EXC 2060 A3-42 - Mountain-top sites in Edom: Disentangling politics, religion and economy in an Iron Age tribal kingdom

DFG - Exzellenzcluster
EXC 2060/1
  • Beschreibung

    A distinctive element of Iron Age Edom (c. 700 ­– c. 500 BCE) in southern Jordan, particularly the Greater Petra area in central Edom, are mountain-top sites, which are rather small settlements situated on mountain plateaus surrounded by steep rocky slopes. These sites have usually been described as remote, inaccessible, lacking good water supply and arable land, and primarily for the temporary refuge of pastoralist populations. The interpretation of these sites has always been enigmatic, especially how they were related, if at all, to the politics, religion, and economy of the rest of the kingdom of Edom.

    Iron Age Edom is referred to in biblical literature and in contemporary Egyptian, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian sources, and several major sites have been excavated. Edom was ruled by kings based at the capital, Busayra (biblical Bozrah), which was an administrative and religious centre with monumental buildings, including a palace and temple. Edom paid annual tribute to the Assyrian empire, but was never occupied by the Assyrians or incorporated into the empire. The economy depended on the lucrative trade in spices and luxury goods between Arabia and the Mediterranean, which ran through Edom. The fortified site of Tall al-Khalayfi on the Gulf of Aqaba was a gateway town for the Arabian trade on the Red Sea coast trade route. The trade route to the Mediterranean is also marked by sites in the Wadi Arabah and the Negev, including wayside shrines at En Hazeva and Horvat Qitmit. It is at sites on the trade route that we find almost all the inscriptions with the name of the god Qaus, and the names of several kings of Edom are compounded with the theophoric element Qaus; it is usually therefore assumed that Qaus was the main god of Edom, and that the presence of Qaus denotes the presence of Edomites.

    Yet, the mountain-top sites have a very different economic basis, material culture and religion to the rest of Edom (indeed, a lack of evidence for religion). They appear not to be connected to the main communication routes with Busayra, or to the trade routes, and apparently did not participate in the Arabian trade. The architecture and material culture are distinctly different, lacking monumental buildings and fine pottery as well as luxury products. No temples, cult places or even objects related to religion have so far been found at any of the mountain-top sites, and no evidence for the worship of Qaus.

    Recent preliminary work at one of the mountain-top sites (see below), Qurayyat al-Mansur, suggests that rather than being an inaccessible, temporary refuge, it may in fact have been a permanent, agriculturally self-sufficient site sustainable over many generations, but with no major routes connecting it to Busayra or the trade routes. There are also indications of agricultural and resource potential at other mountain sites, which need to be further explored (see below).

    The hypothesis to be tested by this project is that the mountain-top sites were not remote, inaccessible and temporary refuges, as usually assumed, but were permanent settlements, self-sufficient in water and other resources, which were not connected to or dependent on the main trade and communication routes with the rest of Edom. While these sites are theoretically within the borders of Edom – and the kings presented themselves as ‘kings’ of all the land of Edom – they appear not to be entangled in any extensive way with royal control, state religion and trade. From this perspective, several questions arise which this project will address:

    • What form did this ‘disentanglement’ take, how can we explain it, and what does it tell us about the nature of the social structure of such ancient tribal kingdoms?
    • What does a hypothesis of self-sufficiency for the mountain-top sites mean for our understanding of the term ‘Edom’, the authority and reach of the king at Busayra, and for our understanding of what is (or is not) ‘Edomite’ – and is that any longer appropriate as a cultural (as opposed to geographical) term, which may well have been meaningless to the mountain-top dwellers?
    • Is it possible to continue to claim that Qaus was a characteristically Edomite god, given his absence at the mountain-top sites, and what can we say about the nature and extent of religious practice in Edom?
    • Are the elements usually treated as characteristically ‘Edomite’ – such as worship of Qaus, participation in the Arabian trade, presence of fine painted pottery and elite objects – in fact only the culture of the empowered elites at Busayra who participated in the trade networks? If that is the case, to be an elite in Edom meant, and maybe even required, participation in all these elements, such as membership of the royal court, acquisition of wealth through the Arabian trade, interaction with Assyrian officials, and state religion (or at least the religion of the royal line), including patronization of the monumental temple at Busayra. These activities were limited to Busayra and the main sites on the trade route, but – crucially – did not extend to the mountain-top sites. In this way, (elite) religion, politics and economy in this tribal kingdom may have been so entangled as to be inseparable, but the mountain-top sites sit outside this elite model and did not ‘belong’.
    • Was the proposed self-sufficiency and lack of connection of the mountain-top sites a deliberate, conscious strategy to distance and ‘disentangle’ themselves from Edom, the rule of the king and the elites, or can it be explained by other factors, such as separate tribal groups withdrawing into or maintaining their own cultural traditions and practices, and living, or choosing to live, as it were, ‘off the beaten track’?
  • Personen