Book: Framing Archaeology in the Near East
Chapter: The Kingdom of Edom? A Critical Reappraisal of the Edomite State Model
Syro-Palestinian archaeology has been traditionally slow to incorporate the terminology, discussions and methods developed in mainstream world archaeology. Fortunately, the recent decades have seen a burst of studies trying to understand old and new archaeological data through the lenses of social theory. The history of scholarship on the emergence of complex societies in Iron Age southern Transjordan (the biblical kingdom of Edom) is a perfect example of this phenomenon. This polity has been studied since the beginning of archaeological research in the area under the lenses of the model of the modern nation-state. Edom was seen as a “kingdom” or “monarchy” with all those “national” attributes that we commonly ascribe to modern states. Since the 1990s scholarly views on Edom have been thoroughly influenced by a new current of research that stresses tribalism as the most important factor working in the Transjordanian societies in the Iron Age. Thus, Edom has been named a “tribal kingdom”, a “segmentary society” and a “nation” of trans-local groups sharing an artificial kin relationship. However, models that acknowledge the important role of kin-based organizations in one way or the other implicitly view the State as the model upon which the local groups, being they tribes, clans or families, should be accommodated. Late Iron Age Edom, even if presents evidences of a hierarchical society in Buseirah, cannot be subsumed under the category of State. Buseirah can be better interpreted as a chiefdom, whose sovereignty was limited to its hinterland.