What's a biblical archaeology magazine to do when faced with the prospect of publishing erotic pictures?
Ask its readers.
After hearing from 700 subscribers, editors at Biblical Archaeology Review decided to publish in their current issue photos of ancient ceramic oil lamps depicting couples engaged in intercourse.
For the minority of readers unhappy about that, the editors designed the pages so that the pictures could be removed without damaging the rest of the magazine.
The small, bowl-shaped lamps, made in the second to third century of the Christian era, were found in 1987 during an archaeological dig in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
The lids depict couples engaged in heterosexual and homosexual acts. In the July/August issue, the magazine stresses that the lamps "probably belonged to a Greco-Roman household" rather than a Jewish or a Christian one.
"The Romans no doubt thought the lamps sexually titillating and perhaps even arousing," wrote Lawrence Stager, author of the article and the Harvard University archaeologist who led the dig.
Editors of the magazine, which has a circulation of about 160,000, said they were not flooded with responses after the publication of the pictures because they had warned their readers ahead of time.
"We have gotten a few cancellations," said Hershel Shanks, editor.
"I mean, not more than you can count on the fingers of your hands, and occasionally someone will cut out that part and send it back to us.
"There's another reaction, which is more prevalent, and that is, 'Gee whiz, here they are. They're not really so bad.' We all know what goes on, and it really isn't shocking."
But some readers were indignant.
The Rev. Malcolm Redman Jr., pastor of Open Door Baptist Church in Lauderdale Lakes, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., wrote a letter published in the current issue. He also canceled his subscription before he could see the pictures.
"I don't want to support something like that," he said.
"It's contrary, as I said in my [letter], to Scripture. We don't need to see that kind of pictures to see how pagans live. We could drive down the street and see how pagans live."
In its September/October 1990 issue, the 16-year-old magazine told readers it planned to publish an article about the erotic lamps.
"We gave them three choices: print them, don't print them or print them with a perforation . . . so people could tear them off if they didn't want them," said Steven Feldman, an associate editor.
Half the respondents said print; one-fifth said don't print; and 30 percent said print with a perforation. The magazine decided to print them on a right-hand page, placing an advertisement for the magazine on its reverse side.
Thus, concerned readers could cut out the photos without losing any editorial text.
"I vote for the perforations," wrote an Allentown, Pa., reader.
"But don't make the perforations too well lest my copy come with those pages missing."