The Archaeology of Israelite Society in Iron Age II

By Meyers, Carol | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 2014 | Go to article overview

The Archaeology of Israelite Society in Iron Age II


Meyers, Carol, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The Archaeology of Israelite Society in Iron Age II. By AVRAHAM FAUST. Translated by Ruth Ludlum. Winona Lake: EISENBRAUNS, 2012. Pp. xviii + 328, illus. $49.50.

Reconstructions of the monarchic period usually deal with social as well as political issues but rarely use archaeological data. Archaeological publications typically focus on issues of artifact typology that inform the dating and political history of sites but seldom consider the kinds of societies that inhabited them. Faust's book is an ambitious and innovative attempt to rectify these shortcomings of traditional scholarship through a large-scale and systematic study of selected archaeological data from all settlement types. These data are analyzed using methods and theories drawn from the social sciences. Biblical information is not ignored but rather appears when it might clarify the issues or help interpret archaeological materials.

The Archaeology of Israelite Society in Iron Age II is a translation and update of Faust's 2005 Hebrew book (with a slightly different title), itself an updated version of his 2000 PhD dissertation. The title notwithstanding, it is not a comprehensive study of Israelite society; rather, it aims to understand certain societal characteristics at the macro and meso levels: social stratification, community organization, ethnicity, and cognitive aspects. Nor does it consider the entire Iron II period (tenth to sixth centuries B.c.E.); it focuses mainly on the eighth and seventh centuries, which are best represented in the archaeological record and epigraphic remains and which also receive considerable biblical attention, assuming as Faust does that biblical texts attest to the existence and character of the monarchic states of Israel and Judah.

The first three chapters are introductory. The introduction outlines the nature and scope of the book. Chapter 1 gives a brief overview of the existing literature on social organization and stratification during the period of the monarchy. Chapter 2 provides examples of studies, based largely on archaeological remains, of limited aspects of Iron II Israelite society.

Chapters 3 and 4, which present and interpret differentials in dwelling size and construction, constitute the core of the book in terms of length--together they are longer than the rest of the chapters combined--and content. Chapter 3 deals with "urban society" by examining three data sets: eighth-century strata at five Israelite sites, eighth-century strata at six Judean sites, and seventh-century strata at four Judean sites. Faust concludes that social stratification is clearly shown and that the larger the settlement the greater the evidence of wealthy households. Israelite urban sites apparently had a spectrum of socioeconomic classes, including a "middle class," whereas Judean ones (except for Jerusalem) had a small percentage of elites, with the rest a poorer class living as nuclear families in small dwellings. The functions of public structures (gates and large pillared buildings) funded by the crown are also considered. Chapter 4 examines information about houses in "rural society--villages (including those adjacent to fortresses), large villages or townships, and farms--and concludes that there is little socioeconomic disparity, that dwellings housed extended families, and that local organizational structures facilitated cooperative community efforts.

Fortified structures, found mostly if not exclusively in Judah, are analyzed in chapter 5. Using information gleaned as much from biblical texts as from archaeology, Faust suggests that these fortresses served both the military and the administrative interests of the state. Archaeological evidence for the existence of monarchic states in Judah and Israel is summarized in chapter 6. Faust draws on Gerhard and Jean Lenski's Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology (1974) in classifying both northern and southern kingdoms as "states": an "advanced agrarian society" in Israel and a "simple agrarian society" in Judah (because, according to this analysis, it lacked a middle class). …

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