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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Sociopolitical Features of the Early Monarchy

The military, techno-environmental, and demographic factors leading to state formation in early monarchic Israel, along with the spread of new settlements and the proliferation of public works, inevitably meant changes in the patterns of local leadership and in the relatively equal access to resources characteristic of the preceding Iron I period. Village, clan, or tribal elders lacked the supratribal power necessary to establish and equip a successful army, to move goods and people, and to embark on the monumental construction projects necessary for the administrative structures of the emergent state's extended territory. The archaeological record leaves no direct trace of the different levels of human activity and status connected with new sociopolitical arrangements. Thus scattered clues in the biblical narrative are important, as are social-science models, if used cautiously.

Most of the scarce biblical information about the earliest decades of the monarchy concerns military operations. We learn that Saul created a standing army (1 Sam. 13.2 ) under his direct command, but presumably with high-ranking officers in addition to his own son Jonathan and his cousin Abner (1 Sam. 14.50 ). He also seems to have appointed a priestly officer (1 Sam. 14.3, 18 ), a supervisor for his staff (1 Sam. 22.9 ), and someone to be in charge of his pasturages (1 Sam. 21.7 ). These textual references to administrative positions indicate a small nucleus of state officials. With a relatively tiny capital at Gibeah and a focus on warfare, there would have been little time, need, or resources for complex organizational development. But Saul's military successes, and then David's, ultimately did necessitate organizational complexity. At the same time, victory in warfare, with spoils and tribute, provided an economic base for specialists and workers in the overlapping domains of judicial, religious, commercial, diplomatic, and constructional activities.

As might be expected for a king who ruled longer than Saul and whose reign eventually saw the cessation of conflict, David expanded and systematized his predecessor's rudimentary administrative structures. The most direct evidence for the organization of the new state under David and then Solomon comes from three lists of high officials given in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. (See table 5.2 for the positions listed, in the order given in the texts.) The second of the two listings for David, presumably dating later in his reign than the first, indicates the adjustments he made as he gained experience in royal office. The most significant are a doubling of military officials; a shift from David's sons to Ira of the post of a palace or Jerusalem priestly officer, the second priestly official in both lists; and the addition of an overseer for the labor forces.

The double set of military officers—one commanding the army, presumably an Israelite muster, and the other in charge of the Cherethites and Pelethites, two foreign mercenary units—reflects the importance of the fundamental source of royal power: the coercive strength of the military. The two types of military forces can be related to the king's efforts to maintain his troops' allegiance. The mercenaries, sustained and supported away from home by the crown, served the king directly and were inherently well controlled by their commander. A standing army is another story. The books of Samuel mention the king distributing spoils of war (1 Sam. 22.7; 30.21–25; see also 1 Sam. 17.25 ), an act meant to help secure the army's loyalty. Another important aspect of the army and its faithfulness is that its leadership core consisted, for Saul, of fellow Benjaminites (1 Sam. 13.2; 22.7 ), and for David, fellow Judeans (1 Sam. 22.1–2 ). Likewise, Judeans in general, and not just those who served as soldiers, benefited materially from the successes of their kinsman David (1 Sam. 30.26–30; see also 2 Sam. 19.42; 20.2 ). Although David was commander in chief, he appointed “cabinet-level” chiefs of staff to maintain tight control of his military power base.

The double set of priestly administrators reflects another crucial aspect of royal

Table 5.2 Officials under David and Solomon

2 SAMUEL 8.16–18 2 SAMUEL 20.23–26 1 KINGS 4.1–6
(David) (David) (Solomon)
Over the army Over the army of Israel Priest
Recorder Over the Cherethites and Pelethites Secretaries
Priests Over the forced labor Recorder
Secretary Recorder Over the army
Over the Cherethites and Pelethites Secretary Priests
Priests (David's sons) Priests Over the officials
David's priest (Ira) Priest and king's friend
Over the palace
Over the forced labor
control. Royal rule depended in part on priestly groups stationed at shrines throughout the kingdom. Their appointment, perhaps accompanied by personal land grants, was from the crown and thus ensured loyalty to the throne. With the royal and ritual governments inextricably linked, priestly officials had more to do than simply perform ritual acts. Their business also included communications, adjudications, and the collection of revenues (in the form of offerings), although these functions may have overlapped with traditional procedures under the control of village and tribal elders. The network of priestly officials was closely linked to the redistribution of goods and thus deserved high-level government supervision.

Finally, the second Davidic list of officials contains an officer not found on the first list: a labor supervisor. Military success brought spoils of war, which filled the royal and priestly coffers (see especially 2 Sam. 8.7–12 and 12.30, and also 1 Sam. 15.9 and 27.9 ) and secured the loyalty of the army and key officials; and it also brought war captives into the kingdom. According to the narratives, foreign servitors came from Ammon, Moab, and Edom, as well as from the various Aramean cities that David encountered in his campaigns to the northeast (2 Sam. 8.2–14; 12.31 ). These captives constituted a workforce, with their own chief administrator, for the building projects initiated by David (2 Sam. 5.9, 11; 12.31; see also 1 Chron. 22.2 ). The massive public works of the early monarchy are attributed to Solomon and were certainly completed during his reign. Yet some biblical texts suggest that Davidic military operations brought two important resources: capital, from spoils and tribute; and labor, from war captives. The local economy alone could not have supported such projects without severe deprivations to the indigenous subsistence farmers, nor would local residents endure the hardship of construction-gang work with much enthusiasm. Thus the wealth and labor acquired through war provided the human and fiscal resources for erecting the nation-state's material structures. It would be a stretch to claim imperial control in the tenth century for the Jerusalem-based monarchy. Yet the small states or city-states between Palestine and Assyria, which normally paid tribute to one or another of the Mesopotamian states or to Egypt, could well have directed such payments to Jerusalem during the ascendancy of Davidic rule and the weakness of the traditional powers.

The monumental building projects of the early monarchy were crucial to the new regime. Such projects enhanced the image and status of the ruler and his bureaucracy. They won support from the newly appointed officials, or clients, whose loyalty depended on getting their share in the riches and on their access to the lifestyle of the royal court. Finally, monumental structures functioned as visual propaganda, announcing to neighbors that Israel had the military might to secure the resources to build them—and thus to demand the continued flow of tribute to the new capital. In such ways, monumental building projects, by integrating resources and labor, signified the emergence of a state system. At the same time they signaled the state's coercive potential.

Other than the lists of David's cabinet in 2 Samuel 8 and 20 , little can be gleaned from available sources about the administrative structure of the kingdom. The governing class—courtiers, officials, generals, wealthy merchants and landowners, priestly leaders—constituted only a tiny fraction of the total population. The biblical texts concerning the monarchy contain a strong tradition of the elders and “all the people” having a voice in governance, suggesting that the Israelite monarchy was not a strongly authoritarian regime—not an “oriental despotism” such as some social scientists have modeled. Rather, it was more a participatory monarchy, with many royal decisions presumably both limited and directed by consultation with wider popular interests.

The advent of Solomonic rule, not surprisingly, brought in its wake a more elaborate set of bureaucratic functions. The passages in 1 Kings 4.7–19 and 27–28 describing the twelve officials “who provided food for the king and his household” (each for one month of the year) indicate new administrative hierarchies. This list of officers and their regions partly approximates existing tribal units but in other places diverges from them. Indeed, the list is full of places and names that resist conclusive identification. The known places also are irregularly scattered, and there are overlaps. Thus it is unlikely that, in establishing this set of officials, Solomon was setting up new administrative districts in order to break down existing tribal boundaries and thus tribal loyalties. It is more useful to focus on the functions of the officials in the list.

The twelve officials provisioned the royal establishment, and they supplied fodder for the royal horses. These officers may have served as a rudimentary tax-collecting organization, each charged with collecting in his district sufficient foodstuffs for the court and its steeds. But at least some taxation was channeled through the priestly hierarchies. Another possibility for these officials and the strange topography of their bailiwicks is that they managed crown properties or plantations—lands confiscated or captured by David from pockets of non-Israelite settlements. This explanation accounts for the striking absence of an official in Judah. The New Revised Standard Version, with several Greek manuscripts, supplies “of Judah” at the end of 1 Kings 4.19 ; but the Hebrew omits reference to Judah. Presumably, no royal estates in Judah were meant to supply provisions for the court. This fits David's policy of favoring his own tribe with the fruits—lands as well as goods—of his military accomplishments.

The Solomonic “cabinet” list in 1 Kings 4.1–6 for the most part retains the officers established by David. The few modifications reflect the changing organization of the early state. To begin with, there are now two “secretaries”—officials perhaps charged with record keeping and/or diplomatic correspondence, which increased significantly in Solomon's reign. The role of the military is reduced: the chief army officer no longer comes first, and an officer over mercenary forces has been dropped. Apparently Solomon, while holding a considerable supply of arms and chariots along with a standing army, did not wage wars. Rather, he maintained control through diplomacy over the territories conquered or forced to pay tribute by David's war efforts. His legendary coterie of wives and concubines, criticized by the DH (which records their presence in Jerusalem), represents liaisons with tributary states secured through marriage or concubinage (1 Kings 11.1–8 ).

That such “foreign affairs,” which maintained a flow of goods to the capital (1 Kings 4.21 ), resulted from his diplomatic skill is suggested by Solomon's association with wisdom and wisdom literature. The narrative of his legendary relationship with the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10.1–10 ) builds on his fame as a wisdom figure. In addition, the DH reports a special source, the Book of the Acts of Solomon, for the Solomonic segment of the Samuel-Kings account of the monarchy. This is the only such source cited for a single king; such a work is not even mentioned for David. The use of a special source is indicated by the way 1 Kings 3–11 constitutes a highly structured and self-contained work, unified by the themes of wealth, honor, and wisdom. That source provided information about “the acts of Solomon, all that he did as well as his wisdom” (1 Kings 11.41 ). Solomon's reputation for wisdom is an aspect of the internationalism of his reign. He succeeded in maintaining Davidic holdings not by battle but by persuasive speech, backed by a well-stocked arsenal and the reputation of his father's brilliant military leadership.

Other changes in the list of Solomon's cabinet indicate a growing bureaucracy. An added official “in charge of the palace” was perhaps the majordomo overseeing the elaborate palace complex, now visited by many foreign emissaries as well as by local officials. The person designated to serve “over the officials” was another new cabinet officer, appointed to coordinate the twelve officials charged with supplying provisions for the court on a monthly basis. Finally, the priestly representation on the cabinet expands, as one might expect in a state erecting a major temple building; there is now a third priestly officer, the “king's friend,” who perhaps integrated the sacral and secular functions of the Temple institution with those of the royal administration.

An officer in charge of the labor forces remains on the list, as the need to oversee the workers in building projects, begun by David, continued and expanded during Solomon's rule. The question is, who were the laborers? Davidic claims to have secured prisoners of war for laborers appear likely. A similar claim is made for Solomon—he conscripted a levy of “forced labor out of all Israel” (1 Kings 5.13 ), a workforce that, according to 1 Kings 9.20–22 , consisted only of non-Israelites still remaining within national territories. This claim seems dubious because of counter-claims in 1 Kings 11.28 and 12.10–11 about Solomonic conscription of Israelites for work gangs. Those texts, however, form part of DH's rationale for the breakup of the United Monarchy, so that Solomon's maintenance of a foreign rather than a domestic labor force remains likely. Even the famous protest (1 Sam. 8.11–17 ) against a state system attributed to Samuel stops short of warning the people that they would be conscripted into labor gangs; they would serve in the military and in service professions but their servants (presumably nonnatives) would work on state projects.

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