All posts by randymccracken

I am a teacher at Calvary Chapel Bible College York and the author of "Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel".

Who Was Bathsheba? How Intertextuality helps

Who Was Bathsheba? How Intertextuality helps

Bathsheba
Bathsheba

Discerning Bathsheba’s character has proven to be challenging to Bible readers and scholars. Today’s Western culture has also made any evaluation of Bathsheba, an extremely sensitive issue. Note these two contrasting posts I discovered on the internet (David, Bathsheba, and Woke Exegesis, and Bathsheba Naked).  Scholars have assigned various labels to Bathsheba. She has been characterized as a clever and calculating woman by some and a naive, or foolish woman by others. Still others would characterize her as a victim of the abusive power of kingship.

What makes an evaluation of Bathsheba so difficult is that the text offers very little information about her. The following array of questions taken from my book Family Portraits, illustrates how little we know.

“Did Bathsheba position herself in a place where she knew David would be able to see her or does his vantage point on the roof of the palace allow him viewing access into the privacy of her home or courtyard? Is Bathsheba’s bath in verse 2 connected to the statement of her purifying herself in verse 4? Does the statement, “she was cleansed from her impurity” (v. 4) refer to the end of her menstrual cycle, or to bathing after having intercourse with David? Is Bathsheba a foreigner or an Israelite? Why does David send for her knowing that she is a trusted soldier’s wife? Why does Bathsheba come? Does David take her by force, or does she come willingly?” (p. 231)

Intertextuality to the Rescue

The above subtitle probably promises more than it is able to deliver, but nonetheless, intertextuality is an important resource that provides insight. In last week’s post (Allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel), I noted how intertextuality (sometimes referred to as typology) can be a fruitful avenue that allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. In Bathsheba’s case, there are two important texts within the Books of Samuel that provide fertile ground for better understanding this enigmatic person. Both texts share similar themes, motifs, and words with the David and Bathsheba story in 2 Samuel 11. The two texts also involve two other women. The first, 1 Samuel 25, is the story of Abigail, another of David’s wives acquired from another man. The second, 2 Samuel 13, the story of Tamar, David’s daughter, follows immediately upon the story of David and Bathsheba.

Bathsheba Through the Eyes of Abigail (1 Sam. 25; 2 Sam. 11)

(The following paragraphs on Abigail and Tamar are excerpted from my book Family Portraits, pp. 239-243, with a few minor changes.)

Abigail intercedes with David to save the life of her household.

Many scholars have noted the connection between the stories of Abigail and Bathsheba. In some ways Abigail’s account is a mirror image of Bathsheba’s story with a few interesting twists (This observation, and some of the insights that follow, are from Adele Berlin, “Characterization in Biblical Narrative: David’s Wives, JSOT, 23, 1982, pp. 69-85). Both are married when David meets them and both become his wife after the death of their respective husbands. Abigail’s husband is an evil man, Bathsheba’s a good one. Abigail’s words that the one who fights the Lord’s battles should not be guilty of “evil” (1 Sam. 25:28–31), anticipate David’s actions in 2 Samuel 11 (see esp. v. 27).  At the nadir of his power, a woman saves him; at the height of his power, he is imperiled by a woman (Joel Rosenberg, King and Kin, p. 152). Nabal commits a foolish act potentially leading to his death at the hands of David, but Abigail intercedes and saves him thus saving David from shedding innocent blood. Uriah is innocent, yet Bathsheba commits (or is coerced into committing) a foolish act which leads to his death. David becomes guilty of shedding innocent blood and she does nothing (perhaps can do nothing) to prevent it. When a crisis strikes, Abigail knows what to do, Bathsheba does not. Nabal refuses to take from his abundant flocks and so does David (2 Sam. 12:1-6). Both Abigail and Bathsheba are said to be beautiful women (different Hebrew words).

A survey of these stories also demonstrates that they share a host of similar vocabulary. The following list is a sample of these similarities with Scripture references to Abigail’s story occurring first (1 Sam. 25), followed by those in the Bathsheba story (2 Sam. 11–12):

David sends and inquires (25:5; 11:4, 6–7)

David sends messengers (25:14, 42; 11:4)

David takes (25:40; 11:4)

Nabal is evil in his doings; David does evil (25:3; 11:27)

evil should not be found in David; David commits evil (25:28; 11:27)

threefold use of “peace” (25:6; 11:7)

sword (25:13; 11:25; 12:9, 10)

dead or died (25:37, 38, 39; 11:15, 17, 21, 24, 26)

wash the feet (25:41; 11:8)

descend (25:23; 11:8–13)

morning (25:22, 34, 37; 11:14)

drinking and being drunk (25:36; 11:11, 13)

swearing an oath, “As the Lord lives…” (25:26, 34; 11:11)

wall (25:16; 11:20, 21, 24)

“hasten” and “tomorrow”—same letters in Hebrew (25:18, 23; 11:12)

Although words are often used in different ways between the two stories, and some occurrences may be coincidental, the similarities are striking. In particular, David’s sending messengers, the threefold use of the word “peace,” the words “sword” and “dead,” the description of Nabal and David doing “evil,” and the phrase “wash the feet” (which only occurs in these two passages in the books of Samuel), strongly suggest correspondences between these two accounts. The correlation of theme and vocabulary indicates that a comparison between Abigail and Bathsheba would be fruitful and might unveil some of the ambiguity present in Bathsheba’s character in 2 Samuel 11.

Carole Fontaine has noted “the clustering of typical wisdom motifs in vocabulary and theme” found in 2 Samuel 11–12 (The Bearing of Wisdom on the Shape of 2 Samuel 11-12, and 1 Kings 3, JSOT, 34, 1986, pp. 61-77). In a previous chapter we observed that the story of Abigail also contains vocabulary and motifs consistent with the themes of wisdom and folly (Chapter 18 of Family Portraits). This recognition creates yet another link between the stories of Abigail and Bathsheba. The most ironic contrast between the two is that Abigail’s action saves her “good-for-nothing” husband Nabal from death, while Bathsheba’s action sends her good husband Uriah to his death. This contrast highlights the wisdom motif of the woman who brings death. Fontaine notes the similarity of language in Proverbs 6:22 with the opening of the story in 2 Samuel 11. Speaking of the commandments and teachings of one’s parents (which ultimately derive from the Lord), Proverbs 6:22 states, “When you walk they will lead you; when you lie down they will watch over you” (ESV). I have highlighted the words “walk” and “lie down” because they are precisely the words that characterize David’s action in 2 Samuel 11:2, 4. The proverb goes on to warn that the commandment will “preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart” (Prov. 6:24–25a). The proverb continues,

Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes into his neighbor’s wife; None who touches her will go unpunished. (Prov. 6:27–29, ESV)

The correspondences, though not exact, cannot help but make one think of the David and Bathsheba affair. While Bathsheba may not have intentionally seduced David she is, nonetheless, the woman who brings death, not to her fellow adulterer in this case, but to her husband. The counterpart of the adulteress in Proverbs 6 is “Woman Wisdom” in Proverbs 9. Similarly, Bathsheba’s act foolishly puts her husband in harm’s way while Abigail acts wisely in saving her husband. When one adds up Bathsheba’s naiveté and passivity the sum total is foolishness.

It is not just these similarities, however, that associate Bathsheba with the woman who brings death; a reference within the story of chapter 11 also suggests this equation. When Joab sends a messenger back to David with the news of Uriah’s death, he refers to the story of Abimelech in Judges 9 (2 Sam. 11:21). Uriah has just died because the Israelite army got too close to the city wall. Similarly, Abimelech, the petty tyrant king of Shechem, died when he got too close to the city wall and a woman cast a millstone on his head (Judg. 9:50–54). This may have become a proverbial story in Israel about the dangers of getting too close to an enemy’s wall and may explain why Joab anticipates David citing it. Within the context of the story, however, it takes on a deeper meaning, for it was Bathsheba’s act of lying with David that directly resulted in Uriah’s death at the foot of the wall in Rabbah. Like the other correspondences, this one is not exact. It is simply one more nail in the coffin that convicts Bathsheba of a foolish action.

Bathsheba Through the Eyes of Tamar (2 Sam. 11 and 13)

Tamar and Amnon
The terrible story of Tamar and Amnon provides a comparison for evaluating Bathsheba’s character.

The story of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 is the sequel to the story of David and Bathsheba. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of the Lord’s word of judgment in 2 Samuel 12:11: “Behold I will raise up evil against you from your own house” (my translation). Just as David has illicit sex in his house, so too does his son Amnon. Verbs once again draw a parallel between the actions of father and son. Just as David “sent” for Bathsheba, so he innocently “sends” his daughter Tamar to Amnon’s house (13:7). Ironically Amnon “lies down” on his “bed” (13:5), the posture David was in at the beginning of 2 Samuel 11:2. The word “lie” also describes Amnon’s sin (13:11, 14), as it does David’s (11:4). Wisdom motifs and vocabulary are once again prevalent in 2 Samuel 13, indicating a further link with chapters 11–12. These parallels once again suggest that we may profit from a comparison between Bathsheba and Tamar in order to gain a clearer understanding of her character.

Like Bathsheba, Tamar is said to be beautiful (13:1, although a different Hebrew word is used). Tamar is sent by David to Amnon’s house in order to make him some food so that he might recover from his “illness” (13:6–8). She remains unsuspecting of any ulterior motive, even when Amnon orders everyone else out of the house and tells her to come into his bedroom (13:9–10). Our portrait of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 proposed that she was naive (not included in this post but explored earlier in my examination of 2 Sam. 11); may we suggest that the parallel with Tamar adds weight to that proposal? We also inferred the possibility that Bathsheba may not have known why she was sent for. The same is true of Tamar. She believes she was sent to minister to her sick brother; the true purpose of her visit has been concealed from her. Here, however, the similarities end. When Amnon forcefully expresses his intentions, Tamar protests (13:12–13). Her language invokes the words “fool” and “folly” as she tries to dissuade her brother from his predetermined course of action. We note an important difference here between Tamar and Bathsheba. The words describing Bathsheba’s actions in 11:4–5 gave no hint of resistance, and certainly the text records no words of protest. Tamar protests the foolish act being forced upon her; Bathsheba acquiesces. Once again a comparison of stories yields a verdict of foolishness in regard to Bathsheba.

Scripture affirms the importance of more than one witness in determining a conviction (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Although Bathsheba’s portrait in 2 Samuel 11 is ambiguous, there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest a certain understanding of her character. The witness of Abigail and Tamar seems to solidify our suggestion that Bathsheba is a naive and passive woman who does not have the wisdom or strength to extricate herself from a dangerous situation. If we were to hold court on Bathsheba’s character, based on the evidence of 2 Samuel 11 and our two witnesses, we would have to conclude she is not a cunning, manipulative, or malicious person. She is simply foolish. (end of section from Family Portraits)

As I noted parenthetically above, the chapter on Bathsheba in my book also explores the scene in 2 Samuel 11 which is not included here. The point here is to demonstrate the insights that can be gained from investigating texts with similar themes, motifs, and words. Hopefully, this post has demonstrated that a look at the stories of Abigail and Tamar can provide insight into the, otherwise, ambiguous character of Bathsheba.

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.Family Portraits

 

Allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel

Allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel

Meeting of Jacob and Rachel
“The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel” by William Dyce (mid-nineteenth century).

Rachel is one of the matriarchs of Israel. As such, she plays an important role in the unfolding story of the Book of Genesis. Rachel is best known as the beloved wife of Jacob (Gen. 29:18-20), and the mother of Joseph (Gen. 30:22-24). Other famous episodes in her life include the rivalry between her and her sister Leah (Gen. 30:8), her stealing the household gods of her father Laban (Gen. 31:19), and the birth of her second born son Benjamin which results in her death (Gen. 35:16-20). Many readers of 1 Samuel may be unaware of the numerous allusions to Rachel in its pages. Since Rachel lived approximately 800 years before the events recorded in 1 Samuel, what is the significance of the constant allusions to her? A brief discussion of typology, or intertextuality, as it is frequently referred to, is necessary to answer this question. Then we will look at each occurrence in 1 Samuel that alludes to Rachel and seek to understand its significance.

Typology, or Intertextuality in the Bible

I have written more extensively on the topic of typology elsewhere (see here). Peter Leithart provides a good succinct definition. He writes, “Typology means that earlier characters and events are understood as figures of later characters and events, and the text is written in a way that brings out the connection” (Peter Leithart, “A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1&2 Samuel,” p. 13). As I explained in my post on typology: “Biblical authors intentionally recall earlier stories, characters, and events as a way of commenting on the story, character, or event they are relating. The student of the Bible is being invited to compare the stories or characters in order to notice these similarities and differences. Through this comparison, the reader gains insight into what the biblical author is communicating. This is especially helpful when one is trying to understand a particular biblical character.” This practice or technique is what is meant by intertextuality. To put it simply, it is using Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Texts Alluding to Rachel in 1 Samuel and Their Meaning

Hannah and Rachel

Hannah and Peninnah
The conflict between Hannah and Peninnah recalls the conflict between Rachel and Leah.

1 Samuel begins with an immediate allusion to Rachel. Elkanah’s marriage to Hannah and Peninnah recalls Jacob’s marriage to Rachel and Leah (1 Sam. 1:1-6). This allusion is further solidified by the fact that one woman is barren (Hannah/Rachel) and one is fertile (Leah/Peninnah), which leads to conflict between them. Robert Polzin (Samuel and the Deuteronomist), followed by Keith Bodner (1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary), suggests that the birth story of Samuel (the kingmaker) looks forward to the birth of kingship in Israel. There are a number of connections in 1 Sam. 1 with 1 Sam. 8-9. The conflict between the women leads Bodner to conclude: “The advent of kingship in Israel will also produce conflict, and at this point in the story this conflict is symbolically represented in Hannah and Peninnah” (p. 16).

Ichabod and Rachel

Rachel dies giving birth
The Birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel by D. Chiesura.

The birth of Ichabod in 1 Samuel 4:19-22 contains the next allusion to Rachel. When the daughter-in-law of Eli hears of his death, the death of her husband (Phinehas), and the capture of the ark, she is overcome with premature labor and gives birth. The birth is difficult and results in her death. Before dying, however, she gives her son a strange name–Ichabod–which means, “the glory has departed.” These circumstances bear some resemblance to the story of Rachel giving birth to Benjamin. It should also be noted that the man who delivers the bad tidings in 1 Sam. 4 is “a man from Benjamin” (1 Sam. 4:12). When Rachel gives birth, she too dies, and in the process, she also gives her son an unusual name with a sad meaning. Benjamin’s original name as given by Rachel is Ben-Oni which means “son of my sorrow.” Apparently Jacob did not wish his son to be stuck with such a negative legacy and so changed his name to Benjamin (Gen. 35:18). In my book, Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel, I suggest the following application: “The parallel between the two birth stories may lie in the contrast they provide to one another. Ben-Oni does not properly reflect the future of Jacob’s family, and so Jacob changes his son’s name to Benjamin. However, the name, Ichabod, stands because it is a true reflection of the situation—“the glory has departed” (p. 77). It should be remembered that Saul is a Benjamite. Barbara Green (How Are the Mighty Fallen? A Dialogical Study of King Saul in 1 Samuel, p. 145) points out that the news the man from Benjamin brings leads to the mother’s death and the outcry of the people. Is this perhaps a harbinger of the problems that Saul’s kingship will bring upon Israel? It is interesting that a few of the ancient Rabbis even identified this Benjamite as the young man Saul!

Saul and Rachel

Samuel anoints Saul
When Samuel anoints Saul, he gives him 3 signs. The first concerns Rachel’s tomb.

While the previous story of Ichabod’s birth alludes to Rachel’s death, the next story expressly mentions her tomb. After Saul is anointed by Samuel, he is given three signs to confirm his appointment. The first sign involves encountering two men by Rachel’s tomb (1 Sam. 10:2). As Saul arrives at the tomb of the matriarch of his tribe, he will receive news that the donkeys he went to seek have been found, and that his father is concerned about what has happened to him. While the immediate context confirms Samuel’s word that the Lord has anointed him, some suggest that in the bigger picture of Saul’s story the mention of Rachel’s tomb and the words of his father, may sound an ominous note. A tomb quite naturally speaks of death. Peter Miscall (1 Samuel: A Literary Reading) remarks, “…’tomb’ tips the ambiguous symbol of Benjamin toward the pole of misfortune and death” (p. 55). Regarding the father’s words, Bodner comments, “…the words of Saul’s father Kish mean more than the speaker(s) may realize. Kish says, ‘What will I do about my son?, suggesting that uncertainty clouds the future of his son” (p. 94).

Michal and Rachel

Michal's idol recalls Rachel
Michal hiding an idol in David’s bed is reminiscent of Rachel hiding idols in her saddlebag.

When Saul threatens David’s life, Michal seeks to protect him. Michal helps David out through a window in the house and then does something very interesting. She takes an idol (one wonders where she gets it), puts it in David’s bed and covers the head with goat’s hair (1 Sam. 19:11-17). When Saul’s soldiers come to take him, she claims that David is sick which allows David extra time to escape. Several features of this story recall incidents in the lives of both Jacob and Rachel. Bodner sums up the similarities: “Both of these episodes feature deceptive father-in-laws (Laban and Saul), younger daughters (Rachel and Michal), fugitive husbands (Jacob and David), and hidden idols (author’s italics, p. 206). In Family Portraits, my conclusion is: “Although Rachel is one of the matriarchs of Israel, the comparison here is not flattering. It serves to confirm that Michal’s religious devotion is misplaced” (p. 127). Michal’s possession of an idol, and lying to her father that David threatened to kill her, places her in a negative light, in spite of the fact that she saved David’s life on this occasion.

Saul and David, Rachel and Leah

In the larger picture of 1&2 Samuel we learn that Saul ,the first king, is a member of the Tribe of Benjamin. David, of course, is from the Tribe of Judah. Genesis reveals that Rachel had two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. The first king of Israel is, therefore, a descendant of Rachel’s. The Tribe of Judah, however, is descended through Leah and Judah becomes the preeminent son among Leah’s progeny (Gen. 49:8-12). The conflict between David (Judah) and Saul (Benjamin) is reminiscent of the conflict between the two matriarchal mothers and sisters, Rachel and Leah. Interestingly, although Rachel was the most loved by Jacob, it was Leah who rested by him in the end, as she and Jacob were both buried in the ancestral cave at Machpelah purchased by Abraham (Gen. 49:29-31). Similarly, it was David, the descendant of Leah, persecuted by Saul, the descendant of Rachel, who triumphed in the  end.

Conclusion

Rachel is one of the revered matriarchs of Israel and deserves her place among the great women of the nation. Yet, it must be said, that her character description in Genesis, like that of her husband Jacob, is less than ideal. She is remembered for being beautiful (Gen. 29:17) and to her credit, she seeks the Lord in her barrenness and is granted a son (Gen. 30:22-24). However, she also has a fiery temper and a competitive nature driven, at least at times, by envy (Gen. 30:1-2). Rachel, like Jacob, can also be deceptive. As illustrated when she steals her father’s gods and lies about it (Gen. 31:19, 34-35).

When we turn to the allusions of Rachel in 1 Samuel, once again negativity dominates. Rachel’s comparison with Hannah is indeed a positive (both are the loved wife who is barren), but the similarity also extends to the conflict and rivalry represented in both families. The allusion between Benjamin’s birth and Ichabod’s is foreboding of difficult times ahead. If “the glory has departed” at the birth of Ichabod and he is the “new Benjamin,” then what does that forecast for the future of the tribe of Benjamin? We have already noted above that Saul’s first sign of kingship being confirmed in the vicinity of Rachel’s tomb does not seem to suggest a bright future. Finally, the similarities between Rachel and Michal are not complimentary to either, but, in the end, Rachel certainly fares better than Michal in biblical history.

Except for some aspects in the comparison with Hannah, it must be said that all of the allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel are designed to communicate a negative message. Perhaps this relates to our final point above that the kingship was ultimately not destined for a descendant of Rachel from the Tribe of Benjamin, but for a descendant of Leah from the Tribe of Judah, and this may be one of the main reasons that the inspired author draws so many allusions to her in 1 Samuel.

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.Family Portraits

 

John the Baptist and Salome’s Dance Floor

John the Baptist and Salome’s Dance Floor

Beheading of John the Baptist
Salome presents the head of John the Baptist to her mother.

The beheading of John the Baptist is a well-known story. Even many who aren’t familiar with the New Testament have heard the story of the dance of Salome that cost John his head. Artists throughout the ages have dramatized the grizzly scene of John’s head being brought on a plate by the young girl (see above). Recently, Győző Vörös, director of the excavations at Machaerus, announced that he has pinpointed the area where Salome’s deadly dance took place.

Herod’s Palace Fortress at Machaerus

Aerial photograph of archaeological site of Machaerus.  [Credit: Gyozo Voros]
The death of John the Baptist is not only recorded in Scripture, it was also recorded by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In fact, it is Josephus’s account that locates John’s execution at Machaerus, one of Herod’s mountaintop fortresses. The fortress was originally built during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, one of the Hasmonean rulers (more popularly referred to as the Maccabees). Herod the Great refurbished and strengthened it. Machaerus was Herod’s most eastern fortress and is located in present-day Jordan. The map that follows shows the location of Machaerus and Herod’s other palaces/fortresses.

Map of Herod's palaces
Herod’s palaces. Credit:Biblical Archaeology Review

The Gospel accounts of John the Baptist’s Death

In order to avoid any confusion, I would point out that, although Herod the Great had refurbished the palace, it was Herod’s son, known as Herod Antipas, who figures in the story of John’s beheading. The Gospels record that John accused Herod (Anitpas) of violating the Law of Moses by taking his brother’s wife. Herodias was previously married to Antipas’s brother Philip (Mark 6:17-20). Antipas arrests John and throws him in prison, not willing to kill him for fear of the people who regarded John as a prophet. However, when Salome, Herodias’s daughter, dances for Herod, he promises her anything, up to half his kingdom. Her request is for the head of John the Baptist, which Herod reluctantly grants.

Josephus’s Account of John the Baptist’s Death

Josephus
First century Roman bust thought to be Josephus.

As noted above, Josephus also provides an account of John the Baptist’s death. Josephus’s account differs in some particulars. His account compliments the Gospels by adding additional information. I have provided an abbreviated version of his account below:

But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing join in baptism. . . . When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons, Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything that they did. Herod decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising, than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation and see his mistake. Though John, because of Herod’s suspicions, was brought in chains to Machaerus, the stronghold that we have previously mentioned, and there put to death, yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw fit to inflict such a blow on Herod (Josephus Ant 18.5.2 §116–19).

Josephus’s mention of the destruction of Antipas’s army relates to the defeat he suffered in 36 AD at the hands of the Nabatean King Aretas IV. Anitpas had divorced his daughter in order to marry Herodias.

Where Did Salome’s Dance Take Place?

Throne niche at Machaerus
Vörös believes this niche once contained Herod’s throne. [Image: © Győző Vörös]
Within the ruins of the palace, a courtyard has been uncovered, along with a niche which Vörös believes to be the place where Antipas’s throne was located. The photo above shows the niche where the throne may have been. In an article for BAR (Sept/Oct 2012), Vörös writes,  “Herod’s palace also included a courtyard with a small royal garden, a Roman-style bath, a triclinium for fancy dining and a formal peristyle courtyard enclosed by porticoes on four sides. This final area was the most imposing area of the palace, and it was there that Salome must have danced for Herod Antipas. We even know where the king sat: A semi-circular apse marks the space for King Herod’s (and later his son Tetrarch Herod Antipas’s) throne in the axial center of the peristyle courtyard.”

An artistic representation by Vörös of what this courtyard may have looked like can be found in the following article by livescience entitled,  “Dance floor where John the Baptist was condemned to death discovered, archaeologist says” (Go to the bottom of the article). A short article in Bible History Daily also contains some artistic reconstructions of the palace. A short video about Machaerus by The Watchman program can be found here and a longer version can be found here.

As with any archaeological reconstruction, 100% certainty is not possible. Some archaeologists have agreed with Vörös’s conclusions, while others are not convinced. In any case, Salome’s dance certainly happened within this palace in a place where Herod would have entertained guests. This seems to be the most likely spot. The work at Machaerus continues and perhaps even greater clarity about where this biblical event took place will be forthcoming.

 

 

Pompeii and Fast Food Restaurants

Pompeii and Fast Food Restaurants

Thermopolia at Pompeii
Excavating a snack bar at Pompeii yielded this vivid picture of a sea nymph astride a sea-horse.

We all enjoy and appreciate being able to get food on the run. Fast food restaurants are a mainstay of modern life. If you thought they were unique to the modern world, however, you would be wrong. Pompeii, the famous city buried by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius exploded, had up to 80 fast food establishments! One of these establishments, the Thermopolium (snack bar) of Regio V, has recently been excavated in its entirety. The excavation revealed vivid art work. Furthermore, examining residues in food containers revealed the kind of food sold at the snack bar. Other discoveries included storage vessels, the bones of two humans, and the bones of a dog.

Ordering at Regio V in Pompeii

Snack bar in Pompeii
The food bar at Regio V in Pompeii.

If you were hungry in ancient Pompeii and walked into Regio V for a snack, what would you find there? The photo of the snack bar above, offers a few ideas. Two mallard ducks hung by their feet (left panel), and a rooster (right panel), suggest some of the delicacies that a hungry client might choose from. In fact, examination of the containers, or dolium, lining the counter (see photo above), produced the following residues: goats, fish, swine, snails, and even a fragment of duck bone.

Menacing dog at Regio V in Pompeii
Was this menacing dog a warning or a menu item?

Was the menacing looking dog in the picture above, a warning to guests to beware of hassling the workers, or another item on the varied menu at Regio V? Another interesting feature of this picture is the graffiti in the black area above the dog’s head. If you blow up the picture, you can barely make out the words of an unsatisfied customer. I won’t quote here what the graffiti says. Suffice it to say, the customer had a real potty mouth (quite literally). For a translation of the graffiti, and additional information about the snack bar, see the article at pompeiisites.org. Speaking of dogs, archaeologists found the full skeleton of a small dog between the two doors of the Thermopolium. The dog was only eight to ten inches high, suggesting that the Romans were breeding pet dogs 2,000 years ago.

Human Remains

Human remains at Regio V
Some of the human remains found at Regio V in Pompeii.

Pompeii is famous for preserving the images of dying people caught in the ash and poisonous gases of the Vesuvius eruption. The bones of two victims were identified inside the snack bar. Unfortunately, treasure hunters from the 17th century moved the bones around. Excavator’s identified the remains of one man in his fifties, who appears to have died on his bed (the residue of wood and nails still laid underneath the bones). The bones of another man were found inside one of the doliums. The treasure hunters apparently put them there.

Massimo Osanna, Interim Director General of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, states, “The possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits.” For further information on this discovery consult the link above and also see Pompeii Fast Food Restaurant Uncovered. For interesting video footage click here and here (please be aware this video is in Italian but it gives a good overview of the shop). To read more about the Romans love of fish check out, Fish Sauces–The Food That Made Rome Great.

 

 

Clothing in Samuel: You Are What You Wear

Clothing in Samuel: You Are What You Wear

Semites clothing
This ancient Egyptian pictorial from 1900 B.C. pictures Semites (this category includes Israelites) traveling to Egypt. The clothing would be typical of the time of Abraham or Jacob.

We will definitely be airing some dirty laundry in this post as we look at the clothing motif in the Books of Samuel. In daily life, clothes tell us something about the person wearing them. We might learn about their social class, or what part of the world they’re from. Formal and casual attire also communicate certain messages. One blogger writes, “On a larger scale, fashion is important because it represents our history and helps to tell the story of the world” (Why Is Fashion Important?). “Clothing, whether worn for a special occasion or not, did always convey a message, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously, especially regarding social status, as there was clothing specific to gender, age, marital status, wealth, rank, modesty, place of origin, or occupation” (Barbosa, M. (2020). Women’s Fashion in the Old Testament World. In The Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, p. 74).

Hebrew Words for Clothing in Samuel

Ordinary clothing
This relief is an Assyrian depiction of the conquest of Lachish. It shows the captive women of Judah dressed in plain garb.

There are six Hebrew words used a total of thirty-nine times to describe a person’s attire.  The words and their meaning are as follows:

  1. Beged is the most common word for clothing in the OT, and the most frequently occurring word in 1&2 Samuel. It occurs twelve times in eleven passages (1 Sam. 19:13, 24; 27:9; 28:8; 2 Sam. 1:2;  3:31; 13:31 [2x]; 14:2; 19:25; 20:8, 12 ) and is usually translated as “garment” or “clothing.” It has a broad range of meaning and refers to clothing in general.
  2. An ephod is mentioned ten times in nine passages (1 Sam. 2:18, 28; 14:3; 21:9;  22:18; 23:6, 9; 30:7 [2x]; 2 Sam. 6:14). An Ephod is an item of priestly apparel. It is especially associated with the High Priest, but is worn by others as well. In spite of the detailed description of it in Exodus 28 and 39, “a clear picture of what it looked like is difficult to obtain” (Meyers, C., Ephod (Object). In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, p. 550).   Both Samuel and David are said to wear “a linen ephod” (1 Sam. 2:18; 2 Sam. 6:14).  The ephod was used to seek answers from God, so at times, it is pictured as being carried, rather than worn (e.g., 1 Sam. 23.6).
  3. Meʿîl means “robe” and is found eight times in seven passages in Samuel (1 Sam. 2:19; 15:27; 18:4; 24:5, 12 [2x]); 28:14; 2 Sam. 13:18). It is an outer garment generally worn by people of rank. It is especially associated with Samuel and Saul, although it is worn by other people of high status.
  4. Maḏ occurs five times in five passages and is always connected with military or governmental attire in Samuel (1 Sam. 4:12;  17:38, 39; 18:4; 2 Sam. 10:4).
  5. Lābaš is normally used as a verb in Samuel (4 times) and refers to “putting on” a piece of clothing. However, on one occasion it is translated as a noun referring to Joab’s military outfit (2 Sam. 20:8).
  6. Keṯōneṯ passîm is an expression only found four times in Scripture. In each instance it refers to a type of garment that suggests royalty. It appears in the Joseph story as the “coat of many colors,” (Gen. 37:3, 23), and is found in 2 Samuel 13:18-19 describing the garment that Tamar, the daughter of David, was wearing. The word keṯōneṯ  by itself is more common in Scripture (e.g., Gen. 3:21; Job 30:18) and is used to describe Hushai’s garment in 2 Samuel 15:32 which he has torn as a sign of grief. For more on biblical clothing click the link here.

Meanings Conveyed by Clothing in Samuel

Having surveyed the passages in Samuel that mention clothing, I have concluded that there are five primary meanings. These meanings include status, mourning, deception, shame, and death.

Status

Samuel rejects Saul
Both Samuel and Saul are characterized as leaders by the robes they wear.

Kings, priests, soldiers, aristocrats, and peasants all have distinctive outfits befitting their social and political rank. This is true of all societies and this feature is evident in Samuel as well. For example, all eight mentions of the robe (meʿîl) are connected with royal figures and political leaders. Hannah’s bringing the young Samuel a new robe each year (1 Sam. 2:19) foreshadows his destiny as Israel’s leader. The connection between the robe and leadership is made explicit in the story of Saul’s rejection. When Samuel turns to leave after telling Saul that God has rejected him as king, Saul grabs Samuel’s robe and it tears. Samuel sees this as a sign and responds, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Sam. 15:28). Samuel is so closely identified with his robe that when Saul visits the medium of Endor and asks her to call up Samuel, he recognizes him immediately by the woman’s description. She states, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” Then the text tells us,  “And Saul knew that it was Samuel” (1 Sam. 28:14).

Saul’s robe represents his kingship. When David cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe, David is convicted. “Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:4-5). Cutting off a slice of Saul’s robe is similar to defacing his kingship. Similarly, Jonathan’s gift of his robe and weaponry to David is a symbolic way of surrendering the kingship to him (1 Sam. 18:4).

Besides his robe, Samuel wears a linen ephod which indicates his priestly status (1 Sam. 2:18). Somewhat surprisingly, David is also said to wear a linen ephod when he brings the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, thus suggesting some kind of priestly status on his part (2 Sam. 6:14).

Mourning

Tearing clothes
Tearing clothing is a sign of grief in ancient times.

What one did to one’s clothing, or the kind of clothing worn was a common way of expressing grief in the ancient world. For example, following a defeat in battle at the hands of the Philistines, a messenger arrives at Shiloh with torn clothes to deliver the news to Eli (1 Sam. 4:12). Similarly, after being raped by her brother Amnon, Tamar tears the royal robe she is wearing as a sign of grief and outrage (2 Sam. 13:19). David goes a step farther following the murder of Abner when he tells Joab and his men to not only tear their clothes but to put on sackcloth (2 Sam. 3:31). To demonstrate his grief of David’s flight from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt, Mephibosheth does not take care of his feet, trim his beard, or wash his clothes (2 Sam. 19:24). Finally, in an act of deception, Joab tells a wise woman to pretend to be in mourning by putting on garments of mourning (2 Sam. 14:2).

Deception

Saul and the witch of Endor
Saul puts on common clothing to deceive the medium of Endor. Credit: the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Our last example above regarding the wise woman illustrates how clothing can be used in Samuel to deceive. The wise woman pretends to be mourning over a lost son so that she might gain the ear and sympathy of the king. Michal, the daughter of Saul seeks to protect David by deceiving her father’s soldiers into thinking he is sick. She does this by laying an image in a bed and covering it with goat’s hair and clothes, giving David time to escape (1 Sam. 19:11-16). Saul also uses clothing to deceive the medium at Endor. Saul does not want to be recognized so that the medium will do his bidding in calling up Samuel. In the larger story, however, Saul’s removal of his royal apparel and putting on “other garments” (1 Sam. 28:8), is a symbolic way of suggesting that Saul is losing the kingship. Joab uses his military attire to deceive Amasa (2 Sam. 20:8), but this story also has another dynamic that we will examine below.

Shame

Saul removes his clothing
Saul prophesies naked (1 Sam. 19:22-24)

In the Bible, being unclothed is considered shameful. Only Adam and Eve in their pristine state before the Fall, could be naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). Not only did certain kinds of clothing denote honor and wealth, all clothing hid one’s shame (e.g., Ezek. 16:8, 36-37). Thus to be found in one’s “birthday suit,” was considered humiliating. Saul is twice pictured in 1 Samuel in a compromised situation. In his pursuit of David, Saul comes to Samuel in Ramah and is seized by the Spirit of God. There he lies down all day naked and prophesies (1 Sam. 19:23-24). In other words, in his murderous rage, the Spirit renders him powerless and vulnerable, to the point of shaming him by removing his kingly garments. One might muse that Saul is performing his own version of the “Emperor’s New Clothes!” Saul is found in an even more humiliating and vulnerable position when he goes into a cave to relieve himself (1 Sam. 24:3-7). The Hebrew uses the euphemistic phrase, “to cover his feet.” In other words, Saul drops his robe around his feet in order to take care of important business. David and his men are hiding in the cave, but David refuses to harm Saul. When Saul leaves the cave, David produces the part of the robe he had cut off in order to demonstrate his innocence to Saul (1 Sam. 24:11).

On another occasion after David himself has become king,  he sends ambassadors to pay his respects to the deceased Nahash, king of Ammon, Nahash’s son Hanun humiliates the men by cutting their garments off at the buttocks (2 Sam. 10:4). This insult precipitates a war between Israel and Ammon. We should also mention that Tamar’s tearing of her royal garment not only communicates mourning (as noted above) but shame as well.

Death

Joab murders Amasa
Joab’s military garb is carefully described in anticipation of his murder of Amasa.

When garments are associated with death, it is usually in reference to those who are mourning the deceased (2 Sam. 3:31; 14:2). However, there is one passage in 2 Samuel that dwells on the military attire of Joab in anticipation of his murder of Amasa (2 Sam. 20:8). One could literally say that Joab “was dressed to kill!” On the other hand, the expression “cloak and dagger” seems apropos as well. This passage also fits under the theme of dressing to deceive noted above. Commentators are unsure of the exact manner in which Joab perpetrates this deception, but in the end, Amasa gets the point! As Amasa lies wallowing in his blood, the troops stand still in shock. But when Amasa is unceremoniously dragged off of the highway and covered with a garment, the mission continues (2 Sam. 20:12). This time a garment plays the part of concealing the horrible crime committed by Joab and acts as Amasa’s death shroud.

Conclusion: If the Shoe Fits

While some motifs, such as tallness, or dead dog (see posts here and here), have one main point to make, the motif of clothing is varied. For the most part, one could say that the clothing motif is “worse for wear” in Samuel.  Although the message of status is mostly positive, the other usages of this motif are quite negative. Context is the all-important guide when it comes to understanding what is being communicated by the clothing motif. Therefore the message(s) of this motif is not a “one size fits all,” but rather an “If the shoe fits, wear it.” In particular, the clothing motif in Samuel contributes to the main themes of honor and shame (e.g., 1 Sam. 2:30) and how appearances can be deceiving (1 Sam. 16:7).

For a more in-depth look at 1&2 Samuel see:

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.

Family Portraits

 

Logos 9 is Here!

Logos 9 is Here!

Logos 9
Use this link to purchase or upgrade to Logos 9!

Although there are numerous new features for all who love using Logos for Bible study, Logos 9 is especially pastor friendly. I will list a few of the new features below, but if I was asked to summarize the biggest changes in Logos 9 it would include the expansion of the Factbook, the new Sermon Builder and Sermon Manager tools, and the new Counseling Guide. We will look briefly at each of these first.

The New Factbook

Using Factbook
Typing in Samuel in the “Go” box reveals a number of options, including the use of Factbook.

FactBook has been updated and now has about ten times the information of previous versions. Now you can enter a passage, person, topic, etc. into the “Go” box and the dropdown list will provide Factbook as one of the options, as seen in the screenshot above. (I know the pictures are small so feel free to zoom in on the screenshots). 🙂

Logos 9 Character study in FactbookChoosing the person Samuel results in the Factbook opening to a page with a multitude of resources and basic information to get you started on your character study. The screenshot doesn’t do justice to the various categories available such as media, key passages, events, various Bible dictionary articles, journals, sermons, guides, and workflows. Basic information is also provided on the key events of Samuel’s life.

Sermon Builder and Sermon Manager

What used to be called the Sermon Editor is now called the Sermon Builder. It can be found in the Tools menu. Logos 9 greatly enhances the ability to plan, create, preach, and store all of your sermons. Below I have listed several screen shots. The first demonstrates how to access Sermon Builder, while the second and third show the various features available.

Logos 9 Sermon Builder

By the way, notice that Dark mode is now available in Logos 9. The following screenshots are in Dark mode which can be accessed by clicking on the 3 vertical dots in the upper righthand corner of the screen. To enable this feature, you have to choose Dark Mode, quit Logos and then start it again. This is cumbersome. It would be nice if the feature automatically switched, or if Logos had a restart button rather than having to quit and restart Logos. Back now to the Sermon Builder!

Logos 9 Sermon Builder
This screen shows some of the options available in Sermon Builder.

In the second screenshot, you will notice that on the righthand side, the Sermon Builder gives you the option of creating a new sermon layout, or using a previously saved template. Below that is information that can be filled in to provide information when storing the sermon. If this sermon is part of a series, you can put in the name of the series, the topic, the passage(s), etc.Sermon Builder

In this last screenshot of the Sermon Builder, notice that you can input the date, church or location, and time the message was preached. I love this feature because if you speak at a number of different venues and churches, you never need worry about whether you are repeating a sermon you have taught before! On the left side of the screen is where you develop the sermon. One of the features I really like is how powerpoint slides are automatically added for each point! When you’re finished building your sermon, all you do is hit “Preach” in the upper box and you’re ready to go. In Preach mode you even have a built in timer to keep your sermon on schedule!

The Sermon Manager is another nice feature in Logos 9 for organizing your messages and series, and being able to easily find them later. I have not provided a screenshot, however, because I have to confess a little frustration with this feature. I built an example to make a screenshot of Sermon Manager. I put in some information for some make believe sermons, but then I ran into trouble. When I tried to correct a mistake, I couldn’t find a way to delete anything. In fact, I tried to delete the entire example because they are not sermons I have preached and I couldn’t find a way to delete them. I went to the “Help” file only to find that Logos 9 does not include any information on the Sermon Builder or Sermon Manager! The only information on sermons is under “Sermon Document,” which pertains to the old Logos 8 feature. So I’m left frustrated at the moment with how to use this feature and how to delete mistakes.

The Counseling Guide

As the demo for Logos 9 points out, the Counseling Guide won’t make you a counselor, but it is designed to help the busy pastor with resources and guidance. Logos 9 not only provides this Counseling Guide, but, depending on your version, it also provides a large counseling library. Below is a snapshot of the Counseling Guide. I have typed in the  topic of depression as an example. (You’ll notice I’ve switched back to the Light screen).

Logos 9 Counseling Guide
Logos 9 Counseling Guide

The screenshot below demonstrates that scrolling down the page of the Counseling Guide reveals some resources pertaining to depression that are included in certain versions of Logos 9.

Counseling resources in Logos 9
Examples of some of the counseling resources available in Logos 9.

Other Features and Benefits of Logos 9

As noted at the top of this post, I have sought to focus on three of the main new features in Logos 9, but there are many more. I will give just two more brief examples. A minor feature, but one that I like a lot, is the ability to view your commentaries categorized in various ways. In the screenshot below, I have typed Psalm 60 into the “Go” box and then chosen “Passage Guide.” On the left where the commentaries are listed, you will notice that there are now various categories such as “Priority,” “Series,” “Author,” etc. In the example, I have selected “Type” and from the drop down list I have selected “Exegetical,” which shows me all the Psalms commentaries in my library that fit that category.

Commentary categories
Note the various commentary categories for view in Logos 9.

Finally I will mention that, as always, an update with Logos comes with a host of new books for your Library. I will note that my version of Logos 9 is Gold, so those with other versions will have libraries that vary. The Gold version includes an extensive counseling library, as I have already mentioned, including a 10 volume commentary series by well-known counselor Jay Adams. I am particularly excited that Lexham Press has produced Lexicons of the Hebrew, Aramaic, Septuagint and Greek. These Lexicons are a gold mine and differ from other Lexicons as they break down word meaning and usage according to various passages in the Bible. I am also excited about the new Atlases available with Logos 9 which includes the Carta Bible Atlas, Carta’s Historical Atlas of Jerusalem, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, and others. The Gold version also includes Lexham’s Context Commentary (3 vols. on the NT and 1 vol. on the OT). Besides these and many other volumes, Logos 9 comes with numerous updated data sets and interactive media.

Evaluation of Logos 9

Overall I am very pleased with Logos’s latest update. As noted above, I believe pastors (and teachers) will find it especially helpful. There are a few bugs to be worked out, but this is true of any new update. Now is a great time to purchase Logos 9 as Logos is offering a 15% discount on all of its packages. Click on the link below, browse and choose the package that works best for you!

Get Logos 9 Now and Enjoy a 15% Discount While the Sale Lasts!

Many thanks to Logos/Faithlife for providing me with a free upgrade to Logos 9. I was not required to provide a positive review.

Capital Importance: Ancient Judean Capitals Discovered!

Capital Importance: Ancient Judean Capitals Discovered!

Davidic capitals
One of the royal Judean capitals recently uncovered. Photo credit: TZVI JOFFRE

While COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on the 2020 archaeological season in Israel, a number of exciting discoveries continue to occur. Just yesterday (Sept. 3, 2020) the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of three 2700 year old capitals, along with other artifacts. According to the Jerusalem Post, “The capitals are linked to the Davidic Dynasty because such designs from the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea have only been found within the areas they ruled. The design has been found from later periods in other locations throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East (Davidic Dynasty Symbol Found in Jerusalem).

The discoveries were made in an area known as the Armon Hanatziv Promenade. This is a favorite tourist spot south of Jerusalem that allows a beautiful panoramic view of the city. It is in the area known as East Talpiot in Jerusalem, and about a mile from another sensational discovery made recently (see my post Administrative Site of the Kings of Judah Uncovered).

Perfect Intact Capitals Found Buried

The Capitals, which are in perfect condition, were found buried, one on top of the other. It is not known why the capitals were buried. What is known is that they are from either a royal administrative building, or a royal estate. An in-depth interview conducted by Eric Stakelbeck of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) with Ze’ev Orenstein can be found here.

The capitals date from the period between the Assyrian oppression, which resulted in the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37), to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.). Since the style of these capitals are linked to the Davidic dynasty, it has been memorialized on Israel’s 5 shekel coin (see image below).

Ancient capital on 5 shekel coin
The design of the ancient capitals can be found today on Israel’s 5 shekel coin.

A similar capital was discovered in Jerusalem during Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in the City of David (1961-67). This discovery prompted Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar in 2005 to search and uncover what she believes is King David’s Palace. In a video showing a tour of the City of David the guide in the video sits in the building discovered by Mazar. Beginning at 3:30 in the video you can hear him talk about the palace and you can see a replica of the capital that was discovered. Watch the video here. Note the identical nature of this capital to the ones just discovered!

ancient window frames
Ancient beautifully decorated window frames from the royal building.

Among other items found were lavishly decorated window frames (seen in the picture above). These window frames, along with the capitals, can be seen in this short video interviewing the archaeologist who discovered them. Other items are currently being studied and investigated. A future announcement will detail what else has been discovered.

Dead Dog: Motifs in Samuel

Dead Dog: Motifs in Samuel

dead dogWe live in a dog lover’s world and so it should come as no surprise that we use many idioms related to our four-legged friends. The positive use of an idiom involving dogs is usually related to puppies. We talk about having “puppy dog eyes,” or when speaking of teenagers we say they have a case of “puppy love.” Of course there’s also the colloquial expression, “What’s up dog?,” or “Yo dawg!” As much as we love our dogs, it’s surprising how often we use them in idioms with a negative meaning. “It’s a dog-eat- dog world,” “I’m sick as a dog,” “I’m dog-tired,” “You work like a dog,” and many more (see How friendly are these 29 dog idioms–disclaimer, some of these aren’t the nicest of expressions!). When a woman is called “a dog,” or worse, a female version of a dog, it’s not a compliment! If someone pranks me, I might threaten them good-naturedly by saying, “You’re a dead dog!” When someone is wasting time we might say, “You’re beating a dead dog,” although admittedly I’ve heard “horse” used in this idiom more frequently.  Although we are talking about dead dogs in this post, hopefully we won’t be beating any (i.e., I hope you think the article is worth your time)!

“Dog” in Scripture

vicious dog
Enemies in Scripture can be pictured as menacing dogs.

While current idiom’s can use “dog” positively or negatively,  dog language in Scripture is always negative. “The psalmist’s enemies are presented as menacing dogs (Ps. 22:16 [17]), and dogs represent a fool in Prov. 26:11, where the folly or sins of the fool are compared to the filth of dog vomit. Israel’s sentinels are called ‘silent dogs’ who sleep rather than bark, while Israel’s enemy is described as a voracious, devouring dog (Isa. 56:10–11)” (M.E. Taylor, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 352). “Dogs were scavengers and kept towns clean by consuming garbage and unburied corpses (Ps. 59:14–15 [MT 15–16])” (Ibid.). The NT, like the OT, considers dogs to be an unclean animal (Matt. 15:26-27). In fact, in Revelation’s picture of the heavenly city, dogs are said to be on the outside along with other unsavory characters (Rev. 22:15).

“Dog” and “Dead Dog” in Samuel

There are 5 occurrences of dog language in Samuel with a possible sixth occurrence (which will be explained below). Three verses specifically use the words “dead dog” (1 Sam. 24:14 {MT 15]; 2 Sam. 9:8; 16:9). In the other two occurrences the speakers refer to themselves as “dogs” and later end up dead (1 Sam. 17:43; 2 Sam. 3:8). So it seems that we can legitimately label these as “dead dog” passages as well. These passages use the word “dog” in one of two ways: 1) When someone is called a “dead dog,” the person using the expression is speaking disparagingly of another. 2) When a person refers to themselves as a “dead dog,” it is usually a statement of humility, unless the context makes it clear that they do not see themselves as a “dog.”

Goliath and Abner: Dogs Who End Up Dead

Goliath becomes a dead dog
Goliath denies that he is a dog, nevertheless, he winds up eating the dust like a dead dog.

When David goes out to engage Goliath in battle, Goliath says, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (1 Sam. 17:43). Goliath’s question is clearly rhetorical. He does not believe that he is a dog, and therefore, this is a derogatory use of the word. In other words, Goliath is not expressing humility by referring to himself as a dog. Ironically, a few verses later, Goliath winds up dead, proving he is, in fact, a “dead dog!”

When Ishbosheth accuses Abner of sleeping with Rizpah, his father’s concubine, Abner angrily retorts, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah?” (2 Sam. 3:8). Once again, we have a rhetorical question. Clearly Abner does not think that he is a “dog’s head.” There are several interesting observations that can be made about this response. Anderson observes, “Since sexual promiscuity of dogs is nearly proverbial, Abner’s exclamation is fairly apposite” (A.A. Anderson, WBC, 2 Samuel, p. 56). It is also noted by some scholars that “dog’s head” may, in fact, be a euphemistic reference that actually refer’s to a dog’s backside! (See e.g., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel–Vol. 2, p. 424). Finally, the word for dog in Hebrew is keleb. The name Caleb comes from this word. It’s possible that Abner was making a wordplay here. Recall that at this time David was reigning over Judah from Hebron (2 Sam. 2:1-4). Hebron was the city given by Joshua to Caleb (Josh. 15:13). When Abner says, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah?,” some scholars take this to mean “Am I the chief of Caleb of Judah?” “Head” here would mean “leader” (see my post on the head motif in Samuel). The reference to Caleb (which means “dog”) would be a way of referencing Hebron. Therefore, Abner would be saying, “Do you think I’m loyal to David who rules over Caleb’s territory in Hebron?” (On this interpretation see, McCarter, 2 Samuel, Yale Anchor Bible, p. 106). At the same time, the expression carries the idea of being a dog’s head and thus it would have a double meaning. If this is the case, then this would be a clever retort indeed! By the end of the chapter (2 Sam. 3:27), the man who sarcastically referred to himself as a “dog’s head,” is dead.

Shimei, the Dead Dog

Shimei, the dead dog
Shimei’s cursing of David leads to his appellation as a “dead dog” by Abishai.

The clearest case of “dead dog” having a derogatory meaning is found in 2 Samuel 16:9. The context is a report of David’s flight from Jerusalem during the revolt of Absalom. As David is fleeing, Shimei throws rocks and dirt his way, while cursing him. Abishai, one of David’s commanders, gets fed up with this insulting behavior and says, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” David refuses to allow him and later, following Absalom’s defeat, when Shimei begs for his life, David pardons him (2 Sam. 19:16-23). However, David never forgets Shimei’s treachery and on his death bed he tells Solomon to deal wisely with him and see that he does not go to the grave peacefully (1 Kgs. 2:8-9). Eventually, Shimei breaks an agreement that he had made with Solomon. The result is his execution (1 Kgs. 2:39-46). In the end, Shimei truly winds up as a “dead dog.”

David & Mephibosheth: Dead Dogs

David spares Saul
David spares Saul. Image courtesy of St-Takla.org

The final two occurrences of this expression in the books of Samuel are found on the lips of David and Mephibosheth respectively. On one occasion when Saul is pursuing David in the Wilderness, David spares his life. Later, David confronts Saul by showing a piece of Saul’s robe in his hand, demonstrating that he might have killed him. After pleading with Saul he states, “After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! (1 Sam. 24:14). David’s reference to himself as a “dead dog” is a statement of humility. He is claiming to be insignificant. This is also backed up by his reference to himself as a “flea.”

Mephibosheth the dead dog
Mephibosheth approaches King David with humility.

When Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, is summoned to appear before David, he comes in fear. As he approaches the king, he falls on his face in reverence. David tells him not to fear, and promises that he will restore all of Saul’s land to him and have him eat at the king’s table as one of his sons. Mephibosheth responds by saying, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” (2 Sam. 9:8). This statement certainly expresses Mephibosheth’s humility, but in most circumstances, these words would also be literally true. It was very common in the ancient world when a new dynasty was established, the new king would kill all of the remaining descendants of the former king.  This is why Mephibosheth was hiding out in a place called Lo-Debar (2 Sam. 9:4), and why David was unaware of whether Saul had any surviving descendants (2 Sam. 9:1). However, David proves to be true to his word to both Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:14-15) and Saul (1 Sam. 24:21-22) and does not destroy all of their descendants, but instead blesses Mephibosheth.

Is Nabal a Dog?

Is Nabal a dead dog?
Abigail pleads for David to forgive he foolish husband’s harsh words.

Having covered the 5 passages which clearly speak of a dead dog, we come to a sixth, questionable passage. The question has to do with how to translate the Hebrew. In 1 Samuel 25 we are introduced to a despicable man named Nabal, and his wise and beautiful wife, Abigail. Nabal is described in v. 3, along with his wife. Most English translations at the end of v. 3 read, “He was a Calebite.” We have already noted that the name Caleb means “dog.” Nabal, whose name means “fool” is introduced in a less than complimentary way–“the man was harsh and badly behaved.” This introduction looks especially bad when contrasted with his wife. Nabal lives in the area around Hebron. As we noted above, this is Calebite territory. The text could simply be telling us that Nabal was a descendant of Caleb. If so, he has failed to live up to his ancestor’s reputation! Some scholars, however, think that the designation, “he was a Calebite,” is meant to communicate, “he was dog-like.” This would certainly fit the negative description he is given, not to mention, the way he is depicted in the coming story.   To muddy the waters a bit, the Hebrew text, literally reads, “he was like his heart.” The difference between “he was like his heart,” and “he was a Calebite,” is one small letter. Also, although the text was written as “he was like his heart,” it was read as, “he was a Calebite.” For those who know Hebrew, this is the difference between the Kethib (what is written) and the Qere (what is read). This textual issue is why it is difficult to be sure that Nabal is being described as “dog-like.” Regardless, the rest of the story shows him to be a despised individual, and he dies in the end. Therefore, it is a strong possibility that Nabal should also be viewed as a “dead dog.”

Dog Language in the Ancient Near East

The Amarna Letters
There is a lot of “dog” language in the Amarna letters.

The discovery of ancient documents by archaeologists demonstrates that the dog language of 1&2 Samuel (as well as the rest of the OT) has a clear ancient Near Eastern (ANE) background. For example, among the Amarna letters (documents from the 14th century B.C. describing an invasion into Canaan) we find a number of expressions using dog language. The dog language is used either to speak derogatorily of an enemy, or in a self-deprecating manner evidencing humility. In other words, dog expressions in ANE literature are used the same way as they are in the books of Samuel. Here are two examples from the Amarna letters, showing the two meanings.

  1. “Who are the sons of ʿAbdi-Aširta, the servant and dog? Are they the king of Kaššu or the king of Mittani that they take the land of the king for themselves?” (EA 104:26). Moran, W. L. (1992). The Amarna letters (English-language ed., p. 177). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  2. “As I am a servant of the king and a dog of his house, I guard all Amurru for the king, my lord.” (EA 60:6-EA 60:9). Moran, W. L. (1992). The Amarna letters (English-language ed., p. 132). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Another example comes from Judah’s final days as they attempted to fight off the Babylonians. From the city of Lachish come some letters of desperation from the commander there, seeking help against the Babylonians. These letters, written on pieces of broken pottery, are known as the Lachish ostraca (see the link to the left, or my post on Tel Lachish). The dog language used in these letters is all of the humble variety since the commander is writing and addressing his superior. Because of the similarities, I have just listed one example below.

“To my lord Yaosh: May Yahweh cause my lord to hear tidings of peace this very day, this very day! Who is thy servant (but) a dog that my lord hath remembered his servant? May Yahweh afflict those who re[port] an (evil) rumor about which thou art not informed!” (Pritchard, J. B. (Ed.). (1969). The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament  (3rd ed. with Supplement, p. 322 Princeton: Princeton University Press.)

Conclusion: Dead Dogs Do Tell Tales (or is it “Tails?)

dog's tailAs we have learned in earlier posts, the purpose of a motif is to accentuate one of the messages that the inspired author is seeking to communicate. The dead dog motif contributes to the theme of humility and pride, so prominent in Samuel. We saw this theme also emphasized in the motif of tallness (see last week’s post). One who is a dog, but doesn’t know it, like Goliath and Abner, are an example of pride. Pride always results in a fall in the books of Samuel. Shimei, who is correctly identified as a “dead dog,” is eventually executed. While there is some uncertainty as to whether Nabal is described as a dog, he certainly is dog-like in his words and actions. In the end, he succumbs to the Lord’s judgment and, therefore, might be regarded as yet another “dead dog” in Samuel. On the other hand, those who confess that they are a “dead dog” are an example of humility in the books of Samuel. In David’s case he is exalted to the kingship. In Mephibosheth’s case, he is lifted up to sit at the king’s table (1 Sam. 2:8; 2 Sam. 9:11-13). In the end, every dog has his day in the books of Samuel and gets his just desserts.

If you are interested in a more in-depth look at the various characters in the Book of Samuel, like those mentioned in this study (Abner, Shimei, or Abigail), please check out my book:

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.

Family Portraits

Tallness: Motifs in Samuel

Tallness: Motifs in Samuel

Tallness
Robert Wadlow, the tallest man on record was considered a “gentle giant.”

Tallness has its advantages and disadvantages. A tall person will have less legroom on a plane or may have to duck their head when entering a doorway. Tallness is great for reaching things in high places or for being able to see above the crowd when watching a public event. Of course, these are all trivial advantages and disadvantages. On a more serious note, a recent study suggests that taller people (over 6 feet) may be more susceptible to COVID-19 (read here). Another study suggests that taller people are more susceptible to cancer, whereas shorter people are at a greater risk for diabetes. The article states, “For several years researchers have identified strange associations between height and disease” (Why Shorter People are at Greater Risk for Diabetes). At times, tall people may be considered intimidating (Why Tall People Feel So Intimidating). On the other hand, the tallest man on record, Robert Wadlow, was considered a “gentle giant” (see photo above).

Height in the Bible

In previous posts we have noted how the Bible uses physical language in a metaphorical way to communicate spiritual truth (e.g., feet, and head). The same is true with the ideas of height or tallness. Thus height can be literal, figurative, or both. Just as in real life, biblical imagery of tallness or things that are high, has both positive and negative connotations. For example, God is pictured as “high and exalted” (Isa. 6:1 ), or as “God Most High” (e.g., Gen. 14:22–Hebrew = El Elyon). The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery states, “Implicit in this imagery is an implied vertical hierarchy in which God and the unseen spiritual world that he inhabits are qualitatively ‘above’ earthly experience. We should not ignore the physical basis of such imagery: the ‘heavens are high above the earth,’ as the psalmist puts it (Ps 103:11), and the human imagination has always pictured heaven as being ‘up.’ God is therefore named as being ‘high’ in the Bible. This is encapsulated in the epithet ‘Most High,’ which occurs well over fifty times (NRSV). God is ‘high and lofty’ (Is 6:1; 57:7, 15), the one who is ‘high above all nations’ (Ps 113:4), and he dwells ‘in the high and holy place’ (Is 57:15)” (p. 384).

Temple Mount
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In Israelite and Ancient Near Eastern thought, God, or the gods, often met with people on mountains or high places (Deut. 12:2). For example, God reveals Himself to Israel at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:18-20), and later the temple is constructed on Mt. Zion (Ps. 48:1-2). Legitimate and illegitimate places of worship in the Old Testament are often described as “high places” (1 Sam. 9:12-14; 1 Kgs. 3:2-4; 11:7; 13:32). Not only is God “high” but he honors His people by lifting them up. The promise to Israel is, “. . . He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, just as He has spoken” (Deut. 26:19).

The Hebrew Root gbh (Tallness)

While the idea of height or tallness can be positive and negative throughout the OT, in 1 Samuel the picture is wholly negative. The Hebrew word we are looking at comes from the root gbh. It can be seen in the name of Saul’s hometown, Gibeah, which means, “hill” or “height.” Besides its occurrence in the name Gibeah, the root occurs 6 more times, all in 1 Samuel (1 Sam. 2:3 [2x]; 1 Sam. 9:2; 10:23; 16:7; 17:4). We will look at these passages in a moment, but first, more needs to be said about the negative connotations of this word in Scripture.

Tallness can equal arrogance
In the Bible when height is used in conjunction with the eyes or heart, it can be a reference to arrogance. Portrait–Leon Battista Alberti

Just as we might use the term “high” to refer to an arrogant person or attitude–“get off your highhorse,” “don’t be so high and mighty”–so too does the Bible. This negative aspect to the word is often connected with various parts of the body in Scripture. For example, the heart (Ps. 131:1), the eyes (Isa. 2:11), the spirit (Prov. 16:18), and the nose (Ps. 10:4), can all be said to be “high” (gbh). In all but one case (2 Chron. 17:6), this is a negative quality, variously translated as “proud,” “arrogant,” or “haughty.” Thus, while the word tallness, in and of itself, is a neutral term, context determines whether it carries the connotations of honor or arrogance.

Tallness in Samuel

Hannah's prayer
The words of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Sam. 2:3 set the tone for the meaning of “tallness” in 1 Samuel.

The first use of the Hebrew root gbh in Samuel is found in Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:3. It occurs twice in this verse and sets the tone for its usage in the rest of 1 Samuel. Most English versions translate the opening line of verse 3 similar to the NKJV which reads, “Talk no more so very proudly.” “Very proudly” is the English rendering of a double use of the word gebohah. When Hebrew uses a word two times in succession, it is for emphasis. Hence the use of “very” in English translations. We could translate Hannah’s words as “Talk no more proudly, proudly.” If we wanted to be very literal, however, we would translate these words as Robert Polzin does, “Do not multiply your words, ‘Tall! Tall!'” (Samuel and the Deuteronomist, p. 34). Another alternative is Keith Bodner’s translation, “Do not multiply your speech, ‘O Tall one! O Tall one!’” (1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary, p. 28). In other words, although the word here means “tall” it’s intended meaning is “proud,” thus the rendering by English translations. As noted by many, Hannah’s song enunciates many of the main themes of Samuel (see my post on the Theology of 1&2 Samuel). Therefore the allusion that tallness represents pride anticipates the introduction of certain people in 1 Samuel. To be precise, there are three people in 1 Samuel who are said to be tall–Saul, Eliab, and Goliath. Bodner sums up this same point with some clever wordplay of his own. He writes, “Even a cursory glance ahead in the story of 1 Samuel reveals that ‘tall’ is a big issue in this narrative. Physical height can be, at the very least, illusory, and breed a false sense of security. Saul’s outstanding attribute is that he is taller than all the people, and Goliath’s height instills great fear in the fighting ranks of Israel. Yet both will fall down (forward) at different times before the end of 1 Samuel” (1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary, p. 28).

Tall Saul

Tallness--Saul
Tall Saul was not all he appeared to be!

Saul is certainly the most significant figure of the above trio. From the moment we are introduced to Saul we are told, “From his shoulders upward, he was taller than any of the people” (1 Sam. 9:2). This distinguishing characteristic, seems to be the one that most impresses Samuel. When Saul is chosen by lots to be king, we are reminded that, “he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward.” Samuel then continues by saying, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people” (1 Sam. 10:23-24). Ironically this “kingly” looking man was found “hiding among the supplies” (1 Sam. 10:22). This story already begins to hint that Saul is not all his physical appearance makes him out to be. This is confirmed later in the story in numerous ways. It is noteworthy that Saul, the tallest Israelite, cowers in fear when Goliath challenges Israel (1 Sam. 17:10-11). Saul’s lack of obedience (1 Sam. 15:11), his building of a monument for himself (1 Sam. 15:12), and his pleas for Samuel to honor him before the elders of his people (1 Sam. 15:30), all suggest a problem with pride.

Tall Eliab

David's anointing
David’s brothers, including tall Eliab are rejected in favor of him.

The next tall person we encounter in 1 Samuel is David’s brother, Eliab. After Saul’s rejection from being king, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king among the sons of Jesse (1 Sam. 16:1). As Samuel approaches Jesse’s sons, he comes to Eliab the firstborn and is convinced that the Lord’s anointed is standing before him (1 Sam. 16:6). Samuel is immediately rebuked by the Lord and told “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him” (1 Sam. 16:7). Once again Samuel is impressed by physical stature, but the Lord is not and offers a rebuke. Within the context, Eliab appears to be compared to Saul. He is said to be tall and that the Lord had rejected him–two things said of Saul as well. In the next chapter, Eliab opposes David’s inquiries about fighting Goliath (1 Sam. 17:28). In a subtle way, tall Eliab’s fear of fighting Goliath, once again compares him with Saul. Thus, for the second time in the narrative, tallness is rejected as a desirable quality. No doubt, the suggestion is once again that Eliab had a problem with pride (for more on Eliab, see my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel).

Tall Goliath

Tallness--David vs Goliath
Tall Goliath did not intimidate David.

Obviously, the most famous, or infamous, tall person in 1 Samuel is Goliath. 1 Samuel 17:4-7 gives a detailed description of Goliath, including his height (see my other articles on Goliath, here, here, and here). Tallness appears in what is clearly a negative context here. Once again, the tall person doesn’t turn out to be what we thought he was. Goliath is cut down to size by the young shepherd boy David, proving he was not as intimidating as he looked. Goliath’s pride is evidenced in his defying the army of Israel and its God (1 Sam. 17:25-26). Finally, there is some irony in these stories involving David’s interaction with Saul, Eliab, and Goliath. When David is introduced in 1 Samuel 16:11 and 1 Samuel 17:14, a certain Hebrew word is used that most English versions translate as “young.” This is a correct translation, and no doubt the intended meaning. However, the Hebrew word also means “small,” and is used intentionally to create a contrast between “small” David and these other “tall” individuals.

Gibeah, Ramah, and Tallness

As noted above, Gibeah was the hometown of Saul, while Samuel’s hometown was Ramah (1 Sam. 15:34). We have pointed out that the word Gibeah comes from the Hebrew root gbh and thus means “height,” or “tall.” Since Gibeah means “height,” it is not unusual that this name could be used to refer to different cities in Israel that were on a hill. This, indeed, was the case. The Gibeahs mentioned in Joshua 15:57, Joshua 18:28, and Joshua 24:33, are all different places and none are to be equated with Saul’s Gibeah. Ramah is a word that also means “height” or “hill.” Just as there were a number of Gibeahs in ancient Israel, so there were also a number of places called Ramah. The verbal form of Ramah ִis rûm (pronounced “room”), and means “high” or “exalted.” It is obvious that rûm and gbh are synonyms. It is interesting that the verbal form rûm occurs 7 times in 1&2 Samuel and always has a positive meaning (1 Sam. 2:1, 7, 8, 10; 9:24; 2 Sam. 47, 49). Notice that it occurs 4 times in Hannah’s opening song. In fact, in its first appearance in 1 Samuel 2:1, it actually takes the form “ramah.” The point of this is that, although these words are synonyms, the root for the word Ramah, always has positive connotations, while the root for Gibeah always has negative connotations in the books of Samuel. Not only does the root word for Gibeah have negative connotations in Samuel, Gibeah itself is remembered as a place where a terrible crime took place that turned into a civil war in Israel (Judg. 19-21). In fact, the story of Saul chopping his oxen into 12 pieces and sending them throughout Israel (1 Sam. 11:7) is an echo of the story of the Levite chopping his concubine into 12 pieces in Judges 19:29. All of this seems to be a subtle way of communicating that godly Samuel comes from Ramah (a word referring to a good use of “height,” meaning “exalt”), while ungodly Saul comes from Gibeah (a word associated with a negative use of “height,” meaning “pride”).

Conclusion: The Motif of Tallness Brings a Heightened Awareness in Samuel

Tallness--Naram-Sin
The King of Akkad, Naram-Sin is depicted as towering over his enemies.

Once again by following a motif in the books of Samuel, we are given insight into the inspired author’s message. In her song, Hannah says that God will bring down the proud but lift up the humble (1 Sam. 2:6-8). The motif of tallness plays into this important theme of the book. Ancient people were smaller in stature and so a tall person would be impressive. Indeed, many of the portraits of ancient kings depict them as being taller than their subjects and enemies (the stele of Naram-Sin above is one example among others). The motif in Samuel turns this expectation on its head by stating that appearances can be deceiving (1 Sam. 16:7). Tallness becomes symptomatic of pride and arrogance. The books of Samuel teach, if you raise yourself up, be sure God will cut you down to size! But if you are lowly and humble, be encouraged for God will lift you up!

Administrative Site of the Kings of Judah Uncovered

Administrative Site of the Kings of Judah Uncovered

administrative site on slopes of Arnona
Aerial Photo of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation on the slopes of Arnona (photo credit: ASSAF PEREZ/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

The IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) has recently uncovered a 2700 year old administrative site dating to the time of the biblical kings Hezekiah and Manasseh. This administrative site is located in a neighborhood of Jerusalem where the US Embassy now resides. The neighborhood, known as Arnona, is only 1.8 miles outside the Old City located between Talpiot and Ramat Rachel (where another ancient administrative site also exists). While preparing for a new residential complex two year ago, the discovery was made. As always in Israel, before any building activity can commence, an archaeological survey must be carried out by the IAA. Prior to excavation, the only ancient remains known consisted of a giant hill of flint stones. Excavating led to the discovery of a monumental concentric structure. The size of the site and the other objects discovered has led to the conclusion that it was an administrative site. The announcement about its discovery was released this past week (July 22, 2020).

An Administrative Site for Storage and Collecting Taxes

administrative site LMLK seal
LMLK seals usually consist of a disk with wings and ancient Hebrew script designating it as belonging to the king.

One of the discoveries includes a large collection of royal Judah seal impressions. The impressions on the handle of storage jars are known as LMLK seal impressions (see photo above). The letters LMLK in Hebrew mean “belonging to the king” (pronounced lam melech). About 120 of these stamped jars were found. Only about 1300 are known from various sites throughout Judah. The jars were normally used for tax collection purposes and included various agricultural items such as olive oil, and wine. The jars also include the names of four cities in Judah: Hebron, Socho, Ziph, and Memshat. Three of these are known from Scripture. The location of the fourth, Memshat, is still a bit of a mystery. These, and other finds, date the site to the eighth and seventh centuries–the time of Hezekiah and Manasseh, kings of Judah. One of the interesting observations to be made is that somehow this site survived the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC (Isaiah 37). It continued until the Babylonian destruction in 586 BC and began to be reused shortly after that up through the period of Persian rule.

What Else Was Discovered?

images from Arnona
Female and animals figurines, along with seal impressions were among the objects found. (Photo credit: Yaniv Berman/Israel Antiquities Authority).

Seals impressions bearing the names of a number of individuals were also found. These individuals are believed to be governmental personnel or wealthy land owners who held economic clout in the area. None of the names are known from the Bible, but they are found on jar handles at other sites in Judah. For the stout of heart who don’t mind reading ancient Hebrew names, here is the list: Naham Abdi, Naham Hatzlihu, Meshalem Elnatan, Zafan Abmetz, Shaneah Azaria, Shalem Acha and Shivna Shachar. Among the other items found are female and animal figurines which the excavators equate with idolatrous practices. This is not a surprise, since this is a well-known feature of ancient Judah. Although Hezekiah sought to rid the land of idolatry (2 Kgs. 18:1-6), his son Manasseh brought it back with a passion (2 Kgs. 21:1-10).

For more information on this discovery, including photos and videos of the excavation and surrounding area, check out the article in The Times Of Israel (Huge Kingdom of Judah Government Complex Found Near US Embassy in Jerusalem), and the article in the Jerusalem Post (Key Site From Biblical Kings’ Time Unveiled Near US Embassy in Jerusalem). The best video for English speaking people, as well as the most comprehensive, can be found at CBN News (Israel Uncovers Major Archaeological Find From the Times of King Hezekiah, Manasseh).