Friday, September 22, 2023

Female Tavern Keepers

The 5,000-year-old tavern site found at Lagash in Iraq. (Lagash Archaeological Project)

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

The Book of Genesis recounts numerous journeys. Cain relocated "east of Eden". Nimrod left the Nile Valley and established a territory in Mesopotamia. Abraham left Haran and established a territory between Hebron and Beersheba. Jacob left Beersheba and traveled to Padan-Aram. Travel necessitated carrying provisions of food and water, weapons for defense, medicinal herbs and ointments, and clothing. For security, people traveled in large groups. The caravans stopped at caravansaries and taverns with mud wall enclosures for the animals. These were located at water systems such as rivers, oases, and wells. Some were water shrines and the taverns provided hospitality to those who came to the shrines.

Genesis does not provide many details of the journeys of Abraham and Jacob. The texts are focused more on the destinations than on the means of arriving there. However, archaeologists and historians have gathered significant information about the routes that were traveled and the types of resting places along the way.

Abraham would have known the "Via Maris" that linked Egypt with ancient Syria, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia. He also would have traveled the "King's Highway" that connected the Nile Valley with Mesopotamia. It ran from Egypt across the Sinai Peninsula to Aqaba, then turned northward across Transjordan, to Damascus and the Euphrates River. Rahab's city of Jericho stood on one of the few roads connecting the Via Maris and the King's Highway. Her tavern would have been a prosperous business.

Taverns were usually near the city gates and were attached to the city walls with casemate cells as rooms. This sheds light on the probable arrangement of Rahab's tavern. In fortified towns such as Beersheba, Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Jericho, houses attached to the city walls had casemate foundations. Rahab’s tavern likely had casemates in which she stored provisions. Jericho’s casemate walls were engineered to prevent collapse in the event of an earthquake. The casemates were constructed of two parallel walls with perpendicular braces. Some of the casemate cells were filled with dirt to increase stability. An earthquake might cause an individual casemate to collapse without causing the rest of the wall to fall. This design is found in Nubian funerary architecture (3000-2000 B.C.) and in Egyptian fortifications of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 B.C.).

Female tavern keepers such as Rahab were women of independent means. Before Abraham's time (c.2000 B.C.), women of high status owned and managed taverns. The Sumerian King Lists name Kug-Bau as a "tavern keeper". She was the single ruler of the Third Dynasty of Kish (r. 2500- 2330 B.C.) The King List refers to her as lugal (king), not as eresh (queen consort). She was deified centuries later as the protector of the city of Carchemish. She was known as Ku-Baba. The prefix Ku means holy or righteous.

There is a connection between female tavern keepers and high-status women who were dedicated to the temples. Highly trained temple dancers gained royal favor by performing sacred mudras and playing musical instruments before the deity. As early as 4000 B.C. beer was offered in the inner sanctum of the temple to gladden the deity’s heart. Some temple women were adept at brewing beer, a skill needed to operate taverns. These women became wealthy and established themselves in business. The tavern was the place that they could use their skills as dancers, musicians, and beer brewers. Nubian female dancers participated in ritual performances at sacred festivals in honor of Hathor, the mother of Horus. These festivals included the consumption of beer.

Related reading: Ancient Mesopotamian Tavern Located'Auja Foqa A Desert Fortress on Israel's Eastern Frontier; Nimrod's Sumerian Wife

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