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The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches. (Book Reviews).

The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches, by Ziony Zevit. London and New York: Continuum, 2001. 821 pp. $150.00.

The Religions of Ancient Israel is an attempt to use a philosophical paradigm to understand the nature of the religions practiced in Israel in antiquity. In delineating the religions of Ancient Israel, both within a specified time-frame (synchronic) and in sequenced time-frames (diachronic), Zevit relies mainly, but not exclusively, on artifactual and epigraphic data and appropriate biblical texts.

Before introducing his philosophical approach, Zevit begins by defining what he means by "Humanities," comparing and contrasting them with the Natural and Social Sciences (pp. 4-5). His lack of basic understanding regarding the nature of the Natural Sciences, an albeit small and unfortunate glitch in factuality, does not detract from the overall importance of his stated goals and research effort. Zevit properly indicates that in all three components of the Liberal Arts, different models may be constructed with the same data (p. 6), and that the focus on different paradigms defines Biblical Studies as an entire "field of study" (p. 9).

Zevit presents four paradigms for research and understanding of the material, giving a brief analysis and critique of each as well as of the scholarship within it. However, The Religions of Ancient Israel does not present itself as using a compendium of all of the paradigms; rather, it takes as its basis Zevit's second paradigm, which he believes "characterizes modern historiography" (p. 39). Zevit's first paradigm is typified by the assumption of some "original historical reality," which is accessible to the researcher. When scholars study the data, they do so by a "sieving process" that "results in an empirical collection of facts" which is subsequently both analyzed and synthesized (p. 30). Zevit's second paradigm, which he construes as an extension of his first (p. 39), predicates an accessible "historical reality" that does not hinge on the historian's opinion. Moreover, the "factule" [sic] resultant on the study of the data is itself affected by the nature of their contents; and, concomitantly, since do cuments are not limited to the author's original intent, the effect itself also becomes a factule. Zevit believes that the incompleteness of the resulting "collection of evidentiary facts" limits but does not obviate the historians ability to make accurate statements. Significantly, the more varied methodologies accessible to twentieth-century historians, in contrast to those who preceded them, made them aware of the interconnections between the "synchronic and diachronic venues into human culture" (pp. 39-40). Zevit then supplements this with a third, minimalist and postmodern paradigm, which he seems not to understand, and improperly rejects (pp. 57-68); and, he then suggests that a fourth paradigm, influenced by "New Historicism and Cultural Studies" seems to be forming although it has not yet emerged (p. 69). Once he has established the nature of the paradigms, particularly those that he accepts as valid, Zevit presents data for the various topics that he will ultimately use to define the religions of Anc ient Israel.

The next section of the work, comprising four chapters, follows the pattern of a well-presented archaeological report, but it is not limited to data from one site. Rather, Zevit culls out and marshals supportive evidence from the major digs as well as some that are secondary; and, as is traditional in all but a final archaeological report, he draws only limited conclusions from each. Zevit first addresses the various locales of worship. Although he notes that "the clearest incontrovertible examples of cult sites relative to the religion [sic] of Israelites comes from excavations at sites belonging to Israel's Iron Age Neighbors" (p. 124), he primarily deals with cult sites that are Israelite. In particular, he looks at data from Ai, Arad, Beer Sheba, a site near the northern border of Manasseh, Tel Dan, Mt. Ebal, Em Gev, Hazor, Jerusalem, Lacish, Makmish (and) Tel Michal, Megiddo, Samaria, Tel Kedesh, Ta'anach, Tirzahm and Tel'Eton. Zevit concludes that the cult places "indicate that the religion was practice d differently in home, village, sanctuary, urban temple, and extra-urban sanctuary" (p. 265). He includes in his analysis two summary charts (pp. 248-249) that are particularly useful in correlating the structure, the strata, and the time-frame of the artifactual and epigraphic data.

Zevit's conviction that because the major artifacts were made for cultic use, they are "tangible, physical expressions of shared beliefs" (p. 267) lends legitimacy to his delineation of Israel's religions. Evidence that there were Iron Age icons of male and primarily female deities and people, indicating that Israelite religion(s) included the worship of goddesses albeit primarily in a women's cult (pp. 274-276,346), must lead the reader to reject the belief that ancient Israelite religion was aniconic whether or not Zevit himself does so. Most importantly, the varied uses of these icons (p. 346) suggest practices that are generally included within the realm of magic. So, when Zevit postulates that the Hebrew terapim or gillulim are not representative of Yahweh's cult, he seems to ignore his own data. Despite this, Zevit's discussion of "The Material and Textual Aspects of Cultic Artifacts" is particularly fine. Using linguistic as well as artifactual material, Zevit observes, for example, that it was not usu al to make animal, but rather only human sacrifices on altars (p. 278), thereby leading to a fuller understanding of the practical nature of Israelite sacrifice. Moreover, Zevit is concerned with chthonic as well as what he terms "Olympian" rites, and suggests that the raised altar reflects, "that YHWH was perceived essentially as a celestial deity" (p. 280). In fact, he sees the practices that were no longer legitimate, and hence forbidden in Leviticus 17 as analogous to Classical rituals of chthonic worship (p. 284). His observation that the "original core legislation" in both Leviticus 17 and Deuteronomy 12 takes for granted the existence of a number of formerly sanctioned cult places, which "may have left traces in the archaeological record" (pp. 287-288) is important. In dealing with shrines, Zevit hypothesizes that during the Iron Age, there were shrines in both Israel and Judah in which "a deity dwelt, or resided regularly or occasionally, or where a deity could be called to presence and immanence." An d, he suggests that miniature shrines "may have functioned like a telephone" so as to bring the worshipper, who was not in a shrine or wayside chapel, into contact with the deity (p. 340). Zevit pays special attention to unique epigraphic material, with distinct Sitz im Leben, found in sites such as a cave near Ein Gedi, Khirbet El-Qom, and Kuntillet 'Ajrid, and Khirbet Beit Lei, only three of which he classifies as cult locales, which he considers "from the perspective of a SPEAKING model of ethnographic communicative acts" (p. 351). He concludes that the epigraphic data from these sites "demonstrate variously the commonality of intercessory prayer, the adoration of El, Baal, YHWH, and Asherah, the notion of divine causality in history, and the use of hymnic snippets in liturgical, cultic, contexts." However, he sees this very important information as "of limited value" (p. 437).

Starting with Chapter Six, the remainder of the work is both historiographic and historiosophic. Zevit envisions the Deuteronomistic Historian as "an opinionated, bookish person," who was not concerned with the "social, military, or economic policies per se" of "malfeasant monarchs," but rather with policies concerning the "centrality of the Jerusalem temple" as the legitimate locale for "Yahwistic ministrants and appurtenances" (p. 439). Although the Deuteronomistic History may have ties to Wisdom traditions (p. 442), the Deuteronomistic Historian's "historiosophy" is clearly different from that of the mantics (p. 440); and he is neither interested in "public morality" (p. 440) nor the purificatory interests of the Priestly Redactor (p. 447). And, most important, Zevit does not believe that the Deuteronomistic Historian fabricated "sources or details to bolster his historiosophic hypothesis" (p. 445). Zevit predicates four assumptions as basic to the Deuteronomistic History: (1) the documents and traditions the Deuteronomistic Historian used reported actual events; (2) YHWH exacted punishment for specific categories of transgressions; (3) some prophetic forecasts were correct; and, (4) the deity could influence and/or be causative in human events (p. 481).

Zevit does not believe that there is a great distinction between the mantics and the Writing Prophets, whose concern with social matters is small (p. 509). The mantics were basically self-empowering and empowering of other "Yahwistic cult professionals" at the expense of the people (p. 585). The Writing Prophets' significance is that the oracles are a "major source of information about" what Zevit terms "other groups and religious practices in Israel," and they indicate the existence of sectarianism (p. 510).

Based on theophoric names, Zevit concludes that the "spread of Yahwism in Israel is pre-Davidic." And, provided that "the majority of Israelites were Yahwists, the cult places and artifacts" he has analyzed show that the cult was not centralized, and cult enactment had not been conventionalized (p. 602). Zevit's "Parallactic Synthesis," dealing with socio-political material, summarizes what we know about the structure of Israelite society at various historical times. Zevit clearly shows that the societies and religions of Israel are "complex phenomena," in which "Israelite tribalism comprised a subcritical system, while that of the monarchy and its institutions an essentially supercritical one" (pp. 646-648), with "YHWH in different manifestations" being "the prime deity of the Israelite tribes" (p. 651). However, he stresses that most Israelites were primarily Yahwists. They called on their patron god by name, and they also knew by name Asherah, his consort, and other deities as well as well. Moreover, for t he most part, different gods were worshipped "through similar yet different rites" (p. 652). Most importantly, Zevit believes that neither the textual nor the archaeological evidence supports the idea that "Jerusalem was the seat of official religion occupying a select trend-setting position" (p. 658). Although the ideas for cult-centralization may have emanated from some "pre-Deuteronomic YHWH-alone ideology and a Priestly" conception, it was specifically related to Hezekiah's reform as well as his revolt in 701 (pp. 658-660).

It would be unfortunate if the complex and convoluted structure of The Religions of Ancient Israel discouraged readers from perusing this magnificent and very important work. Each section of The Religions of Ancient Israel is insightful, informative, innovative, and extremely important. Although not designed as such, each section forms a reference work that will be of use to scholars for a long time to come. Consequently, this work belongs in the library of every academic who works in Biblical Studies.
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Author:Mandell, Sara
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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