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Journal of Biblical Literature
VOLUME 122, No. 3
Fall 2003
Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I: Archaeology Preserves
What Is Remembered and What Is Forgotten
in Israel’s History
The Woman of Substance (
): A Socioeconomic
Reading of Proverbs 31:10–31
Geography and History in Herodotus and in Ezra-Nehemiah
Are There Imperial Texts in the Class? Intertextual Eagles
and Matthean Eschatology as “Lights Out” Time
for Imperial Rome (Matthew 24:27–31)
Matthew 27:52–53 as Apocalyptic Apostrophe:
Temporal-Spatial Collapse in the Gospel of Matthew
To Die Is Gain” (Philippians 1:19–26): Does Paul
Contemplate Suicide?
The Locutions of 1 Kings 22:28: A New Proposal
6Q30, a Cursive Šîn, and Proverbs 11
Book Reviews 547 Index 600
US ISSN 0021–9231

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(Constituent Member of the American Council of Learned Societies)
General Editor: GAIL R. O’DAY, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322
Book Review Editor: TODD C. PENNER, Austin College, Sherman, TX 75090
Term Expiring
SUSAN ACKERMAN, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755
MICHAEL L. BARRÉ, St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Baltimore, MD 21210
ATHALYA BRENNER, University of Amsterdam, 1012 GC Amsterdam, The Netherlands
MARC BRETTLER, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02254-9110
WARREN CARTER, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, MO 64127
PAUL DUFF, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052
BEVERLY R. GAVENTA, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ 08542
JUDITH LIEU, King’s College London, London WC2R 2LS United Kingdom
KATHLEEN O’CONNOR, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA 30031
C. L. SEOW, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ 08542
VINCENT WIMBUSH, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA 91711
JANICE CAPEL ANDERSON, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844
MOSHE BERNSTEIN, Yeshiva University, New York, NY 10033-3201
ROBERT KUGLER, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR 97219
BERNARD M. LEVINSON, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0125
THEODORE J. LEWIS, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218
TIMOTHY LIM, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH1 2LX Scotland
STEPHEN PATTERSON, Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO 63119
ADELE REINHARTZ, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, OH N2L 3C5 Canada
NAOMI A. STEINBERG, DePaul University, Chicago, IL 60614
SZE-KAR WAN, Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, MA 92459
BRIAN K. BLOUNT, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ 08542
TERENCE L. DONALDSON, Wycliffe College, Toronto, ON M5S 1H7 Canada
PAMELA EISENBAUM, Iliff School of Theology, Denver, CO 80210
STEVEN FRIESEN, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211
A. KATHERINE GRIEB, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA 22304
JEFFREY KAH-JIN KUAN, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA 94709
RICHARD D. NELSON, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX
DAVID L. PETERSEN, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322
ALAN F. SEGAL, Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027
GREGORY E. STERLING, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556
PATRICIA K. TULL, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY 40205
Editorial Assistant: Susan E. Haddox, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322
President of the Society: Eldon Jay Epp, Lexington, MA 02420; Vice President: David L. Petersen, Candler
School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322; Chair, Research and Publications Committee: James C.
VanderKam, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556; Executive Director: Kent H. Richards, Society
of Biblical Literature, 825 Houston Mill Road, Suite 350, Atlanta, GA 30329.
The Journal of Biblical Literature (ISSN 0021–9231) is published quarterly. The annual subscription price
is US$35.00 for members and US$75.00 for nonmembers. Institutional rates are also available. For information
regarding subscriptions and membership, contact: Society of Biblical Literature, P.O. Box 2243, Williston, VT
05495-2243. Phone: 877-725-3334 (toll free) or 802-864-6185. FAX: 802-864-7626. E-mail: For
information concerning permission to quote, editorial and business matters, please see the Spring issue, p. 2.
The JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE (ISSN 0021–9231) is published quarterly by the Society of
Biblical Literature, 825 Houston Mill Road, Suite 350, Atlanta, GA 30329. Periodical postage paid at Atlanta,
Georgia, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Society of Biblical
Literature, P.O. Box 2243, Williston, VT 05495-2243.

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JBL 122/3 (2003) 401–425
123 Upland Terrace, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
Earliest Israel remains terra incognita, literally and from the ground
down. The Merneptah Stela Stanza VIII proclaiming Egyptian suzerainty in
the southern Levant documents Israel as a noteworthy foreign enemy by the
end of the thirteenth century
Except for this mention, neither contem-
porary epigraphic nor archaeological evidence explicitly points to a late-
. “Israel.” However, conservatively dated biblical and
archaeological evidence has been invoked to attest to Israel in the twelfth to
eleventh centuries
. Frank Cross and Tryggve Mettinger, among others,
date the Bible’s earliest testimonials, the Song of the Sea (Exod 15) and Song of
Deborah (Judg 5) to the late twelfth or early eleventh century
it was Israel Finkelstein, now leading a revisionist contingent, who claimed to
validate the early dates with archaeological evidence. In his central highlands
survey, Finkelstein identified as “Israelite” the hundreds of hamlets and farm-
A portion of this essay was presented before the Colloquium for Biblical Research at Duke
Divinity School in August 2001. I wish to thank the members of the colloquium for their helpful
criticisms and suggestions. This paper also greatly benefited from discussions with my husband,
Mark Smith, of New York University, and with Ilan Sharon of The Hebrew University.
Donald Redford, “Egypt and Western Asia in the Late New Kingdom: An Overview,” in
The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment (ed. E. Oren; Philadelphia: University Museum,
2000), 5.
Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Reli-
gion of Israel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 121–24; Tryggve Mettinger, The
Dethronement of Sabaoth: Studies in the Shem and Kabod Theologies (trans. Frederick Cryer;
Lund: Gleerup, 1982), 26–27.

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steads founded in the twelfth and eleventh centuries
Although the Iron
I material culture, cultic practices, burial customs, and architecture continued
Late Bronze Age “Canaanite” traditions, the founding population was readily
identified as Merneptah’s “Israel” and biblical “Israel.”
Nearly two decades
later, not a single feature of those settlements may be conclusively identified as
exclusively “Israelite.” Aside from the founding of new settlements in territory
allegedly settled by Israel, nothing decisively links the new settlements to
Merneptah’s Israel or biblical Israel.
In view of this impasse, this article pursues an alternate route in search of
ethnic Israel of the premonarchic period. After demonstrating the limitations
of the Culture Area approach to ethnicity currently employed by most archae-
ologists, I will present the Meaningful Boundaries approach, stemming from
Fredrik Barth’s work. This model will, in turn, be expanded to incorporate
Jonathan Hall and Stephen Cornell’s work on a group’s crafting of its history as
a process that fosters ethnic identity. Based on the new model that weds
archaeology and text, the Tell-Tale approach, datable archaeological features
with biblically attested significance will be proposed to indicate the crafting of
Israel’s history from as early as the twelfth to eleventh century
The biblical and archaeological evidence of Israelite interaction with the
Canaanites and Philistines shows that the process of formulating collective
memory regarding the Philistines differed from that of fashioning reminis-
cences of the Canaanites. Two distinct literary processes may underlie the vary-
ing accounts.
I. Two Archaeological Models of Ethnicity
Defining Ethnicity
An ethnos is a group of people larger than a clan or lineage claiming com-
mon ancestry. While cultural or biological kinship may reinforce the bond, a
fabricated “collective memory of a former unity”
or “putative myth of shared
descent and kinship”
ultimately conjoins the various lineages. Primordial as
Journal of Biblical Literature
Israel Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem: Israel Explo-
ration Society, 1988).
For examples, see William Dever, “Proto-Israelites” (“Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Ques-
tion of Israel’s Origins,” BA 58, no.4 [1995]: 200–213) and I. Finkelstein, “Israelites” (Archaeology
of the Israelite Settlement).
Geoff Emberling, “Ethnicity in Complex Societies: Archaeological Perspectives,” Journal
of Archaeological Research 5, no.4 (1997): 301–4.
Jonathan Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1997).

Page 5
well as circumstantial traits, both self-ascribed and promulgated by others,
define the group. Primordial features are perceived by the group to have
existed from the beginning; in other words, they are the “collective memory of
a former unity” or a common heritage. Kinship, territory, or select traditions,
including religion, often define the group’s origins. In contrast to primordial
traits, circumstantial factors are variously activated in response to changing sit-
uations. Material culture or relations with other groups exemplify circumstan-
tial factors. Though self-ascribed identifying features may change, shifting
social constructs distinguishing “us” from “them” shape continuing ethnic affil-
Ethnicity is, in A. Gidden’s words, “a dialectic of ‘structure’ and
The quest for early Israel is a study of ethnogenesis. “Shared interests,”
often political or economic, spur often unrelated clans or lineages to amal-
gamate into the nucleus of an ethnos.
To define and legitimate itself, the
resulting group asserts a (fabricated) common ancestry and adopts a culture
legitimating the group’s past, both real and alleged, spanning the distant to
recent history. In other words, the formative group undergoes a conceptual
shift; the “almost unconscious ‘way of life’” becomes “tradition,” and the emer-
gent culture assumes an underlying “ideology of authenticity.”
Such myths of
ethnic origins serve to establish and perpetuate ethnic claims of ancestry and
other primordial features such as territory.
“Shared institutions” are necessary
to perpetuate the group after the initial reasons for affiliating have dissipated.
These institutions function as the organizing mechanism for the group to
achieve its interests, practice the culture, and maintain its identity.
Geoff Emberling discusses the relationship between ethnogenesis and
political states in second-millennium Mesopotamia. According to his schema,
mobile or migrant groups may attain a distinctive identity in a new environ-
ment. Along with the autochthonous population, the various tribes, peoples, or
groups adopt a history of “former unity” in the process of incorporation into a
state. While the state is a political construct, in contrast to the allegedly kinship-
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
For bibliography of literature on ethnicity, see Bruce McKay, “Ethnicity and Israelite Reli-
gion: The Anthropology of Social Boundaries in Judges” (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1997),
Quoted in Mark G. Brett, “Interpreting Ethnicity: Method, Hermeneutics, Ethics,” in
Ethnicity and the Bible (ed. M. Brett; Leiden/New York/Cologne: Brill, 1996), 10.
P. Spickard and W. Burroughs, “Introduction,” in We Are a People: Narrative and Multi-
plicity in Constructing Ethnic Identity (ed. P. Spickard and W. J. Burroughs; Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 2000), 8–9.
Jack D. Eller, From Culture to Ethnicity to Conflict: An Anthropological Perspective on
International Ethnic Conflict (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 30.
Hall, Ethnic Identity, 40.
Spickard and Burroughs, “Introduction,” 10.

Page 6
based ethnos, it may build on ethnic history to promote national loyalty and, in
some cases, religious fidelity. Once incorporated within the state, the ethnos
may be preserved and enhanced or suppressed to promote state interests, ren-
dering state control and ethnic preservation potentially opposing forces. Gen-
erally, the degree of state control is inversely related to the power of the ethnos.
With the dissipation or dissolution of state control, ethnic groups once again
may reassert their influence.
Emberling’s discussion lays the groundwork for constructing the Tell-Tale
paradigm for early Israel. In place of a single point of origin and unilinear tra-
jectory, over the centuries early Israel amalgamated multiple constituent
groups each with its own primordial features. Incorporating new populations
into the evolving ethnos likely entailed retrojecting or incorporating some of
their primordial traits into the “collective memory.” Thus, primordial features
may change comparable to circumstantial factors. Even the religion of early
Israel, allegedly a primordial feature (Gen 17:1–8), underwent changes
through time, as cogently presented by Mark Smith.
The deity worshiped
and/or the name by which he was known is a parade example. Earliest Israel
likely consisted of a federation of clans worshiping El as their chief deity. El and
Yahweh converged when the people Israel became Yahweh’s nation; thereafter
worship of Yahweh and/or El defined Israel. The evolution from polytheism to
monotheism provides a second example. Through the period of the judges and
the monarchy, Israel worshiped Yahweh, El, Baal, Asherah, Astarte, the sun,
the moon, and the stars.
Not until relatively late in Israel’s recorded history,
from the late preexilic and the exilic periods, does the biblical text express
“unambiguous expressions of Israelite monotheism” (e.g., Isa 45:5–6).
An expanding entity in the process of consolidation and state formation,
early Israel repeatedly updated and revised its history to incorporate circum-
stantial features as well as select primordial features of new constituent groups.
The process may be endemic to ethnic emergence. Jonathan Hall affirmed the
importance of written and verbal discourse in constructing and maintaining
ethnic identity in ancient Greece, and Stephen Cornell labeled the process
Journal of Biblical Literature
Emberling, “Ethnicity,” 304–10.
Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel
(San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), 7–12.
Smith, Early History of God, 145; Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger collect the rele-
vant iconographic evidence in Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God: In Ancient Israel (Minneapo-
lis: Fortress, 1998); John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (JSOTSup 265;
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2000), 226–33; Z. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis
of Parallactic Approaches (New York: Continuum, 2001), 648–52.
Smith, Early History of God, 152–54; idem, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s
Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 151–54.

Page 7
“narrativization” as practiced by Native Americans.
Over the centuries, Israel
supplemented, redefined, reinterpreted, and perhaps expunged or forgot pri-
mordial as well as circumstantial traits and features in crafting its “collective
This more flexible understanding of ethnicity provides greater latitude in
moving from Merneptah’s Israel to premonarchic and monarchic ethnic Israel.
At each stage, a group considered itself “Israel,” yet the defining features may
have significantly differed. Textually and archaeologically attested traits from
Iron II need not have pertained in Iron I. This proviso also helps bridge the
widespread abandonment of “Israelite” highland rural settlements in the
eleventh to tenth century
. and discontinuities in material culture (see
Viewing early Israel as an ethnos raises several questions. What circum-
stantial “shared interest,” in contradistinction to the primordial “common her-
itage,” forged the bonds for Iron I Israel? After the initial impetus for affiliation
ceased, what “shared institutions” perpetuated group identity? Is it possible to
discern within the group’s recorded narrative either episodic components or lit-
erary processes signifying authors/redactors constructing a history, the process
of which fostered ethnic identity?
: T
Before reviewing the models of ethnicity currently employed in
archaeological studies, use of the terms “Israelite” and “Philistine”
requires qualification. Biblicists and archaeologists share limitations in
distinguishing and interpreting internal variability. For biblical scholars,
texts such as the various tribal accounts, conquest narratives, and judges’
episodes are all regarded as “Israelite” by virtue of their inclusion in the
recorded history, though they may have originated with distinct groups
later incorporated into the Israelite nation. The same limitation in distin-
guishing internal variability plagues the interpretation of archaeological
finds. Settlements and material culture in the Iron I central highlands
.) are all attributed to a single culture and people, vari-
ously labeled “Proto-Israelite” (William Dever) or “Israelite” (Israel
Finkelstein, Amihai Mazar). Studies of inter- and intrasite variability lack
the necessary quantities of data and refinement of analysis to distinguish
different peoples resident in the highlands. For convenience, archaeolo-
gists resort to the acknowledged misnomer “Israelite” for all central high-
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Hall, Ethnic Identity, 2; Stephen Cornell, “That’s the Story of Our Life,” in We Are a Peo-
ple, ed. Spickard and Burroughs, 43–44, and see n. 1 for bibliography on the link between identity
and narrative.

Page 8
lands territory and material culture. The term “Philistine,” the biblically
perceived dominant culture among the Egyptian-attested Sea Peoples,
functions similarly for the territory and material culture of the coastal
plain from roughly the Yarkon River south to Gaza.
The Culture Area Approach:
Distinguishing “Israelites” from “Canaanites”
Current archaeological studies of Israelite ethnicity employ the anthropo-
logical paradigm known as the Culture Area approach.
According to this
model, the ethnos is identified with “a complex of cultural traits common to a
population inhabiting a specific environmental zone.”
As is evident from the
above discussion of ethnicity, systemic difficulties compromise the explanatory
value of this model. Difficulties include (1) distinguishing cultural complexes of
traits and delimiting their boundaries; (2) identifying features of ethnic rather
than economic, social, or political origin; and (3) allowing for variability in the
complex of traits through time and space. A further limitation of this approach
is the difficulty in demonstrating the meaning or significance of the isolated
traits for the members of the group. Without meaning, the traits cease to func-
tion as part of the “cultural complex.” Fortunately, texts—in our case the
Bible—testify to what constituted a meaningful trait (though documentation
was not intended to be comprehensive), at least in retrospect.
Israel Finkelstein’s work is illustrative of this approach. In 1983 he claimed
to have identified early “Israel” in his Tel Aviv Ph.D. dissertation entitled “The
Izbet Sartah Excavations and the Israelite Settlement in the Hill Country.”
Nearly twenty years later, not a single feature of the highland settlements
attributed to early Israel may be conclusively identified as exclusively “Israel-
ite” or as distinguishing “Israelites” from neighboring peoples such as the
“Gibeonites” or “Canaanites.” Despite growing evidence to the contrary, Cul-
ture Area advocates continue to promote the “pillared” or “four-room” house
and “collar-rim” store jar as traits of the Israelite cultural complex. Abstinence
from pork, recently added to the list, is also problematic (see below). None of
these traits was exclusive to a conservatively delimited Iron I highland Israel
and so is not necessarily a marker of an ethnic Israelite individual or family.
Journal of Biblical Literature
William Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What
Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001); I.
Finkelstein and N. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel
and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Free Press, 2001); Zevit, Religions of Ancient Israel.
Emberling, “Ethnicity,” 297.
Finkelstein extended the scope of his studies in his subsequent works (The Archaeology of
the Period of Settlement and Judges [Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing, 1986] and
Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement).

Page 9
Furthermore, texts are mute as to whether or not Israelites considered house
plans and store jars meaningful cultural traits; only abstinence from pork
appears in the collective memory (Lev 11:7–8; Deut 14:8). The silence of the
texts regarding the significance of house plans and collar-rim store jars plus
their relatively restricted distribution favors an economic or functional rather
than an ethnic impetus and no subsequent importance.
To topple the reigning paradigm, the distribution of pillared houses and
store jars and the absence of pork in the diet will be shown both temporally and
spatially to exceed the parameters of early Israel. At newly founded Iron I (ca.
.) highland sites, settlers commonly constructed a pillared
house, commonly referred to as the “four-room” house. These square to rectan-
gular dwellings enclosed a rear broadroom and a front courtyard divided by one
or two longitudinal rows of pillars (1.1–1.8 m. high) demarcating side rooms
often paved with flagstones. Low arched doorways, occasional troughs between
the pillars, and the flagstone paving suggest that the side rooms sheltered ani-
mals. Ovens and hearths in the central courtyard attest to cooking and baking,
leaving the back room for storage and sleeping. Many houses likely had at least
a partial second story.
While this house type may have predominated in the Iron I highlands, it
was not the exclusive model at sites including Afula, Tell el Far>ah (N), Ai,
Bethel, Beth Shemesh, or Tell Beit Mirsim.
Houses at Tell el-Far>ah (N),
Bethel, Beth Shemesh, and Tell Beit Mirsim, all continuously populated from
the Late Bronze Age into the Iron I, lacked pillars and at 100–200 m. sq. cov-
ered more than double the floor space of the Ai and Khirbet Raddana pillared
dwellings. The simplistic equation between Israelites and pillared houses is
without foundation. At highland sites generally considered Israelite, such as Ai
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
For an extensive discussion and bibliography, see John Holladay, Jr., “House, Israelite,”
ABD 3:308–18; Lawrence Stager, “The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel,” BASOR 260
(1985): 1–35.
Afula IIIB House XXVIII (twelfth century), see Moshe Dothan, “The Excavations at
>Afula,” Atiqot 1 (1956): fig. 3; Ai Houses 17, 152, 207 (twelfth to eleventh century), see J. Marquet-
Kraus, Les Fouilles de ‘Ay (et-Tell) 1933–1935: Resurrection d’Une Grande Cite Biblique (Biblio-
thèque Archéologique et Historique 45; Paris: Guethner, 1949), pl. XCVII; Bethel House 35 (end
of thirteenth to beginning of twelfth century) (twelfth century ), see Frank Braemer, L’Architec-
ture Domestique du Levant A L’Age Du Fer (Editions recherche sur les civilizations 8; Paris:
A.D.P.F., 1982), 201–2; Tell Beit Mirsim B2 House SE 12/3, see William F. Albright, The Excava-
tion of Tell Beit Mirsim, vol. 3, The Iron Age (AASOR 21–22; New Haven: ASOR, 1943), 19–21, pls.
2 and 11a; and Braemer, L’Architecture Domestique, 28–29, 181–82; Beth Shemesh III Houses 24
and 28 (twelfth to eleventh century), see Elihu Grant, Ain Shems Excavations 1928–1931 (Biblical
and Kindred Studies 3, 4; Haverford: Haverford College, 1931), pl. XXV; and E. Grant and G. E.
Wright, Ain Shems Excavations (Palestine) (Biblical and Kindred Studies 8; Haverford: Haverford
College, 1939), 51–55, fig. 6; and Braemer, L’Architecture Domestique, 198–99; Tell el Far>ah (N)
Houses 163 and 180 (eleventh to tenth century), see Braemer, L’Architecture Domestique, 211–17.

Page 10
or Bethel, either Israelites constructed houses of differing plans or non-
Israelites resided there as well, in which case the settlements should not be
considered exclusively Israelite. If Israelites chose from among various house
models, then the pillared house may be a function of socioeconomic considera-
tions rather than ethnicity.
The distribution of pillared houses was also not restricted to Israelite sites;
pillared houses were erected at the Late Bronze II and Iron I sites of Tell
Ta>anach, Izbet Sartah, Tell Batash, Tell es-Shariah, Tel Masos, Sahab, and
Medeinet Mu>arradjeh on the Kerak plateau, arguably non-Israelite sites.
Ironically, the excavators’ identification of many of these sites as Israelite rests
solely on biblical testimony; archaeological remains suggest otherwise. Thus
falls the first pillar, or material culture attribute, distinguishing ethnic Israelites
from Canaanites and other peoples resident in the highlands.
William F. Albright identified the collar-rim store jar as a highland feature;
Yohanan Aharoni held the form to be exclusively Israelite.
Date and distribu-
tion, however, negate Aharoni’s qualification.
Collar-rim store jars are now
known from sites outside of and predating Israelite control, in the lowlands
(Tell Keisan, Tell Nami, Aphek, Tell Qasile, Megiddo, Beth Shan) and on the
Transjordanian plateau (Sahab, Tell el-Umeiri, the Amman-Hesban region).
Journal of Biblical Literature
Tell Ta>anach twelfth-century pillars in a partial structure and the Drainpipe Structure,
see Paul Lapp, “The 1968 Excavations at Tell Ta>anek,” BASOR 195 (1969): 34–39; and Braemer,
L’Architecture Domestique, 286; Izbet Sartah II (end of eleventh century), see M. Kochavi and A.
Demsky, “An Israelite Village from the Days of the Judges,” BAR 4, no. 3 (1978): plan p. 26; and
Finkelstein, Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement, 75–78; and Braemer, L’Architecture Domes-
tique, 238–39; Tell es-Sharia Str. VIII, E. Oren, “Esh-Sharia>a (Tel Sera>), EAEHL 4:1064–65, plan
on p. 1066; Tel Batash VII, LBII “Burnt Building,” see G. Kelm and A. Mazar, “Three Seasons of
Excavations at Tell Batash-Biblical Timnah,” BASOR 248 (1982): 9–13; Tel Masos Str. III House
74 (end of thirteenth to mid to late twelfth century), Str. II Houses 2, 88, 167 and 1065 (late twelfth
to eleventh century), see A. Kempinsky and V. Fritz, “Excavations at Tel Masos (Khirbet el
Meshash): Preliminary Report of the Third Season, 1975,” TA 4 (1977): 138–42; and Braemer,
L’Architecture Domestique, 251–55; M. M. Ibrahim, “Third Season of Excavations at Sahab, 1975
(Preliminary Report),” ADAJ 20 (1975): 69–82; J. Sauer, “Iron I Pillared House in Moab,” BA 42,
no. 1 (1979): 1.
W. F. Albright, “Further Light on the History of Israel from Lachish and Megiddo,”
BASOR 68 (1937): 25; Yohanan Aharoni, “New Aspects of the Israelite Occupation in the North,”
in Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: Essays in Honor of Nelson Glueck (ed. J. A.
Sanders; New York: Doubleday, 1970), 264–65.
See the summary in Finkelstein, Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement, 280–82.
For bibliography, see Israel Finkelstein, “Pots and People Revisited: Ethnic Boundaries in
the Iron Age I,” in The Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, Interpreting the Present (ed.
N. Silberman and D. Small; JSOTSup 237; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 224–25; for
Tell al->Umayri, see Larry Herr, “The Settlement and Fortification of Tell al->Umayri in Jordan
During the LB/Iron I Transition,” in The Archaeology of Jordan and Beyond: Essays in Honor of
James A. Sauer (ed. L. Stager, J. Greene, and M. Coogan; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000),

Page 11
A suggested mode of dispersal also precludes use of the jar as an ethnic marker.
Based on distribution, Doug Esse proposed itinerant kin-based potters, likely
Israelites, selling collar-rim store jars to Israelites and Canaanites alike.
Esse is correct, the general availability of collar-rim jars shatters the myth of
their restricted ethnic use. Thus falls the second pillar or attribute of ethnic
Israel’s identity manifested in material culture.
Zooarchaeologists seemingly rescued the early Israelites from obscurity.
The apparent abstinence from pork in fulfillment of the biblical injunction (Lev
11:7–8; Deut 14:8) was embraced as the elusive marker of Israelite ethnicity.
Brian Hesse and Paula Wapnish tabulated percentages of pig bones among fau-
nal collections from Israel, Syria, Iraq, eastern Anatolia, and Egypt, spanning
the ninth to the first millennium.
Relevant to this discussion are their findings
from second- and first-millennium Cisjordan. Their efforts are hamstrung by
the small number of faunal assemblages analyzed, samples of widely varying
size (from 47 to 3,950 bones), and the variability of intrasite distribution
depending on context. Isolating the results of southern Levantine sites, five
Middle Bronze Age sites demonstrated “intense exploitation” of pig, from 8 to
34 percent of identified animal bones in domestic debris. Late Bronze Age sites
yielded “scant” Late Bronze Age evidence, with the sole highland site of Shiloh
yielding a mere 0.17 percent (one bone). Pig was rare but present in Iron I
highland sites: 0.7 percent at Shiloh, one bone each at Ai and Khirbet Raddana,
and “some” from the City of David (none from the Ophel). By contrast, the pig
samples of 18 and 19 percent respectively from Iron I Tel Miqne and Ashkelon
constitute incontrovertible evidence of Iron I Philistine pork consumption. At
all Philistine sites analyzed, Ashkelon, Tel Miqne, and Tell Batash, pig exploita-
tion decreased through the centuries, beginning in the eleventh century
Overall, Hesse and Wapnish’s results demonstrate reliance on pig in the Middle
Bronze Age, with greatly diminished use from the Late Bronze Age through
the Persian period except for Iron I Philistia, with a return to pork as a dietary
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Douglas Esse, “The Collared Store Jar: Scholarly Ideology and Ceramic Typology,” SJOT
2 (1991): 99–116.
Diana Edelman, “Ethnicity and Early Israel,” in Ethnicity and the Bible, ed. Brett, 49;
Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know, 113; Finkelstein, “Pots and People,” 228–30; Finkel-
stein and Silberman, Bible Unearthed, 119; Larry Stager, “The Impact of the Sea Peoples in
Canaan (1185–1050
),” in The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land (ed. T. Levy; New York:
Facts on File, 1995), 344.
Brian Hesse, “Husbandry, Dietary Taboos, and the Bones of the Ancient Near East: Zoo-
archaeology in the Post-Processual World,” in Methods in the Mediterranean: Historical and
Archaeological Views on Texts and Archaeology (ed. D. Small; Leiden/New York: Brill, 1995), 197–
232, esp. 217–30; Brian Hesse and Paula Wapnish, “Can Pig Remains Be Used for Ethnic Diagno-
sis in the Ancient Near East?” in Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, ed. Silberman and
Small, 238–70.

Page 12
mainstay in the Hellenistic and later periods.
Based on these findings, those
who seek to identify Israelites on the basis of abstinence from pork are hampered
by the single Late Bronze Age highland site with a “trace” of pig, which precludes
distinguishing the Iron I highland “Israelites” from their predecessors.
A further limitation of the Culture Area approach is its inability to bridge
the mid-twelfth- and eleventh-century
. highland abandonment and dis-
continuity in material culture. Entire regions of Manasseh, Ephraim, Judah,
and the Shephelah were abandoned not long after having been settled.
Finkelstein’s 1997 claim that “over 90% of the Iron I sites [in the central high-
lands] continued to be inhabited, undisturbed, until the eighth century BCE” is
not borne out by excavations, others’ surveys, or his own earlier work in the ter-
ritory of Ephraim.
Of the few Iron I sites excavated, many were abandoned
either briefly or permanently (Mt. Ebal, Izbet Sartah, Shechem, Shiloh, Ai,
Khirbet Raddana, Tell en-Nasbeh, Giloh, Umm et-Tala, Jebel el-Habun/Allon
Shevut, Tell Beit Mirsim). Tell el-Far>ah (N), Khirbet ed-Dawwara, and Izbet
Sartah lasted into the tenth century
. before being abandoned. Only five
highland sites supported continuous settlement into the Iron II period (Bethel,
Tell el-Ful/Gibeah, Gibeon, Jerusalem, Tell er-Rumeideh/Tel Hebron).
vey results also challenge Finkelstein’s purported continuity of settlement.
Archaeological surveys of Ephraim found, on average, a 36-percent Iron I site
abandonment rate, with rates as high as 50 percent in the east and 44 percent
along the south central ridge.
Avraham Faust’s focus on rural settlement
paints an even bleaker picture than that presented by Finkelstein. According to
Faust, Iron II villages were not established before the demise of their Iron I
Journal of Biblical Literature
Brian Hesse and Paula Wapnish, “Pig Use and Abuse in the Ancient Levant: Ethno-
religious Boundary-Building with Swine,” in Ancestors for the Pigs: Pigs in Prehistory (ed. S.
Nelson; MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology 15; Philadelphia: Museum Applied
Science Center for Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthro-
pology, 1998), 123–35.
Elizabeth Bloch-Smith and Beth Alpert-Nakhai, “A Landscape Comes to Life: The Iron
Age I,” Near Eastern Archaeology 62, no. 2 (1999): 70, 73, 77–78.
Finkelstein, “Pots and People Revisited,” 223; idem, Archaeology of the Israelite Settle-
ment; Avraham Faust, “Abandonment, Urbanization, Resettlement and the Formation of the
Israelite State” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASOR, Boulder, Colorado, Novem-
ber 2001; forthcoming in Near Eastern Archaeology).
For charts summarizing comparative stratigraphy of Iron I and Iron II sites, see Amihai
Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000–586 B.C.E. (New York: Doubleday, 1990),
table 6, p. 301, and table 7, pp. 372–73.
Avi Ofer, “‘All the Hill Country of Judah’: From a Settlement Fringe to a Prosperous
Monarchy,” in From Nomadism to Monarchy: Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel
(ed. I. Finkelstein and N. Na’aman; Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, Israel Exploration Society;
Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1994), figs. 4 and 5. Percentages for Ephraim were tab-
ulated from survey data in Finkelstein, Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement, 140–77, 187–91.

Page 13
counterparts, so that no rural settlements existed in the late eleventh/early
tenth century
Archaeologists attribute the abandonments to incipient
urbanism as an economic strategy and to the threat of Philistine incursions and
Canaanite reprisals,
but a corresponding growth in highland urban centers is
not immediately evident. Waning highland settlement corresponded to growth
in coastal and Shephelah towns, regions generally recognized as beyond or of
contested Israelite control in the late twelfth and eleventh centuries
If twelfth- to eleventh-century
. material culture traditions continued
into the tenth century
. and later, despite the widespread abandonments,
then archaeological evidence could more convincingly be adduced in support
of identifying the Iron I highland settlers with ethnic Israel. However, even
William Dever and Israel Finkelstein (in his more conservative period) con-
ceded discontinuities in the archaeological record. Not until the eleventh or
tenth century
. did pottery, settled areas, burial practices, demographic
patterns, and architecture coalesce into forms continuous through the sixth
Much twelfth- to eleventh-century
. material culture did
not bridge the abandonment gap, so material culture must cautiously be used
in support of identifying the Iron I highland settlers with later Israel.
In sum, not a single “Israelite” trait identified by proponents of the Culture
Area approach—pillared houses, collar-rim store jars, or pig abstinence—was
exclusive to a conservatively delimited Iron I highland Israel. The relatively
restricted distribution of these traits favors a functional rather than an ethnic
rationale. In general, Iron I highland architecture, diet, material culture, subsis-
tence adaptation, language, and even cultic features continued Late Bronze Age
practices or were attested in neighboring regions. Not until the beginning of
Iron II, following the mid-twelfth- to late-eleventh-century
. abandon-
ments, did the demographic patterns and cultural traits emerge that would con-
tinue until the demise of the Israelite kingdom in 586
. Aside from the
founding of new settlements in territory allegedly conquered and settled by
Israel, none of the features commonly cited either decisively links highland res-
idents to biblical Israel or distinguishes Israelites from their highland neighbors.
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Faust, “Abandonment, Urbanization, Resettlement.”
William Dever, “Archaeology, Urbanism, and the Rise of the Israelite State,” in Urbanism
in Antiquity: From Mesopotamia to Crete (ed. W. Aufrecht, N. Mirau, and S. Gauley; JSOTSup
244; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 182; Juval Portugali, “Theoretical Speculations on
the Transition from Nomadism to Monarchy,” in From Nomadism to Monarchy, ed. Finkelstein
and Na’aman, 203–17.
Bloch-Smith and Nakhai, “A Landscape Comes to Life,” 78.
William Dever, “Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Question of Israel’s Origins,” BA 58, no. 4
(1995): 206–10; Finkelstein, Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement, 332.

Page 14
II. The Meaningful Boundaries and Tell-Tale Approaches:
Distinguishing “Israelites” from “Philistines”
Beginning in 1969, Fredrik Barth broadened the discussion of ethnicity to
include an examination of boundaries or significant features that differentiate
Building on Barth’s work, rather than simply isolating traits specific to
a region or a population, recent studies identify and map a complex of traits that
the ethnic group deems significant and that distinguishes the ethnos from oth-
ers. Ethnicity is better viewed as a “process of identification and differentiation,
rather than . . . an inherent attribute of individuals or groups.”
The level of
sophistication attained in biblical and archaeological studies enables proceed-
ing beyond the acknowledged misnomers based on ethnic traits that lack
attributed significance. Biblical texts confer significance on archaeologically
attested traits; archaeology supplies a date and a context for specific features
preserved in redacted texts. Considered together, biblical and archaeological
testimonies provide witness to the characteristics that the Israelites considered
significant and that differentiated them from others. Rather than pillared
houses and collar-rim store jars, which lack attested significance for early Israel,
Israel should be defined on its own terms (as filtered through later generations)
rather than as a modern scholarly construct.
A second ethnicity model, the Meaningful Boundaries approach, involves
identifying a complex of features of demonstrated significance, as noted in the
“collective memory,” defining Israel in relation to others. Rather than attempt-
ing to differentiate Israelites from Canaanites, with whom both the Bible and
archaeology indicate they shared a material culture, the Israelites may be dis-
tinguished from another adversary, the Philistines. The rival Philistines’ prac-
tices and material culture are readily discernible from that of highland settlers,
including the Israelites, and so constitute an ideal foil.
The current pejorative meaning of “Philistine” expresses the opposite of
what is known of the twelfth- to tenth-century
. culture through excava-
tion. Philistines constructed urban sites (e.g., Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron) with
Journal of Biblical Literature
Fredrik Barth, “Introduction,” in Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization
of Culture Difference (ed. F. Barth; Boston: Little, Brown, 1969), 14–15.
Emberling, “Ethnicity,” 306.
Introductions to the Philistines are provided by Trude Dothan, The Philistines and Their
Material Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1982);
Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 300–328; Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: Thir-
teenth to Early Tenth Centuries BCE (ed. Seymour Gitin, Amihai Mazar, and Ephraim Stern;
Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1998); The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment
(ed. Eliezer Oren; University Museum Monograph 108, University Museum Symposium Series 11;
Philadelphia: University Museum, 2000). Tell Qasile, while cited as an exemplar of Philistine prac-
tices, may have been established by another constituent group of the Sea Peoples.

Page 15
blocks of houses framed by an orthogonal street plan (Qasile). Temples, of
evolving plans, were situated within residential areas (Qasile). Comparable
monumental buildings and temples are unknown from the highlands in this
period. Distinctive building techniques and central pillars to support roof
beams, together with plastered benches along the room perimeter, free-
standing round hearths (Qasile, Miqne, Ashkelon), and keyhole-shaped hearths
(Qasile, Miqne, Ashkelon) distinguished Philistine structures from their high-
land counterparts.
Iconography and material remains exhibit distinctive Philistine cultic, mil-
itary (discussed below), dietary, and even personal-grooming and hygiene fea-
tures and practices. Numerous objects, some with (distant) links to Aegean
prototypes, contemporaneously appeared at Cypriot and Levantine sites:
Mycenaean IIIC:1b or Philistine Monochrome pottery followed by Philistine
Bichrome pottery with distinctive forms and decoration, incised cow scapulae
(musical instruments?), and unbaked clay “loom weights.” From these objects
and botanical and zoological remains, we learn that Philistines dined on pork
and beef served with sauces rather than on the highland diet of stewed sheep or
Following Aegean custom, they diluted their wine with water and
imbibed from bell-shaped bowls. Distinctive cultic practices are evidenced by
the “Ashdoda” figurines (enthroned female and male figures), kernoi with
mourning women or floral or faunal figures attached, conch-shaped vessels,
and the temple architecture mentioned above. In contrast to the Israelites,
Philistines were clean-shaven (as depicted in the Ramesses III Medinet Habu
reliefs) and bathed in stone or ceramic tubs (Ashdod, Tel Miqne, Ashkelon).
Archaeology establishes the twelfth to tenth centuries
. as the con-
tentious period between the highland Israelites and the Philistines. If one
equates the sudden appearance of quantities of Myc IIIC:1b pottery with Sea
Peoples/Philistines settlement, one can conclude that migrants reached the
southern Levant in the twelfth century
. with dates ranging from
Lawrence Stager’s ca. 1185
. to Israel Finkelstein’s mid to late twelfth cen-
The spread of Philistine Bichrome wares in the later twelfth
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Israel Finkelstein, “The Philistine Settlement: When, Where and How Many?” in The Sea
Peoples and Their World, ed. Oren, 166–74. Philistine architecture and architectural elements are
conveniently summarized in Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 317–23.
Hesse, “Pig Lovers and Pig Haters,” table 3.
Vassos Karageorghis, “Cultural Innovations in Cyprus Relating to the Sea Peoples,” in Sea
Peoples and Their World, 271–74.
The thesis of this article does not hinge on absolute dates; whether beginning early or later
in the twelfth century, Philistine aggression galvanized an Israelite opposition. Israel Finkelstein
dates the advent of Philistine pottery in the southern Levant to the end of Ramesses VI’s reign or
later, lowering the dates of Philistine Monochrome pottery to 1135–1100
. and Philistine

Page 16
and/or early eleventh century
. indicates distant trade and, where the pot-
tery occurs in significant quantities in conjunction with other “Philistine” fea-
tures, appropriation of and settlement in adjacent territories to the north in the
Yarkon River Valley (Tell Qasile, Aphek, Jerishe, Jaffa, Azor), to the east into
the Shephelah (Gezer, Tell Batash, Beth Shemesh, Tel Sippor, Tell es-Safi, Tell
Beit Mirsim), and to the southeast into the northern Negev (Sera, Haror, Tell
el-Far>ah [S]).
According to biblical accounts, Israelites fought Philistine invasions and
forays during the periods of Samuel, Saul, and David, dated between the late
twelfth and early tenth centuries
. in conformance with the archaeological
evidence. Hostility, but not warfare, toward the “uncircumcised” neighbors
formed the backdrop for Samson’s fatal attraction to Philistine women (Judg
14:1–3; 16:1, 4) and >ibrîm resorting to Philistine metalsmiths to sharpen their
agricultural implements (1 Sam 13:19–20). By the time of Samuel, Israel and
Philistia were at war. Both territory and subservience entailing slave labor were
at stake (1 Sam 4:9; 17:9). With the exception of Saul’s fatal foray to the Jezreel
Valley, Philistines and Israelites battled for territory in southern Ephraim, Ben-
jamin, western Judah, and through the Shephelah (1 Sam 4:1–11; 7:7–14). Saul
defended the territory of Benjamin (1 Sam 13:4–7; 14:31) and David of Bethle-
hem initially battled on behalf of Judah (1 Sam 17:1–52; 23:1–5). Territorial dis-
putes then shifted northward for control of the Jezreel Valley (1 Sam
28:1–29:11; 31:1), but following David’s coronation, the battleground reverted
to the vicinity of his new capital in Jerusalem and control of the mountain
passes providing access to it (2 Sam 5:17–25).
James Flanagan, Steven McKenzie, and Baruch Halpern, among others,
question the veracity of the biblical accounts of David and the Philistines. The
chronological sequence, specific “Philistine” forces involved in each battle, and
the relationship that fluctuated between antagonism and alliance are among
the subjects of scrutiny.
Irrespective of David’s origins and means of achiev-
Journal of Biblical Literature
Bichrome pottery to the eleventh and beginning of the tenth century. Finkelstein’s dates have, in
turn, been challenged by Shlomo Bunimovitz and Avraham Faust, Susan Sherratt, and Baruch
Halpern. To review the debate, see Dothan, Philistines and Their Material Culture, 2; Finkelstein,
“Philistine Settlement,” 159–80; idem, “Philistine Chronology: High, Middle or Low?” in Mediter-
ranean Peoples in Transition, ed. Gitin et al., 140–47; S. Bunimovitz and A. Faust, “Chronological
Separation, Geographical Segregation or Ethnic Demarcation? Ethnography and the Iron Age
Low Chronology,” BASOR 322 (2001): 1–10; Susan Sherratt, “‘Sea Peoples’ and the Economic
Structure of the Late Second Millennium in the Eastern Mediterranean,” in Mediterranean Peo-
ples in Transition, ed. Gitin et al., 306 n. 30; and Baruch Halpern, David’s Secret Demons: Messiah,
Murderer, Traitor, King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 454–55.
Dothan, Philistines and Their Material Culture, 25–90, 295–96; Stager, “Impact of the Sea
Peoples in Canaan.”
James Flanagan, David’s Social Drama: A Hologram of Israel’s Early Iron Age (Social

Page 17
ing power, the Bible describes wars between Israel and Philistia during the
reigns of Saul and David for domination and control of the Shephelah and
strategic mountain passes leading into the highlands, the Yarkon River Valley,
and the Jezreel Valley.
The religious message is evident. In every case, faith in
Yahweh and divine assistance (1 Sam 7:5–10; 14:1–15; 17; 23:1–5; 2 Sam
5:17–25) enabled Israel to defeat their more numerous and better equipped
enemy. However, Saul and David’s battles to free and defend their capital cities
of Geba/Gibeah and Jerusalem respectively demonstrate the seriousness of the
Philistine threat and precariousness of Israel’s very existence.
Is it possible to identify the Israelites who opposed the Philistines in the
twelfth to eleventh/early tenth century
.? Based on biblical and archaeo-
logical information about the Philistines and their culture, biblical narrative
and legal passages identify four distinguishing traits of Israelites from their own
perspective: circumcision (1 Sam 18:25–26; 31:4; 2 Sam 3:14), maintaining a
short beard (Lev 19:27; Deut 14:2), abstinence from eating pork (Lev 11:7–8;
Deut 14:2), and military inferiority (1 Sam 13:5, 19; 17). Circumcision and a
military imbalance explicitly figure in the Israelite-Philistine accounts. Main-
taining a short beard and abstaining from eating pork as traits distinguishing
Israelites from Philistines are known only through archaeology. Circumcision is
a clear-cut distinction. In describing Sea Peoples among the Libyan invaders,
Merneptah singles out the “[Sher]den, Shekelesh, Ekwesh, of the countries of
the sea, who had no foreskins,” omitting the Peleset/Philistines, in confor-
mance with the biblical characterization of the Philistines as uncircumcised.
Distinctions in facial hair treatment are evident from Ramesses III’s Medinet
Habu depictions of clean-shaven Sea Peoples
in contrast to the Israelite short
beard, as depicted in Ramesses II or Merneptah’s depiction of the siege of
Ashkelon at Karnak.
Later depictions of the Israelite king and messengers on
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
World of Biblical Antiquity Series 7; Sheffield: Almond, 1988); Steven McKenzie, King David: A
Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Halpern, David’s Secret Demons, 144–59.
Seymour Gitin conveniently quantified Israel’s animus toward the Philistines. Excluding
the Canaanites, of the 919 biblical references to Israel’s foes, 423 (46%) relate to Philistia, 273
(30%) to Egypt, 164 (18%) to the transjordanian nations and Amalek, and 59 (6%) to the Phoeni-
cian cities of Tyre and Sidon (“Philistia in Transition: The Tenth Century and Beyond,” in Mediter-
ranean Peoples in Transition, ed. Gitin et al., 163 n. 4).
James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 3, The Nineteenth Dynasty (1906; repr.,
New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), 249 §588. Saul Olyan discusses circumcised/uncircumcised as
one example of a polarity or binary pairing distinguishing Israel from others (Rites and Rank: Hier-
archy in Biblical Representations of Cult [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000], 64–68).
Medinet Habu I, Medinet Habu VIII; I. Earlier Historical Records of Ramesses III
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930), pls. 37, 39, 44.
Larry Stager, “Merneptah, Israel and the Sea Peoples: New Light on an Old Relief,” Eretz
Israel 18 (1985): *56–64; biblical proscriptions against cutting facial hair imply a beard (Lev 19:27;

Page 18
the ninth-century
. Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser and of a dignitary on an
eighth- to seventh-century
. sherd from Ramat Rahel illustrate the endur-
ing style of trimmed beards.
Tjekker/Sikil and individual Sea Peoples captives
were bearded on the Medinet Habu relief, but in general the presence or
absence of facial hair may have served as a highly visible marker of Israelite as
opposed to Philistine affiliation. Razors for shaving facial hair are known from
Egypt, but are thus far unattested for Philistia. The Israelite injunction to
abstain from pork products, meaningful in the context of the twelfth- and
. pork-consuming Philistines, has been discussed above.
Biblical accounts repeatedly stress Israelite military inferiority relative to
the Philistines. Philistine superiority is attributed to control of metalsmithing
(1 Sam 13:19, the unspecified metal could be copper, bronze, or iron) and
greater numbers of chariots (1 Sam 13:5) and armaments (1 Sam 17:5–7a). “No
smith was to be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines were afraid
that the >ibrîm would make swords or spears” (1 Sam 13:19). In the legendary
duel, the Philistine warrior Goliath wore a helmet, a breastplate of scale armor,
and greaves on his legs, all of bronze. He carried a bronze javelin slung from his
shoulders and a spear with a massive iron head.
Goliath’s challenge was
answered by an Israelite lad, David, armed only with a slingshot and a stick
(1 Sam 17:5–7). While the description of Goliath’s armor may well be an
anachronistic description intended to glorify David, biblical passages consis-
tently portray the Philistines as better equipped than their Israelite enemies.
Philistine troops wielding swords (1 Sam 14:20), spears (1 Sam 17:7; 2 Sam
21:16), and bows and arrows (1 Sam 31:3) fought in infantry, cavalry, and chari-
otry units (1 Sam 13:5; 2 Sam 1:6) against Israelite troops on foot, equipped
only with bows and arrows (1 Sam 13:22).
The Medinet Habu depictions of Sea Peoples battling Egyptians corrobo-
rate the biblical portrayal of heavily armed, professional Philistine warriors.
Battling from ships, the warriors, clothed in a helmet and body armor/ribbed
corselet, held small round shields and wielded spears, lances/pikes, or Aegean
Journal of Biblical Literature
21:5; Deut 14:1). Israelites grew facial hair, shaving only, according to Saul Olyan, to announce
publicly a change in status (“What Do Shaving Rites Accomplish and What Do They Signal in Bib-
lical Ritual Contexts?” JBL 117 [1998]: 611–22).
Line drawings of both depictions appear in Philip King and Lawrence Stager, Life in Bibli-
cal Israel (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox, 2001), illustrations 132, 134a–e.
Steven McKenzie disputes an early date for Goliath’s armor. The helmet, in particular, is
compared to Assyrian helmets, which, lacking a nosepiece, would have enabled David to strike his
opponent in the forehead (King David: A Biography, 74–75). A decorated vase from Mycenae
attests to similar armaments and armor in the twelfth century. Marching warriors, clad in helmets
with nosepieces, coats of mail, and leg guards, carry a long spear (Trude Dothan and Moshe
Dothan, People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines [New York: Macmillan, 1992], photo on p.

Page 19
long swords for hand-to-hand combat. On land, Philistines armed with two
spears attacked from a chariot drawn by two horses. Troops on foot entered
battle in phalanges of four men, three with a long, straight sword and a pair of
spears, and the fourth armed with a sword. All four carried a small round shield
and wore a plain upper garment, perhaps a breastplate. Families traveling in
heavy carts were guarded by a warrior equipped with a small round shield and a
long dagger or sword.
The biblical and Egyptian accounts of battle share pro-
pagandistic purposes. Both glorify the local warrior/s (and their god/s) who
defeated enemy forces, and so they might be given to exaggeration. However,
both attest to well-provisioned, professional Philistine fighting forces.
Not surprisingly, amassing Iron I evidence of metallurgical activity and
armaments tempers the picture of Israelite and Philistine capabilities and pro-
No site has yet yielded incontrovertible evidence of the primary pro-
duction of iron and perhaps even bronze; metallurgical activity was probably
limited to recycling, repair, and smelting. Iron I bronze workshops, indicated
by metal-encrusted crucibles or fragments and tuyere/claypipes for bellows,
were concentrated along but not limited to the coast (Tel Dan Str. VI-IVB, Tel
Harashim, Acco Area A/B, Megiddo K-5, Tell el-Oreme V, Beth Shan Str. VI,
Tell Deir >Alla Phase B, Khirbet Raddana, Tell Qasile, Tel Mor Level VI, per-
haps Ashdod XI, Tel Miqne/Ekron, Beth Shemesh III, Tell es-Zuweyid/Anthe-
don levels N and M, Tel Masos, Yotvata, Timna).
Metalworkers labored
throughout the country, from Dan to Timna. Of the seventeen metallurgical
workshops, Philistines operated Tell Qasile and Tel Miqne, while Israelites
operated Khirbet Raddana. The biblical contention that “no smith was to be
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Medinet Habu VIII:I, pl. 37.
The catalogue of weapons is primarily compiled from Yohanan Aharoni, Investigations at
Lachish: The Sanctuary and the Residency (Lachish V) (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Institute of
Archaeology, 1975), 116–17; Dothan, Philistines and Their Material Culture; Allan Emery,
“Weapons of the Israelite Monarchy: A Catalogue with Its Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Implica-
tions” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1999); Francis James, The Iron Age at Beth Shan: A Study
of Levels VI-IV (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1966), fig. 104; see also articles in NEAEHL
(1993); K. Ohata, Tel Zeror II (Tokyo: Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan, 1967), 40–41, and
Tel Zeror III (1970), 73; S. Sherratt, “Commerce, Iron and Ideology: Metallurgical Innovations in
12th–11th Century Cyprus,” in Cyprus in the Eleventh Century B.C. (ed. V. Karageorghis; Nicosia:
A. G. Leventis Foundation and University of Cyprus, 1994), 76–77; Ephraim Stern, “Discoveries at
Tel Dor,” in Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, ed. Silberman and Small, 133; Olga
Tufnell, Lachish III (Tell ed-Duweir): The Iron Age (London/New York: Oxford University Press,
1953); and Jane Waldbaum, From Bronze to Iron (Göteborg: Paul Åströms, 1978).
For bibliography, see Trude Dothan, “Tel Miqne-Ekron: The Iron Age I Philistine Settle-
ment in Canaan,” in Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, ed. Silberman and Small, 100;
Finkelstein, Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement, 104; Z. Meshel, “Yotvata,” NEAEHL
4:1517–18; Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 359; and Waldbaum, From Bronze to Iron,

Page 20
found in all the land of Israel” (1 Sam 13:19) appears to be an exaggeration. The
“archetypal” Iron I “Israelite” village of Khirbet Raddana had a bronze smelting
or casting workshop. Bronze slag-encrusted crucibles, tuyeres of various sizes,
plus an iron blade and bronze daggers, armor scale, needles, javelin points,
plow points, a small arrowhead, and spearheads dispel the image of the high-
land fighter lacking metal weapons dependent on the Philistine enemy to
sharpen his plow point.
Khirbet Raddana, while currently unique in its high-
land metallurgical capabilities and armaments assemblage, highlights the dis-
crepancy between the biblical portrayal and the situation on the ground.
Published weapons (including multipurpose blades), admittedly few in
number, considered in conjunction with highland smelting/casting sites under-
mine or at least qualify the biblical assertion of a Philistine metallurgical
monopoly and superiority in armaments.
Though conclusively identified
Israelite (Bethel, Ai, Khirbet Raddana, Tell en-Nasbeh, Giloh, el-Khadr, Beth
Zur, tenth-century
. Beersheba) and Philistine sites (Ashdod, Tel Miqne-
Ekron, Beth Dagon, Tell el->Ajjul/Gaza, Tell Qasile [questionably Philistine])
are few in number, virtually every site yielded weapons. Tabulated numbers of
armaments and armor (table 1) demonstrate that neither side held an unam-
biguous advantage. Philistines possessed iron weapons before the Israelites,
perhaps the basis for the expressed Israelite inferiority. However, by the
eleventh century
. the Israelites gained the advantage in numbers of
weapons in iron as well as bronze. In general, Israelites utilized and probably
produced weapons requiring less metal and technological sophistication.
Journal of Biblical Literature
J. Callaway and R. Cooley, “A Salvage Excavation at Raddana, in Bireh,” BASOR 201
(1971): 9–19; Robert Cooley, “Four Seasons of Excavation at Khirbet Raddana,” Near Eastern
Archaeological Society Bulletin 5 (1975): 5–20; J. A. Callaway, “Raddana, Khirbet,” NEAEHL
Recent excavations have added to the list of possible casting or smelting sites dating from
the end of the Late Bronze Age and early Iron I. Significant courtyard/outdoor ash deposits are
reported from thirteen Iron I sites. At many of these sites, the ash layers, typically of relatively short
duration, immediately preceded or were linked to the earliest Philistine/Sea Peoples settlement.
While sacrifice and kilns for baking or pottery production generated a good deal of ash, the recy-
cling of copper or bronze into new implements, executed with crucibles in and near habitation
areas, likely produced the ash. Situated along the coast (Acco, Shiqmona, Tel Nami, Tel Dor, Tell
Qasile, Tel Mor, Tell es-Zuweyid), in the Shephelah (Gezer, Beth Shemesh, Lachish), in major val-
ley systems (Dan, Yoqneam, Beth Shan, Tell Deir >Alla), and at sites with Philistine connections
(Tel Miqne-Ekron, Sera, Tell el-Farah [S], Tel Masos), these casting and smelting sites likely bene-
fited the Philistines and lowland residents more than the highland Israelites.
The vast majority of twelfth-to-tenth-century
. metal weapons derived from sites
attributed to Canaanites, Egyptians, Sea Peoples other than the Philistines, or mixed populations.
The limited number of settlements included without major sites such as Jerusalem, Ashkelon, and
Gath render the results merely suggestive. The double designation Sea Peoples/Philistine hedges
identification of sites bordering different Sea Peoples territories, as, for example, Tell Qasile, which
lies on the border between the Philistines and the Tjekker/Sikil.

Page 21
Israelite sites yielded a greater number of projectile points (heads for an arrow,
spear, javelin, or lance); points required a minimal amount of metal and were
mounted on inexpensive wooden shafts. Philistines brandished a slightly
greater number of blades. Combining knife/blade, dagger, and sword—as the
identification is subjective (except in the case of the long Aegean sword)—
Philistines wielded thirteen blades against Israel’s ten. Producing blades
required significantly more metal and expertise than fashioning points. Israel’s
weapons afforded the advantage of fighting from a distance, with metal-tipped
arrows to shoot and metal-tipped shafts to thrust or throw. Philistine blades and
chariots were better suited for hand-to-hand combat.
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Total # of # of diff. Bronze/
Total # of
# of diff. Bronze/
11 + 26
26 + 4/7
Spear butt
Javelin head
4 + 3
+ 3/1
Armor scale
35 + 29
+ 18/17
“Philistine” sites include Ashdod, Tel Miqne-Ekron, Beth Dagon, Tell el-
>Ajjul/Gaza, and Tell Qasile.
“Israelite” sites are restricted to the central highlands (excluding valley sites that con-
tinued from the Late Bronze Age, e.g., Dothan) plus tenth-century Beersheva (Bethel, Ai,
Khirbet Raddana, Tell en-Nasbeh, Giloh, el-Khadr, Beth Zur, Tel Beersheva).
Twenty-six arrowheads and three javelin heads from el-Khadr.
Quantities cited as “multiple” or “a few” in the excavation report are counted as 2 in
the tabulation.
Table 1
Twelfth- to Tenth-Century
. Bronze and Iron Armaments
and Armor from “Philistine/Sea People” and “Israelite” Sites

Page 22
Israelites wielded a greater number of metal or metal-tipped weapons, but
other factors gave the Philistines an edge: the Cypriot and coastal locus for
smelting, casting, and trade in metals; Cyprus as a source of copper; coastal
sites’ control of exports into the interior; more elaborate and extensive bronze
workshops; and new types of weapons introduced into the region from the
Aegean. All these circumstances afforded the Philistines greater resources and
easier access to metallurgists and their products than were available to Israel.
In addition, chariots gave the Philistine forces enhanced mobility. Archaeologi-
cal evidence for chariots, though limited, is both direct and indirect. Corrobo-
rating the Medinet Habu depictions of Philistines attacking from chariots,
miniature bronze chariot wheels and a full-size chariot linchpin lay on the
floors of cult rooms in the Tel Miqne-Ekron Monumental Building 4111.
Ashkelon yielded an additional full-size bronze linchpin. In effect, the Bible
simplified but accurately documented relative Philistine superiority in metal-
lurgy and armaments.
Iron I Ethnic Israel Revealed
The Tell-Tale approach poses several questions regarding ethnic identity.
What primordial features or “common heritage” unified the ethnos? Both puta-
tive kinship and a special relationship to a distinctive god who acts throughout
history appear to have been early Israelite primordial features.
However, both
features also evolved through time obfuscating, if not obscuring, their initial
formulation. Worship of the god El, as indicated by the theophoric name
“Israel,” probably functioned as a primordial feature.
Exogenous use of the
name by an Egyptian pharaoh supports the contention that by the end of the
thirteenth century
. a southern Levantine people, of international notori-
ety, worshiped El. While specific corroborating archaeological evidence is lack-
ing, archaeology does attest to the continuity of Bronze Age cultic practices into
the Iron Age, likely including the worship of El, at least for the northern part of
the country.
However, evolution of the deity worshiped is evident in the
aforementioned convergence of El and Yahweh. Variant kin-based tribal lists
(Gen 49:1–27; Num 1:5–16; Deut 33:1–29), the artificially conjoined lineages,
Journal of Biblical Literature
Trude Dothan considers the miniature wheels to belong to cultic carts rather than chariots,
but the accompanying linchpin bolsters the chariot identification (“Initial Philistine Settlement:
From Migration to Coexistence,” in Mediterranean Peoples in Transition, ed. Gitin et al., 158).
Peter Machinist’s discussion of Israel’s distinctiveness does not include kinship (“The
Question of Distinctiveness in Ancient Israel: An Essay,” in Ah Assyria . . . : Studies in Assyrian
History and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Hayim Tadmor (ed. M. Cogan and
I. Ephal; ScrHier 33; Jerusalem: Magness and Hebrew University, 1991), 196–212, esp. 207.
Smith, Origins of Biblical Monotheism, 142–43.
See the summary in Bloch-Smith and Alpert-Nakhai, “Landscape Comes to Life,” 117–18.

Page 23
perpetuated the primacy of kinship while acknowledging changes in con-
stituent groups. The later biblical “collective memory,” which regarded kinship,
cult, and territory as primordial unifying factors, simplified, perhaps obscured,
and may even have superseded the true unifying features of the Israelite ethnos
in the twelfth to eleventh centuries
What circumstantial features including shared interests fostered the for-
mation of ethnic Israel? The impetus for affiliation of Merneptah’s Israel
remains obscure. Mycenaean IIIC:1b (Monochrome) pottery and Philistine
Bichrome Ware in conjunction with other distinctive Philistine/Sea Peoples
material culture signal Philistine/Sea Peoples coastal settlement in the twelfth
. and subsequent expansion through the Jezreel and Yarkon River
Valleys, the Jerusalem corridor, the Shephelah, and the northwestern Negev.
Whether Israelite–Philistine conflict dated from the early or later twelfth cen-
tury down into the late eleventh or tenth century
., the antagonism likely
fueled ethnic affiliation in the pre- and early monarchic phases of Israel’s exis-
Most of the newly settled highland rural population abandoned their
typically unfortified, isolated hamlets. In the absence of highland urban
growth, the whereabouts of the displaced population remains uncertain as the
expanding Shephelah and coastal settlements would not be the expected relo-
cation choice. Philistine aggression perhaps spurred a regional affiliation of the
remaining settlers to muster an army of sufficient size to counter Philistine
open-field battle tactics and pincer operations.
Perceived vulnerability,
expressed in terms of military inferiority, may have been an aspect of the con-
federation’s circumstantial self-identity. This perception—exaggerated either
contemporaneously or in retrospect—strengthened belief in a god fighting
alongside his troops, actualized through carrying the Ark into battle (1 Sam
4:3b). A supreme commander bold enough to initiate battle by killing a Philis-
tine prefect (1 Sam 13:4) was appointed to marshal and command a larger mili-
tary than had been formerly recruited. The elevation of the supreme military
commander to king created a “shared institution” perpetuating group identity.
As the first king of Israel, Saul centralized administrative functions, recruited a
standing army, and promoted belief in Yahweh the warrior god fighting on
Israe’s behalf.
Decades later, the Jerusalem temple would begin to function as
a second shared institution.
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Stager, “Impact of the Sea Peoples in Canaan,” 332–48.
Many studies stress the Philistine military threat as the impetus for Saul’s rise, but without
mention of specific battle requirements, e.g., John Bright, A History of Israel (2d ed.; Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1972), 180–85; and Siegfried Herrmann, A History of Israel in Old Testament Times
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 131–32.
Karel van der Toorn, Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria, and Israel: Continuity and
Change in the Forms of Religious Life (Leiden/New York/Cologne: Brill, 1996), 266–86.

Page 24
Israel’s ongoing incorporation of primordial and circumstantial features
into the “collective memory” constitutes an additional literary facet of the Tell-
Tale approach. Jerome Bruner and Stephen Cornell identified the crafting of
the group history or narrative as a factor that fosters ethnic identity. Cornell’s
“narrativization” entails three ongoing processes (in no set order): (1) selection
—choosing episodic components of the narrative; (2) plotting—linking events
to each other and linking the group to those events; and (3) interpretation—
assigning significance to events and plot in defining the group. Ongoing incor-
poration of recent events and their meaning into the narrative updates the
collective memory to sustain and validate the group through changing circum-
stances. The resulting narrative furthers group identity insofar as the selection,
plotting, and interpretation take ethnic boundaries into account and use ethnic-
ity as the “key organizing principle.” Validity and historicity of events are incon-
sequential to the narrative. The importance of the narrative lies in its power to
explain events, and the group’s relations to those events and other peoples; in
other words, to provide meaning in life for the group.
Cornell elaborated on Bruner’s contention that individuals construct
ordered narratives to find meaning in times of difficult or unexpected events.
As formulated by Cornell, narrative functions as a mechanism to promote and
sustain ethnic bonds through periods of “rupture.” In ethnic terms, changes in
individual or group situations that call into question a group’s identity—their
primordial and/or circumstantial traits—are periods of “rupture.”
For Israel,
the stages of incorporation and consolidation preceding the viable political
state were just such a critical time during which Israel likely updated and
revised its narrative history.
The convergence of textual and twelfth-to-late-eleventh/early-tenth-
. archaeological evidence makes it possible to identify significant
Israelite ethnic traits vis-à-vis the Philistines. Circumcision, sporting a short
beard rather than a clean-shaven face, and abstaining from eating pork, none of
which may have been exclusive to Israel, differentiated Israelites from
Philistines and so likely functioned as circumstantial ethnic markers.
Each of
these traits was given significance and, by a later time, codified into law. Argu-
ments regarding the dating of the pork prohibition illustrate a possible scenario
regarding the codification of these features into law. Hesse and Wapnish’s
results establish Iron I or the Hellenistic period as the original context for pork
abstinence as a distinguishing Israelite feature; only in those two periods was
Journal of Biblical Literature
Cornell, “That’s the Story of Our Life,” 43–44.
J. Bruner, Acts of Meaning (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 39–40.
Cornell, “That’s the Story of Our Life,” 45.
Lawrence Stager identified the pork taboo and circumcision as Iron I “cultural markers”
distinguishing Israelites from Philistines (“Impact of the Sea Peoples in Canaan,” 344).

Page 25
pork consumed by a neighboring population providing a meaningful context for
pork abstinence or absence from the diet (whether initially for functional or
religious reasons).
While Leviticus and Deuteronomy date from the exilic
period or later, the distinction between the Iron I highlands, where pig was
rare, and the pork-purveying Philistines along the coast provided a meaningful
context for pork abstinence as an Israelite trait in the twelfth and eleventh cen-
Hesse and Wapnish’s reservations regarding the use of their data for ethnic
studies raises a critical point. For the Meaningful Boundaries and Tell-Tale
approaches, an evolving complex of traits signifies identity and distinguishes
the group from others. Not every group member must adopt all traits in order
for them to function as ethnic indicators. This contrasts with the Culture Area
approach, in which individual identity is tied to static presence or absence crite-
ria. Hesse and Wapnish argue that identifying pork abstinence as an ethnic
marker ignores the complexities of the archaeological record. Pig consumption
or avoidance was not an exclusive ethnic trait. Not all Philistines consumed
pork; pig, while prevalent at Ashkelon, Tel Miqne-Ekron, and Timna/Batash,
was absent from Tell Qasile (though the absence may be due in part to excava-
tion of primarily cultic areas). Conversely, while Israelites avoided pork, so did
almost all other societies in southwest Asia during the Iron Age.
To quibble
over specific sites obscures the big picture. Pork consumption was widespread
in twelfth- and early-eleventh-century
. Philistia and rare in Israel. Not
eating pork distinguished Israel from its Philistine enemy during contentious
times, while other peoples’ dietary preferences were irrelevant.
Archaeology makes it possible to date Israelite military conflict with the
Philistines plus pork abstinence and wearing a short beard as contextually
meaningful practices to the twelfth to eleventh/early tenth centuries
Though the received version of the “collective memory” dates from centuries
later, the events, or episodic components of the narrative, and select personal
practices, or “ways of life,” date from the early Iron Age. Hence, it may be sug-
gested that the process of “narrativization,” of forming the “collective memory
of former unity” began in the twelfth or eleventh century
. “Narrativiza-
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
Hesse and Wapnish argued for an exilic or postexilic date for the pork taboo based on the
relatively brief span of Philistine pork consumption, the presumed loose federation of early Israel
unlikely to adhere to a dietary restriction (no adherence necessary as pork was not available), and
passages such as Isa 65:3–4 and 66:1 and 2 Macc 6:18–20 and 7:1 (“Can Pig Remains Be Used,”
261–63). Jacob Milgrom assigned Levitical legislation, including the pork prohibition (Lev 11:7–8),
to preexilic Priestly legislation (P1) predating the eighth-century
. H stratum and the compa-
rable Deuteronomic legislation (Leviticus 1–16, 17–22, 23–27: A New Translation with Introduc-
tion and Commentary (AB 3, 3A, 3B; New York: Doubleday, 1991, 2000, 2001), 3–13, 63, 691–97,
Hesse and Wapnish, “Pig Use and Abuse,” 128–29.

Page 26
tion” as a facet of early Israelite ethnicity dovetails nicely with Karel van der
Toorn’s notion of “Torah as the icon of Israel.” Perhaps the Deuteronomists
were able to elevate the narrative in place of idols or images in part because of
its acknowledged role in ethnic Israel’s formation and perseverance. The narra-
tive, which promulgated divine acts and enfranchised disparate groups into the
unity of Israel, was transubstantiated into the “embodiment of God’s Word.”
If, as postulated by this model, Israel incorporated various groups each
with its own primordial and circumstantial features, then in the early stages of
assimilation a variety of traits might be attested among the constituent groups.
So, for instance, some might bury their dead in nearby cave or chamber tombs,
while others returned to distant ancestral burial grounds.
This study focuses
on the ethnos that defined itself in opposition to the Philistines and on select
circumstantial traits of that population that were incorporated into and ulti-
mately were retained in the Israelite “collective memory.”
III. Variant Literary Processes in the Crafting of
Israel’s History Grounded in Archaeological Evidence
Two different literary trajectories or narrative processes may underlie
accounts of Israelite interaction with the Philistines and with the Canaanites. In
the case of the Philistines, Iron I archaeological remains substantiate individual
“way of life” injunctions and the somewhat exaggerated stories of Israelite–
Philistine interaction in Judges and 1 Samuel. Biblical accounts of Philistine
superiority in metallurgy, simplified to the point of declaring that there was “no
smith in Israel,” find confirmation in the physical remains. There was no need
later to fabricate stories detailing this phase of ethnic Israel’s evolution.
Regarding Israelite–Philistine relations, the texts mirror the archaeologi-
cal remains with only slight distortion. By contrast, the presentation of
Israelite–Canaanite interaction in the Bible shows little or no continuity of
memory about the twelfth and eleventh centuries
. The distinctive mate-
rial culture and practices of the neighboring Canaanites and the demographic
changes and material culture disruptions preserved in the dirt are not reflected
in the biblical texts. Two possible explanations may account for this discrep-
ancy. Mark Smith suggests that the early history between Israelites and (other?)
Journal of Biblical Literature
Karel van der Toorn, “The Iconic Book: Analogies between the Babylonian Cult of Images
and the Veneration of the Torah,” in The Image and the Book: Iconic Cults, Aniconism, and the
Rise of Book Religion in Israel and the Ancient Near East (ed. Karel van der Toorn; Leuven:
Peeters, 1997), 229–48, esp. 239–43.
In response to Raz Kletter, “People without Burials? The Lack of Iron I Burials in the
Central Highlands of Palestine,” IEJ 52, no.1 (2002): 28–48.

Page 27
indigenous peoples was displaced and forgotten. In this case, later authors,
relying on the vaguest of memories, construed an early history based more on
an Iron II than an Iron I reality. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic Histo-
rian created a serviceable construction of “Canaanites” with minimal ties to the
archaeologically attested past.
An alternative understanding of “Canaanite”
proposed by Karel van der Toorn also resolves the apparent discrepancy. From
as early as the reign of Saul, with the designation of Yahweh as the national god,
Yahweh-El worshipers (“Israelites”) employed “Canaanite” as a “derogatory”
appellation for the Baal devotees among them. As “Israelites” and “Canaanites”
shared a common background and material culture, they would have been
indistinguishable archaeologically except in facets of religion.
While van der
Toorn dismisses ethnic distinctions between the two groups, religion frequently
functions as a primordial ethnic feature. Differences between the two may
have been contentious, particularly if, as van der Toorn suggests, Yahwists
adopted the national cult while Baal worshipers rejected monarchic religion
and persisted with family-based Baal worship. According to this scenario, the
Bible faithfully records religious beliefs as the sole feature distinguishing
Israelites from Canaanites, but still appears ignorant of the late Iron I disrup-
Faint traces of the Iron I Israelite ethnos are discernible in material
remains interpreted in conjunction with biblical testimony. Early Israelites
likely perceived their distinctiveness not in the pillared house and collar-rim
store jar (or if they did, they failed to record it or identify the features’ subse-
quent import) but in the short beard, refraining from eating pork, circumcision,
and military inferiority. Through momentous centuries, crafting the “collective
memory” to incorporate such select features of new groups and changing cir-
cumstances both shaped and consolidated the ethnos. In conjunction with
texts, archaeology furthers our knowledge of Philistines, Canaanites, and
Israelites, for it elucidates ascribed significant features of early Israel and pre-
serves both what was remembered and what was forgotten in Israel’s “collective
Bloch-Smith: Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I
M. Smith, personal communication.
Van der Toorn, Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria, and Israel, 328.

Page 28

Page 29
JBL 122/3 (2003) 427–447
OF PROVERBS 31:10–31
Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA 30031
The portrait of a Woman of Substance (
hangs on the end of the
book of Proverbs. Its frame, that of an alphabetic acrostic, is sequential and
complete, suggesting that Prov 31:10–31 is the “A-to-Zs,” so to speak, of such a
woman. Her portrait, however, is painted as a series of disjointed descriptions
of various attributes and activities.
There is no apparent thematic order apart
from the broad units of an introduction (vv. 10–12), an enumeration of her
An earlier version of this article was presented to the Wisdom in Israelite and Cognate Tradi-
tions Section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Denver, Colorado, in
2001. It is based on portions of my dissertation entitled “Wisdom as a Woman of Substance: A
Socioeconomic Reading of Proverbs 1–9 and 31:10–31” (Princeton Theological Seminary, 2000),
now published under the same title (BZAW 304; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2001). I am
indebted, particularly, to C. L. Seow for his wisdom throughout this project, and to Katherine
Doob Sakenfeld, Dennis T. Olson, Kathleen M. O’Connor, Brent A. Strawn, and William S. Camp-
bell for their numerous helpful suggestions.
The translation of
as “substance” is an effort to capture its range of meaning, many ele-
ments of which are evident in Prov 31:10–31. Independently or as part of a phrase, the term
refers variously to strength (e.g., 1 Sam 2:4; Qoh 10:10), an army (e.g., Exod 14:4; Deut 11:4; Jer
32:2), wealth, property, or profits from trade (e.g., Prov 13:22; Isa 30:6; Jer 15:13; Job 20:18), ability
(e.g., Gen 47:6; Exod 18:21; 1 Chr 26:30, 32), and bravery (e.g., Judg 11:1; 1 Chr 5:24). Men with
are typically affluent, landowners, persons of good repute, who serve (often militarily) with loy-
alty and bravery (e.g., Exod 18:25; 2 Sam 23:20; 2 Kgs 15:20; 24:14; Ruth 2:1). They are, that is, per-
sons of “substance”—strength and capacity, wealth and skill—much like the woman described in
Prov 31:10–31. For the same translation of
in Ruth 2:1, see E. F. Campbell, Ruth: A New
Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 7; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 90.
None of the proposed thematic or structural outlines of the poem has received widespread
support. See, e.g., A. Wolters, “Proverbs XXXI 10–31 as Heroic Hymn: A Form-critical Analysis,”
VT 38 (1988): 446–57; M. H. Lichtenstein, “Chiasm and Symmetry in Proverbs 31,” CBQ 44
(1982): 202–11; T. R. Hawkins, The Meaning and Function of Proverbs 31:10–31 in the Book of
Proverbs (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1995), 6–59.

Page 30
qualities and deeds (vv. 13–27), and concluding praise (vv. 28–31). Rather, the
poem reads much like an impressionistic painting. Viewed up close, the indi-
vidual brushstrokes seem scattered and haphazard, but from a step or two away,
dots and splatters merge to become the cumulative image of a woman. But who
is she?
To consider that question, this study takes as its starting point the context
of the postexilic period, specifically the Persian period, when it is likely that
Prov 31:10–31 and chs. 1–9 were crafted to frame the book of Proverbs.
Although dating these (and many other) texts is admittedly difficult, some
interpreters, including myself, place Prov 1–9 and 31:10–31 in the Persian
period on linguistic grounds;
others do so variously on the bases of thematic
structural features,
and biblical parallels.
Several recent commen-
tators on the book also locate chs. 1–9 and 31:10–31 in the Achaemenid era.
This study thus presumes a Persian-period date for Prov 31:10–31, and offers
an analysis of the text in light of that social-historical setting.
Whereas possible functions of the acrostic in the Persian period have been
what has not been explored is the extent to which the Woman of
Substance may reflect the socioeconomic realities of Persian-period women. To
that end, I will consider the sage’s description of her in light of epigraphic and
biblical evidence for the activities of and perceptions about women in the
Journal of Biblical Literature
See C. R. Yoder, Wisdom as a Woman of Substance: A Socioeconomic Reading of Proverbs
1–9 and 31:10–31 (BZAW 304; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2001), 15–38; see also H. C. Wash-
ington, Wealth and Poverty in the Instruction of Amenemope and the Hebrew Proverbs (SBLDS
142; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994), 111–22.
Recently, see especially C. Maier, Die “fremde Frau” in Proverbien 1–9: Eine exegetische
und sozialgeschichtliche Studie (OBO 144; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995), esp.
25–68, 262–69.
See, e.g., P. Skehan, Studies in Ancient Israelite Poetry and Wisdom (CBQMS 1; Washing-
ton, DC: Catholic Biblical Association, 1971), 9–45; Washington, Wealth and Poverty, 122–27.
See, e.g., A. Robert, “Les attaches littéraires bibliques de Prov. I–IX,” parts 1 and 2, RB 43
(1934): 42–68, 172–204, 374–84; 44 (1935): 344–65, 502–25; H. Gese, “Wisdom Literature in the
Persian Period,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 1, Introduction, The Persian Period
(ed. W. D. Davies and L. Finkelstein; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 200–211,
esp. 204–6. For a more nuanced traditio-historical argument, see Washington, Wealth and Poverty,
So, e.g., L. G. Perdue, Proverbs (IBC; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), esp.
55–62, 275–76; A. Meinhold, Die Sprüche (ZBK 16; Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1991), esp.
1:43–47, 76; R. J. Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (OTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox,
1999), 3–6.
See, e.g., C. V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs (Bible and Litera-
ture Series 11; Sheffield: Almond/JSOT Press, 1985), esp. 90–93, 251–54, 262–65; S. Schroer, Wis-
dom Has Built Her House: Studies on the Figure of Sophia in the Bible (trans. L. M. Maloney and
W. McDonough; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 15–51; E. L. Lyons, “A Note on
Proverbs 31:10–31,” in The Listening Heart: Essays in Honor of Roland E. Murphy, O.Carm. (ed.
K. G. Hoglund et al.; JSOTSup 58; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987), 237–45.

Page 31
socioeconomic context of Persian-period Palestine. My contention is that the
Woman of Substance in Prov 31:10–31 is a composite figure of Persian-period
women, particularly women of affluence or position.
I. Sources
It is necessary, first, to say a few words about the epigraphic evidence
available for this study.
Reconstruction of the social-historical world of
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
In addition to the abbreviations in the SBL Handbook of Style, the following standard
abbreviations are used:
G. G. Cameron, “New Tablets from the Persepolis Treasury,” JNES 24 (1965): 167–92
The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, Series A: Cuneiform
J. N. Strassmaier, Inschriften von Cambyses, König von Babylon [529–521 v. Chr.]
(Babylonische Texte VIII–IX; Leipzig: Pfeiffer, 1890)
Tablets in the Collections of the Babylonian Section of the University Museum,
J. N. Strassmaier, Inschriften von Cyrus, König von Babylon [538–529 v. Chr.] (Baby-
lonische Texte VII; Leipzig: Pfeiffer, 1890)
J. N. Strassmaier, Inschriften von Darius, König von Babylon [521–485 v. Chr.]
(Babylonische Texte X–XII; Leipzig: Pfeiffer, 1892)
Persepolis Fortification Text
J. N. Strassmaier, Wörterverzeichnis zu den babylonischen Inschriften im Museum zu
Liverpool nebst andern aus der Zeit von Nebukadnezzar bis Darius: Veröffenlicht in den
Verhandlungen des VI Orientalisten-Congresses zu Leiden (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1886)
Moldenke A. Moldenke, Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Parts I and II
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1893)
J. N. Strassmaier, Inschriften von Nebuchodonosor, König von Babylon [604–561 v.
Chr.] (Babylonische Texte V–VI; Leipzig: Pfeiffer, 1889)
J. N. Strassmaier, Inschriften von Nabonidus, König von Babylon [538–529 v. Chr.]
(Babylonische Texte I–IV; Leipzig: Pfeiffer, 1889)
Tablets excavated at Nippur, in the collections of the Archaeological Museums of
C. Wunsch, Die Urkunden des babylonischen Geschaftsmannes Iddin-Marduk
(Cuneiform Monographs IIIA/B; Groningen: Styx, 1993)
Publications of the Babylonian Section, The Museum of the University of Pennsyl-
R. T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets (University of Chicago Oriental Insti-
tute Publications 92; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969)
R. T. Hallock, “Selected Fortification Texts,” Cahiers de la Delegation Archeologique
Française en Iran 8 (1978): 109–36
G. G. Cameron, Persepolis Treasury Tablets (University of Chicago Oriental Institute
Publications 65; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948)
B. Porten and A. Yardeni, eds., Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt
(4 vols.; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1986–99)
TuM 2–3 J. Lewy, Texte und Materalien der Frau Professor Hilprecht Collection of Babylonian
Antiquities im Eigentum der Universität Jena (Neubabylonische Rechts- und Verwal-
tungs-Texte 2–3; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1933)

Page 32
Persian-period Palestine has heretofore largely been done on the basis of socio-
logical models and modern analogies.
Such approaches may be due, in part,
to limited biblical evidence and to concerns about the accuracy of Greek
sources (e.g., Herodotus, Ctesias, Xenophon, Diodorus Siculus, Thucydides)
and the Jewish historian Josephus.
Within the last century, however, a wealth
of epigraphic evidence from the Persian period has come to light, including the
Elephantine ostraca and papyri, the Samaria papyri from Wadi Dâliyeh, the
Egibi archive, the Murašû archive, the Persepolis Fortification Tablets and
Treasury Texts, and Aramaic documents discovered at Hermopolis and North
Saqqâra. While many scholars examine these resources to address linguistic,
legal, or historical questions, some, notably C. L. Seow, have demonstrated
their value for social-historical reconstruction.
The nature of the evidence is advantageous for that task. First, the sources
are primarily everyday texts of various genres, including letters, marriage con-
tracts, bequests, bills of sale, legal contracts, accounts, and lists. This diversity
affords a multifaceted look at daily economic life. Second, the materials testify
to different sectors within the economy. Some are private archives that recount
the histories of families and their fortunes. Others chronicle the day-to-day
business affairs of private firms like the Murašû house. Still others record the
transfer and delivery of foodstuffs and the payment and rations of workers from
imperial treasury storehouses. Finally, the materials are widespread geographi-
cally, including Persepolis, Susa, Nippur, Babylon, Palestine, and Egypt. This
permits comparison of certain economic dynamics across the empire.
Use of the evidence to reconstruct activities of and perceptions about
women in the socioeconomic context of Persian-period Palestine is warranted
Journal of Biblical Literature
See, e.g., J. Berquist, Judaism in Persia’s Shadow: A Social and Historical Approach (Min-
neapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995); J. P. Weinberg, The Citizen-Temple Community (trans. D. L.
Smith-Christopher; JSOTSup 151; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992); M. Smith, Palestinian Parties and
Politics that Shaped the Old Testament (2d ed.; London: SCM, 1987); W. Schottroff, “Zur Sozial-
geschichte Israels in der Perserzeit,” Verkündigung und Forschung 27 (1982): 46-68; and H.
Kreissig, Die socialökonomische Situation in Juda zur Achämenidenzeit (Schriften zur Geschichte
und Kultur des alten Orients 7; Berlin: Akademie, 1973).
See A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330
(Routledge History of the Ancient
World; London: Routledge, 1995), 2:647–48, 652; idem, “Achaemenid Babylonia: Sources and
Problems,” in Achaemenid History IV: Centre and Periphery (ed. H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg and A.
Kuhrt; Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1990), esp. 184–86; J. M. Cook, The
Persian Empire (New York: Schocken, 1983), 11–24; J. C. Greenfield, “Aspects of Archives in the
Achaemenid Period,” in Cuneiform Archives and Libraries: Papers Read at the 30
Assyriologique Internationale, Leiden, 4–8 July 1983 (ed. K. R. Veenhof; Leiden: Nederlands Insti-
tuut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1986), esp. 290. For an analysis of Greek evidence for Persian women,
see M. Brosius, Women in Ancient Persia, 559–331
(Oxford Classical Monographs; Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1996).
See especially C. L. Seow, “The Socioeconomic Context of ‘The Preacher’s’ Hermeneu-
tic,” PSB 17 (1996): 168–95.

Page 33
by the extent to which the empire was interconnected. Palestine did not exist in
isolation. A widespread network of roads maintained by the Persian govern-
ment facilitated communication, travel, and trade within the empire.
was correspondence between Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia (e.g., TAD I,
4.7–9; cf. Ezra 4:6–23; 5:3–6:12). Travelers frequented the roads: women and
men on private or business matters (e.g., PF 684, 1289–94, 1546, 1550; PFa 5,
31; Fort. 1017), officials transporting cash and commodities (e.g., PF 1342,
1357; PFa 14), and workers moving from job to job (e.g., PF 1363, 1368, 1519,
Imperial soldiers of various nationalities passed through and were sta-
tioned at outposts in Palestine.
Moreover, as will be discussed below, the
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
The roads were part of an efficient imperial postal system. Mounted couriers carrying royal
correspondence traveled the roads, stopping only for food, rest, and fresh horses at supply stations
located approximately one day’s distance apart (e.g., PF 300, 1285, 1319–21, 1329, 1334–35, 2052).
These “fast messengers” (pirradaziš) made up-to-date communication possible between the royal
court and the provinces. For example, Arsham, the satrap of Egypt, and his Persian colleagues cor-
responded regularly from Babylon with his officials in Egypt about everyday matters (TAD I,
6.1–16; TAD IV 6.3–14). Esther describes the swift delivery of letters from the king throughout the
empire (Esth 8:9–14; cf. 3:12–15). Greek historians also paid tribute to the speed of the mounted
courier service (e.g., Herodotus Histories 5.52–53; 8.98; Xenophon Oeconomicus 4.13; Cyropaedia
8.6, 17–18; Anabasis 1.4.10; 2.4.14). In addition, nonofficial letters and packages were carried by
special messenger (TAD I, 3.6; 3.9; 4.1; 4.3) or by persons traveling to a desired location who were
willing to deliver mail (TAD I, 2.1.9–10; 2.2.12–13; 2.5.56). See further D. F. Graf, “The Persian
Royal Road System,” in Achaemenid History VIII: Continuity and Change (ed. H. Sancisi-
Weerdenburg, A. Kuhrt, and M. C. Root; Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten,
1994), 167–89; M. Astour, “Overland Trade Routes in Ancient Western Asia,” in Civilizations of
the Ancient Near East (ed. J. M. Sasson; New York: Scribner, 1995), 3:1417–18; P. S. Alexander,
“Remarks on Aramaic Epistolography in the Persian Period,” JSS 23 (1978): 158–59.
The Persepolis Fortification Tablets record daily rations issued to officials, workers, and
others traveling largely between Persepolis and Susa, but also to and from such remote corners of
the empire as India (e.g., PF 1318, 1383, 1397, 1524, 1552, 1556, 1572), Sardis (PF 1321), and
Egypt (PF 1544). Travelers carried documents authorizing their passage through the various
provinces, and daily rations were provided at supply stations en route. Royal guides also accompa-
nied some parties, particularly those of foreigners: Cappodocians (PF 1577), Indians (PF 1572),
Sardians (PF 1409), Skudrians (PF 1363), and Egyptians (PF 1557). See also H. G. M. Williamson,
“Ezra and Nehemiah in Light of the Texts from Persepolis,” BBR 1 (1991): 41–61.
This is indicated by Persian-period ostraca found at Arad and Beersheba that record the
distribution of rations to garrison personnel with non-Hebrew names. See J. Naveh, “The Aramaic
Ostraca from Tel Arad,” in Arad Inscriptions (ed. Y. Aharoni, trans. J. Ben-Or; Jerusalem: Israel
Exploration Society, 1981), 153-76; E. Stern, Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Per-
sian Period, 538-332 B.C. (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1982), 240; K. G. Hoglund, “The
Achaemenid Context,” in Second Temple Studies I: Persian Period (ed. P. R. Davies; JSOTSup 117;
Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 64. The remains of mid-fifth-century
. Persian fortresses have
also been discovered at a number of sites in the region, including Ashdod, H\orvat Mesora, Tell Es-
Sa>idiyeh, Nah\al Yattir, Tel Sera>, and Arad (K. G. Hoglund, Achaemenid Imperial Administration
in Syria-Palestine and the Missions of Ezra and Nehemiah [SBLDS; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992],
170–205). Cist tombs containing Achaemenid-style weapons and metal ware, such as those found

Page 34
region experienced growth in international trade. In short, the cumulative evi-
dence suggests that life in Palestine was shaped by its place in the larger Per-
sian realm. Certainly, this would include its views of women.
II. A Socioeconomic Reading
“Her purchase price is more than corals” (31:10b)
The opening question of Prov 31:10a,
axmy ym
(“Who can find?”), suggests
that a Woman of Substance is a rarity.
Indeed, although there are many men
in the Hebrew Bible, there are only two references to women of
side of Prov 31:10–31: in Prov 12:4, where such a woman is described as “the
crown of her husband,” and in Ruth 3:11, where Boaz assures Ruth that the
community knows her to be a woman of substance. The implication of both
texts is that these women are uncommon.
But there is more to the question
axmy ym
(31:10a) than an alleged dearth
of women of substance. The question is paralleled by the phrase: “her purchase
price (
) is more than corals” (31:10b). This wife is not only difficult to find
), it seems. She is expensive to attain (
She has a “purchase price,”
and it is considerable. Insofar as the woman of Prov 31:10–31 is ascribed a
“price,” it may be argued that she is a typical Persian-period bride.
With the introduction of coinage and standardization of currency by the
Persian administration, money increasingly became the preferred medium of
Journal of Biblical Literature
at Tell el-Far>ah (South) and Gezer, are likely those of imperial soldiers stationed at regional out-
posts (Stern, Material Culture, 84–86, 237).
Among Persian-period artifacts from sites across Palestine are female figurines of diverse
types, many of which are shaped and/or clothed in the style of neighboring peoples. The figurine of
a woman holding a drum found at Tel >Ereni, for example, resembles Babylonian female figurines
in form and dress. A figurine of a woman discovered at Beersheba wears a Persian headdress. Other
female figurines wear Egyptian wigs or are sitting or standing clothed in western (i.e., Greek) fash-
ion. The figurines appear to be local imitations (Stern, Material Culture, 168–72).
This section is structured to highlight how the sage’s description of the Woman of Sub-
stance reflects socioeconomic realities of Persian-period women. By arranging it thus, I do not
mean to imply that Prov 31:10–31 ought not to be read as a poetic unit; rather, my aim is to empha-
size how the acrostic, like much of biblical poetry, alludes to its social-historical context. I therefore
attend here to one possible level of meaning in the text and make no claim that it is the only one.
axmy ym
is used rhetorically elsewhere to imply impossibility (Prov 20:6; Qoh
7:24), references to such women in Prov 12:4 and Ruth 3:11 suggest that the question here has to
do with scarcity (see R. N. Whybray, Proverbs [NCBC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 426).
with the sense “to attain, obtain, or achieve,” see, e.g., Hos 12:9 [Eng. v. 8]; Job
31:25; Gen 26:12; and Lev 12:8. See A. R. Ceresko, “The Function of Antanaclasis (ms\< “to find” //
ms\< “to reach, overtake, grasp”) in Hebrew Poetry, Especially in the Book of Qoheleth,” CBQ 44
(1982): 551–69.

Page 35
exchange and a commodity in everyday transactions throughout the empire. As
part of business dealings large and small, goods and services were assigned
monetary values. Negotiations for marriage, commonly conducted as a business
arrangement between two families, were no different. The predominant fea-
ture of marriage contracts was an inventory of the woman’s dowry.
At Ele-
phantine, marriage contracts itemized the contents of a woman’s dowry, listed
in an opposite column the monetary values of its components, and, at the end
of the list, provided a total sum in cash (TAD II, 2.6; 3.3; 3.8; 6.2; TAD IV, 3.16).
Any reader of the contract knew immediately what the dowry was worth. Simi-
larly, in Mesopotamia, dowry items had equivalent cash values. Sometimes this
cash equivalent was paid in lieu of promised noncash components such as real
estate (e.g., Nr. 137) and slaves (e.g., Nbn. 755).
To the extent that money measured the worth of a woman’s dowry, it mea-
sured the financial “worth” of the woman who brought it.
The value of the
dowry said much about the perceived value of the woman as a wife. The daugh-
ter of a profitable merchant, government official, or landowner, for example,
would be expected to bring a more substantial dowry than one from a less afflu-
ent family.
In addition, her groom stood to gain certain less tangible (but not
necessarily less valuable) social, political, or business advantages by marrying
into her family. The socioeconomic desirability of a woman, therefore, was pro-
portional to the monetary value of her dowry. In effect, its price was hers. An
Egyptian slave woman named Tamet at Elephantine originally brought a dowry
worth just over seven shekels, little more than the value of the clothes on her
back; it appears that after some negotiations her master added fifteen shekels
(TAD II, 3.3). In contrast, the dowry of Jehoishma, a young free woman, was
valued at just over sixty-eight shekels (TAD II, 3.8) and Miptah\iah, an older
free widow, paid
a dowry worth sixty and one-half shekels for her second mar-
riage (TAD II, 2.6). The most desirable Persian-period bride was a woman like
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
The name of a Neo-Babylonian marriage contract itself, kunuk nudunnî (“dowry agree-
ment”), indicates that the transfer of the dowry was “the most important feature” of the agreement.
See M. T. Roth, Babylonian Marriage Agreements 7
Centuries B.C. (AOAT 222; Kevelaer:
Butzon & Bercker; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1989), 26–28, nos. 38:6; 42:26; 43:7.
See M. T. Roth, “The Dowries of the Women of the Itti-Marduk-balaµt\u Family,” JAOS 111
(1991): 19–37; eadem, “The Material Composition of the Neo-Babylonian Dowry,” AfO 26/37
(1989/1990): 1–55.
Seow, “Socioeconomic Context,” 173.
Roth, “Material Composition,” 3; J. J. Collins, “Marriage, Divorce, and Family in Second
Temple Judaism,” in Families in Ancient Israel (ed. L. G. Perdue, J. Blenkinsopp, J. J. Collins, and
C. Meyers; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 115.
This is suggested by the lack of a reclamation waiver in the marriage contract. Typically, a
bride’s agent waived the right to reclaim any or all of the dowry property. For example, Jehoishma’s
adoptive brother Zakkur, who negotiated her marriage contract, waived his right (TAD II,

Page 36
these latter two—a woman who brought wealth, property, and socioeconomic
advantage to her husband; a woman who, like the Woman of Substance, had a
high “purchase price.”
“Her husband never lacks for loot” (31:11b)
The business dynamics of marriage in the Persian period offer further
insight into the explanation for the high “price” of the Woman of Substance
given in Prov 31:11. Her husband is said to trust her because he never lacks for
“loot” (
His loot is certain and perpetual, unlike the loot (
) promised
by the sinners in Prov 1:13.
Marriage to a “valuable” bride afforded a man greater financial resources.
Although a woman’s dowry remained her property legally, her husband became
its effective guardian.
A husband could draw on the dowry for his own pur-
poses as long as he eventually compensated his wife with property of equal
value. Should he fail to do so, legal action might be taken to restore the dowry’s
integrity. For example, when Iddin-Marduk used seven minas of silver from his
wife’s dowry to settle some of his father’s outstanding debts, his father-in-law
demanded that he restore the value of the dowry. Iddin-Marduk transferred
seven slaves to his wife and guaranteed all of his assets as replacement for the
missing portion of her dowry (Nbk. 265 = Liv. 154). Similarly, a woman named
Bunanȵtu issued a complaint against her husband for three and one-half minas
Journal of Biblical Literature
3.8.40–42). Similarly, Tamet’s master waived his right to reclaim her child unless her husband
divorced her (TAD II, 3.3.13–14). The absence of such a waiver in Miptah\iah’s marriage contract
(TAD II, 2.6) suggests that no one except her had claim to the dowry property. Moreover, by the
time of her second marriage, Miptah\iah was financially capable of providing her own dowry (see
R. Yaron, Introduction to the Law of the Aramaic Papyri [Oxford: Clarendon, 1961], 51). Neo-
Babylonian marriage agreements attest to women providing their own dowries (Roth, Babylonian
Marriage Agreements, nos. 15, 25; cf. no. 29).
The term
in Biblical Hebrew consistently means “loot” and is translated as such here
despite the awkwardness of its use in this context. Indeed, that awkwardness is, in part, what this
socioeconomic reading considers. Moreover, use of
in 31:11 calls to mind the only other occur-
rence of
in Proverbs, the sinners’ get-rich-quick scheme in 1:13, where it clearly means “loot.”
The term thus forms an inclusio for the book as a whole: whereas the sinners’ ill-gotten
is to be
avoided at all costs (1:10–19), the
acquired by marriage to the Woman of Substance is to be
most desired.
The language used in marriage contracts indicates that the dowry transfers to the groom.
At Elephantine, for example, the groom acknowledges variously that the bride has brought the
dowry “to me in her hand” (
hdyb yl,
TAD II, 2.6.7; 3.3.4) or “to me to my house” (
ytybl yl,
3.8.5), and “my heart was satisfied” (
ybbl byfw,
TAD II, 2.6.15). Similarly, in Neo-Babylonian mar-
riage contracts the dowry is generally given “to” (ana) the groom and comes “with” (itti) the bride
(M. T. Roth, “Marriage and Matrimonial Prestations in First Millennium B. C. Babylonia,” in
Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia: Proceedings of the Conference on
Women in the Ancient Near East, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, November 5–7,
1987 [ed. B. Lesko, BJStudies 166; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989], 249).

Page 37
of silver, money he had taken from her dowry to purchase a house. Her hus-
band guaranteed the house to her as replacement (Nbn. 356 = Liv. 98).
In some instances, however, a woman never received full restitution of her
dowry. Such was true of Amat-Bau.
Her husband sold off nearly all of her siz-
able dowry—a field, thirty-five minas of silver (including jewelry), two minas of
gold, and two slaves (Dar. 26; BOR 2 3)—in the early years of their marriage to
establish his financial position. Years went by before he offered his share of a
field and nine slaves to her as replacements, property worth far less than the
value of her original dowry (BOR 2 3). He then prevented her from selling
some of the slaves for cash (Dar. 429). In short, he “looted” her financial
resources to his own advantage.
In addition to use of the dowry, a husband profited from any inheritances
or supplemental dowry gifts his wife might receive. At Elephantine, for exam-
ple, Miptah\iah’s father granted her a household plot and full rights to improve
and sell the property (TAD II, 2.3; cf. 2.2). On the same day, however, he
extended building and usufruct rights for the same plot to her first husband,
Jezaniah (TAD II, 2.4). If Jezaniah made any improvements to the property
while they were married, he and their children were guaranteed (at least) half
ownership of the land. Therefore, the property belonged to Miptah\iah, but she
was not able to sell it or give it away.
A similar situation occurred with Jehoishma. Her father granted her life-
time usufruct of a house and shared rights with her brother to an adjacent stair-
way and courtyard (TAD II, 3.7). Jehoishma married Anani three months later
(TAD II, 3.8). Shortly afterward, her father stipulated that in appreciation for
her care of him in his old age, she would inherit the property with alienable
rights upon his death (TAD II, 3.10). Less than two years later, however, he
made the house a dowry addendum to Jehoishma’s marriage contract with
Anani (TAD II, 3.11). The last document legally superseded the previous two
and transferred the property into the marital estate. Anani thus gained access to
it along with the rest of her dowry.
In sum, a husband received in his wife’s dowry and additional holdings a
ready reserve, a cache not of his own making but from which he could draw at
his own discretion and use for his own purposes as long as he remained married
to her. In the absence of any legal action, whether to restore the integrity of the
dowry or to divorce, her dowry and additional sources of wealth were, for all
practical purposes, his. Thus, a man married to a woman of high value, particu-
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
See, relatedly, Nbn. 85 = Liv. 61; Nbn. 187; Moldenke 1:18.
See Roth, “Dowries,” 27–29.
Miptah\iah assumed full ownership only when Jezaniah died and the couple was without

Page 38
larly one who “treats him well . . . all the days of her life” (Prov 31:12), might
well never lack for “loot.”
The work of her hands (31:13, 19, 22, 24)
The Woman of Substance adds still more to the family assets with the
money she earns as a businesswoman. Her industry is the spinning and weaving
of textiles, work symbolic of women’s skill throughout the ancient Near East.
Even queens and wealthy women are described or depicted holding a spin-
The Woman of Substance acquires the raw materials of wool and flax (v.
13), puts her hands to the spinning tools (v. 19),
and labors at the “work” or
“business” of her hands (
hypk $pjb,
v. 13).
She makes quality bed coverings
for herself (
v. 22)
and, presumably, for the members of her house-
hold. She manufactures textiles and trades them in the marketplace. She pro-
duces clothing (
and sells it; she trades belts with the “traders”
(“Canaanites,” v. 24; see below).
And she is successful. Her work is profitable. She invests from the “fruit of
her hands,” namely, from her earnings (v. 16). She perceives that her merchant-
profit (
) is good (v. 18a). The parallel phrase, “her lamp is not extinguished
at night” (v. 18b), suggests that she can afford to burn her lamp far into the
evening, and that her profits are due, at least in part, to her tireless attention to
Journal of Biblical Literature
See, e.g., Judg 16:14; ANEP 43, pl. 144. See P. Bird, Missing Persons and Mistaken Identi-
ties: Women and Gender in Ancient Israel (OBT; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 59.
The precise meanings of
a hapax legomenon, and
in 31:19 (cf. 2 Sam 3:29)
remain disputed. They are likely technical terms for spinning tools; the former is often rendered
“distaff” and the latter “spindle” or “spindle-whorl.” For recent discussion, see A. Wolters, “The
Meaning of Kîšôr (Prov 31:19),” HUCA 65 (1994): 91–104; G. A. Rendsburg, “Double Polysemy in
Proverbs 31:19,” in Humanism, Culture, and Language in the Near East: Studies in Honor of Georg
Krotkoff (ed. A. Afsaruddin and A. H. M. Zahniser; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 267–74.
The noun
may refer to a “matter” or “activity” (e.g., Qoh 3:1, 17; 5:7; 8:6; LXX
pravgma). In an Aramaic inscription from Sefîre,
means “business” (Sf 3:8; see J. A. Fitzmyer,
The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefîre [rev. ed.; BibOr 19A; Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1995],
150). At Qumran,
is used for specific tasks or assignments done by individuals (1QS 3.17). The
in Sir 10:26 is translated in Greek to; e[rgon sou (“your work”). This meaning of the term
also continues in postbiblical Hebrew (e.g., b. Mo>ed. Qat\. 9b; b. Šabb. 113a). The Woman of Sub-
stance’s production and trade of textiles suggests that
in Prov 31:13b is appropriately under-
stood as her “work” or “business.”
The term is attested in the royal archives from Ugarit. In one inventory list (CTU 4.385.9-
10), mrbd is parallel to mškbt (“bed”; cf. Prov 7:16). In another (CTU 4.270.11), the term explicitly
refers to the coverings of the king (mrbt mlk). Further, the verb rbd is used for the act of covering a
bed with lavish covers (Prov. 7:16; cf. Ug. 7, 42.25). Arguably, therefore, the
made by the
Woman of Substance are bed coverings of considerable quality.
The precise meaning of
(LXX sindovna"), attested only here and in Judg 14:12–13 and
Isa 3:23 (where it is listed among the fineries of wealthy women), remains disputed. The term may
refer to a fine fabric and/or to a type of garment made of such fabric (cf. Akkadian saddinnu).

Page 39
business matters. That is, she burns the midnight oil to be sure that her profits
Evidence indicates that Persian-period women were workers in the royal
economy. Groups of spindle whorls and loom weights found in almost every
excavated area, but particularly in residential buildings, in Persian-period strata
at Dor suggest that women there engaged in a thriving textile industry.
Persepolis Fortification Tablets and Treasury Texts reveal that nonroyal women,
in numbers equivalent to or greater than their male counterparts depending on
the work,
were issued rations as kurtaš (“workers”)
in a variety of profes-
sions. Women and girls were stockyard workers (PF 848, 1008), treasury work-
ers (PF 863–66, 877–78; PT 28–29, 39–40, 45, 64–67), goldsmiths (PF 872; PT
37; 1963:2), and keepers of fruit (PF 869). They were grain handlers (PF
1821–24, cf. 1589), scribes (PF 1828, 1947), irrigation workers (PF 1842–44,
1946), attendants, and ration makers (PF 865–66). They were winemakers (PT
36), tax handlers (PT 41),
beer tenders or preparers (PT 46), workers in the
armory (PT 52), sheepherders (PT 50, 61), stonemasons (PF 1948; 1963:2), and
artisans (PF 1049; PT 69–70). In addition, women served in various named but
unknown capacities, including as “exerters” (PFa 31), and as ramikurraš and
ammalup treasury workers (PF 865–66).
They are also listed simply as kurtaš
(PT 42, 53). At Elephantine, women were paid for harvesting (TAD III,
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
E. Stern, Dor—Ruler of the Seas: Twelve Years of Excavations at the Israelite-Phoenician
Harbor Town on the Carmel Coast (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), 194–95. Simi-
larly, a sixth-century
. weaving workshop was found at Shiqmona. The large one-room shop
contained dozens of clay weights of assorted sizes and storage jars filled with smaller weights (J.
Elgavish, “Shiqmona,” NEAEHL 4:1,375).
As indicated by the number of female workers listed in the Persepolis Fortification regular
monthly ration texts (PF 847–1084, 2039–45). Disregarding those texts in which either the number
of workers is unclear (PF 865–66, 955, 990, 1003, 1009, 1054, 1068, 1083, 2041, 2044) or the gen-
der of the workers is not specified (PF 975, 986, 994, 1036, 1039, 1058), by my count women and
girls constitute 59 percent of the workers issued such rations. See further Brosius, Women in
Ancient Persia, 182; Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets, 5; M. A. Dandamaev, Slavery in
Babylonia: From Nabopolassar to Alexander the Great (621–331
.) (ed. M. A. Powell and D.
Weisberg; trans. V. A. Powell; Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1984), 573–74 n. 28.
Although the precise legal status of the kurtaš is disputed, it is likely that the term was used
broadly (e.g., “persons” or “laborers”) to refer to freepersons and slaves working for wages or per-
forming temporary service duty in the royal economy (see Dandamaev, Slavery in Babylonia,
See also PT 49, 54–55, which concern groups of workers (“copperers”) composed of men,
women, and children who may have assisted tax handlers. See Cameron, Persepolis Treasury
Tablets, 160.
It is probable that some professions were restricted to men or to women. As Brosius notes,
for example, only men are attested in the professions of tuppira (“scribe”), etip, and mulatap,
whereas only women are listed as ammalup and gal huttip (“ration maker”; cf. PF 865–66; Women
in Ancient Persia, 150–51).

Page 40
3.28.80–84, 88) and as members of the military garrison (TAD II, 5.5).
and Nehemiah refer to female singers (Ezra 2:65//Neh 7:67). Nehemiah also
mentions Noadiah the prophetess (Neh 6:14) and lists “the daughters of Shal-
lum” among workers rebuilding the Jerusalem walls (Neh 3:12).
Women worked at different ranks and degrees of specialization. Among
the finds in an early Persian-period Judean archive is the seal of Shelomith,
maidservant (
) of Elnathan the governor, a woman who likely held an offi-
cial capacity in the administrative affairs of the province.
Other women were
supervisors (araššap, sg. araššara) of work groups, apparently a position of
some distinction.
Ration texts list araššap apart from other male and female
workers and, in one document, refer to five women araššap by their personal
names (PF 1790).
Araššap received considerably more rations per month
than unspecialized male and female workers: fifty quarts of grain (PF 865–66)
and thirty quarts of wine (PF 875–76, 879, 1012).
One text also records a meat
ration of four sheep per year to each of five araššap (PF 1790).
tively, the standard monthly rations for an unspecialized male worker were
thirty quarts of grain and, for a female, twenty or thirty quarts of grain; most
workers did not receive wine or beer regularly.
Even skilled male laborers
received proportionately less than the araššap (PF 875).
Journal of Biblical Literature
Yaron, Law of the Aramaic Papyri, 43.
See N. Avigad, Bullae and Seals from a Post-Exilic Judean Archive (trans. R. Grafman;
Qedem 4; Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1976), 11–13, 30–32; E. M. Meyers, “The
Shelomith Seal and the Judean Restoration: Some Additional Considerations,” ErIsr 18 (1985):
See PF 865–66, 875–76, 879, 1012, and 1790. The term matištukkaš was evidently synony-
mous with araššap. Two texts refer to two women and one man, matištukkaš, each of whom
received monthly wine rations of thirty quarts (PF 1063–64; cf. 1076).
PF 1790:5–10 reads: “(They are) to be issued as rations to Dakma (at) Hunar, and Ir . . . na
(at) Liduma, and Harbakka(?) (at) Hidali, and Šaddukka the Zappiyan, and Matmabba (at) Atek,
total 5 women.”
It is likely that any woman who received a monthly ration of thirty quarts of wine was an
araššara whether or not she is explicitly identified as such (PF 877–78, 880–88, 890–92, 896–908;
cf. Fort. 5206). The same is true for women receiving monthly rations of fifty quarts of grain (PF
922–28, 930–32, 935, 940, 948–49, 957–61, 969–70, 995). See Brosius, Women in Ancient Persia,
153–55, 158–61; R. T. Hallock, “The Evidence of the Persepolis Tablets,” in The Cambridge His-
tory of Iran, vol. 2, The Median and Achaemenian Periods (ed. I. Gershevitch; Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1985), 601.
Rations of sheep were quite uncommon. When sheep were issued, the ration might be 1/2
(PF 1791), 1/3 (PF 1790–91), 1/6 (PF 1791), 1/10 (PF 1793), or even 1/30 (PF 1794) of a sheep per
month (see Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets, 27; D. M. Lewis, “The Persepolis Fortifica-
tion Texts,” in Achaemenid History IV, ed. Sancisi-Weerdenburg and Kuhrt, 2).
Hallock, “Evidence of the Persepolis Tablets,” 603.
The araššara received thirty quarts of wine compared to ten to twenty quarts received by
each of the men.

Page 41
Araššap were associated with work groups known as pašap that were pre-
comprised of women and children (so araššara pašabena in PF
875–76, 1012, 1790). The sizable rations issued to pašap women, as much as
forty-five quarts of grain per month, suggests that they did specialized labor. In
contrast, men in the same groups received thirty quarts of grain. These work
groups, ranging in size from nearly one hundred workers (e.g., PF 847, 1128) to
more than five hundred (e.g., PF 1794), were numerous and widespread geo-
Similar, though generally smaller, work groups called harrinups
comprised largely of women and children are also attested (e.g., PF 996,
1051–52, 1086–87).
A number of women also capitalized on financial opportunities. Economic
growth did not favor everyone in the empire. Smallholders with little capital
struggled to make enough to pay their rent and taxes, much less to support
themselves. Equipment, livestock, and water could be quite expensive.
while some people sought cash advances to build their businesses, others
needed to borrow just to survive.
Some women took advantage of the rising
demand for ready cash and goods. Ina-Esagila-ramât, for example, ran a credit
issuing loans of dates (Nr. 274) and cash ranging from as little as two
shekels (Cyr. 303) to as much as five minas (Nr. 232).
Her daughter, Nuptaya,
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
But not exclusively; see PF 847 and 999.
Pašap are referred to in over thirty texts, including PF 847, 999, 1089–91, 1128–29, 1165,
1171, 1184, 1200–1201, 1203, 1236, 1590, 1606, 1608, 1790, 1794, 1848. They are attested at a
number of sites in the region of Persis and Fahliyan, including Liduma (PF 847, 1128), Tašpak (PF
1089, 1200, 1590), Hidali (PF 1184, 1848), Zappi (PF 1090), Baktiš (PF 1129), Narezzaš (PF 1203),
Parmadan (PF 1606), Dašer (PF 1608), and Uranduš (PF 1794).
There are references to harrinup workgroups in more than forty Fortification Tablets.
They apparently varied in size from five (PF 870) to nearly one hundred (PF 1052) workers.
M. W. Stolper, Entrepreneurs and Empire: The Murašû Archive, the Murašû Firm, and
Persian Rule in Babylonia (Uitgaven van het Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te
Istanbul 54; Leiden: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1985), 128–43.
Seow, “Socioeconomic Context,” 184.
The evidence suggests that Ina-Esagila-ramât managed her business independently. First,
in nearly every obligation document in which she is the creditor, she is identified by her patro-
nymic, “daughter of Zeµriya, son of Nabaya,” rather than by her marital status, “wife of Iddin-
Marduk” (the exception is Nbn. 611). This contrasts with her identification in documents in which
Ina-Esagila-ramât is conducting business on behalf of her husband. There, she is identified as the
“wife of Iddin-Marduk” or, if only her name is provided, the context specifies that she is acting on
his behalf (cf. Nbn. 727). Second, in one document in which she and her husband both extend
credit, she is identified by her patronymic, and the amount owed to her is distinguished from that
owed to Iddin-Marduk: “12 ½ minas silver (is the) claim of Iddin-Marduk, son of Iqȵšaya, son of
Nuµr-Sîn and 10 minas silver (is the) claim of Ina-Esagila-ramât, daughter of Zeµriya, son of Nabaya”
(Nr. 291, lines 1-3). Finally, whereas members of the Egibi family typically served as witnesses
and/or scribes for loans issued by Ina-Esagila-ramât, Iddin-Marduk is never among them.
See also Nbn. 15 = Liv. 40; Nbn. 82; Nbn. 611; Nr. 232, 291, 375; Camb. 370; Cyr. 51.

Page 42
made loans of silver (Nr. 241), emmer (Nr. 304), and dates (Nr. 372). Amat-
Ninlil loaned silver, and in exchange had the use of land as income-earning
property until the money was repaid (Liv. 15). One of Ina-Esagila-ramât’s
slaves, a woman named MahÚitu, had sufficient capital to make a loan of thirty
shekels (Nr. 196). With annual interest rates varying from 20 to 40 percent in
and 60 to 120 percent at Elephantine (see, e.g., TAD II, 3.1; 4.2),
such ventures, not unlike the work of the Woman of Substance, could be quite
“She brings her food from afar” (31:14b)
Like merchant ships that import wares from foreign lands, the Woman of
Substance brings food “from afar” (
) to her household (v. 14). The ambi-
guity of this expression lends itself to two interpretations: she buys food at a
location far away from home or, alternatively, the food she purchases is itself
imported “from afar,” which may suggest that it is an expensive delicacy. Either
way, her family does not live the hand-to-mouth existence of a subsistence
agrarian culture. Rather, they consume what she buys or barters for in the
Archaeological evidence indicates that during the Persian period, Pales-
tine experienced unprecedented growth in international commerce. What had
been largely a subsistence agricultural economy in the preexilic and exilic peri-
developed into a cosmopolitan marketplace.
On the coast, a dramatic
increase in the population of the Sharon and Carmel regions suggests interna-
tional trade.
Some of the many (largely Phoenician) coastal cities, including
Dor, Ashkelon, and Abu-Hawam, were bustling seaports. There were purple
dye manufacturing centers at Appolonia-Arsuf and Dor.
At Abu-Hawam
there was a granary and, at Shiqmona, a weaving workshop. Several sites, such
Journal of Biblical Literature
Dandamaev, Slavery in Babylonia, 140.
Prior to the Persian period, the state conducted international commerce largely from
taxes-in-kind that had been paid to the royal storehouses. Ezekiel describes various nations, includ-
ing Judah and Israel (which each brought agrarian products), gathering to barter their goods with
Tyre (27:12–25).
See Seow, “Socioeconomic Context,” 168–95; Hoglund, “Achaemenid Context,” 54–72;
Stolper, Entrepreneurs and Empire, esp. 143–56.
Persian-period remains have been identified at no fewer than twelve coastal sites, includ-
ing Achzib, Shiqmona, >Atlit, Abu-Hawam, Dor, Mikhmoret, Ashkelon, Michal, Makmish, and
Ashdod. At Tel Megadim, remains of a planned city give the impression that it was a “commercial
harbour town that was entirely erected at one time” (Stern, Material Culture, 15).
See E. Stern and I. Sharon, “Tel Dor, 1986: Preliminary Report,” IEJ 37 (1987): 208; E.
Stern, J. Berg, and I. Sharon, “Tel Dor, 1988–89: Preliminary Report,” IEJ 41 (1991): 53–54; Stern,
Dor—Ruler of the Seas, 194–200.

Page 43
as Jaffa, Shiqmona, and Dor, had large storehouses. And, at Ashkelon, there
were warehouses and street-front workshops. Goods from such places as
Greece, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Cyprus flowed into the region.
International commerce was not restricted to the coast. Ceramic contain-
ers used for the transit of grain, oil, and wine have been discovered inland and
along the coast, suggesting the import and export of such products.
coins, ceramics, metals, and jewelry have also been found at Persian-period
sites throughout Judah.
Nehemiah describes the marketplace of Persian-
period Jerusalem as bustling with merchants plying their goods, people tread-
ing winepresses, and animals loaded with heaps of grain, grapes, and figs—
even on the Sabbath (Neh 13:15–16; cf. Neh 10:31). And at Elephantine,
women bought, sold, and bartered in the markets for goods such as salt (TAD
IV, 7.2; 7.7), vegetables, barley (TAD IV, 7.16), cucumber seed (TAD IV, 7.3),
grain (CIS II, 137), and oil (TAD I, 2.2; 2.5).
A concentration of terms in Prov 31:10–31 suggests that the context in
which the Woman of Substance gets food “from afar” for her household is just
such a marketplace. There are
“Canaanites” (31:24), a term that has come
to mean “traders.” In the Persian period, the term was nearly synonymous with
maritime traders who densely populated the coast and traded
throughout the Mediterranean. Phoenician wares are common among the
Persian-period artifacts at inland sites in Palestine;
and both Nehemiah and
Ezra recount the ready presence of Phoenician merchants (Neh 13:16; Ezra
3:7). The Phoenicians were well known as manufacturers and traders of tex-
tiles, an industry that in the Persian period apparently flourished along the
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
Persian-period remains at Ashkelon, for example, include Attic imports; Greek cooking
pots; Egyptian beads, scarabs, amulets, and bronze statuettes; and a Persian weight and carved
ivory comb (L. Stager, “Ashkelon,” NEAEHL 1:109). Note also the Persian-period remains at Ash-
dod (M. Dothan, “Ashdod,” NEAEHL 1:100) and Ruqeish (E. Oren, “Ruqeish,” NEAEHL
4:1,294). Furthermore, off the coast of >Atlit are concentrations of fifth-century
. Phoenician
amphorae, the remains of ship cargoes that likely originated at Tyre, Sidon, and Cyprus (C. N.
Johns, A. Raban, E. Linder, and E. Galili, “>Atlit,” NEAEHL 1:120).
Stern, Material Culture, 109–10; E. Linder, “Ma<agan Mikha<el,” NEAEHL 3:918.
See, e.g., I. Magen, “Shechem,” NEAEHL 4:1,353; E. Stern, “A Burial of the Persian
Period near Hebron,” IEJ 21 (1971): 25–30; idem, “Achaemenian Tombs from Shechem,” Levant
12 (1980): 90–111; idem, Material Culture, 68, 143–53.
See J. Elayi, “The Phoenician Cities in the Persian Period,” JANES 12 (1980): 14; Stern,
Dor—Ruler of the Seas, 21.
These include Samaria, Lachish, Megiddo, Hazor, Wadi Dâliyeh, En-Gedi, and Gezer
(Stern, Material Culture, 1–8, 29–30, 38–44; and A. Ben-Tor, “Jokneam,” NEAEHL 3:807). Sido-
nian inscriptions dating to the mid-fifth century
. demonstrate familiarity with Hebrew litera-
ture and religious practices (J. C. Greenfield, “Scripture and Inscription: The Literary and
Rhetorical Element in Some Early Phoenician Inscriptions,” in Near Eastern Studies in Honor of
W. F. Albright [ed. H. Goedicke; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971], 253–68).

Page 44
coast of Palestine.
The hallmark of this industry was the production and
export of purple dye—an expensive colorfast, nonfading dye extracted from
marine snails.
Remains of Persian-period purple dye manufacturing installa-
tions have been discovered at Apollonia-Arsuf and Dor.
The red-purple
31:22b) worn by the Woman of Substance is one of two known varieties
produced at such locations.
Other indications in Prov 31:10–31 of a commercial setting include use of
twice: as an active participle in the phrase
rjws twyna,
“merchant ships”
and as a noun, “merchant profit” (31:18a; cf. Isa 23:3, 18; 45:14).
The root
also occurs twice (31:10b, 24a): as a verb, it refers to the act of
selling (31:24a; cf. Neh 10:32 [Eng. v. 31]; 13:16) and, as a noun, to a “purchase
price” (31:10b; cf. Num 20:19). Finally, there is mention of flax (
and linen (
31:22b), products typically imported to Palestine from Egypt.
This cluster of terms, particularly in such a short poem, suggests that the
Woman of Substance obtains food “from afar” in a marketplace of international
merchants, imported goods, and lively trade for profit.
In addition to what was available in the marketplaces, women of the court
and royal women might acquire food from the imperial storehouses. Artystone,
wife of Darius I, ordered grain (PF 730), flour (PF 731), and wine (PF 732) for
distribution to various locations. With Arsames, one of Darius’s sons, she
ordered large quantities of grain and flour (PF 733), barley loaves (PF 734),
and beer (PF 2035). Darius I also ordered two thousand quarts of wine (PF
1795) and one hundred sheep (Fort. 6754) for her, perhaps as supplies for a
Another woman of high rank named Irdabama
similarly ordered royal
foodstuffs, including sizable allotments of wine (PF 735–37), grain and flour
(PF 738; cf. 740), and barley loaves (PF 739).
Journal of Biblical Literature
See J. Elgavish, “Shiqmona,” NEAEHL 4:1,375; Stern, Dor—Ruler of the Seas, 194.
See E. Spanier, ed., The Royal Purple and the Biblical Blue (Argaman and Tekhelet): The
Study of Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Herzog on the Dye Industries in Ancient Israel and Recent Scientific
Contributions (Jerusalem: Keter, 1987); A. Raban and R. R. Stieglitz, Phoenicians on the Northern
Coast of Israel in the Biblical Period (Israel: Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum, University of
Haifa, 1993), 10*, 27*–28*; L. Jensen, “Royal Purple of Tyre,” JNES 22 (1963): 104–18; I. Zider-
man, “Seashells and Ancient Purple Dyeing,” BA 53 (1990): 98–101.
Stern, Dor—Ruler of the Seas, 195–99.
The participial form is used for the profession of peddling and merchandising (e.g., Ezek
27:36; 38:13; 1 Kgs 10:28; 2 Chr 1:16; Isa 23:2, 8).
See I. Jacob and W. Jacob, “Flora,” ABD 2:815.
See G. G. Cameron, “Darius’ Daughter and the Persepolis Inscriptions,” JNES 1 (1942):
214–18; Brosius, Women in Ancient Persia, 97.
Unlike Artystone, who is identified as a dukšiš (“princess,” cf. PF 1795; Fort. 6764), Irda-
bama is never identified by a title. Her receipt of royal provisions, however, suggests that she was
associated with the royal court.
Other high-ranking women of unknown identity shared the same privilege (e.g., PF
162–63, 171, 193, 309, 784, 823). See Brosius, Women in Ancient Persia, 144–46.

Page 45
Women might also receive rations as workers in the royal economy.
Account lists from Elephantine show that some women received emmer, bar-
ley, and oil for their work as harvesters and as members of the garrison (TAD
III, 3.13; 3.18; 3.26; 3.28.80–84, 88; cf. TAD II, 5.5). As noted above, the Perse-
polis Fortification Texts record the disbursement to female workers of rations,
including wine, beer, sheep, grain, and flour. For women who were in supervi-
sory positions or who did specialized labor, such as the araššap and pašap, the
quantities could be quite significant.
In light of this evidence, the claim of Prov 31:14 that a Woman of Sub-
stance brings food “from afar” suggests her capacity to navigate successfully in
the imperial economy.
“She gives rations to her young women” (31:15c)
The Woman of Substance has a staff of
“young women/girls”
(v. 15c). The term
may refer to female freeborn servants or slaves who did
primarily domestic labor. To have one servant, much less several, was a mark of
privilege. In the Hebrew Bible, women with
are typically royalty or from
well-to-do families, such as the daughter of Pharaoh (Exod 2:5), Esther (Esth
4:4, 16), and Abigail (1 Sam 25:42). Similarly, affluent women in Persian-period
Mesopotamia often received three to five slaves (male and female) as part of
their dowries and might purchase or receive more by inheritance or dowry
Slaves given to a woman as supplemental dowry gifts to ease
her transition into the marital home were predominantly female, possibly
young handmaids or the bride’s own nursemaid.
At the same time,
can be young female workers, like the contingent
of female harvesters in the fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:8, 22–23; 3:2; cf. 2:5). The
Woman of Substance might thus have a female work group, possibly weavers or
other laborers who assist in her textile industry. This would not have been
unusual in the Persian period. Women of the court and royal women often
employed workers on their estates. Irdabama, in particular, had a large work
force. She employed a number of workers on her estate at Tirazziš. At one
point, she had as many as 490 laborers there (PF 1028). At various times Irda-
bama also had work groups numbering twenty at Tukraš (PF 1109), 150 at
Tamukkan (PF 1098), seven at Turtukkan (PF 1221, 1232), 52 at Kurra (PF
1198), 75 at Nukusantiš (PF 1002), and 43 (PF 849), 102 (PF 1005), and 244
(PF 1029) at unspecified locations.
An employer provided rations for her workers. Irdabama, for example,
ordered the issue of grain rations for hundreds of laborers at Tirazziš (PF 1028;
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
See, e.g., Nbk. 265 = Liv. 154; Nbk.147; Nr. 16; Nbn. 336.
Roth, “Material Composition,” 12–17.

Page 46
cf. 1041–43). Artystone provided grain rations for workers in her employ (PF
1236) and travel rations to those conducting business on her behalf (PF 1454,
2049; PFa 14). Perhaps such a practice is echoed in Prov 31:15, where the
Woman of Substance is said to give a
(“an allotted portion”)
to her female
“She considers a field and acquires it” (31:16)
Finally, the Woman of Substance considers a field, acquires it, and then
draws from her earnings to plant a vineyard (v. 16). She thus converts real
estate into income-generating property.
Persian-period royal women and women of high rank were property hold-
ers and estate owners. Indeed, Greek authors renowned their land owner-
Artystone, for example, owned and operated at least three estates in the
region of Persepolis.
Irdabama had a large work force concentrated at her
estate in Tirazziš and at a number of other locations between Susa and Persepo-
lis. Documents bearing their personal seals and letters from both women to
their estate managers demonstrate their direct involvement in the administra-
tion of their properties (e.g., PF 164–68, 735–36, 738–40, 849, 1041–43, 1109,
1835–39, 1857; PFa 27).
Women might acquire property by dowry or bequest. For example,
dowries in the family of Itti-Marduk-balaµt\u, a successful Babylonian business-
man, commonly included real estate (e.g., Nbn. 760–61 [cf. Liv. 32]).
At Ele-
phantine, Miptah\iah owned a household plot given to her by her father (TAD
II, 2.3) and the house of her first husband (TAD II, 2.10);
Jehoishma had life-
time usufruct (and later ownership) of a house, and shared rights with her
brother to an adjacent stairway and courtyard (TAD II, 3.7; 3.8; 3.10; 3.11).
Some women used their lands to generate income. After paying taxes to
the crown (see PF 1857, 2070), they kept a considerable portion of whatever
revenues their estates produced.
Moreover, they might lease or subdivide the
Journal of Biblical Literature
The parallel terms
(“food,” 31:14) and
(“food,” 31:15; cf. Ps 111:5; Mal 3:10) sug-
gest that
here refers to an “allotted portion” or ration of food (cf. Prov 30:8).
See, e.g., Plato, Alcibiades I 121c–123cd; Xenophon, Anabasis 2.4.27.
Artystone is associated with estates at Matannan (PF 166–68, 1857), Kukkannakan (PF
1836–37), and Mirandu (PF 1835).
Roth, “Dowries,” 19–37.
Miptah\iah’s ownership of the house of her first husband is indicated by the fact that her
children with her second husband, Esh\or, were capable of inheriting it (TAD II, 2.10; cf. Yaron,
Introduction to the Law of the Aramaic Papyri, 75–76).
Some persons who received property grants paid one-third of their proceeds in royal taxes
and kept two-thirds. See Seow, “Socioeconomic Context,” 176; G. van Driel, “The Murašûs in Con-
text,” JESHO 32 (1989): 206.

Page 47
land among those they favored for even more money. Records from the Murašû
business firm reveal that women did both. Two Murašû texts refer to the “estate
of the Lady of the Palace,” presumably one of Artaxerxes’ four queens or the
queen mother, Amestris.
Each document records a rental payment to the
manager (BE 9 28 = TuM 2–3 179) or the deputy manager (BE 9 50) of her
estate. The rent was expensive, including barley, dates, barrels of fine liquor,
sheep and goats, twenty-five royal soldiers, and rations for the estate manager
(BE 9 50). The Murašûs also conducted business with Queen Parysatis
(Purušatu), wife and half-sister of Darius II.
Her supervisor, Ea-bullissu, and
his agents managed her affairs. Ea-bullissu, himself a smallholder on a subplot
of Parysatis’s land (TuM 2–3 185), collected rent from the Murašûs and from
other servants of Parysatis who lived as tenant farmers on her estate.
Two other royal women are known to have leased property to the Murašûs.
The first was Amisiri<. The Murašûs had a three-year lease of crown land and a
royal reservoir at the end of the Badiatu canal of Amisiri< (CBS 5199).
To irri-
gate the rented fields, the firm requested limited rights to draw off water that
legally belonged to the king and to Amisiri<.
The second woman was Madu-
mitu. She is mentioned first as a member of the house of Amisiri< and an owner
of a field in her estate. The Murašû firm leased her land and then subleased it
to another for two minas of silver per year (Ni. 508; cf. BE 9 39).
later, the Murašûs again subleased a field belonging to Madumitu,
but it is not
clear whether the land was still part of the estate of Amisiri< (Ni. 538). The last
reference to Madumitu’s land occurs four years later (PBS 2/1 75). Her prop-
erty was then part of the estate of Parysatis and was managed by Ea-bullissu.
The acquisition and improvement of property by the Woman of Substance
are yet further means by which she, like some Persian-period women, might
provide for the well-being of those in her household. Indeed, her land would
afford some financial security, which purportedly others in Persian-period
Palestine were woefully without (Neh 5:3–5).
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
Stolper, Entrepreneurs and Empires, 62.
PBS 2/1 38, 50, 60, 75, 105, 146–47; BE 10 97, 131; TuM 2–3 185.
See Stolper, Entrepreneurs and Empires, 63.
Ibid., 231 (no. 1).
Reading the fifth line as partially restored by Stolper: . . . [A. MEŠ(?) šá LU]GAL u
si-ri< . . . (Entrepreneurs and Empires, 231 [no. 1]).
BE 9 39, a duplicate of Ni. 508, includes captions of seal impressions but is unsealed. See
V. Donbaz and M. W. Stolper, Istanbul Murašû Texts (Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het
Nabije Oosten, 1997), 109 (no. 38).
Following Donbaz and Stolper, who read
Madu<itu in line 11 of Ni. 538 as an error for
Madumitu (Istanbul Murašû Texts, 110 [no. 39]).

Page 48
III. Conclusion
Consideration of Prov 31:10–31 in light of the socioeconomic evidence
presented here suggests that the portrait of the Woman of Substance may well
reflect real women in the Persian period. She is a bride valued highly for her
wealth and socioeconomic potential. Her dowry and earnings are “loot” that
her husband may use for his own gain. She manufactures and trades in textiles.
She buys and sells in the marketplaces and brings food “from afar” to her
household. She manages workers. She acquires real estate and develops it for
income. In short, her socioeconomic activities mirror those of Persian-period
women, particularly those of affluence or position. The sage thus taught about
her in a manner typical of the wisdom tradition—by pointing to the world,
indeed to the women, of his context.
Although based on real women, Prov 31:10–31 remains a portrait of the
most desirable woman, an image of the ideal wife intended for a predominantly
male audience. As the comprehensive expression, the “A-to-Zs” of all that is
valued in and valuable about a woman, the Woman of Substance is arguably a
composite image of real women. She embodies no one woman, but rather the
desired attributes and activities of many. What is a tribute to the lives and work
of real women is, at the same time, an objectification of the same. After all, this
woman is given a “purchase price”; she is to be trusted because her husband
never lacks for “loot,” and so on.
This socioeconomic reading invites a reconsideration of the origins of Wis-
dom personified as a woman in Prov 1–9. The nature and extent of lexical and
thematic parallels between the Woman of Substance and Wisdom in Prov 1–9
indicate that, for the sage, the two women essentially coalesce.
Several inter-
preters tend to this convergence by highlighting what T. P. McCreesh calls the
“wisdom dimension” of the Woman of Substance. McCreesh claims, for exam-
ple, that Prov 31:10–31 “is the book’s final masterful portrait of Wisdom,” and
that the Woman of Substance is the symbol of Wisdom “finally settled down
Journal of Biblical Literature
Lexical parallels between personified Wisdom and the Woman of Substance include:
(3:14; 31:18),
(1:28; 3:13; 8:17; 31:10),
(3:15 [Q]; 8:11; 31:10),
(9:1; 31:15, 21, 27),
(9:3; 31:15),
(9:5; 31:14),
(1:33; 31:11),
(1:21; 8:3; 31:23, 31),
(1:24; 31:19, 20,
(8:19; 31:16, 31),
(1:26; 8:30; 31:25),
(8:13; 31:12), and
(3:18; 31:28). Thematic
connections include their strength (8:14; 31:17, 25), teaching roles (e.g., 1:23–25; 8:6–9, 14, 32–34;
31:26), and identifications with “the fear of the
” (1:29–30; 8:13; 31:30). Moreover, both
women bring riches and good reputations for their companions (e.g., 3:4, 16; 8:18, 21; 31:11, 23),
are bearers of honor (3:16; 4:8; 31:25), and look after those in their charge (e.g., 1:33; 4:6; 31:15, 21,
27). For more extended discussion, see, e.g., Yoder, Wisdom as a Woman of Substance, 115–18;
J.-N. Aletti, “Séduction et parole in Proverbes I-IX,” VT 27 (1977): 129–44; T. P. McCreesh, “Wis-
dom as Wife: Proverbs 31:10–31,” RB 92 (1985): 25–46; Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine,
186–208; and Schroer, Wisdom Has Built Her House, esp. 18–25.

Page 49
with her own.”
Similarly, R. J. Clifford describes Prov 31:10–31 as “a portrait
of Woman Wisdom and what she accomplishes for those who come to her
house as disciples and friends.”
What happens, however, if the convergence is explored in the opposite
Said another way, to what extent might there be “Woman of Sub-
stance dimensions” to personified Wisdom? If the Woman of Substance is a
composite figure of real Persian-period women, and if she and Wisdom essen-
tially coalesce, might not Wisdom also reflect the socioeconomic realities of
Persian-period women? It is striking that, whereas a number of recent studies
contend that the polemic against the “Strange” Woman (Wisdom’s counterpart
in Prov 1–9) was motivated primarily by concerns about real women in Persian-
period Yehud,
proposals for the origin of personified Wisdom continue to be
either mythological antecedents
or literary constructs based on women’s roles
as described in the Hebrew Bible without regard to diachronic differences in
the texts or in women’s realities.
The socioeconomic reading developed above
suggests that Wisdom’s origins may well lie elsewhere, namely, amid the activi-
ties of and perceptions about real women in the Persian period.
Yoder: The Woman of Substance (
lyj t`a
McCreesh, “Wisdom as Wife,” 30.
Clifford, Proverbs, 274.
See Yoder, Wisdom as a Woman of Substance, esp. 91–110, for such an analysis.
J. Blenkinsopp, “The Social Context of the ‘Outsider Woman’ in Proverbs 1–9,” Bib 72
(1991): 457–73; H. C. Washington, “The Strange Woman (
hyrkn/hrz h`a
) of Proverbs 1–9 and
Post-Exilic Judaean Society,” in Second Temple Studies 2: Temple Community in the Persian
Period (ed. T. C. Eskenazi and K. H. Richards; JSOTSup 175; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994),
217–42; Maier, Die ‘fremde Frau’ in Proverbien 1–9; idem, “Conflicting Attractions: Parental Wis-
dom and the ‘Strange Woman’ in Proverbs 1–9,” in Wisdom and Psalms: A Feminist Companion to
the Bible (Second Series) (ed. A. Brenner and C. R. Fontaine; FCB, 2d ser. 2; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1998), 92–108, esp. 99–104.
Proposals include Ishtar (e.g., G. Boström, Proverbiastudien: Die Weisheit und das fremde
Weib in Sprüche 1–9 [LUÅ 30, 3; Lund: Gleerup, 1935], esp. 156–74), Egyptian Ma>at (e.g., C.
Bauer-Kayatz, Studien zu Proverbien 1–9: Eine Form- und Motivgeschichtliche Untersuchung unter
Einbeziehung ägyptischen Vergleichsmaterial [WMANT 22; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener
Verlag, 1966], esp. 12–62), a hellenized form of the Egyptian goddess Isis (e.g., M. V. Fox, “World
Order and Ma>at: A Crooked Parallel,” JANES 23 [1995]: 37–48), Asherah (e.g., M. D. Coogan,
“Canaanite Origins and Lineage: Reflections on the Religion of Ancient Israel,” in Ancient Near
Eastern Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross [ed. P. D. Miller et al.; Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1987], 115–24, esp. 118–20), and an unnamed, hitherto unknown Canaanite wisdom god-
dess (B. Lang, Wisdom and the Book of Proverbs: An Israelite Goddess Redefined [New York: Pil-
grim, 1986]).
See, e.g., Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine, 79–147; S. Schroer, “Wise and Counselling
Women in Ancient Israel: Literary and Historical Ideals of the Personified H\okmâ,” in A Feminist
Companion to Wisdom Literature (ed. A. Brenner; FCB 9; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,
1995), 67–84; C. R. Fontaine, “The Social Roles of Women in the World of Wisdom,” in A Feminist
Companion to Wisdom Literature, ed. Brenner, 24–49.

Page 50

Page 51
JBL 122/3 (2003) 449–466
314 Stewart Drive, Yellow Springs, OH 45387
The sequence of the Persian kings
is out of order in the Aramaic section
of Ezra 4:7–6:18.
The Hebrew introduction to the section, Ezra 4:4–5, states
that there was conflict over the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple from the
time of Cyrus in the late sixth century
. to the reign of Darius in the late
fifth century
. Ezra 4:24 repeats the message of 4:4–5 by noting the com-
pletion of the temple under Darius. Yet Ezra 4:7–23 contains an exchange of
I wish to thank Seymour Gitin and the staff of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological
Research for instruction in historical geography; Gary Knoppers for advice on current research in
Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah; John Van Seters for reading early drafts of the article; and the
Constructions of Ancient Space Consultation, chaired by James Flanagan and Jon Berquist, for
providing theoretical focus to the project. Thanks also to the editors for the helpful revisions.
The chronology and dates of the Persian kings are as follows: Cyrus (539–530
.); Cam-
byses (530–522
.); Darius I (522–486
.); Xerxes (486–465
.); Artaxerxes I (465–423
.); Darius II (423–404
.); Artaxerxes II (404–359
.); Artaxerxes III (359–338
and Darius III (336–331
.). See A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (Achaemenid
Period) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948); and Lester L. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus
to Hadrian, vol. 1, The Persian and Greek Periods (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 119–46.
The Aramaic section of Ezra contains four letters: (1) a letter form Rehum to Arataxerxes
(4:8–16); (2) the reply of Artaxerxes (4:17–22); (3) a letter from Tattenai to Darius (5:6–17); and
(4) the reply of Darius (6:3–12), which includes a copy of the decree of Cyrus (6:3–5). There is one
additional Aramaic document, Ezra 7:12–26, the edict by Artaxerxes authorizing Ezra to establish
the Law of Moses in the province Abar Naharah. Ezra 4:7–6:18 is characterized as a “chronicle,”
because the narrative connecting the letters is also in Aramaic, suggesting to some that the author
employed a source document. See W. Rudolph, Esra und Nehemia (HAT 20; Tübingen: Mohr-
Siebeck, 1949), xxii; A. H. J. Gunneweg, “Die aramäische und die hebräische Erzählung über die
nachexilische Restauration—ein Vergleich,” ZAW 94 (1982): 299–302; and D. J. A. Clines, Ezra,
Nehemiah, Esther (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 8. But compare H. G. M. Williamson,
who suggests that only the individual letters are source documents, and that the Aramaic narrative
connecting them is the creation of the author of Ezra 1–6 (Ezra, Nehemiah [WBC 16; Waco: Word,
1985], xxiii–xxiv).

Page 52
letters between Rehum and the Persian king Artaxerxes I to account for the
delay in the construction of the temple, even though Artaxerxes I ruled after
Darius in the fourth century
H. G. M. Williamson identified the repetition of Ezra 4:4–5 and 24 as
resumptive, indicating that Ezra 4:7–23 is intended to be a digression.
Resumptive repetitions emphasize the spatial organization of literature over
chronology and temporal sequence. The setting of a story often emerges as the
point of focus in spatially organized literature.
Yet past interpretations of Ezra
4:7–23 have ignored a spatial interpretation of the correspondence between
Rehum and Artaxerxes, even though the disruption of historical sequence
encourages such a reading.
The central spatial category in Ezra 4:7–23 is the setting, the territory of
Abar Naharah (
hrhn rb[
), an Aramaic term translated “Beyond the River.”
The correspondence of Rehum and Artaxerxes introduces this region into the
story, and it is repeated no fewer than five times (Ezra 4:10, 11, 16, 17, 20).
Abar Naharah represents a blending of geographical realism and literary free-
dom. It signifies the broadest territory of Persian rule in Ezra-Nehemiah
(v. 16), corresponding to a variety of ancient sources that identify Abar
Naharah as a geopolitical region in the Persian empire. Yet the territory also
Journal of Biblical Literature
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