During the second century B.C., Hellenistic Greek culture
dominated the Mediterranean world, and there were ``culture wars'' involving
Greek customs and the customs of the various peoples in that region. In the
case of Judea, cultural conflict led to an
actual war, in which Jews rose up in defense of God's Torah and gained
independence from the Greek Seleucid Empire. The story of this war is recorded
in the books of Maccabees and in the writings of
What happened to other local cultures in areas that were under Greek
control? Sharon Herbert, an archaeologist at the University of Michigan,
is especially interested in this question for the Phoenician culture that at
one time flourished in the region around the ancient city of Tyre. Professor
Herbert, who has been the director of several excavations in northern Galilee, recently reported on her research in a lecture
given at the MiamiUniversityArt
Museum on March 5, 2002.
Professor Herbert's fascination with the Phoenicians began over thirty years
ago, when she participated in a dig at Tel Anafa, a
small site in northern Israel,
just a few miles from the Golan Heights and
the Lebanese border. The directors of the dig came to Tel Anafa
hoping to find artifacts from the period of the Persian
Empire. Instead, they discovered a well-preserved Hellenistic
villa. This upscale dwelling had stuccoed walls
containing Greek designs, and the pottery found at the site included dishes of
a type often used by upper-class Greek families. In addition, the villa
contained one unusual feature: a three-room indoor bath complex. Indoor baths
were generally not found in Greek homes, since wealthy Greeks tended to bathe
at public baths instead. However, such baths have been found in some Phoenician
homes. On the basis of this evidence, the archaeologists conjectured that the
occupants of the villa were upper-class Phoenicians who adopted a number of
Greek trappings but still maintained some elements of their own culture.
After the completion of her research at Tel Anafa,
Professor Herbert hoped to find further evidence of Phoenician culture at Tel Kedesh, a much larger site in the same area of northern Galilee. Kedesh is the location
of an ancient city that was captured by the Israelites during the time of
Joshua (Joshua ) and
designated a ``city of refuge'' (for the protection of people who had committed
manslaughter-see Joshua 20) as well as a city for the Levites (Joshua ). In 145 B.C., the Hasmonean leader Jonathan won a military victory near Kedesh over the forces of the Seleucid king Demetrius (I
Macc. 11:63-73; Josephus' Antiquities 13.5.6-7). Later, during the first
centuries B.C. and A.D., Kedesh was a ``village of Tyre,''
according to Josephus (War 2.18.1; 4.2.3).
Initial probes were conducted at the site in 1997 by a small team of faculty
and students from the University
of Michigan and the University of Minnesota. The probes
unearthed remains from the second century B.C., including some pots containing
grain. The fact that the inhabitants left the site without using the
grain suggests a sudden departure, leading the archaeologists to guess that
people may have quickly fled Kedesh at the time of
the battle in 145 B.C.
In March 1998, a magnetometric survey of the site
was conducted. The survey revealed the locations of the walls of ancient
buildings. One building, in particular, seemed to be quite large-something like
20,000 square feet. Extensive digs conducted in 1999 suggest that this building
was an administrative center for the region, perhaps occupying the site of a
previous building from the era of the Persian empire. In a storage area of the building, the
1999 team found over 1800 stamped clay bullae-small
seals, only one or two centimeters in length, that were
used to stamp and identify official papyrus documents during the Hellenistic
period. The presence of the bullae indicated that the
building once contained an archive of papyrus documents. Unfortunately, the
documents were apparently destroyed in a fire, and only ashes remain.
The pictures on the bullae give graphic evidence
of the cultural diversity of that region during the second century B.C. Some
display images of Greek gods and goddesses, especially Apollo and Aphrodite.
Others contain portraits of Seleucid monarchs and private individuals. About
twelve of them give traditional symbols of a Phoenician deity, along with an
inscription indicating that these were the seals of rulers in that region. Did
the rulers use those symbols on their seals in order to assert their connection
to a more glorious past, or to preserve their cultural identity in that
Greek-dominated world? Professor Herbert is hopeful that future digs will
reveal more information about this ancient administrative center and the
culture of Kedesh in the second century B.C.
Much more research remains to be done at Kedesh.
The results of that research will undoubtedly shed further light on the culture
of the Galilee region over a period of many centuries. Further details,
including photographs, can be found at the project website: