Biblical Archaeology Forum


The Biblical Archaeology Forum (BAF) begins its thirty-fourth year on Thursday, September 13, 2018, with Catholic University professor Robert Miller examining textual evidence in Deuteronomy, Judges, and Habakuk, and archaeological remains that Yahweh entered the Israelite religion through Midian.

Please join us for a series of eight scholarly lectures on the latest archaeological research findings and related fields such as history, art, and texts of ancient times. Reservations are not required.

Fees per lecture are
free – high school students;
$5 – Residents of CES Life Communities, college students, and co-sponsors;
$8 – BASONOVA & Bender JCC members, a
$10 – the general public.
Pay at the door – cash or check only

For more information, please contact

2018-2019 SEASON


Did Yahweh Come From Midian?

Thursday, September 13, 2018 | 8:00 PM | Bender JCC Social Hall

Robert Miller

Where did Yaweh come from?

Much has been written about the roots of Israelite religion in the mythology of the Northwest Semitic world. Yet a significant, alternate notion is rooted in the Hebrew Bible that instead connects Yahweh with the south – a persistent association with “Teman,” “Seir,”  and “Paran” as described in Deuteronomy and the Book of Judges, and by the prophet Habakkuk.

As preserved in the Hebrew Bible, these traditions suggest there were worshippers of a God named Yahweh who preceded the Israelites, and whose domain was centered in the deserts to the south of Eretz Israel. As these traditions were themselves very old and quite durable, a strong case can be made for their historical accuracy, including the probability that the name Yahweh entered into Israelite religion from these early sources.

Extra-biblical evidence also corroborates non-Israelite Yahwism in the “South”. This evidence includes Egyptian texts, inscriptions from Israel, and a full reconstruction of the religion of Midian from archaeological data.

Robert Miller is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Catholic University.

Did a Kushite Pharaoh Rescue Jerusalem from the Assyrians?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 | 8:00 PM | Bender JCC Social Hall

Alice Ogden Bellis

By 701 B.C.E. the Assyrians under King Sennacherib had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and much of Judah in the south. Only Jerusalem under King Hezekiah remained to be conquered, and it was surrounded by enemy soldiers. Without explanation, however, the Assyrians suddenly folded their tents and returned home.

Finding the reason for the survival of Jerusalem has confounded scholars for centuries. What is clear, however, is that if Jerusalem had not survived, Western civilization would have been utterly different. Proposals for the reasons have included disease among the Assyrian troops, troubles elsewhere in the Assyrian empire, the approach of the Egypto-Kushite forces and some combination of the above.

There are clues to resolving this conundrum in biblical and extra-biblical evidence, including Sennacherib’s annals and the writings of Herodotus. Professor Bellis will lead us to a likely solution to this enduring mystery.

Alice Ogden Bellis is Professor of Old Testament at the Howard University School of Divinity

The Split between Judaism and Christianity

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 | 8:00 PM | Bender JCC Social Hall

John Barclay Burns

“Jesus’ blood be on us and our children”. With these grim words, written around 85 CE, the author of the Gospel According to Matthew starkly emphasizes the gulf that had arisen between Judaism and the sect of Christian Jews just 50 years after Jesus’ death.

How and why did this schism happen?

Jesus and his first followers made up a small apocalyptic/messianic sect of Judaism. They spoke Aramaic, like other Jews of their time. Torah observance, Temple worship and a rigorous monotheism were at the core of their existence.

But as time wore on, there were key factors that contributed to the Christians’ split from Judaism. Followers of Jesus believed that he continued to exist in some recognizable form after his death; the overwhelming influence of Paul, a Jewish convert from the diaspora who “helped” Jesus on his path to divinity, and; the shift from Jewish culture to that of the Graeco-Roman world all contributed to the schism. Perhaps the most disruptive reason was the idea that Jesus was somehow part of a Father-Son-Holy Spirit Godhead.

John Barclay Burns is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, George Mason University


When the Greeks Ruled the Seas

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 | 8:00 PM | Bender JCC Social Hall

Diane Cline

 From the Bronze Age to the Roman period and beyond, Greeks created and sold products through risky, long-range trade networks across the seas. Raw materials and finished products were carried together on ships and were bartered and sold in ports along the trade routes. Sometimes these trading vessels sank, providing us today with a wealth of information about the ancient Mediterranean economy.

Archaeological evidence from ancient Greece, especially maritime discoveries, demonstrates a rich environment for ancient Greek innovation and entrepreneurship. Craftsmen, merchants, and community leaders cooperated to develop customers along trade routes in the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Seas. Along with such trade came news and information – as well as ideas.

Greek innovations and discoveries spread to other ancient civilizations via these same maritime routes. While sea voyages were vital to the spread of Greek goods, seafaring also facilitated the transmission of their ideas, writings, political systems, religious practices, philosophy of education, and the Greek way of life. There is no separating the Greeks and the sea.

Diane Cline is Associate Professor of Classics and History at The George Washington University

Cities That Built the Bible 

Sunday, February 10, 2019 | 8:00 PM | B’nai Israel

Robert Cargill

The cities of Jerusalem, Babylon, and Bethlehem are more than just settings for epic stories from the Bible: they were instrumental to the creation of the Bible. This presentation blends archaeology and biblical history to explore these cities and their role in the building of the Bible.

These cities also influenced numerous non-biblical books written in antiquity; far more books were left out of the Bible than were let in during the messy canonization process. The lecture will reveal surprising facts, such as what the Bible says about the birth of Jesus and how Mary’s Virgin Birth caused problems for the early church.

The presentation will offer an exciting adventure through time that brings the Bible to life through the cities of Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Ugarit, Nineveh, Babylon, Megiddo, Athens, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Qumran, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Rome. Illustrations will include artifacts, dig sites, and ruins taken from a far-reaching journey from the battlegrounds of Megiddo to the Grotto of the Nativity, from the towering Acropolis of Athens to the caves in Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

Robert Cargill is Assistant Professor, Judaism and Christianity, at the University of Iowa and Editor, Biblical Archaeology Review

Women That Built the Bible 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | 8:00 PM | Bender JCC Social Hall

Maxine Grossman

Beginning with Eve in the Garden of Eden to Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, representations of women in the Hebrew Bible demonstrate the importance of feminine images and characters in what is often designated a masculine and patriarchal culture.

Why have certain female characters and feminine images gained literary prominence in a male-centered religious tradition? What were the themes and concerns that led biblical authors to a focus on women in an ancient society that typically discounted a prominent role for women?

Attention to a wide variety of female characters and stereotypes — from the Matriarchs, the women of the Exodus, and the queens of ancient Israel to the female figures of wisdom and prophetic literature — provides opportunities to think about the women of the Bible in light of the ancient societies their stories reflect.

Maxine Grossman is an Associate Professor and Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Maryland


World’s First Computer, Recovered from the Antikythera Shipwreck

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | 8:00 PM | Bender JCC Social Hall

Daryn Lehoux

The Antikythera mechanism is one of the most remarkable technological devices from the pre-modern era. The instrument is believed to have been designed and constructed by Greek scientists; famed astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes (190-120 BCE) may have been consulted in the machine’s construction.

The shipwreck dates to circa 65 BCE, and was discovered in 1901 off the southwestern Greek island of Antikythera. The device was little studied and little understood until much later in the twentieth and even into the twenty-first century when its most important secrets began to be unveiled by advanced imaging techniques.

This lecture looks at the remarkable technological and astronomical knowledge embedded in the ancient machine, and the remarkable technological efforts that it took to uncover them in the modern era.

Daryn Lehoux is Professor of Classics at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Zerubbabel

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 | 8:00 PM | Bender JCC Social Hall

Ted Lewis

Zerubbabel was the heir of the royal Davidic line following the Babylonian exile.  According to the prophet Haggai, Zerubbabel was God’s messianic designate, chosen to be God’s own signet ring. The prophet Zechariah calls him “the Branch,” a title given elsewhere to the idyllic future Davidide. Near the end of the sixth century BCE, Zerubbabel returns to Jerusalem to lay the foundation of the Second Temple.

Mysteriously, at the height of such expectations, Zerubbabel disappears from the pages of history. His disappearance is one of the greatest mysteries in the Hebrew Bible. How and why the Signet of God disappear? Why are our texts silent on the matter? Was there something nefarious afoot? Who would have stood to benefit most by Zerubbabel’s disappearance? Should we be looking externally (to the Persians wishing to stem a growing nationalism?) or internally (to a struggle for power?).

Join Professor Lewis in examining multiple clues that have been left behind to try to solve this mystery.

Ted Lewis is Blum-Iwry Professorship in Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University