Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Bienkowski, Piotr, ed. Studies in Iron Age Moab and Neighbouring Areas in Honour of Michèle Daviau (Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement Series, 29; Leuven: Peeters, 2009). Pp. xii + 273, Hardcover. € 87.00, ISBN 978-90-429-2180-1.

This volume of essays was published in honor of Professor Michèle Daviau on the occasion of her retirement from full-time teaching in the Department of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario. Prof. Daviau has focused most of her professional attention and publications on central Transjordan, known in antiquity as Moab. Since most of the papers in the volume were written by Prof. Daviau's colleagues and students, the papers naturally concentrate on the archaeology of this region, with a number dealing specifically with projects she directed. The range of the papers, however, is broad, covering social organization, the environment and settlements, Moabite pottery production, the concept of sacred space, studies of specific sites and objects, a survey of bioarchaeology in Transjordan and papers that treat material from Daviau's own projects in the Wadi ath-Thamad and Khirbat al-Mudayna.

The volume provides an up-to-date picture of the current status of archaeological research on ancient Moab, along with some fresh ideas and new research, but it falls short of being a systematic and coherent presentation, which is what one generally looks for in volumes of collected essays. Even so, the text is well edited, the large format makes the papers easy to read, and the illustrations are of high quality. The book would have greatly benefitted from the inclusion of indices—of scholars' names, of geographic names, of biblical and other sources, etc. Indices such as these could have served as an important tool for those interested in specific subjects or involved in comparing different subjects dealt with in the book.

The aim of this review is to outline the content of the fourteen papers in the collection, and to provide insights on a variety of points raised.

The first paper in the collection is also the shortest one. Øystein S. LaBianca, Professor of Anthropology at Andrews University, presents an overview of human society in the Middle East, demonstrating its poly-centric organization across the millennia, dispersed at the hands of multiple, mostly non-state actors—local strongmen, warlords and tribal chieftains. In his paper,“The Poly-Centric Nature of Social Order in the Middle East: Preliminary Reflections from Anthropological Archaeology” (pp. 1–5), LaBianca concludes that this system has persisted because it represents a stable and successful adaptation to the natural and social environments in which people in this region find themselves.

“‘Tribalism’ and ‘Segmentary Society’ in Iron Age Transjordan” (pp. 7–26), written by Piotr Bienkowski, editor of the book and a professor of Archaeology and Museology at the University of Manchester, also deals with social organization. In the paper Bienkowski reviews the recent debate on “tribalism” and “segmentary society” as applied to the Iron Age kingdoms of Transjordan, over against the “traditional paradigm” that defines them as “nation states.” Bienkowski defends the model of the “tribal kingdom” as the most effective, overall interpretative framework currently available within which the archaeological and historical evidence from Iron Age Transjordan can be explained and understood, but redefines the nature of “tribe” in the framework of current anthropological theory.

The next two papers focus on the development of Iron Age Moab. Timothy P. Harrison, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Toronto, describes the early sociopolitical development of Iron Age Moab according to the results of the ongoing Tall Mādabā Archaeological Project. In “‘The Land of Mēdeba’ and Early Iron Age Mādabā” (pp. 28–45), he claims that the size of the Iron Age II town of Mādabā indicates the need for revision of the current modest perception of this early Iron Age settlement. This supports his previous claim of the emergence of a regionalized political landscape in the early Iron II period comprised of small, autonomous polities anchored by central settlements. Tall Mādabā was the central settlement of one of these putative polities, and the finds concur with the textual sources that suggest that the Mādabā plain region experienced wide-spread land use and settlement during the early stages of the Iron Age, and witnessed the emergence of mature nation-states.

The paper by Udo Worschech, Professor of Old Testament Studies and Biblical Archaeology at Friedensau Adventist University (Germany), reviews the evidence for settlement in the Area between Wadi al-Hesa and Wadi al Mujib from the Late Bronze II to the Iron Age II. In “Environment and Settlements in the Ard Al-Karak: Remarks on the Socio-Ecological and Socio-Economic Conditions in the Iron Age” (pp. 47–70), Worschech reconstructs some of the socio-economic and socio-ecological developments in this territory, usually defined as Moab proper.

Most of the other papers in the volume examine particular aspects of the archaeology of Moab. Bruce Routledge, Senior Lecture in Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, together with Carolyn Routledge, Curator in the Antiquities Department of the World Museum, Liverpool, re-examine the Balu‘a Stela. “The Balu‘a Stela Revisited”( pp. 71–95) is a wide-ranging paper that describes and reviews the research on this stela, acknowledging the uncertainty of its specific content, date, and context, and emphasizing that the iconographic language of its setting is Egyptian and that its theme is kingship. The authors raise questions about the use of this iconography as a visual language of authority in the Late Bronze Age Levant.

In “Moab and Ammon: Some Observations of Their Relationship in Light of a New Moabite Inscription” (pp. 97–116), J. Andrew Dearman, Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, re-examines an unprovenanced inscription, already published in 2003 by S. Ahituv (“A New Moabite Inscription,” Israel Museum Studies in Archaeology 2 [2003]: 3–10). Some scholars suspect this inscription is a forgery, others attribute it to an unknown eighth-century b.c.e.. Moabite king. It mentions “Ammonite prisoners” and makes reference to an otherwise unknown toponym—Beth Haro’š. Dearman accepts the authenticity of the inscription, examines both its content (offering reconstructions that differ from Ahituv's) and its historical background, and discusses the relationship between Ammon and Moab in the eighth century b.c.e. He also relates to the site of Beth Haro’š, which Ahituv identified with Dhat Ras on the Karak plateau, and which he proposes is on the tableland north of the Wadi Mujib.

In the 1930s Nelson Glueck suggested the existence of a “string of fortresses” along the eastern borders of early Iron Age Ammon, Moab and Edom, which he interpreted as one of the factors that deterred the ancient Israelites on their trek to the Promised Land. In “Nelson Glueck's ‘String of Fortreses’ Revisited” (pp. 117–28), Eveline J. van der Steen, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool, reexamines this suggestion and concludes that a string of sites did indeed exist in the late 8th and the 7th centuries b.c.e. in the south-east corner of the Moabite plateau, established and controlled by Moabite and Edomite Assyrian vassal kingdoms in order to fend off threatening Arab tribes. Van der Steen interprets the stations along the Wadi Hasa as border stations that controlled the traffic between the two vassal kingdoms.

Annlee Dolan of the Anthropology Department at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California, explores the archaeological evidence of Moabite religious activity in “Defining Sacred Space in Ancient Moab” (pp. 129–44). She interprets the cultic structure preserved at Wadi ath-Thamad Site 13 as a Moabite “high place” and the sanctuaries at Khirbat al-Mudayna, ‘Ataruz and Dhiban as Moabite shrines. Dolan concludes that even though Moabite religion is defined archaeologically by a diversity of architectural remains and cultic paraphernalia, that though there are no “typical” Moabite cult places or artifacts indicating formalized, state-sanctioned ideals of what Moabite religious practice should entail, there are key elements of religious belief and practice that undoubtedly united them—especially the worship of Kemosh and specific ritual activities.

Margreet L. Steiner, an independent researcher from Leiden, writes on “Khirbat al-Mudayna and Moabite Pottery Production” (pp. 145–64). She selected five pottery types and demonstrates their diversity with a typical krater and a type of cooking pot that were made locally in large quantities and were distributed as far afield as the Jordan Valley. Black burnished bowls were also made of local clay, but in small quantities, and were distributed mainly in the Ammon region. Open bowls made of yellowish crumbly ware were not produced in Khirbat al-Mudayna but at a nearby site, probably in a small pottery workshop, and sturdy cooking pots were produced outside the region. These conclusions indicate the different levels of production and distribution of pottery in Moab and Ammon, and how these were shaped by the economic and socio-political conditions in which potters and their clientele lived and worked.

Denyse Homès-Fredericq, Professor Emeritus at the Free University Brussels, writes on “The Iron Age II Fortress of Al-Lahun (Moab)” (pp. 165–82). Al Lahun is an important Iron Age II fortress that overlooks Wadi Mujib (biblical Arnon), built above a Late Bronze Iron Age I village. The fortifications were built along the contour of the natural hill and were consolidated with watch-towers. This is the largest fortress in the area, and Homès-Fredericq concludes that this military and economically unique fortress on the main road leading south from Dibon, overlooking the southern Moabite plateau, served as a storage depot for grain collected in the region.

Robert Chadwick's “Changing Forms of Gate Architecture in Bronze and Iron Age Transjordan” (pp. 183–214), is general in its subject (the gates), chronology (Early Bronze to Iron Age II) and geographical setting (all of Transjordan). Chadwick, from the Université de Sherbrooke and Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, introduces and summarizes the changes in gate architecture in Jordan through the Bronze and Iron Ages. His conclusions are that during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, gate construction in Transjordan appears to be based primarily on local architectural traditions with a minimum of outside influence. During the Iron Age II, however, the situation changes and there is clear evidences for influx of gate-building designs from farther west of Palestine.

In “The Sphinx Handle from Tall Abu al-Kharaz: Further Evidence” (pp. 215–226), Peter M. Fischer, professor at the University of Gothenburg, re-examines a carved bone object depicting two sphinxes that was excavated at Tall Abu al-Kharaz in the Jordan Valley. He discusses the archaeological context of the find and its known parallels at Hazor and Nimrud, concluding that it should be dated to the ninth or eighth centuries BCE. The object most likely served as the handle of a scepter, fan or flywhisk, and Fischer suggests that it was made in a Palestinian workshop.

Jonathan Ferguson of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto writes on “Rediscovering az-Za‘faran and az-Zuna: The Wadi Ath-Thamad Project Regional Survey” (pp. 227–43). Both sites have been known for over a century, but he combines the established data with modern surveying techniques and technologies in order to verify long-standing descriptions and ideas and to correct them when necessary.

The final paper in this collection of essays is again wide-ranging. Margaret Judd, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, reviews the current state of “Bioarchaeology East of the Jordan” (pp. 245–73). This field, which deals with the study of human remains in order to learn about the health, behaviour, and lifeways of people and societies, is a fairly recent area of research. Judd reviews the status of bioarchaeological research in Jordan, now in its infancy, and demonstrates it's potential.

Throughout her long and colorful career, Michèle Daviau has brought depth and perception to our understanding of the religion and culture of Transjordan and especially to the Moabites, who populated its central part. Her years spent exploring the ancient sands of Moab has now born new fruit in the thoughtful and informative essays presented by her colleagues and students; they are a testament to her pioneering spirit and creative intelligence. This collection of essays in recognition of her years as an outstanding mentor to so many truly honors her. Scholars at all levels will undoubtedly find the new material and ideas concentrated in this volume important and worthy of their attention.

Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University