- Palace and Temple: A Study of Architectural and Verbal Icons
C. Mark McCormick has published his thought-provoking dissertation supervised by John Van Seters with Jack M. Sasson serving on his committee. This book is a study of two cultures: the Neo-Assyrian of the eighth and seventh centuries and the Judahite of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. The author applies built environment analysis to both of these cultures, specifically focusing on Sennacherib's Palace at Nineveh and Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. McCormick's ideas are revisionist, exciting, and substantive.
The book is organized into five chapters that incorporate the nature and interpretation of these subjects. A theoretical overview is tackled in the first chapter, which outlines the author's thesis and concerns his method of architectural and textual studies and its meaning for the built environment. In Chapter 2, McCormick shifts from the theoretical to the application of built environment analysis in a discussion of Sennacherib's Palace. In Chapter 3 the same analysis is applied to Solomon's Temple. Chapter 4 suggests different religio-political approaches for examining each structure, and addresses the issue of why these buildings are considered architectural and verbal icons to be "read" on many levels. Chapter 5 is a short conclusion, but sums up his thesis: " Understanding the temple description as a verbal icon that is related to the architectural icon of Sennacherib's palace is possible because of the application of built environment analysis. The palace of Sennacherib and the Deuteronomistic Historian's Jerusalem temple are human constructs that present the divine-human relationship, icons that embodied the human social behaviors and concepts desired by their creators." This conclusion is followed by indices of authors, subjects and biblical texts.
Built environment analysis emerged from psychological and cultural anthropological relationships between the structure and the culture surrounding and influencing it. In other words, a culture creates material objects—fixed artifacts such as architecture, and features and tools such as decorative elements as well as moveable features. The form of these artifacts is dependent upon cultural, social, and environmental prerogatives that influence them; ergo, environmental factors help to mold or determine culture. McCormick goes on to insist that textual analysis "offer[s] an interpretation of the building based on its role within society." The most important aspect of this study is its success in interpreting built environment studies and verbal icons in a comprehensive manner for which the author works on a high level of abstraction displaying erudition and a clear sense of purpose for his argument.
Touchstones of achievement, Sennacherib's Palace in Nineveh and Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem are compared and contrasted in this book as verbal icons and architectural achievements. Sennacherib's Palace is a well-preserved building of the seventh century BCE. Designed as an extraordinary spatial arrangement of portals, courtyards, triple entryways, doorways, columns and walls and unique decorative relief [End Page 152] embellishments, the archaeological remains of Sennacherib's Palace and epigraphic evidence stand at the forefront of Assyrian architectural development. Conversely, the architectural form of Solomon's Temple, for which the physical evidence is less secure, is analyzed with respect to built environment analyses as seen predominantly through its texts. Archaeological research advocates the use of fixed features that can be verified through controlled excavation. McCormick touches on controversies associated with archaeological scholarship and describes these issues in a comprehensive manner. He suggests we accept the Jerusalem temple verbal icon as a sound database. Here he displays a great deal of thought, citing the texts and identifying questions of historicity and the shaky if non-existent archaeological evidence for the temple.
In Chapter 4, McCormick further develops his ideas about the Nineveh palace and the Solomonic temple as products of religious reform. Sennacherib's Assyrian religio-political agenda in the face of Babylonian resentment is the propaganda behind his building program and his shared identity with the god Assur—factors ultimately resulting in his assassination. Similarly, the role of Solomon's Temple...