Faust-security and settlement

In the late 13th century and the 12th centuries BCE hundreds of villages and farmsteads appeared in the inland hill country of Canaan. Most scholars now identify these villages with the beginnings of Israel.

In Israel’s Ethnogenesis, Avraham Faust calls attention to the fact that most all of these villages and farmsteads seem to have disappeared by sometime in the 10th century. What can be the explanation for this?

Examining the archeological evidence more closely, Faust comes up with a four important aspects. First, people abandoned most all these rural sites that we have excavated. Second, it happened in two stages, one in the first half of the 11th century and one in the first few decades of the 10th century. Third, these stages took place in two regions. The 11th century phase happened in the core of the hill country, Benjamin and the areas adjacent to it. The 10th century phase happened in the rest of the country from Galilee to the Negev. Fourth, the abandonment of the rural villages corresponds to a growth in urbanization, especially at the time of the 10th century phase (p. 126).

There have been several explanations offered for this. Faust believes the most likely has to do with security. The rural villages were unfortified. The urban centers were walled and defended.

It is worthwhile to note that this resettlement started before the monarchy arose. So the explanation cannot be that the kings liked to build cities. It is more likely that a security threat arose first. In the biblical account the monarchy itself came about as a response to security threats for Ammon and the Philistines. So Faust’s scenario at least partly corresponds to the text.

He thinks a combination of voluntary resettlement by villagers and later forced resettlement by the monarchy explains the pattern. The area of Benjamin shows the most elaborate social organization at the earliest date. It has the most dense population and the most central towns at an early date. It was also closest and most likely to feel a threat from the Philistine city states of Ekron and Gath.

Although 1 Samuel and the Dead Sea Scrolls’ expanded (perhaps older) version of 1 Samuel say the earliest threat to Benjamin was from Ammon, Faust says that only the Philistines could have initiated this process of resettlement. He wants to rely on what we know from material culture dug up by archeology more than what the texts tell us. Indeed there are reasons to see the text of 1 Samuel as a bit confused in its account of Saul’s ascension and wars.

I was intrigued by one of ways others have explained the beginning of the monarchy and urbanization. In the clans in the hill country villages there would eventually be a problem with inheritance. After a while land could no longer get divided among a man’s sons without making plots too small for a family to live on. So their would be a bunch of displaced young men. The monarchy and the new cities offered a place to these men. They could be soldiers. They could be government officials. Maybe they could even be priests.

Although I would agree more with Faust’s idea that security worries caused resettlement, there does seem to have been a supply of displaced young men. 1 Samuel 22:2 describes the people recruited to David’s band or gang.

“And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him.”

If you look at the Middle East today you will see that failed economies there have left a whole bunch of young men with minimal prospects. They often get recruited to nasty groups like ISIS. Something similar spurs young men to join gangs in American cities. So it is not good when young men have little hope for their futures.  When that happens something in society is not working.

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Faust-Israel as the wild frontier

I am blogging through Avraham Faust’s Israel’s Ethnogenesis.

In a footnote, Faust says that Norman Gottwald may have done the idea that earliest Israel had an egalitarian ethos a disservice by associating that idea with his larger theory. His theory took Marxist social conflict theory and projected it back on ancient Israel (that is my characterization of Gottwald, not Faust’s). Gottwald’s theory was that Israel’s origins lay in a Canaanite revolt against Egyptian backed city states that oppressed them. Then these Canaanites and others rejected this oppressive social structure. This is what made them Israelites–not that they were some other race that had migrated into Canaan as per the Book of Joshua.

Faust does not buy into this whole theory. But he thinks there is evidence both in the Biblical text and in the material culture that earliest Israel indeed had an egalitarian ethos, which he sometimes calls an ideology. We have seen how he thinks their pottery and houses point to this. He says also that the lack of elaborate tombs points to this. No matter who you were, you got a simple burial. This is in stark contrast to what we find when we dig up sites from the Late Bronze Age.

The lack of Temples also points to this. We have no Iron Age I Israelite temples. This, along with the importance of prophets, probably points to there being not much in the way of an authoritative priesthood.

Even in Iron Age II, when their were kings in Israel, we do not find the monumental royal inscriptions that are so common elsewhere.

Faust points out that this does not require us to believe that Israel originated in an uprising or in class warfare of any kind. Anthropologists have studied frontier societies in various places, including the American West. These societies, it has been found, usually develop naturally with some hostility to hierarchy. If you think of early Israel as a frontier society, there is no need to read in ideas from the French or Russian revolutions.

If I remember right, Frank Moore Cross after demolishing Gottwald’s theory also used

egalitarian as a description of early Israel.

Faust acknowledges that equality in ancient Israel is only relative to other societies around Israel. There would have been a continuum from Egypt’s divine Pharaoh to less totalitarian and hierarchical arrangements. Israel had not so much a representative democracy as corporate government under councils of elders. And, just because they had an egalitarian ethos, that does not mean they always lived up to it in actual practice.

Anthropologists who have studied frontier societies note that such societies are temporary and that their egalitarianism gets replaced by more hierarchy. However, Faust argues that the egalitarian ethos may long outlast egalitarian practice.

Faust posits that at the end of the Bronze Age, a totemistic/tribal society somehow emerged in the hill country of Israel. It had to define itself over against the Egyptio/Canaanite system and eventually also against the Aegean society represented by the Philistines. Israel needed to contrast itself with these societies. So the egalitarian ethos became crucial for Israelite self-identity at this time.

He promises to develop these ideas more as the book goes along.

My reaction to his work so far is, first, that it is highly provocative and interesting.

Second, though, I have to say that I distrust terms like egalitarian, democracy, and hierarchical when applied to ancient societies. I especially have trouble when Faust seems to use the terms ideology and ethos interchangeably. It seems to me that these terms come filtered through more recent debates.

What actually existed about this time, according, for instance, to the Amarna Letters was a structure of empire and semi-autonomous city states. That Israel began in some contrast to this structure is certain. They were tribal and village based. They would have existed, though, in some kind of economic symbiosis with the cities and the caravan routes. But at some point conflict must have flared.

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Faust-houses for the equal and the pure

My current reading and blogging project is Avraham Faust’s Israel’s Ethnogenesis.

Faust so far has suggested that Israel’s ethnic identity goes back to the highland village culture of Iron Age I, which archeologists have discovered in the area where the Bible also suggests that Israel existed at that time.

As ethnic markers for early Israel he has named the ban on eating pork, which we know both from the biblical text and the distribution of animal bones. Pig bones are nearly absent from the highland villages.

Another ethnic marker is the simple undecorated pottery that we have found. Also we know that in Iron Age II, there was a surprising lack of imported pottery in Israel. Faust traced this back to a religious or ideological bias against foreign pottery, which must have arisen during the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

Much of this is based on what we have not found in ancient Israel. We have not found pig bones. We have not found fancy, decorated pottery. And we have not found imported pottery.

Now he discusses something we have found, four-room houses. He explains that this is a confusing term in English. It comes from a Hebrew word meaning a house with four spaces. But not even that quite describes these houses.  The spaces were divided into several rooms.  Sometimes there was a fifth space.  And we think there was often semi-open space on part of the roof.

Archeologists have found a particular style of house that was used in Israel from the twelfth century village culture down until the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century. The houses he describes have two or three long spaces with a broad space at the back. They are made of mudbrick.  The entrance in the front opens into central space with no roof. Residents enter all the other spaces from this central space. There is sometimes also an upstairs or roof plaza. Wooden pillars divide the downstairs spaces and support the roof. Originally, these houses supported agricultural families. Part of the downstairs stabled animals, and part of it stored produce. The upstairs seems to have functioned for sleeping and dining.

Of course, what archeologists see is just the base of a ruin.  See here.

In the Iron Age I villages the houses were crude, reflecting a very poor material culture. Later the houses became larger and more comfortable. (I have read elsewhere that some of the Iron I village houses had very low ceilings indicating the people then were short.) But the style of the houses remained easily recognizable and distinct throughout the Iron Age.

Faust talks about the distribution of these houses and illustrates it with a map. The houses are absent n Gaza. In the central hill country from Hebron north, this kind of house predominates. There are still a lot of them, but they become less common in the Jezreel Valley and Galilee. We have found a few across the Jordan.

Some scholars have downplayed these houses as an ethnic marker. They have claimed that houses like this occur in Edom and Ammon and so are not distinctly Israelite. Faust disputes most of these identifications. He believes the “four-room” houses we have found in the Transjordan are Israelite. And the point of his map seems to be to show the overwhelming distribution of the houses in the hill country of Judea, Samaria and Galilee.

Faust proposes to do an analysis of the meaning of the four-room house plan in relation to other near eastern houses.  But I did not really understand this from what he says.  He does not go into enough detail to satisfy me.  Basically, he argues that the four-room house plan is 1) egalitarian and 2) conducive to ritual purity.

He says it is egalitarian because there is only one entrance and everyone, equally, has to enter that way.  Apparently Phoenician houses could be entered from several doors. Probably they had servant entrances or different doors for men, women and children.  He doesn’t discuss this.  He just says that because of the one entrance, Israelite houses are egalitarian.

He says that the houses were conducive to purity.  Men and women could stay in different areas  at the times the  month when that was necessary in line with the ritual impurity associated with menstruation.  (People often forget that normal male nighttime ejaculation rendered men temporarily impure as well.)  The rooms in the house could be entered from the central space.  He says this means an unclean person could still live in the house without contaminating other rooms.

Again, I have questions about this.  Wouldn’t it be better from a purity standpoint for men and women to have separate entrances?

I don’t think we can tell from the ruins whether the roof top cooking and sleeping spaces were segregated.  They would have to be for the purity idea to work.  Wouldn’t they?

There is some sign the he plans to return to this topic later in the book.  I hope so.

It is worth pointing out again he is taking what we know of Iron Age II practice, mostly from the biblical texts, and saying that those practices must have originated earlier so that earlier pottery and building styles reflect them.





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Faust-a puzzle about pots

Avraham Faust, in Israel’s Ethnogenesis, continues to discuss pottery. It seems clear that Israel, under David and Solomon and during the divided monarchy, participated in a thriving trade with the Phoenicians and others.  Therefore, it is most surprising that we find almost no imported pottery at inland Israelite sites. It is not just the Bible that supports the reality of flourishing trade. Digs in the Ophel (the old city of David) section of Jerusalem have revealed bones of Mediterranean species of fish and items made from Mediterranean sea shells.  We have a few samples of wood from there as well.  And that wood was imported from outside of Israel.  But practically no imported pottery. The situation was similar for Beersheba and Beth-shemesh.  These cities showed signs of vigorous trade.  But imported pottery was mostly absent. In contrast, we found much imported pottery in the coastal cities: Ashkelon, Dor and Acco. Faust thinks that a purely economic explanation for this does not work.  Why was all the other imported stuff found at Jerusalem and Beersheba?  Why is there a contrast between lots of Phoenician pottery found in Canaanite cities in Galilee and almost none in adjacent Israelite settlements?  Why does the absence of imported pottery correlate with the absence of pig bones and the presence of undecorated pottery? He claims that this pattern has to do with ethnic values and attitudes.  In other word, he thinks the Israelites had a bad attitude about foreign pottery that did not apply to foreign food or building materials.  This suggests to him that Israel wanted foreign nations to see them as part of the region, on the one hand, but on the other that Israel did not want to participate in the values of the outside world.  He sites Hosea 12:7 (12:8 in Hebrew annotation):
 “A cunning Canaanite! Deceitful scales are in his hand; He loves to oppress” (NKJV)

Here the word “Canaanite” is interchangeable with merchant or trader.  Most versions translate it that way.  The values of foreigners differed from those of Israel.  This was Israel’s self-image, anyway. So it is a puzzle why Israel seems to have banned foreign pottery.  Bigotry or ethnocentrism is the simplest explanation.  Too simple, Faust thinks. Another suggestion has been that in later Israel the state controlled trade and restricted certain imports as a part of trade policy.  Faust agrees that there may have been a government policy against imported pottery.  But he argues that a negative attitude about such pottery had to come before the policy. Perhaps the prohibition of decorated and imported pottery came from an anti-elitist, egalitarian ideology that valued simplicity.  This goes along with Norman Gottwald’s theory that Israel arose in a peasant revolt.  The critiques of this theory apply also to this explanation.  It may not be wholly wrong, but it is incomplete. An intriguing possibility is that, along with Israel’s division of animals into clean and unclean categories, there was also a division of artifacts.  Numbers 31:20-24 requires booty captured from foreigners in war to be ceremonially cleansed. Faust’s theory is that an elite connected to the royal houses developed in Iron Age II, and that this elite used negative popular feelings about foreign pottery to centralize and control the manufacture of pottery in Israel.  The elites were fine with the double standard that allowed the import of cedar and other foreign products.  His theory might explain about the distribution of pottery, but it seems pretty conjectural. At any rate, his real interest is in Iron Age I and how the bias against fancy foreign pottery developed.  One view about this is that Israel first developed a bias against Philistine pottery during their confrontation with that people.  Then the bias eventually expanded to include all foreign pottery.  Faust, however, also raises the possibility that the bias originated even earlier.  Imported pottery was everywhere in the Late Bronze Age.  So the ideology favoring simplicity and egalitarianism may have arisen in the transition between the two ages, and, therefore, before Israel’s encounter with the Philistines.

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Wolfhart Pannenberg-rest in peace

Pannenberg was one of our great twentieth century theologians.  He died Friday.  See this appreciative obituary.

Way back at the beginning of this blog I began by talking about Pannenberg, because I thought his theological orientation was definitely “outward”, and so fit the theme of this blog.

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Faust-pots and pigs

I am continuing in Avraham Faust’s Israel’s Ethnogenesis.

One way to argue for the existence of Israel as a people before the time of David and Solomon is to take the reference to Israel in a monument of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Merneptah, near the end of the 13th century and connect that to the sudden appearance of a great number of agricultural villages in the hill country west of the Jordan River at about the same time.

A certain kind of pottery was found in those villages (collared rimmed jars) and a certain kind of house (four room houses). So when you find collared rimmed jars and four room houses at Megiddo, you can think the Israelites had occupied Megiddo.

This is the kind of method that has come under fire. For one thing, we now know that collared rimmed jars and four room houses turn up in Ammon and Bashan as well as the hill country villages. For another, we can question whether pottery style is an ethnic marker. Maybe, for instance, lots of cultures used similar styles of pottery but distinguished them by the way they were decorated. Maybe that is the ethnic marker. The use of pottery to determine ethnicity is tempting because pottery is a lot of what has survived the centuries. But today many have come to deride it as the “pots and peoples” method.

At Megiddo indicators of Canaanite ethnicity also show up. For a long time pottery was classified by the site it was found at, but it was not located with much detail within that site. So if both Israelites and Canaanites lived at Megiddo, we need to know what house the pottery came from, not just that it was at Megiddo. Only recently have archeologists tried to classify pottery more specifically.

Faust says that we have to look for ethnicity at the household level.

Faust proposes a procedure that works backwards from Iron Age II. We know much of what marked Israelite ethnicity later. So we take those marks and look for them in the in Iron Age I.

A major example is a diet without pork. We know that there was a ban on eating pork in later Israel. It was a characteristic of Israelite ethnicity. We have clear examples of both Israelite and Philistine sites in Iron Age II. We find pig bones at the Philistine sites and we do not seem to find pig bones at the Israelite sites.

Also we have found very few pig bones at the Iron Age I hill country village sites. Just a few—less than 1% –turned up at Shiloh. Significantly, they also seem absent at both Dan and Beersheba. At comparable late Bronze Age sites, we find something like 15% pig bones. So the Iron Age marked a diet change in what seem to have been Israelite sites.

Faust acknowledges that other ethnic groups probably also avoided hog consumption. However, if there is a site with a lot of pig bones you can at least say that it is a non-Israelite site.

Faust does not ignore pottery. If you are an archeologist you really can’t. It is the most common thing we dig up. (When I was in seminary my Old Testament/Hebrew professor had shards of pottery piled all over his office. He loved to talk at length about pottery to anyone who visited. I admit that I was bored.) He makes a point about Israelites using undecorated pottery. Even in Iron Age II Israelite houses seldom have decorated pottery. It is simple and bare of art. The Iron Age I village houses also have simple pottery. The Iron Age I villages seemed very poor and we might explain the lack of decoration as caused by poverty.

Israel was much more prosperous later. Yet they still left their pottery undecorated. Faust sees this as an ethnic marker. He suggests that the Israelites began to contrast themselves with the Philistines or the Egyptio-Canaanite culture by way of avoiding fancy pottery.

When I read this I thought of something that happened in my own denominational tradition. What we call the Churches of Christ split off in the later part of the 19th century. They were often southern churches, so this had something to do with the Civil War. But they also tended to be poor churches. One of their boundary characteristics was that they banned instrumental music in worship. Many northern churches were richer and acquired organs during this period. So a social analysis of what happened might say that what was originally a matter of economic necessity became a doctrine and a marker of denominational difference.

Maybe Israel originally had simple pottery because they were poor. But maybe this evolved into a cultural boundary marker.

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Faust-what ethnogenesis means

When did Israel come into being as an ethnic group?

That is the question Avraham Faust is dealing with in Israel’s Ethnogenesis.

Modern anthropology has looked at and developed a vocabulary and some methods for exploring the ethnicity of peoples. Ethnogenesis is the study of the formation of ethnic groups. Faust applies some of this to Israel in the early Iron Age.

Most scholars used to think that an ethnic group was a culture-bearing unit. Archeology could partly uncover the culture of a people by looking at graves, pottery, temples, and other artifacts that had survived. A newer way to see an ethnic group is as a form of social organization. Whereas a style of pottery, for instance, might tell you something about a group’s culture, it does not give as much clue about the social organization of a people.

For this reason, archeology seems less helpful. Ethnicity now seems more complex. It has to do with what distinguishes one group from another, not just with characteristics shared within a group. So archeologists look for markers that point to boundaries between ethnic groups. This is why Faust thinks that when written texts are available they help to give context to archeological finds.

Ethnic groups usually compete with one another. So archeologists can look for signs of competition. This may not only mean economic and military competition. It can include competition for social and psychological rewards as well. Such competition may motivate the formation of ethnic groups.

Ethnic groups also are ethnocentric. We today might call this bigotry, but historically it has been a feature of ethnic groups. They see other groups as inferior. They give more respect to groups that have some common characteristics with themselves and less respect to groups that are more distant. Ethnocentrism helps form the boundaries of group identity.

Ethnic groups tend to share some kind of a power structure or hierarchy. It can be a loose clan confederacy or a central state. These power structures vary a lot, but they determine the relation of members of the group and the degree that boundaries with other groups get enforced.

Israel seems to constitute an ethnic group. But how did it arise in the early Iron Age, and how did they distinguish themselves from other groups?

Faust is going to start with the Iron Age because he correctly understands that in the late Bronze Age Canaan was an Egyptian province. The hill country villages that most now see as early Israelite may have begun during the Bronze Age, but he thinks the formation of ethnic identity is mostly an Iron Age process.

So this sets the stage for Faust’s discussion in the rest of the book. He will use the tools of archeology and the framework of anthropological discussions about ethnicity along with biblical and other written texts to attempt an answer to the question of how Israel came to be as an ethnic group.

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