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Annual Tenenbaum Lecture Is Keynote to Borowski Symposium

By Zev Farber 13PhD

Borowski Symposium
Front row: Oded Borowski, William G. Dever; middle row: Zev Farber, Lawson Younger, Christopher Rollston, Jimmy Hardin, Erin Darby, and Rami Arav; back row: Jeffrey Blakely, Avi Faust, Jacob Wright, Brent Strawn, Joel LeMon, and Andrew Vaughn

In November 2012, at the yearly conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the academic organization that promotes Near Eastern and biblical archaeology, Jacob Wright and I began to talk about how nice it would be to do something to honor Emory's own biblical archaeologist, Oded Borowski. We discussed the concept with Oded's son-in-law, Jimmy Hardin, also a leading biblical archaeologist at Mississippi State University, and he thought it was a great idea. We planned to do this in two stages, beginning with a symposium dedicated to eighth-century-BCE Judah, a subject relevant to Oded's work, and following up with a festschrift on the same subject.

The eighth century was a pivotal time for Judah, especially during the century's last few decades. Judah's northern neighbor and sister country, Israel, was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722, and Judah became a leader among the remaining countries in the area. At the end of this period, Judah itself was invaded by the Assyrians, and every major city other than Jerusalem was destroyed in Sennacherib's 701 campaign. Much of Oded's fieldwork through the years has been focused on Tel Halif, which he identifies as the biblical city of Rimon, and this site has a destruction layer (a stratum in a dig characterized by evidence of widespread fire or other catastrophic event) from this campaign. Thus, we felt that this would be the perfect period to focus on in the symposium.

Tenenbaum Dever crowd

Tenenbaum Lecture 2014

Reaching out to a number of scholars whose work also touches on eighth-century Judah and its material culture, Jacob and I were able to put together a cadre of international scholars to come to Emory in February to offer their insights and discuss the current issues in the study of this period. We timed the symposium to coincide with the annual Tenenbaum Family Lecture in Judaic Studies, delivered this year by the distinguished biblical archaeologist William G. Dever, one of Oded's mentors.

Dever, who is professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Arizona State University and distinguished visiting professor at Lycoming College, delivered the 2014 Tenenbaum Family Lecture on February 3, on the topic "Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel." The illustrated lecture showcased recent archaeological evidence that reveals the differences in beliefs and practices by ordinary people in ancient Israel as compared to the elitist, idealist portrait in the Bible. Dever contends that the Canaanite goddess Asherah was widely venerated by the common people until the end of the monarchy, making the eventual triumph of monotheism seem even more remarkable.

William G. Dever

William G. Dever

Dever is considered one of the world's leading scholars of Syro-Palestinian archaeology; in addition to having many scholarly publications to his credit, he is the author of several popular books, the most recent one being The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: Where Archaeology and the Bible Intersect (Eerdmans, 2012). Other recent books by Dever include Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did they Come From? (Eerdmans, 2003), What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? (Eerdmans, 2001), and the book upon which this year's Tenenbaum Lecture was based, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans, 2005).

Graduating from Milligan College cum laude in 1955, Dever went on to earn the MA summa cum laude from Butler University in 1959, the BD cum laude in Greek and Hebrew from Christian Theological Seminary in 1959, and the PhD from Harvard University in 1966. He has held academic positions at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, and, for more than twenty-five years, was professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona. He has been the recipient of numerous academic honors, fellowships, and grants; has served in many professional and editorial positions; and has delivered many endowed lectureships and invited symposium papers. His archaeological field experience includes direction of excavations at Shechem, Gezer, Jebel Qa'aqir, and Be'er Resisim, as well as being principal adviser to numerous other excavations.

The lecture—well attended by students and faculty of Emory and other neighboring academic institutions as well as by members of the Atlanta community—was followed by a reception during which members of the audience had a chance to interact with the speaker and ask questions. The annual lecture is supported by a generous endowment established by the Tenenbaum Family of Savannah, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina.

Avi Faust
Avi Faust

The symposium began early the next morning with an overview of the issues involved, given by the Israeli archaeologist Avi Faust from Bar Ilan University. The three main sessions followed, which explored Judah in the context of its surrounding cultures. Next came Rami Arav from the University of Nebraska, who discussed the eighth-century Aramean kingdom of Geshur. Christopher Rollston of the Albright Institute (now at George Washington University) discussed epigraphy (i.e., writing) in Judah and what it reveals about Judah's relationship with its neighbors, and then Lawson Younger of Trinity International University explored the Assyrian impact on Judah.

The second session focused on the political situation of eighth-century Judah. It began with a groundbreaking two-part paper from Jeff Blakely of University of Wisconson–Madison and Jimmy Hardin of Mississippi State. They discussed the little-understood southern region of Hesi and proposed the new idea that it was a massive grazing area for livestock. Avi Faust then spoke again. Like Oded, Avi digs in a Judahite site with an eighth-century destruction layer, Tel Eton, and he described his findings thus far. This session ended with a paper from ASOR's executive director, Andy Vaughn, who shared his views on the famous Lamelech jars. Archaeologists have found many jars from this period with the Hebrew word lamelech, meaning "for the king," etched on the handle. There is scholarly debate as to whether they all refer to a single king, Hezekiah, and Andy shared his strong opinion that they do all refer to this one king.

Jimmy Hardin
Jimmy Hardin

The third session was a look at iconography—that is, sculptures and drawings. The first talk in this session was from Erin Darby of the University of Tennessee, who discussed Judean Pillar Figurines. These little images of nude women with pillars instead of feet were exceedingly popular in the late eighth and early seventh centuries, and scholars debate their purpose. Were they fertility symbols, decorative, religious? Erin is one of the leading scholars researching these figurines, so it was exciting to hear about her latest finds. The second paper in this session was by Emory's own Brent Strawn and Joel LeMon. They took on the enigmatic pictures found at the isolated wilderness shrine Kuntillet 'Ajrud. The shrine has ancient graffiti that depict what look like two gods, perhaps a male and a female, along with writing that refers to Yahweh and his Asherah. What is Asherah? The name of Yahweh's wife? A sacred tree or wooden beam? No one knows for sure, but Brent and Joel discussed the possibility of this picture being a representation of Yahweh and his wife Asherah, bringing the discussion back to the topic of Dever's lecture the night before.

The symposium ended with an overall response to the papers by Bill Dever. All in all, the day was exciting, full of deep and interesting scholarly give and take, and a wonderful tribute to Oded. The second step is now being planned, with the development of a book from the symposium on eighth-century Judah.

The Tenenbaum Lecture and the symposium were sponsored by TIJS and the Hightower Fund, and cosponsored by the Laney Graduate School, the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, the Graduate Division of Religion, the Departments of History, Religion, and Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, the Ancient Mediterranean Studies Program, the Mediterranean Archeology Program, and Stephen J. Zier, with significant funding from the Judith London Evans Directors Fund in TIJS and the Emory Conference Center Hotel Subvention Fund.

Zev Farber completed the PhD in Emory's Graduate Division of Religion in 2013 with a dissertationn titled "Images of Joshua: The Construction of Memory in Cultural Identities."

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