From the Guest Editor
For several reasons, especially because of its political isolation and instability during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, archaeological exploration of the region east of the Dead Sea has lagged behind that of Palestine as a whole. The limited exploration of this land of the ancient Moabites has occurred primarily in four "spurts." The first spurt was initiated by F. A. Klein's discovery of the Mesha Inscription in 1868. His spectacular discovery focused world attention Moab for a moment and prompted the Palestine Exploration Society to send two expeditions (E. H. Palmer and C. F. T. Drake; H. B. Tristram) in search of more inscriphons. The results of both expeditions were disappointing, and the one led by Tristram turned out to be a logistical nightmare.
The second spurt occurred during the decade following 1894, during which time the Ottoman government managed to reassert its authority in southern Transjordan and provide a degree of security for travellers. No excavations were conducted at this time. By 1905, however, when a Shobak uprising spread quickly to Karak and rendered the whole region unstable again through World War I, explorers such as F. J. Bliss, R. Brunnow and A. von Domaszewski, and A. Musil had clarified the topographical confusion evident in treatments of Moab in nineteenth century maps. The third spurt was touched off in 1930 when R. Head discovered, almost by chance, the intriguing Balu Stele. Three years later Crowfoot made a sounding at Khirbet el-Balu where Head had discovered the stele, Albright made a sounding at Adir where Musil had reported huge standing monoliths, and Glueck began his important archaeological survey of the southern Transjordan.
Not overlooking the important excavations initiated during the 1950s and 1960s at Dhiban, Bab edh-Dhra' and Hisban, or the soundings at other sites such as el-'Al end 'Ar'air, I believe it accurate to say that the 1970s witnessed the beginning of another spurt in the exploration east of the Dead Sea. This recent initiative was more calculated than the earlier ones; except for Petra, southern Transjordan had emerged by the 1970s as a glaring gap in our knowledge of the archaeology of Palestine, and archaeologists working in Jordan at the time set about to fill in the gap. This was especially true of the Moabite plateau between Wadi al-Mujib and Wadi al-Hasa. Also the recent initiative has turned out to be more sustained. This issue of the Biblical Archaeologist contains articles by five archaeologists who have figured prominently in this most recent phase which has been underway for some two decades now.
The papers focus on matters pertaining to the Iron Age--i.e., the specifically "Moabite" period. Much of what we know, or think we know, about the Moabites comes of course from the Hebrew Bible. In this regard one should be aware of another factor, in addition to limiting political and logistical conditions, that has tended to deprive the ancient Moabites of proper attention. Especially during the present century, the study of Moabite history and culture has been conducted largely as an appendage to the study of Israelite history and culture. This is especially evident in publications from the 1930s through the early 1970s. Scholars with training in biblical studies continue to play an important role in the current, 1970s and following, phase archaeological exploration of Moab. There have been radical changes in biblical studies over the past two decades, however, and nowhere is this more evident than in approaches to and perceptions of ancient Israelite history. One of the concerns of contemporary biblical historians is to rediscover, on their own terms, the history and culture of the other peoples of Iron Age Palestine. This concern to discover the Moabites as a people on their own terms, with their own culture and their own claim to history, will be evident in each of the articles in this issue. Actually, when you think about it, the ancient Moabites are better documented in terms of first-hand written sources than the ancient Israelites. Would that we had addihonal epigraphical sources for ancient Palestine comparable to the Mesha Inscriphon.
Because the contributors to this issue are on the frontier of archaeological research in an area which remains largely unexplored, one can expect a degree of tentativeness and some differences of opinion. If the differences of opinion are not apparent from a first reading of the articles, go back and read more closely.
Special credit for encouraging and supporting the latest spurt of research in Moab should go to Jim Sauer. As director of ACOR in Amman, as ceramics expert and scholar, and as advisor and friend, Jim has influenced each one of the projects discussed here. This issue is, therefore, offered to Jim with grateful appreciation.