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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.

Change and Continuity in the Period of State Formation

The monumentality and grandeur of the Jerusalem Temple did not mean that it replaced local shrines. The diverse expressions of religious life in villages and cities distant from the capital continued, and local priestly families remained important in various aspects of community life. Regional centers of worship from the tenth century have been located, for example, at Megiddo and at Taanach, each with its own repertoire of vessels and ritual objects, not all compatible with Jerusalem ideology; later Deuteronomic and prophetic tirades against such local shrines provide further evidence. The continuing existence of these religious centers is just one dimension of the complex dynamics of the transition to statehood in ancient Israel. The emergence of the state did not obliterate other existing features of Israelite culture, and not everyone was caught up in the political, religious, and economic culture of a dynastic state.

The persistence of strong kinship-based culture in monarchic Israel is apparent in the Bible's continued attention to tribal identities and territories. Indeed, tribal ideology colors the stories and narratives of Israel's premonarchic period, materials that apparently took shape under the monarchy. While tribal structures and values may be at odds with those of a state, they can also be complementary and supportive of the state's stability, as ethnographic evidence shows. This is particularly true when tribal solidarity, manifest in grassroots support for local lineage heads, is transferred to the crown, as in the Judean segment of the premonarchic tribal units. Supratribal administrative organs diminish aspects of tribal influence and power; but in smaller villages and settlements, and among those distant from the central or regional authorities, group identity and loyalty normally abides in the kinship and clan units that constitute the tribe.

Legal cases, for example, tend to be decided at the lowest available authority level. Family households resolve the simplest disputes. As societies become larger and more complex, the family locus of managing conflict is complemented by the formation of lineage judicial authorities—the elders. When disputes cross lineage lines, clan or tribal leaders conduct legal proceedings. The problems of premonarchic Israel that led to state formation included those requiring supratribal authority to deal with disputes. In biblical texts associating the king with justice, David holds a paradigmatic role. The connection of monarch with judicial authority represents general social stability under a state system. In terms of everyday adjudication, the king acts as a kind of highest court of appeals—the court of last resort. The incident in 2 Samuel 15.1–6 seems to represent a rival's distortion of David's success in settling claims (see also 1 Kings 3.16–28 , where Solomon's adjudication is linked to his wisdom). Yet royal or national-level adjudication was the exception rather than the rule; the absence of a cabinet-level judicial officer from the Davidic and Solomonic lists is significant in this regard.

The sociopolitical shift involved in Israelite state formation did not mean organizational discontinuity. Many elements of pre-state society were surely left intact for a long time after the emergence of a new political structure and its accompanying ideologies. Nor did the new administrative apparatus entail the dissolution of prior ones; the state added layers of sociopolitical organization to existing ones. The successful functioning of the state system thus depended on the continued operation of kinship structures, and state and tribe were not in constant and inevitable tension.

Yet the Bible does express reservations about centralized monarchic government. Most noteworthy are the antimonarchic passages of 1 Samuel (8.4–28 and 10.17–19; see also 1 Kings 12.1–4 and the “law of the king” in Deut. 17.18–22), in which Samuel warns the people about negative aspects of a state system. The dating of these texts is unresolved, although the weight of the evidence seems to preclude an authentic eleventh-century speech of Samuel. State systems are usually not contested by a groundswell of public complaint against monarchic hierarchies, policies, conscription, or even taxes. Rather, they break down as the result of jealousies among leadership factions over the perquisites of being at the top of a distribution system that clearly advantages the king and his courtiers. In this regard, the legendary accounts of usurpers and of succession struggles in the books of Samuel and also in Kings reveal the true nature of the opposition: to the privileges of individual kings and their followers, not to kingship itself. From the outset the monarchy was meant to be dynastic. David was in fact a wildly successful usurper, however the later pro-Davidic narrative of the DH justifies his replacement of Saul's line. Having established a loyal patronage among Judeans, the army, and a priestly faction, David was well situated to move into the position of God's chosen once Saul had died. Yet his sons struggled against each other to achieve their father's vaunted power, and Solomon's heir was opposed and ultimately rejected by a northerner.

Those who claimed the throne often argued that they simply represented a constituency from among the people. In fact, they hoped to win for themselves the benefits of life in the palace. Judeans, favored by the crown, had no problems with royal power. But northern leaders grumbled that the wealth of the capital did not sufficiently extend to them. During David's reign and for much of Solomon's, the flow of spoil and tribute meant that the tax burden for the royal building projects was minimal or perhaps even nonexistent, if David's failure to complete a census is any indication. Similarly, the use of Israelites in forced labor crews was never an issue, at least while the supply of prisoners of war and their offspring was maintained (1 Kings 9.20–22 ).

Another dichotomy in Israelite society was in some respects more important than the tribe-state or kinship-kingship one. Near Eastern kingship was overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon. The urbanization reflected in David's development of Jerusalem and in the Solomonic program of establishing regional centers, and perhaps storage and chariot cities (1 Kings 9.19 ), was epitomized by the lifestyle in the capital. However exaggerated it may be in the biblical account, the ruling urban elite of Jerusalem enjoyed the material benefits accruing to the leaders of a state system.

That lifestyle, and the visible differentials of wealth, had little effect on the rural villages under the early monarchy. The ideology of the Bible claims a national unity that was unlikely as yet to have existed, socially or economically. In this sense, modern occidental ideas of a nation-state prevent us from understanding that the early state in Israel had more in common with the Bronze Age traditions of city-states, writ large, than with a state composed of a citizenry all directly affected by and identifying with the state. At least during the period of the United Monarchy, when state expenses were met from extranational sources, the royal house did not reshape existing economic patterns nor fund its projects with surpluses extracted from the farmers. Indeed, Solomon's budgetary excesses were resolved by ceding property to the Phoenicians rather than by securing funds internally (1 Kings 9.11–14; see also 1 Kings 5.11 ). Conversely, the flow of goods and imports to the capital had little impact outside the temple-palace complex; they reinforced and legitimized royal rule but hardly percolated into the countryside.

The tenth century saw the recovery of tribal lands lost to Philistines, the capture or incorporation of nontribal enclaves still surviving in tribal territories, the development of regional centers, and the establishment of trade routes. The different ecological niches of the country could thus be exploited more advantageously, with less risk to the individual farm family, to support the burgeoning population spread out in new settlements across the land. Most of that population lived in agrarian villages, not in cities. Even Jerusalem in this period was a relatively tiny city with a small population, consisting mostly of government officials and servitors with their families. With exceptions such as crown lands serving as royal plantations, the tenth-century economy was based in the family. Each household remained a discrete production unit, functioning in and around residences identified as the typical pillared (three- or four-room) house of Israelite settlements throughout the Iron Age. Each household was relatively self-sufficient, producing and processing its own food and clothing except for some agricultural products acquired in exchange for what specialists such as metallurgists provided. The royal hierarchies of Jerusalem, and later those of the other developing urban sites, had no counterparts in village life. Even in the larger villages, household buildings were strikingly uniform in size. There may well have been wealth differentials, expressed in greater access to luxury goods rather than in increased house size, but differences in wealth are not the same as a class system. Whatever status accrued to lineage or clan leaders in the segmentary society that preceded the monarchy continued, and such status was distinct from class hierarchies.

The continuation of agrarian village life, relatively untouched in any negative ways by the tenth-century monarchy, had implications for gender relations. In the pre-state period senior males and females in the family households stood in relative parity with respect to subsistence specialization, control of family resources, and authority over the younger generation and other household dependents. This parity continued into the tenth century. In the kinship-based configurations that characterized village settlements, females enjoyed a status that was related more to the prestige of their household than to their gender. Only to the extent that traditional kinship patterns were disrupted by the new state would female household authority have been reduced—especially in urban settings, where emerging hierarchies inevitably meant the increasing sub-ordination of women. The relative authority of women tends to decline with the rise of state institutions, although some women (such as queens) exercise social power through their class position.

Although the relatively distinct urban and rural spheres meant that women in agrarian households continued to have authoritative roles, the emergence of a state system set in motion other dynamics that ultimately lowered female status. With a male dynastic figure in place, and with permanent male-headed government offices established, public office and accomplishment were represented almost exclusively by men. Great symbolic value rests in this formal association between males and political power, an association that inevitably disadvantages women. Furthermore, Yahweh became the ultimate symbol of Israelite national identity; and Yahweh's royal image was built on metaphors drawn from the male domains of military and political power. The accompanying emphasis on the kingship of God eventually obscured in the state ideology female aspects of divine power, although village communities as well as some portions of the urban population retained more diverse divine imagery, including goddess worship, until the demise of the monarchy.

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