Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXIII: For the Bible Told Me So


(Richard Gere is only fifteen years older than I am, and was in a BBC show as recently as 2019. I find that I am extremely jealous so I'll repeat the gerbil insinuation)

It has been a while since I visited this topic, but interesting things have come up, so I thought I would write about them. Oh, I can hear you thinking, "But, Erik, weren't you just working on Postblogging Technology, December 1951, II, yesterday?" And I can firmly answer that I don't know where you heard that, but it must be wrong. I would never bail on a postblogging entry after realising that this was a three-issue-month and that I was running out of time even before realising that I would have to cover three issues of Newsweek and Aviation Week, and that next week I have three days off in a row instead of single days split up, like this week. You can hear more about the rise of the cubicle next week! (There's already been an ad for cubicles in the series, which is why I say, "more." It's going to involve another Illinois university experimental house, State, this time, and the guinea pigs are going to be a select nuclear family and not undergraduate engineers.)

So. Ahem. The general thesis around here is that, the end of the Late Bronze Age was, sometimes, at least, a "successful collapse" responsive to the breakdown of inter-regional exchange, involving a systemic reorientation of economic exploitation from the coastal lowlands to upland niches that were more productive at a subsistence level but less able to generate agricultural and craft exports, albeit still able to take part in exchange via livestock. For lack of surplusses, these polities were necessarily non-state entities, but as they succeeded and grew, economic activity pushed downslope to the lowlands to exploit biotically productive lacustrine environments, giving rise to what I think I dubbed "lagoon states" on the model of Carthage, in particular. 

In all of this, I have been neglecting what might be the paradigmatic case, the Land of Israel. 

(The numbers show the excavations sites of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, currently involved in a bun fight with a German monk who thought that he had proved that the eighth century City of Jerusalem was significantly larger than the original City of David. No, it wasn't, you Papish knave!)

The "Deuteronomic history" of the Old Testament, comprised, in the Protestant canon, of Joshua, Judges (with caveats), the two Books of Samuel, and the two Books of Kings, tells of how Joshua leads the Hebrews out of the wilderness across the Jordan River into the Promised Land of Canaan, conquers it, and establishes a golden age of rule by divinely-guided "judges." The traditional timing is during the Late Bronze Age "Collapse." I use scare quotes to acknowledge that, after its ascendancy as a global explanation of the trajectory of archaic states, "collapse" has been problematised of late. This was a synchronisation of which early proponents of the idea of a Late Bronze Age Collapse were fully aware, to put it mildly. (Genocide goes better with cute kids!). As with my interpretation of Saro Wallace's "successful collapse," in Crete, Joshua ends with a transition into a politically prelapsarian golden age in which the Israelites are ruled by "judges" rather than kings, who are bad unless of the line of David. The judges are in charge of the core political task of the Old Testament, which is to repeatedly lead the people back to the true worship of Yahweh after they stray and are justly smitten. 

In the old age of the prophet/judge Samuel, the Israelites take a king, Saul. Monarchy is good in the abstract, bad in practice unless the kings are of the line of David, so clearly it is a mistake to choose Saul, as God demonstrates by arranging for David to succeed him. David captures Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and the bizarre clip at the head is a dramatic re-enactment of David "dancing out of his clothes" as he leads the Ark of the Covenant into a sanctuary on Mount Zion. This is where his son, Solomon, will build the First Temple of Jerusalem, the real protagonist of the Deuteronomic History. 

Solomon rules a vast Early Iron Age empire, which falls apart under his sons into the straying northern kingdom of Israel, and the more faithful southern kingdom of Judah, which retains Jerusalem and the Temple, making the Israelites foreigners, more-or-less. Biblical scholars have been relishing this confusion since before there was a Bible. Elijah was an Israelite, but Isaiah was a Judahite. I mean, obviously, right? 

The Israelite kingdom is finally punished for its sins with conquest by the Assyrians in 722, leading to the deportation of the "Ten Lost Tribes of Israel" throughout the Assyrian kingdom in line with its established policy of deporting conquered populations, or perhaps just their elite, priestly class. Judah then undergoes a series of religious reforms over the next century in which the first draft of the Deuteronomic History may or may not have been written, ending with the ascendant Neo-Babylonian Kingdom besieging and taking Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple, and deporting the people (or priestly elites) of Judah to Babylon. (Boney M!) Conquering Persian King(?) Cyrus ends the exile in 539, allowing the people (priestly elites?) to return to Jerusalem, establish the Second Temple, and, by 250BC at the latest, redact the modern version of the Deuteronomic History.

The outline narrative history is nailed to the modern narrative by the synchronisation of event and coordination of subject matter between Moses/Joshua's eruption into Canaan in the wake of the events recorded for Year 8 of Ramesses III on his House of a Million Years at Medinet Habu and secondarily in the Harris Papyrus. This is  1177, the year the world ended, although we have to leave room for some wilderness-wandering and golden-calf -worshipping (party down!).  You might think that the dating is a bit specific, but it is emphatically not.

External evidence? I'm glad you asked! A raging debate over the historicity of the Deuteronomic History turns on two Assyrian monuments referencing Israelite kings of the usurping dynasty of Omri, an Egyptian monument and two recovered archaeologically in modern Israel referring to a kingdom of the House of David. I find the attention given the last two a bit beside the point, since it is not in doubt that there is a tradition that David is the apical ancestor of a Judean kingdom centred on Jerusalem, the only question being the antiquity of the tradition, and apart from issues of interpretation, the oldest is a tangential reference on the Bubasite Portal which debatably establishes the existence of traditions about David during the reign of Shoshenq, after 925, probably very shortly afterwards, per ongoing controversy over Third Intermediate Period chronology. 

In contrast, the Assyrian evidence is at least debatable for a reference to Ahab, son of Omri, on Shalmaneser IV's Kurkh Stele. who is said to have fought an Assyrian incursion under Shalmaneser IV as part of a coalition of "twelve kings" under Ben Hadad of Damascus at Qarqar in 853. Ben Hadad is at least a well known figure in the Deuteronomic History, but various caveats attach to the identification of "Ahab of Israel." In contrast, four later Assyrian texts reference the "land of the House of Omri" with various degrees of certainty through the 722 extinction of the state. 

Israel Finkelstein neatly solves these mysteries by making Omri's Israel the actual and original Hebrew monarchy. Omri is the archetypical founder of a dynasty, said to have erected a royal city on a level hilltop site, the modern village of Sabastia in the Nablus Governorate. Ahab may appear as a non-Omiride in the Kurkh Stele because Omri had not yet been invented as a apical dynastic founder, in which case the actual builder of Samaria is someone else, but that doesn't change the fact that Samaria is readily established archaeologically as a Ninth Century urban foundation and capital city, with even some tax records recovered from the site. The lack of similar evidence for Jerusalem leaves us with either archaeological grasping, illustrated at the head, a wait-and-see approach, or a radically contrarian argument that the early history of Judah was basically fabricated to give an alternate historical tradition to the actual Israelite one, in the interest of assorted theological and ecclesiological concerns. 

We are left, in any case, with a state established in the early 800s, more in line with the timing of new states elsewhere in the Early Iron Age and further corroboration that there was something in the air. (Or, in Charlton Heston's words from The Twelve Commandments, "the bitter waters.")

The core issue for early Hebrews might be less religion than their struggle with their more powerful downland neighbours, the Philistines, and it is here that the modern idea of "Sea Peoples" rampaging about a post-Collapse Mediterranean comes into play. According to a strong tradition in modern Israelite archaeology, the Philistines can be identified as interlopers into the Levant, originating, as evidenced by their preference for certain styles of pottery,. or perhaps architectural or even cooking styles, in the Aegean. The "Sea Peoples," then, are natural ancestors of the Philistines, and the Medinet Habu inscription describing Ramesses IV as settling the defeated Sea Peoples in Palestine becomes the effective mechanism. The point here, spelled out with varying degrees of boldness depending on the pundit's shamelessness, is that "Philistine is Palestinian, therefore it is the Palestinians who are the real European colonialists."

At this point one can well appreciate why the archaeologist would flee to the airless but also hopefully uncontroversial world of archeology and have endless arguments about the Tel Dor site on the Carmel coast below Samaria, an unoccupied former urban settlement historically protected from intensive modern development by surrounding lagoons and an unhealthy reputation. As good as any a site for a "lagoon state" along the Levantine coast, and by a fluke of geography occurring south of the Lebanese border and thus more readily excavated while being beyond the "Phoenician realm" that somehow coincides with the modern Lebanese realm. It is here where internal room layouts and the location of stoves ostensibly shows "Aegean" incursions by proto-Greeks straight out of Pylos. Not surprisingly given its location, it has historically been a site for purple and glass production. Not surprisingly given traditional historiography, the coastal location and good harbour has led to speculation that it was an entrepot city.

We begin, then, with collapse, and end with revival, or "renaissance," a familiar model in collapse studies, modified only by my bug for geography and, specifically, elevation. I would insist on the role of animal sacrifice and temple complexes, except that the surviving tax documents from Samaria show that the state was levying wine and olive oil contributions, and, presumably, selling them. It would be rash to extrapolate too far from the one set of data to survive, however. The Kurkh Stele would seem to  justify presenting Ahab as owning an extraordinarily large number of horses, something that modern excavators see as justified, allowing for some kind of exaggeration, by excavations at the Omiride fortress of Jezreel, pointing to large stables there, if not large enough for the 2000 chariots of the Kurkh Stele, and the ample forage of the Jezreel Valley below.  Apart from military and prestige uses, large numbers of equids would have been handy for moving amphorae of wine and oil. 

Finally, there is a fairly obvious cause and effect relationship between a hypothesised increase in the wool clip due to the introduction of iron shears, and of large horse herds. More wool means that it is possible to support fewer sheep, which depresses the value of fodder, which makes horses cheaper. Exactly how one coordinates fodder in situ in coastal meadows around Carmel with the new settlements and royal city or cities in the central hills is a question calling for some kind of resolution of the social problem of transhumance. An upland/downland alliance between hill kings and Phoenician cities would seem to offer one solution, and here one can return to the story of Ahab and Jezebel. If Solomon is a Deuteronomic invention appropriating the Omiride narrative for a "Yahwist" king, then the parallel here is with the alliance between Solomon and Hiram; but also between the temple of Baal and Astarte that Ahab built for Jezebel and the First Temple. Perhaps saliently even at this very early date, is the Yahwist insistence on a single temple in the royal city monopolising animal sacrifice. While it seems logistically impractical, I've argued that the collapse of this monopoly plays a crucial role in the Third Century Crisis, and certainly the rise of the urban sanctuary is a crucial feature of the Early Iron Age. Perhaps it, too, reflects a collapse in the price of fodder, which might have led pastoralists in places like Tel Dor to shift their focus from sheep to cattle. Cattle are more efficient meat producers than sheep, but a slaughtered steer feeds a lot more people than a ewe, which is in itself a problem of social organisation if can't just sell the meat. 

I will not try to pile more on my tired shoulders this Sunday evening, as I am trying to digest an attempted phenomalist critique of the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age by Jesse Millek. I have a feeling that this is going to be a fruitful work to explore, but that doesn't mean that I am going to do it tonight.




    (fascinating academic side-eye detail - so the data everyone used for decades held for some location 160 miles away from the actual settlement and everyone just assumed it was all good?)

  2. Considering that they were using that data to reconstruct global weather patterns, it's pretty much all good.

    Thanks for spoiling last week's Guardian, by the way. Now what will I have to read at breakfast next weekend when it finally arrives in Vancouver?