Continued: Notes on “Civilizations of the Ancient Near East”

This is a continuation of my current project. Click here for the first post which outlines the project.

Palaces and Temples in Canaan and Ancient Israel (Vol. 1-2, William G. Dever, 605-614).

  • Utilizes the terms “Syria” and “Palestine” to avoid ethnic and time-bound terms (605).
  • For my purposes, I am not too interested in palaces.
  • Temples
    • Easier to identify because they held to a stereotypical style (607).
    • Smaller sanctuaries and private shrines often remain enigmatic (607).
    • Main ways to think of this region’s temples:
      • Houses for the gods
      • consecrated for sacred usage
      • run by priests
      • worship consisted of offering gifts, like food and drink.
        • Often times, the gods were related to aspects of fertility.
    • Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age (c. 4000-2000)
      • Temple at En-gedi on a hill top with pits for offerings and an open area.
      • Later temples were constructed atop this site.
    • Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000-1500)
      • Four basic types
        • Two long room types
          • In these, they may have served both a religious and administrative function.
        • A threeroom type, which became the standard Phoenician and Israelite
        • Smaller temples or shrines which do not fit with the preceeding categories (609-610).
    • Late Bronze Age (c. 1500-1200)
      • Three-room, tripartite temple became standard.
        • I should look up pictures of these Temples and show this aspect of religion visually. Material culture is good.
      • Area H temple at Hazor best fits with this tripartite structure (Stratum XV)
      • There were also “bench temples”
        • Small sanctuaries with one or two rooms, plus a side room.
        • Bench around wall; central altar on back wall for worshippers.
        • See for reference Amenhotep III Stratum VII and Sety I Stratum VI temples at Beth She’an, Tel Mevorakh Stratum VIII temple, and three temples at Lachish “Faosse Temples”
        • At Hazor, the “Stelae Temple” of Area C has ten basalt standing stones. See also “Summit Temple at Lachish and Dayr ‘Alla in the Jordan valley.
      • Iron Age (c. 1200-600)
        • This is the most relevant for my writing. The previous data offers the historical and archaeological heritage of ancient Israelite temples.
        • Best preserved Philistine temple is Strata XII-X, 12th-10th century, at Tell Qasile.
        • Similar to bench temples in the Late Bronze Age; however, these ones had Aegean features, like votive offerings in large storeroom behind the altar. Also, a large outer court.
        • Israelite temples
          • Dan on the border of Palestine
            • Open air sacrificial podium
            • adjacent two room temple with altars.
            • Among finds were male and female figurines, incense stands, miniature altars, incense offering shovels.
            • Dates to 10th to 8th century and reflects 1 Kings 12:31, the period in which Jereboam ruled.
          • Arad, near Beer-Sheba
            • Same period as the Dan temple
            • tripartite structure
            • large sacrificial altar in open forecourt
            • smaller altars in inner chambers
            • Incense stands
            • bronze lion
            • “two shallow plate sinscribed with an abbreviated Hebrew formula that probably means “sanctificed for the priests” (1-2.611).
          • Smaller Israelite cultic installations
            • These were not temples; rather, ‘private shrines for family use” (611).
            • Short list
              • Shrine 2081 at Megiddo, “cult building” at Taanach, Tell al-Far’a gateway shrine, “Cult Room 49” at Lachish.
              • The aforementioned are all dated to the 10th century BCE.
            • Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, in eastern Sinai wilderness
              • Dever says 8th century; however, I have an article which, based on Carbon Dating, suggests that Kuntillet Ajrud can be dated back to the 10th century BCE. Thus, it would match with the Short list provided.
              • Inscribed stone votive bowl
                • What does this mean and what was inscribed on it?
              • “painted cultic scenes familiar from Canaanite and Phoeneician art
              • Hebrew graffiti
                • Blessing formulas relate to El, Baal, Yahweh, and Aherah.
              • ‘Ajrud shrine for “caravans traversing the desert region.
                • Still, though, it is primarily Israelite-Judean.
            • Temple-sanctuary at Qitmit, east of Beer-sheba in eastern Negev Desrt
              • Dated the seventh century.
              • Edomite
                • Many terra-cottta deity representations.
            • Most famous is Solomon’s Temple, but we only see this directly in 1 Kings 6-7.
              • My thought: Based on the existence of many other temples through Palestine in the 10th century, Solomon’s Temple is not implausible to imagine. Although, it may not have been as grand as 1 Kings 6-7 describes it.
        • Palace-Temple combinations existed:
          • palace-temple combinations from the 9th-8th centuries
            • Zincirli and Tell Halaf in Syria
            • These complexes support the possibility of a palace-temple complex constructed by Solomon.
          • Canaanite palace-temple complexes remind us of the lack of distinction between state and religion.
            • King appointed priests, at least for the main place of worship
            • King also acted as a religious official.
            • Offerings to gods were often claimed by the kings.
            • “royal and priestly structures served a crucial social role in both centralizing and legitimizing national ideology” (612).
              • While I completely agree with this, I do think that it needs to be nuanced. What distinguishes palace-temple complexes, and the god-king-priest relationship therein, in a West Semitic context from an East Semitic context? While there is overlap, I think that Sanders’ book may help to clarify this issue. It will help me to localize Israelite-Judean religion.
          • Temples and Everyday Life
            • Temples indicated signs of wealth among Canaanite, Judean, and Israelite rulers.
              • Less than Egypt or Mesopotamia, of course.
            • Highly stratified society (speculative).
            • What can we learn from these temples, though?
              • For actual religious practice, it is tough.
              • By looking at what was offered, though, we can understand what sort of things were given as offering to the gods, or god.
              • Object recovered at Tel Mevorakh (Strata XI-X, c. 1400-1200) were divided into three categories
                • votives or costly gifts
                • vessels for food and drink offerings.
                  • Like stone cup, mortar, mini libation table.
                • impliments for liturgical function
                  • Like snake figure, dagger, arrowheads
              • Other stuffs, like seals, bead, pendant, game pieces, jar, pots, bowls, platters, chalices, cups, etc. all seem to be evidence of what was offered at a public shrine.
                • Likely to El, Asherah, Ball, or ‘Anat; by this period Yahweh is not a deity in the region.
                • Still, these offerings from a LBA help us to understand what constituted religious worship in the heritage of ancient Judean-Israel religion.

Brief notes on Legal and Social Institutions in Canaan and Ancient Israeli, by Hector Avalos

  • Priests often served as judges (622).
  • Priests usually inherited their position (623).
  • There were very structured temple hierarchies (623).
    • This is shared in Phoenician and Hebrew texts (623).
    • Each one expresses the hierarchies in a different way (623).

Brief notes on Ahab of Israel and Jehoshaphat of Judah by Joseph Blenkinsopp

  • Bethel and Dan were set up by Jereboam to rival Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-33), (p. 1315).
  • Imagery of a golden, young bull, familiar from Canaanite iconography, “either represented Yahweh or served as his pedestal” (1316).
  • Like mentioned to entries ago, there was a large place for sacrifice at Tel Dan, constructed by Jeroboam I – the Omrids expanded it (1317).
  • Sanctuary at the fortress of Arad had two incense altars and a sort of holy of holies.
    • Used in the 9th and 8th centuries – abandoned at the end of the 8th century (1317).
  • According to HB, Ahab build an Asherah. Likewise, the HB notes four hundred prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 16:33, 18:19). Even with a strong Yahwistic zeal, cult of Asherah still flourished until the destruction of Jerusalem and beyond. It was considered acceptable worship alongside Yahweh.
    • Cf. Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions and Khirbat al-Qom. These both attest to a strong relation between cult of Yahweh and Asherah.
      • Blenkinsopp translates it as, “I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and by his Asherah” (1317).
      • May be dated as early as 10th century. Z. Meshel dates it to as early as the second half of the 9th century.
    • In neighboring regions, like Melqart of Tyre and Chemosh of Moab, they were worshiped with a female consort (1318). Thus, for ancient Israelite-Judean religion to do so is not unheard of or surprising.
  • Samaria ostraca include elements of Yahweh. They wrote YW, “corresponding to the Judean YHW” (1318), 8 for Baal, some with El, Gad, and Bes.
  • In the midst of all this, there were extremist cults dedicated to the cult of Yahweh alone.
    • Of course, this is questionable. Perhaps these cults were monolatry. Eventually, though, they began to turn into an early form of monotheism in order to retain their ethnic identity (Mark Smith and others).
  • With the rise of Omri, king of Israelite, sought closer ties with Phoenician cities through marriage and peace.
    • This was not received well because it broke customs and traditions (1318).

“Syria-Palestine in the Late Bronze Age” by Emanuel Pfoh

Review_Image_SyriaPalestineInTheLateBronzeAgeEmanuel Pfoh. Syria-Palestine in the Late Bronze Age: An Anthropology of Politics and Power. Copenhagen International Seminar. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016, 246 pp..

Emanuel Pfoh (Researcher at the National Scientific and Technological Research Council; teacher at the National University of La Plata, Argentina) utilizes anthropology in order to analyze from emic and etic perspectives the inter-polity dynamics of Syria-Palestine during the Late Bronze Age. Through consideration of competing theories, concepts, and analytical categories, he constructs a political anthropology of the Late Bronze Age indispensable to historians. Broadly speaking, Pfoh advances a well-argued, distinctive hypothesis:

“this study will attempt to show… that the societies of the ancient Levant seem to have been internally organised, at the smallest level, through kindship bonds, which also constituted the basis for ideological, economic, and political practices outside the local community, establishing a basic social differentiation between kind and not-kin. Such distinction affected the level of reciprocity exerted among people… Thus, when we detect language proper of kinship relations in the Late Bronze Age’s diplomatic exchanges, we might also be finding a particular expression of politics and power display at work in ancient Syria-Palestine, built on the principles and kinship (and patronage)” (6).

The book itself is divided into three pars. Part I establishes the historical context of politics during the Late Bronze Age, the Amarna period in Syria-Palestine in particular. After a succinct overview of the political history, political being concrete social relationship between two figures expressing valued exchanges (prestige, authority, and/or power) between polities (8; Chapter I), he provides an overview of international diplomacy in the Late Bronze Age. Following a review of significant textual corpora, Pfoh emphasizes the importance that references to diplomacy “depends on a particular set of cultural and ideological presuppositions… constructed according to the general parameters of ancient Near Eastern worldviews” (36). He illuminates this by highlighting the worldview differences between Egypt, Hatti, and Syria-Palestine, smoothly transitioning into how socio-linguistic analysis evidences “ideological-political clash”, encompassing differing conceptions of political terms and semantics between polities in epistolary translations (Chapter II).

Having established historical context in terms of culture and diplomacy, Pfoh continues by the “merging of epistemological and methodological preocedures from anthropology and history as interpretive disciplines” (64), consequently constructing an engaging and creative methodology relating to the nature of alliances and exchanges in the LBA. He uses elements from three schools of economic anthropology (Formalism, Substantivism, and Marxism) in order to best represent “the economic realities of the Late Bronze Age” (66). Subsequently, Pfoh highlights the role of gifts and luxury goods as exchanges for prestige, especially evident in exchange of women and specialists (Chapter III).

Part II “offers a general theoretical characterisation regarding the structural organisation of ancient Near Eastern societies and their socio-political dynamics” (9). Pfoh first attends to the analytical, social anthropological view of the LBA Syria-Palestine. Taking into account lack of “monopoly of coercion in [Syrian king’s] political communities” (102), regional spatial fragmentation, socio-political practices, and tribal structures, he concludes with an analytical concept which balances these details. And I quote:

“The Syro-Palestinian ‘kings’ of these polities are no necessarily leaders of a state formation, holding and displaying the monopoly of power in society. In fact, the concept of ‘kingdom’, with a king as the articulator of the social whole in its executive but also ideological aspects, may actually provide a better framework to interpret the archaeological and epigraphic evidence of Syro-Palestinian polities, since it implies the existence of a certain internal social hierarchy and recognises the particularity of the monarchic office, without requiring an institutionalised centralisation of power in order to exist as a polity” (105-106).

In other words, Pfoh opposes understanding Syro-Palestinian states as city-states because in socio-political praxis they operated under the constriction of foreign power, thereby deeming them not autonomous city-states (Chapter IV). Eventually, in Chapter VII, Pfoh specifies two types of kingdoms (patronage and patrimonial).

Having explored analytical concepts, he proceeds to consider the model of the Asiatic Mode of Production and two-sector model, both of which are valuable for “the internal socio-economic working of Levantine societies of the Late Bronze Age” (116). Additionally, drawing on V. Korosec’s 1931 formula of Hittite treaties, he considers the role of Hittite treaties in a vassalage as “a medium for and a symbolic expression of the monopoly of coercion that Hatti exerted over the petty kingdoms” (116), comparison with a feudal system being insufficient for understanding the relationship between Hatti and Syro-Palestine. Finally, he suggests two interpretive concepts for understanding socio-political practices: patrimonial model of society and patron-client relations.

Part III articulates Part I and II with an anylitical discussion of the patron-client relations in Syria-Palestine. Chapter VI first expands on how Mediterranean ethnographic data offers a functional, theoretical approach to patronage in the ancient Near East. Patronage finds its foundation in kinship relations, which are the basis of patron client relations. For patron-client relations utilized kinship terminology to express political relations. This analytical concept, Pfoh claims, is an effective tool for considering inter-polity diplomacy. Importantly, the patron-client relations have to do with praxis.

Having characterized the praxis of patronage relationships, Pfoh demonstrates the patrimonial nature of Levantine societies and places it as a base to patronage relations. He ultimately constructs a coherent and cogent argument for personalized, familial terminology “not because of a mere diplomatic protocol based on family metaphors, but because of the active manifestation of a conception of politics constituted by a patrimonial scheme” (146). He further relates, albeit briefly, how this model is sufficient for developing refined terminology for LBA societies: patrimonial kingdoms and patronage kingdoms (Chapter VII).

Wrapping up Pfoh’s engaging, informative, and constructive reading of the LBA through an anthropological perspective, he reads the Amarna letters, and agents therein, through concepts, terminology, and the analytical framework discussed throughout the book. Regarding socio-religious practice, he illuminates how “the notion of justice and righteousness is derived precisely from an earthly patron-client relation” (162). Ultimately, he states the climax of his political anthropology best:

“we may affirm that the practice of patronage in Syria-Palestine created a native political ontology indicating how to behave politically, as a protecting master and as a protected servant, two basic interdependent socio-political poles whose expansion in society maintained the whole socio-political order” (164).

He expands further in his conclusion:

“patronage as an analytical concept is a most effective tool for understanding how people in the ancient Levant behaved politically and imagined politics through a vertical hierarchy of patrons and clients” (171).

To no surprise, Pfoh utilizes a large, already existing framework of political anthropology; however, throughout this book, Pfoh presents convincing arguments for a more holistic perspective, unifying several existing theories, offering nuances to critical terminology, and constructing an approach to the LBA Syria-Palestine. One particular term he suggests which could be a valuable term for future studies of the LBA and other periods is designation of polities in Syria-Palestine as patrimonial kingdoms and patronage kingdoms. These terms avoid the baggage of city-state and can be utilized to clarify future studies on Syria-Palestinian history. As Pfoh writes:

“a critical definition of what is meant and implied by such concepts [as ‘kingdoms’, ‘city-states’, ‘states’ and ‘empires’] has been lacking. Every concept carries a semantic range of meaning that, unless clarified, may direct us to represent historical realities in a distorted way…” (94).

While he is speaking of societal organizational territories in particular, this is a rule of thumb throughout his work. Thus, through and through, Pfoh provides excellent, nuanced, and well-explored definitions for utilization by futures scholars.

Again relating to his discussion of the applicability of city-states as an analytical concept, he explains that explaining why “change from a non-state society to a state society is produced is beyond the scope of this study” (97). While detailed analysis of the topic may have been too much, brief coverage of the topic would have been valuable because it would have provided a comparison that does in not ignore local Syro-Palestinian particularities, one of Pfoh’s critiques of comparing LBA Syria-Palestinian societies with other Messites like Niniveh (96).

Finally, while wrapping up his discussion about patron-client relations in the LBA, he argues a purpose for a particular representation of the divine:

“In the sphere of the representation of the divine, the notion of justice and righteousness is derived precisely from an earthly patron-client relation, expressed and represented as the cosmic order established by a godly father and guaranteed on earth by his client, the king, through rituals, but also by a behavior emulating the gods” (162).

While it obvious why Pfoh presents this argument, one alternative must be considered. Rather than religious imagination being anchored in patrimonial order of the cosmos, order which is first-and-foremost located in an earthly socio-political scheme, perhaps the religious imagination informed the earthly patron-client relations. In emic terms, it could be said that they performed the earthly socio-political scheme because they saw it within their religious imagination. In etic terms, Pfoh’s argument could stand, yet it is also possible to explain the socio-political scheme in the inverse: heavenly, religious imagination, and thereby ‘heavenly’ socio-political scheme, informs earthly socio-political scheme.

Overall, aside from the minor critiques, Pfoh’s explication and unification of various factors in political anthropology result in a coherent and cogent model and interpretive framework for reading LBA sources. Likewise, the model may be utilized for other periods, albeit with caution and adjustments. While it may be a while, I look forward to how others will utilize his approach to the LBA through an anthropological perspective. I highly recommend this work for scholars of Levantine history, especially the LBA. Outside of the LBA, consideration of how Pfoh constructs his approach is informative for scholars and students working from a similar approach.

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

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