Books in Brief
The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement
(Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1988) 384 pp., 107 illustrations, $36.00
Archaeological research has long focused on the process of the Israelite settlement. The pendulum has swung from those heady days when archaeology was viewed as the greatest hope for an objective “clarification” of the Biblical record to the equally misguided view that archaeology can say nothing about Biblical history. It is against this background that Professor Finkelstein has produced his thorough and timely book, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement.a
Finkelstein is uniquely qualified to address the issue of the Israelite settlement in the central hill-country of Canaan. He has excavated two key sites of the settlement period (late 13th century B.C. through the end of the 11th century B.C.), the small farming village of Izbet Sartah and the traditional Israelite cult-site of Shiloh, and he has conducted an extensive site-survey in the hill-country area between these two sites (the Biblical region of Ephraim). In this book, he presents a detailed description of his archaeological work, as well as a useful summary of the results of previous excavators. Thus, Finkelstein’s book fleshes out, with the aid of survey, the rather bare-bones account of the Israelite settlement that one gets from most archaeological reconstructions.
Particularly important are Finkelstein’s efforts to restore balance to the interpretation of the evidence based on material culture. The collar-rimmed storage jar and the four-room house have returned to their status as important components in the material culture of those central-hill-country inhabitants known as Israelites. Plotting the distribution and frequency of these jars and houses makes a convincing case for a fairly unified, “hill-country” material culture. This does not mean, of course, that every appearance of a collar-rimmed storage jar marks an Israelite, or that antecedents to the four-room house might not be found in the Late Bronze Age. It does mean, however, that the “preponderance of evidence,” as Finkelstein puts it, shows that these items appear with great regularity in the central hill-country, even predictably so.
Because Finkelstein grapples with such a complicated process as the Israelite settlement, and because his interpretations rely on such disparate sources of data, there are bound to be areas in which his presentation is controversial. I would like to outline some of the major issues that undoubtedly will engender further discussions among scholars who work on this period.
Primary among the controversial points is Finkelstein’s concern with what he calls “the Big Question,” the “ethnic affiliation” of the possessors of this hill-country material culture—in other words, with “what defines an Israelite.” Identifying a fairly cohesive settlement-type and its distribution is one thing. A detailed attempt to separate the various ethnic strands within such a settlement analysis is another. The settlement type in the central hill-country coincides geographically and temporally with what we traditionally see as the Israelite settlement. Carrying the analysis beyond this generalization, however, results in what seem to be forced attempts to make distinctions where there are none, and to create similarities where they are not apparent.
Naturally the boundaries of the study must be defined, and Professor Finkelstein has set the limits by (1) settlement type (small agricultural/pastoral villages), (2) settlement distribution (central hill-country), (3) material culture (limited repertoire of cooking pots and collar-rimmed jars) and (4) architecture (four-room houses with pillars). However, when sites are discovered that possess various combinations, but not all, of those traits, are the inhabitants “Israelites?”
In Galilee, for example, ceramic differences (Galilean/Tyrian pithoi versus collar-rimmed jars) are subordinated to settlement pattern (i.e., sites are located in hilly and difficult terrain). No pillared buildings have been found in Galilee; nevertheless, Finkelstein states that “the character of many of the new sites was consistent, in every respect, with what we know about Israelite settlement sites, so there is no real problem in attributing them to the tribe of Naphtali” (p. 109). A number of sites are thus accepted as Israelite even though they do not possess all of the traits mentioned above. At the same time, he occasionally rejects sites as Israelite even though they do possess some of the defining traits. For example, he does not consider Tell Masos as Israelite, although it has pillared buildings (p. 45). I would agree, but the definition of what makes an Israelite settlement seems to expand or contract according to Biblical tradition rather than archaeological evidence.
We see numerous other attempts to clarify ethnic affiliation of the population with statements like “the Sharon is one of those regions where the ethnic identification of the Iron I settlers is problematic” (p. 92). He states that the inhabitants of the western Galilee coastal-plain sites with Iron I pottery “could not have been Israelite,” in the absence of any demonstrable difference in material culture from sites located in the hill country of Galilee where “the incoming settlers here probably belonged to the tribe of Asher” (p. 97).
It is clear that Finkelstein is dependent on both Biblical and archaeological evidence to define “who is an Israelite.” This is fine as long as we are explicit about when and how we are using each strand of evidence. My point is not that the ethnic differences did not exist, for they probably did. Determining ethnicity from material cultural remains, however, is still a very subtle business and requires a cautious approach. Archaeology is not very useful in defining ethnic relationships between two groups who may have shared a common material culture but who may have seen themselves as having very different ethnic or religious affiliations. Biblical evidence is more helpful in dealing with this second problem, but under no circumstances should the Biblical evidence be used to dictate the terms of the archaeological inquiry.
In addition to Finkelstein’s search for “ethnic affiliation,” another controversial position is his ambitious attempt to gather archaeological evidence for sedentarization of pastoralists (semi-nomadic herders) to explain the increase in hill-country 010settlement. In order to support his theory that the Israelites were pastoralists who had been present in the area from the Middle Bronze Age and throughout the Late Bronze Age, he adduces evidence that emphasizes a pastoralist rather than a “village” background. The first step is to show that the first areas settled would likely have been settled by pastoralists; the second is to look for material-culture attributes that suggest a pastoral background.
Assuming that one can, with sufficient precision, define the chronological development of ceramic types and use it with sherds mainly from surface survey, the pattern found along the central ridge of the hill country suggests a much larger degree of settlement in the early phase of Iron I. In the later phase, we see a much more widely distributed pattern, with more sites on the western slopes of the hill country. Because the earliest settlements were along the central ridge of the hill country and in the “small intermontane valleys,” Finkelstein suggests that the original subsistence base of the new inhabitants was derived from a “pastoral rather than urban or village background.” This was because “a subsistence base of cereals and pastoralism did not require year-round occupation at permanent sites” (p. 199). Also, he states that “Israelite Settlement in the territory of Ephraim took place in those regions most conducive to field crops and pasturage. This would suggest that most of the settlers came from a pastoral background” (p. 202).
There are problems with this assumption. First, the earliest area settled, the central ridge and intermontane valleys, was the best land. Because it was more conducive to growing cereal crops and providing for a mixed economy, the Middle and Late Bronze Age cities and villages were also located on this north-south strip. Second, an area more suited to grain growing does not require pastoralist settlement. Surely no one would suggest that the settlements of the Middle and Late Bronze Age in the same area were originally founded by pastoralists. Furthermore, even though these areas may have allowed grain crops, this does not eliminate the possibility of the practice of horticulture. Obviously the potential for exploitation of the area by growing both grain and horticultural products existed. Political events can sometimes influence crop decisions as much as ecological efficiency.
The three main aspects of the material culture that Professor Finkelstein uses for his “sedentarizing pastoralist” model are pillared four-room houses, proliferating use of silos for grain storage, and elliptical settlement compounds.
Concerning the pillared four-room house, I would agree with his assessment of this house form as a successful adaptation to its environment, both social and natural. It adequately fulfilled the requirements of rural life; it had a ground floor subdivided for storage and stabling of livestock, and an upper floor, given stability by the monolithic pillars, which supported a modest second story for family sleeping chambers. I would disagree, however, with his view of the development of the four-room house from the Bedouin tent. Architectural forms are generally linked with their environment, and the origins of the four-room house should be sought in developments within rural village life rather than from Bedouin/pastoralist antecedents.
A similar explanation should be seen for the profusion of silos at Iron I sites. Finkelstein states that “a proliferation of silos generally characterizes groups in the process of sedentarization or societies organized in local rural frameworks” (p. 266). The large number of modest-size silos are typical of small-scale rural production, however, in contrast to the more developed redistributive network evident from the large-size communal silos at sites from the time of the monarchy. The combination of four-room houses, small “family” silos and a limited ceramic repertoire illustrate the rural foundation of Israelite society and its successful adaptation to its ecological niche. The presence of such silos need not imply a group of pastoralists in the process of “sedentarization,” however.
The elliptical settlement compounds may be related to pastoralist constructions, but there is no evidence that these architectural forms are related to pastoralists in the process of settling down. They may reflect functional requirements rather than a process. Thus, rather than representing an intermediate stage between pastoralism and rural village life, these compounds may illustrate specialized architecture for the pastoralist end of the continuum, contemporary with the four-room house construction of the village end of the continuum. Also, most parallels to the elliptical site at Izbet Sartah that he cites are from the late 11th or early 10th century B.C. in the Negev. They post-date rather than precede the wide distribution of four-room construction in the hill country.
One more controversial point may be Professor Finkelstein’s lowering of the dates of many sites, ranging from Tell Masos in the south to Hazor in the north. Many sites thought to date at least to the early to mid-12th century B.C., he has now redated to the end of the 12th century and to the early 11th century. His sharply restricted list 012of excavated sites that he would include among the earliest occupied sites comprises Mt. Ebal, Giloh, Izbet Sartah (stratum III), Beth-zur, Tell el-Ful, Tell en-Nasbeh and Bethel. This list poses problems for his view that settlement began in the east of the hill country and then moved into the western and southern hill-country (Judea), because one of the sites listed is located in the extreme west (Izbet Sartah) and another is in Judea (Beth-zur).
Professor Finkelstein has done an extremely thorough job of working through the available evidence and has presented a thought-provoking analysis of how the mechanism of Israelite settlement may have operated. His discussion of the weaknesses of the traditional conquest theory propounded by the “Albright school,” and his elaboration of the process of peaceful infiltration that characterized the “Alt school” are important in helping us move beyond the more traditional models.
He also effectively challenges the overstatements of the “sociological school” (or peasant revolt theory). One of the main points of this model should not be lost, however. One should not divorce events in the central hill-country from events in the lowland plains, Transjordan and the Levant in general. In the late 13th century and early-to-mid-12th century, Egypt was certainly still strong enough to control southern Canaan, as well as the Arabah and Jordan Valley from Timna in the south to Beth Shan in the north. In addition, the Philistine settlement of the southern coastal plain created what was probably a fairly unified territory, which served to disrupt the previous Canaanite commercial activities of the lowlands. Thus, the settlement of the central hill-country should be seen against the break-up of the previous Late Bronze Age commercial centers. Although the lowland population may not have witnessed a peasant revolt in political terms, new opportunities in the hills, combined with a presumably safer environment, may have presented themselves to a population witnessing the fragmentation of Late Bronze Age society.
One of the strengths of Professor Finkelstein’s book is his outline of the full range of Israelite settlement, based both on excavations and on surveys. He has demonstrated beyond doubt that the 12th–11th centuries B.C. witnessed a massive shift in settlement distribution, with a great increase in hill-country settlement. This population can be identified by architecture, settlement distribution and pottery. Although single elements can be found in contexts that are anomalous, the important point to emphasize is their co-occurrence in the hill country where, by all accounts, Israelites are to be found.
From an archaeological perspective, this is the most comprehensive volume yet produced on the subject of the Israelite settlement. Its exhaustive presentation of both new data and synthesis makes it required reading for every student of this complex and difficult transition period. Especially helpful are the comparisons with the preceding Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Age periods, which put Iron Age settlement in its proper context. Professor Finkelstein’s book stands on its own as a major contribution to the literature of the Israelite settlement. He has succeeded in changing the rules of the debate by arguing for a more integrated approach to the study of this process through the use of archaeological survey, ecological data and ethnographic research in addition to excavation.
Jerusalem: The Holy City in the Eyes of Chroniclers, Visitors, Pilgrims and Prophets from the Days of Abraham to the Beginnings of Modern Times
F. E. Peters
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985) 670 pp. with notes, bibliography and index, 8 color and 48 black-and-white plates, $35.00
This book is an impressive collection of translated texts about Jerusalem. Its earliest extract is from Genesis, and its latest, by Edward Robinson, dates to 1838. These hundreds of texts are woven together with pieces by the author, of which he says, “I have supplied the necessary connective tissue between the selections and explained where I thought necessary … Despite all intent it may be that I have overexplained.”
The author has by no means overexplained. The book reads very well, and the connective tissue is informative but spare. It is certainly free of the “special pleading and exclusive claims” of which he is rightly cautious, and it fulfills his aim of “seeing the city whole, as it appeared at every stage of its history in the eyes of Jews, Christians, true-believers, skeptics and all.” Moreover, for a book of such dimensions, it is well illustrated, including several aerial photographs and good pictures of the Jerusalem monuments.
The book begins with selections from the 062Old Testament, continues with two chapters based mainly on Josephus and the New Testament, and then takes us to the foundation of Aelia Capitolina as described by Dio Cassius. The sources for the third chapter, which deals with the transformation of Jerusalem into a Christian city, are historians and pilgrims, and include the Syriac Life of Barsauma. The chapter ends with two contradictory elements. On the one hand the author comments on the famous Madaba Map—a kind of Christian triumph because it displays the churches that had made Jerusalem what it was to Christians by the end of the sixth century. On the other hand, by that period the Byzantine empire, under which Jerusalem had “triumphed” as a Christian city by building so many churches, was by then so extremely poor and weak that soon the Persians defeated the city and ruled it for several years.
The fourth and fifth chapters, based mainly on Moslem sources, describe the Moslem conquest of Jerusalem, the building of the Islamic holy places and the continuing Christian presence there. The next two chapters describe the Crusader invasion and the resulting Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. The social position of the Jews is described, but the number of Jewish texts for this period is small. Little by little the Moslems regained force and drove out most of the Western Christians.
One of the book’s great merits is that it quotes a good many Moslem sources on the medieval appearance of Jerusalem. But Christian pilgrimage continued, and there are numerous good selections from a Dominican friar. Felix Fabri, who visited the city in 1480. The holy sites Fabri points out are roughly the same as they are today, and Fabri describes them with unprecedented self-consciousness; it seems that before medieval times, pilgrims described their visits in less self-critical terms.
Peters then describes the Ottoman conquest. From a Western Christian pilgrim’s point of view, the obstructive Ottoman governors were the villains, and the heroes were the Franciscans who remained and protected the holy places. But Gedaliah, a Jew who arrived early in the 18th century, describes the amounts of money owed by the Jews to the Turkish officials when they tried to build a synagogue. But the sad story—not only for Christians and Jews, but for all the citizens—is made instantly intelligible when we are told that the Ottomans appointed governors for only a year’s stay in each city: “Yesterday I was in Marash,” said the governor. “Tomorrow, maybe I shall be in Jeddah.” The governors cared very little for the city.
The history ends with the weakening of the Turkish empire and the growing importance of the Consul of France, who protected the Catholic Christians. But the author has also made some selections from Protestant visitors to Jerusalem and finishes in 1838 with the American Protestant explorer Edward Robinson.
Any person preparing to visit Jerusalem for the first time should read this well-written book because it includes almost all the important descriptions of Jerusalem. Then read Jerusalem again after your visit for even greater enjoyment. Very few libraries possess all the Jewish, Christian and Moslem works cited, so that any scholar interested in Jerusalem or engaged in teaching about the city would do well to buy this wise selection of texts.
My criticisms are few. I wish that the layout of the book had received more attention, since the need for two kinds of italic type—for quoted texts and italic notes within them—is by no means clear. I also wish that more attention had been paid to the reproduction and content of the maps. But such criticisms are insignificant when compared to the author’s ambitious aim and his truly admirable achievement.
Secrets of the Bible Seas: An Underwater Archaeologist in the Holy Land
Alexander Flinder with a Foreword by Magnus Magnusson
(London: Severn House, 1985) pp. 174, $20.00
Find your most comfortable chair, settle in for a few hours, and enjoy some vicarious diving adventures with a good storyteller. Alexander Flinder, architect by vocation and diver by avocation, reminisces, with an infectious enthusiasm, about his personal odyssey of underwater explorations and discoveries in Secrets of the Bible Seas. Long a leader in the sport-diving community of Britain, Flinder had the good fortune to be involved in the earliest days of underwater archaeological investigations in Israel, the Sinai and Cyprus (collectively known as the “Bible Seas”), as this discipline was evolving from treasure hunting to science.
For all of us who had similar experiences in marine archaeology in the 1960s and early 1970s, those days were intoxicating. The historical and archaeological treasures of the seas became more accessible to scientists than ever before. Archaeology in the marine environment was, if not the final frontier, certainly a new sub-field with a seemingly unlimited potential to add chapters to our understanding of the past. Every dive on an archaeological site provided new “firsts.”
Flinder’s recollections of his many dives with Elisha Linder, Avner Raban and other pioneers of the Israeli Underwater Exploration Society capture the mood of these years. It was a time of discovery, romance, intense comraderie, and trailblazing. All seemed possible for underwater exploration in its formative period.
Through the author’s words, we experience this sense of novelty and excitement as we dive and snorkel at Akko, Caesarea, Jezirat Fara’un in the Gulf of Aqaba, Sharm el Sheikh, Athlit, Lapithos in Cyprus, and other sites in the eastern Mediterranean, discovering with him archaeological remains and artifacts beneath the sea. If he sees his role as a bit too central or catalytic to the explorations he describes, one can excuse this excess in such a personal narrative. His story is worth telling, and he does it well.
Secrets of the Bible Seas provides a delightful introduction to a new avenue of research in the Holy Land, as well as a summary of its major finds in the 60s and 70s. For those whose interest is sufficiently piqued, there is a short bibliography of other relevant works. The scholar of Biblical archaeology, however, will find little that is original here.
The book serves another purpose as well. As we in this country now debate the role of the amateur diver in underwater archaeology, Flinder’s story can serve as a model of what can be done by a dedicated and directed diver who is not professionally trained. Working closely with scholars in the field, he proved to be a productive and valuable participant in the projects he describes, if not as decisive as he might have the reader believe.
The age of the amateur archaeologist is not over; it has simply changed. Individual, free-lance archaeology by anyone with a desire to prove or disprove the Biblical past has gone the way of white linen suits and high tea in the field. Archaeological volunteerism, on the other hand, is flourishing—even underwater. For those who catch Flinder’s passion for experiencing pesonally the thrill of undersea explorations in the “Bible Seas,” the opportunity still exists.b
The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement
(Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1988) 384 pp., 107 illustrations, $36.00