Madaline Harris-Schober (PhD in Classics & Archaeology, 2023) ‘Ritual Architecture, Material Culture and Practice of the Philistines’
This thesis focuses on the recognition of cult and ritual in the Late Bronze Age [LBA] to Iron Age (1175–586 BCE) Levant. It is concerned with the identification and elucidation of ritual architecture, material culture and practices based on the existing archaeological record and series of indicators that allow for reasonable inference that a site had ritual capacities. The aim of this study is to employ the synthesis and interpretation of data and apply comparative analysis to create an encompassing study that better represents the archaeological phenomenon of the Philistines. The ritual architecture, material culture and practice of the Philistines and their surrounding world are complex and multilayered. The following is a comprehensive catalogue of ritual-related architecture, material culture and (where appropriate) practices of sites in the Southern Levant, interpreted in the social and cultural framework of the LBA to Iron Age.
The analyses of ritual-related architecture, material culture, practice and ideology require a detailed study of societal intricacies, architectural components and a defined typological framework. Ritual structures offer an alternate means of understanding the built environment and provide an insight into human-place-object interaction. Whilst the Philistines have been studied by archaeologists over the past four decades, there is a distinct gap in publication and knowledge when it comes to Philistine ritual and religious architecture, material culture and practice. This task can be especially difficult in regions of continuous settlement and destruction, particularly when large ritual and/or cultic centres stand out in the archaeological record in comparison to smaller, more nuanced, areas of ritual importance. Many debates which revolve around the Philistines concern aspects such as migration, the location of their cultural homeland, chronology and religious beliefs. A portion of excavation data coming from wider Philistia has not been re-assessed in the light of new theoretical approaches and the general developments in the field of archaeology and anthropology. It is my goal to reconstruct such data where possible and apply these new viewpoints, namely interpretive archaeology, to present an alternative to positivism in the field.
The primary goal is to ‘even out’ the over-saturation of single-site publication through the collation and interpretation of all excavated sites in one corpus. Whilst writing my honours thesis, I noted the abundance of handpicked comparative studies and an overall lack of overarching studies pertaining to Philistine architecture and material culture. Consequently, there is no far-reaching study that discusses Philistine ritual architecture, material culture and its systematic characterisation in a way that presents all known data, relevant research and theoretical approaches. It is evident that a certain amount of scholarship on this topic suffers from the lack of wider comparative approaches and a failure of identification of ritual architecture and artefacts; a downfall that many facets of the discipline of archaeology experience. Therefore, this thesis will attempt to construct a comprehensive and summative history of ritual and cult in the Southern Levant with a focus on the Philistines and their world, moving away from the previously restrictive frameworks to produce a far-reaching piece of research which has not yet been generated within the field.
A study such as this is not particularly new in the field of Bronze and Iron Age archaeology. Webb’s published PhD thesis, entitled ‘Ritual Architecture, Iconography and Practice in the Late Cypriot Bronze Age’, addresses the topic of specific ritual phenomena in a precise and succinct manner, creating an indispensable handbook to all who study the archaeology of ritual. Furthermore, the theses of Nakhai (Archaeology and Religions of Canaan and Israel), Gilmour (The Archaeology of Cult in the Southern Levant in the Early Iron Age) and Elkowicz (Tempel und Kultplatze der Philister und der Volker des Ostjordanlandes. Eine Untersuchung zur Bau- und zur Kultgeschichte wahrend der Eisenzeit I-II) presented studies of similar design which helped bring this current study to fruition.
Whilst this thesis heavily critiques previous interpretations and studies put forward by excavators, this research was only possible due to their unbroken hard work and dedication to the field of archaeology. This thesis owes great debt to the excellent predecessors who laid the framework for this study. It is my hope that the following analysis only highlights their success and commitment. Chapter 1 is a review of literary and archaeological sources that consists of an overview and summary of previous literature in the field with analysis and reference of biblical, historical and academic sources, including chronological issues and a review of excavation. Chapter 2 explores and defines the archaeology of ritual and cult within the framework of the LBA and Iron Ages, drawing on important previous studies which paved the way for new approaches. This chapter also considers cult identifiers and the difference between public, domestic and private ritual architecture and material finds. This section will also deal with specific definitions in relation to the cultic and ritual architecture of the geographical region. Chapter 3, 4 and 5 provide a compendium of Philistine ritual architecture and finds from the Early Iron through to the Iron II. Sites and buildings have been categorised into Reliably Identified Sites, Less Reliably Identified, and Misidentified sites. These are accompanied by top plans, block plans, reconstructions and three-dimensional models (where available) in-text and in the body of the thesis. Sites are divided into architecture, material finds and discussion sections. Chapter 6 discusses Philistine religion, deities and epigraphic evidence, providing a summary of previous studies and new developments and understanding of Philistine ritual with an in-depth analysis and up-to-date table of Philistine altars and their comparisons with the wider Mediterranean. These discussions employ comparative analysis along with interpretive analysis to further understand what may have taken place within these cult and ritual-related areas. The study concludes with an overview of the findings and the future of Philistine archaeology of ritual and cult through the suggestion of a new cultic and ritual research agenda.
Madaline’s thesis was completed under a Cotutelle arrangement between the University of Melbourne and Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
Supervisors: Associate Professor Gijs Tol (SHAPS), Dr Caroline Tully (SHAPS), Professor Philipp W Stockhammer (LMU Munich)