Books in Brief
People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines
Trude Dothan and Moshe Dothan
(New York: Macmillan; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York, Oxford, Singapore, Sydney: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992) 276 pp., 32 color plates, unnumbered black-and-white photos, drawings, maps, $25.00 ($32.50 Canada)
Giving Goliath His Due: New Archaeological Light on the Philistines
(Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 1992) 281 pp., unnumbered photos, maps, charts, $16.99, paper
For more than 3,000 years, the Philistines have suffered from bad press. Depicted as the archetypal villains in the Bible for their constant conflicts with the Israelites, they also endured media bashing by the Egyptians, who included them among the “Sea peoples,” or bands of foreign marauders, who had the temerity to attempt an invasion of Egypt in the early 12th century B.C. So pervasive was the evil reputation acquired by the Philistines that by the 17th century their very name could be used as an insult, and even today it is still used to denote one who is boorish, barbarous or uncultured.
Despite this bad rap, or perhaps because of it (since everyone loves a good villain), a great deal of scholarly energy has been expended over the years in trying to answer some basic questions about the Philistines: Who were they? Where did they come from? Why did they happen to settle in Canaan (a land to which their name—Palestine—was eventually given) at almost the same time that the Israelites were also establishing a foothold? How did they live? And could their material culture—the remnants of their daily lives—be distinguished archaeologically from those of their neighbors, the Israelites, Canaanites and other Sea Peoples? These two recent books, both intended for the archaeologically literate general reader, attempt to deal with these questions from somewhat different perspectives.
People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines is an eminently readable, generously illustrated, handsomely laid out and highly personal account by two distinguished Israeli archaeologists whose life work has been devoted to elucidating Philistine culture and the history of their settlement in Palestine. Their focus is to explore the evidence for the Philistines as a people in their own right, not just as enemies of the Israelites. As Moshe Dothan makes clear, “our excavations were not intended to ‘prove’ biblical contentions. Our intentions were … to study Philistine culture from another perspective entirely” (p. 159).
The book is divided into six sections and a brief epilogue. After an initial, jointly written section in which the scholarly and historical background to the problem is set forth, the two authors alternate in telling us of their early studies and archaeological fieldwork, culminating in the major excavations by Moshe Dothan at Ashdod and by Trude Dothan, together with Seymour Gitin, at Tel Miqne, believed to be the site of Philistine Ekron.a Both Ashdod and Ekron were among the five capital cities of the Philistines, and both sites have yielded remarkable finds that, together with results from other sites discussed in the book, have contributed greatly to our understanding of all aspects of Philistine culture.
Probably the Dothans’ most significant contribution to the problem of Philistine origins is the detailed elucidation of their strong Aegean roots. As early as the 18th century, attempts had been made on linguistic grounds to associate Caphtor, the Biblical homeland of the Philistines, with the island of Crete. The Dothans and other recent scholars, however, have finally placed the association between the Late Bronze Age Aegean and the Early Iron Age Philistines on firm archaeological footing. The Mycenaean affinities of Philistine pottery have long been recognized, but it is only through the excavations at Ashdod, Ekron and now also at Ashkelonb that the connection can be traced. Philistine pottery is now shown to derive from Late Bronze Age Mycenaean pottery via a transitional type of pottery known as Mycenaean IIIC1:b ware, characteristic of the early 12th century B.C. and found at Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron and at other sites in Cyprus, Syria and Palestine. This distribution seems to mark the path of Aegean raiders and/or refugees caught up in the general melee that 008we know as the “Sea Peoples era.” Mycenaean IIIC1:b pottery is still Aegean in style, but scientific analysis shows it to have been locally made at or near the places where it is found. This ware is closely related in form and decoration to the somewhat later pottery that we know as “Philistine.” As pointed out by the Dothans in their epilogue, it is still controversial whether the local makers of Mycenaean IIIC1:b pottery should already be considered Philistines, who gradually developed “Philistine” pottery out of their earlier style after settling in Canaan, or whether there were two “waves” of immigrants—the first an unnamed group of Sea Peoples who made Mycenaean IIIC1:b ware, the second the true Philistines. What does seem clear is that the Philistines’ ties to the Mycenaean culture of the Bronze Age Aegean were close, and this can now be demonstrated not only through pottery but also through a host of other aspects of material culture, from votive figurines to loomweights to building techniques, all amply illustrated and clearly discussed in this book.
If the Dothans’ book represents the memoirs of a couple of pros looking back over a lifetime of scholarship and excavation devoted to advancing knowledge of the Philistines on all fronts, Giving Goliath His Due by Neal Bierling reads like the expanded term paper of a diligent graduate student—well versed on the issues, but presenting them primarily as a digest of the secondary literature, rather than as the result of firsthand experience. Although he has participated in excavations (he is a staff member on the Tel Miqne-Ekron Expedition) and covers much the same ground as the Dothans, his main focus is the Biblical text. In contrast to the Dothans, who use the Bible as one strand among many to illuminate the life and times of a previously misunderstood people, Bierling uses archaeological findings to clarify the Bible.
Like the Dothans, Bierling accepts the Aegean background of the Philistines. He points out—as have the Dothans, Stager and other scholars—numerous similarities between the account of the Trojan war and its aftermath as narrated by Homer, the great Greek poet of the eighth century B.C., and many of the episodes concerning the Philistines as related in the Bible. Bierling, however, has a tendency to take both the Bible and Homer as literal reflections of the times they depict. He thus appears unaware that certain issues, such as the function of iron mentioned in several passages of the Iliad, are controversial and possibly anachronistic, reflecting more the practices of Homer’s own time than that of the Bronze Age heroes the poem celebrates.c They thus cannot be used as evidence for Aegean influence on Philistine metal technology, although such evidence may exist in other spheres. Bierling, in fact, pushes the Aegean-Philistine analogy so far that he falls into anachronism himself, as when he refers to the “city-state mentality” of the Philistines of Ekron “as found in their former homes in the Aegean” (p. 136), when in fact, the polis, or Greek city-state, is not characteristic of Bronze Age Greece but only developed several hundred years later.
While there is still much to be learned about the Philistines, both books contain a wealth of information showing conclusively that, far from being the uncouth boors of modern stereotype, the Philistines developed a rich, complex and cosmopolitan urban culture with links to Egypt, Cyprus and, above all, the Aegean. If you have to pick just one to read, however, the Dothans’ book, with its numerous high-quality illustrations, and especially its sense of firsthand discovery communicated by the authors, should be the one.
Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land: New Discoveries; Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo
Edited by Giovanni C. Bottini, Leah Di Segni and Eugenio Alliata
(Jerusalem: Franciscan Press 1990) 596 pp, $70.00
Among the archaeology departments in the Holy Land that of the Franciscans is unique. None of its excavators has died leaving a desk cluttered with unfinished business. Father Virgilio Corbo, whose 70th birthday this volume commemorates but who has since died, was no exception. Few scholars can boast of having excavated such a range of major sites—the Latin Shepherd’s field, the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, Herodion, Capernaum, Machaerus, Magdala, Mt. Nebo—in addition to reporting the discoveries made during the years of the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For each and every one, he published a meticulous final report.
The rarity of archaeologists as scrupulous as Father Corbo is admirably reflected in the unique character of the volume honoring him. Normally, the editors of such a volume ask friends and students of the honoree to write an article on any subject that interests them. For this book, the editors instead chose to feature excavations of monasteries and churches that have been going on with little publicity for a decade. The book, therefore, has a unifying theme, and virtually all the contributions are noteworthy for their originality.
The opening article alone makes the 010volume invaluable. Yizhar Hirschfield lists all the desert monasteries of the Byzantine period, those whose identity is known and those unknown, giving for each a summary of all related textual and archaeological evidence. His crisp text is illustrated by 97 photographs, maps and site plans. Subsequent articles continue the informative black-and-white illustrations.
Articles by Doron Chen and Yoram Tsafrir analyze the way Byzantine churches were planned and come to diametrically opposed conclusions. The former insists that classical construction theories were consistently followed, whereas the latter suggests that advanced planning was rather general and that most decisions were made on the spot by an experienced builder. Malka Ben-Pechat analyzes why 40 percent of the known baptisteries in the Holy Land are found in monasteries populated by adult Christians. Baptism sealed the conversion to Christianity of pagans whose visits to monasteries were often inspired by mere curiosity.
Six of the monastic sites listed by Hirschfeld are reported on in detail by other scholars. Yitzhak Magen (who also writes on Khirbet el-Kiliya) and Rina Talgam offer an exemplary 61-page report on the great monastery of Martyrius at Maale Adummim. Ehud Netzer discusses the three churches he excavated at Herodion and, with Rivka Birger, publishes the meager remains of the monastery on Nuseib Uweishira at the outlet of the Wadi Qilt. The 21 cells of the laura (a community of recluses who met for prayer on Sundays) of Kosiba in this wadi are examined by Joseph Patrich. And Haim Goldfus records his discovery of the previously unknown monastery at Khallat ed-Danabiya in the Wadi el-Makkuk, which can be described with only slight exaggeration as the Machu Picchu of Palestine.
Yitzhak Magen’s discussion of his excavation of the Church of the Theotokos on Mount Gerizim brings to light evidence suggesting that it was built over the original Samaritan Holy of Holies, which Robert J. Bull believed he had located on Tell er-Ras.
Although his report on the church at Khirbet el-Beiyudat is a model of clarity, Hananiah Hizmi fails to recognize that it must have been the parish church of Archelais. In a most intriguing article on the relationships between Jewish and Christian art, Gideon Foerster argues that certain motifs in mosaic synagogue floors—for example, the ram hanging by its horns in Beth Alpha—were derived from Christian iconography.
Three articles focus on the eastern side of the Jordan: J. B. Humbert discusses the eight churches he excavated at Khirbet es-Samra; Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata report on new work at Mount Nebo-Siyagha; and Ignacio Pena describes some unique features of Syrian monasticism. Despite a valiant effort by Frédéric Manns to come to grips with Joseph of Tiberias, this personality remains as enigmatic as ever. Stanislao Loffreda, by contrast, appears to have made a real breakthrough in his classification and decipherment of Byzantine inscribed lamps.d
Two names appear regularly in association with many of the articles: Leah Di Segni translates and analyzes the inscriptions found in seven of the sites, and Leen Ritmeyer’s brilliant reconstruction drawings have recreated many of the structures.
All the maps, plans and photographs are of unusually high quality. In sum, this is a volume that does honor to the art of archaeology while commemorating one of its great practitioners.
Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts
Georges Jean, trans. Jenny Oates
The Search for Ancient Egypt
Jean Vercoutter, trans. Ruth Sharman
Pompeii: The Day a City Died
Robert Etienne, trans. Caroline Palmer
The Search for Ancient Greece
Roland and Francoise Etienne, trans. Anthony Zielonka
(New York: Harry N. Abrams 1993, 1992, 1992, 1992) $12.95 each
All four of these books, written by French scholars and part of a continuing series called Discoveries, will interest most BAR readers, but those on writing and ancient Egypt will likely prove most stimulating. So far, 18 books have appeared in the series, each a paperback about 200 pages long, divided into two sections—one with colorful, informative descriptions and the other with essays on the topic of the book.
The first section of Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts is a brief, clearly written overview of the subject accompanied by excellent color illustrations. The second section, entitled “Documents,” is printed on coarser paper and consists of essays by various authors with related black-and-white illustrations on aspects of the alphabet, scripts, symbols, or writing and printing techniques.
Although writing had humble origins, having been developed for the practical purpose of keeping reliable account records, its origin was regarded as the “Invention of the Gods,” as the first two chapters show. Subsequent chapters describe the movement of writing from earlier cuneiform and hieroglyphic forms to the alphabet revolution, followed by the evolution of alphabetic forms into varied scripts and related improvements in writing technology and the making of books.
One chapter tells the fascinating story of the modern deciphering of ancient scripts. Here, as one would expect from a French author, more press is given to Champollion’s extraordinary decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics than to the decipherers of Mesopotamian cuneiform or Cretan Linear B.
The book does contain a few peculiarities. For example, the spelling “Kumran” appears instead of the more familiar “Qumran” in a caption for an illustration of a Dead Sea Scroll fragment. The author assigns the first alphabetic writing to Ugarit (should be Canaan) and claims it used 22 (rather than 30) signs. Also, the author states that the Greeks adapted certain letters of the Aramaic alphabet, rather than the Phoenician, to represent their vowels. The most blatant mistake is the statement that parchment was familiar to the Egyptians in antiquity (p. 42). Later in the book, the development of parchment as a substitute for high-priced papyrus is correctly dated to the second century B.C. (p. 80). Overall, however, there are remarkably few errors.
The Search for Ancient Egypt is a delightful read, providing an overview of the history of Egyptology set against the backdrop of European and Egyptian politics. Six chapters sketch the panorama of developments under the tempting titles: “The Disappearance of Pharaonic Egypt,” “Travelers in Ancient Times,” “Crusaders, Monks, and Sightseers on the Banks of the Nile,” “Treasure Hunters and Thieves,” “The Era of the Scholars” and “Archaeologists to the Rescue.” Even more rewarding than the beautifully illustrated, concisely written text is the inclusion of fascinating vignettes about the men whose passion for Egypt was often coupled with the search for personal fortune.
Strangely enough, there is no mention of Sir William Flinders Petrie,e one of the founders of modern Egyptology, in the first section of the book. However, the author redeems himself in the book’s “Documents” section. As one might expect, the coverage of French accomplishments in Egypt predominate, but Petrie is here noted as the Father of Modern Egyptology. To our surprise, an essay by Mark Twain appears in this section! More appropriately, this section recognizes the contributions of George Andrew Reisner, an illustrious American Egyptologist well-known to Israeli archaeology buffs for his work at Samaria (1909–1910).
Pompeii: The Day a City Died is as richly illustrated and interestingly written as the others. Even for those fortunate enough to have visited the site, the book will do more than just stimulate latent memories: It adds background information on the destruction of Pompeii, the archaeological recovery of the city and the interpretation of its remains in terms of first-century A.D. Roman lifestyles.
Finally, in The Search for Ancient Greece, excellent illustrations and documents illuminate the triumphs and tragedies of the quest to recover ancient Greece while identifying current problems of conservation and restoration. For a book addict like this reviewer, these four works make me ready to buy the rest of the Discoveries titles as soon as possible.
Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World
Arielle Kozloff, Betsy Bryan and Lawrence Berman
(Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1992) 500 pp. $75.00 (cloth), $39.95 (paper)
Artifacts illuminating the life and times of Amenhotep III (1386–1349 B.C.E.), Queen Tiye, other members of the nobility and even commoners of the reign of this monarch, who was called the “Dazzling Sun,” make up a current touring exhibit well worth anyone’s time. But the masterful catalogue that accompanies it is more than just an aid to the exhibit visitor, it is a necessary addition to the library of any scholar or layman interested in Egypt of the 14th–13th centuries B.C.E.
Extensive and thorough notes on provenance, prior publication, and physical description accompany illustrations of each artifact in the exhibit. Discussion and analysis in the text exceeds what exhibition catalogues normally include, with innovative and thorough discussions of the artifacts—some with novel interpretations and detailed analysis and discussion of the most recent discoveries in Egypt (such as a cache of statues discovered at Luxor Temple) relevant to Amenhotep III and his reign. There is also a scholarly, up-to-date analysis of the king’s family and its preceding generations, as well as a discussion of the international scene of the time. Thorough footnoting anchors the discussion throughout the text, and a fine bibliography at the end. An innovative analysis of the dimensions of the royal statuary of the reign, included as an appendix, is particularly useful because later pharaohs, especially the Ramessides (1293–1185 B.C.E.), usurped and appropriated for themselves many statues of Amenhotep III. Using this inexpensive method of securing additional statues, Ramesses II (1279–1212 B.C.E.) even went so far as to recut the faces and torsos to pass them off as his own work and to mask their original identity further, a matter ably covered in a chapter on the royal statuary. Recutting, however, could not change the basic proportions and finish of a royal statue, styles that varied from reign to reign.
Separate chapters assess the king’s ambitious building program, the queen’s prominence and her monuments and statuary, images of deities, ritual implements, and smaller objects including glass, glaze work, pottery, wood and jewelry included in the exhibit. This exhibit and its catalogue present objects from many museums in the Americas, Europe and Egypt, with numerous artifacts from private collections, some rarely exhibited, or discussed previously.
Egypt’s Dazzling Sun is an outstanding book that honors the exhibit it describes.
Studies in the Archaeology and History of Ancient Israel In Honour of Moshe Dothan
ed. Michael Heltzer, Arthur Segal and Daniel Kaufman
(Haifa: Haifa Univ. Press, 1993) 249 pp. in English, French, Italian and German, 278 pp. in Hebrew.
Honoring distinguished archaeologist and teacher Moshe Dothan on his 70th birthday, this international collection of the work of 34 scholars includes ten articles in English and English abstracts of the articles in other languages. Its eclectic contents range from a discussion of the classification of pottery scoops (frequently misidentified as cups or bowls) that were used to ladle grain or other dry food, to an example of a Jewish lamp decorated with the groundplan of a military camp. In fitting tribute to one of Dothan’s most important excavations, several articles deal with the coastal site of Akko, including an underwater survey of the ancient harbor and an analysis of imported Greek pottery at Tel Akko.
A History of Ancient Egypt
Nicolas Grimal, tr. Ian Shaw
(Oxford: Blackwell. 1992) 512 pp., $34.95.
The vast amount of information on Egypt is compressed in this volume into a detailed reign-by-reign political and economic history. Beginning with the emergence of Egyptian culture around the middle of the fourth millennium B.C., it concludes with the loss of Egyptian autonomy under Alexander the Great (c. 321 B.C.). An excellent reference, with an extensive bibliography, glossary, chronology of dynasties, maps, diagrams and photographs, the book includes abundant personal detail about the Egyptian rulers found in original documentary sources such as funerary autobiographies and official accounts.
Mari and the Early Israelite Experience
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992) 169 pp., $21.95.
Published in hardback in 1989, the 1984 Schweich Lectures for the British Academy on Mari, the royal Babylonian city on the banks of the Middle Euphrates river, are now available in this paperback edition. The 25,000 cuneiform tablets found at Mari shed light on the origins of the early Hebrews.
People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines