I've had a few days to reflect on the two meetings I attended in San Antonio: The American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature. I think the best paper I heard was by Jodi Magness, who laid out a brilliant systematic argument about why the James Ossuary, even if the inscription is ancient, could not have belonged to the famous James the Brother of Jesus. She said this information will soon be published in the Journal of Biblical Literature, and I look forward to reading it. What I liked about her paper is that she combined archaeological and historical information to make her point, and much of my research and publications have sought to do the same.
Also, at the meeting I learned about Inscriptifact. It is an amazing tool produced by the West Semitic Research Project. The database contains photographs of some of the most famous ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. For example, one can read the Ahiram sarcophagus inscription or the Copper Scroll with lighting in different directions. If you are interested in this extremely valuable resource, go here and apply for a username and password.
Finally, both conferences took place near the Alamo. As I walked past it I ofen reflected on the similarities between the Alamo and Masada. Israelis use to and still look to the story of Masada as parallel to their own modern state. Many have reinterpreted the story of Masada as a tale of bravery against opression. But that's not what happened there. Back in the first century Masada was inhabited by some crazy zealots, and Josephus' account is much more literature than history. Later, Yadin's excavations there made heroes of these people, and they even gave a state burial to the bones of what were likely Roman soldiers. It is a classic example of manipulating the past to suit your own modern political agenda. People in the US also mythologized the Alamo. In reality, the battle had a great deal to do with Mexico just outlawing slavery, the illegal seizure of land by the US, and many other issues, instead of some screwed up tail about these righteous men making a stand. "Killed him a bear, when he was only three" Yeah, right . . . But I did buy a fake Davey Crocket coonskin cap for my kids. They love it.