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  • Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East ed. by Saana Svärd and Agnès Garcia-Ventura
  • Jennie Ebeling
Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East. Edited by Saana Svärd and Agnès Garcia-Ventura.
University Park, PA: Eisenbrauns, 2018. Pp. vii + 503. Hardback, $99.95. ISBN: 978-1-57506-770-4.

Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East is the latest in a growing body of work published in the last decade that focuses on the study of gender in the context of ancient Near Eastern societies. Based on three workshops organized by editors Saana Svärd and Agnès Garcia-Ventura as part of the Recontre Assyriologique Internationale conferences in Ghent (2013) and Warsaw (2014) and a workshop hosted by the Centre of Excellence in "Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions"/Finnish Institute in the Middle East in Helsinki (2014), this volume includes papers presented in these meetings along with contributions by several scholars who were unable to attend. In an introductory chapter by the editors, 19 peer-reviewed essays, and a concluding chapter by Amélie Kuhrt, a variety of tools are provided for those interested in gender studies. Case studies from the ancient Near East (ANE) represent the third millennium BCE to the first millennium CE. While the editors have certainly succeeded in moving gender studies in the ANE forward with this engaging and diverse collection of papers, the volume as a whole has more to offer to Assyriologists and other scholars engaged in text-based research than to archaeologists working in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond. That said, this volume contains a number of excellent studies that should engage all of those who study the ANE, regardless of background or theoretical orientation.

In the introductory chapter entitled "Theoretical Approaches, Gender, and the Ancient Near East," Agnès Garcia-Ventura and Saana Svärd provide an overview of the papers in the volume and a discussion of the relations between ANE and gender studies and the use of theory and methodology in the field of Assyriology. Although they identify three main disciplines within the study of the ANE—archaeology, iconographic studies, and Assyriology—the editors' focus is Assyriology. The editors explain that, unlike those in archaeology, classical studies, and different areas of historical and biblical studies, Assyriologists remain committed to the theory of positivistic research with the aim of objectively describing a text, historical event, or phenomenon rather than applying diverse methodological and theoretical approaches (p. 9). Although other Assyriologists have expressed this concern in the past, the editors suggest that Assyriology today would benefit from greater self-awareness and engagement with approaches developed by other researchers to avoid becoming more isolated than it already is. Garcia-Ventura and Svärd provide a summary of previous research and give credit to recently published volumes in the field of ANE gender studies, a special issue of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology, conference panels and workshops, and other recent initiatives dedicated to gender studies in the ANE. As they and other contributors to the volume assert, this is a promising trend.

The 19 papers that comprise the bulk of the volume are presented alphabetically according to author's last name rather than thematically because the authors' different approaches cross the borders between methodological and chronological specialities (p. 2). As a consequence, it is difficult to review each chapter individually and do justice to such a diverse collection of essays.

Seven essays focus primarily on textual sources from Mesopotamia and the Levantine world. These include "Gender in the Tale of Aqhat" by Stephanie Lynn Budin, "When Women Get Ill: Gendered Constructions of [End Page 254] Health and Disease in Cuneiform Texts on Healing" by M. Érica Couto-Ferreira, "Puppets on a String? On Female Agency in Old Babylonian Economy" by Katrien de Graef, "Gender and Methodology in the Study of 2nd-Millennium B.C.E. Family Archives" by Brigitte Lion, "Rethinking Gender Relationships in a Sociopolitical Context during the Time of Zimri-Lim" by María Rosa Oliver and Eleonora Ravenna, "(Re) constructing the Image of the Assinnu" by Saana Svärd and Martti Nissinen, and "Marriage Policy in Mari: A Field of Power between Domination...


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