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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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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One Response to Faust-a puzzle about pots

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.

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