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The Didache-my off-the-wall idea

Today I have something to follow up on my discussion of Aaron Milavec and the Didache. It concerns the Lord’s Prayer.

Milavec did not think the Lord’s Prayer meant Jesus’ prayer. He thought it meant the prayer that came from the Lord God. The Didache quotes the Prophets and says these words come from the Lord. So words from the Lord in the Didache are words that come from the Lord God through a prophet.

This caused me to think about Luke 11:1:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (NET Bible).

There follows then Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Both Jesus and John preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. The prayer calls for God’s kingdom to come and defines that as the divine will being done on earth as in heaven.

John and, probably, Jesus expected a time of trial or testing to precede the kingdom’s arrival. The Lord’s Prayer culminates with this petition: “Do not bring us to the time of trial” (NRSV).

My question is whether it is possible that the Lord’s Prayer is actually the prayer that was revealed through the prophet John and simply appropriated by Jesus.

According to Milavec’s interpretation, the prayer was prayed by the newly baptized. Could this tradition go back to John? Did he teach this prayer as fitting for those who received his baptism?

A further question then would be whether the Didache community stood in some relation to the John the Baptist sect. We know that there were still people who identified as disciples of John many years after the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 19:1-6). Many understand that the Gospel of John contains a polemic against a John the Baptist sect.

I did a web search for “John the Baptist Didache” and “Mandaeans Didache” and came up with very little. But there was this site, which connects the Didache with the Ebionite sect:

The Didache also relies on Matthew’s gospel and does not put any emphasis on the divinity of Jesus – these characteristics are consistent with the early Jewish movement referred to as Ebionites.

Milavec questions the dependence on Matthew but agrees that there is little or no emphasis on the divinity of Jesus.

There were several movements that arose in the first and second centuries and seem to have had different understandings of Judaism, John, and Jesus.

But I am apparently odd and alone in entertaining the idea that the Didache might represent a group of followers of John.  It would mean that the disciples of John had a gentile outreach.  We do not know anything about that from any other source.

Speaking of odd and off-the-wall ideas, here is a link to a series of videos where Alan Garrow argues that the Didache is an example “Q”, the until-now hypothetical gospel source.

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Milavec-appreciation and questions

Aaron Milavec, in his The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary, has given his view of the Didache as a template to be memorized and improvised upon by spiritual fathers and mothers to train their spiritual children (novices in the community).

It starts off teaching what the Way means in the circumstance of being abused and abandoned by families. It moves on to deepen “father-son” and “mother-daughter” one-on-one mentor relationships leading to baptism and first communion initiating full membership in the community.

In the last chapters the new members of the community are alerted to both benefits and dangers of visitors to the community. They learn to respect the local overseers and teachers.

Finally, they internalize the expectation of the coming of the Kingdom and how it will appear in stages.

Questions I have about this include how the community viewed Jesus. Some of the teachings of Jesus appear in the opening chapters. But then most of the instruction seems to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures: the Ten Commandments, the tithing of first fruits, and quotations of Malachi 1:11 and the last part of Zechariah 14:5.

These quotations are attributed to “the Lord”, leading Milavec to conclude that for the Didache “the Lord” is not Jesus but the God who speaks through the prophets. However, the “clouds of heaven” at the very end comes from Daniel 7:13 where one like the son of man comes on the clouds of heaven. It seems to me that there is room to understand Jesus as a spiritual entity somehow identified with God.

Nevertheless, the text does not quote Jesus directly and never refers to the passion or any other incident in his life. So Milavec is on solid ground in playing down any christological interpretation.

So another question would be where the Didache fits in early Christianity. The fact that it seems oblivious to Pauline Christianity fits with Milavec’s idea of date at about the same time as Paul. It would have to be located somewhere cut off from the Paul’s and his colleague’s mission.

This, it seem to me, calls into question the Syrian province (partly based anyway on the connection of the Didache with Matthew’s gospel, which Milavec rejects). I would speculate that the locale was some gentile-populated area in the Decapolis. But who knows? Any place close to the metropolitan churches around the northeast Mediterranean seems unlikely.

On the other hand, if it was in a place either geographically or somehow religiously cut off from the developments in both Jerusalem and the Mediterranean churches, then the date could be later. One point to note is that the concern with appointing local officials is similar to that in the Pastoral Epistles attributed to Paul–but which I think come from later in the first century. The Didache reflects the same move from charismatic leadership to the official leadership of bishops and other functionaries.

Another possible argument from silence is that the Didache does not show any awareness that the Jewish temple was still operating. We know from Paul that many Christians in the mid first century still honored the sanctuary in Jerusalem and made pilgrimages to it. Both Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus sometimes did this. Also the church at Jerusalem was respected as a kind of mother church. But the Didache community seems to have no relationship to the Temple or the Jerusalem church of James–contrary to what I would expect in the mid first century.

I do not see any strong argument for either dating. Mine are shaky arguments from silence. But I do think several things in the Didache would become much harder to explain if you put it in the second century.

There are characteristics to the Didache community, as Milavec sees it, that resemble a cult. People displaced from their families and culture are being reprogrammed. So perhaps the community cut itself off from other influences.

We know that there was a strain in early Christianity that developed quite independently of the Pauline tradition and the Synoptic tradition. That is the line of thought that led to the Gospel of John. I think I see in the eucharistic prayers of the Didache some ideas that might have developed into motifs in John. However, there is quite a jump from the apparently low doctrine of Christ in the Didache to the high doctrine of Christ in John.

So the Didache remains a puzzling document.  Still Milavec’s way of interpreting it has promise. It gives us some insight into the diversity of early Christianity. And it could be a resource for talking about spiritual formation, especially for people who are recovering from abuse or family alienation.

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Milavec–the burning process

The last chapter of the Didache is an end-times discourse. Some believe this is not really an originial part of it. But Aaron Milavec argues for the unity of the Didache.

There does seem to be a connection between the program for the end times and the understanding Milavec has given for the Lord’s Prayer. The part we are used to saying as “lead us not into temptation” actually refers to the future. It means spare us in the end-time period of trial.

So according to the final chapter of the Didache, the end-times will unfold in four stages. First there will be a time of false prophets. This time was already dawning. There was an attempt by the community to protect its members from wandering prophets who had gone astray either ethically or in their message. The passages speaks of “false prophets and corrupters”. These more and more create havoc.

They will open the way to the next stage, which is the coming of “the world-deceiver”. This seems to match New Testament expectations of a lawless one or an antichrist. These relate back to Daniel, Maccabees, and the Assumption of Moses. Milavec mentions Antiochus Epiphanes. But he does not mention Caligula. I find that strange since the time when he thinks the Didache came to be is mid-first century.

The third stage of the end days comes when there is a great trial.

Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself (Roberts).

This is what Milavec says that the petition of the Lord’s Prayer about temptation or trial is about. All people and their works will pass through a “burning-process of testing”, which is how he translates what Roberts translated as “fire of trial”. This process works in two ways.

For those unfit for the Kingdom it destroys them.

For the faithful it saves them.

The phrase “saved from under the curse itself” does not refer to Jesus cursed in crucifixion in accord with one interpretation of Galatians 3:13. Salvation through the cross, Milavec says, does not seem to be an idea in any part of the Didache. Moreover, even the eucharistic prayers pick up Jewish themes instead. Milavec translates, “will be saved by the accursed {burning process} itself.”

The final stage of the unfolding of the end-times is the appearing of “signs of truth”. They are the outspreading or unfurling in heaven, the sound of the trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead.

The text does not say what will be outspread or unfurled in heaven. In accord with the Church Fathers many have interpreted this to mean the sign of the son of man as in Matthew 24:30. However, Milavec offers a different interpretation. In the Hebrew Scriptures the sounding of the shofar or trumpet usually went along with the raising of a standard and unfurling of a flag to show where the people were to assemble. So Milavec takes the first and second signs together.  The trumpet sounds announcing freedom and the flag is unfurled in the place where the living and dead shall gather.

Along with the saints will come the Lord, who will be revealed “coming atop the clouds of heaven”. Milavec see this as talking about the Lord God, not Jesus. The Lord, he believes, in the Didache always means God. Since it doesn’t ever specifically say that it means Jesus, it is hard to argue with Milavec. Yet the phrase “The lord shall come and all his saints with him” is a quote and seems to quote something that is close to 1 Thessalonians 1:3, where the lord is “our Lord Jesus Christ” or perhaps Mark 8:38, where it is “the son of man”.

It is hard for me to see the how the usage of “Lord” for Jesus could have bypassed the Didache community.

On the other hand, in spite of thinking that Milavec has gone too far and been too confident in parts of his scenario, he has convinced me that the Didache probably belongs to the 1st century, that there probably was a one on one relationship between teacher/mentors and novices in the community, and that the idea of an atoning death of Jesus was not a major part of their understanding..

I will try to sum up my impressions tomorrow.

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