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Archaeological Encyclopedia for the ’90s, Hershel Shanks, BAR 19:06, Nov-Dec 1993.

Ein Samiya GobletThe New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land

Ephraim Stern, editor

(Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Society and Carta; New York- Simon and Schuster. 1993) 4 vols, 1,552 pp., $355

This is one of those monumental publications that will make history. It is an absolutely essential reference work in any archaeological library, institutional or private. But it will also provide many happy hours of browsing for the aficionado.

I particularly enjoyed leafing through, looking at the pictures and learning about things that caught my interest. I knew of the gorgeous ‘Ein Samiya goblet, but I had no idea where ‘Ein Samiya was (northeast of Ramallah) or that the site consists of thousands of burials from the Middle Bronze Age I (2200–2000 B.C.E.) to the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries C.E.). I did not know (or had forgotten) that there was a second ancient synagogue at Bartam; no remains survive, but there is an early picture of the main entrance of this synagogue and, we are told, a fragment of the lintel from this entrance is now in the Louvre. (I have made a note for the next time I visit Paris.) Although we published an article on Tell Mevorakh in 1979,a I did not know that a bronze cultic snake had been found there similar to the ones at Timnab and Hazor, all dating to the Late Bronze Age, when the Israelites were just emerging on the stage of history.

The first English edition of this encyclopedia was published between 1975 and 1978. The amount of material that has come out of the ground since then has been so enormous, however, that a revised edition was needed. The result is The New Encyclopedia of Excavations in the Holy Land, published first in Hebrew and now in English. The Hebrew edition has been updated to 1990; the English edition, to 1991.

The new edition includes almost 400 articles by more than 200 archaeologists and scholars. More than 75 percent of the old entries have been updated. The nearly 1,600-page text has over 4,000 illustrations, maps, plans, charts and drawings, including 64 pages in color. The amount of text has nearly doubled.

In addition to entries on particular sites, a few articles cover collective subjects- churches, dolmens, maritime archaeology, monasteries and synagogues, but not, unfortunately, excavation methods, forts, inscriptions, storehouses, surveys, temples and others. Six geographical regions also get their own entries. Galilee, the Golan, Judea, the Negev, Samaria and Sinai. Part of the reason for the lack of entries on other areas is that no regional archaeological surveys have been conducted. Part of the reason is also political. The encyclopedia was produced by the Israel Exploration Society, and most of the contributors are Israeli. Although there are also contributors from the United States, England, France, Germany, Italy and other countries, it would not have been politically feasible for a Jordanian, for example, to contribute an article to this encyclopedia, although Jordan now has an extensive and quite sophisticated archaeological program of its own and contributions by Jordanian archaeologists would be welcomed by the Israelis. (Hopefully, this will change in the next edition.)

This raises, at least by implication, the question as to what constitutes the Holy Land as used in the title of this encyclopedia. No precise definition is given—nor could it be. In general, however, the term does include both sides of the Jordan River, and from Sinai and Eilat in the south to the sources of the Jordan River in the north.

The very use of the term “Holy Land” in the title raises its own questions. The pervasive controversies in this politically sensitive area of the world are never far from the surface. And choices must be made. “Holy Land” is as good—or bad—a term as any for the subjects covered, even though it has a theological thrust that is absent from the content of the work. Certainly the land was not holy in the prehistoric periods covered by the encyclopedia, nor in the Ottoman period, the latest to be covered.

Inconsistencies in entries proved impossible to eliminate. One author may say Canaan where another says Israel. A third prefers Palestine. Errors are of course unavoidable- The distinguished American Biblical archaeologist Joseph Callaway is listed as James Callaway in his entry on Khirbet Raddana (but is correctly named elsewhere).

Aspects of many sites are subject to more than one interpretation. Yet often all we get is the contributor’s viewpoint. Wherever possible, the editors have enlisted the most recent dig director to write the article on each site. While this tends to be the most authoritative, it also tends to eliminate competing voices.

In general, the editors have solved the inevitable problems in a work like this in a reasonable and satisfactory manner. For example, the new edition preserves many of the entries by now-deceased giants of the past- William F. Albright, Nahman Avigad, Nelson Glueck, Kathleen Kenyon, G. Ernest Wright, Roland de Vaux and Yigael Yadin. Where appropriate, however, other scholars have written updates that are appended to these entries. This is a nice compromise.

The editor in chief is well known to BAR readers; he is Hebrew University professor Ephraim Stern.c Ayelet Lewinson-Gilboa, also of Hebrew University, served as assistant editor. As usual with the prodigious publications of the Israel Exploration Society, the eminent Joseph Aviram acted as editorial director. Stern movingly dedicates the set to a young man named Yuval Gottfreund, who “knew by heart” the earlier edition and who “fell in the line of duty in the spring of his life,” a poignant reminder that this is an Israeli publication.

The entries vary in quality, but there are many very fine ones. Most follow a general pattern- identification of the site, history of the site, history of its exploration, topography, a detailed description of the excavations (area by area and period by period) and, where appropriate, a summary.

In addition to the main entries, the new edition has several helpful indexes, in particular an index of places that enables the reader to find references to a given site in other articles, as well as references to smaller sites that do not have their own entry. Many sites have more than one name, but the index tries to list all of them (looking for Samiya, however, did not help me find ‘Ein Samiya). Other indexes cover persons and Biblical references.d The editors have also provided a very useful glossary of terms, a map of site locations, a chronological chart of the alphabet beginning with the proto-Canaanite and following the development of several Near Eastern scripts, lists of rulers and their reigns, chronological tables of archaeological periods, an alphabetical listing of entries and a list of the contributors and their articles.

Is this all one could want? Well, almost all. I would have liked a table of contents for the longer articles. A more important omission is a subject index. Such an index would double the usefulness of this encyclopedia. I would like to be able to look under “church” or “synagogue” and find every reference to one of these buildings. A subject index would help locate every site where ivory was found. In this technological age, it is so easy to create such an index that its absence is inexcusable. On the other hand, the bibliographies at the end of each entry are complete and most helpful. They include citations to articles in BAR and Bible Review, the publications most readily available to the majority of people who will be using this encyclopedia. I was amazed at how many sites we have covered in our nearly 20 years of publication.

In two respects the earlier edition was far superior to the new edition. The earlier edition was much more legible- The type was larger with more space between lines. The new type is small and crammed onto the page with tiny margins—not reader-friendly. The average column of type in the new edition (two columns per page) contains over 1,000 words—in the earlier edition, it was less than half of that. Although the pages in the new edition are a trifle larger, the increased size is nothing like enough to account for the added text. The second inferior aspect of the new edition is the quality of the paper and the printing. The black-and-white pictures in the earlier edition fairly jump out at you in clarity and richness. The same pictures in the new edition look bland and dull and indistinct. This is in part because of the poor paper and in part because the earlier edition included a second color, in addition to black—a rich yellow-tan that brought out the depth of the pictures when used as an overlay. This second color also allowed for two-color maps and plans, which have been eliminated in the new edition. The color pictures are similarly inferior in the new edition.

The longest article in the new edition is on Jerusalem. A history of archaeological research in Jerusalem at the end of this entry lists 126 excavations, surveys and explorations, from de Saulcy’s explorations of the Temple Mount in 1853 (curiously, omitting Robinson’s exploration in the 1830s) to the 1990 excavation of the ossuary (bone box) of the high priest Caiaphas and a still later (up to 1992) excavation of tombs in an Armenian monastery. At over 100 pages, this entry illustrates the encyclopedia’s strengths—principally comprehensiveness—as well as its weaknesses—its failure to explore differing interpretations evenhandedly and with reasoned argument.

As in the first edition’s entry on Jerusalem, different specialists contribute various subarticles. The new edition retains the articles by Benjamin Mazar, Nahman Avigad and Michael Avi-Yonah. The last two have died since the first edition, and their contributions are now interwoven with those of younger authors, chiefly Hillel Geva. Other authors added in the new edition are Yigal Shiloh (who replaces Kathleen Kenyon, entirely eliminating her earlier contribution), Meir Ben-Dov, Dan Bahat and Miriam Rosen-Ayalon (the last three on the Arab periods and later).

If I may be permitted a personal observation, I was startled to find my picture in the article on Jerusalem. There I was on page 710, standing in my underwear in Hezekiah’s Tunnel. The picture was taken 20 years ago, when I sported a long patriarchal beard. The distinguished archaeological photographer Zev Radovan took it at a time when I was nearly living in the tunnel during the writing of my little book, The City of David- A Guide to Biblical Jerusalem. Zev took all the pictures for that book and apparently kept this one in his archive, although it was not included in my book.

One of the most fascinating issues in the archaeology of Jerusalem relates to the date of the underground water system known as Warren’s Shaft. This series of shafts and tunnels makes accessible, inside the city, water from the Gihon Spring outside the wall. Some scholars have connected this water system to the tsinnor referred to in the Biblical description of David’s capture of the City (2 Samuel 5-6–8; 1 Chronicles 11-4–11). Could David’s general Joab have gained access to the Jebusite stronghold through this underground water system? If so, the system must have been in existence in the Canaanite (Jebusite) period.

Shiloh, in his contribution, rejects this argument without really canvassing the evidence very thoroughly. He notes that his geological consultant Dan Gill demonstrated that much of the system consists of naturally formed shafts and tunnels. If this is so, these natural shafts and tunnels could easily have been enlarged and used by the Canaanites. Nothing requires that the system first be utilized in the Israelite period. Shiloh dismissively asserts that the idea that this system dates to the Canaanite period is “unsubstantiated by any concrete archaeological evidence.” But it can be stated with equal truth that no concrete archaeological evidence requires us to date this water system after the Canaanite period. Unfortunately, Shiloh tragically died at age 50 before the completion of his work. He could not know that Gill is now preparing an article for BAR, supplemented by a philological analysis of the term tsinnor by another specialist that suggests that the tsinnor = Warren’s Shaft equation is quite plausible.

Another interesting issue relates to the so-called Royal Tombs in the City of David, the oldest inhabited part of Jerusalem, where, all agree, David made his capital. Kathleen Kenyon did not think these impressive cavities within the city could be the early tombs of the House of David and even rejected the idea that they were tombs. She argued that they were cisterns, although it is difficult to see how they could hold water. Avigad recognized that they are tombs, but rejected their identification as royal tombs because no “evidence has been found to confirm that they belong to the Israelite period.” Well, no evidence has been found to confirm that they belong to any other period, either. Indeed, we have abundant tombs from a few centuries after David right down to the present; none resembles these. Moreover, these tombs are in the city, just where the Bible tells us these early Israelite kings were buried. It is unlikely that anyone other than royalty would have been buried within the city, since burials were normally outside the city. Yet these arguments are not even considered. The possibility is simply dismissed.

The editor sagely notes in his foreword that the opinions reflected in the articles are those of the contributors, adding, “Other interpretations of the findings at a site can often be found in its bibliography.” Too often, throughout the encyclopedia, we are given the scholarly conclusion, especially regarding disputed issues, without being told why.

Perhaps I am being overly harsh. Perhaps there is simply no room in an already overstuffed encyclopedia for an exhaustive discussion of all the issues and the evidence and reasons for each contention. If so, what this suggests in the case of Jerusalem is that we badly need a comprehensive book on the archaeology of Jerusalem. Indeed, some enterprising publisher could profitably create an Encyclopedia of Jerusalem; it would probably have to be a multivolume work. All of Near Eastern archaeology and history, as well as Bible, could be taught simply by a thorough study of all the problems relating to Jerusalem.

We may look at the treatment of one other site—Qumran, adjacent to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The excavation was directed by the late Père Roland de Vaux, who wrote the article in the earlier edition of the encyclopedia. This is reprinted in the new edition. It is supplemented, however, by Magen Broshi, curator of the Shrine of the Book, who, unfortunately, proved to be a poor choice. Broshi correctly begins his supplement by recognizing that, “In the thirty years since de Vaux published his preliminary reports and the French edition of his comprehensive book, a substantial body of literature dealing with problems concerning the archaeology of Qumran has accumulated.” True enough. Broshi, however, manages to dismiss this “substantial body of literature” in less than a quarter of a page that probably took him half an hour to write. Broshi begins his second paragraph, “‘Fine subject most discussed … ” He begins his third paragraph, “The subjects most discussed … ” A major question is how long Qumran was abandoned after the earthquake of 31 B.C.E. De Vaux thought it was abandoned until about 4 B.C.E. Broshi dismisses de Vaux with the comment, “There is considerable doubt that the gap lasted longer than a couple of years.” Q.E.D. This kind of assertion lacks conviction. The reader is entitled to more. These questions should be decided by argument, not by the assertion of a supposed authority. Perhaps in an encyclopedia of this length, it can always be explained, “There was no room.” Yet even in an encyclopedia, the reader is entitled to understand the reasons for the conclusions, especially when they are nor universally accepted. Merely citing authority does not support a conclusion.

The major strength of this encyclopedia is that it conveniently collects an enormous amount of data. Most of it is not as controversial as the items I have discussed and is therefore a pleasure to read, although it can also be drily descriptive. I know, moreover, some of the difficulties in putting together a multiauthored work. There are always some good and some not-so-good articles. On the whole, this encyclopedia is a major achievement. Its editor and the Israel Exploration Society deserve our gratitude and congratulations.

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