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ANAHITA  December 1999

ANAHITA December 1999

Subject:

Stone et al

From:

Max Dashu <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Women and Gender in the Ancient World <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 27 Dec 1999 17:54:20 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

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I have my own criticisms of Stone et al, but I will say this for them: they
dared to question the received doctrine on gender and went digging beneath
the surface for information about women's status when most scholarship
obscured rather than illuminated the subject. They challenged the dominant
religions' interpretations of women's roles and goddess veneration,
something that was long overdue, as well as the "scientific" stance that
the scholarship was all very objective and disinterested.

I had read quite a bit about Sumeria, but Stone was the first author I'd
seen mention the laws of Urukagina: "The women of former days used to take
two husbands, but the women of today would be stoned with stones if they
did this." (Too bad there was no footnote, but that too might be laid at
the door of the publisher.) I never agreed with Stone's analysis of Hebrews
and Indo-Europeans, or her unfounded etymologies, such as linking Levites
to Luvians. Ironically, a lot of her analysis of Hebrew repression of
Canaanite religion is based on the Bible accounts. Recent archaeological
studies point to much more similarity between Hebrews and Canaanites than
the scribes who wrote those accounts were willing to acknowledge, and a
more gradual amalgamation than the book of Joshua would indicate, with its
descriptions of massacres "of every living thing" and "everything that drew
breath." I guess here too we are stuck with "epistemological" problems:
they go with the territory of history.

The reluctance to challenge the dominant model is still with us, though, in
works like Amnon Ben-Tor's _The Archaeology of Ancient Israel_ (Yale,
1992): not only is there no analysis of the omnipresent goddess figures, by
whatever name, but very little information about them. Where they are
found, in what contexts, information about dates. A blank. (Which is
characteristic of the older archeological studies that frustrated me
decades ago.) But: extensive analysis of tools and weapons. Same old
problem! analysis blocked by withholding of information.

After Susan's remarks, I had to go and look for a copy of Stone to jog my
memory. In passing I noticed that her introduction says "I am not
suggesting a return or revival of the ancient female religion. As Sheila
Collins writes, 'As women our hope for fulfilment lies in the present and
future and not in some mythical golden past...'"
Further down Stone writes, "This is not intended as an archaeological or
historical text. It is rather an invitation to all women to join in the
search to find out who we really are, by beginning to know our own past
heritage as more than a broken and buried fragment of a male culture. We
must begin to remove the exclusive mystique from the study of archaeology
and ancient religion, to explore the past for ourselves rather than
remaining dependent on the interests, interpretations, translations,
opinions and pronouncements that have so far been produced." I take that as
a rather modest provisional statement of a work in progress, written some
25 years ago.

I have never been a fan of casting the Hebrews as originators of
patriarchy, and while some books have put that forward, that thesis has
been roundly protested and criticized within that same Goddess movement
Susan (and others) are assailing as monolithic. Orientalism and demonizing
of racial Others are no more characteristic of goddess scholarship than
they are of American culture in general, or academia in particular. Which
is not saying a lot, but I don't believing in perpetuating a growing
cariacature.

Re Eisler: What I see as the most unfortunate result of these
popularizations is that their focus on Europe and west Asia reproduces that
of the dominant culture. Of course, that's what was available to these
early reseachers, and that's what gets discussed, therefore the discussion
remains mired in Eurocentric context. There's much, much more to human
history.

Re Barbara Walker: some of her information is good, some is not. Her
unreliable etymologies are the most exotic of all -- Abraham from Brahma?!
-- and her footnotes are often misleading, with the sources not saying what
she implies they say. How can someone without a background tell? Too bad!

It would be extremely unfortunate, however, if the project of reevaluating
human history with a gender-sensitive eye got wiped out by broadbrush
condemnations of all this scholarship as inherently wrong. Until Gimbutas
came along, none of the mainstream texts would mention, much less analyze,
female-sacrifice burials of ancient "big men" in the Yamnaya and Sredny
Stog kurgans. (For example.) This kind of information was buried out of
sight in the most obscure journals, barely visible in the welter of
statistics.

Gimbutas's credentials in archaeology are as good as anyone's, and very few
are able to read all the scholarly lit in most European languages as she
could. (Which, in a field where eastern European excavations have been
critical, is saying a lot.) She's one of the  founders of modern
Indo-European studies, and her theories about Indo-European origins are
still very influential in the field. Her student JP Mallory still follows
her geographic model (without the gender analysis or goddess themes).

By way of comparison, Colin Renfrew's theory of IE immigrants bringing
agriculture out of Anatolia 8,000 years ago has more holes than Swiss
cheese. But he's an Oxbridge kinda guy, and he doesn't challenge basic
assumptions about gender and society, and so he's not being hounded and
ridiculed the way they've done with Gimbutas.

I haven't found many archeological sources that offer the concentrated,
concrete information on gender issues that she does. Usually you don't get
to hear about the differences in how males and females are buried, etc,
analyzed. I don't always agree with Gimbutas' interpretations. Some of the
statues she calls bird goddesses look like birds, and others are just women
with big butts, as far as I'm concerned. Those lines may or not be rain
patterns. Doesn't matter, because it's clear when she's interpreting, which
is better than I can say for a lot of other sources. I still value the body
of knowledge she had, and her courage (given the odds, which she was quite
aware of) to take a stand and say, these people worshipped a goddess, or
goddesses. It looks that way to me too.

I was about to say that she broke the rules by daring to interpret. But
actually not all interpreters are created equal. Let's be frank:
archaeology is full of interpretations. The Big Man school of thought is
just not as controversial. For example, J-P Mohen's contortions in
interpreting west European megalithic civilization would be hilarious if
they were not so typical of stuff I've read for years: "The standardized
design of neolithic houses indicate a largely egalitarian society: but
could this not have included a dominant family, even if it lacked some or
all of the material signs of power?" and again "The megalithic monument was
the setting from which the chief drew authority to protect the group and to
justify, with the support of ancestors and gods, his right to this
authority."

I am annoyed by the spreading misrepresentation of Gimbutas, especially
when people try to refute it with ideological polemics against some imputed
"golden age" rather than using evidence from digs to show that she's wrong.
Recently I read an "academic" attack on her description of the Pit Grave
kurgans as patriarchal because the "amazon" kurgans at Pokrovka -- several
millennia later! and a thousand miles away -- "prove" that they were not
patriarchal. That's shoddy methodology infused with ideology for you. Ad
feminam attacks are what I've been seeing a lot of lately, and I'm
interested in seeing something more solid than ridicule. Disagree with her?
Fine. Make a real case for it.

Max Dashu
Suppressed Histories Archives
<[log in to unmask]>

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