A Unique Biblical-Era Head Could Depict an Ancient King

For several years, archaeologists have been exploring an ancient site in northern Israel they have identified as Abel-beth-maacah, a city mentioned in the biblical books of Samuel and Kings. Among their finds is an exquisitely sculpted miniature head, made from a material known as faience and likely dating to the 9th century BCE. Naama Yahalom-Mack describes the object’s significance:

The head measures 5.5 by 5 centimeters and has carefully executed features, including glossy black tresses combed back from a headband painted in yellow and black and a manicured beard of similar style and color as the hairdo. The tint of the skin is light green. The almond-shaped eyes and the pupils are lined with black and the pursed lips lend the figure a look that is part pensive, part stern. The tip of the nose and the beard are broken, and it is difficult to say whether the head was broken off at the neck. This is an important question, as it would indicate whether the head was part of a larger figure. . . .

To date, the object remains one of a kind. There are no exact parallels. Other bearded male heads are known in the Iron Age, but these are usually made of clay and are very crude. None are naturalistic like [this] figure. Several contemporary bearded male heads made of faience were found in the north of Israel, in sites such as Tel Dan and Tel Yokn’am. However, these are of different styles and none resembles [this] head in style or quality.

Its naturalistic depiction raises the possibility that a specific individual is being portrayed, but the figure could also very well be a general depiction of how the Egyptians viewed Asiatics, including Canaanites and Israelites—bearded and wearing a striped head band—particularly during the Ramesside period. . . . But unless the head was an heirloom from Ramesside Egypt, [making it] some 300 years earlier than the archaeological context in which it was found, its origin should be sought closer at hand. . . .

Whatever the origin, the question remains of why it was produced. The tidy hairdo with the concealed ears and . . . the high craftsmanship and uniqueness of the object indicate that the head was specially made for something or for someone. Was this the head of a royal figure or a dignitary? And if so, could we be staring at the face of a historical figure from the 9th century BCE?

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Read more at Ancient Near East Today

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat