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Kulturkonflikte im Vorderen Orient.

Kulturkonflikte im Vorderen Orient. Edited by KLAUS S. FREYBERGER, AGNES HENNING, and HENNER VON HESBERG. Deutsches Archaologisches Institut, Orient-Abteilung, Orient-Archaologie, vol. 11. Rahden, Westfallen: VERLAG MARIE LEIDORF, 2003. Pp. vii + 303, illus.

This volume presents the papers from a colloquium held in 2000 at Cologne University. The overall theme is cultural identity in the ancient Near East, principally Syria, after the introduction of Hellenistic culture into a region with a Semitic population. A few papers deal with areas bordering on the Roman province of Syria: Commagene (Bruno Iacobs), Hellenistic Uruk (Gunvor Lindstrom), and the building program of Herod the Great in modern Israel (Sarah Japp). Within Syria, the major concentration is on Palmyra and the Hauran, but there is also an essay on sanctuaries in the Massif Calcaire in northern Syria (Patric-Alexander Kreuz). Many of the papers deal with material culture, but there are also essays on cultural identity based largely on epigraphical evidence (Michal Gawlikowski and Jean-Baptiste Yon on Palmyra).

A particular merit of the volume is that many of the papers, especially those dealing with the architecture, architectural decoration, and sculpture of the Hauran combine new discoveries with material long known but often published poorly or not at all. The papers by Michael Kalos and Thomas Maria Weber on the sanctuary at Sahr in the Ledja (Sahr al-Lagat) provide a good example. This sanctuary was studied by Howard Crosby Butler in 1919 as part of the Princeton Archaeological Expedition to Syria (H. C. Butler, Publications of the Princeton University Archaeological Expeditions to Syria in 1904-5 and 1909, Division II: Architecture, Section A: Southern Syria Part 7: The Ledja [Leiden: Brill, 1919], 441ff.). Subsequent discussions have relied on Butler's observations, but excavations conducted in 1998 and 1999 under the direction of Michael Kalos have permitted a new reconstruction of the architecture. Weber combines fragmentary sculpture unearthed in the new excavations with that published by Butler and other fragments in the museum at Soueida to suggest an elaborate sculptural program that permits a new historical interpretation of the sanctuary. He proposes a complex ensemble that includes on the west side a rider, identifiable as Herod Agrippa II, as well as figures in chariots drawn by lions and panthers, and on the east side Athena and another deity on a chariot drawn by lions and flanked by captives. This reconstruction, though audacious, is plausible and links Sahr more closely with Si' in the Jebel al-'Arab, also patronized by the Herodian dynasty.

Jean-Marie Dentzer also uses long-known material, both from Butler's publications and from the museum at Soueida and the depot established by the French at Salkhad during the Mandate, to discuss the cultural identity of the Jebel al-'Arab during the Hellenistic period. He argues that neither the architectural nor the sculptural remains of this period show signs of influence from the Hellenistic Greek world, and in fact he prefers to call the period immediately preceding Pompey's creation of the province of Syria in 64 C.E. "preprovinciale" rather than Hellenistic.

The lack of Hellenistic influence in architecture is well illustrated by Werner Oenbrink's essay on round tombs of the late Hellenistic-early Imperial period from Qanawat, which, he argues, developed out of an earlier tumulus form. In his provocative essay, Dentzer compares the sculpture of the Jebel al-'Arab, much of which decorated architecture or altars, to the sculpted orthostats of Hittite buildings. Following other scholars, he suggests a relationship between the facade of the temple at Si' and the much earlier Bit Hilani form. Dentzer also compares the interlace decoration of Si' to that of the ninth century B.C.E. temple at 'Ain Dara in northern Syria. The geographical and temporal difference raises questions about this thesis, but Dentzer argues for a conservative tradition in religious contexts.

Heike Laxander suggests that a group of votive sculptures in a similar flat style, long known, from the Acropolis at Qanawat should be associated with a monumental podium that is probably a sacred structure analogous to those at Si'. Likewise, the architectural decoration of houses in the Hauran, to which little attention has been paid, shows few signs of Greco-Roman influence (see the essay by Eva Marie Bopp). Though the introduction speaks of the appearance of new architectural forms and architectural decoration into Syria in the late first century B.C.E.--early first century C.E. (pp. 4-5), the essays do not really address this issue.

Other papers discuss the funerary architecture and sculpture of Palmyra as indicators of cultural identity. Gunvor Lindstrom uses the seals and bullae of Hellenistic Uruk to discuss the complex interplay between conservative tradition and Greek influence in that city, which became a Greek colony called Orchoi. It has long been remarked that both the bullae that must have sealed documents on papyrus, some relating to the salt tax, and texts in cuneiform relating to the economic affairs of the temples were stored together in archives housed in temples dedicated to traditional deities of Uruk, such as the sky god Anu. Lindstrom demonstrates that even among the members of local clans who continued the use of cuneiform and built the above-mentioned temples (the Bit Res and the Irigal), some members chose official seals with traditional Babylonian images, while others selected Greek motives.

In my view, the papers dealing with specific sites or groups of finds are the strongest in the volume. Others on more general and often-discussed subjects, such as colonnaded streets in the Near East in the early Imperial period, do not add much to the debate. One of the most admirable aspects of this volume is that many of the authors have combined long known material, much of it languishing in museum storerooms, with evidence from new excavations to present a more complex picture of the culture of Syria and adjacent regions in a period of major change.


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Author:Downey, Susan B.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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