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Archaeology News


CULTURES CONVERGE AT KEDESH

 

by Doug Ward

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 Flavius Josephus. 1

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 Miami University Art 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 12:22) 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 21:32). 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:


 

Footnotes:

1For a discussions of the books of  I and 2 Maccabees, see Issue 14 and Issue 9 of Grace and Knowledge.

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