Heidelberg Colloquium – Aram and Israel

by Juha Pakkala

Five members of the CSTT (Katri Saarelainen, Emilia Tapiola, Izaak de Hulster, Martti Nissinen and Juha Pakkala) participated in a colloquium on Aram and Israel in Heidelberg in September 1–4, 2014. The focus of the colloquium was on cultural interaction, political borders and identity-building concerning the relationship between the Aramean realm and Israel in the 12th to 8th centuries bce. The main organizers of the colloquium were Omer Sergi (Tel Aviv) and Izaak de Hulster (Helsinki), and it was funded by the Fritz Thyssen foundation and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. The facilities were provided by the International Science Forum (Internationales Wissenschaftsforum) of the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Invited speakers included several renowned scholars especially from Israel and Germany, representing archaeology, textual studies, iconography, biblical studies, and beyond.

The program was divided into several sessions, each approaching the main topic from a different angle: The first session was devoted to archaeological excavations in the border zone between Aram and Israel (Tel Kinrot, Tel Rehov, Tel Abil al-Qameh, and Tel Dan). The excavations provide interesting links to both realms. It became apparent that the sites cannot be unambiguously connected with one of the realms only; they provide evidence of connections with both. Further excavations (Tell Zira’a and Tell Afis) were discussed in other sessions. The second session discussed the relationship between Aram and Israel from the perspective of more specific material remains found in archaeological excavations, such as iconography and alphabet. The rest of the sessions had a more historical approach, discussing epigraphic evidence (such as the inscriptions from Sam’al and Deir Alla) as well as texts in the Hebrew Bible.

The colloquium highlighted the complexity of discussing the relationship between Aram and Israel. It is certainly possible to define politically separate areas Aram and Israel after the rise of Damascus and kingdom of Israel. However, in the earlier stages of the Iron Age, in the 12th–10th ce. bce, it is necessary to define, what exactly is meant, when one distinguished between the two realms. From the perspective of the border zone between these realms, the definition and identity is a complicated issue. This became apparent especially in the presentation on the archaeological sites in the border zone. On the other hand, in the 9th and 8th centuries linguistic, iconographic and other cultural differences may be distinguished to extent that it is possible and necessary to talk about two separate cultural realms. At any rate, with advancing and planned archaeological excavations in the border zone, it is apparent that the relationship between the two will be a significant topic in the near future.