Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 11.

Daniel C. Snell (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Near East. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Pp. xix + 504. ISBN 0-631-23293-1. UK£85.00.

Sakkie Cornelius,
Department of Ancient Studies, University of Stellenbosch.

The volume is the only one devoted to the Ancient Near East in the Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World series, which provides overviews for scholars, students, and general readers. The volume is just over 500 pages long, with thirty-two chapters written by thirty authors (the editor wrote an introduction, three articles, and co-authored one) and divided into five parts.[[1]]

The description on the front inside cover states that the book offers 'a comprehensive overview of Near Eastern civilizations from the Bronze Age to the conquests of Alexander the Great . . . all the major civilizations of the region, including the Sumerians, Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Israelites, and Persians.' It provides a survey of history and the sources, with special emphasis on social and cultural history, and also covers the legacy of the Ancient Near East. This is quite a mouthful. It is impossible to give credit and to reflect critically on all the chapters in detail and therefore the emphasis will be on general trends and the overall contribution this volume makes to the study of the ancient world and more specifically the so-called Ancient Near East. The point I want to address is how comprehensive the volume is with regard to region and time-span. The volume covers much, but is the scope wide enough?

The region we call Ancient Near East lies roughly between Greece and Pakistan, and according to the editor includes contemporary states such as Egypt, Israel (to this should be added Palestine), Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Iran (p. xviii). The term Ancient Near East is in itself problematic. The editor admits that 'Near East' is a Eurocentric term and Western Asia would be preferable, but still retains Ancient Near East (p. xviii). The problem is that both terms could exclude Egypt. Knapp entitled his history 'Ancient Western Asia and Egypt', taking these as separate regions and defining 'Ancient Near East' as the more collective term.[[2]] The British Museum in London again excludes Egypt when it uses the terms Ancient Near East or Western Asia.[[3]] It is only in the USA that the term includes Egypt as in some important volumes and the journals Journal of Near Eastern Studies and Near Eastern Archaeology.[[4]] Exceptions are the Ancient Near East histories of the British writer Kuhrt and the Dutch writer Veenhof.[[5]]

As far as the time-span is concerned, the 'Ancient' in Ancient Near East also raises problems. One could start with the first sedentary communities (10 000 BCE) as in Chapter 2 or the first complex urban societies (3000 BCE) as in Chapter 1. In the rest of the volume the emphasis is on the period after 3000 and this is acceptable, but where do we stop? It is traditional to end with the defeat of the Persians by Alexander, as in this volume. But as with the term Ancient Near East itself, this is again very Euro- or rather Hellenocentric.[[6]] The Seleucid Empire was more Asiatic than Greek, and the Parthians and Sassanians (who outlived the Roman Empire!) were great empires of Iran before the advent of Islam. And what about Carthage? The Ancient Near East Department of the British Musem covers the period until the 7th century CE.

In the volume Egypt is included, but one limitation of the volume (acknowledged by the editor on page xviii) is that it is not treated properly. This tendency is also found in another book by Snell and recently in Van de Mieroop's History, which was also published by Blackwell.[[7]] The great majority of authors of the volume under discussion work in Mesopotamian studies. Some chapters (10, 21-23) deal solely with this region. Two chapters (15 and 17) are solely devoted to Egypt (gender and warfare). Some of the articles are somewhat unbalanced. The historical essays in Part 1 mention Egypt only in relation to other parts of the Ancient Near East. Chapter 5 describes Ancient Near East archaeology, but Egypt is excluded. On the other hand, separate chapters are devoted to gender in Egypt (15) and women and political power in the Ancient Near East excluding Egypt (16). This indicates the rather arbitrary selection of themes. The most balanced article is that on 'Working' (Chapter 12) by the Egyptologist Warburton, who gives both Mesopotamia and Egypt their due. Monroe (Chapter 11) has a paragraph on 'Money and Trade in Egypt.' Chapters 18 and 24 deal only with Mesopotamia. Chapter 19 does not ignore Egypt entirely and 29 discusses the Egyptian 'assembly' (pp. 400f.). The Egyptian language (pp. 82f.) and decipherment of hieroglyphs (pp. 422f.) are dealt with in Chapters 6 and 31.

To the list of neglected cultures could be added the Kushites (Nubia) of the Sudan, although Chapter 17 sometimes refers to the Kushites. The Hittites get some attention -- the article on the practice of religion by the Hittitologist Beckman (Chapter 25) is limited to Hittite religion only. Only one chapter is devoted to Syro-Palestine -- a chapter on Israelite religion (30) and its lasting influence, monotheism. The Phoenician-Punic civilizations receive attention only at two places: language (p. 84) and their cities (pp. 401f.). The Persians definitely do not get the attention they deserve; there is only something on their empire (pp. 58-61) and the languages of Iran (pp. 91f.).[[8]]

To the credit of the volume is the fact that the chapters are written by some of the world's leading scholars, like the veterans Liverani and Limet (but here again one misses the 'old masters' of Egyptology!). Each chapter is about thirteen pages in length and ends with a paragraph on further reading. The references cover nearly sixty pages of bibliography and there is an index of concepts and names. There are only a few illustrations, eleven in total: three architectural plans (Chapter 20) and eight art pieces (Chapter 21: two photos and one drawing of the famous Warka vase[[9]]). There are five maps: a general one on Near Eastern regions and cities, the other four ecological. These four maps are very detailed, whereas the first one is too limited in scope; the most important sites in Mesopotamia are shown, but this is not the case with Egypt -- surely at least Thebes/Luxor and Memphis should have been included.

There are now many handy overviews available for scholars and students researching and studying the civilizations of the Ancient Near East or Ancient Western Asia and Egypt. There is Sasson's massive (nearly 3000 pages) Civilizations. The scope is much wider and the articles cover other important cultures such as those of the Egyptians, the Persians, the Hittites, and the region of Syro-Palestine. Shorter articles are found in the more popular Wallenfels, and the 'dictionaries' of Bienkowski & Millard (not Egypt) and Shaw & Nicholson (only Egypt). More technical are the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology (which covers more than only archaeology), for Egypt the Lexikon der Ägyptologie and the Oxford Dictionary of Egypt, and for Mesopotamia the still incomplete Reallexikon der Assyriologie.[[10]]

This 'Companion', in spite of its somewhat limited scope -- as far as the great diversity of the Ancient Near East is concerned and neglecting Egypt and Iran -- contains usable information on some aspects of the Ancient Near East and Egypt. The 'further reading' sections provide additional sources for the uninitiated. Some of the articles are highly relevant, even dealing with contemporary issues such as the individual, ethnicity (perhaps 'identity' would have been more appropriate), democracy, and freedom (Part V). The last chapter on legacies is much too short and merely lists a few instances of influence on Western civilization. Here again the direct influence of Egypt on art and architecture -- from Greece and Rome to the contemporary world -- could have received more attention. Whether this volume will still be the starting point and useful 50 years from now (as claimed by the editor on p. xix) is debatable.[[11]]


[[1]] To indicate what is covered, the chapters are listed in full below: Part I The Shape of the Ancient Near East: Chapter 1 (Mario Liverani), 'Historical Overview' (pp. 3-19); Chapter 2 (Augusta McMahon), 'From Sedentism to States, 10,000 to 3000 BCE' (pp. 20-33); Chapter 3 (Mark Chavalas), 'The Age of Empires, 3100-900 BCE' (pp. 34-47); Chapter 4 (Paul-Alain Beaulieu), 'World Hegemony, 900-300 BCE' (pp. 48-62). Part II Discourses on Methods: Chapter 5 (Marie-Henriette Gates), 'Methods and Limits in Archaeology' (pp. 65-78); Chapter 6 (Gonzalo Rubio), 'The Languages of the Ancient Near East' (pp. 79-94); Chapter 7 (Daniel C. Snell), 'The Historian's Task' (pp. 95-106). Part III Economy and Society: Chapter 8 (Carlos E. Cordova), 'The Degradation of the Environment' (pp. 109-25); Chapter 9 (Jorge Silva Castillo), 'Nomadism Through the Ages' (pp. 126-40); Chapter 10 (Elizabeth C. Stone), 'Mesopotamian Cities and Countryside' (pp. 141-54); Chapter 11 (Christopher M. Monroe), 'Money and Trade' (pp. 155-68); Chapter 12 (David A. Warburton), 'Working' (pp. 169-82); Chapter 13 (Bruce Wells), 'Law and Practice' (pp. 183-95); Chapter 14 (John F. Robertson), 'Social Tensions in the Ancient Near East' (pp. 196-210); Chapter 15 (Ann Macy Roth), 'Gender Roles in Ancient Egypt' (pp. 211-18); Chapter 16 (Sarah C. Melville), 'Royal Women and the Exercise of Power' (pp. 219-28); Chapter 17 (Anthony J. Spalinger), 'Warfare in Ancient Egypt' (pp. 229-42). Part IV Culture: Chapter 18 (Benajamin R. Foster), 'The Transmission of Knowledge' (pp. 245-52); Chapter 19 (Tawny L. Holm), 'Literature' (pp. 253-65); Chapter 20 (Sally Dunham), 'Ancient Near Eastern Architecture' (pp. 266-80); Chapter 21 (Marian H. Feldman), 'Mesopotamian Art' (pp. 281-301); Chapter 22 (JoAnn Scurlock), 'Ancient Mesopotamian Medicine' (pp. 302-15); Chapter 23 (Francesca Rochberg), 'Mesopotamian Cosmology' (pp. 316-29); Chapter 24 (Philip Jones), 'Divine and Non-Divine Kingship' (pp. 330-42); Chapter 25 (Gary Beckman), 'How Religion Was Done' (pp. 343-54). Part V: Heritage of the Ancient Near East': Chapter 26 (Daniel C. Snell), 'The Invention of the Individual' (pp. 357-69); Chapter 27 (Henri Limet), 'Ethnicity' (pp. 370-83); Chapter 28 (Steven J. Garfinkle), 'Public versus Private in the Ancient Near East' (pp. 384-96); Chapter 29 (Marthew Martin III and Daniel C. Snell), 'Democracy and Freedom' (pp. 397-407); Chapter 30 (S. David Sperling), 'Monotheism and Ancient Israelite Religion' (pp. 408-20); Chapter 31 (Peter T. Daniels), 'The Decipherment of the Ancient Near East' (pp. 421-29); Chapter 32 (Daniel C. Snell), 'Legacies of the Ancient Near East' (pp. 430-33).

[[2]] B.A. Knapp, The History and Culture of Ancient Western Asia and Egypt (Chicago 1988) 11.

[[3]] The British Museum in London previously had two separate Departments: Egyptology and Western Asia. Recently the latter changed its name to Ancient Near East. P. Bienkowski & A. Millard, Dictionary of the Ancient Near East (London 2000) also excludes Egypt. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford also separates Egypt and the Ancient Near East.

[[4]] R.E. Averback et al. (edd.), Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East (Bethesda 2003); J. S. Cooper (ed.), The Study of the Ancient Near East in the Twenty-First Century: The William Foxwell Albright Centennial Conference (Winona Lake 1996); E. Meyers (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (New York 1997); J.M. Sasson (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East 4 vols. (New York 1995); W. H. Stiebing, Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture (New York 2003). The study by S. Richard (ed.), Near Eastern Archaeology: A Reader (Winona Lake 2003) is limited to Israel/Palestine.

[[5]] A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000 -330 BC (London & New York 1995) and K. R. Veenhof & M. A. Beek, 'History of the Ancient Near East,' in A. S. van der Woude (ed.), The World of the Bible. Bible Handbook Vol 1 (Michigan 1981).

[[6]] Cf. M. van de Mieroop, 'On writing a History of the Ancient Near East' Bibliotheca Orientalis LIV 3/4 (1997) 285-305.

[[7]] D. Snell, Life in the ancient Near East, 3100-332 B.C.E. (New Haven 1997) and M. van de Mieroop, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC (Malden 2004).

[[8]] An attempt at covering the other regions including the Sudan and Ethiopia and the later periods of the Persians (Parthians and Sassanids) can be found in I. Cornelius & P.J. Venter, From the Nile to the Euphrates: An Introduction to the Cultures of the Ancient Near East (Stellenbosch 2002).

[[9]] One of the items stolen from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, but now listed as having being retrieved: l.

[[10]] Bienkowski & A. Millard [3]; E. Ebeling et al. (edd.), Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie (Berlin 1928-); W. Helck et al. (edd.), Lexikon der Ägyptologie (Wiesbaden 1972-1986); Meyers [4]; D.B. Redford (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Egypt (Oxford 2001); Sasson [[4]]; I. Shaw & P. Nicholson, British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London 1995); R. Wallenfels (ed.), The Ancient Near East: An Encyclopedia for Students (New York 2000).

[[11]] The typographical errors I picked up are the transliteration ma'at (p. 412) instead of the correct maaat (p. 362), the title of Spalinger 2002b (Sallie instead of Sallier) in the references and Livarani (instead of Liverani) on the inside back cover. There is some confusion in the order of the 'References' (Kühne C and Kümmel should not be on p. 460, but on p. 461 after Krebernik.)