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What the archaeologists found

by
04 January 2013

COURTESY OF ERIC AND CAROL MEYERS

Pagan images in the Holy Land: the drunkenness of Herakles, and a fragment of Dionysos processing in a chariot, from the Dionysos mansion mosaic excavated at Sepphoris in Galilee. From the book reviewed below

Pagan images in the Holy Land: the drunkenness of Herakles, and a fragment of Dionysos processing in a chariot, from the Dionysos mansion mosaic exc...

Alexander to Constantine: Archaeology of the land of the Bible
Eric M. Meyers and Mark A. Chancey
Yale University Press £30
(978-0-300-14179-5)
Church Times Bookshop £27
(Use code CT719) 

THIS is the third volume in the Reference Library of the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and covers a longer period than is suggested by the title, from Nehemiah in the fifth century BCE to the end of the Byzantine period in the seventh century CE.

It shows how modern archae-ology works primarily from the material remains to the literary sources rather than use archaeology to fill in or complement the literary sources. For example, against the view that the Rabbis regarded decorative art as an infringement of the Second Commandment, excavations at Sepphoris and Beth Shearim indicate that some observant Jews had no problem with pagan motifs.

The main chapters deal with Herod's building work, the Qumran settlement, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (a most comprehensive treatment of the many differing theories); the emergence of Christianity (with a discussion of recent ossuaries and inscriptions allegedly relating to Jesus and his family), the rise of the synagogue, and the development of Judaism (there is a significant "gap" between the literary sources and the discovered remains from 70 to 250 CE); and the archaeology of paganism, and how the inhabitants of the land of the Bible increasingly came to terms with Roman culture.

Other chapters cover the periods from Herod's reign to the two great revolts of 67-73 and 132-135 CE. Based on the most recent research, this book is authoritative, well written, and beautifully presented, with many illustrations in addition to the 17 colour plates; and it challenges a fair number of opinions that have become standard fare in biblical scholarship. It is a most impressive piece of work.

Canon J. W. Rogerson is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University.

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