Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Tebes, Juan Manuel, Centro y Periferia en el mundo antiguo: El Negev y sus interacciones con Egipto, Asiria, y el Levante en la Edad del Hierro (1200-586 a.C.) (Ancient Near East Monographs, 1; 2nd ed.; Buenos Aires/Atlanta: SBL & CEHAO, 2008). Pp. 111 with maps, photographs and plans. ISBN 978-987-20606-4-0. Open Access.

As per its title (ET: Center and Periphery in the Ancient World: The Negev and its Interactions with Egypt, Assyria and the Levant in the Iron Age), this volume studies the socio-political and economic evolution of the Negev, the arid triangle situated in modern-day southern Israel, during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. Tebes uses a whole range of archaeological data provided by excavation and surveys reports, epigraphic and literary material, coupled with the theoretical framework of the World Systems theory.

Chapter I introduces readers to the main tenets of the World System model. As the author points out, the central axis of this theory lies in the idea that the underdevelopment of the periphery is a result of its relationship with the center and vice versa that the development of the center is a result of the underdevelopment of the periphery. Thus, the socio-economic and political positions of both (periphery and center) emerge out of dependent relationships based on the surplus produced by the periphery. This model, which was used for understanding the arising of the modern capitalist states, was later adapted to pre-capitalist contexts. Based on this theoretical model, Tebes proposes to categorize the Negev as a “peripheral” society in which its internal development is intimately related with the “central” societies of the period, Egypt and Mesopotamia. It should be noted that, despite the constraints that ancient central societies imposed over the peripheries, Tebes argues that ancient peripheral societies had wide levels of political and economic autonomy in their core areas. In this particular case, he maintains that the Negev societies could have responded in two different ways to a contraction cycle of the center: (a) autonomous growth or (b) a return to less complex socio-political and economic structures.

Chapter II presents an analysis of “The Negev under Egyptian Hegemony”. The archaeological and textual evidence indicates that the period of the Egyptian presence in the Negev is a characteristic case of a center that exerts its predominance over its periphery (p. 33). The author observes that Egypt, developed two main strategies in the area by the end of this period. Egypt applied, in general, a model of indirect exploitation, thus avoiding the political and economic costs of maintaining garrisons and a permanent administration in the region. Egypt also implemented a model of direct intervention in economically important locations, such as the Timna copper mines.

In Chapter III, Tebes discusses the conditions of local peripheral societies during the period of Egyptian intervention. He highlights the ceramic evidence of Timna, particularly the presence of “Midianite” pottery, which shows that pastoral groups were employed by the Egyptians as labor force in the mines and melting copper camps. Egypt operated Timna as an “economic enclave” (p. 34), while the relationship between the locals and the Egyptians were ones of cooperation and mutual benefit (p. 43). In addition, the Egyptians most likely exerted indirect control over the commercial roads that went from Timna (crossing the Arabah and Edom) to central Jordan, as well as from those from the northern Arabah to the Egyptian border. He indicates that this type of trade was widely different from that prevalent during the Late Iron Age and which was based on camel transportation.

Chapter IV (entitled, “Crisis of the Mediterranean World System and Autonomous Development of the Beersheba Valley”) explains how the end of the palatine economies of the Late Bronze Age led to more decentralized ways of economic organization during the Iron Age. This development and the related end of the Egyptian hegemony in the Levant resulted in substantial changes in the Negev. The end of the Egyptian exploitation at Timna was followed by a drastic decline of the demand of copper from the Arabah. At the same time, the Negev underwent a political vacuum, which would soon be filled by a peripheral autonomous entity located in the Valley of Beersheba: Tel Masos. Tebes demonstrates that Tel Masos owed its growing political importance to its strategic position in the (new) commercial networks. The amount of imported ceramics (Philistine, Phoenician, Egyptian, Midianite and Negevite pottery) at the site attests to fluent contacts, direct and indirect, with several external areas (p. 72). Since Tel Masos’ economic system was based on its relationships with more complex societies – particularly Central and North Palestine and Egypt –, the decrease in the central demand for copper resulted in its collapse.

 Chapter V deals with “[t]he Negev During the Iron II Period”. During the Assyrian domination, the Negev, by now nominally inside the borders of Judah, was well integrated into the Assyrian World System, and reached a period of commercial zenith. However, when the Assyrian hegemony in the Levant was replaced by the Neo-Babylonian domain, the successive military and economic shocks suffered by the Negev led to the disappearance of most settlements in the area.

This work proposes an interesting and appropriate approach to questions of Negev history that relies on World System theory. It emphasizes the “peripheral” aspect of the Negev. A variety of textual and archaeological data are discussed and support the positions advanced by the author.

Romina Della Casa, CONICET, Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.