Beth Alpert Nakhai is associate professor in the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson, where she teaches courses on Near Eastern history and archaeology and the world of women in ancient Israel. In this excerpt from the introduction to the book she edited The World of Women in the Ancient and Classical Near East (Cambridge Scholars, 2008), she grapples with the question of why the lives and roles of ancient women have generally been so neglected in Near Eastern and Biblical archaeology.
It might seem surprising to find so little attention paid to reconstructing women’s lives in the ancient and classical Near East, but there are several reasons for this. For one, archaeology in this region has been dominated by Biblically based research and both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are incontrovertibly androcentric documents. Furthermore, in response to the rich textual record for all historic periods across ancient western Asia, questions of history (conceptualized as kings and battles), religion (conceptualized as priesthoods and temples) and the lives of the elite (conceptualized as kings, palaces and luxury goods) have provided the foci for archaeological research.