Back-Breakers from Ashkelon and Hazor

Ashkelon 3 The Seventh Century B.C.

By Lawrence E. Stager, Daniel M. Master and J. David Schloen, eds.
Harvard Semitic Museum Publications (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011) 817 pp; $99.50 (hardcover)

Hazor: The 1990–2009 Excavations: The Iron Age

By Amnon Ben-Tor, Doron Ben-Ami and Debora Sandhaus
(Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2012)
672 pp., $120 (hardcover)
Reviewed by William G. Dever

These two massive, enormously expensive volumes to produce represent the epitome of archaeological field reports today, far beyond the scope (or for that matter the means) of projects a generation ago. They set an enviably high standard. Yet they also raise some disturbing questions.

The Ashkelon volume—consisting of 28 chapters by 26 contributors, extending over 817 quarto pages—covers only the seventh-century B.C.E. remains excavated in Grids 38 and 50 between 1982 and 1997. There the late Philistine marketplace, winery and quarry were violently destroyed by the Babylonian campaigns in 604 B.C.E., producing a mass of material for the archaeologists.

The report covers in detail the stratigraphy, architecture, quantitative and spatial analyses, pottery (211 pages on the Greek imports alone), seals, amulets, bronzes, iron items, faience and alabaster, beads and jewelry terra cotta figurines, loom weights, chipped and ground stone objects, incense altars, and floral and faunal remains. Many items are published in color as well as in black-and-white photographs and linedrawings. There are numerous detailed architectural plans but only a few rather schematic section drawings.

The Hazor volume is the sixth final report of the site’s excavation. It covers excavations of the Iron Age levels, Strata XII-VI, in Area A on the acropolis between 1990 and 2009. The excavated area was more than 4,000 square meters (or more than 40,000 sq. ft.). The 672- page volume consists of 17 chapters by 17 different authors. It covers stratigraphy, architecture, pottery, figurines, tools and weapons, ground stone implements, spindle whorls, bone, ivory and shell objects, seals, glass, and floral and faunal remains. There are numerous detailed plans and photographs of the architecture, but no section drawings.

These massive, complex volumes are not meant to be read by nonspecialists, or even read through consecutively at all. They are tools for research, a database for professional archaeologists, historians of ancient Near East, and perhaps for the few Biblical scholars who may attempt to wade through them.

Readers of BAR would be advised to consult these volumes in libraries and look over the brief summaries contained in the introduction and here and there. The Iron Age or Israelite remains at Hazor, along with the late Philistine culture revealed at Ashkelon, will be of major interest to these who try to follow “Biblical archaeology.” For the rest of us, who are astonished at how far our branch of archaeology has come in our lifetimes (mine extends over 55 years in the field), we can only marvel at how the editors and numerous authors have collaborated to produce—and fund—such ambitious volumes. Sadly, without the subsidies like those provided by the Levy Foundation for the Ashkelon project, such lavish publications have become almost out of reach for American excavators working in Israel and Jordan. Perhaps BAR readers could help?

William G. Dever is professor emeritus of the Near Eastern studies department at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Archaeology and Culture of the Ancient Near East at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

More on Hazor and Ashkelon in Bible History Daily

Scorched Wheat May Provide Answers on the Destruction of Canaanite Tel Hazor

Ashkelon Excavations Find New Evidence of Philistine Religion

More on Hazor and Ashkelon in the BAS Library

Where Is the Hazor Archive Buried?
BAR 32:02, Mar/Apr 2006
By Sharon Zuckerman

Excavating Hazor, Part One: Solomon’s City Rises from the Ashes
BAR 25:02, Mar/Apr 1999
By Amnon Ben-Tor

Excavating Hazor, Part Two: Did the Israelites Destroy the Canaanite City?
BAR 25:03, May/Jun 1999
By Amnon Ben-Tor and Maria Teresa Rubiato

The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction
BAR 22:01, Jan/Feb 1996
By Lawrence E. Stager

When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon
BAR 17:02, Mar/Apr 1991
By Lawrence E. Stager

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