Politics and Bible


Ancient Israel and Sociopolitical Questions

Yung Suk Kim


To what extent is the Hebrew Bible a political document?
The Hebrew Bible is not a purely religious document or a de-facto record of history. Rather, it is close to a political document intertwined with religious and economic aspects of life. Anthropologically speaking, politics is an intrinsic part of the human story, where all aspects of human life are interconnected and interdependent (Gottwald, 7-31). For example, human beings need physical protection and security, psychological balance, cultural comfortableness, political power, and religious myths to account for their socio-cultural, economic, and religious life experience. Human life is part of this web of various power networks such as economy, religion, and politics. “Political” has to do with the power that can run a society or a state toward the benefits of interested groups. In this sense of broadly conceived politics, the main concerns have to do with who got more power, political, and economic. In this report, I make three important points to support my claim that the Hebrew Bible is essentially a political document.

First, historical narrative of the Hebrew Bible is not a pure record of what really happened; rather, it has a history of composition or redaction in light of later writers’ interpretive agendas or concerns (McNutt, 5). In other words, they reinterpret the past in light of their life experience of exile for example. The main concerns have to do with how to reconstruct their state once again like the Davidic Kingdom. During the Persian period when Nehemiah led people to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, he and his group of people were interested in building their identity based on the picture of Davidic Kingdom’s glory in Jerusalem, not in any other place. Throughout this, the basic claim is that Jerusalem is the only godly royal place where the temple is a symbol of God’s presence and protection.Jerusalem is superior, and that people need protection from all sorts of peril or foreign threats. This sort of royal ideology emphasizes people’s obedience to the high priests, political and religious leaders, to fulfill the dream of once-again-powerful Davidic Kingdom. This way of social, political order demands certainly many sacrifices from ordinary people, for example, mobilizing economic resources to serve that purpose.

In fact, this royal ideology derives from a political interest that the Davidic Kingdom should be more blessed and powerful so that people might follow the royal court. Narratives of kings and royal courts are in itself political stories intertwined with religious claims as such, for example, that God ordains only kings, priests, and prophets, all of whom are the upper-class leading people. Actually, we cannot know how ordinary people responded to the royal ideology as such. What we can safely say is this: the historical narrative is one side of a political story without knowing or listening to the other part of the story, which is from ordinary people in their daily lives. So, in this sense, the narrative of the Hebrew Bible is a one-sided political story (Gottwald, 31-112). Despite the lacking of ordinary people’s life in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Bible is a political document because very political interests are evidently shown in the relationship between their (later writers or editors) historical reconstructions and their later political concerns (or ideological interests).

Second, anthropologically speaking, human beings involve holistic aspects of life, which means all human activities are one way or another politically embedded in them even though most people are not conscious of such politically motivated interests. Furthermore, an anthropological line of thought pushes us to relate to sociological approach to the text. Sociological and anthropological insights may suggest that human beings live in connections with others, cooperating for some time, conflicting at other times, and still negotiating with one another, for standing in a better position, economically or religiously. Politics is not a separate entity that stands on its own. Rather, politics should be understood on a continuum interacting with other components of life reality such as religion, culture, economy, etc (Gottwald, 7-31). From this logic, human beings are not naturally born but made, and formed, through this kind of power games to have better positions. Now let me take an example from the Hebrew Bible to show these aspects of anthropological and sociological interactions of powers. Amos the prophet of 8th century BCE is concerned about social justice and accuses the wealthy and powerful leaders of lacking it. Amos further asks for a kind of national repentance. His sheer critique comes from his understanding of social, anthropological, holistic view of life. Religious life or religion is not about mere festivals or offerings. Rather, religion should be truly political and economic to the extent that all resources should be shared with each other. Amos clearly attacks the royal ideology of the status quo: the rich become richer, and the poor become poorer.

Lastly, the Hebrew Bible is (or should be) political from the life context today because the text is not automatically telling anything to us unless it can be interpreted through the life experience of readers (Gottwald, 30). From the postmodern sensitivity to the ethical issues such as growing economic disparity, the degrading of human life, dualistic life orientation, and games of world powers, I, as a reader and interpreter of the text, the Hebrew Bible in this case, am very much conscious of who I am, just like Amos in his own time. My own view, together with many others who share similar ideas or concerns about this world, life, and God, causes me to read the Hebrew Bible as part of the human story. The Hebrew Bible is a rather complex mix of mud, sand, stones, and some jewels as well. What I can find from the Bible is, therefore, to find me in dialogue with the text, always looking at me as part of the world – so holistic, interconnected and interdependent with each other.

In conclusion, the Hebrew Bible is both religious and political. At the same time, it is part of the human story told by few elites of Israel (supporting for the cause of religious, political leaders). As an ideological product, the important task of the reconstruction of ancient Israel should begin with the question of whose text. Who addresses what, how and why is an important first job to do. In fact, there is not a single author or editor in the Hebrew Bible. Many writers in many different times with many different ideas or concerns were involved in reinterpretations of their past and the present, with their own voices, sometimes conflicting with each other. But conflicts and diversity of the Hebrew Bible are welcome precisely because the Hebrew Bible is political in nature as part of the human story, as Israelites (a few) struggled to find the meaning of life in their time and place. In this regard, the Hebrew Bible does not cease to be a living political document whose main characteristics have to do with a sense of life in this world, in a continuum basis both through history and the current space here now.

Was monarchic Israel an agrarian state? Identify the pros and cons regarding such a characterization

Monarchic Israel beginning in the eleventh century BCE emerged with various contributing elements, among which the most reasonable base would be the agrarian production of surpluses. Another important element has to do with the state security in face of the foreign invasions and threats, the fact of which demands strong military leadership (Lenski, 196). In fact, the emergence of monarchy is not accidental; rather, it was a response to both internal and external business: internal one can be population growth, the use of agrarian technology advancement (the metallurgy), complex social stratification; external one can be active efforts of foreign conquest, thereby bringing into the home state more land and wealth.

I contend that monarchic Israel was possible through agrarian surpluses and furthermore the agrarian production system was strengthened with the help of the monarchy’s protection from the foreign threats and with her administration power across the state. It should be noted, however, that agrarian surpluses did not seem to go directly to peasants; rather, they went to urban communities, landowners, and to the political elite (Lenski, 210). Put differently, the agrarian basis was a motivating force to political, military leaders who could easily accumulate their wealth in terms of land and production. The land becomes a primary source of wealth. So, power and wealth go side by side.

First, let us see the internal business. Population growth required more production to feed people and more land to live in. This is a big burden socio-economically. But the right time introduction of the metallurgy helped to increase agrarian production, and on the other hand, the monarchic Israel brought more land through military conquests by David. In return, the ruler has a stronger power basis in a state. This business is mutual: population growth was met by more land with high production; a central power, politically, economically, and ideologically, uses this strong basis of agrarian surpluses. On the other matter, in fact, the metallurgy and population growth supported for military campaigns through weapons and human resource.

Agrarian surpluses and the monarchy’s close control of agrarian business resulted in complex social stratification, which called for the strong leadership, thus a form of the monarchy (Finklestein, 46-47). Economic surpluses made room for other people to live with. So, for example, those are middlemen, traders, craftsmen, soldiers, urban officials, scribes, and priests. The ruler should handle all this social stratification. Second, as noted before, the external business furthered to secure both monarchy and agrarian based production. The Philistine, the Ammonites, and the Amalekites attacked and bothered Israel, and that is why Israel needed a strong military based leader. On the other hand, the internal problem of population growth with the demand of more land was solved through the military conquests of David. From this perspective, military conquests have double points: political power base establishment, internally and externally, and economic power establishment through more land and production.

Seen from the above reasoning, it seems to be clear that a socio-economic and political analysis can help us understand how the monarchy emerged in connection with the agrarian-based production. There are many strong points to account for the relationship between the monarchic Israel and the agrarian business. If I reiterate again, the pros of such characterization lie in the fact that the monarchic interests were matched by agrarian based production system where wealth is expressed through the size of the land. Internal and external matters were most effectively handled through the strong monarchic leadership under which complex social classes were to be in check. God ordained this monarchy of Israel, beginning with Saul, through a central religious figure, Samuel. It can be said that at this point of the emergence of monarchy a religiously central figure Samuel supports the central power of King Saul, who would be expected to bring into Israel more land and wealth. But he did not go along well with Samuel (a sort of power game between a politician and a religious man), and eventually Samuel erects David as a king, who was so powerful in the fighting fields, and satisfied Samuel and Israelites by expanding her territories, which have to do with socio-economic reasons mentioned before. My point is simply that Israelite religion at this time supported for a cause of a strong state, militarily and economically.

What are the cons of this characterization with an agrarian state of the monarchic Israel?

We do not know how much Israelites progressed in terms of technological advancement like the metallurgy. In other words, we do not have any clear archaeological evidence pointing to an agrarian state as such. In addition, we cannot know how other forms of life were available at this time of the monarchy, with some portion of the population engaged in non-agricultural fields. Overall, in light of the socio-economic, political, and ideological analysis, the best conclusion is that the monarchic Israel derives from the agrarian based production system.


Why is the city-state a political/economic option for the period of Late Bronze and Iron-I in Syro-Palestine?

This period of time can be characterized by a political, economic reconfiguration of the states (nations) largely due to two elements: 1) the collapse of the big empires (Egypt, the Hittites) brings about the emergence of the new nations such as monarchies of Aramean, Ammonite, Moabite, and Israelite; 2) agricultural production surpluses due to the metallurgy, for example (Ahlstrom, 218; 334). For the political and military purpose, the city-state is a better form with which the city-state can efficiently administer her people living in complex social stratification, and can train soldiers in fortified cities (Finklestein, 47). Eventually, the developed urban centers with a military, administrative function, can be the best form to defend her nation and furthermore to make a military campaign against the neighboring nations (Finklestein, 44-45). Economically, this period witnessed an enormous change in social and cultural life patterns: for example, from nomadic to a sedentary life, from simple, rural life to complex social life, which does not mean the absence of rural life or villages. In fact, economically, the basis of this change lies in the agricultural production of surpluses, which could make room for additional economic activities such as making crafts or tools. I will point out these two elements in more detail to relate to the necessity of the city-state in this period.

First of all, the city-state presupposes the power concentration of military leaders (chieftains) or Kings, who give service to landowners by defending her land or extending her border, and in return, maintaining their positions as chieftains, or kings later in monarchies. This power center in the cities actually serves the kings and the upper class as such. In other words, the city-state plays a role in securing their benefits by effectively defending their nation against the neighboring nations’ invasions such as the Philistines or Ammonites or sometimes by expanding their land. The power center means that the city has all resources for kings in terms of wealth and the political elite. Also in the city-state, in the case of emergency, a military commander-in-chief (a king) can easily make use of all resources: soldiers, foods, and the intelligence of the elite. On the other side of political necessity of the city-state, political control should be mentioned because the nation is now much more complex than before, in its social stratification: slaves, peasants, landowners, artisans, traders, scribes, palace officials, soldiers, and priests. The city-state should intervene in possible conflicting situations to maintain the status quo of the social strata. In this regard, the city-state with the political elite can give a legislative form to control this status quo. By way of summary, it should be noted that the political necessity of the city-state in this period should be found both in an external and internal business. “External” has to do with a military purpose that serves eventually the kings and the upper class (the urban elite and the landowners). “Internal” has to do with matters related to administration.

Second, economically, the city-state is both an outcome of agricultural surpluses and a cause of the strengthening of the agricultural business. It is quite reasonable to think of the city-state as the result of population growth and agrarian based economy. The city-state cannot exist without economic support, and in this regard, the agrarian surpluses helped the city-state to survive and maintain her political system (Holladay, 379). Conversely, the city-state also can help to build stronger agrarian production through protecting the land from foreign invasions or from local disputes, and at times through widening her territories, which can be used as the land for production; the land is a primary source of wealth. The other aspect of economic necessity of the city-state can be found in its role of a facilitator as an economic booster, building roads through which intra- and inter-regional trade was made easy and prosperous. When the society becomes larger and complex, the high demand for various products arises. So, the city-state can control some of the products so that all the state could gain limited products. Otherwise, there might be day-to-day fighting between different economic entities: for example, between grain producers and pottery makers.

Drawing on Israelite politics and economics in this period, Saul can be perceived as a military and political leader, who fought against Philistines and Ammonites and had to satisfy local landowners’ interests by protecting them against foreign invasions. That is why Saul was supported and enthroned by the priest Samuel. For the task of this military job, the power center in the city is needed to Saul.

In conclusion, the emergence of the city-state should be understood in the process of monarchies where the political and economic necessity for strong statehood arises. As mentioned before, the city-state has all resources: wealth, elites, public space, and facilities. In this way, the power-centered state could best function militarily, politically, and economically for the kings and the upper class.


Why is the tenor of the Succession Narrative against David When his rise to power had been so supportive of him?

There are two different portrayals of King David in the Hebrew Bible. 1 Chronicle (10-29) depicts him as an ideal king through omitting the problematic of David’s career, not mentioning the entire story of David’s rise to power (ABD): for example, there is no mention of stories about his sons’ coups and about his adultery with Bathsheba. But the so-called Succession Narrative (found in 2 Sam. 7 – 1 Kings 2) presents David as a legitimate, divinely chosen king on the one hand, but at the same time reveals his weaknesses through his involvement of sinning with Bathsheba and also from his sons’ military coups. The former view (1 Chronicle) makes a “perfect” David at the sacrifice of a sort of traditional material (or tradition), which preserves still ideological but partial picture of socio-political struggles within the context of the formative monarchy of Israel. In other words, David should be understood through the lens of political power games, which involved David himself and his sons, including military commanders and religious elites such as high priests and the prophets (McKenzie, 1-5).

My answer to the question of this paper is twofold. One is to find the answer from the socio-political reality of David’s time and his political role as a king, who was involved directly or indirectly with the issues of who will succeed him. In other words, the tenor of succession narrative goes against David simply because it really happened in the milieu of political power games, simply telling of David’s aggressive character and deeds as a military leader and a king who had to gain the public support, while suppressing the opponents whoever they are. The result of all these struggles culminates in Solomon’s enthronement, which needed justification and legitimization of his gaining power. The other side of the answer comes from the literary perspective of later editors (possibly deuteronomistic historians) who view the past in light of their exile experience, thus making history understandable to later people. In this context, the fundamental theme of these Deuteronomists’ theology can be summarized in the system of reward and punishment where the current exile as a result of punishment was interpreted through the sins of Israelites. That is why the inherited material or tradition of David’s succession with negative elements seemed to be allowable for them from this vantage point of “reward and punishment.” In a sense, David was already pictured enough to be a divinely chosen royal king in the whole narrative. In fact, Even Solomon is pictured as a king who was not loyal to God, eventually, by importing foreign gods and culture. This also can be understood in the same vein for these historians. Now let me go to this twofold answer one by one.

First of all, David himself took power through military careers and the support of local Judean people, confronting Saul militarily. First becoming a king of Hebron and later of all Israel, David’s careers were full of military wars and his achievement, which consequently brought about political rivalry or some conflicts (Ahlstrom, 1993). In light of David’s career as such, he seemed to have many foes within and outside the royal circle (Frick, Semeia37). Within the royal circle come first Amnon and Absalom, who raged a coup against David though they failed. In later David’s life, he faced an issue of who would succeed him. The strong candidate was Adonijah supported by Davidic line officials, for example, by Abiathar the priest and Joab the military commander. But a new sort of coup against Adonijah had been prepared by Solomon, Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet. The result was that Solomon made success, becoming a king and purging all opponents. So, the Solomonic regime as a historical winner of succession stories could possibly tell the story for the ultimate favor of Solomon and his comrades. This is the power of history writers. Wisdom says the winner makes history. From the victors’ point of view, David, in spite of his royal enthronement as a divine choice, does not surpass Solomon. In many ways, Solomon is better pictured than David is. A typical example is related to building of the temple, whose episode makes Solomon be more powerful with divine favoritism.

Second, from the later historians’ point of view, David’s succession material or tradition seemed to bother their understanding of David as a perfect king without major defects, as 1 Chronicle narrates so. But these historians (Deuteronomists) seem to accept the tradition (here the tradition understood as the succession narrative found in 2 Sam. 7 – 1 Kings 2) even though the narrative, in general, is intertwined with a royal theology and politics. For Deuteronomists, the weaknesses of David and his sins rightly explains the cause of weak kingdoms (later divided into two) and eventual fall of the nations. Furthermore, for their eyes, as far as David repents his sins, David is no more a weak king in a sense; rather, he becomes a model of King who is weak but strong, because Deuteronomists view history from the realized sinful result of exile experience.

In conclusion, this succession narrative vividly testifies to the aspects of sociopolitical life in the time of formative monarchy under which power concentration takes place through power struggles shown in David and his sons (McNutt, 133). David’s story with successive Solomon’s represents the characteristics of socio-political formation of monarchy through the centralization of power in Jerusalem and the royal court.

Is it appropriate to speak of an ancient Southwestern Asian royal ideology?
An ancient Southwestern Asian royal ideology exists through literature, buildings, and political and religious practices, primarily aiming at legitimizing and maintaining royal power. Usual royal propaganda emphasizes the “benefits of peace, security, and wealth” for the people (Whitelam, 121). In return, the royal powers require people to obey to the center or the royal bureaucracy. In so doing, the royal powers use various ways to perpetuate such ideology to the populace, for example, through religious symbolism (the temple, the robes of kings or priests, various rituals), literature and buildings (palaces, fortified cities). According to archaeological data, theSolomonic buildings at MegiddoHazor and Gezer express power of monarchy through impressive gates for example (Whitelam, 133).
Socio-politically and anthropologically viewed, royal ideology finds its place everywhere not just in the ancient Southwestern Asia. The recent Korean political history evidently shows a connection with the ancientSouthwestern Asia, differently but similarly in nature. After a success of military coup in 1961, Jung-Hee Park had managed Korea with a policy of stick and carrot for almost two decades until his assassination by one of his close political friends. His carrot includes sweet things such as wealth, security, and peace. This carrot policy made sense to most of the people because the nation needed economic development and peace and security, confrontingNorth Korea. He changed the constitution and laws, demolished students’ protests while appealing to the public with a carrot. He identified himself with the poor through his physical image and asked for their support. As an elementary student long ago, I still remember when our teacher proudly told us that the great President Park announced a new reform movement called “yooshin,” literally meaning “renewal.” Actually, this new movement further curtailed freedom of people, making propaganda of unity and efficiency; otherwise, his royal bureaucracy brainwashed our people with the threat of the North Korean invasion. Furthermore, mainline religious leaders, both from Buddhism and Christianity (but mainly Christians), implicitly supported Park’s rule through religious rituals such prayer gatherings at the royal palace. As Mcnutt distinguishes between “central” prophets and “peripheral” prophets (McNutt, 181), these Korean religious leaders certainly function as “central” figures in supporting Park as a charismatic leader whereas some dissenting religious leaders risked their life by challenging Park’s policy and ideology. Examined further, the relationship between the royal bureaucracy (Park’s court) and religious circles that participated in the royal ideology demonstrates their mutual, beneficial relationship given the socio-political situation in Korea. By supporting Park’s government ideology, the pro-government religious leaders and their religious institutions received various financial benefits plus political privileges. In fact, many people chose to believe Park’s political propaganda as such. I think this Korean political story help me understand the ancient society. In the following, I will show in more detail why the royal ideology existed throughout the ancientSouthwestern Asia including Israel.
             As Whitelam suggests, royal ideology emerged from internal and external pressures. Internal ones mainly have to do with the heterogeneous social groups, and external ones with the “re-emerging powers to the north and south” (Whitelam, 119). Whitelam also points out the opposition force among the urban elites who confront the royal power. To deal with these matters, the royal power needed ideological support from the people, appealing to religious symbols, religious practices, and religious royal ideology that a king plays the role of a divine agent (or divine in Egypt) as shown in royal psalms (Psalms 45; 89; 101; 110) (Whitelam, 132). The Israelite Temple functions at the center of royal ideology, which affirms a king as a divine choice, and also appeals to the public mind through the symbolic presence of the God (De Vaux, 112). Merriam’s notion of Miranda and credenda in politics makes sense in the function of the temple, because Miranda as an emotional appeal could represent the visible features of the temple, and Credenda as a rational resort points to the actual practice of temple sacrifices and other festivals through which God provides sanctity and daily necessities for all people. Interestingly enough, the first Roman emperor Augustus also used a similar strategy by erecting many monuments celebrating his own achievements with the divine connection and at the same time delivering a political message of peace and prosperity to the public. Similarly, Park also built national monuments calling for unity, and furthermore, he himself made a song (not an anthem) to deliver a political message of peace and prosperity. The song title “song of renewal” typically shows such a connection with the notion of Miranda. Furthermore, Park’s Royal writers wrote books about Park’s legacy and his heroic qualities as a man and a president, as Virgil in Rome wrote Aeneid for Augustus in the first century BCE. 
             In conclusion, though the context and reality of ancient society differ from culture to culture together with a variety of ways of doing royal ideology, as Frankfort observes different forms of kingship in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Israel, an essential need for royal ideology does not really differ: a king as a head of the nation state must reign as a guarantor of peace and justice while asking for total obedience to the rule of law (Frankfort, 342; McNutt, 172; De Vaux, 108-111). In this way, the royal bureaucracy gains the upper hand manipulating the state business and enjoys all power. Especially in chaos situations like wars in ancient Southwestern Asia, royal ideology can easily drive people to cooperate with the royal court and bureaucracy (Talmon, 67).


Would civil or religious legitimization of the state and kingship be for the king or the populace?
The rise of state or monarchy has to do with a kind of mutual contract between the state and the populace though such a contract does not equal a modern sense of democracy. This sense of a contract begins with common interests between kings and the populace. In other words, in the 10th century BCE down to the 9th century (during the formation of the state), the populace needed security and peace from foreign invasions (externally) and from local conflicts due to land scarcity and population growth. For the peace and security, the populace needs a strong centralized government that can effectively defend the state and administers all local conflicts whether of political or economical. This need from the populace gives powers to the royal court. In fact, the Law of the King (Deut.17:14-20) and the Statute of the king (1 Sam. 8:11-16) demonstrate both the rationale of the monarchy and the need for it. The former law emphasizes a kind of binding relationship between the king and God and between the king and the people in such way that the king would have to serve them (sense of mutual service). The latter law lists what the king should require the people to perform royal duties such as defending the nation: taxation, conscription, labor, etc.
            But in reality, not all people of Israel agree to the idea of monarchy. Typical opposing groups come from the local provinces or villages where traditional tribal leaders lost power or significant benefits due to the centralization of power. Moreover, the chances of usurping within the royal court increase. So in this context, the king need to legitimize the royal power with every means as possible.
I will answer in a sense of “treasure out of the sand” by which I mean that good and bad coexists in royal ideologies and their legitimization of the power. On the one hand, civil or religious legitimization of the state and the kingship would benefit both parties (the royal court and the populace) in certain areas as the aforementioned laws likely reflect such orientation of the mutual interests, and on the other hand, certain legitimization does not aim at increasing the welfare of the populace. Evidently, certain ideologies employed by the royal court deviate from the sense of mutual benefits. For example, Davidic dynasty’s permanence does not care much about the social well-being of the populace but about political power with which the king (the royal court) wants the dynasty to go forever at the sacrifice of the populace. 
The people’s beneficial packages through civil or religious legitimization of the state and kingship include enforcing of justice, building of defense against foreign invasions, controlling of local politics (conflicts) and economics, and reforming of cultic (religious). Except the last one of the list (reforming of the cultic), the packages consist of civil services that legitimize the royal power as such. Clearly, the populace would desperately need protection (peace) than insecurity by wars. But examined further, these packages end up with much more benefits for the royal courts and the bureaucracy. For example, economically, they have much better positions than the general populace most of whom live on the farms.
The civil legitimization of the enlargement of Jerusalem, various building projects, taxation, and conscription burdensomely pushes the populace to accept them. Taxation and conscription directly affect a national defense program, but the enlargement of Jerusalem or various building projects do not seriously show the urgency in defense. More or less, these latter things have more to do with ideological forces, which display magnificence of the buildings and the royal court. Solomon’s palace falls into a category of the negative effect on the populace, demanding many natural and human resources for the building project.
Now moving to religious legitimization of the state and kingship, I can find more of the problematic to the populace than the positive, which means the king receives almost all benefits through the so-called royal ideologies: the king as a divine agent (or favorite) with divine character plus a Davidic lineage of royal kingdom centering in Jerusalem. All these claims directly serve the royal court rather than the populace. Because of this emphasis on hierarchical divine power, the populace has to sacrifice for supporting them: conscription, taxation, unequal distribution of power and economic surpluses. Put it differently, the religious royal ideologies legitimize the unequal relationship of people, not just of the royal court and the people, but also of different social classes. For my view, religious claims directed to the legitimization of the state and the king has more interest in establishing and securing the royal court. Especially, Solomon put lots of energy doing this sort of legitimization. For example, he built a gorgeous temple and worked hard to justify his enthronement as shown in the Succession Narrative. Nathan’s prophecy of Davidic dynasty’s superiority and the centralization of Jerusalem as the only cultic place clearly show the royal court’s inclination to the maintenance of power.



The Organization Chart of Solomon’s Administration

Discussion about Solomon’s administration must begin with Saul and David because the idea of kingship started with Saul and became full-blown with David in terms of expansion of the land and of planting of royal ideology. Saul barely existed through the cooperation of local tribes and performed his role as a military leader to protect them but Saul never ruled as a real king. Of course, he did not have time and capacity to set up administration because his role was not to rule as a king but to perform a military commander role; otherwise, local tribes have still power in their own administration.

David, though successful militarily and politically, made efforts in unifying the whole land (northern and southern tribes) and expanded the territory as a military leader. So he substantially established his own cabinet as found in 2 Samuel 8:16-18. Because of this legacy of David, Solomon’s job has to do with maintaining his big land (Bright, 194). To do this, Solomon needed systematic administration. The functionary area of this administration includes all kinds of administrative work found in 2 Samuel 8:16-18, 2 Samuel 20:23-26, and 1 Kings 4:1-6.

The former two places show David’s cabinet officers and the last gives Solomon’s list of the cabinet officers. Taking these lists together, we can draw up Solomon’s organization chart of his administration as follows: the commander of the army, the herald (mazkir), the two chief priests, the secretary (sopher), the chief of corvée (mas), an officer over the governors (al hannissabim), the secretary of the palace (al habbayit), and a king’s friend. With these posts, Solomon’s administration covers virtually all functions of work as shown in neighboring empires. Now one by one I will examine this cabinet position in the socio-political context 1 of Solomon’s time (Bright 202-204).

The commander of the army has a responsibility in recruiting, training, moving soldiers to wars, so his primary job has to do with the security of the land. This security concerns not just about external threats like foreign invasions but also about internal conflicts that might challenge the royal power. Now about the royal herald, his job includes the work of the royal communication to the king, duties of protocol work, and accompanying the king on journeys (De Vaux, 132).

The two chief priests oversee religious matters and their primary function in the cabinet has to do with providing religious legitimation of the royal power through the temple rituals. Also in times of war, they should tell the people the necessity of the holy war supported by God. The presence of the chief priests tells of the fact that religion and the state worked together. Fourth, the duties of the chief of corvée include mobilizing of the labor forces required to do Solomon’s aggressively various building projects (1 Kings 5:27; 9:15). This post should work with local governors because the labor force should come out of the whole provinces.

The officer over the governors does a job related to the taxation of the local provinces. Sixth, the secretary (sopher) mainly concerns the “official correspondence, both external and internal” and his job includes record keeping of taxes, tolls, and tribute (Bright, 203). So under him, many scribes work to assume a huge task of a job as such. Smith’s study hints the importance of scribal functions in the ancient world as he relates the Assyrian king’s support for scribal acts to the effective royal administration (Smith, 28).

The secretary of the palace works in managing the royal property and the logistics of the palace.

Lastly, the king’s friend concerns the matters of the king’s private life, providing a personal counseling service to the king. (Bright, 203). The organizational chart of Solomon’s administration covers the work of internal and external matters. Solomon’s time needed to maintain the wealth and the land due to David’s expansion, strengthening the state business. What about power relations among cabinet members and their relationship to the king? I think basically the power relationship depends on the case of urgency and contingency and that each function of the cabinet officers should work together likely in the form of the cabinet meeting where members theoretically share power. Based on this concluding assumption, I will draw up the chart of Solomon’s administration as follows.

[Works Cited John Bright, “The Organization and Administration of the Israelite Empire” 
Clyde Curry Smith. “The Birth of Bureaucracy.” Biblical Archeologist 40 (1977) 24-28. 
Roland De Vaux, “The Principal Officers of the King” in Ancient Israel. 1965. 4]


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"Lex Talionis in Exod 21:22-25: Its Origin and Context," Journal of Hebrew Scriptures Volume 6: Article 3 (2006); also appears in Perspectives on Hebrew Scriptures III edited by Ehud Ben Zvi, Gorgias Press, 2007.

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