The Archaeology of the Land of Israel
(The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1982) 336 pp., maps and diagrams, $27.50 hardbound, $18.95 softbound
In 1979 Kathleen Kenyon’s revised edition of Archaeology in the Holy Land (W. W. Norton) was posthumously published, and now we have a translation of Yohanan Aharoni’s posthumous survey of Palestinian archaeology (originally published in Hebrew in 1978). Thus there are two comprehensive, relatively up-to-date summaries for serious students, a situation to be welcomed given the lack of such studies for nearly a generation. Also, since the archaeology of the Near East is a field where new discoveries and new approaches seem as frequent as new eruptions of violence, synthetic overviews such as these by qualified scholars are constantly needed.
Aharoni’s volume is a masterly interpretation of the results of excavation from the earliest remains of human activity up to the destruction of the First Temple in 587/586 B.C. Like Kenyon’s book it begins with a geophysical description of the region, and includes nearly 200 figures, illustrations and photographs. It is informed throughout by the careful attention to textual and historical-geographical evidence which characterized all of Aharoni’s work, and is therefore a synthesis more than just a survey. I will use it as a text for my course in the archaeology of Palestine, and I recommend it highly to BAR readers.
Naturally every scholar has his or her own emphases and biases, and both Kenyon’s and Aharoni’s books have the strengths and weaknesses inevitable in a one-person effort. Two of the latter need elaboration here.
Aharoni’s title specifies his geographical focus: it is the “land of Israel,” regularly rendered throughout the volume as “Eretz-Israel”; as Anson Rainey, the translator, notes, this is roughly the territory governed by David and Solomon. Despite Rainey’s disclaimer, however, “Eretz-Israel” is not a “nonpolitical term,” and seems inappropriately nationalistic in an archaeological work which draws heavily on sites in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus, and Turkey. Admittedly, there is no neutral term which is accurate for all periods in a region which has had countless changes of name, language, and political control. Cultural and political boundaries are seldom coterminous, and it is to my mind regrettable to insist on the largely anachronistic and, in a modern context, misleading designation “Eretz-Israel.” Kenyon’s “Holy Land” has its own problems, as do the frequently used “Palestine” or “Syria-Palestine.” “The Levant” is perhaps a possible, although also not ideal, designation. This is not to say that the focus itself is wrong; it is appropriate, and I have no reservations about it.
One serious shortcoming in light of recent trends in archaeological theory is the attribution of new cultural elements—ceramic forms, architectural styles, burial customs, and the like—to new groups of peoples. Why, Aharoni asks, were the large cities of the Early Canaanite Period (which Aharoni designates the Early Bronze period) so heavily fortified? He answers: “Maybe … against the traditional waves of settlers that penetrated the country during certain periods.” (p. 94) These “waves” are “traditional” only in scholarly literature—they populate Kenyon as well as Aharoni; but in the last decade archaeologists have been moving away from explaining every change as a result of migration. Cultural change is a complex process which needs to be analyzed with subtlety, taking into account local factors and human creativity and individuality. For too long we have stressed the new and discontinuous in comparing one archaeological period with another, and we have had to fabricate invasions from the sparsely populated desert regions to explain the differences between successive eras. It is clear now that the similarities are as important and often more important than the differences; continuity rather than sudden change should occupy our attention.
I suspect that one reason for the persistence of this diffusionist mode of interpretation for the archaeology of the Levant is its unconscious basis in the Biblical account of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelite tribes under Joshua’s leadership. As Aharoni himself recognized, this is a gross oversimplification of a process which took several forms in different regions and which only gradually resulted in the emergence of national units such as Ammon, Moab, and Israel.
The group which called itself Israel was a political entity with a religious principle of unity. Such political and ideological elements are those which are least represented in the archaeological record; they must be inferred from careful analysis of all evidence, including and especially textual evidence.
This realization means that we should not blithely identify such well-known features of the early Iron Age as the “collared rim” storage jar or the “four-room house” as essentially Israelite cultural features, especially since they are represented with increasing frequency at contemporary settlements in Transjordan. In other words, archaeological remains by themselves can only rarely be identified ethnically or nationally. There is no evidence known to me that would prove that a particular settlement such as Ai or Kibbutz Sasa was “Israelite”; or that would, in the absence of written evidence, be able to distinguish between the contemporaneous material cultures of the Israelite centers Bethlehem and Gibeah, on the one hand, and the non-Israelite Jebus on the other (see Judges 19:1–15).
It is good, however, to have Aharoni’s spirited and detailed presentation of his views on the stratigraphy of such complicated sites as Megiddo, Arad, and Beersheba; and good, in conclusion, to have this final synthesis from one of Israel’s most distinguished and now, unhappily, lamented archaeologists.
Arad Inscriptions: Judean Desert Studies
(Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem 1981)
The prize-winning Hebrew edition of this book appeared in 1975. Its author, Yohanan Aharoni, who led Tel Aviv University’s department of archaeology, did not live to complete the English version. This task was taken over by his colleagues and brought to an impressive conclusion in this volume. Although the book is essentially an English translation of the original Hebrew edition, recent studies of the inscriptions are also taken into account and cited in bracketed additions to the text. These are contributed by Anson Rainey, whose expert touch is felt throughout the new volume.
Tell Arad, situated in the Negev less than 06020 miles east-northeast of Beersheba, is recognized as a site of unique importance for the study of the Judean monarchy. Its archaeological record, when fully coordinated with the results of other recent excavations at Lachish and Beersheba, will provide a firm basis upon which future work in the region can rely. Its epigraphic, that is, its inscriptional, yield is without parallel. More than one hundred Hebrew inscriptions spanning the period of the Israelite occupation of the site have been recovered. Most are ostraca (singular: ostracon), that is inked messages on pieces of broken pottery. However, the finds also include inscribed seals and seal impressions. Most of the ostraca were identified by painstaking and careful examination of each potsherd as it was washed following excavation.
The publication of the inscriptions in this definitive edition justifies a thorough and systematic recasting of the paleography of the First Temple period, a project urgently called for by recent radical challenges to our understanding of the archaeology of the last two centuries of pre-exilic Judah.
Perhaps the most interesting inscriptions in this collection involve Eliashib, son of Ishyahu (or Ashyahu or Eshyahu), who apparently commanded the small fortress of Arad during the tumultuous years at the end of the seventh century B.C., shortly before the fall of the kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in the first part of the sixth century B.C. At this time Judah was affected not only by the Babylonian threat but more immediately by the Edomites on the east and south. Arad was then the principal Judean fortress in the Negev, the much larger citadel of Beersheba having been destroyed at the end of the eighth century. As commander of Arad and its storehouse, Eliashib was responsible for supplying a small network of cities that guarded the boundary of Judah against the threat of Edomite attack from the south.
A substantial number of the ostraca come from Eliashib’s correspondence “files.” Most are requisition vouchers addressed to Eliashib, authorizing the disbursement of specific quantities of wine, oil, and flour or bread. From the ostraca we learn that he shipped goods to places like Beersheba, Qinah, Yagur (?), Ziph (?), and Ramath-negev. To the last city, which lay at the southern extreme of Judean territory, he is urgently instructed in Inscription 24 to dispatch not supplies, but troops, “lest Edom come there.”
Many of the ostraca mention “the Kittiyim.” In the Bible Kittiyim refers to natives of Greece, the Aegean Islands, and Cyprus. According to Aharoni (pp. 12–13), the Kittiyim of the Arad inscriptions were probably “Greek or Cypriot mercenaries serving in the Judean army, perhaps especially in garrisons of the more remote fortresses.” Sometimes the Kittiyim themselves are designated as recipients of provisions, evidently their rations. In other cases commodities of goods are to be shipped “in the hands of the Kittiyim” to other places. It may be that the chief duty of the Kittiyim was to escort Eliashib’s shipments over the unsafe roads of the Negev.
Readers of the Biblical Archaeology Review are already aware of a controversy involving one of the ostraca from Arad, Inscription 88 (see “Letter from a Hebrew King?” BAR 06:01). This ostracon records the words of an individual who says, “I have become king … ” This king’s name is lost. Aharoni thought he was Jehoahaz of Judah, King Josiah’s son, who reigned briefly in 609 B.C. (See 2 Kings 23:30–34 and 2 Chronicles 36:1–4.) This is the year in which Aharoni believed Stratum VII, to which he assigns Inscription 88, came to an end. Yadin, however, doubts Aharoni’s interpretation of Stratum VII; he has suggested that the king in question was Asshur-uballit of Assyria and that the ostracon was part of a communique to Josiah, Jehoahaz’ predecessor, a suggestion that Rainey dismisses in the present volume as an “idle fancy” (p. 104). While it is true that Yadin’s interpretation of Inscription 88 is not compelling (he puts it forth as “no more than a suggestion”), it is also true that Aharoni and Rainey have not yet succeeded in dispelling doubts about the stratigraphy of Arad VII, the stratum to which Aharoni assigns Inscription 88.
These stratigraphical doubts present serious problems in dating other finds as well, for Aharoni attributes not only Inscription 88 to Stratum VII but also three seals of Eliashib (Inscriptions 105–107). Yet the ostraca of Eliashib are assigned by Aharoni to a later stratum, Stratum VI. In other words, Eliashib’s correspondence is assigned to a later stratum than his seals. This is especially surprising because the seals and ostraca come from the same room, although, it must be added, the loci of their discovery were separated by a wall. The ostraca were found on one side of the wall, the seals on the other. If this wall was that of the last pre-exilic fortress, then it is possible that Eliashib “was commander of the fortress of Arad both in Stratum VII and Stratum VI,” as Aharoni concludes (p. 120), his business office having been modified in size and shape by the building of the new wall after the destruction of Stratum VII. If, on the other hand, this wall is to be associated with the Hellenistic tower later erected in the middle of the city, as Yadin believes, the distinction between Strata VII and VI, at least in this room, may be specious. Aharoni himself admits (p. 128) that “the pottery of Strata VI and VII are very similar.” The same can be said of the scripts of ostraca assigned to the two phases. Only one letter, yod, differs in form in any significant way, and the typological significance accorded this variation by Aharoni is debated. Until these questions are resolved, we can only say that Eliashib was in office in Arad at the end of the seventh century and that the history of the city earlier in the century, during the reigns of Manasseh and Josiah, is unclear. Aharoni thought it possible to identify the ends of the various strata of occupation on the site with well-defined historical events, but at this stage of analysis, this conclusion must be regarded as unproven.
The earlier phases of Arad’s history are not as well documented by inscriptions. Eliashib’s predecessor in Stratum VIII, which Aharoni assigns to the end of the eighth century B.C., was named Malkiyahu (Inscription 40). During his administration and before, a temple was in use in Arad, and from its precincts come ostraca bearing the names of priests or priestly families known from the Bible, such as Meremoth (Inscription 50; compare Ezra 8:33), Passhur (Inscription 54: compare Jeremiah 20:1), and the sons of Korah (Inscription 49; compare Exodus 6:24). A number of other inscriptions from the earlier strata come from the temple area, but according to Aharoni (p. 149), “The sanctuary fell into disuse with the religious reformations of Hezekiah and Josiah, and was not rebuilt in Stratum VI.” Nevertheless, an unstratified sherd bearing the legend qds, “holy” (Inscription 104) finds its best paleographical parallel in the script of the Siloam Tunnel inscription from the reign of Hezekiah and the seals of the first half of the seventh century. Moreover, two offering bowls found in a stratified context in the temple precincts bear signs which seem to read qs in a Phoenician (!) script of the second half of the seventh century, leading Frank Moore Cross of Harvard to interpret the signs as a Phoenician abbreviation of a conventional sort for qds, “holy.” According to Aharoni, however, the bowls 062come from a ninth-century context (Stratum X), and the second sign is not a letter but a symbol of some unknown signification. Again it is clear that there are fundamental questions about the stratigraphy of Arad that will only be resolved by further reflection and discussion.
To the corpus of Hebrew inscriptions published in 1975, Rainey has added three more. This is followed by a section on inscribed weights and royal seal impressions by Miriam Aharoni with a substantial contribution from Rainey. Then, after Yohanan Aharoni’s paleographical discussion and summary, there are sections on the substantial corpus of Aramaic ostraca from Arad (Joseph Naveh) and a few other inscriptions in Greek (Baruch Lipshitz) and Arabic (Moshe Sharon). Finally there is a note on the ink of the ostraca by Zvi Gopher.
This is a handsome and well-presented volume. The epigraphist will not find the reproduction of photographs to be of adequate quality for careful study, but one can only expect so much of a printer with today’s production costs being what they are. Judith Ben-Or has translated the contributions of Aharoni and Naveh into clear, idiomatic English. There are several misprints and minor errors, but these can be corrected in subsequent printings, and in any case, only two or three are likely to produce serious confusion. (On p. 125 the photograph of Inscription 112, one of the three contributed by Rainey, is upside down, and on p. 128 Josiah is said to have reigned “between 530 and 509 B.C.E.” instead of 630 and 609.) All in all this is a splendid piece of work, and the authors are due a hearty expression of thanks from us all.
Eretz Israel, Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies. Vol. 15 (Yohanan Aharoni Memorial Volume)
Editor, Benjamin Mazar
(Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem, 1981) 419 pp., (Hebrew section), 89 pp. (non-Hebrew section), 86 plates
High standards and frequently new material have made Eretz Israel the foremost series on Biblical geography and archaeology. Even in this series the present volume is distinguished. Professor Yohanan Aharoni, to whom it is dedicated, distinguished himself in many ways—by his major field excavations at Ramat Rachel, Arad, and Beer Sheva and by the surveys he organized, in Galilee and the Negev. Aharoni was remarkable also for the conscientiousness, rare in archaeologists, with which he made his findings and experience available to the public through his many publications, his teaching at the Hebrew University, and through Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology, where he was director until his death in 1976.
In spite of the importance of Aharoni’s published work, the memorial notice in the English section of this volume specifies only three of his works: Eretz-Israel in the Biblical Period, the epoch-making Arad Inscriptions (reviewed in this issue of BAR; see Books in Brief) and the posthumous Archaeology of the Land of Israel, (reviewed and excerpted in this issue; see Books in Brief). The Hebrew eulogy by Moshe Kochavi adds references to Aharoni’s doctoral thesis on settlement of Israelite tribes in Galilee; his contributions to the Atlas of Israel, the Macmillan Bible Atlas, and Hazor; and his articles on seals and on the Lachish temple. For the locations of these, and for his other publications, the reader (of Hebrew) is referred to a bibliography in Volume III of Tel Aviv, a journal widely inaccessible. By similar thoughtlessness, more than four-fifths of the archaeological findings in this volume have been buried in Hebrew.
The range of the material covered is almost as wide as were Aharoni’s interests: 22 articles mainly on the Bronze Age or earlier, 19 on the millennium from the birth of Moses to the death of Alexander, and 14 on Hellenistic and Roman times to the early second century. This coverage may be too wide. Since most scholars must specialize, many will find individual sections of this volume of little use. A book devoted to one of the three periods, or three paperbacks, would probably be more saleable and easier to handle than the present volume. Despite its size, however, this volume is admirably designed and produced; the plates, though not glossy, are good, and the hundreds of maps, plans, and drawings in the text are even better.
Among the most numerous and least rewarding articles on the Bronze Age are studies of place names and ethnic and geographical terms of the Hittites’ neighbors and the Egyptian lists. More important articles include Rivkeh Gonen’s argument that much of the Late Bronze Age population may have shifted from urban to rural life, Miriam Tadmor’s distinction between two types of Late Bronze relief plaques that show women, and Beno Rothenberg’s and Yonatan Glass’s connection of “Midianite” pottery with metal working. Also of special interest is Vronwy Hankey’s demonstration (apropos of finds near Hebron) 064that Myceneans were already prominent in Minoan trading areas before the destruction of Knossos.
Five studies, mainly on the Israelite period, concern particular sites: Tel Masos (Aharon Kempinski et al.), Arad (Miriam Aharoni), Gezer (Zvi Zertal), Khirbet Abu et-Twein (Amihai Mazar), and Aroer (Avraham Biran and Rudolph Cohen). Though mainly stratigraphic, these studies also, incidentally, document further the varieties of religious practice in the Israelite period: Tel Masos, “seraphim” a Biblical word sometimes translated as “household gods”); Arad, an altar and high place; Khirbet Abu et-Twein, a statuette; Aroer, three “Astartes,” animal figurines, an incense altar, and a seal of “Kosa” (Kos being a Nabatean god). Biran and Cohen attribute the building of Aroer to Josiah without trying to reconcile these finds with Josiah’s reform. Their interesting observation that many cities were built in Judea in the late seventh century also begs a question: Where did money for the building come from?
Notable among the other studies are five on weights and seals, especially Gabriel Barkay’s argument for a 20-gerah shekel of 11.3 grams, and André Lemaire’s reclassification of the Judean royal stamps (to which it should be added that flying scarab and winged sun-disc stamps are iconographic equivalents, the scarab being a standard symbol of the sun god).
Mention should also be made of Benjamin Mazar’s paper on the Israelite settlement of Palestine (full of acute observations and challenging conjectures), of Yigal Shiloh’s estimate of the population of Iron Age Palestine at less than a million (based, of course, on inadequate evidence, but at least on some), and of Volkmar Fritz’s ingenious argument for dating the list of “Rehoboam’s” fortresses (2 Chronicles 11:5–12) to the time of Josiah.
Articles on the Persian, Greek, and Roman periods begin with one by Ephraim Stern on Achaemenid tombs on Mt. Ebal, where Persian officials (were they really?) were buried with Athenian lekythoi in their coffins. Israel Finkelstein interprets remains of farms in the foothills around the Yarkon River as evidence of thicker settlement begun by refugees after 722 B.C. and terminated by the Maccabean wars.
Several useful studies trace roads: Ze’ev Meshel, Gaza to Eilat; Zvi Ilan, Beth Shean to the Beqa; Shimon Dar, the network in southern Samaria. Yizhar Hirschfeld has contributed a careful and informative study of wine presses, basic structures of ancient civilization, equally common and overlooked.
Reports of two burials testify to the use of the Greek language in Jerusalem and to the use of Greek and Aramaic in Jericho about the beginning of the present era. Finally, an important excavation by Jacob Kaplan has shown that in 102 A.D. Jaffa had again (after its destruction by the Romans) a Jewish (or Christian?) market overseer, and that shortly thereafter the site was burned, probably, as Kaplan suggests, in the revolt of 115–117 A.D.
All in all, an unusually rewarding volume.
In Kathleen Kenyon’s revised edition of Archaeology in the Holy Land (W. W. Norton) was posthumously published, and now we have a translation of Yohanan Aharoni’s posthumous survey of Palestinian archaeology (originally published in Hebrew in 1978).