Review: A History of the Kingdom of Israel by Edward Lipinski

Edward Lipinski. A History of the Kingdom of Israel. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 275. Leuven: Peeters, 2018. xii + 200 pp..

Edward Lipinski is most well known as a philologist, especially for his work with Old Aramaic and Phoenician onomastics and inscriptions. In A History of the Kingdom of Israel, he leverages that background to provide a brief account of ancient Israelite history. First, I will provide a summary of Lipinksi’s historical re-construction of ancient Israel. Subsequently, I will offer critical reflections on his construction of ancient Israelite history.

Though Lipinski doesn’t include methodological discussion proper, he does put forth a few key principles in the foreword (XI-XII). First, he notes that, though biblical texts can be “examined as historical sources for the first millennium B.C.,” they should be studied along with “Egyptian Akkadian, Aramaic, Phoenician, Moabite, Old Arabian, Greek sources from those times” (XI). Second, concerning the proto-history of ancient Israel, he suggests that a few elements are important: Egyptian and Akkadian sources from the 2nd millennium BCE, archaeology, and “ethnographic studies of tribal regroupings and integrations” (XI). Third, he provides a short summary of his arguments.

In Chapter One, Lipinski focuses on the proto-history of ancient Israel. He correctly notes that narratives in the Pentateuch are unhelpful for sketching a proto-history of “biblical” Israel. Even so, he suggests that the “Old Hebrew literature, preserved in the Bible” retains “some legal traditions, tribal names, the core of certain folk tales or poems [that] may date from those times” (1). As such, he focuses on tribal units in Israel during the 2nd millennium BCE. He supports this notion methodologically by  drawing an analogy with a single ethnographic study of Arabs in Moab from 1908. For Lipinski, this provides a solid foundation for thinking of 2nd millennium BCE tribal units as tribes who “had to renounce his former appellation and tribal units” and marry into a new tribal unit for membership (2). This, apparently, provides the “institutional background of name changing” in texts like Genesis (2).

Next, drawing especially from the Egyptian Execration Texts, Lipinski suggests that various tribal references in the Hebrew Bible are referenced in the early 2nd millennium: “The great house of Joseph”; Simeon, Jacob-El, Reuben, Abram (Hatt), Mount Yahwe-El, Shasu, Israel, and the ‘Apiru. For each proto-historical tribe, he suggests a possible geographic location in the Levant. Next, he provides brief consideration of the deportation and exodus of the Shasu people. Moreover, he suggests that Mount Nebo and Se’ir was originally the location for the Yahwistic cult of El. These various “tribes,” he guesses, coalesced into the Kingdom of Israel in the 1st millennium BCE.

In Chapter Two, Lipinski attempts to outline how the nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists coalesced into urban and agricultural parts of the population, even though he notes that this “cannot be observed on sound archaeological evidence” (33). Drawing from various Biblical texts, El-Amarna correspondence, the Song of Deborah, Joshua, and other texts, Lipinski attempts to identify the location for each tribe as referred to in the Song of Deborah. Strangely, though he claims to recognize that the Bible is not a history book, he nonetheless seems to assume that the Hebrew Bible retains historically accurate and precise oral traditions. He does the same with the Maakathite and Geshurites. As for his history of the “Period of the Judges,” he notes that no historical statements can be made about the “judges” of Israel. Even so, he claims that in the 10th century “Israelites became aware that the time had come to replace the rule of the “judges” and of army chiefs by a stable authority, capable of opposing the pressure of the Philistines” (43). He garners evidence from 1 Sam 8:4-5 and an ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa, which he reads as “The men and the chiefs will institute the kingship” (46). He also considers 2 Sam 11:2-12, 23 as helpful for considering David’s capture of Jerusalem “if we relay on the historical background hidden behind the account” (48), a notion he doesn’t explain.

Following this, he lays out the reigns of Saul/Ishbaal, David and Solomon, Jeroboam I, and a few subsequent kings. His primary evidence for this comes from Biblical texts, including Kings, LXX, Samuel, and Chronicles. Occasionally, he references an archaeological site to help him with an aspect of his argument.

In Chapter Three, Lipinski shifts to the Omride dynasty. First, discussing the reign of Omri, he offers various possibilities considering the ethnic origins of Omri, drawing from Hurrian, Old Arabian, and Egyptian onomastics and toponyms. He also discusses the Mesha Stele, from which he emphasizes the claim that Omri was a “vigorous general” who had occupied a large part of the Transjordan, as well as regions at the border of Aram-Damascus. He also attempts to provide clarity concerning chronology with regard to the Mesha Stele, references to the House of Omri in Neo-Assyrian documents, the Hebrew Bible, and the Tel Dan inscription. Next, drawing from “The archival document used by the Deuteronomistic redactor” that was “damaged on the right side,” Lipinski proposes twelve districts in Omri’s reign (72). Subsequently, he describes how the Omride dynasty experienced good economic relations with Phoenicia. Finally, through the next 28 pages, he focuses on the history surrounding each king subsequent to Omri.

Chapter Four deals with the downfall of Israel and the Assyrian conquest. Like other discussions, he focuses more extensively on corroborating the Biblical narrative with other Near Eastern inscriptions, such as those by Tiglath-pileser III. He divides his discussion into events leading up to the siege of Samaria, the siege itself, the issue of deportees themselves, and deportees to Samaria. Echoing Finkelstein and Broshi, Lipinski perpetuates the idea of “mass emigration of Israelites to Jerusalem and Judah after 722 B.C.” (126). Because the volume is primarily focused on Israel, he only includes two short paragraphs about the steady decline of Jerusalem and its eventual destruction in 587 BCE.

Chapter Five attempts to outline the religion of Israel. Though recognizing the centrality of El in Israelite religion, he primarily focuses on religious centers, including Shechem, Bethel, and Shiloh. Moreover, dealing with issues of the Asherah, he argues the term primarily designates a holy site marked by the presence of a sacred grove, the term only beginning to denote a “heathenish sacred tree” in the Persian period. Likewise, he notes that the former prophets and priestly teachings were active, though he primarily draws from Biblical narrative. Finally, he outlines various foreign cults which may have been present in 7th century Samaria, drawing primarily from the Aramaic variant translations found in the marginal notes of the Codex Reuchlinianus of the prophets.

Chapter Six briefly reviews the history of Samaria under Achaemenid rule. It primarily draws from the Wadi Daliyeh Samaria Papyri. He offers much philological analysis, focusing especially on toponyms and onomastics. With this information, he proposes a chronology for the governors of Samaria during Achaemenid rule.

Some of Lipinksi’s philological analyses are notable. For example, he has a helpful philological analysis of the Wadi Daliyeh Samaria Papyri, interacting extensively with D.M. Gropp’s Wadi Daliyeh II. The Samaria Papyri from Wadi Daliyeh (2001). Likewise, throughout the volume, he offers intriguing philological analyses of various onomastic data and inscriptions.

Such analyses, though, are far outweighed by poor methodology and historical construction. For this, four trends throughout the volume will be addressed: onomastics, toponyms, and history; the Hebrew Bible as a historical source; historical sources (primary and secondary); and assertions.

First, Lipinski’s use of onomastics and toponyms for reconstructing history is a consistent problem. To demonstrate this, a few examples are cited below:

–          In order to reconstruct the “Proto-history” of ancient Israel, Lipinski argues that the house of Joseph “is attested already in the early second millennium B.C. by the Execration Texts” (2). He notes the 15th century BCE Egyptian writing Y-š3-p-i-3-r. He then notes that this writing may point to Yasuf in the hill country as the core of a tribal area, 20 km south of Samaria. He provides similar discussion for Simeon, Jacob-El, Reuben, Abram, and Mount Yahwe-El. In other words, he considers 2nd millennium toponyms, toponyms in the Biblical narrative, and links them linguistically in order to argue that the tribes of “Israel” existed as distinct entities as early as the 14th century BCE. This argument is undoubtedly problematic because Lipinski draws from source material which was written nearly a millennium prior. As such, claims for tribal continuity are extremely conjectural.

–          In terms of history, he claims that in the 10th century, the Israelites “became aware that the time had come to replace the rule of the “judges” and of army chiefs by a stable authority, capable of opposing the pressure of the Philistines (43). He rightly notes that the texts in 1 Sam 9-11 are unhelpful for history writing. Instead, he turns to a single ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa which “seems to indicate that elders representing local communities were chosen in various centres to express their will and their choice at a general assembly of the Israelite tribes… The story of Saul’s choice at Gilgal… seems to correspond best to such a reconstruction of events” (43). Lipinski translates: “the gathering of men and chiefs will bring forth a king” or “will institute kinghood.” Two comments are in order. First, though this is a possible reading, more discussion concerning this ostracon must be done before affirmatively stating that this is the earliest demonstrating a shift to kingship among the Israelite population. Second, Lipinski’s characterization of Israelites acting in response to Philistine pressure is problematic. Though Philistines likely were a threat to a small degree, it is too much to imply that they are the reason for the emergence of Israelite kingship. In fact, his own statement betrays a historical understanding which is fundamentally based in the biblical text. Taking these points together, Lipinski’s method of linking an under-discussed inscription with the assumption of Philistia as the cause for Israelite kingship results in historical reconstruction which is stands upon an uneven, unstable, and weak foundation.

–          In Chapter Three, Lipinski attempts to define the possible origins of Omri on the basis of his name. On the basis of Neo-Assyrian writing, he raises the possibility that Omri is derived from the Hurrian word hamuri. This is plausible; however, he takes his discussion too far into the realm of conjecture. On the basis of the Hurrian origins of Omri’s name and the lack of a patronymic, Lipinski suggests that Omri “did not belong to a well-known clan… One wonders therefore whether Omri was not a native of Rehob” (67). Essentially, Lipinski gathers onomastic evidence alone in order to conjecture on Omri’s origins. His use of onomastics as a means of identifying ethnic origins with such little evidence is methodologically unsound, resulting in not historical plausibility but conjecture.

Second, Lipinski’s use of the Hebrew Bible as a historical source is questionable. In his discussion about Omri and Ahab, he draws from 1 Kings 4:8-19 as a source for the division of Israel during the reign of the Omrides. He briefly comments that mention of Solomon’s two daughters is from another source. Subsequently, he notes that the “archival document used by the Deuteronomistic redactor in I King 4 was damaged on its right side, as shown by the missing names of several prefects, whose sole patronymics were preserved” (72). His use of 1 Kings 4 as an archival document used by the Deuteronomistic redactor is problematic on multiple fronts. First, it is plausible that 1 Kings 4 is derived from an archival document; however, in its current status, it is not an archival document but part of a larger narrative text, nor do we possess the archival document from which 1 Kings 4 draws. As such, Lipinski too quickly and uncritically asserts that 1 Kings 4:8-19 is, in fact, derived from an archival document. Without any evidence, the claims itself is questionable. Second, even if we accept the premise that 1 Kings 4:8-19 was copied from an archival document, his claims that the “archival document… was damaged on its right side” (72) is entirely conjectural. That is to say, he doesn’t take into consideration possible explanations via literary analysis, but instead provides mere conjecture. Third, he notes that “the mention of two daughters of Solomon in I Kings 4, 11 and 15 must come from another source” (72); however, Lipinski provides no further discussion about what this “other source” may have been or how this “other source” became intertwined within the archival document copied into 1 Kings 4:8-19. Fourth, and in light of all the previous points, his use of the Hebrew Bible is problematic inasmuch as it is based on an uncritical reading of the text, or at least unsubstantiated interpretations of the text, providing no thorough argumentation about the text itself or attempts to describe the construction of the text itself. Instead, Lipinski just offers conjecture as a form of evidence in order to use 1 Kings 4:8-19 as a historical source reflecting the reign of the Omrides.

In brief, other examples of this include, though are not limited to, use of Gen 31:13 and 35:7 to assert that the “cult of El at Bethel obviously goes back to the Bronze Age and to Y-h-w3-3 of the Shasu pastoralists” (135), poor substantiation for textual emendation of Ex. 34 to reflect the history of Israelite religion (149), and Deut 32:49-50a (which Lipinski appears to date to the 12th century BCE) as evidence of Mount Nebo as a Yahwistic sanctuary in the 9th century BCE.

Third, some choices in Lipinski’s source material is questionable, both primary and secondary. In terms of primary material, Lipinski describes evidence for foreign cults in 7th century Samaria. He draws from the Deuteronomistic account in 2 Kings 17:24-33; however, in order to argue to evidence of foreign cults in Samaria during the 7th century BCE, he draws from the “variant Aramaic translations preserved in the marginal notes of the Codex Reuchlinianus of the prophets” (150). For example, concerning the line “The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth,” he suggests that the phrase skwt bnwt should translate as ywnt’ w’prhwh’, “the dove and her brood,” in agreement with the marginal note of the Codex Reuchlinianus (150). In his own words, it is “undoubtedly a reference to the anti-Samaritan account about the dove worshipped by Samaritans,” evidenced in the Talmud of Jerusalem, Lucian of Samosata, and Diodorus Siculus. Of these source, Diodorus Siculus is a 1st century BCE authors. Lucian of Samosata lived as early as the 2nd century CE. The Jerusalem Talmud is later. What this indicates, then, is that the evidence used to justify Lipinski’s preference for the marginal notes of Codex Reuchlinianus is far too late to support his argument of religion in Samaria during the 7th century BCE. That is to say, while the line of evidence brought forth by Lipinski may be helpful for considering religion in the region between the 1st century BCE and the 4th century CE, it is methodological problematic to apply those results to the historical situation of the 7th century BCE.

In terms of secondary material, I was surprised by the lack of references to pertinent studies concerning many subjects with which Lipinski deals. A few examples demonstrate this point well. First, when discussing the Asherah in ancient Israel, Lipinski does not engage with important works like Nadav Naaman and Nurit Lissovsky, “Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, Sacred Tress and the Asherah” (2008) and Mark Smith, The Early History of God, 2nd ed. (2002). Second, in his discussion of religion in Samaria during the 8th and 7th century, he fails to recognize the Neo-Assyrian presence in Samaria after 734 BCE, as shown by Shawn Zelig Aster and Avraham Faust, “Administrative Texts, Royal Inscriptions, and Neo-Assyrian Administration in the Southern Levant” (2015). This study is important because it is documented evidence of a foreign entity with distinct religious practices from Israel and Judah. As such, it is particularly important for the discussion of religion in 7th century Samaria. Third, as far as I could see, there was little to no discussion about the economy of the region, especially the importance of olive oil production in Israel during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE, as described in Avraham Faust, “The Interests of the Assyrian Empire in the West” (2011), 66-68. Fourth, he never refers to or engages with the more comprehensive history by Israel Finkelstein, The Forgotten Kingdom (2013). Fifth, concerning the issue of “mass emigration” of Israel (126) in the 8th century BCE, he does not mention the response to M. Broshi and Finkelstein by Nadav Na’aman, “The Growth and Development of Judah and Jerusalem in the Eight Century BCE: A Rejoinder” (2009). Though just a small sample, there is a large amount of scholarship with which Lipinski does not engage.

Fourth, a large portion of Lipinski’s rhetoric regularly makes unsubstantiated assertions. Consider the following examples: regarding Ziklag, “This may be linked to the occupation by Philistines and David’s presence in its “fortress”… which could have served later as basis for the seizure of Jerusalem” (51); “One could assume therefore that some shasu people of the passage quoted above… were deported also from this area. If this hypothesis is correct…” (29); “The original text of v. 27b-29 was probably read as follows,” without offering any substantiation; “This record” in III Kings 12:24a of the LXX “does not look like fictitious information with invented figures and it should be based on an authentic source” (55), without any evidence or discussion as to his reasoning; various names of Judean Israelites “seem to imply a dangerous situation, even the deportation, but the fact that these men were “visitors” at Assur apparently shows a certain liberty of action and movement,” a poor use of onomastic data (121); concerning Abimelek being made king, “This happened in the period of the “judges”, probably in the 11th century B.C., after Abimelek has been supplied with silver from the “House of the Lord of the Covenant” (Judg. 9, 4-6). This was very likely the sanctuary of God heading the tribal federation of Israel” (130), offering no substantiation and employing biblical chronology for developing his history; concerning Hos. 4:13 and without any evidence, “This reference to the terebinth and the mountain-tops implies an allusion to Mount Ebal and to Mount Gerizim” (131); and the House of Yahweh “at Shechem, recorded in Josh. 24, 26, was presumably destroyed by Josiah, king of Judah” (131). All these quotations exemplify how Lipinski regularly makes unsubstantiated assertions in order to support his overall arguments.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend Edward Lipinski’s A History of the Kingdom of Israel. Though there is occasionally an interesting comment or discussion, it is far outweighed by poor methodology and unsubstantiated claims.


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