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The ASOR Family Tree: William Foxwell Albright

The ASOR Family Tree: William Foxwell Albright

An Elaboration on “Dawn and Descent: Social Network Analysis and the ASOR Family Trees”

The current issue of NEA includes the article “Dawn and Descent: Social Network Analysis and the ASOR Family Trees” by Diane Harris Cline, Eric H. Cline, and Rachel Hallote (NEA 87:2 2024:122-131). The article is based on a survey of ASOR members to determine educational experience and connections or family trees among the scholars. The results shed light on the “urban myth of William F. Albright as the ‘founder’ of biblical archaeology.” Instead the focus is on German Assyriologist Friedrich Delitzsch (122).

They identify five of the eight founding members of the ASOR executive committee has having a connection to Delitzsch.

Morris Jastrow Jr., University of Pennsylvania and student of Delitzsch
James Montgomery, University of Pennsylvania and student of Hermann Hilprect a student of Delizsch and later a professor at the University of Pennsylvania
Albert C. Clay, Yale, also a student of Hilprecht
George A. Barton, Bryn Mawr College, another Hilprecht student
Cyrus Adler, The Johns Hopkins University, student of Paul Haupt a student of Delitzsch and later a professor at Johns Hopkins and teacher of Albright.

Thus Albright becomes a grandson of Delitzsch with many cousins before becoming a founder in his own right. The authors note that the “three generation ‘Delitzsch to Haupt to Albright’ trajectory is a good example for demonstrating that one cannot assume students share the same opinions or worldviews as their mentor” (129).

In this series of blogs, I wish to address four issues:

1. the true patriarch of Albright’s biblical scholarship
2. the Delitzsch/Albright relationship
3. why Albright did not attend the University of Pennsylvania
4. the Haupt/Foxwell Albright relationship.

The examination of these issues supplements the work in the NEA article.


Albright traced the origin of his journey into biblical scholarship to a childhood incident at age 10 when he was first exposed to the world of archaeology in the library of his Methodist missionary parents in Chile.  The incident was so important that his biographers asked on page 1 of their biography in 1975:

What forces had shaped his mind up to the age of ten, that he should so covet, and then devour and absorb, a book on ancient history?[1]

The goal in this analysis is to answer that question.  In so doing, it is necessary to explore the meaning of Methodism to the child at this precise time.  Certainly one can attribute the incident at age 10 to chance, coincidence, or providence, a more traditional Methodist term.  However, it is possible to identify more specific actions and events which contributed to the reading of this book which launched him on the career which would define his life.  In other words, instead of using the story Albright told about his childhood to begin the attempt to understand him, one should see it as a conclusion to his early childhood or a focal point to the life he subsequently would lead. By so doing, it is possible to place the larger story of Albright’s life within context and thus more fully answer the question posed by his biographers.

The story of this pivotal childhood event first appeared in print as part of an autobiographical essay published in 1948.  As the adult Albright recalled, he was a child abroad in a hostile environment both as a “gringo” (American) and a “canuto” (Protestant) and as a result “never felt secure”.[2]  Albright wrote of “the unknown terrors in the street” where “[i]nsults were frequently interspersed with stones” and of his minimal contact with other children in “play.”[3]  Instead, this nearsighted child with a metal brace on his left hand withdrew to his own father’s library and the “solitary games of his own contrivance.”[4] As he later put it, he did not “have a taste for picnics and outings enjoyed by other children.”[5] Albright student and colleague, George Ernest Wright later repeated Albright’s self-references of being a canuto, a member of a minority in a hostile environment enduring spoken insults and thrown stones.[6] In this description of Albright’s early life, one may draw two conclusions: (1) there were physical dangers to his life as the child of Methodist missionaries (in Catholic Chile); (2) the library was a place of refuge and solace.

Writing further in his autobiographical essay in 1948 about his childhood over 50 years earlier, Albright said of himself in the third person:

From the age of six he spent much of his time constructing imaginary worlds in his mind, and telling himself interminable tales of the wars and adventures of their heroes, covering centuries of time and thousand of miles in space, thus unconsciously cultivating a pronounced bend toward historical synthesis.[7]

These musings have the ring of verisimilitude: young boys do do exactly that type of thing usually in play with other children and perhaps not quite on so large a scale.  The goal of “historical synthesis” is the vocabulary of the adult Albright reflecting on his childhood being father to the man.  Albright saw here continuity in his own life and it is that proclaimed continuity which makes this story so important.

Albright would subsequently elaborate on this description in 1956:

Beginning at about the age of 7 [versus age 6][8] I constructed immense imaginary worlds, each of them having centuries of history which I invented.  Each of these worlds had its own geography, rivers, seaports, cities, lakes, mountains, covering thousands of miles.  And there were rich merchants, beggars, interminable wars and heroes of epic proportions.  I suppose my love of the romantic and wonderful was inspired by Tennyson and by Becquer, a Spanish romantic author whom I read in the original at that time.[9]

Certainly, one does not doubt that Albright did, in fact, read the books of these authors in childhood, although not necessarily at age seven.  Furthermore, these words better reflect what one would expect from John Ronald Reul Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame than from the founder of the science of biblical archaeology.  Still, they reveal a child eager to enter the world of imagination even as his parents attempted to shield the child from the prevailing popular cultural influences.

As Albright further recalled in his autobiographical essay, at age eight he became intensely interested in archaeology and biblical antiquities.[10] No explanation is provided of why such an interest in archaeology clicked in his mind.  Given the occupation of his parents as well as their own library, the interest in the Bible is understandable; exactly how archaeology manifested itself into his consciousness is not.  Obviously, though, it did have an impact.  Albright described how two years later (in 1901) he ran errands for his parents until he had saved $5 which he was free to spend as he saw fit: on an archaeology book by Robert W. Rogers.[11] As Albright remembered this moment, “[t]hereafter his happiest hours were spent in reading and rereading this work, which was fortunately written in beautiful English by a well-trained and accurate scholar.”[12] The reading of this book in the library of his father as a ten-year old child was the event which caused him to become the adult scholar he became…or so the story goes.

As to the book in question, it is appropriate here to provide some background information about it.  In some ways, the two-volume book, A History of Babylonia and Assyria, was misnamed.  The Prolegomena or Book I (which covered most but not all of Volume I), was really about the history of the discovery of the history of ancient Babylonia and Assyria.  This book served as the latest of a series of academic books bringing the story of discoveries up-to-date as additional discoveries continually were made.  Given the events in archaeology at the time such as the discovery of Hammurabi’s Law Code in 1900/1901, it was a story requiring almost constant revision. In the meantime, for 348 pages, Albright in the library of his father “telling himself interminable tales of the wars and adventures of their heroes” experienced the thrill of intrepid explorers and brilliant scholars bravely venturing forth into the fierce unknown to wrest hidden knowledge from the forgotten past.  In this book, one wasn’t simply informed of the story of cuneiform, one could follow step by step as cuneiform was found, copied, and deciphered by the heroic giants of the just ended 19th century.  In his description of one such individual, Rogers provided a blueprint for the path Albright was to follow as a philologist in his own right:

It were [sic] difficult, if not impossible, to define the qualities of mind which must inhere in the decipher of a forgotten language.  He is not necessarily a great scholar, though great scholars have been successful deciphers.  He may know but little of the languages that are cognate with the one whose secrets he is trying to unravel.  He may indeed know nothing of them, as has several times been the case.  But patience, the persistence, the power of combination, the divine gift of insight, the historical sense, the feeling for archaeological indications, these must be present, and all were present in the extraordinary man who now attacked the problem that had baffled so many.[13]

These were the qualities Rogers’s hero decipher must possess.

Certainly in the autobiographical essay of Albright, the reading of this book looms large as a defining one of his childhood.  Certainly also there is no reason to doubt the historicity of the event: Albright as a child saved money and spent his hard-earned funds on this archaeology book which had a profound effect on him for the rest of his life.  Still, for the historian interested in the origins of biblical archaeology, one might inquire further into this story.  One might delve into the issue of what had happened at age 8 and how the child even became aware of the existence of the book in the first place … or why he selected it for his first major purchase in life. One wonders how many other ten year olds beside Albright actually read this book by Rogers around Christmas, 1901. One might also inquire about the full extent of the impact it had on his life.


So how then did the child in Chile learn about the Rogers book published in the United States?  The way in which Albright actually was introduced into the field of biblical archaeology appears to have been through Methodist Review, a magazine the Methodist missionary family received while away in Chile and after returning to America.[14]  This publication of the Methodist Church was a semi-prerequisite for being a minister in good-standing with the Church.  The Upper Iowa Conference, the local Methodist organizational unit Wilbur Albright belonged to before being reassigned due to his missionary work overseas, strongly recommended its purchase to its members at the annual conferences of 1889 which Wilbur attended and in 1890 just after the Albrights had left Iowa for Chile.[15] Albright stated that he read this journal with avid interest between 1897 and 1909[16] or until he began college.[17]

Methodist Review provided the connection between William Foxwell Albright and biblical archaeology as it existed in the late 1890s and early 1900s.  Without this journal, he would not have become aware of the field until later in life and back in Iowa.  This is not to claim that he would not still have become the scholar he became, only that the journey might have started later.  It is through this journal that one can document the origins of his interest in both Assyriology and biblical archaeology.  Now not only did he know the stories of Goliath and Sennacherib, he knew about the people who were excavating them from centuries of burial and revealing their truths to the light of day.

 The magazine itself was undergoing changes during the 1890s.  The editor had died in 1892 after leading an effort against agnosticism, Old Testament criticism, rationalism and upheavals in the path of Christian culture and progress.[18] When the president of Methodist Drew Theological Seminary turned down the position, it was offered to Rev. William Kelly in 1893.[19]

The following January, Kelley launched a separate department as it was called or recurring section on “Archaeology and Biblical Research.” He presumably wrote these columns or they were written with his guidance and approval (they are unsigned). The excitement generated by such discoveries as the Amarna Letters with their biblical implications and perhaps the Ben Hur phenomenon, a book written by Methodist Lew Wallace, may have contributed to this decision.

The purpose of this new column in Methodist Review resonated with the values of biblical archaeology later to be expressed by Albright.

Our chief reasons for introducing a department of biblical research and archaeology into the Review are an intense love of the Bible and a strong belief in its divine power.[20]

Indeed, the 1894 definition of the scope of biblical archaeology:

We shall hail with joy any light which Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria, or any land may throw upon Old Testament chronology and history.  We shall welcome all the light which the study of comparative religions may furnish us regarding the origin of religion and the growth of revelation,[21]

anticipated the words Albright himself used in 1966:

Biblical archaeology is a much wider term than Palestinian archaeology, though Palestine itself is of course central, and is rightly regarded as peculiarly the land of the Bible.  But Biblical archaeology covers all the lands mentioned in the Bible, and thus is coextensive with the cradle of civilization.  This region extends from western Mediterranean to India, and from southern Russia to Ethiopia and the Indian Ocean.  Excavations in every part of this extensive area throw some light, directly or indirectly on the Bible.[22]

So the sciences of archaeology and comparative religions were the light to the revealed truth which should be welcomed: Albright couldn’t have said it any better himself and these words practically were a blueprint for Albright’s academic life.

There was, however, a problem: Higher Criticism.  The remainder of the article in the first issue of the column was devoted to “The Burning Question” of Higher Criticism with Julius Wellhausen being mentioned occasionally.[23]  Higher Criticism refers to the attempt to discover the source documents which allegedly were compiled to create the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses. Wellhausen was its high priest, a term chosen deliberately.  Higher Criticism would emerge as a recurring theme in the publication of this normally four-page department in Methodist Review.

For young William to follow in his father’s footsteps as a missionary would have been to fight an old war while ignoring the new one.  Higher Criticism assaulted the very basis of the Methodist religion by denying the historical validity of the text on which the religion was based.  Why be either Methodist or Baptist if Jesus quoted from a book that was simply human written?  Why be either a Protestant or a Catholic if David was not an historical figure?  Why be a Christian if God was not involved in human history as attested in scripture?  While it is unlikely that the child asked these questions in precisely these terms, the precocious youth certainly recognized that the stakes were high in the showdown between destructive Higher Criticism and reverent Methodism. To succeed as a warrior of light in holding religion and science together, a lifelong ambition for which he was recognized,[24] he needed to master the weapons suitable for that war; such weapons were not those of the great Brush College warriors who had made Methodism the largest religion in America.[25]

Albright was only following the advice given by Rogers anyway.  In 1909, while Albright still was reading Methodist Review, Rogers wrote about the ongoing war waged against Wellhausen:

I am jealous of the reputation of our Methodist journals…. I take no exception to the writer’s expression of the hope that Wellhausenism is waning….  [But] Wellhausenism seems to me to be a pretty vigorous theory still.  If we wish to be rid of it, I fancy that we shall have to fight it with weapons forged directly out of its own armory.[26]

It is in this context that the purchase of the book by Rogers needs to be understood as well as Albright’s own studies at Johns Hopkins.


In 1900 a series of ads appeared in Methodist Review for a new book by Robert W. Rogers. The price actually was $5 for the two-volume book so Albright in 1948 was correct in this memory. The ad stated:

This new history of Babylonia and Assyria contains in Book I, Prolegomena, the most elaborate account ever written of all the explorations and excavations in Assyria and Babylonia as well as the history of the decipherment of the inscriptions.  It is untechnical and popular in style, and is abundantly illustrated with copies of inscriptions, showing the processes of decipherment.  Book II gives the history of Babylonia from 4500 B.C. [long before 4004 BCE!] to the period of Assyrian domination, and Book III the history of Assyrian to the fall of Nineveh.  Book IV contains the history of the great Chaldean empire to the fall of Babylon.

All histories of Babylon and Assyria published prior to 1880 are hopelessly antiquated by the archaeological discoveries of the great expeditions to the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates.  Students of ancient oriental history in general, and of the history of Israel in particular, have longed desired a new history of the Babylonians and Assyrians which should be consistently based on original sources, and yet so written as to be intelligible and interesting to men who are not specially trained in the subject.  It is confidently believed that this great gap in modern historical literature is filled by this new history.[27]

A testimonial by Archibald Sayce in the ad saluted the book as a “veritable romance” of the history of the decipherment of inscriptions. One should not ignore the romance factor in the appeal of archaeology not only to men but to male and female children as well.

If this ad didn’t grab Albright’s attention, then two issues in 1901 were likely to have been the spur for him to save money to buy the newly published book.  The opening line of the January, 1901 “Notes and Discussions” reads:

A book of extraordinary interest, just issued by our Book Concern, in two volumes, octavo, is A History of Babylonia and Assyria, by Professor R.W. Rogers, of [Methodist] Drew Theological Seminary.  A full notice will appear in our pages in due time.[28]

So not only did Methodist Review report the publication of the book, it blessed the event as “our” book since it was published by the Methodists. Since the publisher in the ad and in the book is Eaton and Mains and not the Methodist Book Concern, the connection to Methodism may be overlooked or not realized.[29] The emphasis on the role of this book in the Albright mythology generally obscures the Methodist universe which created it, published it, blessed it, and informed Albright of it.

The subsequent book review characterized the Rogers’ book as fourth in a chain of transmission on the history of Assyria and Babylonia whereby each scholar expanded the synthesis as more and more information became available on the subject.[30]  The bringing together of the ancient chronological data is especially praised as an “unprecedented achievement” … and Rogers writes well, too! according to the review,[31] words similar to Albright’s characterization of it as “written in beautiful English by a well-trained and accurate scholar” previously noted.

This inquiry into the process whereby young William became aware of A History of Babylonia and Assyria reveals that it was part of the manner in which the Methodist world was being defined to him through Methodist Review.  On one level, the book simply furnished him with still more scripts for his dramas of stone wars on the patio of his mother or in the library of his father. On another level, the formal discipline of biblical archaeology may be construed as having emerged out of these battlelines textually revealed to him as a child in Methodist Review and the Rogers book.  Perhaps one day, Albright would cease fighting imaginary battles in the library of his father and fight real battles from the library of academia instead.[32]

In the next blog the pre-academic Albright/Delitzsch connection will be explored.



[1] Leona Glidden Running and David Noel Freedman, William Foxwell Albright: A 20th Century Genius, (New York: The Two Continents Publishing Group, Morgan Press, 1975), reprinted Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press, 1991), 1.

[2] William Foxwell Albright, “William Foxwell Albright,” in American Spiritual Biographies, ed. Louis Finkelstein, (New York: Harper and Brothers 1948), 158.

[3] Albright 1948:158.

[4] Albright 1948:159.

[5] Baltimore Sun, September 16, 1956, Section A.

[6] George Ernest Wright,  “The Phenomenon of American Archaeology in the Near East,” in Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: Essays in Honor of Nelson Glueck, ed. James A. Sanders, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1970),  23.  According to a footnote, Wright derived his information on Albright both from the latter’s 1948 autobiographical essay and from private conversations with him (39n.42).

[7] Albright 1948:159.

[8] Albright 1948:159.

[9] Baltimore Sun, September 16, 1956, Section A.

[10] Albright 1948:159.

[11] Albright 1948:159.

[12] Albright 1948:159.

[13] Robert W. Rogers, A History of Babylonia and Assyria, (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1900), I:46.

[14] Burke O. Long, Planting and Reaping Albright: Politics, Ideology, and Interpreting the Bible, (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), 124.

[15] Minutes of the Upper Iowa Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, (1889) 119, 140; Minutes (1890) 200, 213.

[16] . Long 124, citing a 1947 letter by Albright.

[17] Based on a letter dated October 18, 1924, to Rogers from Albright (located in the uncatalogued Albright material at the American Philosophical Society), the latter not only had read his book, but had read articles by him both before and after the purchase as well as in his Sunday School class.  The “before” readings suggest that Albright did read the back issues of Methodist Review published before 1897, since the earlier articles of Rogers are from 1894 and 1895. The post-1901 article in Methodist Review is from 1909. Rogers wrote for the Sunday School Times from 1901 to 1906.

[18] James Mudge, “Seventy-five Years of the ‘Methodist Review,'” Methodist Review 10 [Fifth Series 76] 1894), 530-532.

[19] Mudge 533.

[20] The Hittites,” Methodist Review 76 [Fifth Series 10] (1894) 135.

[21] “The Hittites,”135-136.

[22] William Foxwell Albright, New Horizons in Biblical Research, (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 1.

[23] “The Hittites,” 136-138.

[24] At a symposium organized by Freedman in 1966 and with Albright present, Wright opined: “Palestinian archaeology is pursued by those in this country who for the most part are teachers of Bible in theological seminaries … and in the religion departments of our colleges and universities.  This holding together of Bible and archaeology is part of the interest and influence of W.F. Albright in this country” [George Ernest Wright, “Biblical Archaeology Today,” in New Directions in Biblical Archaeology, eds. David Noel Freedman and Jonas Greenfield, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969,) 160].

[25] For an example of the heroic Brush College warrior see the novel Edward Eggleston, The Circuit Rider: A Tale of the Heroic Age, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1878) written by a former circuit rider.  For an account by one of the most famous circuit riders of his experiences see James B. Finley, Autobiography of Rev. James B. Finley or Pioneer Life in the West, ed. W. P. Strickland, (Cincinnati: Methodist Book Concern, 1858).  One can’t help but notice that Albright’s father Wilbur Finley Albright, born 1859, and William’s younger brother Finley both may have been named after this wilderness warrior hero.

[26] Robert W. Rogers, “Wellhausenism on the Wane,” Methodist Review 91 [Fifth Series 25] (1909) 294.

[27] This ad was taken from Methodist Review 83 [Fifth Series 17] (1901) no page number.

[28] “Notes and Discussions,” Methodist Review 83 [Fifth Series 17] (1901) 113.

[29] The Methodist Book Concern itself was the subject of an article in the January, 1900, Methodist Review, celebrating eleven decades of publication in America as the arm of the Methodist denomination as the article concluded: “In our twentieth century Church the Book Concern should have a mission little less sacred in our thought than was that of the ark of God in the camp of ancient Israel” (George P. Mains, “Reviews and Views of the Methodist Book Concern, Methodist Review  82 [Fifth Series 16] (1900) 34-4949).  The author was from the publisher who took over the publication of the Rogers book.

[30] “Book Notices – A History of Babylonia and Assyria,” Methodist Review 83 [Fifth Series 17] (1901) 505-506.

[31] . “Book Notices,” 507.

[32] One should note that simultaneously with the articles champion various warriors of light against Wellhausen, there also appeared a slew of articles on Tennyson, the romantic writer whom Albright also read in childhood (see James Kenyon, “Tennyson in New Aspects,” Methodist Review 80 {Fifth Series 14] (1898) 434-453;  Robert Ingraham, “Carlyle, Tennyson, and Browning on the Future,” Methodist Review 81 [Fifth Series 15] (1899) 360-367; James Mudge, “Tennyson and His Teachings,” Methodist Review 81 [Fifth Series 15] (1899) 874-887; G. W. Baines, “The Faith of Tennyson,” Methodist Review 82 [Fifth Series 16] (1900) 582-591; Book review of The Mind of Tennyson by E. Hershey Sneath, Methodist Review 82 [Fifth Series 16] (1900) 833-835; Edwin Mims, “Mysticism in Tennyson,” Methodist Review 83 [Fifth Series 17] (1901) 62-71.

Parades (ASOR) and Enneateuch (SBL): The Creation of the Hebrew Bible

Note: This post is part of a series on the ASOR and SBL conferences in November 2018


Who doesn’t love a parade? Everybody loves a parade. As it turns out parades or processions provide an alternate approach to the creation of the Hebrew Bible from the Persian-period fixated ivory-tower scribal elite approach. The Israelite processions exhibit the oral and performance attributes of the Hebrew Bible generally obscured by the text-based biblical scholars.

Let’s examine the ASOR presentation and see what it has to offer in contrast to the text-based presentations at the SBL conference.

Performance Art and the Body in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean
Laurel Hackley (Brown University), “Memory and the Body in Egyptian Festival Processions”

This paper addresses the body as an object and an actor in Egyptian festival processions. Public festival processions were spectacles made of bodies, as it was the massing and movement of bodies that created the event. Both spectators and participants played an active role in the creation of this event; the event in turn played a role in maintaining a ritual cycle that many different kinds of people could participate in. Embodied and sensory participation in cyclically repeating festival processions would have created personal memories. The particulars of individual bodily experience, locale, and time of year would have connected personal histories to mythological events and other narratives. This would have been reinforced by the performances associated with festival processions, in which mythological episodes were apparently reenacted. A particular focus of this paper is the role of costumed, foreign, or otherwise singular bodies. An additional investigation will be made into the role of dance and gesture in festival processions, and the existence of professionals or specialists who participated in these events. The paper draws on evidence from reliefs, texts, and material culture.

According to Hackley, Egyptians witnessed repeated parades throughout their life. These rituals aided the people to “buy” into the culture. They provide comfort to the people. She even used the term “punctuated” as the “punctuated equilibrium” sessions at the same time did (Lessons from the ASOR Conference: Punctuated Equilibrium and the Writing of the Hebrew Bible). In this case, she was referring to how the rituals punctuate time in an annual cycle. The Egyptians had monthly festivals. There could be processions on land as well as on water. They could include musicians and dancers. The national ones might have foreigners such as Nubians and Libyans to show the power of the king. Such events provided a sensory experience with the smells of food and incense and the sounds of music. As here in the United States, we approach our Roman-numeral numbered Superbowl and halftime show in February, we should be aware of the annual rhythm of our sports events in creating memories from generations to generations at the high school, college, and professional level. And where would the Summer Olympics be without the opening procession of nations following the arrival of the flag that had been carried by foot from ancient Greece?

When young William Thomas Albright (not yet “Foxwell”) was growing up in Chile, he experienced a multitude of processions and festivals. They happened to be Catholic. By coincidence when his family returned to the United States, they docked around July 4. His first impression as he absorbed the festivities of the American Independence Day was that the country was Catholic. He had to learn the ways of the country. It would seem that the Methodist father of biblical archaeology never embraced the importance of processions in ancient Israel – they were for Catholic/Baal societies and not the nomads who became Israel and were made of better stuff.

Biblical scholars certainly are aware of the parade. They know of the Egyptian festivals especially for a new king or in military triumph. The most famous of all such processions is the akitu most prominently associated with Babylon but observed elsewhere in Mesopotamia as well. Biblical scholars also frequently comment on the Babylonian influence on the formation of the Hebrew Bible. Somehow though the influences are limited to textual ones and not the akitu. Part of the reason for the minimization of the influence of the akitu on Israelite culture is because of the key person in the New Year festival: the king. For an akitu to be held or for there to be an Israelite equivalent, there has to be a king. There also had been a carried object. The idea of a charismatic king instituting an Israelite akitu with a carried object based in Jerusalem is unacceptable.

However as it turns out the Hebrew Bible does contain processions which were part of a royal-led Israelite akitu New Year fall festival. The processions just are not linked together in scholarship so the Israelite akitu remains hidden. Now consider these texts below as if they were part of a royal procession and not the creation of an ivory-tower scribal elite. And while Brown referred to mythical events in her presentation, historical events may be presented as well. The celebration of the akitu could call to mind Nebuchadnezzar I’s restoration of the statue of Marduk.

Into the Wilderness

And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, Yahweh, and let thy enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Yahweh, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” (Num. 10:35-36)

The first part of the New Year processions occurred when the statue of Marduk left the temple and was brought out into the wilderness. In the ancient Israelite version, the king performing in the role of Moses led the ark and the people from Zion into the wilderness, an area around Jerusalem. Perhaps they marched to the very site David had purchased from Araunah where the Jebusites once had conducted their own ceremonies (II Samuel 24:18-25). Whether a new song was composed or an existing song was incorporated into the new holiday is a separate matter.

In the wilderness, the land of chaos, there were challenges both natural and human to be overcome. The foremost battle between the forces of cosmos and chaos in the Israelite akitu was a human affair – the people who challenged the authority of Moses, the role being performed by the king. Moses and the king were triumphant in this wilderness showdown. The disruptive forces of chaos were vanquished.

These wilderness stories of cosmos and chaos are important. They became a battlefield where different political factions (scribal priests) could battle for power through supplements to the original performed story. Even when the Israelite akitu was no longer performed the texts still provided a venue through which internal political battles could be fought. In the United States similar such battle are fought again and again through the stories, parades, and celebrations of Thanksgiving, the American Revolution, and the Civil War.

Marking Turf

Untangling the layers in Josh 6 is beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say, the historic kernel of the performance occurred when the king in the role of Joshua led the people around the city of Jerusalem. There was music and the people shouted. Everybody has a good time save perhaps for the people performing as Jebusites!

What is accomplished in the Jericho story performed on and around the walls of Jerusalem?

1. With the procession of the ark of Yahweh, the king marked the turf of his kingdom. In this regard, Jerusalem represented all the Canaanite cities that had remained loyal to Egypt, were anti-Israel, and only recently had become part of the kingdom of Israel under David.

2. The people marching included representatives of valor from all the tribes of the kingdom. This meant the tribes which had been part of Merneptah’s Israel and those who had been part of the Israelite-led anti-Egyptian NATO alliance in Iron I (see Deborah at the SBL Conference). They had only joined Israel when they went to Hebron to recognize David as their king. One is reminded here of the United States Independence Day parades on July 4 in the communities throughout the land where every civic/ethnic/religious/business group has a float signifying a connection to the foundational event of the country.

3. The festival differentiated between the Canaanite people, the 99%, symbolized by the queen performing on the city walls as Rahab and costumed as Asherah, and the Canaanite city rulers. The former were welcomed into the kingdom, the latter were not.

In 1783, when the British left New York after seven years of occupation and two years after the Battle of Yorktown, they pulled a fast one on the Americans. To prevent the Americans from raising the American flag at Bowling Green at the southern end of Manhattan, they greased the flagpole. A Dutch-American then went to the equivalent of a hardware store, got spikes for his shoes, and climbed the flagpole with the American flag. That event was commemorated in the annual Evacuation Day holiday which survived in New York until World War I when England became our ally. Recently the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (I am on the Board) successfully petitioned the New York City Council to rename the area “Evacuation Plaza.” We do not climb the flagpole but we do annually raise a 13-star flag for the 13 colonies which had become states.. I wonder who climbed down the Jerusalem wall as part of the Israelite festival and how long the scarlet cord remained displayed.

Establishing the Kingdom of Yahweh

The final step in the Israelite akitu was the established of the kingdom of Yahweh. The forces of chaos had been defeated and order was pronounced. As the song sang going into the wilderness said, Yahweh returned to rest. The specific action meant was the returning of the ark of Yahweh to Zion. Untangling the layers of the Ark Narrative is beyond the scope of this blog. The fight over who was responsible for its loss to the Philistines was part of the political infighting among the priesthoods/political parties. For the procession, the action was straightforward. David danced and the people celebrated.

The recognition of a royal performance including the people and the men of valor from all the tribes of the kingdom provides an alternative to the text-based debate on the Tetrateuch/Pentateuch/Hexateuch/Enneateuch division of the biblical text. The performed story of going forth from the garden to planting the ark of Yahweh at Zion provides a better start and finish point for the royal drama, the Israelite akitu. I call this narrative and performance the King David Bible (KDB), the seven-day fall New Year festival with King David in the lead male roles, Queen Bathsheba in the lead female roles, and Morgan Freeman as the voice of both God and the narrator who performed on stage as well at times (Is Morgan Freeman God? What Do Biblical Scholars Think?). O.K., it was really Abiathar! To understand the genius of David it is necessary to determine the political situation in the land of Canaan when he created his kingdom and to identify his writings and performances. Otherwise all you are left with is that Abraham Lincoln was a chieftain in the small chiefdom of Washington and who never wrote anything.