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Reviewed by:
  • "Fill the Earth": Settlement in Palestine during the Late Roman and Byzantine Periods, 135–640 CE, and: The "Mother of All Churches": The Church of Palestine from its Foundation to the Arab Conquest
  • Hagith Sivan
"Fill the Earth": Settlement in Palestine during the Late Roman and Byzantine Periods, 135–640 CE Doron Bar Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2008. Pp. 203, ISBN 978–9-652–17278–5
The "Mother of All Churches": The Church of Palestine from its Foundation to the Arab Conquest Jacob Ashkenazi Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2009. Pp. 461, ISBN 978–9-652–17290–7

The two important studies under review, both published in Hebrew within a year of each other, provide complementary perspectives on rural settlements, urbanism, and Palestinian Christianity—three crucial and intertwined aspects of Palestine in Late Antiquity. Bar's book is an excellent example of the invaluable contribution of historical geography or, as it is now termed, landscape archaeology, to better understanding of the complexities of the landscape. Based on careful perusal of numerous archaeological reports and surveys, the four chapters of Fill the Earth present an examination of changes in the rural population (ch. 1), the impact of imperial policies on rural areas (ch. 2), the development of the countryside (ch. 3), and the impact of Christianity on patterns of rural settlement (ch. 4). As Bar correctly states, his study stands in a long and venerable line of analyses that has likewise focused on the historical geography of the "Land of Israel," not the least that by Michael Avi Yonah. The novelty proposed here resides in the focus on the constant give-and-take between "history" and "geography," and landscape and society. The end result is a detailed and refined reconstruction of rural hinterlands, rural responses to larger trends, and demands bred by local specificity.

A detailed introduction highlights the centrality of the aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt (132–135 CE) in reshaping land and demography. On balance, the Jewish element lost both dominance and territory. The first chapter begins with a judicious assessment of the main source used to determine the face of the land, namely the Archaeological Survey of Israel, followed with a brief overview of settlement patterns during the Second Temple period (ca. 400 BCE—70 CE); the "Late Roman" period (70–ca. 300); the Byzantine period (ca. 300–640) and the Early Islamic period (640–ca. 750). Bar then considers the factors that enabled settlements in specific areas at specific periods, thus setting the stage for the detailed analysis (in ch. 2) of the impact of the Roman government on the shape of the countryside.

On what did the size and structure of the rural landscape depend? Here, the role of cities as diffusers of "Roman" culture and the interdependence of rural dwellers and urban denizens is given a place of honor. An interesting, perhaps controversial, conclusion relates to the [End Page 385] impact of the army in and beyond the city. Although stationed in towns such as Jerusalem (until ca. 300) and along the main roads, the army had a limited role vis-à-vis the rural population, an argument that forms one of the backbones of Bar's larger hypothesis of the marginality of the Roman apparatus (army, administration, central government) in the reshaping of the Palestinian countryside in Late Antiquity.

Agricultural production, technology, and the means that engineered the expansion of population into the periphery in Late Antiquity are examined in the third chapter. Here, Bar notes the transformation from subsistence to specialized agriculture, especially the expansion of the olive and grape plantations to the harsh basalt soil of the Golan and the sandy Negev. Although Palestine was hardly a land blessed with fertility, the rate of soil exploitation exploded in Late Antiquity in response to changes in demography, political stability, and greater demand for specialty products. How and whether Christianity had a role to play in these transformations is the theme of the fourth chapter. In other words, did the making of a Christian holy land out of the unprepossessing province of Palestine entail a measurable impact on the rural population, rural institutions, and economic prosperity...


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