“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.

“Assessing Biblical and Classical Sources for the Reconstruction of Persian Influence, History and Culture” edited by Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley

FitzpatrickAnne Fitzpatrick-McKinley (ed.). Assessing Biblical and Classical Sources for the Reconstruction of Persian Influence, History, and Culture. Classica et Orientalia 10. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015, pp. 216, $59.99 (paperback).

Traditionally, Classicists and Biblical Scholars have been disparate, unaware of each other’s methodologies and scholarship. This volume attempts to demonstrate the interrelationship and necessary discussion between Achaemenid historians and Biblical Scholars. Eight contributions to this volume explore different aspects of the Persian period, articles pertaining to biblical scholarship, classicist scholarship, or both. The following provides a summary of the articles with criticism.

“Herodotus on the Character of Persian Imperialism (7.5-11)” by Thomas Harrison

Thomas Harrison (University of Liverpool) argues that “Herodotus’ Histories reveal a closer engagement with Persian royal ideology (as reflected in the royal inscriptions) than has been recognized” (10). By focusing on the ‘Council Scene’ at the beginning of Book 7, in which the Persian court debates war against Greece, Harrison draws out the motives ascribed to Persians, reflective of Persian imperial ideology. His nuanced reading of Histories carefully demonstrates the value of Herodotus’ history for reconstructing the ideology of Persian imperialism. With regard to Classics, Harrison’s article is valuable as it provides a more refined understanding of Persian imperialism, taking more seriously the value of Herodotus’ Histories. Likewise, this article is extremely valuable for understanding the atmosphere of the period in which the Hebrew Bible was being compiled. Perhaps the elements of Persian imperialism may be incorporated into biblical studies to establish a firmer understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s composition.

“The Use and Abuse of Herodotus by Biblical Scholars” by Lester L. Grabbe

Lester L. Grabbe (University of Hull; also a biblical scholar) raises the issue with biblical scholar tendencies to approach Herodotus uncritically, providing a primer to how one may read the valuable history critically. After providing a few examples of uncritical approaches to Herodotus, Grabbe provides a short of list of his principles of historical method, discusses his sources, and provides four principles for the use of Herodotus by biblical scholars and others.[1] Grabbe’s argument for more critical readings of Herodotus should be taken into account. With such an elusive period as the Persian period, it is important that scholars avoid the pitfalls that early New Testament studies had with Josephus – namely, uncritical approach to the text. Considering how valuable Herodotus can be for biblical studies, students and scholars alike would do well to embrace his approach to Herodotus in order to strengthen the state of biblical scholarship.

“The Justice of Darius: Reflections on the Achaemenid Empire as a rule-bound environment” by Christopher Tuplin

Christopher Tuplin (Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool) investigates purported (confirm this definition) special connections between Persian kings and environments to concepts of law. He works his way through thoughtful discussion of dāta in Persian and non-Persian texts. He notes that its uses are “non-systematic supplements to the existing set of laws applicable in a particular jurisdiction” (88). Following, he contextualizes the Persian dāta within its ancient Near Eastern background, examining Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Elam and demonstrating uniqueness of data within Persian ideology. Analysis of primarily Greek sources further illustrates the uniqueness of dāta, as Greek sources focus on a unique assumption of justice and law in Persian environments. For the Classics and Biblical Studies, Tuplin’s article is important because it establishes a framework by which to consider Persian dāta, more commonly understood as ‘law’. Consequently, his work may provide clarity on what law constitutes within the stratified layers of the Hebrew Bible, especially in Esther, Daniel, and Ezra. Additionally, just as Grabbe encourages more critical eye with regard to Herodotus, Tuplin’s investigation allows scholars to reconstruct the Achaemenid Period, along with concurrent events, more closely to the historical reality.

“Indigenous Elites in Yehud: the inscriptional evidence from Xanthus, Tayma and Dedan and the Nehemiah Memoir” by Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley

Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley (Near and Middle Eastern Studies at Trinity College, Dublin) determines if there is reasonable evidence of indigenous elites operating as a local network of political interrelationships that support a historical reality of the Nehemiah Memoir. After discussing Lycia, Tayma, Dedan, and Yehud and Samaria, she is careful to note their vast differences. Yet, even in light of these differences, epigraphs evidence competing indigenous elites in the Levant with Samaria as the dominant center, indicative of the historical reality of the Nehemiah Memoir. Although she draws no strong conclusions, her essay provides excellent preliminary groundwork for future studies pertaining to Nehemiah and Achaemenid history. More specifically, it may provide better information regarding the origins of the Samarian schism.

“What is ‘Persian’ about the Book of Genesis” by Diani Edelman

Diana Edelman (Independent Scholar) examines evidence for the Persian period as a date of origin for Genesis, especially pointing towards Genesis literature which simultaneously centered on the eretz and tolerated Diasporic conditions. These loci, argue Edelman, serve to educate Judean roles in spreading blessing and educate. Unfortunately, her evidence and explanations lack in quality. Her arguments are conjectural and not on steady ground. While initially noting how she will “ask what textual details, rhetorical strategies and ideologies found in the text point to a date of creation in the Persian period” (152), specific textual details with thorough explanation, rhetorical strategies directly connected to the Persian period, and weak connections between Genesis and Persian ideology pervade the chapter. For example, she references building of altars for ‘calling on the name of YHWH’; dismisses Wenham, who presumes “the offering of accompanying sacrifices were part of a worship/sacrificial ritual” (167), as not persuasive; and suggests that it “implies the existence of a centralized single sanctuary for sacrifice at the time of composition but allows for personal prayer and communing with God anywhere” (167). She fails, though, to address the issue of the Akedah, in which Abraham builds an altar and eventually sacrifices a ram. For Edelman’s argument of Genesis sacrifices as evidence, the Akedah significantly opposes her argument, yet she doesn’t address it. Second, while there may be some relationship between the Genesis and Persian ideologies of land Edelman fails to provide each with autonomy, especially with regard to ‘eres ideology. According to Edelman, “Persians likely adopted and adapted this view [and ideology ‘eres and ruling all land] and applied it to all productive members of the empire” (164). Consequently, Judeans inherited the ideology. While Persians very well may have inherited certain aspects of ideology, it is essential that it be recognized as a unique ideology from Neo-Assyrians and Judeans.[2] I am reminded of Debra Ballentine’s recent work which argues that different groups utilized the conflict myth topos for their social and political purposes. Perhaps a similar approach by Diana would have been more convincing: the author of Genesis used a common theme within the region and re-appropriated it for its own social and political intentions, just as Persia and Neo-Assyria did. As a result, the same conclusion may be made, namely that Genesis legitimizes Diasporic Judeans and those living in the land; however, it allows the Genesis tradition to maintain autonomous standing as a unique tradition. Finally, I am concerned that the term ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish’ is used in reference to Judeans (p. 171). Overall, there was nothing particularly valuable in this article, though anyone interested in the biblical composition during the Persian period may find it intriguing.

“Admiring Others: Xenophon and Persians” by Lynette Mitchell

Lynette Mitchell (University of Exeter) traces Xenophon’s representation of Persian and Greek choices in order to demonstrate his complex view, namely Xenophon’s panhellenic discourse that portrays Persians, the Other, as noble when they chose a Greek lifestyle. So rather than representing one culture as superior to the Other, civilized versus barbaric, he emphasizes Xenophon’s tendency to illustrate difference not on the basis of ethnicity but choice to adhere to Hellenistic standards. When ethnicity is generally portrayed fairly rigidly, this is an important contribution for Classicists and Biblical Scholars because it illustrates the breadth of what ethnicity could constitute in the ancient world.. Xenophon thinking with such terms suggests that similar ethnic boundaries may be discovered throughout the ancient world. As Mitchell writes, Xenophon’s representation is “radical and subversive in that it breaks boundaries not just between the classes, but also Greeks and the Other, and… questions what the terms of those boundaries might be” (189).

“From Fact to Fiction: Persian History and the book of Esther” by Maria Brosius

Maria Brosius (Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto) provides additional facets of discussion arguing the Book of Esther is drawn from Greek literary texts. She draws on historical possibilities in Esther and historical impossibilities. Discussion of Greek references to historical possibility for a queen’s banquet and communications within the Achaemenid organization demonstrate that the author of Esther presents within a historical framework in order for it to have its own historicity. She also notes the possible linguistic relationship between Mordechai as ‘the second after the king’ and Masistes as ‘the Greatest after the King’, suggesting it “is compelling evidence for identifying Herodotus as the main source for the author of the Book of Esther” (201). While her argument is not entirely convincing, that is no surprise, as her article is merely intended to provide additional facets to previously made arguments. Without a doubt, her discussion of the Persian context of Esther is important, as she distinguishes between historical and narrative elements in which Esther is framed. While her linguistic connection between Mordechai and Masistes is compelling, the linguistic relationship should have been further explored.

“Judahite Prophecy and the Achaemenids” by Philip R. Davies

Philip R. Davies (Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield) illuminates the nature of religion in Yehud during the Achaemenid period through how prophetic scrolls were produced. After establishing the importance for an ideology of a universal religious center within a Persian context, he presents these dynamics as illustrated through 5th century BCE political relationship between Judeans and Samarians, both of whom worshiped Yahweh. Following, he discusses prophetic literature, its production and redaction, to illustrate how Jerusalem as a religious center of unified Israel, an idea first developed in the Neo-Babylonian period, first emerges within the Persian period, at the earliest. Most valuable in Davies contribution is the focus on the Persian period as a new society through the lens of prophetic literature. While many have sought to understand the new society in Yehud through Ezra-Nehemiah, Davies’ focus on prophetic literature offers an interesting and important avenue for biblical scholars.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Because of the distance between Classicists and Biblical Scholars, I appreciate Fitzpatrick’s volume. Each article, for the most part, addresses issues that are relevant to both scholars. Consequently, this volume encourages discussion between the two approaches. Discussion may potentially vastly improve scholarship on both sides of the fence. Perhaps the fence may even be torn down for fuller and more comprehensive understandings of history through classicism and biblical scholarship.

[1] Succinctly, her principles for utilizing Herodotus as a source are as follows: (1) cease ‘prooftexting’ and cite Herodotus based on knowledge and analysis, (2) recognize Herodotus is a secondary source, (3) consider his implied sources within statements, (4) consider how Herodotus’ methods affect ones reading. Regarding point four, (she/he) lays out 7 points on his method on pp. 62-63.

[2] COS 2.4A exemplifies an appropriation of the land topos from Sethos I in the 13th century BCE: “The Good god, Sun of Egypt, Moon of all lands, Montu in the foreign lands, who is not repulsed, Bold-hearted like Baal, there is none who can retreat from him, on the day of marshaling for the battle. He has extended the boundaries of Egypt to the limits of heaven on every side” (italics added for emphasis). In this passage, land is appropriated uniquely, just as it is in Yehud and Persia.