Competitive Archaeology in Jordan: Narrating Identity from the Ottomans to the Hashemites.
by Elena D. Corbett
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014, 2015. 312 pp. $40 ($27.95, paper).
Reviewed by Alexander H. Joffe
Middle East Forum
Middle East Quarterly
At the simplest level, Jordan is a state carved out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire in 1921 at Winston Churchill's urging as a reward to the Hashemite clan of the Arabian Hejaz for its dubious contributions to His Majesty's World War I war efforts. But Jordan is comprised of multiple ethnic groups with no common history with the minority Hashemites controlling all the others. What role, if any, has archaeology played in integrating Jordan and legitimating the Hashemite dynasty?
Corbett, who works in Amman for an international student exchange organization, suggests that archaeological research in Jordan has been characterized by competitions between Western imperialist archaeologists and their indigenous Ottoman counterparts, by British authorities, and finally by Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli scholars and diggers. The author does not hide her contempt for imperialism and Zionism, and there are harsh critiques of the British Mandate, its use of archaeology, and specifically of Nelson Glueck, the American rabbi and pioneering explorer of Transjordan. But even she admits that Arab nationalists pondering the same past invented "a narrative that conflated Arabs and Semites, Arabized all ancient peoples with the borders of the broad Arab watan, [homeland] and ... [claimed] that the Arab presence on the landscape was older than any other."
The land that is Jordan today was largely inhabited in the first millennium BCE (the period depicted in the Old Testament) by Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites—ancient Israel's enemies and kinfolk—as well as by Israelites themselves. There are impressive Greco-Roman and Nabatean remains, places of significance for Christian tourists, and a growing corpus of astonishing prehistoric sites. None of them, however, can easily serve as a focal point for Jordanians, that is for Hashemites, Bedouin, Palestinians, or others.
Corbett presents many interesting details regarding Jordanian cultural history, albeit in a kaleidoscopic manner and with painfully convoluted jargon, but the period from 1967 to the present receives short shrift. Much more, for example, could be said regarding King Hussein's renovations of Islamic sites and shrines, which paralleled efforts by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Further, much of the book is not about Jordan at all but rather Ottoman-era thought regarding antiquity, the impact of which was marginal at best. Nor does she say much regarding competition between Jordan's Hashemite and Palestinian narratives.
Ultimately the question of how, or whether, the past serves to integrate Jordan today remains unanswered.
Related Topics: History, Jordan | Alexander H. Joffe | Summer 2016 MEQ
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