Leading scholar of the Negev Bedouin
Emanuel Marx, pioneer Israeli anthropologist and expert on contemporary Bedouin societies of the Negev and Sinai deserts, passed away on February 13, 2022 while working on an article at his home in Ramat Hasharon in Israel; he was 94. For archaeologists, many elements of Marx’s research provided important insights into ancient nomads, their relationships with kingdoms and states, and the economic and social functions of desert pilgrimage.
Marx was born and raised in Munich, Germany. In November 1938, during the Kristallnacht Nazi pogrom against German Jewish citizens, Marx’s father was incarcerated in the Dachau concentration camp–something that would haunt Marx throughout his life. In June 1939, Marx’s parents sent their children, Emanuel and Shimon, as refugees to relatives in Manchester, England. Although imprisoned a second time, Marx’s father and mother escaped to Mandatory Palestine in September 1939, and their sons joined them the following year. Marx then served in the “Moriah” battalion during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
After the war, Marx earned a master’s degree in modern Middle East history at the Hebrew University, studying with Martin Buber, Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt, and David Ayalon. For his M.A. research, Marx spent three months among the Azazmeh Bedouin in the Negev. From 1955 to 1959, Marx served as an assistant to the Adviser on Arab Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office. In 1959, a scholarship from the British Council enabled Marx to study for a Ph.D. at the University of Manchester, which was the center of the “Manchester School” of social anthropology led by Max Gluckman. Other faculty anthropologists who influenced Marx were Victor Turner, an expert on ritual, symbolism, rites of passage, and pilgrimage, and Bill Epstein, a specialist on ethnicity and identity. During this period, Marx conducted fieldwork with the Abu Gweid tribe in the Negev. Marx showed how contemporary Bedouin lifestyle was a result of the post-war Israeli military administration of the Negev that excluded Bedouin communities from Israel’s larger market economy. The dissertation was later published as Bedouin of the Negev (Machester Univ. Press, 1967), and it includes a wealth of ethnographic, geographic, historical, and other data that are invaluable for archaeologists studying nomads.
In 1964, shortly after earning his Ph.D., Marx was invited by the young Tel Aviv University to establish its Department of Anthropology and Sociology, where he taught until his retirement in 1995. During this period, Marx worked on a variety of projects including a study of Palestinian refugee camps published in 1971 as Some Sociological and Economic Aspects of Refugee Camps on the West Bank (Rand). Marx also published on Jewish refugees from the Arab lands. In 2002, Marx joined Naama Goren-Inbar and her excavations at the Early Paleolithic site of Gesher Banot Yaakov (c. 850,000–750,000 B.C.E.), contributing anthropological insights into the social organization of these early humans. In 1976, Marx founded an anthropological research unit at Ben-Gurion University’s Desert Research Institute in Sde Boker, which he directed until 1989.
From 1981 to 1982, I had a postdoctoral fellowship with Marx at Sde Boker, with a particular interest in Marx’s research on the Bedouin of the south Sinai, which he later published as Bedouin of Mount Sinai: An Anthropological Study of Their Political Economy (Berghahn, 2013). At the time, I was trying to understand the emergence of the first chiefdoms in the northern Negev based on my survey along the Wadi Beersheva and excavations at the Chalcolithic site of Shiqmim (c. 4500–3300 B.C.E.). Later, when writing up the excavations of Chalcolithic Gilat, one of the first temples in the southern Levant, I reached out to Emanuel for his insights on Bedouin pilgrimage and how that might help us understand the emergence of early ritual centers in the Negev. He then contributed a remarkable study entitled “Tribal Pilgrimages to Saints Tombs in South Sinai” to an edited volume.i The article discussed the economic underpinnings of routine pilgrimages to local saints’ tombs as well as their clear connection to establishing tribal territorial rights.
State Violence in Nazi Germany: From Kristallnacht to Barbarossa (Routledge, 2020) was Marx’s last book, published when he was 93. Marx’s anthropological interest in violence began with his study of personal violence among North African Jewish immigrants and their relation to the state. However, this last book was personal; Marx finally confronted the morning of November 10, 1939, when he watched his father being taken from their home to the Dachau concentration camp, and especially when his father returned two months later sick and dispirited. These experiences gave Marx an empathic eye for examining the societies he studied.
i. Thomas E. Levy, ed., Archaeology, Anthropology, and Cult: The Sanctuary at Gilat, Israel (London: Equinox, 2006).
Thomas E. Levy holds the Norma Kershaw Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands at the University of California, San Diego. He co-directs the Khirbat Faynan excavation in Jordan.
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