Scholia Reviews ns 6 (1997) 9.

Eric M. Meyers (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East. 5 Vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. xviii + 2582, incl. 644 halftones and line illustrations, and 3 appendices. ISBN 0-19- 506512. US$595.00

Garth Gilmour
Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research University of Cape Town

In recent years scholars working in the history and archaeology of the Ancient Near East have witnessed the appearance of a number of very high quality encyclopaedic works which have greatly benefited their research. The New Encyclopaedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (NEAEHL),[[1]] presented in four volumes a detailed description of excavated sites in Israel, the West Bank and to a lesser extent, Jordan. The Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD),[[2]] is a massive six volume work with entries on every conceivable person, place (and site), topic or word that could remotely be considered to have some biblical relevance. More recently, we have been treated to the four volume set Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, edited by Jack Sasson,[[3]] which has admirably bucked the trend by being more thematic than topic- or subject-oriented, with original essays on eleven broad ranging themes. To this corpus is now added The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East (OEANE). One is tempted, therefore, to state that the publication of this work is a defining moment in encyclopaedias of the Ancient Near East, being as it is the most recent, and having a close association with both Oxford University Press and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). While there are obviously areas of overlap between all four of these works, each seeks successfully to fill its own niche. Consequently, although it is legitimate to make comparisons, the OEANE needs to be assessed on its own merits.

The encyclopaedia's editor-in-chief is Eric Meyers, Professor of Religion and Archaeology at Duke University, and immediate past President of the American Schools of Oriental Research. The list of his associates on the editorial board is very impressive and a certain indication of the quality of the work. The project was conceived by ASOR in 1988, originally as a one volume Handbook of Biblical Archaeology, but as it took shape, and the extent of the accumulated wisdom of our discipline became clear, the vision was raised and the five volume encyclopaedia resulted.

The OEANE is very impressive in every respect. It has 2600 pages in five volumes, containing 1,125 double-column entries, list alphabetically. The scope of the work is breathtaking. Geographically it covers not only the Near East, but also includes entries on islands and countries of the Mediterranean such as Cyprus, Crete, Greece, Sardinia and Malta, North Africa from Libya to Ethiopia, Arabia, Western Asia to Iran, and Anatolia. Periods covered range from prehistory to the Crusader period. The five general categories covered in the work, each containing several sub-categories, are 'Lands and Peoples', 'Writing', 'Languages and Texts', 'Material Culture', 'Archaeological Methods', and 'The History of Archaeology'. Most entries are followed by a bibliography, many of which contain useful one- or two-line summaries of each bibliographic reference. There are three appendices: a list of Egyptian Aramaic texts (pp. 5:393-410), regional chronologies (shown as regionally specific time lines [pp. 5:411-16]), and a set of excellent maps (pp. 5:417-43). These are followed by a directory of contributors (pp. 5:431-450), a synoptic outline of contents (pp. 5:451-459), and an comprehensive index of 93 three-columned pages (pp. 5:461-553). There are 644 black and white photographs and illustrations.

The presentation of the sites themselves rightly stands at the heart of the work (nearly 450 entries). However, it is the other areas, most notably the categories of 'Archaeological Methods' and 'The History of Archaeology', that set this encyclopaedia apart from its contemporaries. Archaeological research has been revolutionised in recent years by scientific advances applied both in the field and in the laboratory. Subjects covered under the general heading of 'Archaeological Methods' include 'Artifact Drafting and Drawing' (pp. 1:217-18), 'Geographic Information Systems' (curiously listed under 'Computer Mapping' [pp. 2:55-57]), 'Ethnozoology' (pp. 2:284- 85), 'Resistivity' (pp. 4:423-24) and 'Underwater Archaeology' (pp. 5:283-84). Under 'History of Archaeology', Meyers and his team have done a great service to Near Eastern archaeology by being extremely inclusive, looking not only at the various national schools and institutes, but at the history of the field in ten different regions. This category also includes over one hundred biographies. Perhaps most important is the contextualisation of Near Eastern Archaeology in the sub- category 'Theory and Practice', which covers such topics as 'Biblical Archaeology' (pp. 1:315-19), 'Historical Geography' (pp. 3:30-33), 'New Archaeology' (pp. 4:134-38), 'Nationalism and Archaeology' (pp. 4:103-12), and 'Tourism and Archaeology' (pp. 5:222-26), to mention but a few.

The remarkably wide breadth and scope of this encyclopaedia make it appropriate for use by virtually anyone working in any field relating to the Near East, although in terms of the site entries Palestine in the 2nd and 1st millennia BC appear to be favoured. As ASOR's traditional primary area of attention, this is legitimate. In South Africa, however, there is little Syro-Palestinian or Biblical archaeology taught at universities, and consequently this focus in the encyclopaedia may be perceived as rendering it somewhat less useful to local scholars. Nevertheless material from the Classical period, and geographically from areas to the west and east of Syria- Palestine, not to mention the sections on method and the history of archaeology, all combine to make this a worthwhile, even essential acquisition by university libraries in this country.

In seeking to provide a more specific review, I chose to examine the entry for 'Shechem', by Joe Seger (pp. 5:19-23). While there will clearly be differences in style from the various contributors, the tight editing by Meyers and his team allows for the legitimate judgement of the whole by a few of the parts. The editors have given some freedom to the contributors in their construction of each entry, as well as in such matters as chronology and terminology, so there are considerable variations in style and approach. The entry on Shechem seemed appropriate for closer review as it is a prominent site geographically, historically, and in terms of the history of the discipline, and it has been inadequately published. It was excavated most recently by an ASOR-sponsored expedition in the 1950s and 60s.

The entry, which contains five columns of text, is divided into three sections by subheadings: following a few lines giving grid references and a short description of the location, there follow sections on 'Identification' (p. 5:19) and 'Exploration' (pp. 5:19-21), and then the major portion of the entry appears under the sub-heading 'Settlement History' (pp. 5:21-23). This last section is a chronological overview of the results of the Drew-McCormick excavation led by G. Ernest Wright to the site from 1956 to 1968. There are no further subheadings, for example, breaking down the information into periods or fields of excavation. The entry ends with a bibliography of 21 titles, which is slightly fewer than the parallel entries in ABD and NEAEHL. The absence to this day of a proper final report of the Shechem excavations renders this particular entry more important than most. Strangely the absence of this report is not acknowledged. The information given in the entry is neither detailed nor technical, and can best be characterised as a summary. Indeed, it is clear that the article has been subject to some very tight editing. It is accompanied by three photographs: a view of the site from Mt Ebal, a profile of Wall A (the MB IIC outer city wall), and a view of excavations in progress at the East Gate. Unfortunately there is no plan of the site, which surely would have been more useful than at least one of these photographs.

On examining the site entries of this volume, one is led to ask what may legitimately be expected in a work such as this. On the whole there is slightly less information per site entry here than in the NEAEHL, but it compares favourably with the ABD. While one cannot expect a technical report, it is legitimate to look for more than a basic description. At least the history of excavation, stratification and possible wider significance (e.g. Biblical relevance, historical significance, etc.) of the site should be included. If controversies exist over a site's interpretation, these should certainly be noted, with references. The entry for 'Samaria', by Ron Tappy (pp. 4:463-67), for example, captures all of these elements effectively, leaving the reader with a brief but solid awareness of the issues at stake, including Kenyon's methodology and stratification, and the site's biblical and historical relevance. The final element that arguably should be present in each site report is a plan of the site. However this appears to be absent more than it is present. An encyclopaedia is often the source first accessed when seeking basic information about a specific topic. In addition its convenience and summary format make it a most useful resource for a quick review. Frequently too it is the point of departure when seeking to learn more about a subject with which one is unfamiliar. In each case, a basic site plan showing the most important features and excavation areas is all but indispensable. The absence of a plan in many of the site entries is one of the few weaknesses of the OEANE.

The encyclopaedia's strengths, on the other hand, are manifold. Apart from the sheer breadth of the work in time and space, the inclusion of entries giving the history of the discipline as it is practised in different countries and regions, and of entries discussing methodological issues, is particularly praiseworthy. This is not only due to the contextualization that such entries offer, but also because they capture many of the controversies that beset us. W.G. Dever, for example, is certainly an appropriate, if ironic, choice to write on 'Biblical Archaeology' (pp. 1:315-19), and his entry is remarkable for its fairness and even self-criticism. Yet some Israelis will again be critical of his reference to their attitude to the Bible as a 'virtual constitution of the modern state', and will hasten to point out that his view of Biblical Archaeology is a distinctly North American one. While the OEANE is more American than anything else -- again, to be expected with ASOR as the sponsoring institution -- it is another of the encyclopaedia's strengths that Israelis are given the opportunity to have their say about the history of the discipline from their perspective. (There are fewer such entries from nationals of Jordan and Syria.) So from the Israelis, for example, there are entries on 'Archaeology in Israel' (a sub-entry under 'History of the Field') by Amihai Mazar (pp. 3:47-51), the 'Israel Exploration Society' by Janet Amitai (pp. 3:190-92), and the 'Israel Antiquities Authority' by Rudolf Cohen (pp. 3:189-90).

For the purposes of review, the absence of several entries should be queried. High on this list is the site of Al Mina on the Syrian coast. It was excavated by Woolley, who hoped to find a Bronze Age port there following his work further inland at Alalakh. Instead he uncovered a town founded in the 9th century which continued to be settled until the Hellenistic period. As is well known, the importance of the site lies in its role in the early contacts between the Aegean, specifically Euboea, and the Levant. It was badly excavated by modern standards and poorly published. This encyclopaedia offers a superb venue for a reasonably comprehensive overview of the history of excavation and interpretation, with associated bibliography. Instead there are four passing references to the site in other entries which give little or no information at all. This is a serious omission. There are other absentees, and no doubt many scholars reading through these volumes critically will search in vain for something they feel should be there. Other significant non-appearances worth mentioning are Tel Megadim, an important Persian period site in Israel (though this is offset by several mentions in the general entry on 'Cities: cities of the Persian Period' [pp. 2:25-29]), and some biographies. The biographies section is fascinating and remarkably inclusive; missing from it however are Siegfried Horn and Doug Esse.

It is easier to quibble than to praise. Yet praise is more than due, and the quibbles are minor. The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East is a magnificent contribution to our field that will serve for years as a standard reference work. Meyers and his team have produced a classic encyclopaedia that will take its rightful place in any library that serves scholars of ancient history, archaeology and biblical studies. The price is steep, and will force some to choose between it, the NEAEHL and perhaps the ABD. The choice is not an easy one; each seeks to serve a specific need. Suffice to say that those choosing the OEANE will have great cause for satisfaction, and none for regret.


[[1]] E. Stern (ed.), New Encyclopaedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (Jerusalem 1993).

[[2]] D.N. Freedman (ed.), Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York 1992).

[[3]] J. Sasson (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (New York 1995)