A Survey of Current Literature Bearing on the world of Casting Lots

It is my intention that my blog might become a resource for serious study and scholarship. To further this aim, I shall from time to time review/digest articles appearing in current magazines which contain important research, scholarship, archaeological discoveries, or otherwise provide interesting insights into the ancient Roman world and early Christianity. Three articles worthy of note to my readers are: Literal Dexiolaboi by Murray Dahm; The Tomb of the Silver Hands by Marco Merola; and A Brief Glimpse into Early Rome by Jason M. Urbanus.

Turning first to the Urbanus article (May/June 2014 Archaeology), we encounter what is an ongoing dig at the Sant’Omobono site in Rome. While the subject temple has been known since 1930, recent work has been done on this site which has been a sacred site since the 7th to 6th century BC. The site, besides being a sacred site for 2,700 years, is situated in the bend of the Tiber River known as the Forum Boarium, or Cattle Market. This area was the early commercial center of Rome and was the terminus of several trade route roads, as well as near the harbor. “‘The site is crucial for understanding the related processes of monumentalization, urbanization, and state formation in Rome in the late Archaic period,’ says Dan Diffendale, a member of the University of Michigan team.” For three days, due to the difficulty of keeping the site open due to the necessity to put in steel retaining walls to hold back the ground water and the water-logged dirt, the team was able to photograph, and record the site through total station theodolite and photogrammetry. Hundreds of items including votive offerings, drinking vessels, and figurines were removed from the site.

Merola’s article appeared in Archaeology’s July/August 2014 issue. Archaeologist Carl Casi set out to relocate the ‘lost’ tombs of the Etruscans near Vulci which in the 1850’s had been a grand tour of Europe destination. While searching for these lost tombs, Casi and his team found twenty graves and tombs, as well as two larger funerary complexes. In one of the large tombs, which had three chambers, one of which had been looted, Casi found two chambers full of artifacts, including two beautiful silver hands. While more crudely made bronze hands have been found before, these elegantly made silver hands with gold-plated finger nails and traces of gold on the fingers are a unique find. The hands were once part of a sphyrelaton, a wooden dummy in the likeness of the deceased which guarded the departed after the body was cremated. Other items recovered were a chariot, and gold, iron, and bronze jewelry. Casi thinks that this particular tomb was for a noble woman and speculates that Etruscan society may have granted equal status to higher ranking members of society irrespective of gender.

Dahm (Ancient Warfare Vol VIII, Iss 2) has written an exhaustive study of the word “dexiolaboi’ found once in the Book of Acts 23:23 and used only two other times in antiquity. In Acts, this word is used to describe some of the soldiers who escorted Paul at the third hour of the night to Antipatris. While the word literally means ‘right throwing’ or ‘right bearing’, this seems, to Dahm, to beg the question, because virtually all legionaries would have thrown or carried weapons with their right hands. First, he examines the rarity of the use of the word in antiquity. Next, he examines the words used to translate the subject word in the early translations of the Bible. Third, he notes the context of the subject word, such as the fact that Lysias used approximately half his garrison force as a bodyguard for Paul. Finally, he contemplates the use of the word. Dahm concludes that if Paul was to have a bodyguard to protect him from being attacked by militants in ambush late at night, then it makes sense that he would need specialized troops to protect what would be the weak or the right side from thrown or fired weapons. Those troops on the right, if they held their shields in the right hand, would be able to not only carry weapons on the left, but also, and more importantly, would hold their shields in their right hands, which would protection their right. It is this meaning that Dahm believes is the correct meaning of the word ‘dexiolaboi’ that is left handed troops who carried their shields on the right.

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