‘Dagon Our God’: Iron i Philistine Cult in Text and Archaeology

in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
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Despite the late date and dubious veracity of the Deuteronomistic history, and despite the Bible’s status as the only Bronze or Iron Age text which indisputably refers to Dagon in a southern Canaanite geographical context, scholars have traditionally accepted 1 Samuel 5:1–8’s portrayal of Philistine cult in the Iron Age i as being centered on this deity and his temple at Ashdod. This study marshals archaeological and historical evidence to assess the level of support for the presence of Dagon in Iron i Philistia, and for a temple at Ashdod as described in the biblical account. Also considered, through comparison with the materially analogous situation in the Bronze Age Aegean, is the critical role that a textual complement to physical evidence (or, in the case of the Philistines, the lack thereof) plays in cultic analysis and pantheonic reconstruction.

‘Dagon Our God’: Iron i Philistine Cult in Text and Archaeology

in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions

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2

Macalister 1914:4699–108. The historical acceptance of Dagon in the Iron i Philistine pantheon is far too long to list here in its entirety. Representative examples include (but are not limited to) Albright 1922; Montalbano 1951; Delcor 1964; Rahtjen 1965; C. Gordon 1966: 24; Stiebing 1970:143; M. Dothan 1971:21; T. Dothan 1982:20; Ahlström 1983; Wiggins 1993. On the other hand as will be dealt with in more detail below Singer (1992) agrees that Dagon was chief god of the Philistines based on the biblical account but does not accept that a cult of Dagan existed in Canaan before their arrival. Instead he argues that the Philistines introduced this god to the area they came to occupy suggesting that they adopted him either as they passed through northern Syria toward the southern Levantine coast or later from the Phoenicians.

4

R. Gordon 2004:22.

6

T. Dothan and Cohn 1994; Stager 1995; 2006:380; Barako 2000; 2001:11 f. The earliest stage of Philistine occupation has alternately been seen as the forcible settlement of an intrusive population by an Egypt whose hold on southern Canaan was still very strong at the time (Kitchen 2012:15) or as an unwelcome intrusive foothold that caused Ramesses iii to establish a cordon sanitaire around the southern coastal plain as “a defensive strategy designed to block Philistine expansion [and] to administer the areas of southern Palestine that remained under Egyptian control” (Weinstein 2012:164; Bietak 1993; Stager 1995:342; personal communication 2011).

7

M. Dothan and Porath 1993:10–11; Doumas 1998.

8

M. Dothan and Freedman 1967:81; M. Dothan 1971:24; 1979:126; 1989:65. M. Dothan placed the destruction at the end of the 19th Dynasty (thus the 13th–12th centuries absolute date for the stratum xivxiii transition). However the data from Ashdod’s excavations are not without problems as has been noted by Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz (2001; 2003); see also below.

9

M. Dothan and Freedman 1967:81–83; M. Dothan 1971:25–26; 1979:126; 1989:65; Ben-Shlomo Nodarou and Rutter 2011:337 344 346 Table 1 Figs. 4d–f.

11

M. Dothan 1979:129. Myc. iiic is also referred to in the relevant literature as (inter alia) Myc. iiic:1 Myc. iiic:1b lhiiic:1b White Painted Wheelmade iii Philistine Monochrome and Sea Peoples Monochrome (Kling 1991; T. Dothan and Zukerman 2004:2–3 with references).

13

M. Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2005:132. Much as settlement foundation size and orientation (as well as the intrusive population’s interaction with indigenous Canaanites) varied from site to site the differences in Philistine 2 pottery at Ashdod Ashkelon Ekron and Gath suggests that production developed distinctly if not independently at each Philistine site (Yasur-Landau 2010:286–294; Maeir 2012:20).

14

M. Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2005:161.

15

Stager 1995:335339; T. Dothan and Zukerman 2004:6 36 44; Ben-Shlomo 2010:194–195; Hitchcock 2011:269; Maier 2012:19; Zukerman 2012:300; T. Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2013:29; Mazow 2014:157.

17

Stager 1995:345.

18

Machinist 2000:65; Stager 2006:376.

19

Faust (2006) following Barth (1969) suggests that Israel’s ethnic identity was defined in contrast to Philistine culture and vice versa while Maier Hitchcock and Horwitz (2013:3) contend that “Philistine identity was initially focused on maintaining cohesion and preserving continuity with its own past and not with the establishment of an identity vis-à-vis local Levantine populations.”

20

Machinist 2000:65.

21

Machinist 2000:5469; Stone 1995.

22

Dothan and Dothan 1992:3–6; R. Gordon 2004:22.

23

T. Dothan and Cohn 1994:61. The term “Ark Narrative” refers to the story of the Ark of the Covenant’s transfer from Shiloh under the Elide priesthood to Jerusalem under the Davidic monarchy (1 Sam. 4:1–7:1 and 2 Sam. 6:1–19). It was coined by Rost (1965) who saw this as a cohesive narrative predating the surrounding portions of the book of Samuel.

24

Rahtjen 1965.

28

Singer 1992:435; Machinist personal communication 2010. Recent studies of Philistine cult and cultic implements include Mazar 2000; Gitin 2003; Ehrlich 2007.

29

Machinist 2000:59; cf. Noort 1994:174; Judg. 16:22; 1 Sam. 5:2–5 7; 1 Chron. 10:10. The Canaanite shift ā > ô results in dagān > dāgôn (Singer 1992:436; Wyatt 1999:112).

30

Crowell 2001:3439.

32

Crowell 2001:4055; Feliu 2003:302–304.

33

Dussaud 1935:179–180; Artzi 1968; Archi 1981; Healey 1988:107; Yon 1992.

34

Feliu 2003:302; but see Healey 1999:216.

35

Crowell 2001:66; Feliu 2003:302.

36

Feliu 2003:302Table 11.

37

Cf. Ahlström 1983.

38

Brug 1985 182–183; Artzi 1968:169; Mazar 2000:214; Singer 1992:435 439; 2000:224 n.10.

39

Pettinato 1976:4850; 1981:248; Pettinato and Waetzoldt 1985:238 n.24.

41

Feliu 2003:23 n.115. rs 11.840 an administrative text from Ugarit lists a Canaanite (kncny) and separately an Ashdodite (aḏddy) (Rainey 1996:4).

42

Cf. Crowell 2001:66.

44

Cf. Mazar 1985; 2000; Press 2007:85–91; Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:49; Dothan and Dothan 1992:156; Yasur-Landau 2010:305. According to Yasur-Landau (2001:333 n.22) a fragment from Tel Qasîle that may have held an infant pictured in Ben-Shlomo and Press (2009 fig. 8.2) “suggests an additional yet related role as a kourotrophos” though he offers the caveat that this is so only “if both types of figurines [that from Qasîle and the other non-childbearing figurines of Ashdoda type] represent different aspects of the same goddess and not different goddesses” altogether. However Press (2012:164–165) sees insufficient evidence for this role writing that “there is no clear indication that the arm is holding anything” and that “no other Ashdoda example . . . depicts a child pregnancy or any other attribute that might be associated with motherhood.” The implications of this will be discussed in greater detail below.

45

Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:49.

46

T. Dothan 1982:234–237; Yasur-Landau 2001:332; Press 2007:206–212; Russell 2009.

47

Brug 1985:185–186; Ehrlich 2007:39; Mazar 1985:122; 2000:233; Dothan & Dothan 1992:153; Vanschoonwinkel 1999:91; Yasur-Landau 2001:335; 2010:306; Russell 2009.

48

Hachlili 1971:129–130. As Press (2012:160) notes while this figurine is often referred to as “complete” because of its reconstructed status it has been restored (and some parts recreated) from its original fragmented state.

49

Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:49f; Press 2012a:162; Yasur-Landau 2001:331.

50

E.g. T. Dothan 1982:66160 215 Figs. 34:4 50:3 51:7 53:3 pl. 73:5; M. Dothan and Porath 1993:5 66 Fig 6; Dothan and Dothan 1992:153; Russell 2009:5.

51

Yasur-Landau 2001:332.

52

Dothan and Dothan 1992:154; Yasur-Landau 2001:332; Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:49; Press 2012a:163.

53

M. Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2005:166.

54

Press 2011:389.

55

M. Dothan 1971:161; Yasur-Landau 2001:335; Press 2011:388

57

Dothan and Dothan 1992:156–157; A. Mazar 2000:223; Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:49; Ben-Shlomo 2010:49.

58

Goodison and Morris 1998; Press 2012b.

59

Hachlili 1971; Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009fig. 9.

60

Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:53; arii §30.

62

Mazar 2000:216; Ben-Shlomo 2010:16; Maier 2012: 27 figs. 1.15–16. The correlation of Tell Qasile and Tell es-Safi temples may suggest that the two-column design was a regular feature of Philistine cultic architecture in the Iron i and iia.

63

Mazar 1973; 1980:3870 Table 14.

64

Mazar 1980:6267–68; T. Dothan and Cohn 1994:68.

65

Ben-Shlomo 2010:187; Maier 2012:30 fig. 1.16.

66

M. Dothan 1969:244; 1989:65; T. Dothan 1982:37; Dothan and Dothan 1992:166–167; M. Dothan and Porath 1993:54 pls. 14:2–3 15:1.

67

M. Dothan 1979:131; M. Dothan and Porath 1993:54 61.

69

Aja 2009:290; Yasur-Landau 2010:271–275; cf. T. Dothan 2003:201; Mazow 2005:350.

70

M. Dothan 1989:66; M. Dothan and Porath 1993:54. Interestingly this timeline appears to coincide with the appearance of Ashdoda figurines in the assemblage at Ashdod (see below) including in Area G where two Ashdoda seats of possible strata xiix were found (Press 2012a:194 n.9).

71

M. Dothan 1971:24.

72

T. Dothan 1982:41; M. Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2005 plan 2.5 fig. 2.16. See Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz (2001:238–239) for an alternative view of Ashdod’s status as a fortified site.

73

T. Dothan and Cohn 1994:69; Ben-Shlomo 2010:164.

74

Mazar and Ben-Shlomo 2005:25; Aja 2009:299; Ben-Shlomo 2010:186.

76

Mazar 2000:223. Ben-Shlomo (2010:187) refers to Building 350 at Ekron as “a public building of some sort but probably not a temple.”

77

Mazar and Ben-Shlomo 2005:26plans 2.5–2.6.

78

T. Dothan 1994:44; 2003:201; 1997:103; Dothan and Dothan 1992:153; Mazar and Ben-Shlomo 2005:26; Aja 2009:301–302.

79

Mazar and Ben-Shlomo 2005:28–30.

80

Mazar and Ben-Shlomo 2005:22.

81

M. Dothan and Porath 1993:72plan 10.

82

M. Dothan and Porath 1993:72pls. 22:1–3 23:1; T. Dothan 2003:202 204–207 figs 13–15; Mazow 2007; Stager et al. 2008:265–267 figs. 15:22 30–31.

83

Hägg 1981figs. 1–2. T. Dothan (2003:201) also notes the similarity between Room 9 of House ii at Panagia Mycenae (lhiiib) and the central hall of B5337. Of particular note is the 1.7×1m hearth flanked by two column bases which is similar to the layout of B5337’s central hall. However the parallel is not exact: Room 9 was significantly smaller than the central hall of B5337 (ca. 26m2 for Room 9 vs. nearly 43m2 for B5337 at Ashdod) while Shear (1987:29–31 n.16) also suggests that the columns in Room 9 were later additions put in place to support a sagging ceiling.

84

Mazar and Ben-Shlomo 2005:26.

85

Mazar and Ben-Shlomo 2005:30.

86

Aja 2009:300.

87

M. Dothan 1971:1921.

90

Attridge and Oden Jr. 1981:809811; cf. Baumgarten 1981:188–190.

91

Maier 1998:501–502; Deutsch and Heltzer 1995 no. 42. Younger (2007:118 120) posits that the arrowhead if properly associated with Dagan is the latest attested personal name with this divine element (cf. Crowell 2001:48–50 with references).

92

Singer 1992:434–435; Machinist 2000:59. See Wyatt (1999) for a discussion of combination and conflation of Asherah and Astarte in the biblical text.

93

Singer 1992:434–435; Machinist 2000:59; Noort 1994:174.

94

Cf. Macalister 1914:93–94; Delcor 1964:153; Stager 2006:383–384.

95

M. Dothan 1971:21.

96

Singer 1992; 2000; cf. also C. Gordon 1966:24; Macalister 1914:105.

98

Ehrlich 2007:36; Machinist personal communication 2010.

99

Press 2012a:161; cf. Hachlili 1971:129–130 133–134; T. Dothan 1982:251; Dothan and Dothan 1992:156. Further Press (2007:205–206 243–245) has questioned whether the “Late Ashdoda” figurines are seated human figures at all (also Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:56; contra T. Dothan 1982:227–228).

100

Press 2007:205–206243–245.

101

Ben-Shlomo and Press 2009:55.

102

Singer 1992:445.

104

Maeir 2006:338 n.1; Mazar 2000:223 225.

105

Mazar 2000:223; Maeir 2006:341.

106

Mazar 1980:133 n.15.

107

Gitin T. Dothan and Naveh 1997:12; Naveh 1998; Yasur-Landau 2001:337.

110

Schäfer-Lichtenberger 2015. On the transplantation of this cult from Delphi to Philistia she writes “As the goddess of oath of a group of emigrants she can by all means have played a prominent role in the success of the colonization at the new place of settlement as Gaia’s worship would have maintained the group identity” (Schäfer-Lichtenberger 2015:356).

111

Press 2012b:8; cf. Yasur-Landau 2001:333. As noted above the possibility that Ashdoda bore an additional identity as a kourotrophos may be based on a misreading of a figurine fragment from Tel Qasîle (Press 2012a:164–165).

112

Goodison and Morris 1998a; Press 2012bwith extensive references.

113

Dickinson 1994:173–184; Goodison and Morris 1998; Pearfield 2000; Moss 2005:151–209; Morris 2006.

114

Evans 1928:277.

115

Coldstream 1984:99; cf. also Bendall 2001; Kopaka 2001; Kyriakidis 2001; Press 2012b. Potnia who according to Thomas and Wedde (2001:13) “as a specific goddess or more than one female divinity or aspects of a single deity remains the symbol of the modern beholder’s desperate search for a cohesive image of the Aegean Bronze Age religions” (cf. Morris 2001:429; also Godart 2001 and Trümpy 2001 both with extensive further references) appears as many as 18 times between the Pylian and Knossian archives where the term is coupled each time with a name or toponymic determinant (Thomas and Wedde 2001:3 5; Morris 2001). Homer employs the term 69 times in Iliad and Odyssey as an epithet for inter alia Hera Hebe Artemis Athena Enyo Circe and Calypso (Iliad: Hera: I 551 568 iv 50 viii 198 218 471 xiii 826 xiv 159 xiv 197 222 263 300 329 xv 34 49 83 100 149 xvi 439 xviii 239 357 360 xix 106 xx 309; Hebe: iv 2. Artemis xxi 470; Athena: vi 305; Enyo: V 592; Potnia Mater: i 357 vi 264; 413 429 471 ix 561 584 xi 452 795 xiii 430 xvi 37 xvi 51 xviii 35 70 xix 291 xxii 239 341 352 xxiii 92 xxiv 126 701. Odyssey: Circe: viii 448 x 394 549 xii 36; Hera: iv 513; Calypso: I 14; nymph: v 149. Potnia mater: vi 30 154 xi 180 215 xi 546 xii 134 xv 385 461 xviii 5 xix 462 xxi 115 172 xxiv 333).

117

Blakolmer 2010:25.

119

Goodison and Morris 1998a; Press 2012b.

121

Crowell 2001:66.

122

Singer 1992:435.

123

Mazar 2000:213; Nagy 2010:313.

125

Finkelstein 2006:137–141.

126

E.g. Rost 1965:6–34; Miller and Roberts 1977; Willis 1971; Campbell 1975; Van Seters 1983:351; Gitay 1992.

127

Van Seters 1983:352; Smelik 1989.

128

Singer 1992; M. Dothan 1971:21.

Figures

  • View in gallery
    Principal sites in Israel with Philistine remains (M. Dothan Dothan 1992:79).
  • View in gallery
    Map of Tell Ashdod’s archaeological zones. B5233 and the Ashdoda were both discovered in Area H, at top left, while the potential cultic “high place” was situated at the northernmost end of Area G. (after M. Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2005, Plan 1.1).
  • View in gallery
    “Ashdoda” figurine 3 from stratum xii, Area H at Ashdod (after T. Dothan 1982:235).
  • View in gallery
    Area G, stratum xiii. At left (north) are the “altar” and pillar (installations 4242 and 4242a) (after M. Dothan and Porath 1993, plan 8).
  • View in gallery
    Area H, stratum xii. Building 5233, the structure featuring an apsidal construction that may have cultic significance, is located in grid R–7. B5337, featuring two column bases and a kurkar hearth, is in grids S–10 and T–10 (after M. Dothan and Ben-Shlomo 2005:22).
  • View in gallery
    Area H, local strata 4-1 (equivalent to general strata xivi). The building where the complete Ashdoda was discovered is Building 5032, a polygonal structure located in grid R-6. The southern end of B5233, the apsidal structure, is just north of B5032 in R-7 (after M. Dothan 1971:160).

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