In WALKING THE BIBLE, he’s still sitting there forever, behind a cloud of smoke, saying, “People like me don’t have time to talk to people like you,” then calling me at home that night to introduce me to Avner. Now, nearing 100, he has finally passed.
Avraham Biran, an archaeologist of biblical sites who excavated Tel Dan, an ancient city along Israel’s northern border, and uncovered an unexpected stone fragment bearing what might be the earliest reference to the House of David, died on Sept. 16 in Jerusalem. He was 98.
Dr. Biran’s death was confirmed by a spokesman from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, where Dr. Biran directed the institute’s school of biblical archaeology.
In 1993, after nearly three decades of digging at Dan, which is on the Syrian border and near the headwaters of the Jordan River, Dr. Biran and his colleagues discovered a foot-long piece of stone with a partial inscription in Early Aramaic.
The archaeologists were able to decipher text on what was possibly a monument to commemorate victory in battle by a king of Aram over Israel. The inscription — which contained the words House of David — was dated to the ninth century B.C. and was hailed by biblical scholars as a unique find and evidence of the antiquity of King David’s lineage. Some scholars, however, have questioned the interpretation of the discovery and even the existence of King David.
Dr. Biran attributed the find to good luck and said that in archaeological fieldwork, “it’s all chance, whatever you do.” Indeed, the earthen mound of Dan, or Tel Dan, was chosen almost by chance. In 1966, Dr. Biran rushed to the scene when Israel’s military tensions with Syria were on the rise and the 50-acre mound was in danger of being shelled or covered by fortifications. He persuaded the Israeli Army to let him excavate Dan’s southern slope and found signs of human habitation dating from the fifth millennium B.C.
To say that my life was profoundly changed by nearly every encounter I had with this great mean is to understate his significance to me and to so many others. I never met anyone who didn’t do a slight bow at the mention of his name. The State of Israel has lost another pioneer, and biblical studies one of its last and greatest defenders.
The last of my brother’s blogs.
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I was on the floor the other day and came across a man of about forty who wore on his left breast what looked like a military medal. A small ribbon pinned to his chest with a medallion hanging from it. It was the credential that his grandfather wore at the 1960 Democratic Convention. Whatever this movement may come to be called, Camelot is in the air. At the stand in the Convention Hall, there were four flavors of Obama buttons. Obama alone, Obama-Biden, Obama and Dr. King, Obama and JFK.
Such have been the expectations for this evening. Rhetoric has been much praised and much maligned this election season, but I believe rhetoric can be powerful and important. Its capacity to link emotion and change can be a force for good or ill. And in either direction, the tone set by President of the United States speaks volumes all by itself across this country and across the world. As someone who appreciates good rhetoric, I would say going into this evening that of the best dozen speeches I’ve ever heard, at leave several have been given by Barack Obama in 2008 alone.
Which brings us to Invesco Field. The lines to get in started early and snaked across the landscape for often over a mile. It reminded me of the images of people lined up at Altamont to see the Rolling Stones. And inside… diversity, passion, history. Within a few seats of me in all directions was a picture of American diversity that would have made Norman Rockwell proud. Amongst the most poignant… a woman of about thirty, two seats away her husband, and between them in a cradle their months old baby.
When was the last time we had a political leader capable of drawing the passions of over 80,000 citizens? I would argue that it was forty years ago, and both of them died that year. Obama’s speech was, I felt, perfect. As always, his rhetoric is a joy to listen to, but the content was critically important as well and therein was the perfection. When Obama delivered his historic speech on race back in the winter, Jon Stewart, struck by depth and reason of his argument, commented that Obama was “treating us like adults.” That same sense struck me last night. It was sweeping in scope, impressive in logic and deeply substantive. And structurally, he did what he needed to do. Obama told his story, spelled out the case against McCain, and offered the type of detail for his own program that indeed is the basis for mandate should we be victorious.
But the essence of the night was the history in the air. There was a gravitas to the moment that was impossible not to feel, a power magnified by the collective, passionate cry for change inherent in the unified voice of all that were there. It was a deeply moving experience. It was an extraordinary honor to be there. It ranks among the great experiences of my life.
I’ve been reminded several times this week of an interview I heard a few months back. It was with a man whose mother had been on the frontlines of the women’s rights movement back in the 60s. He, his siblings, their kids kept asking his mother who she was going to vote for in the primaries, and uncharacteristically she wouldn’t answer. So on election night he asked her who she had voted for. All her life, she said, she’d been wanting to vote for a woman for president. It was, to her, the ultimate expression of her life’s work. But as she saw how excited her children and her grandchildren were about Barack Obama, “Well,” she said, “I decided I had to vote for their future and not for my past.”
That story particularly came back when my friend Jo reported that her 94 year old mother has decided that she’s only lived this long so she can vote for Barack Obama. After that, it’s all up for grabs.
On a different note, my friend Cindy reports that her “almost five” year old wanted to know whether Obama has a hard time breathing while he is “running” for president.
Other tidbits… the Alabama delegation has t-shirts… Obama Y’all. Love that! And spell check on my Blackberry keeps wanting to change Obama to oboe. Change we don’t believe in!
It’s been my honor this week to a part of history, a special moment in history, and it’s been a privilege to share this with you. It’s been my hope to enliven and enrich for you the experience of this one large step in this enormously important election. I believe what is literally at stake is the restoration of our nation’s most basic values.
John Lewis is part of the Georgia delegation and spoke movingly this morning over breakfast. Today is the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There were ten speakers that day. John Lewis was sixth, Dr. King tenth. Congressman Lewis is the last of these men standing. “What we saw last night,” said Lewis, “was the down payment on the fulfillment of the dream. Now we must march again. We must march in every village, town and hamlet. We must march again on the ballot box. We must march to save this piece of real estate we call America.”
So where do we go from here? There are 18 targeted states in this election. In Georgia, the Obama campaign has 56 offices and 175 organizers. If you want to help, call the Georgia Democratic Party in Atlanta and ask about getting connected to this effort. If you’re in a different state, call your state party or call the party in a swing state not your own and see what you can do to help.
There are sixty eight days left until this election, and we’re not going to win unless we get enough people registered, to the polls and voting for Barack Obama. Former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus joined us for breakfast this morning, and as he eloquently put it, “Sixty eight days is not very long to work for our children, for a brighter future and for a better America.”
My brother’s dailiy blog from inside the hall.
President Carter addressed the Georgia delegation this morning. Recently, he said, he’d been interviewed by the editor of the British newspaper “The Guardian” and had been asked whether a President Obama could change America’s reputation in the world in his first 100 days in office. Replied Carter, “He can change America’s reputation in his first ten minutes in office.” The editor was incredulous., but Carter went on to explain. A President Obama, he said, could in his inaugural address, moments after being sworn in, renounce American involvement in torture, commit American to leading on environmental issues, renounce wars of choice and not of necessity, and promise that America wouldn’t pass further tax laws designed to benefit only the top one percent of our citizens.
After this litany, President Carter asked the editor how long it had taken to articulate this list. Replied the editor, “Two minutes.”
The structure of the Convention came into full view tonight. The first night was about introducing Michelle Obama, the second about Hillary and unity, the third about clearly laying out who John McCain really is and what Barack Obama stands for in contrast. Thursday night will be for Barack to reiterate all of these messages, layout his plan for America and his vision for us all.
In reflecting on Hillary’s speech the night before, the heart of it to me was how presidential it felt. She simply had a gravitas, depth, presence that none of the other even national figures preceding her on the podium that evening could muster. It was a reminder of why she has come so far and why so many do and will continue to look up to her.
I continue to get asked about the state of party unity. President Carter raised the issue this morning. Carter declared himself an expert on party disunity, and went on to explain that it was the split between the Ford and Reagan Republican factions in 1976 that created the opening that helped him win the presidency, and it was the split between the Carter and Kennedy camps four years later that contributed to his loss. This party this time, he declared, was clearly unified.
I agree. While CNN might be able to drag out a few random curmudgeons from amidst the crowd here, Hillary’s supporters will continue to hold her in high esteem but they are clearly committed to the higher cause of change.
The one real responsibility of the delegates is to cast their ballot for the nomination. All delegates and alternates had to be in their seats today by 3:30, half an hour after the opening gavel. Delegates’ names are printed in a list on a sheet of paper with columns for the candidates and for signatures. The delegates find their name, cast their vote and sign their name.
As you’ll recall, the super delegates are uncommitted and can vote for whomever they choose. The remaining delegates are committed to their candidate based on the results of the primary, but they are committed for only the first ballot. Should we have had a contested convention, the delegates would be free after the first ballot to vote their conscience. As things unfolded, there was a midday gathering today of all the Hillary delegates at which we she addressed the group and “released” them to vote as they saw fit. For those into the arcane world of party politics, this was an important step in the cause of unity.
After the roll call and the official steps of nominating both Obama and Biden, the next round of speeches began. One of the odd things about a convention is that there is always someone speaking on the podium; there isn’t always anyone paying attention! During major speeches the house is quiet, the volume is up and crowd is engaged. But for most of the hours everyone on the floor is talking, the volume on the podium mike is down and the crowd couldn’t pay attention if they wanted. One person asked what I thought of Deval Patrick’s speech. Short answer: I couldn’t hear it!
But tonight was special. The charge for the night was to layout the difference between McCain the myth and McCain the reality, and to put to rest the myths about Barack Obama and to bolster the reality. It will be up to Obama to complete these tasks Thursday evening, but unlike the past two conventions the candidate will be building on a strong foundation.
I felt that Bill Clinton’s speech was the finest of the night. It was classic Bill Clinton… clear, clever with a beautifully crafted argument expressed with passion and conviction. We got tonight a reminder of Bill Clinton at his finest.
Clinton was followed by John Kerry, who gave the most amazing speech of his career. Passionate, forceful, combative. There was no way to avoid the feeling that if had been like that throughout the fall campaign of 2004 then he’d be president today.
And finally Joe Biden. The speech was extraordinary for it’s tone. We associate these types of speeches with stirring rhetoric, rising voices and flowing gestures. By contrast, Biden’s demeanor was almost conversation. In a firm but calm voice, he told his story, laid out his indictment of Bush and McCain but did it in a tone that made you feel like you were sitting with him in your living room or sharing a beer at a bar. It was really unusual – particularly if you’re familiar with Biden’s capacity for bombast — but I thought it was incredibly effective.
Emotionally highlights… Kerry pointing out Obama’s great uncle, who fought in World War II, in the box next to Michelle,. And Obama’s appearance on the floor after Biden. Onto the big night and Obama’s swing for the fences!