Research: The Babylonian and Persian Periods
At the heart of Prof. Lipschits archaeological and historical interest stands the 'age of the empires', a novel recognition that the archaeology and history of the Levant during most of the 1st millennium BCE was shaped by the presence of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. This recognition stands in contrast to the accepted chronological periodization, and especially the categories of understanding the history according to the First Temple Period, Second Temple Period and the “gap” of the Babylonian Exile in between, that is based on the biblical historiography. It was gained mainly because Prof. Lipschits was able to combine critical reading of historical sources with highly sophisticated archaeology.
Oded Lipschits began his academic career by focusing on the Babylonian and Persian Periods (6th–4th centuries BCE) in the southern Levant, and especially in Judah. Through meticulous analysis of the archaeological finds from Judah in the 7th–5th centuries BCE, Prof. Lipschits managed to define some specific features of the 6th century BCE, and accordingly to demonstrate that some significant parts of Judah were still inhabited after the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BCE). These conclusions had, naturally, tremendous effect on any understanding of the biblical narrative regarding the exile and return. His summarizing book “The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem”, won the prestigious Ish-Shalom Prize for the Best 'First-Fruit' Book in the Research of the History of Israel and became one of the cornerstones for the study of this period, still important and well cited today. During the following years, Prof. Lipschits organized a series of international conferences on the Babylonian and Persian periods, together with the best scholars in the world – archaeologists, historians and Biblical scholars, and the outcome of this discussion was published in a series of 7 books, all of them edited by Lipschits and his colleagues.
Field Work: The Excavations at Ramat Raḥel
The quest to define the material culture and typological chronology of the 6th–5th centuries BCE in Judah led Prof. Lipschits to start engaging in archaeological excavations. He therefore selected Ramat Raḥel, and the excavation project at the site (2004–2010, co-directed with Prof. Manfred Oeming, Universität Heidelberg), brought to light a palatial compound well dated to the 7th–2nd centuries BCE. The establishment of the glorious compound after Judah became an Assyrian Vassal Kingdom led to a new understanding of the existence of vassal kingdoms under imperial rule, emphasizing the continuity of Judah's existence as a such under Assyrian, Egyptian and Babylonian rule, and later, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, as a Province, under Babylonian, Persian, Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule. One of the most interesting contributions of this project was the identification of a royal garden, the only one ever excavated in Israel in the so-called "Biblical Period". The very existence of such a palatial compound in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and its endurance after the destruction of the city by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and further into the Persian Period—a period in which Jerusalem was only poorly settled—brought an entirely new perspective to the study of this period in Judah. Not only that the material remains in Ramat Raḥel enabled—for the first time—to present a continuous ceramic typology for the 7th–5th centuries BCE, and thus to refine the relative and absolute chronology of these periods, they also shed new light on the imperial (Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian) rule over Judah.
The finds of this important excavation were published in numerous publications, and were also presented to the public in semi-popular books, and in final publications of the previous excavations at the site, and of the new project.
In various publications since the end of the excavations at Ramat Raḥel, Prof. Lipschits demonstrated that the administration and economic center of the Judean province under Persian rule was shifted from Tell en-Naṣbeh/Mizpah (few km north of Jerusalem) to Ramat Raḥel, and not to Jerusalem. Thereby he emphasized that the latter was mainly a cultic center rather than government center. This conclusion has great importance also for the study of the formation of the Hebrew Bible, especially since biblical scholars attribute an extensive literary production to this period.
Research: The Study of the Stamped Jars and the Research of the Economy and Administration of Judah during “The Age of Empires”
Another building block of ‘the age of the empires’ is the comprehensive and innovative study of the Judahite and Judean administrative traditions to stamp the handles of storage jars as belonging to the central authority, a tradition that begun in the late 8th century BCE and lasted untill the mid-2nd century BCE. While most scholars discussed each type of stamp impressions within its own chronological and historical context, viewing those of the Iron Age as separate phenomenon from the ones known in the Persian period, Prof. Lipschits was among the first to understand that the entire phenomenon of stamping the jar handles represent a long-standing tradition that should be viewed as a whole, within the context of the imperial rule over Judah.
This study began with the pioneering research on the “Yehud Stamp Impressions”. Jar handles stamped with different variation of the name Yehud, the Aramaic name of the Persian-period Province of Judah, are known to research since the 19th century CE. However, it was Prof. Lipschits, together with Prof. David S. Vanderhooft (Boston College) that conducted the first and the only comprehensive study of this archaeological phenomenon: tracing all the Yehud stamp impressions ever found in archaeological excavations, Lipschits and Vanderhooft have defined their specific typology, and by applying petrographic studies to the stamped handles as well by examining their spatial distribution they have also managed to suggest a new dating system to the entire corpus, with minute-dating for each type. Thus, the pioneering work of Lipschits and Vanderhooft on the Yehud stamp impressions demonstrated the possibilities to use them as a dating tool in archaeological work, while opening the way for new understanding of the economic and administration system of the Judean Persian Province. Numerous papers were published on this subject, and the summarizing book that was published in 2011 gained the general consensus as one of the most important publications on Judah in the Persian Period, and also got the prestigious G. Ernest Wright Award of the American Schools of Oriental Research for the most substantial volume dealing with material culture from the Ancient Near East (2012).
For Prof. Lipschits, however, it was the departure point for a more comprehensive study examining the continuous use of stamped jars in Judah beginning in the late 8th under Assyrian domination and till the mid-2nd century BCE, with the rise of the Hasmonean state. Together with his students, Prof. Lipschits gathered all the data regarding stamped jar handles ever found in controlled excavations and surveys throughout Judah, defined their typology, and consequently the spatial and chronological distribution of each type, in order to date them and to ponder their meaning for the local economy and administration. These studies demonstrated how a single find/artifact could enlighten many different aspects of the history of Judah and how it could be further used by archaeologists as a dating tool. Numerous papers were published by Lipschits also on this subject, together with his students and colleagues, and he summarized the complete picture in a book, the first and only one on the stamped jar handles administration in Judah in the Biblical period.
Field Work – The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition
In order to gain better understanding of the earlier part of the 'Age of the Empires' Prof. Lipschits initiated a new project, this time in the Judahite Shephelah. He organized and directed the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition (since 2010, co-directed with Prof. Manfred Oeming, Universität Heidelberg and Prof. Yuval Gadot, Tel Aviv University). The excavations in Tel Azekah, a site that was traditionally related to the late monarchic period in Judah, have retrieved substantial remains from the Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron Age and the Late Persian Period. They have therefore enabled Prof. Lipschits to further discuss the fate of Judah under the empires, while also shedding new light on the political formations in the Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Periods, the transition to the Iron Age and the continued place of this site within the Kingdom of Judah in the Biblical Period.
For further details on the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition: https://azekah.org/