Bible and Beyond

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Zertal a Top Lecturer

I was delighted to read Adam Zertal’s “Philistine Kin Found in Early Israel,” BAR 28-03. It reminded me of his lecture on the Shardana that he gave in Omaha. His lecture style is a cross between Ben-Gurion and Mel Brooks. My only regret is that during his lecture Professor Zertal hid his crutches. There is no shame in having been a soldier for one’s country. [Zertal’s legs were badly injured during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.—Ed.]

Marty Davies

Tacoma, Washington

Zertal’s Woeful Linguistics

You should save your readership from linguistic nonsense perpetrated by archaeologists who have no proper linguistic or Biblical training. The current case in point is Adam Zertal’s convoluted arguments about the identification of Khirbet el-Ahwat with Biblical Harosheth-hagoiim (Judges 4-2, 13, 16).

Zertal admits that in antiquity the rocky slopes on which Khirbet el-Ahwat is located “were covered with a forest.” It is still a difficult location to reach, even with an SUV, much less with a battle chariot. Zertal also agrees that “Shardana chariots … were only effective on the plain and not in hilly terrain.”

The Biblical statements, however, are clear-

Sisera [the supposed Shardana commander] called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who [were] with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the River Kishon (Judges 4-13).

But Barak [the Israelite general] pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left (Judges 4-16).
Clearly, Sisera and his chariot force were at Harosheth-hagoiim. They started out from there and they fled back there with the Israelites in hot pursuit. The idea that this chariot force was located at Khirbet el-Ahwat is totally ridiculous!

Even more comical is Zertal’s attempt at a scholarly linguistic discussion. He cites an old article by the late Benjamin Mazar (his footnote cites the 1975 reprint; the original was published several decades earlier; it appeared in English translation in 1986). Mazar argues that Harosheth was related to the Biblical word h\oµresû, that is, “woods, clump of trees, forest.” Mazar’s assumed connection with another Semitic word, héursûaµnu, was dead wrong.a

Mazar also based his interpretation of the term as “forest” on one Greek rendering that appears in the Alexandrinus manuscript tradition, where the Hebrew Harosheth-hagoiim is rendered by Greek drumos, “wood, forest.”b But Greek drumos appears only in Judges 4-16, “And Barak chased after the chariots and after the army as far as the woods of the gentiles …” In Judges 4-2 and 4-13 even the Alexandrinus tradition has the same rendering (simply “Harosheth-hagoiim”) as all the other, much older, manuscript traditions. It is a difference between what the original translators [into Greek—Ed.] understood in the third century B.C. and what a later scholar (in one verse only) thought in the second century A.D., at least 500 years later.

What did the original Jewish translator of Judges into Greek think about the Hebrew term Harosheth-hagoiim? He took it as a proper noun and transcribed it into Greek letters.c In the third century B.C. he understood Harosheth-hagoiim as “The good cultivable land of the gentiles.” Broad, open fields would be ideal as a place to assemble chariots.

The term Harosheth-hagoiim does not appear in Judges 5, the “Song of Deborah” [a poetic rendition of the same event—Ed.]. Instead, the battle is described as follows-

The kings came, they fought; Then fought the kings of Canaan; At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo, they took no reward of silver.

The great plain to the east of Megiddo, toward Taanach on the south and Shunem on the north, was an ideal assembly ground for large military forces. The Canaanite coalition waited there for Thutmose III in 1457 B.C.; Amenhotep II rested his troops there in 1418 B.C. after a tiring campaign; there was normally a unit of the regular Egyptian army (not auxiliaries like the Sherdanu) there during the Amarna period (14th century B.C.); King Josiah waited there in the seventh century B.C. for the approaching Pharaoh Necho; Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D. established a base there for his legion and the place was called the Plain of Legio thereafter (hence, modern Khirbet Lajun).

The Song of Deborah makes it plain that the kings of Canaan had expected to receive rewards of spoil for their efforts (cf. Judges 5-30). But at their customary assembly grounds by Megiddo and Tanaach, they did not enjoy a victory celebration and the apportioning of rewards. Instead their chariots bogged down in the mud facing Mt. Tabor, and the torrent of the flooded Kishon swept them away (Judges 5-21).

I refer the interested reader to the appropriate maps in the fourth edition of the Carta Bible Atlas (2002).

So there is absolutely nothing to support Zertal’s proposed identification of Khirbet el-Ahwat with Biblical Harosheth-hagoiim.

As for Zertal’s other arguments, his archaeological finds at el-Ahwat could suggest an outpost of mercenaries under Egyptian rule. Those mercenaries could have come from the Aegean area, that is, they could have been from among the Sherdanu. There is good reason to suspect that the name Sherdan/Serdan relates to the ancient city name of Sardis, but this is not proven. The Sikels came with the Philistines and the other Sea Peoples to invade Egypt, and they settled at Dor. Later, some of their cousins migrated west instead of east and settled in Sicily. Some Sherdan people may also have gone west and settled in Sardinia. But these movements may be separated by centuries for all we know.

The name Sisera is still an enigma. Zertal’s speculations are just that. However, it is not impossible that the name is of Aegean origin. That Sisera is not mentioned after this episode might suggest that he is a foreigner, but again, nobody knows.

Anson F. Rainey

Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics, Tel Aviv University
Adjunct Professor of Historical Geography, Bar Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Jerusalem University College


Adam Zertal responds-

The identification of Harosheth ha-Goyim is far from being solved. My identification grew from the excavations at el-Ahwat and its Sardinian architecture, its Shardana elements, the Sisera-Sassari connection and details in the Song of Deborah. History, archaeology and Biblical literature came together beautifully. True, problems remain- The topography around el-Ahwat is harsh for chariots, but the Egyptians dismantled their chariots in rugged terrain and transported them on horseback; when they reached a plain, they reassembled the chariots. Also, the Egyptians kept chariots, their most important weapon, only in fortified cities such as el-Ahwat.

Not an Exact Match

It is because you publish articles by such pioneering archaeologists as Adam Zertal that I make a point of purchasing your publication.

His assertion that the ruins at el-Ahwat are related to the nuragic structures of Sardinia is probably correct, though the ruins at el-Ahwat differ in a number of respects from the structures dated to the Sardinian Bronze Age. The square tower to the west of el-Ahwat’s city walls is unlike nuragic towers, which are conical. The Sardinian communities usually consist of round stone towers and other circular buildings, which in later periods were surrounded by an outer defensive wall. At sites like Su Nuraxi and Santu Antine, a large central tower is closely linked to other towers within another broad inner wall. This is not the case at el-Ahwat. Most of the towers are incorporated into the ramparts, while other towers stand outside the wall. The house walls within the main walls are predominantly angular (unlike most of their Sardinian counterparts), and the main house, the “Governor’s house,” is a rectangle.

The ruins at el-Ahwat are also somewhat reminiscent of the Mycenean citadel Tiryns in its general outline as well as having corridors built into its circuit walls. Could el-Ahwat represent a synthesis of Aegean, Achean and nuragic elements, plus some on-the-spot innovations?

M.B. Manning

Carmel, California

Adam Zertal responds-

Mr. Manning is right that the ruins at el-Ahwat differ from nuragic (Bronze Age) Sardinia. I believe the Shardana brought nuragic architectural elements to the countries they settled, and that el-Ahwat is a mixture of local elements (the “Governor’s house,” for example) and foreign elements (corridors, tholoi buildings, the irregular shape of the town). This is typical of immigrants; I assume that the settlers at el-Ahwat were third or fourth generation immigrants who retained remote architectural memories from their homeland. This is the case with the Shardana mercenaries in the Levant (see their colonies in Crete and Ugarit, and later in Egypt).

a. That latter word means “mountain,” and is in fact a loan word from Sumerian (hÉur.sag). Mazar knew from older dictionaries of Akkadian (which he used as a student in the 1920s) that scholars in the 19th century thought hÉursûaµnu was the Akkadian plural of an undocumented singular, which they listed with an asterisk, *hÉursûu. [An asterisk indicates the word is assumed to have existed, but has not been found—Ed.]. Today everyone knows that *hÉursûu was a ghost word; it never existed. Anyone who knows how to use a modern dictionary of Akkadian would know this. Furthermore, hÉursûaµnu appears in documents from Ugarit, but it is not a Ugaritic word.

b. I stress the manuscript tradition because it represents a late attempt to revise the Greek place names to conform to the Hebrew text. This might have taken place, at the earliest, in the third century A.D. under the guidance of Origen, the famous Biblical scholar from Caesarea.

c. The proper attested Greek rendering is Arisoµth. Now Arisoµth reflects the feminine plural of original Hebrew *h\arisût- which is the exact cognate of Akkadian erisûtu “good cultivable land.” This Akkadian erisûtu is from the verb ereµsûu “to cultivate, plow” which is the cognate to the Hebrew verb h\aµrasû “to plough, cultivate”; the same verb is used in Arabic, h\arat_a (h\aratha). The present vocalization in the Hebrew Bible, h\aroµsûet_ derives from *h\arusût- which is a by-form, the exact equivalent of *h\arisût-. However, I suspect that the Jewish vocalized tradition that we now have represents the common practice of applying the vowels of boµshet, “shame,” to names they did not like. Note Ish-bosheth, whose real name was Ish-baal, and Mephibosheth, whose real name was Meribaal.

Incidentally, the Hebrew/Canaanite verb “to plough, cultivate” is from the original root H|-R-TH (as in Arabic), while the noun for “woods, forest” is from H|-R-Sð.