Every Living Thing. Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel.Oded Borowski, AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek, 1998, 296 pp., 57 figures, references, indices. ISBN: 0-7619-8918-8 $42.00 (cloth) or 0-7619-8919-6 $19.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Jonathan C. Driver, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby BC V5A 1S6 Canada.
"Every Living Thing" is a well written account of the role of animals in ancient Israel. The intended audience is not zooarchaeologists, yet it offers useful data for zooarchaeologists working in the Near East and provides enough examples of the complexity of human/animal relationships to make it of general interest to all zooarchaeologists.
The book makes no pretensions to being heavily theoretical, but chapter 1 and the first part of chapter 2 lay out some theoretical considerations. Although parts of the book deal with wild animals, the book begins with a section on domestication, largely drawn from European archaeozoologists such as Ducos and Clutton-Brock. The social context of domestication (as discussed by Bender or Hayden, for example) is not considered, and domestication is seen largely as an economic response to the need to feed more people. This is surprising, because in later chapters Borowski clearly demonstrates the social importance of domestic animals.
Chapter 1 concludes with a brief guide to the potential and problems of zooarchaeology, drawn mainly from the textbooks of Davis and Hesse and Wapnish, and again emphasizing paleoeconomy. There is no discussion of the methodology of Biblical research or of the use of artistic representation, although both methods are used extensively when discussing the role of animals in ancient Israel. This suggests that Borowskis intended audience is composed on Biblical and Near Eastern scholars, who are familiar with the problems of using text and art in the interpretation of earlier cultures.
The first part of Chapter 2 is a discussion of the herding way of life, an important consideration for the history of Israel. Borowski defines three herding systems (nomadic, transhumant and sedentary) and shows how each can be identified in Biblical events. He also considers the attention and care required by domestic herds and flocks, and using Biblical examples notes the importance of the shepherd.
The remainder of chapter 2 and the next 5 chapters form the main body of the book. In each section Borowski defines a group of animals and discusses their use in ancient Israel. Data for each section are drawn from four major sources : archaeological material culture, zooarchaeological analysis, the Bible, and artistic sources. Recent history and ethnography of the Near East supplement these sources. For the reader who is not familiar with the region, there is a lack of basic information about the history and archaeology. A brief discussion in the preface did not provide much enlightenment to this reviewer, who had to go elsewhere to find out what period is covered by the biblical account of Israel. Once one understands the complex traditional history of the Israelites, from their origin in Mesopotamia in the second millennium B.C.E. through slavery in Egypt, to the establishment and eventual defeat of the monarchy by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., it is easier to understand why Borowski draws so much of his data from Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Assyrian sources.
The chapter themes do not follow a standard zoological system, but reflect to some extent the Biblical classification of animals. This results in some overlap and inconsistencies. For example, Chapter 2 (on cattle, sheep and goat) is titled "Ruminants", but ruminants are also discussed in chapters on draft animals and wild animals. A chapter on "The Birds and the Bees" includes all winged animals, from bats to locusts, but rodents and lizards find their way into the insect section. "Water Fauna" includes fish and molluscs but not crocodiles, which are briefly mentioned in "Wild Animals". However, because the chapter themes are linked fairly convincingly to Israeli folk classification, they have an internal logic which makes the organization of the book effective. Furthermore, there are a series of useful indices at the end of the book which list animals, Hebrew names, and Biblical references, all linked back to the main text. If one is interested in a particular species, it is very easy to locate information in the text and to obtain references to mention of the species in the Bible.
Each chapter contains a wealth of information about the role of animals in the social, economic and ideological life of Israel and neighboring societies. Economic data refer to human consumption of animals and animal products, breeding and care of domestic animals, and methods for obtaining wild species, as well as the crucial role of animals in transportation. Social data include the role of animals in maintaining social position and wealth, the use of animals as war booty, and trade in exotic and commonplace species and their products. The ideological importance of animals is treated in a separate chapter, but discussion of animal symbolism and dietary laws pervades the other chapters.
For the zooarchaeologist who does not specialize in the Near East, the most useful feature of the book is the way in which it exemplifies the complex relationship between people and animals. This can be seen throughout the book, and the section on equids in the chapter on draft and pack animals will serve as a good example. Borowski discusses donkeys, horses, mules, camels and oxen. Draft animals are relatively rare in zooarchaeological collections, but were of great economic and social importance. Donkeys seem to have been the pickup trucks of ancient Near Eastern societies - widely used, well adapted to their surroundings, crucial to domestic economy, and providing little in the way of prestige to their owners. In contrast, horses were more difficult to look after, yet were prized for their use in war and may have had religious significance. The significance of these two species for the Israelites and their neighbors is demonstrated by texts, artistic representations and archaeological context. This is the sort of detail which cannot be achieved solely through zooarchaeological analysis, yet the differing roles of donkeys and horses in Near Eastern society must affect their presence in the archaeological record.
For specialists in Near Eastern zooarchaeology, this book provides a useful introduction to the role of animals in ancient Israel and neighboring cultures. It lacks a critical treatment of much of the data, and seems (to this reviewers untutored perception) to take artistic and textual data too much at face value. For zooarchaeologists working in other areas, the book is a very readable case study of the complicated relationships between human society and domestic and wild animals, and should encourage us to direct our attention more to the social and symbolic implications of faunal assemblages.