Ancient Near East

The institution of kingship is widely attested throughout the ancient Near East, but theoretical underpinnings and practical approaches varied considerably across the regions and over the course of time. For instance, in his comparative study of monarchy and religious ideology, Henri Frankfort (1948, p. 217) offers the following summary: “In Mesopotamia, as in Egypt, kingship emerged at the beginning of historical times. But its roots were more deeply embedded in Africa than in Western Asia. Behind Pharaoh we can discern a primitive conception of a chieftain endowed with power over natural forces, a ‘rain-maker king.’ ” But in Mesopotamia, Frankfort continues, “monarchical rule had no such foundation, and kingship remained to some extent problematical. It arose under the pressure of circumstance in a community which originally had not acknowledged authority vested in a single individual.”

Despite variations in the modes and operation of kingship (e.g., dynastic or otherwise), there is invariably a close relationship between kingship and law. A well-known case in point are the Laws of Hammurapi, named after an influential king of Babylon (d. ca. 1750 B.C.E.), and consisting of 282 casuistic laws addressing a variety of domestic, social, and contractual situations ranging from homicide and adultery to lazy tenants—even irresponsible drainage, as the following law (§53) specifies: “If a man has been careless regarding the maintenance of his field dyke and he has not maintained the ditch and a breach has opened up in the dyke so that water has destroyed the cultivable area, the man in whose dyke the breach occurred shall restore any grain that may have been lost” (Richardson, 2000, p. 61). The Laws of Hammurapi is one of numerous law collections discovered in the past century that have greatly enriched our understanding of legal material in the Pentateuch (see Meyers, 2005, pp. 182–188), and it has also affected our interpretation of the role of the monarch or sovereign in sponsoring and maintaining the rule of law in diverse societies. Regardless of the precise degree or amount of influence, such available corpora need to be appreciated as forming part of the intellectual milieu and legal antecedents out of which Israel’s own legal thinking emerged (for an extended argument, see Wright, 2009).

Relative to other nations and superpowers, Israel’s legal traditions and adoption of kingship were late arrivals, and for all the points of similarity, both law and monarchy were subject to quite different conceptions in a number of respects. Moreover, the relationship between the law and royal administration was a complex one in biblical Israel, with areas of congruence but also some salient points of departure from other ancient Near Eastern polities. In this essay I will discuss the story of law and monarchy in the Hebrew Bible, and some of the ways that this relationship is represented in various narratives. Matters of origins and the compositional layers of the biblical text are much debated by scholars, so in this essay the focus will be on the narrative dynamics at work, with examples of how kings are ideally pictured as guardians and custodians of the law, though more often than not it is the case that Israel’s legal traditions are co-opted or eschewed by royal figures for self-aggrandizing or mischievous ends. Although such a narrative approach that reads the biblical texts largely synchronically reveals the negative side of Israel’s monarchs as legal stewards, one also sees that, in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction, the failure of the monarchy may have fueled eschatological hopes for a different quality of leader who would rule justly.

The Law of the King in Deuteronomy 17.

It would be misleading to insist on a neat bifurcation between Israel’s civic and cultic laws, since the Torah was intended to guide the nation in all matters—spiritual and political—and applied to all citizens, from the least to the greatest. Nowhere is this more evident than Deuteronomy 17:14–20, the law of the king, as articulated by Moses in his long dramatic monologue to the Israelites that constitutes his final address to the nation on the threshold of entering the land of Canaan after the exodus from Egypt and as their sojourn in the wilderness draws to an end. The dating of the text is uncertain, but it is undoubtedly the most important legal text in the Pentateuch pertaining to monarchy. It has two main parts. First, verses 14–17 outline the prerequisites for office, most importantly that that king be a native Israelite, along with instructions that the king must not multiply horses, wives, or gold. Public image is only one side of these prohibitions; it is also clear that these limitations on royal power are a divergence from the template of the surrounding nations, where a large harem and military accoutrements would be signs of strength and virility. Second, verses 18–20 stress the need for a king’s spatial proximity to the law, since it is required that he write down a copy of the law under the supervision of the levitical priests, and that he continually read it and learn to revere God. Instead of exalting himself, the king is to be a servant leader and not deviate from the law in order that his descendants might enjoy a long reign after him.

Unlike the Laws of Hammurapi or other ancient Near Eastern law collections (see Roth), it should be emphasized that the law in Deuteronomy is not uttered by an incumbent monarch. Rather, the voice of Moses mediates the word of God, and, as Bernard Levinson (1991, p. 148) notes, this contrast of author (or authority) is crucial: “Hammurapi is both the textual speaker of the laws and, in terms of the text’s explicit assertions, their author. In this context of the literary history of the genre, the Israelite attribution of law to God, whatever the precise historical experiences it reflects, represents the attempt to assert the absolute authority of the law.” Such a move, Levinson concludes, “Most likely also represents an attempt to validate Israelite values in the face of the more established high cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt, whose literary canons … were already ancient when Israel emerged as a historical state.” On this score, the canonical placement of Deuteronomy within the Hebrew Bible is noteworthy, since it both closes the Torah and serves to introduce the next major section. The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings form a coherent narrative that is often referred to by scholars as the “Deuteronomistic History” because the words of Moses in Deuteronomy act as a hermeneutical grid for the narrative that follows. Tracing the story of Israel from entrance to the land of Canaan until the collapse of the nation in the wake of the Babylonian exile, the laws of Deuteronomy are thus canonically situated as a test of faithfulness for the nation as they begin to live in the land.

Lawlessness and Nascent Kingship in the Book of Judges.

Even as the law of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14–20 anticipates the monarchy in Israel, there is nonetheless a certain ambivalence that surrounds the institution of kingship in the Hebrew Bible, especially when viewed through the lens of its cultural congeners who did not seem to harbor similar qualms. While the rise of kingship was long anticipated in various sections of the biblical text (e.g., Gen 17:6; 35:11; 49:10), the possibilities of corruption and compromise were also recognized, and hence the parameters of Deuteronomy 17 to curtail the king’s independence and introduce some structures of accountability. Prior to any positive developments, the potential for the Israelite monarchy is negatively illustrated in the middle sequence of the book of Judges toward the end of the Gideon cycle. After Gideon surprisingly liberates Israel from the Midianites, he is then offered dynastic kingship in Judges 8:22:“Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.” Though Gideon declines the offer, his legacy is tainted because he proceeds to make an ephod (in this context, some sort of cult object) and because of the actions of his illegitimate son Abimelech (whose name means “my father is king”) in the next chapter.

At the outset of Judges 9, Abimelech persuades the Shechemites to install him as king and surrounds himself with “empty and reckless” thugs—surely implying a gang with scant regard for the rule of law, and perhaps also a parody of court sycophants who are prominent influences on later kings—and purges his father’s house. A furious civil war marks the nadir of his three-year rule, capped by Abimelech’s “measure for measure” demise: in Judges 9:5 he destroys his 70 brothers on “one” stone, only to have “one” woman of Thebez drop an upper millstone from a tower (v. 53) and crush his skull (see Stone, 2009, pp. 74–77).

Overall, it can be seen that the experiment of Abimelech presages the larger systemic failure of the monarchy to come, and warns about a king’s eschewing basic matters of justice in favor of blatant self-interest. Northern monarchs will be known for their corruption, but the reader must bear in mind that Abimelech is mentioned by Joab in relation to David’s kingship as well (2 Sam 11:18–22), during one of the most lawless phases of David’s career. Abimelech, therefore, is not the only king to suffer an ignominious fall, and he becomes a grim parable of what happens when the king’s tyranny spirals out of control (McConville, 2006, p. 129). The idea of Abimelech as a negative prototype gains currency when considering the final sentence in the book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg 21:25, NRSV). Does this verse mean that citizens will cease to do what right in their own eyes once a king begins to rule, or does it imply that matters will be demonstrably worse if the king insists on doing what is right in his own eyes? While this ambiguity serves to introduce the inauguration of kingship in the next segment of the Deuteronomistic History, it also characterizes the tension felt throughout Israel’s monarchic experiment.

Saul’s Reign and the “Mišpāṭ of the King.”

In terms of comparative sources, “Ancient Near Eastern texts almost unanimously presuppose the institution of kingship as a social organizing principle. Kingship in Mesopotamia is ‘lowered from heaven’ or is coeval with creation. The Assyrian King List, for example, can hypothesize a time when kings ‘lived in tents,’ but not a time before kingship” (Halpern, 2001, p. 268). It may have been long anticipated in Israel, but the arrival of kingship on the national stage does not occur formally until 1 Samuel 8, when the elders approach the prophet and present their demand for a king ostensibly because of the corruption of his sons (whom he had installed as judges in Beersheba). God directs Samuel to acquiesce to their request (1 Sam 8:9), and articulate for them “the custom of the king” (mišpaṭ ha-melek). Scholars note that a similar phrasing is found in 1 Samuel 10:25, but there are varying views on the provenance of this code and uncertainty about its relationship with Deuteronomy 17 (see, e.g., Kaplan, 2012; Leuchter, 2005). Moreover, the long speech of Samuel in verses 10–18 sounds very much like a denunciation and a warning of what the king will do: the verb “take”(√l-q-ḥ) is prominent in the speech, and the people are warned (among other things) that the king will confiscate their properties and revenues and distribute them to his associates.

The key point here is that Samuel’s speech anticipates conduct of doubtful legality even prior to the appointment of the first king. Upon Saul’s accession in the next chapters, therefore, an ambiance of mistrust surrounds the characterization of king and prophet. A violation of the prophetic instruction results in Saul’s early disqualification and the termination of his dynasty (1 Sam 13:8–14), although he functionally remains in office until his death at the end of 1 Samuel.

Samuel had warned that the king would “take,” and an episode worth considering in this regard is found in 1 Samuel 22:6–8, in the midst of the long sequence where David is a fugitive in the wilderness fleeing from Saul’s maniacal pursuit. With his servants gathered around him as he sits under a tamarisk tree with spear in hand, Saul accuses them of conspiracy (v. 7) and alerts them of what they stand to lose if David becomes king: “Hear now, you Benjaminites; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds?”

It is noteworthy that Saul does not comment on whether the nation will be better off under David’s leadership, only that David will appropriate the vineyards and military appointments and give them to David’s servants instead of to those who presently serve Saul. There is every indication, consequently, that Saul has a history of “taking” during his reign, with no attempt at denying that, and that he sees such taking as one of the hallmarks of monarchy. Such self-aggrandizing behavior echoes Deuteronomy 17:17 with its prohibition of multiplying gold, which, by extension, may well include the buying of influence and perhaps altering the course of justice. In fairness, it should be noted that David adopts the same strategy as Saul prior to his own accession, most obviously when he sends gifts to various cities in Judah in 1 Samuel 30:26–31 to reaffirm the support of his core constituency. This is entirely akin to the kind of advantages Saul threatened would be stopped in Benjamin should David become king.

The Increasing Complexity of David’s Royal Administration.

The narrative of 1 Samuel creates an impression that Saul has a rather rustic court, with no trace of a palace and only the most rudimentary of appointments: his cousin Abner is commander of the army (1 Sam 14:5), while the shadowy foreigner Doeg the Edomite is a retainer who slaughters the priests of Nob at the king’s command on charges of sedition (1 Sam 22:18–19). By contrast, after becoming king of all Israel in 2 Samuel 5 there is every indication David’s court will quickly eclipse that of Saul and bear a much closer resemblance to the surrounding nations rather than the template of Deuteronomy 17. Ensconcing the Ark of the Covenant in the city of Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6 implies centrality of the law it contains in the Davidic kingdom, although it is likely that political motives, too, are mingled with the ark’s transfer as a way to legitimate the nation’s new capital. The listing of David’s royal officials in 2 Samuel 8:15–18 indicates a significantly larger organization than Saul, with a diversity of appointments ranging from military personnel to recording secretaries. In further contrast to Saul, David hires a contingent of foreign mercenaries—the Cherethites and the Pelethites—pointing to the king’s perceived need for a group who might conceivably circumvent the law if necessary in order to maintain the king’s hold on power.

On a personal level, the king’s brazen disregard for the law in 2 Samuel 11 brings lasting consequences for the Davidic dynasty and arguably precipitates a crisis that culminates in a civil war. But before the civil war and the rebellion of Absalom, the prophet Nathan is sent with a divine word for the king, prefaced with an appeal to matters of justice by means of a fictitious story about the exploitation of a poor man by a wealthy figure (Schipper, 2007, pp. 41–56). David unwittingly utters a verdict against himself (“As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity”), and promptly is unmasked by the prophet for his crimes. Nathan prognosticates that evil will arise out of the king’s own house and bring retribution (2 Sam 12:11). When David’s firstborn son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar in the very next chapter—which is in turn shortly followed by Absalom’s murder of Amnon and his subsequent revolt against David—the prophetic word moves toward fulfillment. As part of his campaign to usurp the throne, there is an important scene in 2 Samuel 15:2–6 where Absalom positions himself by the city gate, the traditional site of judicial activity and legal colloquy in a city (see Deut 22:15; Ruth 4:1). Although he is a disingenuous character, Absalom’s campaign platform is predicated on the apparent absence of justice in the Davidic monarchy, as he subtly proffers himself as an alternative: “If only I were judge in the land! Then all who had a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give them justice.” By means of this strategy Absalom steals the hearts of the Israelites (2 Sam 15:6), and the reader has to decide if Absalom is cynically promising to always decide in favor of the litigant or if he is protesting about an obvious lack of justice in David’s kingdom and exploiting a sense of popular resentment. Either way, this scene calls attention to the equivocal status of the law in the Davidic monarchy, a dubious legacy that will be imparted to the next king, Solomon.

The Place of Law in Solomon’s Expanded Bureaucracy.

“There are numerous signs,” writes David Carr (2010, p. 61), “that David and Solomon drew deeply on older Egyptian and other models in building the monarchy in Jerusalem: the make-up of their royal court, the models used for construction of temple and palace, etc. These are non-textual ‘echoes of empire’ seen in the emergent Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem.” The increasing complexity of the Davidic administration is noticeably in tension with the law of the king in Deuteronomy 17, not least the considerable number of wives taken by David (2 Sam 3:2–5; 5:13), pointing to a host of alliances and treaties with foreign nations that were also warned against in Israel’s law (e.g., Deut 7:3–4). Such tensions are amplified during Solomon’s lengthy tenure, said to be forty years in duration, which commences with a series of machinations and the brutal elimination of his opponents in 1 Kings 1–2 that secures his throne. An exponential growth of the monarchic administration occurs under Solomon, with building projects and organization of personnel that are undeniably impressive on the surface and subject to extensive reporting in the Deuteronomistic History. For instance, in 1 Kings 7:7 one of the administrative structures in the royal complex is a specifically judicial site, differentiated from the other buildings by its purpose: “He made the Hall of the Throne where he was to pronounce judgment, the Hall of Justice, covered with cedar from floor to floor.” This building makes a connection between “the throne as the seat of the king and the justice administered by him or in his name” (Mulder, 1998, pp. 293–294), although there is more description of décor than discussion of any actual use of the facility. But in 1 Kings 3, Solomon’s reputation as a wise king without peer is forged when he responds to God’s invitation in a dream with a request for an “understanding mind” in order to properly judge the people of Israel and discern between right and wrong.

The cultic high point of Solomon’s reign is surely the construction of the temple in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant is permanently housed, and the divine sponsorship of the Davidic monarchy can be observed by the public. It can be argued that Solomon’s rhetorical skill is manifested in his long speech at the dedication of the temple upon its completion after seven years of labor. In this discourse (1 Kings 8:15–53) Solomon celebrates the dynastic promise given to the descendants of David while being careful to invoke the name of Moses. As Jon Levenson (1987, p. 75) notes, “it is of the utmost significance that the Torah, the law of the theo-polity, was, for all its diversity, always ascribed to Moses and not to David, to the humble mediator of covenant and not to the regal founder of the dynastic state.” As a theological synthesizer and balancer of competing interest groups, Solomon must be regarded as without equal, and combined with his strong hold on the kingdom, there is little room for the kind of dissenting voices that could be heard under Saul (1 Sam 10:27) and David (2 Sam 20:1–2).

For all the impressive achievements of the Solomonic monarchy, there is a dark undercurrent that flows through the narrative of 1 Kings 1–11. Not long after he consolidates the kingdom, Solomon transacts a marriage alliance and becomes a son-in-law to Pharaoh (1 Kgs 3:1), conduct that is at odds with Deuteronomy 7:1–6 where intermarriage and related partnerships are prohibited (cf. Josh 23:11–12). There is also a realignment of tribal boundaries in 1 Kings 4:7–19, which was most likely intended to increase revenue flow even at the expense of Israel’s traditional configuration. In this reorganization there is an apparent bias toward Solomon’s own tribe of Judah and a predominance of his own relatives as district governors. The vast accumulation of gold (approximately 25 tons per annum according to 1 Kgs 10:14) and imported horses from Egypt (1 Kgs 10:28) are in direct violation of Deuteronomy 17:16–17. In this light, the reader may be tempted to reconsider a building like the Hall of Justice. Walter Brueggemann (2000, p. 94) sets the Israelite kingdom at this point in conversation with the theological rendering of God in Psalm 82, a poem that “portrays Yahweh as the one who commands that justice be given to the weak and the orphan, the lowly and the destitute. At its best the monarchy in Jerusalem replicated this vision of Yahweh. At its best we may imagine that ‘the Hall of Justice’ was an arena for such activity. We may also imagine, given what we know of Solomon, that such a procedure was seldom ‘at its best.’ ”

The apostasy of Solomon that is extensively depicted in 1 Kings 11:1–13 is thus not entirely surprising, nor unexpected by the reader, and the ensuing penalty has echoes of an earlier transition: the kingdom is going to be given into the hand of “his servant,” and there are clear parallels between Saul and Solomon, who are replaced by David and Jeroboam, respectively. Like Jeroboam to Solomon, David was Saul’s servant but the kingdom was ripped from Saul’s hand for violating the prophetic word.

In the new era of the divided kingdom (1 Kgs 12) the posture of the various kings toward the law does not improve. Jeroboam also strays from the legal conditions outlined in his investiture by the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh in 1 Kings 11:31–39, and this same prophet soon pronounces the end of his dynasty in 1 Kings 14:9: “You have done evil above all those who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and cast images, provoking me to anger, and have thrust me behind your back.” From this point onward northern kings will consistently run afoul and transgress the law, and be called out for their culpability.

Legal Critique of the Israelite Monarchy by Prophetic Agency.

From the inception of the Israelite monarchy, prophets are intimately involved and are the principal mechanism of accountability. Samuel’s heated warning about legal infringements can be seen in certain aspects of Saul’s kingship (perhaps “taking” the Amalekite spoil in 1 Sam 15 as well), while the outcome of David’s conduct in the Uriah affair is Nathan’s condemnation for his “taking” the wife of Uriah and putting the husband to death with the sword of the Ammonites (2 Sam 12:9), thus breaching the notion of holy war by subverting an occasion to secure the borders of Israel and the security of God’s people for his own ends. Solomon’s egregious violations of Deuteronomy 17 do not bring any prophetic opposition—indeed, prophets are silent in the Solomonic kingdom, strongly suggesting they are not welcomed by the king—but God appears twice to serve warnings (1 Kgs 6:11–13; 9:3–9) that are brought to a realization at the end of Solomon’s life. To summarize, “the repeated use of the root √š-p-ṭ in 1 Samuel 8 and 10:25, with its dual meaning of ‘govern’ and ‘judge,’ clearly represents the basic functions of kingship in early agrarian states. However, the negative tone of these passages and Deut 17:14–20, whether a Deuteronomistic assessment of kingship or not, illustrates the striking differentiation between the ideal presentation of the duties of kingship and the stark reality of a society subject to the widespread powers of a highly centralized agrarian monarchy” (Whitelam, 1992, p. 46). After the division of the kingdom matters do not improve, as seen when Abijah rejects Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14, and the prophetic censure of the monarchy continues with other prophets haranguing of errant kings.

A signal example is the incident of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21, when Ahab—heir of the Omride dynasty ruling the northern kingdom—is confronted by the prophet Elijah. Ahab’s initial characterization and marriage to Jezebel (1 Kgs 16:31) reveals the king’s commitment to fertility religion as the central ideology of the state, and he is duly challenged by Elijah on the practical issue of rain. The contest on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18 may answer the theological question of who sends the rain, but the question of landownership is raised in the next encounter between Ahab and Elijah. As 1 Kings 21 opens, the king offers to purchase the vineyard of his neighbor, a proposal that seems pedestrian enough, but scholars sense a much bigger issue lurking, even “a paradigm for the conflict between the demands of the state and the rights of the people. The farmer Naboth has the right and indeed the duty to bequeath his land to his family and not to outsiders” (Dietrich, 2001, p. 247). Naboth’s grounds for refusal are rooted in texts such as Leviticus 25:23 (“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants”), and hence his response to the king is rooted in fidelity to the law of Israel rather than the whims of the monarch.

Ahab’s emotive reaction is hardly becoming of a king, leaving his wife Jezebel to intervene: she writes to the elders of the city using the royal seal, and impels them to procure false charges against Naboth. For all her flippancy toward Israel’s legal traditions and principles of landownership, she cleverly uses the blasphemy law of Exodus 22:28 (“You shall not revile God, or curse a leader of your people”) to ensure that Naboth is stoned to death for a fabricated crime. Whether the elders are acting out of fear or their own self-interest is not stated, but Ahab takes possession of the property without resistance; a later narrative indicates that Naboth’s sons are also killed (2 Kgs 9:26), implying an easier path to the king’s annexation of the vineyard. Lest the reader think that Ahab gets away with the crime, he is confronted by Elijah in 1 Kings 21:20, and the spatial setting for that exchange confrontation is fitting: God directs Elijah to meet Ahab at the vineyard of Naboth, suggesting that despite the efforts of Ahab and Jezebel to curtail the law, they are ultimately not successful. The punishment delineated by Elijah fits the crime, for just as the royal couple destroyed life, they too will be consumed and the Omride dynasty terminated, with no hope for an inheritance.

Walter Dietrich (2001, p. 247) has noted the relationship of the Naboth incident and later texts: “If the scandal of Naboth is still an individual case for which the royal court is responsible, the theft of land by the ruling class 100 years later becomes an economic principle (Isa 5:8; Amos 2:6; Mic 2:1–2).” In this light, it could be inferred that the attempt to expropriate Naboth’s property is a foreshadowing of the exile at the end of the book of Kings: Israel’s monarchy attempted to steal land from its citizens, only to have its land “stolen” by foreign leaders as first the northern kingdom is destroyed by Assyria, then Judah and Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon. Such widespread failure could plausibly explain why later prophets stressed a messianic vision of a leader who would rule justly. Such a vision is unfolded in texts such as Jeremiah 23:5, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (cf. Isa 42:1–4). At the end of Israel’s monarchic history, Jehoiachin is released from prison in 2 Kings 25, a cipher for a nation that is initially incarcerated for criminal behavior, but subsequently released—reformed perhaps—to imagine and instance a radically different kind of expectation for the implementation of justice.




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Keith Bodner

Greco-Roman Period and New Testament

Since the political context of Judaism in the Hellenistic and Roman eras was continually defined by kingship, Jewish literature of this epoch has bequeathed a formidable array of reflection upon the subject of monarchy and legitimate rule. Among sources that may be characterized as “legal” in character, three factors predominate: (1) the reinterpretation of scriptural texts on kingship, especially Deuteronomy 17:14–20; (2) the experience of foreign empires as lived out under the political ideologies of Hellenistic kings; and (3) the contingencies of the new royal Jewish houses established by the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great. As preserved in literary sources of the Hellenistic-Roman eras, a variety of legal perspectives on kingship emerged within diverse sectors of Judaism, as reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Philo, and Josephus. Such conceptions form a valuable background for appreciating attitudes toward legitimate rule in New Testament writings.

The Temple Scroll’s “Statutes of the King.”

The most extensive piece of legal reflection on kingship in these eras emerges from the Temple Scroll, one of the most significant legal writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls. In a unit often called the “Statutes of the King” (11QTa 56.12–59.21), the scroll rewrites the royal law of Deuteronomy 17:14–20 and further expands it with new legal rulings (Yadin, 1983). A survey of its claims reveals crucial concerns about legitimate rule that appear in other Jewish writings of the era.

The royal legislation begins with a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 17:14–20, in which subtle revisions anticipate the major themes of ensuing lines. Where the Masoretic Text contains the cryptic phrase “he must not cause the people to return to Egypt” (Deut 17:16), the Temple Scroll specifies, “he must not cause the people to return to Egypt for war” (11QT 56.16), an apparent gloss that anticipates a nonbiblical code of warfare that will follow (11QT 58.3–[59]). Likewise, the Masoretic Text reads that the king “must not multiply for himself wives, and his heart must not turn aside” (Deut 17:17); yet the scroll reads, “and they shall not turn aside his heart from following me” (11QT 56.18–19). Again, this rendering (cf. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan) lays the foundation for an endogamous matrimonial code that prohibits royal polygamy and divorce (11QT 57.15–19). Finally, the Masoretic Text presents the king as writing “for himself the copy of this law upon a scroll”; in the “Statutes,” however, it is apparently the priests who “shall write for him this law upon a scroll,” a departure from other known versions that highlights priestly authority over the king. Moreover, the scroll presents its own expanded legislation as the very content of “this law” that is written for the king (see 1 Sam 10:25). These expansions occupy the next three columns of the scroll, which address three concerns: (1) the king’s court and possessions, (2) royal warfare, and (3) the king’s covenant with God.

The king’s court and possessions.

According to the scroll, Israel’s military power will reside in a series of local militias under the rule of “captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, and captains of fifties, and captains of tens,” which will remain located “in all their cities” (11QTa 57.2–4). Thus the king does not amass a standing army; nor are foreign mercenaries allowed, which was a popular practice of Hellenistic kings. Instead, the king is allowed to select a guard of 12,000 “men of war who will not abandon him alone (so that) he is seized by the hand of the nations” (11QT 57.5–7). These men, chosen from each of the 12 tribes, are veritable holy warriors, who “will be men of truth, (who) fear God, hate unjust gain, and are mighty men of valor in war. And they will be with him continually, day and night. They will be the ones who keep him from every sinful thing …” (11QT 57.8–11). In its description of the virtues of the royal guard, the scroll seems to have applied the precedent of Exodus 18:21, which describes Jethro’s recommendation of proper judges to Moses. The king’s military guard will, therefore, have the ethical qualifications of judges.

The king will also be surrounded by 36 judicial advisors, composed of 12 tribal chieftains (nĕśîʾîm), 12 priests, and 12 Levites. This council has apparently been fashioned upon the judiciary as constituted by King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 19:8–10. This counsel will “sit together with him for judgment and for law; and his heart shall not be exalted above them, and he shall not do anything according to any council apart from them” (11QT 57.13–15). If the royal guard protected the king from Gentile aggression and immorality, the royal council ensures Israel’s king will practice righteous judgment. The composition of this advisory also reveals the important popular and theocratic tendencies of the royal laws: the king’s power is synchronized with, if not subordinated to, tribal and theocratic authorities.

Finally, the “Statutes” treat matrimonial law. The king is forbidden from taking a non-Israelite wife: “And he shall not take a wife from any of the daughters of the nations, but only from the house of his father shall he take for himself a wife, from the family of his father” (11QT 57.15–17). The prohibition of exogamy is familiar from earlier postexilic writings (Ezra 9:12; Neh 13:25), yet even more than this, the “Statutes” demand endogamous marriage “from the house of his father,” a legal precedent attested in Pentateuchal narrative sources, such as Abraham’s selection of a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:37–38) or the case of the daughters of Zelophahad (Num 36:6; cf. Jub. 25.1–12, 30.1–16). This command surely also reflects criticisms of royal exogamy in Deuteronomistic writings, especially the case of Solomon, whose “many foreign wives … swayed his heart to follow other gods (1 Kgs 11:1, 4; cf. 11QT 56.18–19; Sir 47:19–21; Josephus Ant. 190–196). The king is further prohibited from taking any additional wives, and he must remain with a single wife throughout her life (11QT 56.17–18). In this ruling, royal polygamy and divorce are forbidden. This ruling stands as one of the only clear prohibitions of divorce in Jewish literature of the Second Temple era.

Royal warfare.

The “Statutes” provide a primarily defensive law code (11QT 58.3–[59]). Since the vast majority of Israel’s military will be located in the cities of the land under local tribal authorities (11QT 57.2–4), these militias are only gradually released to the king’s command, relative to the immediate urgencies of the situation. The first circumstance posed by the code is a defensive war to protect the land from an invading army (11QT 58.3–15). The law allows increments of one-tenth, one-fifth, and one-third of these troops to support the king against foreign invaders. Only in the case of an unsuccessful initial defense against “a king, and chariot, and horse, and an abundant people” will the king receive the maximum support of one-half of the local troops (11QT 58.7–11). Thus the king will never command more than half of the available military men. The king may also wage limited offensive wars. Only after acquiring a war oracle by Urim and Thummim from the high priest shall the king receive the support of one-fifth of the soldiers (11QT 58.15–21). Finally, the code determines how Israel will divide plunder from successful wars: the king will receive a tithe, a rather generous ceiling for his acquisitions.

The king’s covenant with God.

A remarkable covenant of kingship concludes the royal laws. The final words of Deuteronomy 17:20 allude to the possibility of hereditary succession for obedient kings. The “Statutes” further expand this concern by spelling out the stipulations of a conditional covenant between the deity, the king, and the people. It is heavily influenced by Deuteronomy’s own blessings and curses of the covenant (ch. 28), supplemented by the language of Leviticus 26. A direct link between kingship and this chapter of Deuteronomy is provided by Deuteronomy 28:36–37, where “The Lord will lead you and the king whom you set over you to a nation that you and your fathers have not known … and you shall become a by-word, a mockery, and a taunt among all the peoples” (NRSV). The “Statutes” make full use of this connection. Negative and positive consequences face the king:

"But as for the king whose heart and eyes play the harlot from my commandments, there shall not be found for him a man sitting upon the throne of his fathers, perpetually. For forever I shall cut off his seed from ruling ever again over Israel. But if in my statutes he walks, and my commands he keeps, and he does what is just and good before me, there shall not be cut off from him a man from among his sons (who will) sit upon the throne of the kingdom of Israel forever.(11QT 59.13–18; author’s trans.)"

This unique covenant presents a stark contrast to the pro-Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7. In fact, nowhere do the “Statutes” envision a cultic role for Israel’s king, nowhere is “the house of David” referenced, and it seems that the king may derive from any family within Israel (11QT 56.14). Despite its total aversion to Davidic ideology, the laws do, nevertheless, allow for a purely conditional hereditary succession for obedient kings.

What was the purpose of the Temple Scroll’s royal law? Uncertainty enshrouds the question. The law has value as an abstract refinement to earlier biblical laws on kingship. Building adroitly upon earlier Deuteronomic texts, the “Statutes” more fully stipulate precise norms for legitimate royal governance. Advisors, military, marriage, succession—these topics will constitute perennial problems in Jewish reflection on kingship, as reflected in the legal writings of later antiquity and the medieval age (m. Sanh. 2.2–5; t. Sanh. 4.2–11; Maimonides, Book of Judges, treatise 5; Frolov 1999). The Temple Scroll thus stands at an early historical juncture within the history of Jewish legal concern on this matter. At the same time, its strict limitations of the king’s power, anti-Hellenism, and strong theocratic-priestly tendencies may suggest a more polemical purpose that was somehow related to its context. Since the earliest copy of these laws (found in another scroll from Cave 4 at Qumran, 4Q524) dates to the middle of the second century B.C.E., one may assess the “Statutes” as a reformist and utopian political manifesto that criticized the practices of Hellenistic kings. Completely missing from the “Statutes,” for example, is any reference to royal philanthropy, one of the principle ideals of Hellenistic kingship. Its military code discourages vast imperial campaigns and its matrimonial code casts criticism on political remarriages among Hellenistic royal houses. Certainly, these laws would also have reflected negatively upon the eventual practices of the Hasmonean Dynasty, which incrementally consolidated civil, cultic, and military power throughout the latter half of the second century. These polemical features also no doubt engendered a positive reception of the Temple Scroll among the other legal works preserved at Qumran, a movement otherwise critical of the Hasmonean Dynasty (Elledge, 2004).

Other Dead Sea Scrolls.

In addition to the Temple Scroll, the Qumran Community preserved other writings that may reflect legal attitudes toward kingship and rulers. One of the most consistently featured eschatological expectations of the scrolls, for example, concerns a “Prince of the Congregation” who will serve a military and judicial role in the latter days (Damascus Document 7.20; Rule of Blessings 5.23–28; War Scroll 5.1–2; Commentary on Isaiaha frgs. 8–10 3.15–29; Rule of War frgs. 4 and 7; Moses Apocryphonb 3.1–3). The term Prince (nāśîʾ), as opposed to King (melek), seems to reflect the inspiration of Ezekiel’s restoration program (Ezek 40–48), where royal authority has been placed in service to priestly theocracy (Levenson, 1976). Likewise, the Prince of the Dead Sea Scrolls will act according to priestly counsel (Commentary on Isaiaha frgs. 8–10 3.15–29). As expressed in its “diarchal” form of messianic expectation (Rule of the Community 9.10–11; Florilegium 1.10–12; Testimonia 9–20), the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls also insisted that the royal and priestly offices remain separate, a criterion clearly reinforced by the royal law of the Temple Scroll. These tendencies within their writings have often lead to the conclusion that the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls would only have been opposed to the alignment of royal and priestly duties that eventually characterized Hasmonean kingship.

Letter of Aristeas.

While no other Jewish work explores the laws of kingship as fully as the Temple Scroll, other contemporary writings do, nevertheless, address the issue as an important concern of the law. Alexandrian Judaism reflected frequently upon the topic, inspired not only by the earlier heritage of Jewish Law, but also by an extensive peri basileias (“On Kingship”) tradition in Hellenistic philosophy (Murray 2007). Kingship is a vital topic of the lengthy dialogue between King Ptolemy II Philadelphus and the Jewish sages within the Letter of Aristeas (second century B.C.E.). While there is little within the dialogue that deals explicitly with texts from the Torah, the Aristeas does agree with the Temple Scroll that just counselors and military commanders are central to the integrity of the king’s reign: “ ‘Whom ought one appoint as chief ministers?’ He replied, ‘Men who hate wickedness, and in imitation of his way of life do justice, so as to earn themselves good repute continually’ ” (Let. Aris. 280). Likewise, the “commanders of his forces” must be “men of outstanding bravery and justice, who prefer saving men’s lives to victory at the reckless risk of lives” (Let. Aris. 281). Since Aristeas and the Temple Scroll categorically treat royal advisors and military commanders, one might conclude that these were common topics of discourse about kingship in the Hellenistic era (Mendels, 1998). One may also read portions of Aristeas as guarding against Hellenistic conceptions of the divine nature of kings: “God assigns glory and greatness of wealth to kings, each and every one, and no king is independent. All of them wish to share this glory, but they cannot—it is a gift of God” (Let. Aris. 224; cf. Sir 10:1–5; Wright, 2007).

The Septuagint.

The discussion of kingship in Aristeas arises out of a much deeper history in which Alexandrian Judaism interpreted earlier legal traditions within its Ptolemaic political environment. These contextual political dynamics may be apparent in the Septuagintal version of Deuteronomy 17:14–20 and other texts on Israel’s kings. Where the Masoretic Text focuses the legislation of this passage specifically upon “the king,” the Septuagint prefers the more generalizing term ruler (archon), a title that may apply to commanders, chief magistrates, captains, and other high officials. In this case, the Septuagint portrays Judaism’s own political circumstances as governed by “archōn-ship,” rather than by kingship. This feature of translation may reflect the political context of Jews under the Ptolemaic Empire, where they enjoyed a limited range of semiautonomous governance, yet one that was always carried out under the auspices of non-Jewish kings (Bickerman, 1976).

Philo of Alexandria.

Also of relevance to Alexandrian Judaism is Philo’s treatment of Deuteronomy 17:14–20 in Special Laws (4.151–192). Philo is distinctive in the attention he gives to the actual selection of a king, surprisingly, by popular will: “all offices shall be elected … the appointment is to be a voluntary choice and an irreproachable selection of a ruler, whom the whole multitude with one accord shall choose; and God himself will add his vote in favour of, and set his seal to ratify such an election” (Spec. 4.157). Philo further elaborates upon the Deuteronomic requirement that the king must write for himself a copy of the law; the just king will recognize that “other kings bear scepters in their hands, and sit upon thrones in royal state, but my scepter shall be the book of the copy of the law; that shall be my boast and my incontestable glory, the signal of my sovereignty, created after the image and model of the archetypal royal power of God” (Spec. 4.163–164). Here, Philo seems to uphold a delicate balance between the Hellenistic ideal of the king as a divine man who is a law unto himself and the Jewish ideal of the human king as subject to an ultimately divine law (see Goodenough, 1938).

Like the Temple Scroll and Aristeas, Philo further insists upon the necessity of just advisors and judges, relying explicitly on the case of Exodus 18:21 (Spec. 4.170–175). Where the Temple Scroll and Philo mutually connect Deuteronomy 17:14–20 with the criteria for judges in Exodus 18:21, they seem to have relied upon a widespread tradition in Jewish legal interpretation.

As the just king’s reign is modeled upon the deity’s own rule over the cosmos, philanthropy—the quintessential Hellenistic ideal of kingship—is praised by Philo. Moreover, in commenting on Deuteronomy 17:15, Philo is comparatively very generous when insisting that a significant military cavalry and standing army are necessary for a stable rule, fully endorsing the king’s right to exercise violence (Agr. 84–88).


In his own paraphrasing of Deuteronomy 17:14–20, Josephus reads the passage as a divine endorsement of aristocracy, the superlative form of human government:

"Aristocracy, and the way of living under it, is the best constitution; and may you never have any inclination to any other form of government; and may you always love that form, and have the laws for your governors, and govern all your actions according to them; for you need no supreme governor but God. But if you shall desire a king, let him be one of your own nation; let him be always careful of justice and other virtues perpetually; let him submit to the laws, and esteem God’s commands to be his highest wisdom; but let him do nothing without the high priest and the votes of the senators; let him not have a great number of wives, nor pursue after abundance of riches, nor a multitude of horses, whereby he may grow too proud to submit to the laws. And if he affect any such things, let him be opposed, lest he become so potent that his state be inconsistent with your welfare.(Ant. 4.223–224)"

The transitions from one form of government to another comprised a frequent topic within Greek literature (Plato, Leg. 3.381d; Aristotle, Pol. 4.1291b–1294a; Polybius 6.1–8). By portraying kingship as a transition from the ideal state of aristocracy, Josephus shades Deuteronomy 17:14–20 with the colors of this traditional Hellenistic motif. At the same time, he accentuates the negative view of kingship bequeathed in Deuteronomic writings (1 Sam 8): Israel should be governed by God alone through adherence to the laws. In fact, Josephus later reiterates these themes, claiming that Samuel was troubled at the request for a king, “on account of his innate love of justice, and his hatred to kingly government, for he was very fond of an aristocracy” (Ant. 6.36). Even so, kingship is a legitimate concession to popular will. Reminiscent of the Temple Scroll and Philo, the king must do nothing without the consultation of the high priest and elders of the people (gerousiastōn). Most surprising, Josephus’s paraphrase endorses resistance against a king whose ambitions circumvent the laws.

Jewish Kingship and Roman Rule.

As Josephus’s comments illustrate, even moderate, pragmatic Jewish ethics on legitimate rule still preserved a critical edge. Benjamin Wright (2007) and Martha Himmelfarb (2000) have shown how even Ben Sira’s cautious treatment of political authorities still contains veiled criticisms of Hellenistic kings, the hope of restored Jewish sovereignty, and perhaps even a preference for royal priesthood over monarchy (see Sir 10:1—11:6, 36:1–22). Criticisms of illegitimate rule reflected in such literary sources are paralleled in more directly hostile ways in the lived political experience of Jewish opposition to Hasmonean, Herodian, and Roman rule. In contrast, the Hasmonean and Herodian houses carefully crafted their own ideologies of legitimacy.

The Hasmonean claim to kingship arose relatively late within the history of their dynasty; it developed only after a long history of benefactions to the Jewish people that included military exploits, regional administration, and cultivation of the temple (Goodblatt, 1994). Judas Maccabeus’s early military acclaim as “savior,” “ruler,” and “leader” (1 Macc 9:21, 30) was expanded to include the title of “high priest” under Jonathan at the order of Alexander Balas in 152 B.C.E. (1 Macc 10:18–20). “General” and “governor” followed (1 Macc 10:65). By 140 B.C.E., his brother Simon’s powers included a perpetual high priesthood, governorship over other officials, military power, the minting of coinage, raiment of purple and gold, and the further title of “ethnarch”; contracts were dated by his regnal year as high priest (1 Macc 13:31; 14:41–47). The first father-son succession arose as John Hyrcanus accepted military responsibilities during Simon’s lifetime and the high priesthood at his death (1 Macc 16:1–24). According to Josephus, the first of the Hasmoneans to claim the actual title of “king” was Aristobulus I, who in 104 B.C.E. “transformed the government into a monarchy, and was the first to assume the diadem” (War 1.70). The kingship was retained by his successor during the tumultuous reign of Alexander Jannaeus (r. 103–76 B.C.E.). Succeeding her husband, Queen Salome Alexandra (r. 76–67 B.C.E.) installed her son Hyrcanus II as high priest, leading ultimately to the rivalry with his brother Aristobulus II that would end the Hasmonean Dynasty and inaugurate Roman rule (63 B.C.E.).

The kingship of Herod the Great emerged differently from the Hasmonean model. It lacked the cultic pedigree of the Hasmoneans, and it was externally declared by Rome to support their interests in the conflict with Parthia (Mendels, 1992). Faced with these challenges, Herod legitimated his reign by eclectic means that developed throughout his lengthy reign, including marriage to the Hasmonean family and patronage of the Jewish temple (Marshak, 2013).

Intermittent hostility to the rise of Hasmonean and Herodian rulers leaves its traces in a variety of sources. While these hardly constitute the kind of developed legal interpretations treated above, they reveal important attitudes toward legitimate rule. In the Commentary on Habakkuk, the Qumran pesharim present the Hasmoneans as rulers whose original accession to the high priesthood was somehow legitimate, but who became deluded by riches and false legal practices, thus bringing destruction upon their house (1QpHab 8.3–13). Josephus reveals that an articulate opposition to the Hasmoneans had arisen by the time of John Hyrcanus’s reign, when his opponents urged him to content himself with the civil government of the people and to lay aside the office of high priest (Ant. 13.291). Outrage against Jannaeus included charges against his Jewish ancestry, his qualification for the high priesthood, and his unworthiness to sacrifice (13.372). The Psalms of Solomon, written in the immediate aftermath of Rome’s intervention in the Hasmonean crisis, reveal a variety of charges against both political entities. Weighing the Hasmoneans against the Davidic tradition of a divinely chosen monarchy, the author characterizes them as sinful usurpers who set up a monarchy for themselves and ruled with a lawlessness that surpassed Gentile kings, defiling the sanctuary and begetting illegitimate offspring (Psalms of Solomon 1:8; 2:3–5; 8:12, 21–22; 17:5–8, 22, 45). The ending of the dynasty by the Romans is, therefore, just; yet the Psalms of Solomon equally anticipate Roman defeat by the Messiah (see Pomykala, 1995). As the dynasty crumbled in internal conflict, the Jewish aristocracy petitioned Rome in favor of priestly sovereignty alone, regarding the Hasmoneans to have usurped “ancestral laws” in the institution of kingship (Diodorus Siculus 40.2; Josephus, Ant. 14.14). Likewise, at the death of Herod, the aristocracy preferred Roman rule over that of another Jewish king. Criticisms against Herod included the accusation that he had no legitimate hereditary claim, he was an Idumean, he was not fully Jewish, and his actions as king were tyrannical (Ant. 14.403; 17.227, 304–314; War 2.22, 84–92). Criticisms of the Hasmoneans and Herod, thus, ranged considerably.

With Judas the Galilean and the “Fourth Philosophy,” a more articulate ideology of resistance to Rome gained momentum in the first century. Rejecting direct Roman rule, the census of Quirinius (6 C.E.), and imperial taxation, Judas declared that “God alone” was “ruler and leader” of the Jewish people; and that no human should, therefore, be called “master” (Ant. 18.6). Josephus also associates this philosophy with the leader of the Masada sicarii, Eleazar ben Yair (War 7.253, 323, 410–418). At the heart of this declaration is apparently a radical reading of the Decalogue: “I am the LORD your God … you shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:2–3; Hengel, 1989).

Other popular movements responded, not with a total rejection of human rulers, but rather with messianic ideals of a restored Jewish kingship, as illustrated in the cases of Simon of Peraea and Athronges in the aftermath of Herod’s death (Ant. 17.273–284). At the outbreak of the Great Revolt, Menahem, a leader of the sicarii, adorned himself in royal attire, only to be quickly assassinated by his compatriots (War 2.443–448). At the end of the Revolt, Simon bar Giora’s surrender to the Romans in purple robes may further indicate that a popular ideology of kingship somehow motivated his revolutionary activity (War 7.29; cf. 4.510). Questions of legitimate royal leadership in legal sources were, therefore, of the utmost political relevance to the lived experiences of Judaism in the first century C.E.

The New Testament.

No writing within the New Testament directly references the royal law of Deuteronomy 17:14–20. Nevertheless, a range of attitudes toward rulers may be discerned within the collection. While the literary evidence is not explicitly “legal” in nature, it does indicate how the nascent church, like Judaism, struggled to define its own place amid the political structures of the first century.

Some of the most controversial problems in the study of the Historical Jesus have involved the question of his own royal-messianic self-conception. A perennial divide in Jesus research concerns whether evidence such as the royal inscription upon the cross (Mark 15:26; Matt 27:37; Luke 24:38; John 19:19–23) and his crucifixion by the Romans betrays a kind of royal-messianic self-understanding to Jesus’s activity or whether such messianic characterizations rest, instead, with the post-Easter reflection of the early church (Theissen and Merz, 1998).

Apart from this question, select features of the gospel traditions may present Jesus as critical toward the Herodian aristocracy. A case in point is Jesus’s prohibition of divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:1–12; Matt 19:1–12; cf. 5:31–32; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10–11), a legal declaration that would most likely have applied to the Herodian house whose own controversial practices of divorce and remarriage had already received the opposition of John the Baptist (Kloppenborg, 1990). As for Rome, Jesus’s declaration on taxes seems to reject the ideology of Judas the Galilean, while still asserting the ultimate sovereignty of God over imperial claims to loyalty (Mark 12:13–17; Matt 22:15–22; Luke 20:20–26).

The tendencies of individual gospel writers vary significantly in their treatment of Roman and Herodian rule. In his infancy narratives, Matthew directly opposes the messianic kingship of Jesus to that of Herod the Great (Matt 2:1–23). Luke and Acts, however, appear to have moderated the more overtly political dimensions of Christian messianism. While the Lukan narrative initially entertains political messianic hopes at the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:32–33, 51–52; 2:11, 38), it ultimately dismisses the urgent question of whether Jesus would “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:8, cf. Luke 24:21). Instead, Luke prioritizes the preaching of the gospel within the existing political structures of the Roman Empire; and the entire two-volume narrative concludes with Paul, himself a Roman citizen (Acts 22:27–28), openly preaching the gospel at Rome (Acts 28:30–31). The cosmic dualism of John’s gospel presents the messianic kingdom as ultimately “not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:37).

Paul’s own writings have traditionally been understood as reflecting earlier Jewish traditions of peaceful, pragmatic existence under the auspices of foreign imperial powers (cf. Sir 10:1–5). Perhaps the most transparent evidence of this reading is provided in the exhortation of Romans 13:1–7:

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due."

Paul does not blush when endorsing the divinely sanctioned violence of “the sword” by governing authorities; moreover, like Jesus, he demands the payment of taxes. This exhortation, combined with an eschatological ethic of living a quiet, independent, and hardworking life in the present (1 Thess 4:9–11; 1 Cor 7:17–24), has often been taken as proof that Paul was a religious thinker who affirmed the divine sanction of the Roman Empire, at least for the present age (Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 23; Augustine, On Romans 72–74). More recent interpreters, however, read Paul’s gospel as subtly undermining the legitimacy of imperial rule, and emphasize how Paul’s communal ethics invert the political structures of the empire (Elliott, 1994; Horsley et al., 1997).


The long-standing struggle to define legitimate rule amid the shifting sands of its own political history animated diverse currents of Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman eras. Inspired by the legal heritage of Deuteronomy’s law of the king, Judaism explored an increasing diversity of responses to this perennial problem, including reconceptualizations of the ideal Jewish kingship, dialogues between Jewish Law and Hellenistic philosophy, insistence upon priestly sovereignty alone, and, eventually, revolutionary ideologies. Such varied approaches forged a political context in which the nascent church also reflected ambivalent attitudes toward Herodian and Roman rule. This latter legacy has persisted in Christian circles to this day, which often find themselves divided in their opinion regarding political authorities, whether monarchical or otherwise.




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  • Mendels, Doron. “‘On Kingship’ in the Temple Scroll and the Ideological Vorlage of the Seven Banquets in the ‘Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates.’” In Identity, Religion, and Historiography: Studies in Hellenistic History, pp. 325–333. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 24. Sheffield, U.K.: Academic Press, 1998.
  • Murray, Oswyn. “Philosophy and Monarchy in the Hellenistic World.” In Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers, edited by T. Rajak et al., pp. 13–28. Hellenistic Culture and Society 50. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
  • Pomykala, Kenneth. The Davidic Dynasty Tradition in Early Judaism: Its History and Significance for Messianism. Early Judaism and Its Literature 7. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995.
  • Theissen, Gerd, and Annette Merz. The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide. Translated by J. Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998.
  • VanderKam, James. The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010.
  • Wright, Benjamin. “Ben Sira on Kings and Kingship.” In Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers, edited by T. Rajak et al., pp. 76–91. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
  • Yadin, Yigael. The Temple Scroll. 3 vols. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1983.

Casey D. Elledge

Hebrew Bible

In the narrative of the Hebrew Bible the institution of the monarchy is portrayed as a foreign office that is originally alien to the social and religious setting of Israel as the people of God. Shortly before the entry into the Promised Land, Moses gives Israel instruction about kingship in Deuteronomy 17:14–20. This famous text, known as the “Law of the King,” is remarkable for several reasons (see Achenbach, pp. 216–233; Müller, 2004, pp. 197–213). First of all, the wish to have a king comes from the people, not from God or Moses. This wish is portrayed as an emulation of the practices of the surrounding nations. Second, the king has to be selected from among his brothers. Third, he is called to exercise moderation and to become a student of Torah. None of these demands enable the king to effectively rule over a territory and defend this territory against external and internal enemies. It is apparent, then, that this view of kingship is influenced by the long history of the Judean and Israelite monarchy and presents an ideal picture of the state after the end of the monarchic period in Israel and Judah. In its current location, however, the Law of the King sets the tone for the view of kingship in the rest of the Hebrew Bible: kingship is seen in opposition to God’s theocratic rule over Israel and only acceptable when the kings adhere to Yahweh’s law and commands.

The Emergence of Kingship in Ancient Israel.

The emergence of kingship in ancient Israel is a thorny subject. We do not have any nonbiblical evidence for the rule of Saul, David, or Solomon. The first attestation of a Davidic dynasty is an Aramaic inscription from Tel Dan from the eighth century B.C.E. that mentions the house of David (COS 2:161–162). Much of the archaeological data traditionally associated with Solomon (cf. 1 Kgs 9:15) at sites like Hazor and Megiddo has been dated to the ninth century B.C.E. (Finkelstein, 2010, pp. 3–28). When Pharaoh Shoshenq I (ca. 945–924 B.C.E.) campaigned in Palestine in the year 925 B.C.E. he conquered Megiddo and placed a stele there but he does not mention Israel or Judah (Wilson, 2005). Things are further complicated by the fact that the biblical tradition tends to idealize the reigns of David and Solomon, creating the false picture of a steady decline after the death of Solomon that will eventually lead to the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.E. and the sack of Jerusalem in 587/6 B.C.E.

As far as external factors are concerned we know that the tenth century B.C.E. saw the decline of Egyptian rule in Palestine. Since Assyria, the new emerging power in the east, was occupied by military conflicts with the Aramaens, a power vacuum emerged that allowed for a re-urbanization of the region progressing from north to south. In contrast to the Philistines along the Mediterranean coast and the Aramaic city-states in the north that were able to build on the Bronze Age city culture, Israel and Judah as well as several of their neighbors erected small territorial states. We see, then, that the emergence of the monarchy in Israel and Judah is part of a larger process that does not allow one to argue for a difference between “Israelite” and “Canaanite” kingship (Kratz, 2013, pp. 15–17).

The Hebrew Bible knows of several attempts to transform a tribal society into a monarchy (e.g., Judg 9) but it appears that only Saul was successful. He erected some form of royal rule in central Palestine, known as Israel, while David and Solomon are the first rulers of Judah in the south. Even the biblical tradition admits that it knows little about the first kings when the duration of the rule of David and Solomon is given as forty years (1 Kgs 2:11; 11:42), a figure that corresponds to one generation or the stereotypical number of years of the legendary judges (Judg 3:11; 5:31; 8:28).

1 Samuel 8–12 contains various accounts of the emergence of kingship in ancient Israel. Here the oldest material in 1 Samuel 9–10 is overlaid by material voicing a critical stance against the institution of kingship (Müller, 2004). The narrative context puts a great deal of emphasis on external pressure from either the Philistines or the Ammonites (1 Sam 11) that led to the establishment of monarchic rule. This emphasis is the work of later hands that want to accuse Israel of being like all the nations—a perspective already provided by Moses in Deuteronomy 17:14–20 and almost programmatic for the Hebrew Bible’s attitude to kingship. It seems, however, that it was not external pressure but rather the urge for territorial expansion that prompted the emergence of a tribal monarchy with Saul as ruler on both sides of the Jordan. After the death of Saul the kingship is transferred to his son Ishbaal (2 Sam 2:8–9).

When looking at the administration of Saul it becomes doubtful whether the term “kingdom” adequately describes his rule of the territory claimed by him. We do not find any indication of a central governance or administration because no scribes, ministers, or other officials are mentioned. Only in 1 Samuel 20:25 do we get some glimpse into Saul’s court: “The king sat upon his seat, as at other times, upon the seat by the wall; Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty” (RSV). It would seem from this verse that Saul’s administration consisted of the king, the crown prince, the head of the military, and the leader of the mercenaries. All of these persons are linked by kinship ties as is the case of the other “servants” of Saul who are all members of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam 22:7). The only other “official” of Saul’s that we know of is mentioned in 1 Samuel 21:8. His name is Doeg the Edomite who bears the title “chief herdsman” (ʾabbîr hā-rōʿîm). This may point to the fact that Saul was in possession of major herds and maybe even of some larger estates because David restores “all the land of Saul” to Meribaal, a descendant of Saul (2 Sam 9:7). In light of this meager evidence for any form of administration, it may be more accurate to describe Saul’s kingdom as a “chiefdom” (Flanagan, 1981, pp. 47–73). A thesis that is supported by the texts that prefer to call Saul nāgîd (“chief”) rather than a “king” (Liverani, 2005, p. 89).

Much of the material about the reigns of David and Solomon is legendary (Kratz, 2013, pp. 19–20). The kernel of the tradition can be found in a collection of stories from the Jerusalem court about intrigues and the succession to David (2 Sam 11—1 Kgs 2). This kernel is later supplemented by two larger narrative blocks: (1) 1 Samuel 15—2 Samuel 10 connects David with Saul and demonstrates that he is the legitimate successor, while (2) 1 Kings 3–11 describes the reign of Solomon, the building of the Temple, and the royal palace.

The origins of David’s rule can be found in his brilliance as a warrior (Dietrich, 1997, pp. 153–155). He is the leader of a band of mercenaries called the Cheretites and Pelethites (2 Sam 8:18) with whom he undertakes raids. In addition he seems to have constructed a web of loyalties that served as his powerbase. As a result he becomes king over the cities of Judah (Ziklag, Hebron, and Jerusalem) and grows into a rival to Saul and his family in the north. Jerusalem will quickly become the capital of the tribal monarchy in the south. Since David’s strongholds are cities it is likely that this is connected with a certain re-emergence of a city culture known from the Bronze Age. The biblical tradition transforms the rule of David and Solomon into a golden age, creating the vision of a Davidic empire ranging from Dan to Beersheba (2 Sam 3:10). This vision only becomes reality, however, during the Hellenistic period under Hasmonean rule.

If we are correct to assume that the institution of the monarchy in the south (Judah) was connected to urban centers it is hardly surprising that we find a more differentiated administration there. 2 Samuel 8:16–18 (cf. 2 Sam 20:23–26; 1 Kgs 4:1–6) lists the following officials: “Joab the son of Zeruiah … over the army; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud … recorder; and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar … priests; and Seraiah … secretary; (18) and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada … over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and David’s sons … priests” (RSV). What we see here are the first steps toward a professional administrative apparatus that will be developed further under Solomon (Dietrich, 1997, pp. 171–175) and that can be paralleled to other Iron Age cities in the Levant.

Despite the episodic character of the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon and the development of monarchic structures that were still in progress when Shoshenq I campaigned in Palestine, the three rulers are seen as the beginning of the list of the kings of Israel and Judah (cf. 1 Sam 13:1; 2 Sam 2:10–11; 1 Kgs 3:1–3). In the Hebrew Bible, the history of the monarchic period inaugurated by these three kings is structured according to a fixed scheme. In the book of Kings this scheme will become the basic framework into which all other narrative material is slotted. The “fixed ingredients” of this framework are as follows: “(1) the dates of the reign, that is, the synchronism of the kings of Judah and Israel and the length of their reign, in the case of the kings of Judah also the age at accession and the name of the mother; (2) the verdict on whether the kings did right or evil in the eyes of Yahweh; (3) reference to the ‘book of days’ (chronicle or annals) of the kings of Israel and Judah; and (4) a note about death and burial and successor” (Kratz, 2005, p. 160). This scheme is part of the interpretation of the monarchic history at the hands of the Deuteronomist. The standpoint is clearly Judahite, which is easily recognizable because the kings of Israel are universally judged negatively. The scheme also draws a distinction between the ruler and the people. But while in the north the king leads the people astray, in Judah the kings tend to do what is right even though the people continue to do evil.

Kingship in Israel and Judah until 586 B.C.E.

As the attempt of the Saulide family to install a dynastic rule in Israel failed, the following period is defined by several attempts to establish royal dynasties in changing capitals (Shechem, Penuel, and Tirzah). Every attempt is ended by a coup and only Omri in the early ninth century is able to establish a secure reign. This unstable situation in the north is part of a larger geographical context in which usurpers were challenged by neighboring tribes, including the Philistines, Phoenicians, Arameans, and Judeans (Finkelstein, 2013; Kratz, 2013, pp. 21–22). All this makes statements like 1 Kings 12:20, 29–30, which portray the northern kingdom acting as one, historically quite unlikely.

The Omride dynasty comprising the kings Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, and Joram (1 Kgs 16:21–31; 22:39–40, 52–53; 2 Kgs 1:1, 18; 3:1–3) are said to have ruled Israel for roughly forty years (882–845 B.C.E.). The significance of this dynasty can be observed in nonbiblical sources. Here Israel is called “house Omri” even after the end of the Omride dynasty, as in the famous Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III that mentions the tribute of Jehu, king of Israel:

"I received the tribute of Jehu (ia-ú-a) (the man) of Bīt Ḫumrî: silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden goblet, golden cups, golden buckets, tin, a staff of the king’s hand, (and) javelins.(COS 2:270)"

As will be common in the later development of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the success of the Omrides is connected to larger political developments in the ancient Near East. In the case of the house of Omri it was the western expansion of the Assyrian Empire that put pressure on the Arameans and Syria, thus enabling Israel to expand and to become part of a coalition that tried to stop the Assyrian expansion.

Under the Omrides we find the first instances of an administrative organization of the state. Samaria becomes the royal residence and we see building activities in other administrative centers such as Hazor and Megiddo as well as in the ritual sites of Bethel and Dan. The rise of the northern kingdom is also reflected in Assyrian sources when Shalmanseser III in his Kurkh Monolith inscription mentions Ahab of Israel as the second most important adversary at the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C.E. (COS 2:261–264).

The coup of Jehu puts an end to Omride rule and prompts a change in foreign policy. From that point forward Israel pays tribute to the Assyrian Empire and this secures the rule of the Jehu dynasty for almost one hundred years (845–747 B.C.E.). Like other Aramean kings the alliance with Assyria results in prosperous times and it is no surprise that a return to unstable conditions after the fall of the Jehu dynasty quickened the process of the fall of the northern kingdom. In the following decade, the kings of Israel debated whether to continue the alliance with Assyria or whether they should side with Egypt against Assyria. After an anti-Assyrian alliance was defeated by Tiglath-pileser III in 732 B.C.E., Israelite territory was greatly reduced (2 Kgs 17:1–6, 21–23). The new ruler, Hoshea, was installed by the Assyrian king and when his successor stopped the tribute payments, Israel was conquered in 722 B.C.E. and became an Assyrian province with its population deported.

Despite the biblical picture that provides us with a distinctively Judean perspective on these matters, Judah was politically and economically less significant than Israel. The reason for this was the lack of urban centers as well as distance from the main trade routes. In contrast to the north, however, there seems to have been a steady dynastic succession of Davidic rulers until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. Once again, tribute payments to the Assyrian king ensured a modest prosperity and guaranteed stability. Only during the so-called Syro-Ephraimite war (ca. 734 B.C.E.) do we encounter Judah as an independent player.

King Ahaz (741–725 B.C.E.) is the first king of Judah mentioned in Assyrian sources (COS 2:289). Under Ahaz’s son Hezekiah (725–697 B.C.E.) we learn of the population of the western hill of Jerusalem and of fortification works (2 Kgs 18:1–3, 7B–8, 13–16; 19:36–37; 20:12–13, 20–21). The reason for such a building program may have had to do with the large amount of refugees from the north following the fall of the kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E.

In the main, Hezekiah’s reign can be connected with economic growth and territorial expansion. After the death of Sargon II in 705 B.C.E., Hezekiah decides to stop paying tribute to Assyria. As a result Sennacherib marches on Palestine, squashes the rebellion, and Hezekiah only saves his capital Jerusalem by once again offering tribute (2 Kgs 18:13–16; 19:36). Judean territory is significantly reduced according to Sennacherib:

"As for Hezekiah, the Judean, I besieged forty-six of his fortified walled cities and surrounding smaller towns. … I conquered them. … He himself, I locked up within Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthworks, and made it unthinkable for him to exit by the city gate. His cities which I had despoiled I cut off from his land and gave them to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron and Ṣilli-bel, king of Gaza, and thus diminished his land. I imposed dues and gifts for my lordship upon him. … He, Hezekiah was overwhelmed by the awesome splendor of my lordship. …(COS 2:303)"

It seems that Hezekiah’s son Manasseh learned a lesson from his father as he continued to pay tribute to Assyria, which ensured his extended reign (696–642 B.C.E.). Archaeological evidence points to certain prosperity during this time, though the biblical traditions (2 Kgs 21) paint Manasseh as the evil king par excellence.

The end of Assyrian hegemony does not bring independence to Judah. Instead, Judah falls first under Egyptian influence and is then conquered by the Babylonians who succeed Assyria. All this severely limits the attempted territorial expansion of the Judean kings and causes, inter alia, Josiah’s death.

In brief, we see that the kings of Israel and Judah were always part of the larger power structure of the Eastern Levant. Like other small states in the area (Moab, Ammon, Philistia), Israel and Judah had to situate themselves amidst the larger powers in the area. If this is done successfully—for example, in the form of tribute—both Judah and Israel enjoyed prosperity and political stability, even though the biblical tradition often criticizes such politics as idol worship.

Kingship and the Cult.

As Israel and Judah share the office of kingship with their Canaanite neighbors it is hardly surprising that their religion also displays certain similarities (Köckert, 2010, pp. 357–394). The special status of Yahweh as a deity apart from the panthea of the Levant is the product of later biblical tradition. Yahweh was never a deity introduced into Palestine from the outside. In the earliest attestations we encounter a storm god that serves as the main deity of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (Pfeiffer, 2013, pp. 11–43) and who most likely had a female consort. In many ways, then, Yahweh is similar to Kemosh or Hadad, the main deities of the surrounding nations.

This strong attachment of the king to Yahweh is already seen in the beginnings of the northern kingdom when Jeroboam changes the status of the existing sanctuaries of Dan and Bethel, transforming them into royal places of worship (1 Kgs 12:25, 28*): “And Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and resided there. He went out from there and built Penuel. … He made two calves of gold: ‘Here is your God, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ He set one in Bethel and other he put in Dan.” As M. Köckert (2010, p. 371), notes, “It is hardly surprising that the monarchy of the Northern Kingdom is closely tied to the sanctuary at Bethel. Amos 7:13 calls Bethel a royal sanctuary and a temple of the kingdom … even though the king resides in Samaria, which had its own sanctuary of Yahweh. The choice of place of Bethel in the south and Dan in the north emphasizes the territorial aspect: Yahweh is the god of the whole land. He does not only protect it against enemies from the outside but he is also responsible for the thriving of the fields, the cattle, and the people.”

In the south, the king’s attachment to the official state cult is even more pronounced as the biblical tradition credits the founders of the Davidic dynasty with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem which will become the main sanctuary, first of the state of Judah and then later of early Judaism. The biblical tradition leaves no doubt that the “place which Yahweh will chose” (Deut 12:14) is Jerusalem. Despite the fact that the detailed report of the building of the Temple in 1 Kings 6—8 is the product of later tradition and imagination and therefore cannot be used to reconstruct historical realities, we nevertheless do find an old dedicatory formula in 1 Kings 8:12–13:

The LORD has set the sun in the heavens,but has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.I have built thee an exalted house,a place for thee to dwell in forever.

As in the north, Yahweh was worshipped as a storm god who sits enthroned as a king (Köckert, 2010, p. 379), and—also as in the north—the king was responsible for the official cult. In contrast to Bethel, however, Yahweh’s representation in Jerusalem mirrors the royal palace. From texts like Psalm 93 we learn that the heavenly king is present in the Temple in Jerusalem but that he rules through the Davidic king, who is called his son (see Ps 2:7). The king as the earthly representative of Yahweh is the one who literally sits on God’s throne and rules in accordance with Yahweh (Ps 110:1–2):

The LORD says to my lord:Sit at my right hand,till I make your enemies your footstool.The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.Rule in the midst of your foes!

The king is not only the receiver of divine blessings but, according to Psalm 21 and Psalm 71, also the mediator of such. Here we see that the religious symbolism and the royal ideology bear notable Egyptian and Assyrian influence, and that the deity who resides in the Temple in Jerusalem belongs first and foremost to the Davidic dynasty.

Critique of Kingship.

Since kingship was the accepted form of government in the Eastern Levant and since the king was invested and protected by the deity it is not surprising that we do not find a general critique of the institution of kingship during the monarchic period. Human and divine rule are not seen as antagonistic (Müller, 2004, p. 245). The texts that evidence antagonism are the result of later reflection upon the institution of kingship after its end. What we do find, however, is criticism of the kings’ conduct, which is common in the ancient Near East, as when prophets remind the king to do justice:

"[More]over, a prophet of Adad, lord of Aleppo, came [with Abu]-ḫalim and spoke to him as follows: Write to your lord the following: Am I not Adad, lord of Aleppo, who raised you in my lap and restored you to your ancestral throne? I do not demand anything from you. When a wronged man or wo[man] cries out to you, be there and judge their case. This only I have demanded from you. If you do what I have written to you and heed my word, I will give you the land from the r[isi]ng of the sun to its setting, [your] land [greatly in]creased!(Nissinen, 2003, p. 19)"

It is this normal exchange (cf. Jer 21:1FF.) that will later develop into a broad critique of the institution of the monarchy when the kings are blamed for the fall of Israel and Judah.

Here we also see a deviation from other forms of monarchic rule in the ancient Near East: we cannot detect any national legislation of a Judean king. Even during Josiah’s reign all the decrees issued by him seem to have a focus on Jerusalem’s Temple. Jurisdiction, too, seems to have remained on a local level. In those instances where the king judges it is made clear that we are dealing with a special case, and one that may even be legendary (1 Kgs 3:16–28).

The origin and development of the monarchic critique in the Hebrew Bible prompts a change in understanding the political structure from the common order of god(s)–king–law to the order god(s)–law–king. The law as Yahweh’s revealed will and command now governs the view of kingship and, in retrospect, those kings are deemed just who follow this law. The prominence of the law as well as the later development into theocratic rule (see already 1 Sam 8), however, does not lead to a total abandonment of the office of kingship. Texts like Isaiah 32:1–4, probably written long after the end of monarchic rule in Judah, demonstrate that a life without a king is difficult to imagine:

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,and princes will rule in justice.Each will belike a hiding place from the wind,a covert from the tempest,like streams of water in a dry place,like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,and the ears of those who hear will hearken.The mind of the rash will have good judgment,and the tongue of the stammerers will speak readily and distinctly.

So, even the ruler of the messianic age will behave as a just king in the ancient Near East was supposed to act (cf. Prov 16:10, 13; 29:4; 31:4–5). Further evidence that later Judaism was not in principle opposed to kingship comes from the Hellenistic period when the Hasmonean Aristobulus, the eldest son of Hyrcanus I, once again installed monarchic rule in Palestine (Josephus, Ant. 13.301).

The Prophets and Kingship.

The biblical tradition pits the office of prophecy against the office of kingship. Here the prophets are painted as being the sharpest and most devastating critics of the monarch and represent the true religion of Yahweh. The biblical picture is guided by the ideal state of a theocracy that sees human rule in opposition to the legitimate rule of god:

"And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds, which they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, hearken to their voice. …(1 Sam 8:7–9)"

When we investigate further, we see that prophecy, like kingship, is indigenous to Israel and Judah and cannot be distinguished from similar institutions in other states of ancient Canaan. Prophecy, however, survives the monarchic period and thus becomes an ideal vehicle for voicing criticism. In the historical books, prophetic figures act as is expected of them in the ancient Near East: they anoint kings, support the monarchy, offer advice in military crises (1 Kgs 12:22–25), and voice ethical and legal concerns (2 Sam 11–12). This behavior is also traceable in (or at times behind) the prophetic books, and it is likely that some prophets—for example, Isaiah—served as religious specialists in the Judean court (Kratz, 2013, pp. 149–151). Only after the fall of the northern kingdom, and then especially in the wake of the Babylonian conquest, does the prophetic tradition begin to reflect on issues like the guilt and role of the monarchy in the falls of Israel and Judah.

As a result, passages that envision a restitution of the Davidic monarchy are rare in the Minor Prophets (e.g., Amos 9:11, 12B; Mic 4:8; 5:1, 3, 4A; Zech 9:9–10). They are missing in Nahum, Zephaniah, Obadiah, and Joel. In these latter books the surrounding nations are not destroyed so as to rekindle the Davidic monarchy; the restitution instead concerns the people as a whole (Nah 2:1, 3). It would seem, then, that Israel’s later existence within the Persian Empire where the Persian king has given all nations their rightful place does not allow for such a concrete political vision. It is therefore likely that these statements were only added after the decline of Persian rule. As a result, the focus remains fixed on Zion as the dwelling place of Yahweh. The temple is the religious center but does not hold any political power.




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  • Finkelstein, I. “A Great United Monarchy? Archaeological and Historical Perspectives.” In One God—One Cult—One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, edited by R. G. Kratz and H. Spieckermann, pp. 3–28. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 405. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2013.
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  • Köckert, M. “YHWH in the Northern and Southern Kingdom.” In One God—One Cult—One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, edited by R. G. Kratz and H. Spieckermann, pp. 357–394. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 405. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2010.
  • Kratz, R. G. The Composition of the Narrative Books of the Old Testament. London: T&T Clark, 2005.
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  • Müller, R. Königtum und Gottesherrschaft: Untersuchungen zur alttestamentlichen Monarchiekritik. Forschungen zum Alten Testament II/3. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.
  • Nicholson, E. “Traditum and Tradition: The Case of Deuteronomy 17:14–20.” In Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination. Essays in Honour of Michael Fishbane, edited by D. A. Green and L. S. Lieber, pp. 46–61. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
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Anselm C. Hagedorn