Book: Levantine Entanglements
Chapter: 2. Cultural Production in the Iron Age Southern Levant
From the small, peripheral and fragmented region of the Levant came products that spread throughout world history, some still influencing current geopolitics. Most conspicuous among these are sacred scriptures and pilgrimage practices, but there are many other cultural hallmarks. Why did the marginal Levant come to produce such influential and resilient cultural paradigms? This essay considers the processes that generated and circulated cultural forms, practices, and values with an eye on the distribution of social power inherent in such production and circulation. It seems that Levantine fragmentation and connectivity, internal rivalry, and external exploitation (see ch. 1) generated a situation with cultural surplus and blending. Elite products imported from hegemonic cultures in the Levantine corridor were exposed to wider and less disciplined audiences than they had been designed for. Local elites adapted incoming cultural products to their own purposes, generating a venue of interplay between elite and popular cultures—generally in a sub-imperial discourse, passing under the radar of interest for the ruling empires. As examples of this mode of cultural production, the essay discusses the use of roll seals for branding pottery, the invention and use of the alphabetic script, and (briefly), the emergence of socially canonical collections of scriptures. All these demonstrate, in different ways, how the interplay between elite production and everyday practice adapted existing cultural products into forms that, in some cases, made them very resilient.