Mt Zion 2014 Dig: A Report from the Ground Up

Here is a great article about our 2014 Mt Zion dig in the midst of the kidnappings, murders and the Gaza conflict written by one of our UNC Charlotte student participants who also served as our excavation photographer this past summer. For more on the dig itself and our results see the Bible & Interpretation report filed here.

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Click on image for larger Web site version

Information on participation in our 2015 Mt Zion excavation will be posted soon at the Biblical Archaeology Society web page “Find a Dig,” in the January/February issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, and at our university web site: http://digmountzion.uncc.edu.

Tabor’s Paul & Jesus Featured at Nov 11th UNC Charlotte Personally Speaking Event

Paul never met Jesus. His claims to represent Jesus as the 13th apostle — last, but not least— are based wholly upon his visionary experiences. He has been both  loved and loathed, and his letters are regarded by some as the Word of God, and by others as self-delusions.

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The Apostle Paul is the single most influential figure in human history, suggests UNC Charlotte Religious Studies Professor James Tabor in his latest book, Paul and Jesus How the Apostle Transformed Christianity. Tabor argues that Paul has done more to shape all we think about almost everything than anyone else. In terms of influence, Paul trumps even the great “founders,” whether Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, or Mohammed.

Guests can hear Tabor’s fascinating and provocative take on the history of Christianity on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, at UNC Charlotte Center City, 320 E. 9th Street in Charlotte. This is the second event in the Personally Speaking authors’ series presented by UNC Charlotte’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and J. Murrey Atkins Library.

The conversation with Tabor, a former chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte, will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by a reception where he will autograph copies of his book. The event is open to the public without charge, but RSVPs are requested via the online registration form or by calling 704-687-1429. Complimentary parking will be provided in the two lots directly across 9th Street and directly across Brevard Street from UNC Charlotte Center City.

Tabor, who joined UNC Charlotte’s faculty in 1989, is the author of seven books and more than 100 scholarly articles. His book The Jesus Dynasty: A New Historical Investigation of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (Simon & Schuster, 2006) presented the results of his work on the historical Jesus over the course of his career to a general audience. It has been translated into 25 languages and has become an international bestseller.

Over the past two decades Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with field work in archaeology. He has worked at a number of sites in Israel and Jordan including Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan, Masada, and Sepphoris. In 2000 he teamed up with Dr. Shimon Gibson to excavate a newly discovered cave at Suba, west of Jerusalem, that dates back to the Iron Age but was used for ritual rites in the early Roman period. Tabor and Gibson were also the principals involved in the discovery of a 1st century Jewish burial shroud in a looted tomb at Akeldama. Their latest project is an ongoing excavation on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.  Teaming up with filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and archaeologist Rami Arav Tabor has also investigated the Talpiot “Jesus Family” tombs, see The Jesus Discovery (Simon & Schuster, 2012). His work has been featured in numerous TV documentaries and news outlets including Nightline and 20/20 and most recently in a feature New Yorker story by Malcom Gladwell.

 

Apple Latest: Actually Believable

Okay, watched the Apple Keynote on the latest rollout of products, downloaded Yosemite and love it, will upgrade devices to iOS8.1 on Monday…life is good. For now I am sticking with our iMac, this Mac Book Air on which I am typing, the iPhone 5s, and my iPad Mini…but in 2015–I can see upgrading the devices. I just like what I have so much I am not ready to change. This story is so true…and the photo is absolutely classic. What a time we live in. There is no comparison to Apple in terms of design, function, and integration. Here is a nice review of the event and what’s new from Fortune magazine: http://fortune.com/2014/10/17/apple-tim-cook-iphone-ipad/

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17th Annual BAS Bible and Archaeology Fest–The Word Is Out!

The program and all registration details are now out for the upcoming 17th Annual Biblical Archeology Bible and Archaeology Fest are posted. The line-up is pretty impressive. I love being called one of the “old favorites,” along with colleagues Mark Goodacre and Jodi Magness! Seriously though, this looks to me like the most fascinating list of speakers and topics in a long time. I must confess, I will have trouble pulling myself away from the ASOR, AAR, and SBL programs that run concurrently with the BAS Bible & Archaeology Fest–as I can’t imagine missing some of these! Check it out, click on images below for hyperlinks and more details.

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The “Four Blood Moons” Nonsense: Why It Means Absolutely Nothing

Segments of the evangelical Christian and so-called “messianic” Jewish worlds are getting all stirred up by the “Four Blood Moons” nonsense being peddled by John Hagee in his latest bestselling book by that name–which he ripped off from Mark Blitz of “El Shaddai Ministries.” Given Hagee’s notoriety the idea has gone “viral” among these various groups. Hagee has even recently appeared on FOX News with, you guessed it, Lauren Green, who seems to buy into his nonsense after checking it with “NASA” herself. Since I will be viewed by some as the skeptical academic “historian” I won’t bother to offer my own refutation but pass along here the critique of Chris White, a Christian believer with an interest in Bible Prophecy (“Bible Prophecy Talk), who thoroughly “debunks” the whole theory and tells you what its advocates either don’t know or are not telling you–with web links to the articles he cites and further documentation.

13th Annual Davis Lectures Tonight: Last Days of Jesus

I am giving the 13th Annual Davis Lectures at Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, NC tonight and tomorrow night–Sun & Mon at 7:00pm. My topic is “The Last Days of Jesus: How Texts and Archaeological Discoveries Shed New Light on our Understanding.” Grace Baptist is an exceptional group in their desire to explore new questions and engage in serious dialogue on matters of faith. My lectures will include the very latest discoveries, including new evaluations of our understanding of Roman crucifixion, excavations at Mt Zion and their relationship to Jesus’ enemies, and Jewish burial customs.

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The program is free, and open to the public. 719 Club Drive (off Salisbury Rd, exit 49B from I-77)

I hope to see some of you there.

Who Was Gedaliah and Why Remember His Murder after 2500 Years?

Ross Nichols has a fascinating article on Gedaliah–a biblical figure whose name would register with very few people today outside of observant Jewish circles. Today marks one of the four “minor” fast days of Judaism, called “the fast of Gedaliah,” commemorating the murder of Gedaliah in the days of Jeremiah following the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in the 6th century BCE. These four fast days (sunrise to sunset) are all associated with the disasters before, during, and after the great Destruction, and they are alluded to in Zechariah 8:18-19. What is particularly fascinating about Gedaliah, which Ross explores in his article, is the connection between him and his family (especially his father and grandfather) with Jeremiah and his priestly family–reaching back to the days of King Josiah when the “book of the Torah” was discovered. Nice Sunday afternoon reading…here is the link to Ross’s article.

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Thirty-five Years and Counting…

Tomorrow I begin my 36th year of university teaching…1979-2013 marking 35 years. I am as excited as I was the day I first walked into a university classroom in August, 1979 at the University of Notre Dame.

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I have been reading Jonathan Z. Smith’s marvelous little book, On Teaching Religion (Oxford, 2013) and I feel like I have been born again. Highly recommended for all teachers in the Humanities. More later on what I am teaching and working on this new academic year–no longer chair but going into high gear in terms of teaching, research, and writing…some amazingly exciting things in the pike.

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Tisha b’Av/The Ninth Day of the 5th Month: Its Meaning in History and Tradition

As sunset falls on this eighth day of the 5th lunar month, known in Judaism as the month of Av, Tisha b’Av–that is, the 9th of Av–is marked on the calendar. Last Sabbath (August 2nd or 6th of Av) began the reading of Deuteronomy and is called Shabbat Chazon, which means the “Sabbath of Vision,” taken from the first word (חזון) of Isaiah 1:1-27, which is the reading from the Prophets for this day. These opening words of Isaiah set the tone for remembering Israel’s sinfulness that brought about the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem.

Tisha b’Av is mentioned in Zechariah 7:3 and 8:19, as the “fast of the fifth month.” It is a 24 hour fast observed first and foremost to commemorate the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively–first by the Babylonians, the subsequently by the Romans. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who records the history of the latter, and lived through it, makes the connection between the strange coincidence of the Temple going up in flames on the same fateful day on the Jewish calendar (Wars, 6:249–50). ((The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. on the 10th of Av, according to Jeremiah 3:12, whereas in the corresponding record in II Kings 25:8–9, the date is given as the 7th of Av. The Tosefta Ta’anit 4:10 (also Ta’an. 29a) explains this discrepancy by stating that the destruction of the outer walls and of the courtyard started on the 7th of Av while the whole edifice was destroyed on the 10th of Av. R. Johanan declared that he would have fixed the fast on the 10th of Av because it was on that day that the greater part of the calamity happened. The rabbis however decided that it is more fitting to commemorate the “beginning of the calamity.” The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., on the 10th of Av, according to the historian Josephus (Wars, 6:249–50). This day is still observed as a day of mourning by the Karaites. The Talmud (Ta’an. 29a), however, gives the date as the 9th of Av, which became accepted as the anniversary of both destructions. The Jewish Virtual Library)) Those twin destructions marked the day as a time of sorrow and mourning forever after, marked by solemness and fasting without food or drink for 24 hours. The customs associated with Shiva, the Jewish mourning for the death of a close relative are followed, and the book of Lamentations is read in a special mournful chant. Ironically, according to some rabbinic tradition, the Messiah either was or will be born on Tisha b’Av, as a way of affirming that Light comes in the midst of the deepest Darkness and Despair. Those who take this literally, that he has already been born, believe he is hidden away waiting for the time of redemption (y. Berachot 2:4; Eichah Rabbah 1:51). Over the centuries this day has grown large in both history, legend, and tradition, remembered as a dark day of dire news and impending disaster. What follows below is a summary of some of that tradition, compiled by Yoram Etinger and based on many sources:

The Roman Destruction of Jerusalem by David Roberts

1. The 9th Day of (the 11th Jewish month) Av is the most calamitous day in Jewish history. Fasting on that day commemorates national catastrophes, in an attempt to benefit from history by learning from critical moral and strategic missteps, thus preventing future catastrophes. It was first mentioned in the book of Zechariah 7:3.

2.  The Passover holiday of liberty and the fast of the 9th Day of Av are commemorated on the same weekday.  The fast of the 9th day of Av is succeeded by the 15th day of Av – a holiday of love and rapprochement. The 9th Day of Av is treated simultaneously as a day of lamentation and holiday, thus highlighting a cardinal lesson: In order to fortify liberty and advance deliverance, one must commemorate calamities, avoid wishful-thinking and be mentally and physically prepared to face crises, and never lose optimism.  A day of destruction/oblivion is the first day of the path toward construction/deliverance. A problem is an opportunity in disguise. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4), the Messiah is destined to be born on Tisha Be’Av.

3.  Major Jewish calamities occurred on the 9th Day of Av (Tisha B’Av in Hebrew):

*The failed “Ten Spies/tribal presidents” (VS. Joshua & Caleb) –slandered the Land of Israel, preferring immediate convenience and conventional “wisdom” over faith and long term vision, thus prolonging the wandering in the desert for 40 years.

*The destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586BC) produced a massacre of 100,000 and a national exile.

*The destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by Titus of Rome (70CE) was accompanied by a massacre of 1MN and a national exile.

*Bar Kochba (Great) Rebellion was crashed (135CE) with the fall of Beitar (in Judea & Samaria) and the plowing of Jerusalem by Quintus Tinius Rofus, the Roman Governor – 580,000 killed.

*First Crusade Pogroms (1096) – scores of thousands slaughtered.

*Jewish expulsion from Britain (1290).

*Jewish expulsion from Spain (1492).

*WW1 erupted (1914).

*The beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka extermination camp.

4.  The centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history is commemorated on the 9th day of Av.  It is highlighted by Psalm 137:5 – “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” According to the constructive/optimist spirit of Tisha’ Be’Av: “He who laments the destruction of Jerusalem will be privileged to witness its renewal” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30).

5.  The Book of the five Lamentations (The Scroll of Eikhah which was composed by Jeremiah the Prophet, who prophesized destruction, exile and deliverance) is read during the first nine days of Av. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Eikhah (איכה) is 36, which is equal to the traditional number of righteous Jewish persons. The Hebrew meaning of Eikhah could be construed as a reproaching “How Come?!”, as well as “Where are you?”  or “Why have you strayed away?”  The term Eikhah stars in the first chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Isaiah, which are annually studied in conjunction with the book of Lamentations on the 9th day of Av. Thus the 9th day of Av binds together the values of Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah and three critical periods in the history of the Jewish People: deliverance, destruction, renewal.

6.  The 9th Day of Av concludes a series of three Torah readings of Jewish calamities (two by Jeremiah and one by Isaiah), and launches a series of seven Torah readings of consolations, renewal and ingathering (by Isaiah).

7.  Napoleon was walking at night in the streets of Paris, hearing sad voices emanating from a synagogue.  When told that the wailing/lamenting commemorated a 586BC catastrophe – the destruction of the First Temple – he stated: “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future!”

8.  The commemoration of the 9th day of Av constitutes a critical feature of Judaism. It strengthens faith, roots, identity, moral clarity, cohesion and optimism by learning from past errors and immunizing oneself against the lethal disease of forgetfulness. Memory is Deliverance; forgetfulness is oblivion. The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer tradition to the younger generation, thus enhancing realism and avoiding the curse of euphoric or fatalistic mood.

9.  The custom of house-cleaning on the 9th day of Av aims at welcoming deliverance. Fasting expresses the recognition of one’s limitations and fallibility and the constant pursuit of moral enhancement and humility.

10.  The 9th Day of Av is the central of the Four Jewish Days of Fast, commemorating the destruction of the First Temple:  the10th Day of Tevet (the onset of the siege that Nebuchadnezzar laid to Jerusalem), the 17th day of Tamuz (the walls of Jerusalem were breached), the 9th day of Av (destruction of both Temples) and the 3rd day of Tishrey (The murder of Governor Gedalyah, who maintained a level of post-destruction Jewish autonomy, which led to a murder rampage by the Babylonians and to exile).

11.  The 9thDay of Av culminates the Three Weeks of Predicament (ימי בין המצרים), starting on the 17th day of the month of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (1st Temple) and by Titus (2nd Temple).

12.  The month of Av launches the transformation from Curse to Blessing.  The Hebrew spelling of Av (אב) consists of the first two letters of the Hebrew alpha-Beth.  These letters constitute the Hebrew word for “bud” and they are the first two letters of the Hebrew word for “spring” (אביב , which means the father of twelve month).  The first letter, א, stands for ארור (cursed) and the second letter, ,ב stands for ברוך (blessed). The Hebrew letters of Av constitute the letters of Father (אב) and the first two letters of אבל (mourning).  The numerical value of Av (Aleph=1 and Bet=2), which is three, the combination of the basic even and odd numbers (King Solomon: “A triangular string/knot cannot be broken”). The zodiac sign of Av is a lion, which represents the Lion of Judah, rising in the aftermath of destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar, whose symbol was the lion. Moses’ brother, Aharon – the embodiment of human kindness – died on the 1st day of Av.

A New Beginning of a New Life

Today I begin the first day of what I am calling my New Life. I officially stepped down as Chair of our Dept. of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte after 10 years on July 1st, but then there was the Mt Zion dig, the Society of Biblical Literature Conference in Vienna, and last week lots of lose ends to tie up back on campus with the Chair transition, including my last official meeting with the Dean as outgoing Chair. So today marks a new week and a new beginning of a New Life. I return to the honored and privileged status of a Professor of Religious Studies, which means a Teacher first and foremost, a Researcher, and a public Servant. I have also just gained 40+ hours a week of unscheduled time that used to be given to Administrative Duties. Hurray! I am celebrating this day!

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If you have any comments you can leave them on my Facebook page here or via Twitter @jamesdtabor. Thanks to all my readers and I look forward to a much more active Blogging life, among many other things.