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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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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