Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Gates and Gods: Cults in the City Gates of Iron Age Palestine-An Investigation of the Archaeological and Biblical Sources

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Gates and Gods: Cults in the City Gates of Iron Age Palestine-An Investigation of the Archaeological and Biblical Sources

Article excerpt

Gates and Gods: Cults in the City Gates of Iron Age Palestine-An Investigation of the Archaeological and Biblical Sources, by Tina Haettner Blomquist. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1999. Pp. 246. $58.00 (paper).

(Proquest Information and Learning: Foreign text ommitted.)

In 1997 I had the pleasure of supervising student volunteers at Bethsaida as they recovered from the earth a carved basalt stele bearing the likeness of a warrior bull and representing the august divinity of the Moon. I remember the initial expressions of not merely excitement but awe on the faces of those young volunteers, overshadowed by the mysteriluin tremendum et fascinans, perhaps in fear of having disturbed a sleeping god. For someone familiar with the Bible who considers that this stele once stood atop a stepped structure with an elevated basin and that this assemblage was located adjacent to the Iron Age II city gate, the ..., or "high places of the gates," mentioned in connection with the reform campaign of King Josiah (2 Kgs 23:8), immediately come to mind. But what exactly were the nature and function of a high place in relation to the public area of the city gate-if indeed such a thing actually existed? And how might ... and ..., high place and gate, be affected by their proximity to each other? These are questions that Swedish biblical scholar Tina Haettner Blomquist pursues in her informative study of this elusive phenomenon.

One may well appreciate the panic Blomquist must have experienced when, as she was nearing completion of her research, her writing was suddenly interrupted by the discovery of the Bethsaida ... and the subsequent publication of a monograph addressing its significance for the gate complex (Monika Bernett and Othmar Keel, Mond, Stier and Kult am Stadttor: Die Stele von Betsaida (et Tell) [OBO 161; Freiburg: Universitatsverlag, 1998]). With the willing assistance of Bethsaida's chief archaeologist, Rami Arav, and Bethsaida researcher Monika Bernett, co-author of the aforementioned book, Blomquist worked quickly and ably to integrate this new and extremely vital information into her project. Blomquist's, and for that matter anyone's, inquiry into the relationship between ... and ..., that is, between high place and city gate, is immediately faced with methodological challenges that must seek to narrow the interpretational gap between what we can and cannot demonstrate about the nature of cult and its intangible aspects. The primary question that this inquiry raises for the author is whether or not there is evidence of cult activity in city gate locales in Iron Age II Palestine and, if so, whether the gates themselves served cultic functions as extensions of their adjacent and/or embedded cult locales. The primary obstacle to overcome in answering this question lies in the rather dubious task of what I call "dusting the gate area for fingerprints of divinity." This Blomquist does by employing a somewhat modified version of the "archaeology of cult" advanced by Cohn Renfrew and others, which seeks to identify religious activity in the material record on the basis of certain criteria, specifically, the use of attention-focusing devices in architecture and artifacts, the apparent presence of deity in its symbolic forms, and artifactual evidence of religious participation and offering. For Blomquist, the gate complex itself qualifies as a special location to which ritual attention could be focused. Her methodology proceeds from an "embeddedness" of cult, which acknowledges the traditional distinction between sacred (...) and profane (...) but allows for a mutual permeation of these metaphysical states, which may sometimes be obscured in the material record. This leads her to reject other classical, mutually exclusive dichotomies such as "official vs. popular" or "public vs. domestic" cultic functions and to anticipate a variety of cult forms and activities taking place at the gate.

Blomquist then undertakes a survey of fourteen sites, which she groups into three categories: (1) sites with "positive archaeological evidence of gate cult," a category limited only to Bethsaida and Tel Dan; (2) eleven sites with "possible archaeological evidence of gate cult" (Megiddo, Beersheva, Lachish, Horvat Radum, Tell el-. …

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