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This pair of small statues (from Egypt’s predynastic Naqada II culture, 3500 BCE) begins a series of signs, symbols and images that cast light on the Minoan Great Year in this study. They come from Egypt and Sumer, the Near East, Syria, Crete and Cyprus, reach after Minoan times to the mainland, Sea Peoples and Phoenicians, and share resemblances across lines of religion and astronomy: their common configuration is upraised arms with a sphere or head between, varying at times into the horns of a crescent (or of a bull, a moon, a double axe, or a mountain) with a disc above. Perhaps a ritual gesture born out of sacred dance (Ernest and Relke 70), it was apparently first adapted toward astronomical functions as a gnomon (Isler’s Min Hut example first below), through the same ages that began to identify the sun’s and the soul’s journeys between real and symbolic horizons. Some of these examples related to lunar, solar and stellar astronomy even as their meanings doubled back into the religious realm of cyclical rebirth.
Close observation of the moon, sun and stars brought key cycles of nature into the service of an elite’s demonstrations of powers. In their different degrees they used nature to suggest their knowledge of a life beyond it, and organized this life accordingly. Labrys, Evans noted, was there when Minoans raised the Old Palace. The little Late Minoan goddess (below) with upraised arms inside a hut, house, shrine, tomb, mountain, or cosmos endured for 600 years after Knossos (Mersereau 1993: 1; Prent 2009: 232-237).
Obviously, simple descriptions of the differences in the contexts and beliefs around them would fill books. Yet their persistent configuration of elements and visual essentials, plus a noticeable share of their contexts, uses and meanings, are as much alike as many other grouped signs and symbols classified in Crowley’s Aegean and the East as parts of a Mediterranean “international repertoire.” Palyvou calls similar groupings “Transcultural Integrated Elements” (2007: 44-45).
For Marinatos (Warrior and Kingship), such families of symbols comprised part of a koine: an intercultural web whose members, in the midst of many levels of contact and exchange, understood some aspects of each other’s religions and politics, borrowing and adapting (or not) according to their own reasons.
“Continuity in practice does not mean identity of practice” (Whitley 2009: 281). These signs cross far too much time and cultural difference to suggest identical meanings and religious uses. They only ask the reader to notice their central elements’ relationships, persistence and similarity amid change. “Unconscious patterns of religious expression” also “may have existed,” and a “Bronze Age heritage” in Crete and Cyprus at least have been “well-documented” (D’Agata 2009: 7-8).
On the earlier end of these ages, the stone plaque from Knossos that shows a she-goat turning to lick her suckling kid appears to illustrate the Egyptian hieroglyph for a verb meaning “to be joyful” (Frankfort 166). On the latter end (as will be shown), Crete’s descendant Philistines were the most eclectic culture on their landscape. It seems conceivable that between those points in time, a gesture suggesting the soul’s rebirth informed signs of like meaning at Knossos, where they served to embody aspects of lunar, solar and stellar astronomy.
Gesell and Hitchcock agreed in earlier
citations that the “figure with upraised arms” is not “common” in Crete until
after Knossos. Before then, it only appears or has family in central Minoan examples.
Later (again, amid changes detailed by Prent 2005, 2009), these “recurrent
representations of a female with upraised arms” were still evoking “a special
connection with beliefs concerning the afterlife. Perhaps there was a wish to
entrust the dead to the care of an ancestral goddess…displaying a gesture known
of old” (2009: 238; see also Goodison 2009: 57).
As Cain notes (2001: 38), there are no
universal gestures. Yet this range of similar signs speak from each of their
contexts about rebirth: about the renewal of time in New Year’s Day, about the
entwined cycles of renewal shared by the Sun, Moon and Earth, and about the
human soul, returned to its ancestors and returned to life by the breath born
of Isis’ outstretched wings. They speak of the female as horned mountain, as house
of the dead and womb of those reborn; with a cosmic calendar on her shoulders
that points, solstice by solstice, to a rhythm of life eternal.
Given all these chapters’ examples of wheeled crosses, X-forms, quincunx, Labrys and “upraised arms,” the designs of these “corn dollies” seem to sum up some equally central symbolic connections and continuities. Both are from Sarpaki’s 2009 “Harvest Rites and Corn Dollies in the Bronze Age Aegean.” At left is a design Sarpaki reconstructed from one painted onto a vase from Akrotiri, Thera, dated not long before its 1500s eruption; and at right is a much later but old Greek-traditional design.
Sarpaki (64) finds it “very reasonable” that, in Marinatos’ words (1987: 135), “Minoan religion…was structured by seasonally-determined major festivals”; and sees, in the wheel at left, “probably, the symbol of the rebirth of nature” (62). On the same page, Sarpaki’s Note 10 points connections to “the sign of Tanit” at later Carthage (shown above: see also Barnett 1989).
All these symbols—not least, the X—have revealed multiple meanings made family by the Bronze Age combination of astronomy, agriculture, religion and ceremony that comprised the (possible) Minoan Great Year. Across Bronze Age cultures, the wheeled X has solar meanings (Kristiansen and Larsson 2005: 287, 293). In Great Year contexts, it seems to represent a cycle (the circle) that encompasses and turns around a doubled pair of points. The X creates 2 points at one side and 2 at the other: reverse the object and it produces 8, with a 9th point perhaps at its crossing. Quincunx is visible, and a doubled Labrys.
Woven from grain, the staff of life itself, the wheeled X embodies a relationship between the living and the dead shown across these chapters: the living remember, honor and sustain the dead, and they reciprocate with social cohesion and the blessings of nature. Its 4 points correspond to the doubled pair of lunar/solar signs that mark a Minoan Great Year cycle: New Moon/Winter Solstice and Full Moon/Summer Solstice.
Karageorghis (2006: 548) wonders if his “Figure 16”—the Cyprian motif shown above with head and arms above an upright rectangle, crossed with X—was a xoanon or figure of a deity. (See it in full context below.) These chapters and evidence ahead suggest that X was in a sense the symbolic matrix or convergence-point of many symbols and organizing patterns: deity, moon, sun, star, calendar, Labrys, quincunx, and on those bases (below), tribe or group identity itself.
In Egypt, the sun’s symbolic journey was
the basis for ages of high religion. In Minoan Crete the basis was likely the
8½-year calendric dance of sun and moon. The forms above might be some of its
calendric signs, with “upraised arms” especially symbolic of a Great Year
cycle’s religious dimensions. While Mersereau (1993) and McEnroe (2007) agree
that the figure in her “hut” below is “not tied to the distant, primitive past”
but to a “new” post-Labyrinth world, we can also see that its handles give it a
form much like the horned World Mountain of rebirth. The inner gesture doubles
the outer form. Palatial Crete by then was gone, and people with preexisting
beliefs would need “new” expressions.
In the contexts of these pages, the Great Year would have to endure “only” about 250 years (fewer than ten generations) from the occupation of Crete to the Near Eastern cities of the Philistines. Was it visible there? What contexts might its presence add to the emergence of Western kingship? As Singer notes (1984: 282), 150 further years or 5 generations saw Canaan/Palestine change from an Egyptian province to the kingdom of Israel, with the fortunes of Sea Peoples and Philistines between them.
Yasur-Landau’s comprehensive The
Philistines and Aegean Migration (2010) contrasts old views of sudden,
massive, violent incursions with new evidences. They describe “a complex
of migration processes, each with its own rhythm” (316-317): small initial
groups guided by traders and “scouts” settling into the region after 1190 BCE,
followed by at most “several thousands” (341), who built a “high intensity
farming” economy—which in turn enabled a cultural “explosion” beginning
around 1100. This new conception of the Philistines’ arrivals is shared by Dothan (1982: 52), by Stager (2008: 257), and by Hitchcock (2012 podcast lecture). From Ashkelon and Gath to Gezer, they were “not seeing destruction levels” between Canaanite and Philistine remains: there was “no real evidence” of war-like intrusions into places “already partly destroyed and deserted” by the time that Egypt was abandoning many such garrison-cities. Hitchcock’s term for this “relatively peaceful phase of settling-in” was “entanglement,” rather than conquest or domination.
Once these peoples established new eastern homes, some old cities (Ekron for example, on the detail-map to come) rapidly acquired advanced aspects of urban living, as if out of the memories of tribes deemed warlike wanderers “who lived on ships.” Peoples who long-endured using islands and ports as stepping-stones in small fleets of 7-20 vessels would depend on portable symbols and flexible traditions to remain “highly organized” and become “successful although of distinct groups.” (These details gathered from studies in Oren’s 2000 Sea Peoples and Their World, including Dothan, Finkelstein, Karageorghis, Mazar, O’Connor, Tubb and Wachsmann.) If peoples long in migration and at war could then unfold a settled, civilized and advanced way of life, were they likely to have lost their ancestral astronomy?
Egypt, during its long imperial decline after Ramses II, made “Sea Peoples” a name of fear. But the name also expresses who or what these peoples seemed to be in the eyes of trading partners. Egypt and Gaza, Hazor, Byblos, Tyre and Ugarit had known Aegeans and Minoans dating back to the Old Palace periods after 2000 BCE. An early record at Ugarit shows a “chief merchant among the Cretans” with an Akkadian translator receiving a gift of tin shipped all the way from Mari. (See also Palyvou 2007.)
Schafer-Lichtenberger’s 2000 “Goddess of Ekron” analyzes inscriptions, texts and linguistics suggesting that “the cults imported into Cyprus by ‘Mycenaean’ groups” were and are “distinguished by their conservatism” (91). Her central evidences range in time from the very early Aegean Earth Mother, Gaia, to later goddess forms—Potnia, “Ashdoda,” Derceto, Ptgyh, Pytogayah—among migrating Minoan-Mycenaean groups who became Sea Peoples and Philistines. Clues suggest that behind these tribes, ancestral, tribal and religious connections persisted at Delphi, where possibly their forebears sought oracles and sanction for journeys ahead. An 8-year lunar/solar cycle functioned there through Philistine times, its evidences among the aspects of Delphi’s religious, ancestral, festival, initiatory, political and practical concerns.
Macalister (1965) and others observed their presences at Gaza (originally called Minoa), the head of the spice road; at Alalakh near the north coast of Syria, where remains included frescoes and ceramics with the bull and bird above at left (Wooley, Cline 1995); and, at the major inland-eastward trading station of Beth Shan. Old Libyan connections went on in trades of corn and olive oil, garum fish-sauce, citrus-wood and sylphium (Bates 1914; and for reference just ahead, see Plate III, wherein 3 of 4 high-ranking Libyans show elongated web-pattern tattoos).
As some Minoan and Mycenaean descendants were becoming established in Cyprus (Karageorghis 1992: 80), Sea Peoples were already far inland toward the East. One example, the dagger below (dated 1300-1200) incised on both sides with its doubled quincunx motif, came from Tel es-Saidiyeh on the Jordan River (Tubb 2000: 191, 193), where an elaborate “staircase” water system’s “closest antecedents” were Aegean. Yasur-Landau (2010: 214-15) reviews their Cyprus connections and long history of mercenary services for Egypt.
Who were the people who might have carried these signs into the Iron Age? According to Cosmopoulos’ study, since the Early Bronze Age the Aegean had included different social structures. The principal mainland unit was a chiefdom and its families. Among Cycladic cultures, the family was central; and in Crete it was the clan, a group of related families whom Cosmopoulos distinguished as a tribe (1995: 31).
Since the many groups who migrated from these islands, from Crete and Mycenaean territories became components of Sea Peoples, and since they have always been anatomized as tribes, we might see them as clans (affiliated families), including “egalitarian” relations (Tsipopoulou 2009: 135), leadership roles for “chiefs” and, as the gender-ambiguous figures on the seals at center below might suggest, for women. Perhaps the seals show a warrior with sword and shield: perhaps a woman and a wheeled cross or X.
Betancourt (2000: 300) and Barako (2003) agree with Yasur-Landau’s 2010 conception of small migrations, “sporadic rather than simultaneous,” accomplished more often by trading-vessels than warships. In Cyprus at both old and new locations, they became visible mining copper and raising “administrative buildings” (Karageorghis 1992). Later waves, following the best datings of The Trojan War (c. 1230s-1220s), coincided with destructions in Cyprus, new colonizations, and surely more displacements after 1200, as many centers of Aegean and Mycenaean palace civilization disintegrated.
Can any of these tribes’ symbols be recognized as unifying totems? The details above from Minoan larnakes show, at left, a bird of particular shape perched on a Labrys (which Marinatos explains only as the creature first to greet the sun each day, 2010: 116); and at right, a “happy hunting ground” scene from the Beyond. As we note at right that the human figures are comprised of X-forms or a web-pattern, and wonder if the birds shown are cranes, we might ask: what are cranes doing in the mountains, associated with bulls? Like the bulls, the cranes above make far more sense as totems of group and ancestor identity shared by the humans in the scene. Perhaps bulls signified males and cranes females, tribal and ancestral. As Burkert points out, activities such as feasts, “prestige-bringing sporting contests and sacred hunts” were mounted “in honor of the dead” as “an affirmation of group identity” (1977, Rpt. 1985: 190). Let us investigate.
Recall the triskeles type of Early Minoan seal (below and Chapter 4) that possibly symbolized a 3-season year. The webbing pattern at center is not uncommon in Cretan and later designs (below). First, does this web have any possible referent in nature?
Cranes in Crete, and in other lands involved in their migrations, have served as signs with calendric meaning since the days of Minoan agriculture. Common Cranes (grus grus) build cross-weave nests from bulrushes, even today in Mediterranean coastal marshlands, the same that once supported hippos from the Nile to Syria. The Crane Dance was known in Crete and in Aegean-island initiation rites. At the center of the above seal’s 3-point natural cycle may be a totem or symbol of human community.
Evans’ Palace (4: 332-338) showed an increasing Cretan affinity for “waterfowl from Nile-bank scenes” in and after LM III (after 1390): some he called “Nile ducks” for their heavy bodies, short necks and broad bills. In time, however, as the forms of these birds evolved on ceramics (exampled ahead), they usually acquired longer necks and took on other features more like those of cranes than ducks: a long straight bill like a needle, a neck whose painted color was usually different from its body, a long slender head and distinct tail plumage. Several more examples follow in this chapter.
These features (and a field-guide such as Heinzel, Fitter and Parslow’s) help to identify the bird in question. The necks of sea- and dabbling-ducks are short, tightly-crooked, and they have bills rather than beaks. Cormorants have long necks but a hooked beak, while the beak of Egypt’s sacred ibis is much longer and curves downward. The darter or “snake-bird” has similar traits of appearance and habitat, but a distinctly different crook in its neck, like a heron’s. White and black storks look similar, and nest on built “platforms,” but their necks match their bodies’ colors, and they lack tail-plumes to match a crane’s.
Given the common crane’s importance in Cretan traditions, this bird seems the most likely referent. As Russell warns (2010: 12), we must certainly “defy any simplistic attempt to pin a Philistine ethnic identity onto people from a single geographic or of a single cultural origin, or even on a path of migration.” Yet, if a crane does not represent families mindful of 1200 years of bull-leaping behind them, it seems hard to explain why their descendants’ next ceramic centuries feature birds sporting with bulls.
In this design-detail from a vase from Minoan-Mycenaean Cyprus, we find doubled chevrons (complemented by seashells) with the Great Year’s most central expression, the posting of Labrys between horns of consecration. The bulls’ horns with their axes double and flank it heraldically. They are skulls, dead bulls, like signs of the shadow-world flanking Great Year symbols. Each chevron (a sky-sign, cranes in flight) is paired with a sea-shell (which come from the bottom of the sea), as on the “sub-Minoan” larnax from Crete shown last chapter: shells a perennial offering to and sign of their goddess(es), and on that basis perhaps denoting seagoing families, clans and tribes. In the center is a World Mountain and perhaps a Great Year calendric cosmology.
For a culture that learned from and imitated nature, cranes also might have provided models of social and courtship dances to bond and unite generations and groups of many origins, within natural cycles. Theseus did not invent “the” Crane Dance, but found it useful in that way. Davaras (1976: 63) points out that the geranos or Crane Dance that the hero and company performed on reaching Delos, with its "labyrinthine convolutions," was danced around a "horned altar" (denoting in Crete, as we've seen, the living presence of ancestors). Cranes still connect every land that first sent emigrants to Crete, and the countries where they landed in migrations of their own. The sample banding-decorations below, from Cyprian pottery of later times contemporary with Philistines, reflect the varied continuance of familiar signs and symbols.
Many cultures had mothered Minoan Crete, and according to Maeir (2008), the Sea Peoples’ future “Philistine culture by its very definition was a hybrid…deriving from many origins both from outside and inside Canaan,” with “negotiation” and a “melting pot” at the heart of its “habitus.” “A continued openness and receptivity to…neighboring cultures (e.g., Phoenician, Israelite, Egyptian, Cypriote, etc.) comprised the underlying mechanism behind the fascinating process of change, of acculturation, and/or creolization, which Philistine culture underwent until the end of the Iron Age” (351-2).
In contrast to Karageorghis, Yasur-Landau sees little evidence of direct important Cretan links to these peoples and Palestine (2010: 338)—except their possibly crane-“feathered hat” or cropped-plume headband, first attested at Phaistos in Crete (186). Yet a central means of their cohesion as they evolved in the islands and Cyprus was a familiar one. Eriksson’s 2008 “Feasting as Part of the Multiculturalism” there echoes Maeir’s list of participants during the years before full settlement in Palestine (his list including Hittites and without Israelites). Mountain-forms and horns of consecration traveled with feast traditions and had their places in many new Cyprus settlements and sanctuaries (Karageorghis 2000; Hitchcock 2005, 697): like the figure with upraised arms, seen with its central X in the third example of Cyprian pottery-decoration bands just above ( to the left of two mountain-forms and a diamond-shaped web).
The “Mycenaean” vase below from Enkomi, Cyprus, dates to perhaps 1300, and examples also come from Jordan. It appears that the crane in this example has jumped up through the bull’s horns. This is from a generation or two after the 1340 date (cited earlier, by Younger) for the end of Cretan bull-games.
Clearly there was violence both within and around the Sea Peoples’ tribes. Feasting and festival signs were in part social mechanisms for containing it (see “Coda”). In the first series of images above we saw Shardana members (possibly from western Mediterranean waters near Sardinia) wearing helmets with disks between their horns. In two wider detail-examples below, they are shown attacking Sea People family groups, as mercenaries for Ramses III. O’Connor’s 2000 study debates the elements of fact and Pharaonic propaganda in these reliefs.
Shardana and Shekelesh members of this “loose confederacy” of Sea Peoples had been recorded fighting on both sides of various Egyptian campaigns before this age. In some of the same disc-between-horns helmets (below), they fought Egypt’s old Libyan enemies too. Their changing alliances likely suited their evident preferences for well-dispersed power and independence within (for the most part) a league. That was the power structure they eventually built in Palestine—a confederacy of about 5 tribes, in time led or represented by at least 5 seranim, based in 5 main cities (1 Samuel 6: 4; and Shai 2006). According to Stern (2006: 385), when these same tribes had settled into the region’s northern Akko Valley, their religious forms still matched those of their kinsmen settled to the south.
In migrations, they “eschewed direct confrontations when possible,” Wachsmann observed. Where they did settle, Sea Peoples “absorbed parts of the local social strata, who then turned against their own state, or against its allies” (2000: 105). They “minimized the need for violence by choosing sites that were either small or already deserted” (Yasur-Landau 2010: 322). The growth of “Philistia” thereafter was marked by orderly development within the complex ways of a new place.
Although this vase above dates from a later generation of Sea Peoples settled at Ekron, its spirals—tracks of the sun, years, cycles—suggest a journey or journeys among islands. The island at left is unique for its solid-dark color and single enormous tree, in contrast to the even “tree-lines” that cover the other three land-forms. It would be surprising if this tableau was not “about” long travels by sea over time, from a place that was to be remembered as unique, a place that perhaps had a way of reaching toward the sky.
This vessel was a more typical later production of Philistines, with a pair of long-necked cranes flanking a spiral-wheeled cross. Its 4 dark and four light features total 8. In keeping with earlier configurations, the wheel makes 9. This wheel, in turn, is flanked by dark crescents with white outlines. If the first-listed features are Great Year signs, the crescents would correspond to Saros symbols. Ahead we will study them closely.
Before we see how their web design possibly denoting tribe, clan and/or family might have evolved in like associations with the Minoan Great Year, let us look at a place where these people lived in-between Crete and Palestine.
The “rural sanctuary” at Myrtou-Pigadhes stood in northwestern Cyprus between its Kyrenia range of mountains and the coastal plain. The mountain in the photo above dominates its landscape to the north. According to Taylor (1957) and Hitchcock (2008), the Pigadhes settlement and its “East Building” included fixtures for an olive press, a west court with a low bench running along it, and a “sump” (for the pouring of sacrificial blood into the earth, a rite typical of ancestral honors). It was also a place of community ceremonies involving “metallurgy and bovines,” or bulls. Taylor’s examples of designs painted on pottery included long-necked cranes (43, #191). Not least, the Pigadhes west court featured a “colossal stepped altar topped by horns of consecration” (Hitchcock 321), found in shattered pieces as shown in this detail from Taylor’s floor plan.
Next below, we see from two directions how this altar was restored; and a close-up of one of the “coffered blocks” as found. Their 4-fold patterns were assumed by the restorers to have been doubled on either side of the central horns. By the cut of the shape of the original stone horns, the altar virtually matches altar images from Knossos and Crete in earlier chapters.
In the final restoration diagram below (also from Taylor), all that seem missing are double axes instead of the horned forms atop their poles beside the altar. As we’ll see, the double axe has been found in Philistine contexts.
There is “no need” to see this as an “exclusively” Aegean or Near Eastern form, Hitchcock counsels (321); “yet its closest demonstrable cousins are on the Peak Sanctuary rhyton from Zakros and the ‘altar bases’ on the west court of Knossos.” We do not know how Pigadhes timed its rites and festivals, but the altar might be one colossal clue. Surrounding this possible World Mountain was a “sacred economy” (697) transplanted to many sites in Cyprus, a term that describes nothing so well as the organization of activities in and around the Labyrinth.
We should not expect identical beliefs among generations of post-Minoans and Mycenaeans, nor among them, their foreign fellows and hosts in Cyprus. Such would be impossible among peoples with “multiple” cultural roots, whose most visible (later) remains were “more likely to be expressions of the permeability of ethnic boundaries” rather than “rigid ethnic markers” (Russell 2009: 12).
Yet, as shown by Karageorghis (2001: 326) and Russell (2009), the “figure with upraised arms” also came into and remained in wide importance across these centuries in Crete and Cyprus (the plaque above came from Ugarit, where some evidence suggests that Aegeans had residences and tombs). The “cult meal” in the photo below of a Cyprian clay model includes frames on which snakes can be seen, a prime figure of the ancestors. (Further connections appear in Papadopoulos 1992.) The Great Year’s central symbols and components seem to have traveled.
What was so powerful about the feasting-customs at the center(s) of these cultures? One of the most penetrating passages in archaeological writing concerns Myrtou-Pigadhes via Hitchcock’s 2008 “Architectures” (323-325). Hitchcock brings her direct observations of “ritual sacrifice and feasting” at modern Mount Gerizim in Israel to bear upon what ancient participants at Pigadhes might have known. While decorated cult-objects, drinking-cups and ceremonies too were used to speak of identity and as part of the play of social power, Hitchcock reveals more profound levels of experience:
These features [of the place and ceremonies] include a court, a temenos [or sacred precinct for priests, officials and invited persons], a [public] viewing area, tethering and preparation areas [for animals to be sacrificed], a [blood-]collecting channel, roasting pits, and a large open grill set over a pit and serving as an altar….
Chanting proceeds for more than an hour and builds to a crescendo prior to the sacrifice. Approximately 45 sheep are simultaneously dispatched in a brief moment, with blood collected in a stone-lined channel as the children of the community mingle among the participants….
An ash altar is used to burn the viscera of the animals, the aroma mingling with aromatic wood shavings and sent heavenward….This is accompanied by preparation and display of the ritually slaughtered animals. When all is ready, the impaled animals are simultaneously cast into the roasting pits….
How does one give shape to the intangible realm of the senses?...I have crossed a spiritual threshold from the profane order of things into the sacred order of intimacy. It is a place…transporting the participant into the world of otherness and the sacred, through fasting [before the feast], through the intense heat and danger of the fire-pit: a growing anticipation and transformation heightened through rhythmic chanting. There is also a purposeful formlessness—where oppositions, of pollution and purity, disgust and desire, subject and object, inside and outside, all collapse….
I draw closer to the fire pit….again and again, drawing closer [and] then pushing backwards through the crowd in a near panic. The chanting seems to have been going on for hours, [and] time loses all meaning….Everywhere I look there is flesh and blood, gore and guts. The air is redolent with the stench…that permeates everything around me and through me. And as I am drawn further in, abhorrence melts into “anxious fascination.” I am changed forever….
Such might have been the sensual and spiritual intensity that bonded generations through many kinds of “raw, overwhelming experiences” that “resist… romanticization” (Hitchcock). Russell (2009: 12) would describe some of them in the far future as “a particularly cohesive Aegean element” among Sea Peoples: for all their aspects of comparative “disorder,” evidence continues to build that they were culturally able to preserve many clearly-old ways. Some of the tribes, too, might have bonded around a sense of being at war with much of the Near East, from the Hittites to Egypt.
Why? Killibrew (2006) details main theories of these turbulent times that issued in a “new” Near Eastern culture. Had their dispossessed elders taught them to despise the yet-enduring cultures around them, because of proud collective memory of what their forebears had lost by chance, intrigue and force? By the decades after 1200, many possible kinds of systems-collapse (reviewed in Astrom 1992, Drews 1993), which compare chronologically to new Mycenaean incursions into Cyprus (Karageorghis 1992, above), drove a coalition of Sea People tribes to abandon good things in Cyprus and their small-scale tactics: they mustered their greatest strength and turned on Egypt, still their world’s great military power.
Libyans and Mycenaeans had been raiding and fighting for Egypt long before. If the Sea Peoples’ objectives had become more than short-term, it was likely to plant new roots for their seagoing culture in the breadbasket of the Nile Delta. The Hyksos had done this centuries before, and a weakening Egypt rose to prevent a second colonization. Scholars generally accept that around 1176, Ramses III somehow trapped a critical mass of Sea Peoples’ ships in the Lower Nile’s narrow waterways, and inscribed images of the day on an outer wall of his temple at Medinet Habu, near Thebes.
Pharaoh planted the tribes’ survivors at the eastern “door” of Egypt and beyond it, in many places where Aegeans were already known: at first in the southern regions near Gaza, from which they later expanded into important former seats of Egypt’s weakening empire, Gezer and Aphek. According to Singer’s survey of this period (284), Ramses did so as the cornerstone of his 30-year effort to regain control of the region. In effect, he handed Egypt’s imperial problems—with the ever-feuding and recalcitrant kings of Canaan, and with inland “hill tribes”—over to Sea Peoples and Philistines.
By the end of Ramses’ reign, Philistines were nudging out the last Egyptian overlords (Singer 292, 330: Barako 2007) while they built themselves into the land. Canaanite city-states, for their part, “were not able to adapt to the new political situation or join forces against other more energetic groups,” a situation also detailed by Dever (2003) and by Finkelstein and Silberman (2001, 2006).
In this “relative respite,” Philistines and future Israelites “well-exploited” the opportunity to consolidate and fortify their territories (Singer 312). Dothan (1992) describes a growth from prosperous farms into crafts and trades, coupled with increasing reach by ship and caravan (Wachsmann 2000). At the same time, “different population groups, some of long standing in the country and some newcomers, lived alongside each other and influenced each other, even intermingling and assimilating to some extent” (Singer). In the midst of these human currents, languages and family-names crossed lines of blood and belief, as intermarriages will.
Beit Shemesh—a multi-level site in the Shephelah lowlands about halfway between Ashdod and Jerusalem—would have been a place conducive to these early close relations, with its own then-remarkable features. Its name means “House of the Sun.” Beneath this hilltop that overlooks a wide rich farming valley of grain and olive trees along the Sorek River, Israeli archaeologists report a unique X-shaped water reservoir deep in the bedrock, fed with rain by stone water-channels and accessed by a fine-built turning stair (Bunimovitz & Lederman 2009, 2011). And among the earliest notable remains of a 2-story building with a courtyard and “many rooms” was a plaque whose lotus-bearing female presents all the typical trappings of a “king,” in a “well-to-do” community of about 1500 people.
In pre-Philistine times around 1350, this self-styled “Mistress of the Lionesses” of Beit Shemesh had written letters to then-Pharaoh Akhenaten, asking help against “wild people” threatening her country. And yet in the century or so after this, Beit Shemesh went on as a rich (even gold-bearing) crossroads of a place—where Canaanite and Philistine pottery-fragments attest to their presence or contacts, in the midst of the evidence of dietary norms most typical of early Israelites (i.e., no traces of pork consumption).
Beit Shemesh stood right on the Philistine-Israelite frontier, with its share of the road controlling entry into Judah-tribal territories and rising toward Jerusalem. When the wars began with Philistine highland victories, that was where they eventually returned the Ark of the Covenant to Israelite farmers. As we’ll see in other places, the date of its unattributed destruction lies in Saul’s or David’s time, for in “Solomon’s” day it had to be rebuilt (according to The Jewish Virtual Library’s 2011 web-page on this site, via “The Israeli Foreign Ministry”). And yet, perhaps Philistines there had introduced and long-managed the land’s olive trees. For even much later, on that basis, the invading Assyrians took this site from Israel and handed control of it to long-rooted Philistines, who remained yet awhile (along with their kinsmen of Ekron) the masters of this major trade’s production.
As decades passed after 1176, farms and Philistine settlements arose as far east and inland as Ekron and Gath, while the sea and the ancient main highways of trade linked them to affiliated places beyond: Dor and Akko, emergent Phoenicia, and Beth Shan inland to the north, where the region’s best highways turned toward the riches of the East. Studies by Bierling, Dothan and Redford (all of 1992) detail these phases and connections as well. Given the clear presence of Aegeans and Philistines in these key places, they may yet prove to have practiced small-scale but international trade.
Yasur-Landau (2010: 303) described “very few cult objects in the first phase of Philistine settlement”: “a few bulls of Aegean style, a drinking vase in the shape of a lion’s head.” Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron yielded “small female figurines, crudely made, often painted.” Called “psi” figures, or “mourning” figurines for their presence in tombs, perhaps they should be called morning figures. “Their hands [were] raised upward”; like the arms of the Mycenaean example below, dated by Russell (2009: 6) to almost two centuries before any visible Near Eastern Philistines.
At center is a Sea People/Philistine “snake tube” from Beth Shan. At right is the carved ivory lid of a small container for unguents or perfumes, found at Ekron, and dated by Dothan (1992) to not long after 1200 BCE. Its outer circle, not unlike a zodiac round its pole star, features a pair of horned bulls at each side of the round, a lion and a griffin between: a snake perhaps has its presence in the griffin’s tail. The central design is formed by 4 concentric circles that surround 8 spokes of a wheel. The spokes cross the central point as X forms, and in keeping with previous examples, the shapes of 4 double axes are latent within them. Is this carving only a combat of beasts, one of them imaginary, and both combats won by a non-predator, bull? Or do the bulls’ horns merely overlap the other creatures? The bulls’ legs and muscular bodies do not suggest an aggressive forward-thrusting of their horns against the others.
If we are looking for signs of calendric continuities between Crete, the Aegean, Sea Peoples and Philistines, where do experts locate the sources and carriers of the signs and motifs in their central known expressions? Dothan (1982: 217) finds the Philistines’ main sources coming from the sea, mixed with clearly-Egyptian aspects, and deems local Canaanite borrowings “only faintly perceptible” until “the last phase of Philistine pottery”: the date-palm alone he calls an “absolutely certain” Canaanite motif (215).
Above, the first row with running spirals, X-forms and nest- or web-patterns, represents a main carrier of old designs to new places, in Mycenaean IIIC pottery. If Minoan signs were again being borrowed by migrant Mycenaeans, they must (as before) have been signs of significance. The second row of motifs above—spirals and anomalous loops, wheeled X-forms, webs, opposed crescents and doubled wheels—are early Philistine examples from Ashkelon (Dothan 1982). And Labrys (third row above) is not missing from their ceramic repertoire, nor from their temples (as we’ll see ahead).
Below, the next group gathered by Dothan illustrates more of the same varying motifs, now including (second row) the fruited or “breasted” tree attributed to Canaanite influence; mountain-forms and X sharing the same central/sacred position; and doubled spirals presented with the old Minoan writing-sign meaning “Snake” in Linear A/B (Chapter 5; and seen again soon below).
Not least in our pursuit of calendric connections, below are two more Philistine forms that seem to carry old ones. At left we see two examples of a gesture reminiscent of the Minoan “vegetal Labrys,” as each pair posed like a sprouting flower endows a symbol of time with signs of literal life (and in one, there again at center is the sign for “Snake”). At right, we find the Great Year cycle’s spiral-wheeled X bluntly juxtaposed with opposed crescents: a pairing that again reflects both the lights and shadows of the Great Year/Saros cycles.
The next example below dates from the first century of Philistine presence in seaside Ashkelon (circa 1175-1150, according to Stager 2008: I, 268, Fig. 15.33.3) With its doubled X-wheels and anomalous loops or shadows, it seems a classic expression of Great Year/Saros cycles. That unexplained “Snake” sign may also speak simply and consistently: below, it is centrally posted, probably “doubly sacred” with its flanking light-and-dark lines like a cartouche. Why?
If Snake was the Minoans’ sacred animal of Winter, this figure between two signs for Great Year cycles might correspond to the central calendric anchor of New Year Day at Winter Solstice: an ultimate expression of temporal and spiritual rebirth. Do these spiral-wheels and snakes not speak like the old Minoan masons’ marks of Labrys and Star—one symbolic of the calendric “way,” and the other signifying its promise or goal, the center-point of time and of infinite space?
Hopefully we have lost some certainty that these are “merely decorative” designs: for Gilboa, Cohen-Weinberger and Goren, they “must have carried a symbolic meaning” reflecting “group identity” (2006: 321). Let us look closely at the known symbols most common among descendants of the first Philistines, painted on the vessels of their trade and daily living.
To begin above, the heraldically-paired cranes (recognized by their long bent necks) are flanked by paired chevrons, which now appear to be “stylized into forms also like mountains and/or waves of the sea.” The same words describe the forms (4 + 4) carved into the sides of the Knossos throne. Above, there are also opposed-S forms between doubled bars of light and dark.
Above and below each possible solstice-pair, we find 4 distinct dots in doubled pairs, for a total of 8. This example also includes a curious, half-egg-shaped pair of opposed, half-shaded crescents: forms previously seen as possible allusions to eclipses, whose positions above are also not unlike a dado. Kinship, initiation, astronomy, rulership, afterlife: that was the visible complex of concerns addressed in the forms of Knossos’ central chamber. Below it seems that symbols speak of similar things.
This example of common Philistine banding patterns repeats around its host vessel as a pair of small but different webs flanking each large web. Groups of 4 vertical bars separate the panels, which are doubled at each web’s sides, and separated by cranes: the birds’ turned necks and heads suggest a crane’s sleeping position and a couchant heraldic posture. Birds, perhaps especially “sleeping” ones, appear to invoke the dead and the ancestors. These look back at once toward what might be the sea and/or the crests of mountains, and toward what might be their nests for their future young. Let us look closely at these two different nests that flank the greater web.
Do we have any visual vocabulary for reading these designs or images? So far we have the webbed Early Minoan triskeles-seal shown just above, and the nest of a tribally-sacred bird. What about those 4 curving figures that flank the nest at left in light and dark? If it seems imaginative to look for features of astronomy or calendrics among these “common” Philistine designs, we have seen these shapes before (Chapter 1), and that was among Minoan ideograms for heavenly bodies (here, example #110):
Let us see what more we can identify in the two designs magnified below.
The small web at left presents a weaving of lines that can evoke a crane’s nest, but our vocabulary makes it also a web of interconnected, multivalent X-forms or quincunxes. Trivial as this design may be to some, it begins to seem as common and persistent as a people’s understandings of time, and its prime examples have signal places in the Knossos throne room. In both designs, the web’s flanks (or, the nest’s edges) are 4 white crescents. At left, the 4 small crescents-and-hemispheres that match the Minoan ideogram attach or relate to the main design in two different ways.
Whatever those pairs are intended to be, they appear to require a horizontal line on which to rest, since that is what their two different positions have in common. As their nearest formal relatives speak of heavenly bodies, it is not impossible that each example’s dark-painted hemisphere evokes a weak Winter Solstice sun on a horizon, while its light crescent is a sign of New Moon. That combination of sun and moon is what we have in slightly different form on the throne of Knossos, the first of a Minoan Great Year’s doubled pair of signs. And here a doubled pair of heavenly bodies flanks the central web. If these designs are about identity and community, the Great Year’s cycles appear still integral to both.
What about the variant example at right? If we are dealing with quasi-random “mere decoration,” odds are high that it will not yield similar Great Year possibilities. So, let us look. This web presents only 2 of these forms attached to the web’s lower flanks. While they too match the ideogram above, the forms lack the first web example’s compound aspects of distinct dark hemispheres and white crescents. Yet, most striking is their difference in size. And what is the main difference between the two main lunar/solar events in a Great Year cycle? First, at New Moon/Winter Solstice, the moon and sun are both at the weakest but waxing points in their cycles, and then at Full Moon/Summer Solstice they are both at their peaks of power. Is it also accidental or even “more decorative” that while Minoans read their scripts from left to right, the much smaller flanking form is at left and the larger one at right? This asymmetric variant still qualifies to match the Great Year sequence and magnitudes of paired lunar/solar events.
Clearly, in the story of the post-Minoan peoples told in this chapter, there is too much time, loss, distance, and new experience shared with outsiders, to imagine that Philistines were unchanged Minoans. But that surety is not a license to ignore the clues to their connections that hide in plain sight—clues that, like traces of a real and long-effective calendar, seem to be where they should be (almost everywhere) once we recognize them. For another example, look below at Figure #109 of these Minoan signs for heavenly bodies. The “dot in a circle” at right in pair #109 is the same lunar/solar symbol that flanks, again in doubled pairs, the Philistines’ classic web in yet another form—which you can see in the vase just below, from Dothan (1982: Plate 9). Consistency among variations has to tell us something.
We can dismiss all as decoration. On that model, the Philistines “settled down, so that their cultural identity, if it ever existed in the first place, ceased to leave traces in the archaeological record” (Betancourt 2000: 297). On the other hand, if these continuities and variations suggest that cranes and their webbed nests were a Philistine tribal totem with Minoan symbolic roots, are these lunar/solar forms and numbers yet again coincidence? We would still have to account for the differences and asymmetries in the designs above, without resort to lack of imagination.
these comparison-examples reflect, these “nest” forms showed variations as well
as consistencies. Yasur-Landau (2010: 251):
This variability indicates the important display role of kraters [drinking-cups] in symposia [special social gatherings]. As the centerpiece of wine-serving kits, and laden with Aegean symbolism, they were used by hosts wishing to convey messages of ethnicity and common ancestry. However, the lack of uniformity in the [Philistine] krater assemblage also suggests a clear message of the independence and individuality of the host.
What of the large central Philistine web? It stretches between doubled 4-pillar bars. On what bases could it express relationships among those migrating, interwoven, Crete-remembering families? We have traditions that Crete’s mountain-goddess Diktynna leaped into the sea in defiance of a unwanted courtship, that fishermen caught her up in nets, and that soon she had become the Philistines’ goddess Derceto (below: sources in Burn, Graves Vol. 2, Macalister, Moscati). In Crete today, people call fishnet-fabric dikte. The large central web may give form to a tribal story of the (re)birth of their goddess and of their own (re)creation. Given these peoples’ employments of visual puns, the large web of countless quincunxes might also be Snake-skin. As evidenced, Snake was a likely ancestral grandfather of human beings.
Among Philistines, then, this banding may have had bonding purposes: historical and cosmic referents in the webs of Sea People families, no strangers to change and adaptation, who across their differences wove their wanderings in Great Year time from original homelands to new Near Eastern homes.
Where had time delivered them? According to Hitchcock, Horwitz and Maier, they were now “participating in an artistic milieu with continued internationalism and Cretan connections” (2013: 8). “[A] specifically Cretan connection to the Philistines is…preserved archaeologically in possible links with Linear A, particular artistic motifs and designs, plaster technology, architectural design, administrative practices, and symbolic ritual practices of offerings, destruction and curation” (9). To this we can add old connections with Europe as evidenced by the “wide diffusion” of their cutting-edge iron blades and tools (Dothan 1982: 25)—and, ahead again, by Labrys itself.
|An extraordinary Philistine kernos or ceremonial drinking-bowl from the cultural crossroads of Beit Shemesh. The bulls’ two pair of horns are lost, but ‘X’ lies between one’s horns as the other drinks deep. According to Dothan (1982: 224), its paint is red and black with a red spiral on the outside. “One of the [hollow] bulls’ heads points outward and obviously served as a spout....If one were to suck at the spout, any liquid in the bowl would be drawn up into the mouth of the drinking bull, along the tubular rim, and out through the spout.”|
A social way rooted in ancient ancestors: a political way based (as The Old Testament says) in a stubborn heterarchy of bonds across differences. If a calendar and its rhythm of feasts and festivals, too, endured as mechanisms of the Sea Peoples’ and Philistines’ cohesion over time, we might also expect to find their traces (as in Crete) connected to divinities and the symbols of their elites’ “divine sanction.” In the first visible generations of Philistines in Canaan, they had no male god (Dothan 1992: 156).
Perhaps their forebears, rooted in kinship within nature, had also “lacked” gods and kings, or experience had led them to dispense with supreme male figures. Yet, as Philistine farms took root, Derceto acquired a partner called Dagan or Dagon, whose defining traditions concerned the powers of spring, dew and rising grain (see Macalister, and Marinatos 2010: 93). As Dagon’s traditions emerged in a temple at Ugarit, his roots were in agriculture, and predated the rise of thundering, Baal-identified kings and royal warrior courts from Sumer to Ugarit. (Zeus, back in the old country, was reducing Labrys to his thunderbolt). In time, Derceto acquired sacred pools in her courtyards, Dagon a fish’s tail.
According to the few details about Philistine religious sanctuaries that come from The Bible and are judged mostly as reliable, people took care not to step on a threshold; and for Hitchcock (2005: 696), “transition-spaces” and “important entryways” had been sacred enough to merit “horns of consecration.” In Philistine temples and in public, women and men mixed freely—a seeming echo of “promiscuous” Minoan ways that had shocked Crete’s mainland mythographers. Nor did they win admiration at the roots of The Old Testament.
After the early period of very few religious artifacts (except for bulls and figures with upraised arms) came the “explosion of cult imagery, sanctuaries and cult objects,” likely related to a later wave of immigrants via Cyprus (Yasur-Landau 2010: 305). Few examples of a Philistine goddess survived. This one called Ashdoda came from the ancient coastal city of Ashdod. Scholars trace Ashdoda’s or perhaps Derceto’s form and aspects to Cyprus (Dothan 1992: 154; Karageorghis “Great”; Russell 2009; Yasur-Landau “Mothers” and 2010: 306). These in turn relate to Mycenaean and Minoan traditions of enthroned female figures; although Russell (5, 8) carefully speaks for more possible “hybrid” aspects in Ashdoda’s form, including Canaanite. “There is no conclusive evidence that Ashdoda is a foreign [Aegean] goddess, even if…a goddess at all” (5).
In Crete, Mount Dikte and its great cave were said to be the omphalos or navel of the world. Diktynna was a mountain goddess, another form identified with the World Mountain that entombed the dead and manifested their eternal life, whose “niche” was the portal of contact and cyclical rebirth. Philistine evidence to come posts a central name for her: Ptgyh, or Gi, or Gaia (Earth Mother).
Ashdoda’s breasts are flanked by doubled pairs of vertical forms like horns of consecration. Bulls have their places in Philistine symbolism. The horns are also like 4 mountains: each mountain has a double aspect, also in its dark and lighter element (8). We can dismiss that doubling as unintentional, but in the lower row of these forms along what might be called Ashdoda’s belly, we see another 5 forms in alternating dark and lighter color, producing a total of 9. Between the upper and lower horns or mountains is a 4-fold border of light and dark lines. Most forms studied here have included the Great Year’s main numbers (8 and/or 9) along with a half-cycle’s 4.
In comparison-detail there is more. At left, from Ashdoda, is the lower rank of mountain-forms: at right, the central pattern built into the Labrys studied in Chapter 6.
In Labrys’ central light-and-dark patterns, we found Griffin’s lightning and teeth descending from above: compare Ashdoda’s six white forms pointing down between the darker horns or mountains. Are they also Snake’s poison fangs? The teeth of a Lion/ess? According to Maeir (2006: 338) and Stern, Philistine sites have yielded 9 “head-cups” in Lioness form, two with open jaws and fangs (Stern 2006: 387-391).
The two central black forms above in the Ashdoda detail, as part of her throne’s lower row of “belly” markings, might correspond to stalagmites in mountain-caves of the underworld: a familiar vertical pairing, like halves of a portal or threshold, and evocative perhaps of Snake again, present as a pillar’s substance, its backbone. These at least are “sacred beasts” that might be referents of these decorations—as before, these 4 and no apparent others. Ashdoda “did not belong to the cultural baggage of the first Aegean migrants” (Yasur-Landau 2010: 306), but she clearly wears the signs of an older Mountain Mother. It might be a challenge to otherwise explain the web of X’s down the face of the lioness above. Karageorghis (2006: 541), with examples such as the vase-detail below, documents “strong Aegean—especially Minoan—influences.”
Compare these pointed forms further. The spout of the contemporary vessel at left above, with its chevrons and jagged light/dark patterns, shows what has been called (Russell for example) a Philistine imitation of Egyptian papyrus forms, a plant appropriate as well to “scenes” of cranes. But given the forms’ relative positions above, mountains—even islands in the sea—cannot be visually eliminated. Papyrus does not grow in high places just as cranes do not live on mountain peaks. Mountains would speak more than a borrowed and stylized floral decoration to tribes with old beliefs rooted in Crete and Cyprus. All things considered, Philistines accustomed to visual puns might find ancestral meanings in all of these referents.
Along Ashdoda’s lap, note again the pair of black upward-pointing cones. Between and on each side of them are three smaller gray ones. Altogether, as these multiple visual puns resolve, they might suggest a terrestrial landscape under a sky interlocking with mountains. Sacred peaks, presented in a rhythm of light and shadow. The black pair, “foregrounded” by their color and distinguished by their reaching to the upper horizontals, might comprise a third and central pair of horns of consecration.
As we look at Ashdoda again, 9 of her horn or mountain signs point upward: point through the doubled pair of consecrating horns that frame her breasts, and from there, toward this goddess’ head, by way of a neck that is extraordinarily elongated. Like a crane’s, or like a pillar, a cosmic axis.
Ashdoda’s stylized neck happens to reach from the upper mountains’ peaks to the high point of the composition’s cosmic structure. Applying the logic of evidences gathered, her head might be the Star Door. Compare the bird-like or stylized anonymity in aspects of Ashdoda’s head with the heads of figures on Minoan seals usually called, because of this detail, either anonymous priestesses/priests, demons, or deities: for example, the quasi-human figure beside the child with upraised arms in a bull-leaping seal (below, and studied near the end of Chapter 6).
Why are these beings bird-like? As noted (Chapter 7), in Crete-based traditions birds are signs, messengers and heralds of the dead and their Beyond. In the seal-image above, the bird-headed figure might be the helper or guide of both the dead (torn-apart) figure and of the newborn in the child. In terms of all these evidences concerning cosmic processes, the point between death and life would be at once the cave-tomb-womb of a goddess and the stellar Door. “Ashdoda” seems to be Great Year family.
Such are this study’s evidences of Great Year calendric continuities among Minoans after Knossos, Sea Peoples and their descendant Philistines.
We close by considering the emergence of kingship as brought on by hostilities between Philistines and Israelites, who, as Singer noted (above), had “lived alongside each other and influenced each other, even intermingling and assimilating to some extent” in the early periods of Philistine presence.
“The rulers used Aegean symbols of rulership, mainly the central hearth, to consolidate their power by ritual feasting and drinking in the Aegean manner” (Yasur-Landau 2010: 331). It appears that within a few early generations there were bi-cultural battalions of Philistine and early Hebrews, known as Cherethites or Keretites (a word with a root-reference to Crete).
If some of their affiliations included their family groups, their likely common grounds were the rewards of husbandry in the good southern hills of the Shephela, between Philistine cities and villages and the uplands of Judah (the home of long-settled “Jacob and Leah” tribes, Anderson 128; Faust, Kletter). Samson met Delilah there before he tried to match riddles with Minoan great-grandsons. What would Keretite battalions do? The everyday (hence “invisible”) things that go on in relatively stable times: normal policing of the highways of trade.
Why could Philistines and Israelites not coexist? They were both confederacies of “about 12” distinct tribes with an intense spiritual life. Some of both tribal groups became visible in Canaan/Palestine after traumatic experiences against Egypt. Early hybrid family-names suggest the close connections that normally (imperfectly) evolve at a multicultural crossroad. Most centrally—if this study of the Minoan Great Year is correct, and if The Old Testament reflects some Hebrew and Israelite tribal realities—they shared an ancient fundamental animus toward kings, in favor of their equal kinship groups.
Perhaps their conflict concerned something more mundane than religion and culture. After all, neither caused much trouble in their first generations of contact.
Note on the map above the two main north-south highways; and, their linking east-to-west route, from the sea up through Gezer and into the hills and mountains, where it joined the easternmost highway. Far beyond the map’s upper right limit, both main highways turned east across the vast plains stretching toward Aram Damascus, Mari and Babylon. Philistine chariot-horses came from highlands east of the Tigris, and Canaan imported dogs from India. These highways were rivers of wealth that flowed in spices, woods, tin, pearls, lapis, cloth, gold and indigo. Babylon wanted iron, good building-stone, Taurus Mountains silver, gold and copper.
Egyptian and Philistine contact with the East had two main choices. The Via Maris ran near the coastline and then turned inland, through northern Israelite hill-country, toward Hazor (the photo at left shows a pass in the Jezreel near Har-Megiddo, enroute to Aram Damascus). The other more eastern “watershed highway” passed close to places sacred to the Israelite and Eberu tribes (Schniedewind: good maps also in Cahill). The tomb of their patriarch Abram, purchased from a Hittite (Genesis 23), was at Hebron. Other sites close to this route included Shiloh, associated with the Ark of the Covenant, and Shechem, place of the Tent of Meeting.
Before we assume that this was guaranteed to bring conflict, recall that Ramses III planted Sea Peoples in a fractious crossroads country where law, as the book of Judges relates, was each his own. What Singer observes is that in the next phase—the near-30 years of Ramses’ reign and his “efforts to consolidate control in Palestine”— there came to Egypt “an unprecedented increase in the wealth and power of the royal temples and priestly apparatus” (290).
Where was the wealth coming from? Singer reaches no conclusion. At this time there was no commensurate pillage of Canaan. “The local populations” of Gaza and other centers were bringing “offerings” or taxes “mostly in grain” to Egyptian temples of the god Amon. Oren also (2006: 272-3) describes “a kind of Egyptian ‘renaissance’” in the region which is coming to be understood not in military terms, but as a result of Canaan’s being “administered by local, not Egyptian, rulers.” Their “function was to maintain trade activity in the region.” That had also been the function of Aegean “mercenaries” in these same places since at least the 1200s (Yasur-Landau 2010: 214-15).
Yet, no evidence has appeared to show any Philistine establishment or expansion into the eastward highlands. Finkelstein and Silberman’s 2006 David and Solomon confirms the lack of “any clue” in that regard (83). Yasur-Landau (2010: 344) agrees on the lack of “hinterland settlements.” Rather, according to Killebrew’s careful study (2006), new “substantial numbers of small villages” were building in the inland Hebrew/Israelite “hill country” at this time; with “four-room houses,” “few, if any, public structures or fortifications; a proliferation of silos…cisterns…agricultural terraces,” and “most notably, a very limited repertoire of utilitarian ceramic containers” (567).
The most-inland points reached by Philistine power were at Beth Shan in the far north, at Bethlehem (according to The Bible) along the north-south highway; and at Gibeah, near the east-west midland road just north of the future Jerusalem. There, in the future King Saul’s home village, Philistines raised a “pillar,” to represent a “garrison”—which could have accomplished no more than safe conduct for caravans using these routes (2 Samuel 23). Only such orderly routes can explain the “favorable economic conditions” that also helped to bring about some settling-in of “pastoral nomads” on all sides of Philistine sites (Finkelstein and Silberman 2006: 77). As for Philistines themselves, the benefits of such a role appear in a new discovery at Gath, one of their largest and most important cities. (See the 2014 Oriental Institute lecture by Aren Maeir, “New Light on the Biblical Philistines,” at 41 minutes into his talk.) Chemical analysis of incense burned at Gath in several “breasted” cult stands shows that it included cinnamon and nutmeg—the source of which at the time was the far-eastern region known today as Sri Lanka. This, as Maeir remarks, is an extraordinarily long reach for any people of the place and time, unless they were involved enough in the main routes of trade to have earned their shares of it.
It seems hard to explain Egypt’s “unprecedented” fortunes unless Philistines had improved main trade-highway security. If seasoned and organized Philistines (former warriors and their sons) supplied only defensive escorts for moving caravans, their services would leave little or no highland trace. What we do know is that, then and there, Philistines were the only culture capable of facilitating this real effect that registered in Egypt; especially if they were advantaged with the fair relations of their first generations in Palestine. “Not all the local inhabitants [had been] expelled”: “strong local material culture traits” persisted through Philistine times (Yasur-Landau 2010: 329).
The core of Philistine “oppression” is their advantage in iron, but there does not seem to be much iron in the argument. There was far from enough iron in any circulation (roughly 1200-1000 BCE) to enable anyone’s domination. (Above, clockwise: a horned altar from Tel Dan, believed by some to have been a place of cultural mixing between Sea People “Danaans” and Eberu Danites; a goddess figure from Philistine Tel Qasile; its bronze-smelting furnace and its twin-pillared ritual sanctuary.) The secret of reliable iron was in the process of its tempering from ore to implement. But in any of the sources cited here, “oppression” appeared to have been no more than Philistine caution with weapons-grade metals, and a fee to sharpen tools (1 Samuel 13).
Philistine caution among people who, increasingly, would not eat, treaty or marry with them, and whose territories flanked their and Egypt’s crucial trade-routes. “Apparently…denying Philistine cultural traits [for example, pig-consumption]…was involved in the process of Israelite ethnogenesis” (Bunimovitz and Lederman 2006: 422). Such at least were the more-fastidious Israelites, as early-on distinct from the settled Jacob & Leah tribes (Eberu).
The emergence of Israelite from Canaanite, Eberu and other foundations was marked by “separatism”: recognized membership in a Covenant tribe, bodily signs such as circumcision, and sanctions against a multitude of outsiders’ practices, especially like the Philistines’. Indeed, what Killibrew finds “especially remarkable” (2006: 568) is the apparent “social boundaries” (569) and “ideological differences” even “between the [Hebrew/Israelite] lowland sites and some of the highland settlements” (571); “since many of these sites are within walking-distance of each other, but appear to have had no interaction or direct contact” (568).
“You for your part must make no covenant with the inhabitants of this country” (Judges 2). Obviously, feasting was not going to be able to play its usual social role. Can we better understand why not? It appears, from gathering evidence above and below, that the tribes who called themselves Israelites had from the start a very distinct agenda as they crossed the Jordan River, westwards into what they called “Promised Land” (Joshua 4:19)—quite distinct, according to Anderson (1975), from the life-ways of the settled Eberu.
"Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them." “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon, and from the great river Euphrates to the western sea” (Joshua 1: 2-3; Deuteronomy 11: 24).
At left above is a gilgal—a “foot-shaped gathering camp” for “assemblies, preparation for battle, and rituals,” built by “an organized community that had a central leadership” (Gilat 2009). According to archaeologists from Haifa University, at least five gilgal lay in the western Jordan Valley and adjacent Samarian hills, “dated by animal bones and ceramics through the early 1200s BCE.” The Bible uses the word as a singular place-name, where Joshua raised 12 stones symbolic of their tribes, and the Israelites first circumcised themselves in dedication to their Covenant. And when “the Canaanites in the coastal region heard[,]...their hearts grew faint, and their spirits failed them” in fear (Joshua 5).
Perhaps they knew, as explained in Gilat’s interview, that “the ‘foot’ held much significance as a symbol...of [Israelite] ownership over Canaan, of the link between the people and God’s promise to inherit the land, and of defeating the enemy underfoot.”
From this or these gilgal commenced at least the Biblical claims of conquest: Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, Lachish and more. This phase culminated in the destruction of the then-most-powerful northern city of the Great Trunk Road’s international trade—Hazor (Joshua 11). On the temple stele from Hazor at right above, a pair of upraised arms and hands reach toward a disc and crescent.
Consider that Yadin (1972: 108) dated Hazor’s actual destruction at around 1230 BCE. (Disputes below.) If he was right, within that generation Egypt’s next imperial campaign, to re-establish an order suited to its interests, fell to Pharaoh Merneptah around 1210. That was the campaign that gave us the famous Merneptah Stele, which, among its claims to have crushed many local peoples, brings the name of Israel into world history.
In this case, and later as will appear, it seems that when something or someone got in the way of international trade, Egypt always came back into the country with a heavy-handed vengeance. Perhaps if the earliest Israelites destroyed Hazor, they were not prepared to take over as administrators and guardians, and the region’s roads became unworkably lawless. As Rabinovich and Silberman evaluate the evidences (1998):
|...The Egyptians could be responsible [for the end of Hazor]. Pharaoh Seti I, in an inscription describing his military campaign against Canaan c. 1300 B.C., claimed to have destroyed Hazor. Ramses II could have conquered the city, either on his way north to Syria before the Battle of Kadesh in 1275 BCE, or on his return to Egypt. Yet, Ben-Tor [who dug at Hazor in the 1990s] believes that the intentional smashing of statues at Hazor, particularly those of the Egyptian kings, makes these possibilities unlikely. He also dismisses the likelihood of destruction at the hands of a rival Canaanite city-state because of the apparent absence of nearby cities powerful enough to attack Hazor. As for the Sea Peoples, Ben-Tor notes that not a single sherd of their distinctive decorated pottery has been found in the city, which is much further inland than the sites they are known to have conquered. That leaves the Israelites.|
When Saul became “king” at last, he declared war by smashing the one available fixed target: “the Philistine pillar that stood at Gibeah.” According to Schniedewind’s study (2006: 718), Gibeah was just north of future Jerusalem, precisely at the mid-point of these crucial trading routes. Early on this land, Philistines also had use of the coastal Via Maris, its southern end anchored in Gaza. At Tel Masos near southern Beersheba, they worked beside Phoenicians to reach the East that way (Finkelstein/Silberman 2006: 76). But the northern end of the Via Maris presented increasing obstacles, where “an aggressive highland entity” had likely defeated Canaan’s best forces behind Sisera (81).
These were the roads of East/West trade before Pharaohs learned of Babylon, before Sea Peoples or Israelites existed to claim any lands along them. Generations of Pharaohs had campaigned to keep these roads secure, and/or to extort their own cut of the action: they virtually never stationed troops in the “highlands” (78). Their goal was to maintain the roads as satisfactory instruments of many kingdoms’ trade.
Philistines with any hope of highland conquest seem impossible to demonstrate. Those who kept the roads safe almost certainly charged a fee, as Knossos had once kept the sea-lanes open. If Philistines wanted Israelite lands, or to wipe them out, they invested nothing in a base of such operations up there, even after their major battle-victory near Aphek (1 Samuel 10). By about 1050 BCE, they apparently did burn Shiloh, which by then might have seemed a center of highway troubles (Stager 2006: 380). Such was the Egyptian perception later (below). If for a time Philistines held the captured Ark of the Covenant, we have only the Hebrew account of why they sent it back.
Time and again, “culture wars” prove to be about control of trade. Philistines would have invested real strength against being strangled on one side of their middleman’s place between the sea and the spice roads. A vague complaint of their harsh monopoly, without evidence and echoed by nobody else, seems to tell truth in projection-form. A harsh or costly control of highway trade, on the other hand, slowly imposed with the highland tribes’ increasing strength, would have “gathered the Philistines for war.” (After their decline, it “gathered” Egypt back into the role: below).
When the highland skirmishes grew bloodier and turned against Philistines at Michmash and Mizpah—in the same central regions—The Bible says that many of the Keretites and others who straddled these cultures joined with the Israelite forces. In time they became David’s life-long loyal bodyguard.
According only to Biblical tradition, the Philistines crushed Saul, but the ensuing period ascribed to David wore down their unity and power. Their “rulership” had been one of “modest needs” and “modest abilities” (Yasur-Landau 2010: 332). Anointed king of Israel at Hebron, quickly in control of the central highlands by way of Jerusalem, David and then Solomon held their supposed thrones across the decades when most Philistine cities were burned, around and after 1000 BCE. It is circumstance vs. means, motive and opportunity.
Macalister was skeptical that a few military defeats had put the Philistines into cultural decline. Their original migrations had required no vast fleet of ships: neither would late emigrations. (Some clues in Coda to their future fortunes). Yet, an inscription from a Philistine “king” of Ekron 400 years after this time attests to some core-continuities among those who remained; stating that he has built a “temple...for Ptgyh his lady, may she bless him, and protect him, and prolong his days, and bless his land” (in Yasur-Landau 2001: 337). As noted, Schafer-Lichtenberger’s work also details Ptgyh as Gi or Gaia, Earth Mother.
Egypt’s fortunes after the Sea Peoples’/Philistines’ settlement were one external and early register of their effects. Finkelstein and Silberman (David 76-83) reveal something similar and important at the latter end, in the period not long after the Philistine-Israelite wars.
Within 50 years of Israel’s ascendancy, Egypt awakened to “recognize a threat” to its secure trade-routes (78, 81: see also Shai 2006: 355). The Libyan or Berber Pharaoh Shishak or Sheshonq I overcame “long reluctance…to venture into the rugged, forested highlands,” and smashed through the central highland villages of Israel’s “northern highland polity.” This campaign (circa 950 BCE) also “regained control of the southern trade routes” (David 81).
This must cast light back onto what had been acquired by wars upon the Philistines. When each group of tribes had applied their conceptions of themselves, of law and commerce to those roads, they put their differences in historical relief.
When the Philistines’ fortunes turned, someone at their coastal settlement Tel Qasile left “a bronze axe-adze” in its temple at the final moments (Mazar 1980: 39). Dothan bluntly attributes Tel Qasile’s destruction to “King David” (1992: 229). With the temple’s early “holy of holies” a “niche-like space” (67) given way to a “raised platform” or altar, the axe-head lay among cylindrical “cult stands,” an iron bracelet, and a large ritual bowl in the midst of familiar “benches.” These finds left behind after “plundering,” along with Minoan-style triton or trumpet-shells (Mazar 118), date to about 980 BCE: Mazar described a “mixed” population of Sea Peoples and Canaanites living there with a strong “Aegean strand,” although not strong enough to include “Ashdoda” figurines (119).
Nevertheless, Hitchcock, Horwitz and Maier (2013: 4-5): “...[The] offering of bronze double axes indicates a significant occasion, perhaps the closing of the temple. The fact that [the bronze double axe-adze found there] approximated a double axe made it a worthy offering in a symbolically charged context, and indicates the survival of a Minoan ritual.” On one side of a vase from Tel Qasile (above at right), a Philistine leaper grasps a bull’s horns, watched and guided by cranes his kinsmen, and close by on the other is a fruitful pomegranate tree.
We have seen correlations between Minoan and Philistine limits on male political power: there is no mistaking as well the Hebrew tribes’ dislike and distrust of kings. We can either grant “Yahweh” a real part in this story, or accept that somebody human had been “seeking an occasion for quarrelling” (Judges 14).
There is no evidence of Hebrews and Israelites in these times being threatened with extermination or perpetual servitude, unless the latter meant avoiding the corvee labor gangs of Canaan’s failing kings (Dever). In Biblical episode after episode of early Hebrew encounters with Near Eastern city-states, those are the two choices offered by the insurgent Israelites to their enemies. Stalemated by the Philistines, their tribes made a choice for kingship based in war.
Samuel, a learned judge raised by women, was reluctant to anoint Saul a king like those of “other nations.” Here again, in multicultural contexts, kingship appeared to be evolving (if that is the term), becoming the kind we know. This was a threshold where, as in Crete, the new kings became visible, in Biblical terms much like the Mycenaeans’, as norms of power.
They brought linear history into a cyclical (dynamic steady-state) world; an imaginary collective “separation” from outsiders and “moral heroism” into complex relations among equal communities. In the midst of an ancient, adaptive, dynamically civilized order where gods had not been “that important to the expression of the cult” (Peatfield 2001: 54), gods, kingdoms, codes, mastery and wars moved to the fore; toward the displacement of people and spiritualized nature in what became Western signs and symbols, ceremonies, arts. The powers at the center of the Bull Leap fresco gave way to Power with new purposes, turning expression from cult toward king.
[Samuel said, 1: 8], This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you. He will take your sons, appoint them for himself, for chariots and to be his horsemen, and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make him his instruments of war.
He will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. He will take your fields, your vineyards and olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take your men- and maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen.
Hopefully this work can be considered evidence of the reality of the Minoan Great Year cycle, inscribed in the Bull Leap fresco from Knossos. It suggests that Crete’s cosmology of kinship was a force to keep the human minotaur at bay until factors more external than internal changed its ancient ways. Sumerian and Hittite councils of citizens had served in some ways to qualify kingship. This latter revolution in the office was a re-definition of being. Frankfort’s Kingship and the Gods (337-344):
The Hebrew king normally functioned in the profane sphere, not in the sacred sphere. He was the arbiter in disputes and the leader in war. He was emphatically not the leader in the [religious] cult….
The keeping of Yahweh’s covenant meant relinquishing a great deal. It meant, in a word, sacrificing…the harmonious integration of man’s life with the life of nature.
The Biblical accounts stress the orgiastic joys of the Canaanite cult of natural powers: we must remember that this cult also offered the serene awareness of being at one with the universe. In this experience ancient oriental religion rewarded its devotees with the peace of fulfillment.
But the boon was available only for those who believed that the divine was immanent in nature, and Hebrew religion rejected precisely this doctrine….It excluded, in particular, the king’s being instrumental in the integration of society and nature. It denied the possibility of such an integration….
To Hebrew thought, nature appeared devoid of divinity, and it was worse than futile to seek a harmony with created life, when only obedience…could bring peace and salvation….Every alleviation of the stern belief in God’s transcendence was corruption. In Hebrew religion—and in Hebrew religion alone—the ancient bond between man and nature was destroyed.
Those who served Yahweh must forego the richness, the fulfillment, and the consolation of a life that moves in time with the great rhythms of earth and sky. There were no festivals to celebrate it. No act of the king could promote it. Man remained outside nature, exploiting it for a livelihood…but never sharing in its mysterious life….
Calendar House has worked to investigate the 1972 discovery of the Minoan Great Year Calendar by Charles F. Herberger. As you judge his discovery and these further findings, hopefully the journey has shown that Minoan and Philistine cultures—based in natural cycles, their “dynamic steady states” still developing when disrupted and destroyed—present a Western heritage worthy of more understanding.
Their places at the foundations of facts will transform many kinds of learning. As the distinguished critic in the humanities Robert Scholes wrote (1992: 120), considering Bateson’s Ecology of Mind and the search for “new” thinking:
This revolution has put something like God back in the universe—but not a God made in man’s image, bursting with individualism and subject to temper tantrums when His will is thwarted. [Instead, this is] a God who truly “is not mocked” because It is the plan of the universe: the master system that sets the pattern for all others.
This God cannot intercede for His chosen favorites and suspend natural law. Nor can He promise comforts in some afterworld for pain endured here. Here is where It is. God is immanent. It offers us only the opportunity to learn Its ways, and to take pleasure in conforming to them.
For, certainly, there is only frustration in trying to thwart them.
The Minoan Great Year goes on.
Kings, are your lands in order?
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