“Goliath’s Legacy: Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times” by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò

GoliathŁukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò. Goliath’s Legacy: Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times. Contributions to the Study of Ancient World Cultures 83. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016, pp. 321, $106 (Amazon).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Harrassowitz Verlag for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò (University of Warsaw) seeks to answer a simple question in Goliath’s Legacy: “How did they [mortal enemies] influence the Hebrews and why was this ominous role ascribed to the Philistines in the biblical vision of Israel’s past?” (1). He operates on assumption that the Sea Peoples were the Philistines who originated from the Mycenaean cultural area and came from the Aegean-Anatolian lands. From this, Spanò sets out to reconstruct how biblical literature reflects the historical foundations of ancient Israel, Judah, and the Hebrew people.

Chapter I briefly explores the dynamics of acculturation and mutual relations in light of the Sea People’s arrival to the Eastern Mediterranean, of which he provides examples through analogies of Normans in Sicily and Scandinavians in Ruthenia and more examples through his analyses in the book. Chapter II reconstructs the autonomous nature and intensive acculturation of the Philistines, marks their archaeological influence from Tel Dan to Tell Ez-Zuweyid, and highlights features of Philistine social structure from ca. 1150 – 950, especially how they are an amalgamate of both Philistines and Canaanites. Chapter III examines evidence for historic etymologies and foundations of various peoples groups within the bible, highlighting the close-relationship between the Philistines and Canaanites and proposing many hypotheses as to the origin of biblical people groups. This sets the stage to explore how Philistine culture influenced biblical representations of history. Chapter IV, the bulk of Goliath’s Legacy, examines how Saul of David likely emerged historically as the political organisms of Judah and Benjamin due to their affiliations with Philisto-Canaanite politics. Chapter V explores several areas in which Philistine influence upon Hebrew culture is evident, suggesting the cultural exchange focuses on Judahite tradition and suggesting an earlier  textual composition date than when the exchange resulted in negative reactions. Finally, after summarizing the history from the whole book, Spanò applies his analyses to Christoph Ulf’s theoretical model of intercultural exchange to make his conclusions more digestible.

In short, Spanò’s work is excellent. For the sake of North American scholars, we are fortunate his work was translated into English because few people actually know Polish. Incorporating a broad range of archaeological, etymological, epigraph, and biblical evidence, he effectively highlights how the Hebrew Bible reflects a very complicated relationship between the Philistines and Hebrews; yet, he organizes all the information in an understandable way, explaining the movements of ideas, implications for reconstructing ancient Israel in the Iron Age, and reconsidering the essence of Josiah’s reform.

In particular, his use of the Hebrew Bible is splendid. Too often scholars dismiss certain passages on the grounds that they are late based on various literary theories. Although these literary theories are valuable, Spanò, by recognizing the historical value of the Hebrew Bible with a grain of salt, is able to find important connections often missed by scholars. As he puts it, “although the biblical text referring to the mythical past of Israel cannot be treated as “simple” sources to reconstruct the past, they are useful for the certain literary tradition that may have developed from the experience of the past” (56).

Additionally, Spanò opened me up to the world of Giovanni Garbini. Just breaking my way into European scholarship, not to mentioned Italian scholarship, I hadn’t heard of this name prior to Goliath’s Legacy. It makes me even more excited to review Finding Myth and History in the Bible, a volume in honor of Giovanni Garbini.  What I know for sure is that I now will be learning Italian in addition to other research languages throughout my M.A./Ph.D. years (German and French, of course). Perhaps I’ll even make my way to Poland (the book was translated form Polish).

There was one place, though, where I took issue with Spanò’s interpretation. In discussing the Philistine influence on the Bible and culture of the Hebrews with regard to divination, he notes that “out of these 16 usages of the term [teraphim] as many as eight indicate false prophets” (204). While the idea of a false prophet surely existed in ancient Israel, he should be carefully when assuming the idea of false prophets. For example, the Necromancer of En-Dor is one example of false prophet. Yet, as Esther J. Hamori highlights (2015), the Necromancer actually receives no critiques, unlike Saul. So, prior to assuming the text considers the Necromancer a false prophet, he should have investigated the texts more thoroughly. Additionally, as Hamori argues, we must move past a structuralist understanding of divination. In some respects, by resorting to a “false prophets” paradigm, Spanò does so. Perhaps by utilizing a post-structuralist paradigm and engaging with the nuances of divination in the Hebrew Bible, he could have reached better supported conclusions or even a more detailed reconstruction of divination as influenced by Philistines.

Aside from this minor point, I highly recommend Spanò’s work. It is especially valuable for understanding how the Philistines influenced the growth of ancient Israel through ideas transferred from the Aegean and through Anatolia (hence, Emar). Additionally, the reconstruction of Philistine influences on ancient Israel’s memory and culture is absolutely invaluable to any scholar or students engaging with the Hebrew Bible. Please read Spanò’s work and enjoy it. For myself, it was one of those view books that I finished and said to myself, “Man… I really want to read that book again ” (My Brain, 9:54 AM PST, 5/11/2016).



“The God Enki in Sumerian Royal Ideology and Mythology” by Peeter Espak

EnkiPeter Espak. The God Enki in Sumerian Royal Ideology and Mythology. Contributions to the Study of Ancient World Culture 87. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015, pp. xviii + 235, $71.00 (paperback).

Originating from his 2010 doctoral dissertation (University of Tartu, Faculty of Theology; Tartu University Press, 2010), Peeter Espak’s book, now updated and adjusted, opens up his nuanced and meticulous analysis of Enki’s role in Sumerian ideology and mythology to more readers and researchers. To quote his stated goal and purpose of study, “the main objective is to understand how the god Enki was described by ancient priests and scribes, and how that description and mythology evolved during the different periods of Sumero-Akkian history” (3). Although his updated edition was not able to take more recent studies into account, such as Wilfred G. Lambert’s Babylonian Creation Myths (Eisenbrauns, 2013), Jan Lisman’s Cosmogony, Theogony and Anthropogeny in Sumerian Texts (Ugarit-Verlag, 2013), and Karin Sonik’s “Gender Matters in Enuma eliš” (In the Wake of Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Gorgias Press, 2009) , his work is nonetheless extremely valuable for the study of ancient Mesopotamian civilization and mythology.

The book may be divided into three parts. Chapters 1-7 examines the role of Enki from the Early Dynastic period (c. 2900-2350 BCE) up to the first dynasty of Babylon (c. 16th century BCE). For each period, Espak breaks it into further division by the specifying rulers within the period. For each period and ruler, he offers a snapshot of the role of Enki. Chapter 8 examines the role of Enki in the mythology of creation and draws several conclusions regarding several elements of Enki’s role within creation mythology with regard to things like Enki as the creator of man, originator of human mortality, and the nature of Abzu. Chapter 9 discusses Enki’s role in archaic Sumerian religion, emphasizing how Enki and Enlil should not be considered in opposition to each other.

One of the major trajectories in his work is the role of the mother-goddess in the Sumerian pantheon, a major issue taken up by Tivka Frymer-Kensky’s quintessential analysis of the disappearance of female deities in Mesopotamian mythology (In the Wake of the Goddesses, 1992). Espak’s detailed study clearly demonstrates how the role of the mother-goddess diminished in the Sumerian pantheon over time. This is extremely important because it grounds the theory of the diminishing of mother-goddesses within the socio-political context of Sumerian rulers and religious life. In this regard, it augments valuable and integral information to how we understanding the diminishing of mother-goddesses in Mesopotamian history.

Another major contribution of Epsak’s volume is that he puts to rest, at least for the time being, conjectural assumptions that Enki and Enlil are opposed to each other. In short, Espak concludes that Enki managed the earth and Enlil was the political war-lord. Establishing such a basis is important because it permits future studies to examine Sumerian, and even later Mesopotamian, mythology and move beyond the opposition of Enki and Enlil. Within this topic, Espak also suggests a theoretical societal shift for the distinction between the two gods: increasingly complex society, political unions, and wars (206). For the sake of well-grounded historical re-construction, Espak should have explored this shift more thoroughly in order to provide a more detailed understanding of life in ancient Sumeria.

The primary critique of his work is minor, yet valuable with regard to scholarship about the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israelite religion. While only mentioned in brevity, Espak’s use of the Genesis creation account for comparative illustration makes no use of the the theoretical sources, even suggesting there is no need to do so. He basis this on a Kikawada and Quinn’s 1985 book titled Before Abraham Was. Regardless of the quality or impact of their work, Espak should have referenced a more recent analysis or critique of the documentary hypothesis, such as a Joel Baden’s J, E, and the Redaction of the Pentateuch (Mohr Siebeck, 2009).

Even in light of such a minor critique, Espak’s work is commendable. To this point in time, he provides the most detailed and thorough coverage of Enki in the royal ideology of Sumeria. His contribution to our understanding the diminishing of mother-goddesses and the lack of conflict between Enki and Enlil are two major contributions to the field of Assyriology, Sumerology, and even Biblical Studies. I highly recommend Espak’s work for those researching Sumeria and/or the development of gods through mythology and history.

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Harrassowitz Verlag for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.