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date: 14 May 2021

(p. xxiv) (p. 1) Introduction

(p. xxiv) (p. 1) Introduction

When Oxford University Press approached us to edit a handbook on ‘biblical archaeology’, we were very honoured, but also apprehensive. Biblical archaeology has a multitude of definitions and traditions and, over the decades, this subfield of Old World archaeology had become increasingly controversial, contentious, and politicized. William F. Albright, often referred to as the ‘father of biblical archaeology’, defined biblical archaeology as encompassing ‘all Biblical lands, from India to Spain, and from southern Russia to southern South Arabia and to the whole history of those lands, from about 10,000 bc or even earlier, to the present time’ (Albright 1966: 13; for a recent overview of Albright’s contribution, see Levy and Freedman 2009). This ‘maximalist’ view of the discipline was strongly rooted in American academic traditions, combined with a very positivist view of both the potential of archaeology and the biblical text’s historicity. During much of the 20th century, biblical archaeology in the United States was too often hijacked by special interest groups. It became increasingly intertwined with sectarian, political, or other non-academic efforts to prove or disprove the Bible or employed to booster biblically based claims to land. Reflecting with the rise of a ‘processual’ and more science-based ‘New Archaeology’, in the 1980s William G. Dever was among the first to propose the term ‘Syro-Palestinian’ archaeology in an attempt to professionalize the discipline and encourage a more academic approach to ‘biblical archaeology’.1

Outside the United States, the archaeology of the lands of the Bible tended to develop as a more academic and secular pursuit from its inception. For many professional Israeli archaeologists, the term ‘biblical archaeology’ signified a chronological designation, generally referring to the period from the Bronze Ages to the end of the Persian period of the southern Levant (Israel and Jordan). As a result, it lacked much of the religious overtones of American traditions, though at times was highly politicized (Bar-Yosef and Mazar 1982; Kletter 2006; for a Palestinian perspective, see Abu El-Haj 2001 and Yahya 2005). European scholars have generally avoided the designation ‘biblical archaeology’, preferring designations such as ‘archaeology of Palestine’, ‘Syro-Palestinian archaeology’, or ‘archaeology of the Levant’ (e.g. (p. 2) Franken and Franken-Battershill 1963: 1; Kenyon 1971), although in the German-speaking academic world it is still a common term (e.g. Fritz 1985; Zwickel 2002). In recent decades, most archaeologists working in the Levant have distanced themselves from a biblical archaeology that far too often had been misused as a religious or political tool in a contested Middle East (see Davis, Ch. 3 below, for a history of archaeological research in the Levant).

An additional factor in our decision against editing a ‘handbook of biblical archaeology’ was the existence of numerous books already devoted to this topic (see e.g. Mazar 1990; Fritz 1985; Ben-Tor 1992; Levy 1998; Golden 2009). These treatments of the archaeology of the Holy Land are complemented by several publications that provide current overviews of the archaeology of Syria (Akkermans and Schwartz 2003) and Cyprus (Karageorghis 2002; Steel 2004; Knapp 2008). What was then and is still lacking today is a comprehensive volume on the archaeology of the whole of the Levant spanning the time from the Neolithic to the Persian period. This was the topic of the handbook that we ultimately proposed to Oxford University Press and is presented here.

The term ‘Levant’ is also notoriously ambiguous, with a variety of definitions, associations, and connotations, some derogatory in nature. It has been suggested that the first use of ‘Levant’ as a term for the eastern Mediterranean can be traced back to the 16th-century French soleil levant, probably in reference to the ‘rising sun’ in the east (Oppenheim 1996: 1099). In later times, ‘Levantine’ appears in numerous contexts to refer to European traders in the Levant but also to westernized local populations of the Levant that were usually involved in commerce, spoke numerous languages, and were cosmopolitan in character. Within its colonial context, the word developed a negative connotation, often employed as a denigrating term referring to a person engaged in unethical business transactions or indicating a state of cultural impurity (see e.g. Hochberg 2004: 220).

Also lacking is a consensus regarding the geographical borders of the Levant (see e.g. Hochberg 2004: 224 and n. 12). In this handbook, it includes the countries that border the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean, or, as it is referred to in Arabic, bilād al-shām (‘the land of sham [Syria]’, i.e. greater Syria). It encompasses the western region of the Fertile Crescent, an area south of the Taurus Mountains, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the west, and the north Arabian Desert and Mesopotamia to the east. It thus comprises the modern states of Syria southwest of the Euphrates, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus, including the West Bank and Gaza (the Palestinian Territories), and Sinai (see Suriano, Ch. 1 below, for a detailed geographical description). In this volume, we use the term ‘Cisjordan’ to refer to the southern Levant west of the Jordan River encompassing the modern state of Israel and the Palestinian Territories and Transjordan to indicate the region east of the Jordan River, which includes the modern state of Jordan. This geographic definition of the Levant highlights its function throughout history as a land bridge, serving as the point of intersections for the criss-crossing of peoples and cultures from Europe, Asia, and Africa. As a consequence of location, this region has witnessed unique cultural interactions, hybridity, and confrontations that often fractured the population into local subcultures and multi-layered identities.2

(p. 3) Whether its original meaning was intended to be pejorative, contemporary definitions of Levantinism stress that the Levant is not exclusively eastern or western in its essence, but rather a ‘hybrid of Middle Eastern and European values’ (Halim 2010: 2). Recent fascination with the interaction between cultural fragmentation and hybridity or transculturalism, and coinciding with renewed interest in the Mediterranean defined as a place of cultural symbiosis (e.g. Braudel 1995; Horden and Purcell 2000), has led to the appropriation of the term ‘Levantinism’ to signify a richly stratified historical and cultural past, defined by its predilection for cultural fragmentation, creating multi-layered identities of its inhabitants (see e.g. Jacqueline Kahanoff’s essays on Levantinism in Starr and Somekh 2011). It is in the spirit of these more recent contemplations on the nature of the Levant that we propose ‘Levantinism’ as the most appropriate designation for this region’s cultural hybridity, with all its local peculiarities, as illustrated in the archaeological record presented in the chapters below.

The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant spans the Neolithic through to the end of the Persian period, ending with the era prior to the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Levant was often influenced by its more powerful neighbours, or even incorporated into the great empires of Egypt, Anatolia, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. As in the past, modern political boundaries that subdivide the Levant have created a diverse and fragmented political, cultural, and social landscape, a feature which is also reflected in the modern archaeological research of the region. Thus we aimed at including a broad range of diverse approaches to archaeological research in this area, including American, European, Cypriot, Australian, Israeli, and Arab researchers and scholarship. We invited both established and younger scholars to contribute to this volume, with the goal of presenting a variety of views and perspectives across the spectrum of well-established and innovative archaeological traditions.

The goal of this volume is to provide a comprehensive overview of the state of the art of the region in these periods, to describe the most important debates and discussions within the discipline, and to present a more integrated treatment of the archaeology of the region within its larger cultural and social context. Its fifty-five chapters explore the following major themes:

  • Archaeology of the Levant: Background and Definitions. Chapters in this section include general topics and themes essential to the positioning of the discipline in its historical and geographical setting and in its relation to other fields of study.

  • The Levant as the Crossroads between Empires. Here the interaction of the imperial powers of Egypt, the Hittites, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia in the Levant is explored.

  • The Archaeological Record. This section provides a general introduction to specific periods, followed by comprehensive treatments of each subregion in that period.

We are aware that the artificial subdivisions of the archaeology of the Levant are largely based on modern political borders rather than the geographical or cultural boundaries that had far greater influence on the region’s archaeological development. Nevertheless we have chosen to describe the archaeological periods generally organized according to modern political boundaries, largely because we wanted to involve authors actually working in the region. And unfortunately, due to the modern political map of the region, it is seldom that archaeologists are able to conduct research in more than one country. Authors have been invited from the Arab countries, Israel, Europe, America, and Australia, based on their extended experience in and intimate knowledge of the periods and regions discussed.

(p. 4) We hope that The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant will serve as a timely and useful archaeological reference work and textbook for advanced students, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, professional archaeologists, and scholars in other disciplines including history, biblical studies, and the Ancient Near East, as well as a general resource for all who are interested in the archaeology of this region.

We take this opportunity to thank first and foremost our contributors to this volume. Their research, excavations in the area, and expertise made this volume possible. Our appreciation and thanks goes to Oxford University Press and especially to Hilary O’Shea, who invited us to edit this book, to its editors, Dorothy McCarthy and Taryn Cambell, and to Shereen Karmali who managed the production of the volume. We also would like to express our deepest appreciation and thanks to Heather Heidrich, who assisted with the copy editing and bibliographic checking of the references. Her professionalism and meticulous attention to detail during the first edit of the manuscripts improved the quality of the final book. Thanks are due to our graphic artist Willem Beex, who struggled with the (sometimes very) approximate maps that the contributors provided and succeeded in placing the hundreds of ‘sites mentioned in the text’ correctly on the fifty or so maps accompanying the chapters, to our great relief.

Abu El-Haj, N. (2001). Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Akkermans, P. M. M. G., and G. M. Schwartz. (2003). The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies (c.16,000–300 BC). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Albright, W. F. (1966). Archaeology, Historical Analogy and Early Biblical Tradition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.Find this resource:

Bar-Yosef, O., and A. Mazar (1982). Israeli archaeology. World Archaeology 13: 310–25.Find this resource:

Ben-Tor, A. (ed.) (1992). The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, trans. R. Greenberg. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.Find this resource:

Braudel, F. (1995). The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (2 vols), trans. S. Reynolds. Berkeley: University of California Press.Find this resource:

Davis, T. W. (2004). Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Dever, W. G. (2010). Does ‘biblical archaeology’ have a future? In Levy (2010: 349–60)Find this resource:

Franken, H. J., and C. A. Franken-Battershill (1963). A Primer of Old Testament Archaeology. Leiden: Brill.Find this resource:

Fritz, V. (1985). Einführung in die Biblischen Archäologie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Find this resource:

Golden, J. M. (2009). Ancient Canaan and Israel: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Halim, H. (2010). Latter-day Levantinism, or ‘Polypolis’ in the Libretti of Bernard de Zogheb. California Italian Studies 1.1: 1–41. Accessed 15 Dec. 2011.Find this resource:

Hitchcock, L. A. (2011). ‘Transculturalism’ as a model for examining migration to Cyprus and Philistia at the end of the Bronze Age. Ancient West and East 10: 267–80.Find this resource:

(p. 5) Hochberg, G. Z. (2004). ‘Permanent immigration’: Jacqueline Kahanoff, Ronit Matalon and the impetus of Levantinism. Boundary 2 31.2: 219–43.Find this resource:

Horden, P., and N. Purcell (2000). The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford: Blackwell.Find this resource:

Joffe, A. H. (2010). The changing place of biblical archaeology: exceptionalism or normal science? In Levy (2010: 328–48).Find this resource:

Karageorghis, V. (2002). Early Cyprus: Crossroads of the Mediterranean. Los Angeles, Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum.Find this resource:

Kenyon, K. M. (1971). An essay on archaeological technique: the publication of results from the excavation of a tell. Harvard Theological Review 64: 271–9.Find this resource:

Kletter, R. (2006). Just Past? The Making of Israeli Archaeology. London: Equinox.Find this resource:

Knapp, A. B. (2008). Prehistoric and Protohistoric Cyprus: Identity, Insularity, and Connectivity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Levy, T. E. (ed.) (1998). The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. New York: Continuum.Find this resource:

——— (ed.) (2010). Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism. London: Equinox.Find this resource:

——— and D. N. Freedman. (2009). William Foxwell Albright: May 24, 1891–September 19, 1971. Biographical Memoirs 91: 2–29.Find this resource:

Mazar, A. (1990). Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, vol. 1: 10,000–586 B.C.E. New York: Doubleday.Find this resource:

Oppenheim, J.-M. R. (1996). Levantine. In R. S. Simon, P. Mattar, and R. W. Bulliet (eds), Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East, vol. 3: L–Sf. New York: Macmillan, 1098–1100.Find this resource:

Scham, S. A. (2008). Disinheriting heritage: explorations in the contentious history of archaeology in the Middle East. In M. Liebmann and U. Z. Rizvi (eds), Archaeology and the Postcolonial Critique. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira, 165–76.Find this resource:

Silberman, N. A. (1998). Whose game is it anyway? The political and social transformations of American biblical archaeology. In L. Meskell (ed.), Archaeology under Fire: Nationalism, Politics and Heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. London: Routledge, 175–88.Find this resource:

Starr, D. A., and S. Somekh (eds) (2011). Mongrels or Marvels: The Levantine Writings of Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.Find this resource:

Steel, L. (2004). Cyprus Before History: From the Earliest Settlers to the End of the Bronze Age. London: Duckworth.Find this resource:

Stockhammer, P. W. (2012a). Conceptualizing cultural hybridization in archaeology. In Stockhammer (2012b: 43–58).Find this resource:

——— (ed.) (2012b). Conceptualizing Cultural Hybridization: A Transdisciplinary Approach. Berlin: Springer.Find this resource:

Yahya, A. H. (2005). Archaeology and nationalism in the Holy Land. In S. Pollock and R. Bernbeck (eds), Archaeologies of the Middle East: Critical Perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell, 66–77.Find this resource:

Zwickel, W. (2002). Einführung in die biblische Landes- und Altertumskunde. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Find this resource:


(1) See e.g. Davis (2004) and Dever (2010) for critiques of the development of biblical archaeology in the US; regarding its political implications, see Silberman (1998); Scham (2008); see also Joffe (2010) for a critique. See most recently Levy (2010), who has proposed a return to a new biblical archaeology that he has designated ‘historical biblical archaeology’.

(2) Recently, cultural hybridity and transculturalism have appeared with increasing frequency in archaeological literature relating to the Late Bronze and early Iron I periods (see e.g. Knapp 2008, Hitchcock 2011, and Stockhammer 2012a, 2012b for a detailed discussion of this concept; Killebrew, Ch. 39 below). These processes can emerge where two or more cultural entities overlap or come into close contact. Their manifestation can be both tangible and intangible, and is impacted by local geographic, cultural, and chronological contexts and region-specific factors. In this handbook, we suggest the use of the term ‘Levantinism’ to indicate hybridity in the specific context of the Levant.