Thursday, June 25, 2015


Judith S. McKenzie et al. , The Nabataean Temple at Khirbet et-Tannur, Jordan. Volume 1: Architecture and Religion. Volume 2: Cultic Offerings, Vessels, and Other Specialist Reports. Final Report on Nelson Glueck's 1937 Excavation. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 67-68. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, in collaboration with Manar al-Athar, University of Oxford, 2013. Pp. xxvii, 340; xx, 329. ISBN 9780897570350; 9780897570367. $89.95; $89.95.

Reviewed by Laïla Nehmé, CNRS–UMR8167, Paris (

Version at BMCR home site

These two volumes form the long-awaited publication of the excavations undertaken at Khirbet et-Tannur, in southern Jordan, in 1937 by Nelson Glueck, then the director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, supported by a team of archaeologists, architects, draftsmen and photographers. These excavations were never fully published because of the delay imposed by World War II and due to Glueck's busy career, particularly, from 1947 onwards, as president of the Cincinnati Hebrew Union College.

This publication offers for the first time to the academic world a complete study of all the artifacts that were collected or uncovered during Glueck's excavations. This explains the large number of contributors, each of whom took charge of one category of artifacts: Sarah Whitcher Kansa the bones; Wilma Wetterstrom the seeds; Deirdre G. Barrett the lamps; Stephan G. Schmid and Catherine S. Alexander the pottery; Margaret O'Hea the glassware; Judith McKenzie, Andres Reyes and Elias Khamis the metal objects; and John F. Healey the inscriptions. In addition, Nadine Schibille presented the chemical analysis of the glassware; Patrick Degryse published the findings of the isotopic analysis; and David Gilmour offered a microstructural analysis of an iron hinge. Two short contributions, one on the zodiac of Tannur by Owen Gingerich and one on the well-known zodiac lamp from Petra by Kate da Costa, complement the panel of studies. The context of the finds was noted whenever possible by McKenzie, who also proposed a new interpretation of the chronology and phases of the temple complex, followed by hypotheses on the architectural reconstructions. The result is a praiseworthy multidisciplinary work.

The publication consists of two volumes. The first contains Part I – Architecture and Religion, while the second contains Part II – Excavation Records, and Part III – Specialist Reports. The latter are devoted to the various categories of artifacts listed above and constitute ten independent chapters of 160 pages altogether. The excavation records that constitute Part II provide the reader, at the beginning of the second volume, with the following three useful documents: a list of the loci as they appear in Glueck's excavation records, a transcript of Glueck's excavation journal, and Glueck's registration book. Each volume is provided with its own index and list of illustrations. The majority of the photographs are black and white prints from Glueck's archive.

Part I, which forms the most important part of the publication and which was written mainly by McKenzie, is divided into six chapters of varied length: introduction (38 pages), architecture and phases (140 pages), iconographic program (40 pages), religious practice (38 pages), and iconoclasm (22 pages). It is followed by a glossary and a bibliography.

Chapter 1, the Introduction, focuses on Khirbet et-Tannur, its first exploration in 1936 and its excavation in 1937 by Glueck, and on the fate of the Tannur sculptures, half of which were crated up for shipment to the US in 1939. This is followed by an evocation of life at the American School and the influence Sir Flinders Petrie and Clarence S. Fisher had on Glueck. Glueck's methodology is then presented, stressing that he was ahead of his time because he cared to take a great variety of samples. The excavation strategy and recording system (excavation diary with daily entries and a registration book of most objects) are also described in some detail. Finally, the various studies undertaken on the material from Tannur are described and the main conclusions drawn from them are presented.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the architecture and phases of the temple. The temple is first examined in relation to Khirbet edh-Dharih, the neighbouring village. Then the general phasing of the temple complex is discussed, based on a thorough examination and systematic analysis of all the available data; this section is sometimes difficult to follow because of the complexity of the architecture and its decoration. Note that a very useful summary of the chronology of Tannur is given in Chapter 4, p. 234.

McKenzie offers the following four phases:

– The early phase is divided into two sub-phases dated to the 2nd and 1st centuries BC (a walled rubble platform with an altar, a court that had most likely three rooms on its northern side) and the 1st century AD (the same altar with a rough enclosure wall surrounding it, a court extending in the front to an open area with rooms along the northern and southern sides). These phases ended with a major fire and earthquake. These two phases could probably be termed 1a and 1b.
– The main construction phase, called "Period 2", is presented in detail (p. 59–137). This phase is dated to the first half of the 2nd century AD by comparison with the temple of Khirbet edh-Dharih, since both temples were built by the same architects and sculptors. From p. 65 to 137, McKenzie gives a detailed description of the architectural elements, their layout, and their chronology. This section also addresses the presentation of the cult statues, busts showing deities and representations of Nike, sculptures of eagles and snakes, etc., that were part of this architectural and iconographic program.
– Repairs, grouped under "Period 3", were undertaken after an earthquake had damaged some of the structures. The architectural decoration and architectural sculptures that were rebuilt or repaired during this phase are presented in detail with many illustrations. No absolute date is suggested for Period 3 but it is later than Period 2, i.e. later than the first half of the 2nd century, with a possible gap between the two, which would push its date back to late 2nd or 3rd century AD. McKenzie notes that the repaired temple was still used in some capacity in the 3rd century.
– The last section, "Later worship and destruction", could be considered a fourth phase. It is characterized by "squatter" occupation and by a continuation of worship at the altar and associated banqueting halls until the site was destroyed in AD 363 by an earthquake. The site was re-visited and its temple used as a church in the 5th or after the early 6th century, when Khirbet edh-Dharih was re-occupied.

Chapter 3 is devoted to the iconographic program of Khirbet et-Tannur, all the key elements of which go back to Period 2. More specifically, this chapter presents the iconography of the Edomite deity Qôs and of the main male and female deities worshipped at Tannur. It also discusses the famous so-called Vegetation goddess panel, representations of Tyche, the zodiac, etc. An "overall interpretation" paragraph (p. 225–226) summarises the author's view on the deities worshipped at Tannur. Very convincingly, she concludes that only one male storm god and one fertility goddess were worshipped there, both of whom, supported by the heavenly bodies, ensured agricultural abundance. Their attributes derived from/were inspired by/were borrowed from the iconography of the supreme deities of the cultures with whom the Nabataeans were in contact — the Syrian Hadad, Egyptian Serapis, Greek Zeus, and Roman Jupiter for the storm god and the Egyptian Isis, Vegetation goddess, and Tyche for the female deity.

Chapter 4 deals with ritual practices at Tannur, including animal sacrifices and ritual feasting, the offerings of grains and cakes, and the burning of incense. This synthesis considers all the available material. Small dedications and ritual objects are also presented in this chapter, such as boxes, incense altars, betyls, and lamps. The analysis of the zodiac suggests that a "major spring festival would have occurred in Nisān (March/April) to mark the New Year" (p. 249).

Chapter 5 discusses iconoclastic practices at Petra, Tannur, and Khirbet edh-Dharih.

As stated above, Volume 2 contains Part II – Excavation Records, and Part III – Specialist Reports. The contents of the second part are described above. Part III consists of 160 pages and is divided into ten chapters; they include chapters on:

– the Nabataean inscriptions: four already published inscriptions associated with the sanctuary of the 1st century BC. The third line of no. 4 is read as ḥwrwy but it is probably better and simpler to read it as ḥwrwʾ. Indeed, the alif is relatively clear on fig. 9.4B, whereas the ligature between the w and the y would be unusual, as pointed out by Healey. Moreover, the reading ḥwrw accords with the reading of this toponym in inscription no. 3;
– the altars: the catalogue of fourteen altars is arranged by type, which provides a good overview of this kind of material in Tannur;
– the animal bones: mainly young sheep and goats, which form the majority of the heavily burnt bones (for a catalogue of the identified animal bones at Tannur, see p. 82–113). The main findings are summarised in a short list on p. 81. It is suggested that sheep and goats were slaughtered outside the temple complex because of the shortage of toe bones and the lack of cranial bones and mandibles;
– the faunal remains: the samples include cereals, charcoal fragments deriving from six or seven different types of wood, and burnt offerings of bread or cakes, which the author calls "vesicular material." The author points out that in contrast to other Jordanian sites, emmer wheat is the dominant cereal at Tannur and refers on p. 121 to Charlène Bouchaud when stating that emmer wheat was used in rituals at Khirbet et-Tannur for religious purposes. It seems, however, that Bouchaud suggested this as a mere possibility that needs to be verified and more carefully examined. In any event, it is dangerous to make such an interpretation based on a small sample;
– the metals: presented in the form of a catalogue organized by material, including copper, iron, and alloys. Note that the seven coins (two Seleucid, one Nabataean, and four unidentified) are also presented in this chapter;
– the glassware: studied in terms of typology and chemical analysis (see above);
– the lamps: 48 lamps are presented in a very useful typology-based catalogue;
– the pottery: a complete catalogue (p. 215–233) is followed by drawings (p. 235–313). A slightly revised chronology of painted Nabataean fine ware is proposed (with a possible earlier beginning for Dekorphase 1 and a later end of phase 3c (see Table 18.1 and discussion)). This should be kept in mind when dating other sites or monuments.

To these should be added the microstructural analysis of the iron door hinge mentioned above. All these studies are extremely useful because they make an enormous amount of old and often unknown material available to scholars, not only those interested in the Nabataeans but also those interested in the ancient Middle East in general, in religion and rituals, in technology and in various sorts of archaeological material.

In terms of the general layout of the book, the reviewer regrets two things: the fact that the footnotes do not appear at the bottom of each page but are grouped at the end of each chapter, and the fact that the plans of the temple of the Tannur complex are not all grouped in one place, which would have made it easier to follow the text. The axonometric reconstruction (fig. 30), the plan showing the location of the soundings (fig. 40), the Period 2 plan (fig. 51) and the Period 3 one (fig. 233) could have been gathered together after the maps for ease of consultation. But these are minor problems, one of which can be solved by a few photocopies. In addition, the data are sometimes presented in a muddled way that makes it difficult to fully appreciate the discussion, but it was a difficult task to collect all the information, interpret it and present it, and the result is astonishingly detailed and complete.

The enormous number of documents studied by the authors, their nature (an archive), and the fact that the excavation took place more than seventy years ago added to the complexity of the project and made this publication a real tour de force. It is therefore not surprising that it took Judith McKenzie, who is the real manager of this enterprise, almost ten years to collect, analyse, and understand all the information, and sometimes even to decrypt it, before she was able to produce a high standard excavation report.

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