Archive for February, 2008

Review of a Review of a Report

February 24, 2008

PEQ vol. 139, #3, November 2007 (published by the PEF) first came to my attention at the tail-end of November, & I was obviously thrilled to see Lv1 cited by Peter James in his review (pp. 213-7; currently available online for the ridiculous price of $36) of David Ussishkin’s final report on Lachish. Today I took the time to study it, & will share my review of his review, even though I had already published my own review of it 3 years ago (including this alternate version at Eisenbrauns)!

Peter James, as expected, focuses mainly on poking even more holes into the Swiss-cheese chronology upheld by mainstream/conventional historians. He along with David Rohl have published ideas over the past couple of decades that have become known as The Glasgow Chronology, or The New Chronology. A major emphasis of their hypothesis centers on a contraction of Egyptian chronology by several centuries.

So in this review, he begins with some compliments on the inclusion of finds from pre-Ussishkin excavations, but homes right in on fragmented bowls bearing Hieratic inscriptions “with the regnal years on some bowls assumed to be pharaonic.” Here he cites several problems:

  • The lack of Egyptian parallels
  • Curiosities in the hieratic
  • Possibly a Hebrew word for “grain”
  • Their local manufacture
  • The assumption that they record a local-temple tax

He likewise questions Ussishkin’s characterization of the Level-6 temple as Egyptian, citing a 1999 article where Ussishkin himself had retracted an earlier suggestion that its plan was Egyptian rather than a typical Canaanite one.

The bulk of his review, however, focuses on the deduction that Level 3’s destruction was by Sennacherib in 701 BC. Here, James stresses that this association “does not depend on new evidence … but on the lack of evidence from other strata“…

His next paragraph hints at, but does not flat out propose, that Sennacherib destroyed Level 4 rather than 3. He notes that neither the Assyrian nor Hebrew records state that Sennacherib’s army burned Lachish, & devotes the subsequent paragraph to trumpeting this possibility. James concludes the matter by emphasizing that “the logic for dating [it]s destruction to 701 BC is seriously flawed.

(In anticipation of Lv2, I would interject here that the date of 701 itself is seriously flawed. Verily, we live in a cursed/flawed world!)

James offers no solution to the problem, nor chooses levels; remember, his primary role is that of a hole-poker (or cave discoverer, in what was previously viewed as rock-solid ground). He pleads with scholars/historians to consider “other possibilities … urgently & open-mindedly” before Level 3’s date concretionizes.

My opinion: Too late!

Then comes my favorite paragraph (for self-centered reasons), containing these 2 sentences:

Since Ussishkin’s 1977 article, there has been a tendency to assume that the floruit of the lmlk-jar ceased with the destruction of Lachish III in 701 BC, reinforced by the argument of Na’aman that all the vessels were manufactured in the reign of Hezekiah to store rations in preparation against Sennacherib’s impending attack. Yet, as Mazar & others have frequently pointed out, lmlk jars are found at many sites in strata deemed to be 7th century (see e.g. Mazar, Amit & Ilan 1996, 208-209; Grena 2004, 333-338; van der Veen forthcoming, Excursus I), including a number of one-period settlements.

The full Mazar reference is:

Mazar, A., Amit, D. and Ilan, Z., 1996. ‘Hurvat Shilhah: an Iron Age site in the Judean desert’, in J.D. Seger, Retrieving the past: Essays on Archaeological Research & Methodology in Honor of Gus W. Van Beek (Winona Lake, IA IN: Eisenbrauns), 193-212.

(Their original publication on this subject was in Eretz-Israel vol. 17 back in 1984, an article entitled “The ‘Border Road’ Between Michmash & Jericho & the Excavations at Horvat Shilhah”.)

One significant flaw in what James wrote that I should clarify: LMLK “jars” have not been found in 7th-century strata, but LMLK handles.

Then he notes that this 2005 report includes “a softening” of Vaughn’s 1999 opinion that some of these 7th-century contexts “mean nothing in terms of dating” (p. 107 of Vaughn’s book in reference to Arad handles; p. 301 of Lv1). Now, co-authoring with Barkay, they join Ussishkin in considering the possibility that these royal jars continued in use during the early part of the 7th century–but only elsewhere in Judah; James does not include their p. 2169 quote, “[I]t is clear that the LMLK phenomenon is limited to Level III” [i.e., at Lachish only].

James points out the hopeful prospect for “seeds of a more realistic picture“, rather than one that imagines a production center that was established in the late 8th, then reopened for business again in the late 7th to make Rosettes.

This leads James to state that the destruction of Lachish Level 3 cannot be used to define the end of, what’s known as, the “Lachish III horizon” for pottery. In other words, King Hezekiah–or whoever ruled Judah when the LMLKs were made–would’ve kept producing pottery after Sennacherib (or whoever burned Level 3) left.

Another interesting point James raises, that I had not thought about before, is why the builders of what became Level 2 did not remove the siege ramp used to conquer Level 3, especially since one part of it covers a Level-2 roadway.

My conjectures:

  1. Maybe they were liberal preservationists, & took students there on field trips to proudly recount the history of how Sennacherib used it to defeat their ancestors!
  2. Maybe they had an ancient “Duh” moment, & couldn’t fathom the possibility that any other army would ever reconquer the site, even though it had a prefabricated siege ramp–basically a sign announcing, “Welcome! Please conquer me!”.
  3. Maybe they wanted to remove it, & knew they should remove it, but were just too f~(k|n’ lazy.
  4. Maybe they decided to pave it over & use it to set a (very poor) standard for modern handicapped/wheelchair-access requirements (in answer to the proverbial question, Who designed these stupid, way-too-steep ramps?).

(By the way, feel free to post additional ideas–maybe together we can compile a David Letterman Top Ten list.)

The final page of his review discusses the contributions by the late Orna Zimhoni to the study of pottery, & some of the problems her way-too-early death caused.

He concludes with a very loud, & well-deserved, series of compliments to David Ussishkin for his accomplishments.

The pages that Peter James cited from my book, 333-8, span the first half of chapter 15, which includes Tables 29 & 30, available in an updated version online at the LMLK Stratigraphy page. The key point being the evidence to support my belief that about half the jars were made before Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah, & the other half (shortly) thereafter.

Overall, I applaud Peter James for giving us an excellent, interesting review, which I would have done even if he had not cited my book.

Song of the week: “The Siege of Lachish” by Melechesh (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 24-second sample; 328kb).
G.M. Grena