Ephraim Stern, editor
Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society; Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008, 2,152 pp.
This is a magnificent and massive volume, a veritable tour de force. It is difficult to submit a balanced review, because I cannot think of a negative comment. It is truly a magnum opus. What a marvelous resource for scholars and students alike!
In the course of reviewing this book, I formulated a dozen questions to test how comprehensive this supplementary volume to The New Encyclopedia really is; in every case I readily found the answer to my query. Four volumes of The New Encyclopedia were published in 1993. In the past 15 years so much has happened in Near Eastern archaeology: New excavations have been undertaken, and many previously dug sites were in need of update—for example, Jerusalem, the centerpiece of archaeological investigation. The present excavation report of the renewed investigation of the City of David and environs is a third as long as the 1993 article that covers the previous century or more. This supplementary volume updates all excavations through the year 2005.
Archaeological methods have developed dramatically, such as the scientific analysis of all faunal and floral remains. A large number of significant epigraphic finds have come to light—for example, the “House of David” inscription from Tel Dan. Today, all archaeological projects are interdisciplinary in approach, whether they be regional surveys or one-period sites.
Since the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, increasing collaboration between Israeli and Jordanian archaeologists is both commonplace and productive. Consequently, the editors of the volume at hand pay special attention to the major Jordanian sites. Constraints of time, space and funds, however, made it impossible in this edition to devote full coverage to all the sites east of the Jordan. The excavations since 1991 are summarized under the single entry “Jordan,” comprising 50 pages, including an exhaustive bibliography.
International cooperation west and east of the Jordan is only a first step, but it adumbrates the potential of archaeology, if all countries in the region would only emulate the example of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Lack of cooperation is but one more tragic fallout from the ongoing hostilities among close neighbors in the Middle East. Imagine if Syria and Iraq were to follow the example of Jordan; unfortunately, the Middle East has been a battlefield for centuries, and the future is not bright.
This volume, despite its heft, is admirably user-friendly. The usual appendices—alphabetical list of persons and places; chronological tables; glossary of technical, geographic and architectural terms; prehistoric and historical archaeological periods; a selected list of rulers extending from Egypt’s Early Dynastic period to the Byzantine emperors—is enhanced by “map reference points” as well as the “time periods of sites.” The “time periods” chart is especially useful: At a glance a researcher can see the chronological periods represented at a given site, including all the sites discussed in volumes 1–5, or a researcher can find all sites that produced material from a particular archaeological time period.
Full-color plates, 32 in number, plus 1,000 photographs, maps and plans further enhance this book. The endpaper maps locate all main sites discussed in volumes 1–5, of The New Encyclopedia.
Team effort is evident on every page of this volume. It could not have happened otherwise. Approximately 163 archaeologists, carefully summarizing their research, contributed to the production of this volume, not to mention the editor (Ephraim Stern) and associate editors (Hillel Geva and Alan Paris), the editorial board, the editorial advisors and numerous others. Without slighting any contributor (I know many personally and admire all), the Herculean effort of Nira Naveh, who has organized the bibliography so meticulously, must be given special mention. I do not recall ever seeing a more comprehensive bibliography. (Incidentally, it includes BAR articles.1) Every entry is accompanied by an exhaustive list of pertinent publications. Anyone who has ever written a book, or even an article, knows how labor-intensive and tedious such an undertaking can be. This thorough bibliography alone, updated to the year 2005, is an extraordinary contribution that will facilitate the work of present and future scholars.
I cannot bring this review to a close without paying tribute to three people who played a major role in the production of this extraordinary work. Few have labored so selflessly, and without them, this supplementary volume would not have been produced: first, the indefatigable and well-published editor, Ephraim Stern, of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, outstanding among Israeli archaeologists; also, Joseph Aviram, of the Israel Exploration Society (IES), whose vision is mainly responsible for the publication of so many indispensable books, including the present one; and Hershel Shanks, of the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS), who has done so much to make the results of Near Eastern archaeology, including an understanding of the Bible and other Near Eastern texts, readily available to scholars, students and general readers. The publication of the present volume is the product of the combined efforts of the IES and BAS, guaranteeing that it will reach a global audience.
This book is without equal in Near Eastern archaeology. Nonetheless, unresolved questions in archaeology still remain as a challenge to future generations who will make this volume their vade mecum.
Philip J. King is professor emeritus of Biblical studies at Boston College. He is also past president of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature—the only person to head all of the organizations. King, a leading authority on archaeology and the Hebrew Bible, is a co-author of Life in Biblical Israel (John Knox, 2001), which won the 2003 BAS Publication Award for Best Scholarly Book on Archaeology.