by Lawrence Stager, J. David Schloen and Daniel M. Master, eds.
Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008, 708 pp.
$149.50 (hard cover)
Reviewed by Aren M. Maeir
The publication of a final report on an archaeological excavation is an important event, particularly when one is dealing with such an important site as Ashkelon. As is well known, and discussed previously in BAR, one of the central problems that has plagued the archaeology of Israel in the past few decades is the “poor track record” that many excavations have had in the publication of the final reports. Fortunately, in the past few years, the tide seems to have turned, and only in the past decade we have witnessed the publication of numerous reports, chock-full of information, on a wide range of sites. This includes volumes on the excavations of important sites such as Beth Shean (three volumes edited by Ami Mazar, with another one in press), Lachish (five impressive volumes edited by David Ussishkin), the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem (so far four volumes edited by Hillel Geva), to name but a few of the more prominent.
The volume under review, edited by Larry Stager of Harvard University, along with David Schloen of the University of Chicago and Daniel Master of Wheaton College, is the first of what one hopes to be a long series of volumes that will report on long-going (and ongoing) excavations at Ashkelon. The second volume of this series has appeared already,1 and discussions with Stager and Master (the current codirectors of the Ashkelon project) indicate that there are more volumes on the verge of publication.
The results of the excavations of Ashkelon are well known to the readers of BAR.a The current volume goes far beyond these general surveys, however, and serves as the introductory volume to the projected series of site report volumes. Several chapters introduce the site, its surroundings and the history of the excavation, as well as detailed discussions of various methodological aspects.
Perhaps most important from a general archaeological viewpoint are the two chapters (chapters 14–15) that provide stratigraphic overviews of the excavations on the north and south slopes of the site, and provide, in many cases for the first time, detailed stratigraphic, architectural information, along with discussions of selected finds of note. These chapters are of particular importance, since they provide significant and previously unknown data on such important aspects as the Middle Bronze fortifications and gates, the late Middle Bronze Age “calf shrine,” and the various stages of the Philistine settlement on the site.
More than half of the volume deals with finds from various cultures and periods. Some of the chapters have been previously published as journal articles, but there are many that provide new data including an important chapter by Frank M. Cross on the Phoenician and other alphabetic inscriptions, among which there is a very nice selection of late Iron Age (“neo-Philistine”) inscriptions (mainly ostraca) from the final stage of Philistine Ashkelon, on the eve of the city’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 604 B.C.E. Among the inscriptions are several that apparently served as receipts for agricultural produce (wine, beer, grain, etc.) from the area of the late Iron Age market; an inscription that might mention a seren (“tyrant”), the title for a Philistine leader; a tantalizing inscription mentioning someone’s mother and “your beautiful cloak”; two inscriptions apparently related to cult issues (including the mention of an apparent cult official—the Laḥḥen; and several inscriptions dealing with personal and/or judicial issues. The nice assortment of inscriptions from late Iron Age Ashkelon, while unfortunately not containing any long, monumental inscriptions (such as the “Beth David” inscription from Tel Dan), nevertheless provides us with a glimpse of a variety of issues relating to everyday life in Ashkelon during the last decades of Biblical Jerusalem, during the times of Josiah, Jeremiah and other well-known Biblical figures.
All told, the volume is an indication of the staggering (not to say Stagering) importance of this site and the important information that will be provided in future volumes. While much of the data is not published in full or comprehensively, as will surely be done in future volumes, it clearly whets our appetite. We impatiently await further volumes.
1. B. Johnson, Ashkelon II: Imported Pottery of the Roman and Late Roman Periods, Harvard Semitic Museum Publications, Final Reports of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008).
a. Lawrence E. Stager: “Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” BAR 17:03; “Eroticism & Infanticide at Ashkelon,” BAR 17:04; “The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction,” BAR 22:01; “From Vespa to Ashkelon: BAR Interviews Lawrence Stager,” BAR 36:04. BAR 35:04.
Aren M. Maeir is director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project and co-director of the Joint BIU/WIS Program in Archaeological Science at the Institute of Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University.