Subproject C: Sanctuaries, Cult, and Ritual in Ancient Israel and Ancient

C1: Sanctuaries in Ancient Israel and Judah and Deuteronomy’s Program of Cult Centralization

Since W. M. L. de Wette, it has been customary to regard the book of Deuteronomy as a document originally composed in support of the policy of political and cultic centralization conducted under the reign of king Josiah in the second half of the 7th century BCE. This dating, in turn was believed to provide a firm basis for the relative chronology of other pentateuchal sources. This model has had a lasting impact on scholarship and is still reflected in several recent treatments of Deuteronomy (see, e.g., E. Otto, Das Deuteronomium. Politische Theologie und Rechtsreform in Juda und Assyrien, BZAW 284, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1999). At the same time, however, this standard view has undergone a number of critiques in the last two decades or so, and the longstanding consensus on the Neo-Assyrian origins of Deuteronomy and of Deuteronomic centralization ideology has disappeared. In particular, a number of scholars have questioned the evidence for the historicity of Josiah’s reforms, and more generally for the trend toward cultic and administrative centralization in Judah toward the end of the Neo-Assyrian period (see, e.g., H. Niehr, “Die Reform des Joschija. Methodische, historische und religionsgeschichtliche Aspekte,” in D. Böhler et al., eds., Jeremia und die “deuteronomistische Bewegung,” BBB 98, Weinheim: Belz Athenäum Verlag, 1995, 33-55; for a recent overview of the discussion, see M. Pietsch, Die Kultreform Josias. Studien zur Religionsgeschichte Israels in der späten Königszeit, FAT 86, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013, 1-23). In addition, a Neo-Assyrian dating for the core version of Deuteronomy is no longer unanimously accepted, and several scholars now argue that the Neo-Babylonian or even Persian periods present more compelling locations for the composition of this book (see, e.g., J. Pakkala, “The Date of the Oldest Edition of Deuteronomy,” ZAW 121, 2009, 388-401).

This debate has several important implications for biblical studies as well as for the archaeology and history of ancient Israel. In many ways, the present state of the discussion points to the limits of the traditional approaches to biblical texts as well as, consequently, to the need for new models of correlating biblical texts and material culture. More specifically, the following subproject will focus on three main issues, which have not been satisfactorily addressed in the recent discussion.

(1) First, with only a few exceptions, discussion of centralization in the Neo-Assyrian period and the origins of Deuteronomy has been conducted somewhat unilaterally, focusing either on the biblical texts or on the archaeological record for cultic sites in Judah during Iron Age II. This has prevented scholars from accessing the full range of relevant data, significantly stunting scholarly discussion. Both types of evidence present specific problems and require distinct methods, so advancing this debate will only be possible through extensive collaboration between biblical scholars and archaeologists. A thorough reassessment of the alleged archaeological evidence for cult centralization in Judah during the Neo-Assyrian period—including the purported altars and their subsequent dismantling at Arad, Lachish, and Beer-sheba—will provide a fresh context against which to map the literary evidence for cult centralization provided by the book of Deuteronomy.

(2) Second, the discussion on centralization in the Neo-Assyrian period has largely focused on the kingdom of Judah, whereas less interest—and sometimes even no interest at all—was given to the role of centralization in the kingdom of Israel. However, archaeologically speaking, we may arguably trace a certain degree of “centralization” in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century. This point was already argued by N. Na’aman (“The Abandonment of Cult Places in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah as Acts of Cult Reform, UF 34, 2002, 585-602), and is supported by the evidence found at Megiddo and other sites. This development may be connected to a particular re-organization of the kingdom by Jeroboam II, when writing became an important medium. The evidence for centralization in the North during the Neo-Assyrian period has, in turn, significant implications for the origins of Deuteronomy and its program of centralization, which have been little studied.

(3) Third, and lastly, with regard to Deuteronomy and centralization, the debate has largely focused on the Neo-Assyrian period, with little to no attention given to later periods. Conversely, the few studies that address the question of centralization in the Persian period usually leave out the book of Deuteronomy and focus instead on other writings like, e.g., Chronicles (e.g., M. D. Knowles, Centrality Practiced: Jerusalem in the Religious Practice of Yehud and the Diaspora in the Persian Period, Atlanta: SBL, 2006). However, recent discussion on the composition of Deuteronomy indicates that the situation is significantly more complex. In particular, the body of legal texts pertaining to the issue of centralization (Deut 12 and related texts) shows clear signs of reworking and expansion, arguably being revised and amplified during the Persian period (see, e.g., T. Römer, “Cult Centralization in Deuteronomy 12: Between Deuteronomistic History and Pentateuch,” in E. Otto and R. Achenbach, eds., Das Deuteronomium zwischen Pentateuch und Deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk, FRLANT 206, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004, 168-80). In addition, the research will also address the related question of the role played by Samarian elites on the development of the laws about centralization during the Persian period. The latter issue has been raised in some recent studies, but has not been comprehensively explored yet.

C2: The Food Laws of the Pentateuch: Textual and Archaeological Perspectives

The laws prohibiting the consumption of specific animals feature prominently in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (see Lev 11 and Deut 14), and gradually came to represent some of the most important laws for the self-definition of both Jews and Samaritans in Antiquity. The recent discussion has focused on two issues mainly: the literary relationship between Lev 11 and Deut 14, on the one hand (for a recent overview, see C. Nihan, “The Laws about Clean and Unclean Animals in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and Their Place in the Formation of the Pentateuch,” in T. Dozeman, K. Schmid and B. Schwartz, eds., The Pentateuch. International Perspectives on Current Research, FAT 78, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011, 401-32); and the extent to which these laws exemplify a coherent system in regard to the nature of the animals prohibited, on the other (for a recent example of this approach, see, e.g., N. T. Meshel, “Food for Thought: Systems of Categorization in Leviticus 11,” HThR 101, 2008, 203-29). By contrast, less attention has been devoted in general to the question of the relationship between these laws and the material culture of ancient Israel. The few studies carried out on this topic usually focus on narrow aspects, especially the prohibition of pig consumption (see, e.g., U. Hübner, “Schweine, Schweineknochen und ein Speiseverbot im alten Israel,” VT 39, 1989, 225-36). One exception is the study by W. Houston (Purity and Monotheism. Clean and Unclean Animals in Biblical Law, JSOT 140, Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993) on the laws about clean and unclean animals in Lev 11 and Deut 14, which devotes a significant section to the archaeological context (see p. 124-80). Although his study represents a positive development, Houston relies on the evidence from published archaeological reports till 1990, many of which are now outdated. Recent publications have shown a renewed interest for the role and significance of food customs in ancient Israel (see, e.g., N. McDonald, What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat? Diet in Biblical Times, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), but so far this has not led to a reexamination of the laws about clean animals in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and their relationship to the material culture of ancient Israel.

In effect, recent archaeological finds point to the need for a complete reexamination of this issue. For instance, fish bones discovered in Iron Age II strata (late 9th to 7th centuries BCE) in Jerusalem, Ramat Rahel, and other sites in Judah include fish defined as unclean according to the Pentateuchal legislation (see D. N. Fulton et al., “Feasting in Paradise. Feast Remains from the Iron Age Palace of Ramat Rahel and their Implications,” BASOR, forthcoming). Furthermore, recent archaeological analysis demonstrates that the pig taboo in biblical law reflects the world of both late monarchic and postexilic Judah, but does not reflect daily life in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the Iron Age IIB (see L. Sapir-Hen et al., “Pig Husbandry in Iron Age Israel and Judah. New Insights Regarding the Origin of the ‘Taboo,’” ZDPV 129, 2013, 1-20). On the base of archaeological finds, pig avoidance may reflect the actual practice in the hill country during the Iron Age I, which continued in later periods as well. These periods, when pig avoidance was prevalent, should be seen as the background for the biblical laws reflected in Lev 11 and Deut 14. Findings of this sort illustrate how archaeology provides an important context for situating the origins, formation, growth, and implementation of the purity laws of the Pentateuch in general, especially of the food laws of Lev 11 and Deut 14. In particular, the material evidence suggests a much more complex and nuanced picture than has often been assumed: Some laws may in fact reflect very ancient habits that functioned to create a “we” and “they” boundary with the Philistines in the lowland in very early periods (Sapir-Hen et al., “Pig Husbandry in Iron Age,” 13), while others—like the prohibition against fish—appear to be much more theoretical and may even reflect later developments.

In many ways, the food laws of the Pentateuch represent a textbook case for the collaboration between biblical scholars and archaeologists. Surprisingly, such collaboration has not taken place on this topic, so the research project has, in this regard, considerable potential. Concretely, the research will explore three related issues. First, it will collect and analyze the archaeological evidence pertaining to food practices in ancient Israel. To this effect, the research will study the faunal materials that were found in excavations in Judah and Samaria in the Persian and Early Hellenistic periods and compare these finds with the finds from previous periods in these two provinces (i.e., Iron Age I-II). The collection and analysis of these data will result in a new synthesis of consumptive practices in ancient Israel, which has the potential to illuminate significantly our understanding of these practices. Second, the research will compare and contrast this archaeological evidence with the dietary customs prescribed in texts like Lev 11 and Deut 14 in order to obtain a better understanding of the relationship between these laws and the food practices of ancient Israel and ancient Judah, as well as of the way in which such laws gradually impacted and informed these practices. To this effect, the research will also elucidate the compositional history of both Lev 11 and Deut 14, the literary relationship between these texts, as well as their place in the composition of the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy respectively. Third, and lastly, the research will analyze and discuss the relevant evidence for the implementation of the laws on clean and unclean animals in the Second Temple period in order to provide a better understanding of the process and mechanisms through which this legislation became authoritative. The concern for the purity of diet figures prominently in several texts from the Second Temple period, such as, e.g., Daniel, Tobit or the Letter of Aristeas, and an examination of these traditions provides important clues regarding not only the gradual implementation of the food laws of the Pentateuch, but also the way in which these laws were received and interpreted in ancient Judaism.