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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:1, Spring 2022

Book Review: Pig Taboo in History

By Aren M. Maeir

As someone who has been studying the Philistine culture for some 25 years, I am greatly interested in the dietary patterns of the Iron Age Philistines and their neighbors—including who did and who didn’t eat pig. And this is one of the central issues addressed in the recent book by Max Price. An anthropologist and zoologist at MIT, Price explores the complex relations between pigs and humans in the Near East, focusing on ancient times but also providing perspective on the deep cultural ramifications until today.

Price first provides the geographical, zoological, and cultural background and tells the early history of human-pig interaction. He then delves into the archaeology of the late prehistoric period, Bronze Age, and Iron Age, covering the complex process of pig domestication, the role of the pig in early cities, the theoretical issues of the pig taboo, and the appearance of the taboo in early Israel. On the extensively discussed topic of pork consumption among the Philistines and the lack thereof in Israel and Judah, he stresses that simplistic interpretations (pig = Philistine, no pig = Israelite/Judahite) are in need of revision, because the evidence shows a more complex picture. He nevertheless believes that there is a clear dichotomy in the early Iron Age between pig-eating Philistines and abstaining Israelites/Judahites, even as he assumes that the biblical prohibitions date to the late Iron Age, when the biblical writers used the earlier Israelite abstention from pig as a way to define their culture as unique.

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