Steiner Jerusalem III

I just got a copy, fortunately at quite a discount, of M. L. Steiner’s Excavations by Kathleen M. Kenyon in Jerusalem 1961-1967, Volume III (Copenhagen International Series, 9. New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001). I’m quite disappointed with it. Firstly, it’s a measly xvi+158 pages [at full price that’s roughly $1/page], which breaks down into widely spaced front matter, only 116 pages of text, a first appendix with is a 1.5 line-spaced “complete survey” of objects, and the odd second appendix which is a discourse on how long it would take to have built the MB II wall (by “Dr. Ir. Diny Boas-Vedder” — why is this here?), and the whopping five page bibliography. No index of course.

The book is an attempt at providing a synthesis of Kenyon’s findings, which were left in complete disarray, as Steiner notes (p. 2):

The documentation of the excavations was of varying quality. Some field notebooks could not be used because the location of the excavated layers was not noted while Kenyon’s own notes were largely undecipherable. On many section drawings deposit numbers and levels were missing, and on some plans the arrow defining orientation pointed to the south. Apart from such slovenliness there are more fundamental erros [sic, delightfully]. In most cases Kenyon herself drew the main sections, but she often did so only at the end of the season, when the square supervisors had already left. As a result the connection between her drawings and the data in the field notebooks was lacking. In some cases, the supervisor classified something as ‘rubble,’ whereas Kenyon plotted a series of floors. The main plans were all drawn at the end of the season by a surveyor, who plotted every stone present, without having any notion if these had been part of walls or just rubble. Needless to say, there are no deposit numbers on these plans.

Okay! Well, so much for the reputation of Kenyon as meticulous. This only confirms, in spades, what I’d heard of her methods elsewhere, the hushed whispers of “shoddy work.” Yet, she was so formidable that criticism was discouraged. So, what Steiner has here to work with is a bunch of non-data, the control over which is lost. If anything, this should all be a lesson to archaeologists everywhere: publish, or die and have everyone find out how wretched your methods really were.

Steiner also belongs to the camp of the “no Amarna age Jerusalem” which instantly made me realize I’d just wasted the money I did spend on this farrago. While she claims to be aimining for a synthesis of the Kenyon (non-)data with that from other earlier and later published excavations, such synthesis is cursory, more on the level of summary. In the entire book there is only one full plan of the City of David area, which doesn’t show all the requisite sites of Macalister, Shiloh, and other excavations mentioned in the text. Reich’s discoveries around the Gihon Spring, which reveal the city defenses around the spring and indicate the presence of a city wall upslope, are ignored (probably because they contradict her insistence on an unwalled city in the Late Bronze Age). Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this “synthesis” is the drawing of sweepingly dogmatic conclusions from the Non-Data of Slovenliness.

My recommendation: save your money. I have no confidence in either the presentation of the insufficiently detailed, indeed shockingly inadequate primary data, nor in any set of conclusions based upon such, especially when such conclusions contradict those of others, based on solid data.

5 Replies to “Steiner Jerusalem III”

  1. You really seem to detest this book… you could donate it to me as I’m sure I’ll need to refer to it at some point in my work on Jerusalem.

  2. I may actually take you up on that. Let me finish reading the whole thing and if I still find it so lackluster, I’ll write to get your address. “Detest” is too strong. “Highly disappointed by” is more like it.

  3. The book has been translated into arabic and Al Jazeera network is promoting it as the real deal. They must like what’s in it !

  4. Really? Well, I suppose that shows how basing conclusions on a lack of evidence (the old “negative proof” trick) can be utilized by all kinds of intellectually dishonest idealogues, irrespective of background. Of course, anything that denies a Jewish presence in Jerusalem at any time is immediately popular with Arab audiences in general.

    Already it appears that the sorting through the materials dumped from the Haram have proven that the Steiner/Kenyon book is wrong. Kenyon herself was woefully wrong in her restriction of late-pre-exilic and early-post-exilic Jerusalem to the eastern ridge, positing walls where none existed. As many have noted before, Kenyon was great on excavation, not so much on analysis. Steiner merely follows in her footsteps in the analysis. The only absolute evidence of presence or absence of a Judean kingdom in Jerusalem awaits further excavation, underneath the houses in the southern Tyropean valley and the Temple Mount. The top of the eastern ridge has obviously been scraped clean by later periods. Further excavation lower downslope into the Kidron may also contribute more, like the wall complex discovered which surrounded the Gihon spring, another supposed impossibility according to Kenyon, as I recall.

    The realia of pre-exilic Jerusalem are still being discovered, so it’s premature at best and dishonest at worst to maintain conclusions based on Kenyon’s excavations of decades ago, and her interpretations which were even then questionable. But, so it goes….

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