Books in Brief
The Judean Desert Monasteries in the Byzantine Period
(New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1992) 305 pp., $35.00
Byzantine Christian civilization staked out its claim to the Judean desert in the fourth through seventh centuries C.E. At the height of this monastic movement, in the late fifth and early sixth centuries C.E., about 3,000 ascetics lived in the desert in at least 55 identified monasteries, and thousands of pilgrims and travelers came to seek the monks’ advice and to venerate places where great ascetics lay buried. The wilderness itself was crisscrossed with footpaths, which Yizhar Hirschfeld has mapped in what is clearly the finest book yet written on Judean desert asceticism. He has made available to the lay person, as well as to professional archaeologists and historians, most of the archaeological and historical materials needed to understand Judean monasticism. He has done it in one of the most readable, intelligent and beautifully illustrated books I have seen.
The focus is on the archaeological remains of the monasteries, but we also learn about the daily lives and simple routines of the monks who lived there. To aid the readers, the volume includes a “Who’s Who of Judean Desert Monasticism.” The maps and charts are numerous and exceedingly helpful. For example, in discussions of individual types of structures, comparative charts and drawings allow the reader instantly to see the larger picture. The archaeological reconstruction drawings are breathtaking. The book includes chapters on typologies of the monastic structures and of their churches, construction techniques, and analysis of sacred and secular architectural components. Additional chapters cover the daily life of a monk, sources of income, hermits and their practices and the Byzantine holy sites of the Judean desert.
What emerges from this wealth of data, so intelligently arranged and interpreted, is the whole story of the historical and material rise and decline of Byzantine monastic life in the Judean desert. According to Hirschfeld, Judean monasticism grew out of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land, especially to Jerusalem. Thus, Judean monasticism was international in composition. Yet it created settled Christian Byzantine life in the desert, raised the living standard of lower- and middle-class monks who joined the monasteries and created new centers of charity and hospitality for travelers and visitors.
I wish Hirschfeld’s “list of illustrations” had included the page numbers where the illustrations appear. I also wish he had made more extensive use of Joe Zias’s research on human skeletal remains near the Judean monasteries. But these are small wishes indeed compared to what this book has fulfilled. It is simply and clearly a model and standard for how archaeological data can be integrated with literary sources and presented for publication. Hirschfeld and his book deserve highest praise and should be read by everyone interested in the Byzantine period in Israel and its peoples.
A Prophet from Amongst You—The Life of Yigael Yadin: Soldier, Scholar, and Mythmaker of Modern Israel
Neil A. Silberman
(Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1993) 423 pp., $29.95
This is the first biography of the illustrious professor Yigael Yadin. Writing about Yadin is not easy. He was a multidimensional personality with three chief facets: military, political and, above all, scholarly. In 1950 he became chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Then he entered the scholarly world, mainly archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Finally, in the political arena, he was the founder and leader of Dash—“the Democratic Party for change”—and deputy to Prime Minister Menachem Begin from 1977 to 1981.
To write his pioneering book, Neil Silberman combed archives in Israel and interviewed people who had known Yadin in the many fields in which he had been active. All in all, the picture achieved is detailed and trustworthy, portraying Yadin against the background of the stormy period in Palestine/Israel from the mid-1930s to the early 1980s. The book’s unusual title is based on a quotation from the Temple 008Scroll, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, published by Yadin in Hebrew (later in English) in a magisterial edition in 1977: “I will raise up for you a prophet … from amongst you, from your brethren—him you shall heed. … ”
Silberman has tackled all three areas of Yadin’s achievements—the military, the scholarly and the political—and he has accomplished his task with skill and wisdom. Although Yadin’s dramatic, even romantic, character easily lends itself to a biography, Silberman not only shows his subject’s charisma and the drama of Yadin’s life, he also reveals his subject’s flaws.
Silberman does not, however, take a sufficiently wide perspective to reflect on Yadin’s unique combination of activities. Yadin, in Israel and most likely elsewhere, is not rivaled by others in this century. A comparison with Lawrence of Arabia—the well-known soldier and archaeologist, who was also involved in politics on the eve of and during the First World War—leads us to favor Yadin, whose standards in all these realms were definitely higher. To find parallels to Yadin, one may have to reach into the distant past, to Roman times and the late Second Temple period.
To grasp the unique phenomenon of Yadin, we must envisage him against the background of the young state of Israel, a tiny country with relatively few people. Only under such circumstances—where a state is in status nascendi, that is, lacking a previous hierarchical apparatus, and where everyone knew everyone else—could a charismatic personality like Yadin rise so quickly and at so young an age and then flourish. Appointed by David Ben Gurion as chief of staff in 1950, Yadin found himself a celebrity, with doors open to him in Israel and outside. This recognition would later help him in the scientific archaeological work he was to undertake, as did his upbringing as the son of professor Elazar Sukenik, the first instructor of archaeology at Hebrew University.
Silberman draws attention to the British military expert B. Liddel Hart, for whom Yadin felt great admiration and respect. It was Liddel Hart who as early as 1929 invented the military concept of the “indirect approach,” which tries to achieve military goals by indirect means rather than by open field operations or frontal attacks. Yadin carefully studied Hart’s works and attempted to apply these tactics in the War of Liberation in 1947, when he was chief of operations of the pre-state army, the Haganah, and later in his effort to understand ancient Israelite warfare.
In the field of archaeology, Yadin brought from his military experience a broad strategic and tactical approach, as well as some innovative logistics for tasks at excavations. One example, not mentioned by Silberman, was his use of a mine detector in the search for metals in the Dead Sea caves. Yadin’s first comprehensive excavation was at Hazor in northern Israel from 1955 to 1958 and again in 1968. As Silberman points out, Hazor was a training ground for a generation of younger Israeli archaeologists. Even if this dig was not Yadin’s most dramatic, it remained the most significant for archaeology from a methodological view, an opinion also held by Yadin himself. Although Yadin stressed the Israelite conquest of the city—maintaining that Joshua was responsible for the 13th-century B.C.E. destruction of Hazor—it could well be argued that the levels from later periods, during the Israelite Monarchy, especially during the reigns of Kings Solomon and Ahab, produced more significant results.
According to the Bible, Solomon fortified three cities besides Jerusalem: Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. At Hazor, Yadin exposed the Solomonic city gate. Putting utter trust in the Biblical text, Yadin then went to Megiddo and excavated there an identical gate fortification. But his success was complete only after he turned to Gezer, already excavated at the beginning of the 20th century. To the astonishment of the scientific world, he “discovered” a similar city gate not by actual digging, but within the early excavation reports from 1912, after the plans of that gate had been “buried” there over 50 years. Silberman fails to report this episode, dispatched by Reuters news service all over the world. Also omitted from the book are the prestigious Schweich Lectures (on Bible and ancient Near Eastern studies) at the British Academy in 1970, when Yadin presented his finds from Hazor.
Yadin’s most dramatic and illustrious archaeological undertakings, which captivated the world, were the excavations at Masada and in the “Cave of Letters” near the Dead Sea. Silberman handles this story well and in great detail, justly stressing the emotional and national dimensions of those excavations. As part of a large-scale search for more Dead Sea Scrolls in 1960, Yadin was left with the least promising cave to explore, after his three colleagues had made their choices. But to everyone’s amazement, it was one of his caves that yielded the greatest treasure—the Bar-Kokhba archive, letters written or dictated by the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (132–135 C.E.). This discovery cannot be considered sheer luck as some have assumed; it resulted from a logical and methodical search for material, and somebody else most likely would have missed this treasure. Everyone who participated at the official announcement of this find, in the home of Israel’s president, will forever remember the breathtaking drama when Yadin rose and addressed President Izhak Ben-Zvi: “Your Excellency, I am honored to be able to tell you that we have discovered 15 dispatches written or dictated by the last president of Israel 1,800 years ago.”
The plateau of Masada by the Dead Sea had attracted the youth of Israel since the 1930s, but no one before Yadin dared struggle with the obstacles and undertake a full-fledged excavation. Silberman has a fine chapter on Masada, displaying the historical backdrop as well as a detailed account of the difficult and complex archaeological operation. Here Yadin had the innovative idea of using only volunteer labor from Israel and abroad.a This dig, more than any other, earned him international fame.
Such fame also came to him from another endeavor—his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls occupied Yadin throughout his life, from his dissertation in the early 1950s until his work in the 1970s and 1980s on the most important item, the 010so-called Temple Scroll, on which he published both scholarly and popular treatments.b For this facet, one has to read Silberman’s entire book, because Yadin dealt with the scrolls in various periods of his life, even while digging. It will, perhaps, be this research by which his name will endure forever.
Silberman’s last few chapters, covering the late 1960s through early 1980s, are written in a sad and pessimistic mood. In the 1960s and 1970s (during the 1967 Six-Day-War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War), Yadin played only a marginal role in military affairs, and also took the unfortunate step of entering politics. He founded a political party called Dash in 1976 and had great hopes for it after it surprisingly won 15 Knesset seats in the general elections. By joining the coalition formed by the right-wing Likud government, Yadin eventually became Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s deputy. As it turned out, however, Yadin was not a “political animal,” and the party steadily dwindled. The pity is that, with his failure at politics, Yadin’s national myth evaporated into thin air. Silberman dwells on the various causes for this failure and furnishes several insights as to what brought about this situation.
After leaving the government in 1981, until his untimely death in 1984, Yadin made a comeback. He returned to teach at the Hebrew University, and in 1983–1984 he was chosen co-chairman of a study group on archaeology and history of the Biblical period at Hebrew University’s Institute of Advanced Studies. That final year was a stimulating one for Yadin, who favored an interdisciplinary approach to research, with incursions into realms far afield from archaeology. The participants in the group—who came not only from Israel but from Europe and America—experienced Yadin’s inventive and brilliant proposals, as well as his sweeping imagination.
Silberman has written a fascinating and learned biography about a unique personality of unusual charm, a personality rooted in the late British mandate and especially in the early years of the state of Israel.
The Judean Desert Monasteries in the Byzantine Period
(New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1992) 305 pp., $35.00