Ritual Employs of Birds in Ancient Syria-Palestine. By GIUSEPPE MINUNNO. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, vol. 402. Munster: UGARIT-VERLAG, 2013. Pp. 165. [euro]64.
This concise monograph, based on the author's doctoral dissertation defended at the University "La Sapienza" of Rome, presents an investigation of the role played by birds in the rituals conducted in Syria-Palestine over the course of two millennia, from the end of the third millennium BC to the conquest of Alexander in 332 BC.
Minunno begins the introductory chapter by outlining the geographical area he has investigated in his study. He argues that the pre-classical regions of Syria and Palestine are characterized by "substantial homogeneity and continuity of development" (p. 9). He extends his area of interest by also incorporating Punic documentation of Northern Africa because of its clear cultural connections with Phoenician culture, which flourished along the Mediterranean coast of the Levant. Furthermore, in an attempt to avoid dealing with the modern misconceptions associated with the terms "religion" and "magic," Minunno defines "ritual use" in this work as referring to any use of birds in either cultic (in which a supernatural being is involved) or independent (such as purification rites) ritual activities.
In order to gather insight into the involvement of birds in these ceremonies, Minunno focuses his attention almost exclusively on the extant textual material, complementing his findings, whenever possible, with data from zooarchaeological analyses conducted at the relevant sites and with the representation of birds involved in rituals or shown in the company of deities on contemporary seals. Minunno rightly warns the reader that it is often impossible to establish ritual procedures accurately or to ascertain the exact role of the birds mentioned in texts because of the terse and fragmentary nature of the material, notoriously difficult to fully comprehend. He therefore only proposes cautiously formulated hypotheses.
The book is divided into six major sections for the most part organized geographically, starting with the northeastern site of Emar in chapter II. To ascertain the role of birds in the rituals performed in this city, Minunno mainly consults texts dated from the Late Bronze Age (fourteenth-thirteenth centuries), when the site was an important trade center incorporated into the Hittite Empire. Of special relevance to this study are the cuneiform tablets...