The annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature is being held in Boston this year. I have been attending these meetings for many years. I come in order to hear a few of the many valuable, and some not so valuable, presentations by scholars who are presenting their latest research on some particular topic. When I was still actively teaching I often attended sessions that were related to the courses I was teaching. Now I tend to go to what is of interest.
These meetings attract more than 5000 members, most of whom are teachers in some field relating to biblical studies.
One of my favorite topics is archaeology and how it relates to biblical history. Many of the leading archaeologists make presentations or read papers telling about the most recent excavations. This, of course, puts me far ahead of the curve if one is waiting to read the information in a magazine or a book. In fact, I observe that many presentations given at SBL will eventually be a chapter in a volume published by the author some years later.
Saturday I heard Thomas Levy and other colleagues from the University of California San Diego tell about the recent work in southern Jordan dealing with the ancient Edomites and copper mining in the area. Levy has discovered that copper mining was common in the area from the 10th century B.C. I have already reported on this discovery, with photos, here, with a related post about mining at Timna here. I hope you will take time to read those reports.
In the afternoon I attended a session on the Wall of Jerusalem in the Persian Period. I suspect that the person making room assignments has no idea about some of the presenters. The most controversial of the speakers here was Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University. He has been dubbed the father of minimalism. Actually he is currently the most prominent in a long line of those who devalue the biblical record. The room was full and overflowing. I sat on the floor in order to be able to see the screen and hear the speaker. The presentations by Ronny Reich, Alon de Groot, and Wolfgang Zwickel were also informative. Evidence from the Persian period is limited, possibly because it was a significant but short period of biblical history. Here are some of the major events:
- The Jews were allowed to return from Babylonian Exile in 536 B.C. because of the decree of Cyrus. Remember that only a remnant returned.
- The temple was rebuilt in 520-516 B.C.
- Ezra returned with a second group in 458 B.C.
- Nehemiah returned to help rebuild the wall in 444 B.C.
The evidence presented regarding the number of inscriptions, pottery, jewelry, etc. from the Persian period indicated a small number of items in comparison to the much larger number from the Iron Age and the Hellenistic Age. This is really not surprising when we consider the the circumstances of the period, the possible reuse of materials by later builders, etc.
Everywhere one puts down a pick in Jerusalem there is evidence of earlier civilizations. Keep digging!
Before closing, let me add a little something Persian to this post. Here is a photo of the Cyrus Cylinder, now in the British Museum.
The Cyrus Cylinder. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
This document records that Cyrus allowed captive peoples to return to their homelands, build their temples and worship their gods. This is similar to the account given in 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1 regarding the Judeans.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia– in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah– the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23)