Most famously articulated by Martin Noth,[1] the amphictyony hypothesis argues that pre-monarchic Israel consisted of a twelve-tribe system similar to the sacred Delphi amphictyony in ancient Greece. This league also consisted of twelve groups, just as the Hebrew Bible is concerned with maintaining twelve tribes in its tribal lists (Gen 29-30; 49; Num 26). Through this analysis, Noth gave institutional form to pre-monarchic Israel as a religious entity, the covenant people of Yahweh, and integrated Israel’s early history into a more general historical experience. However, in recent decades scholars have brought up several issues with this analogy: Greece and Israel were separated both historically and geographically; unlike the Greece model, pre-monarchic Israel didn’t have a central sanctuary; the tribal lists likely don’t come from the pre-monarchic period; in Greece, the amphictyony was only cultic, while in Israel, it would have served social, political, ethnic, and maybe even military functions. In general, the amphictyony hypothesis has fallen out of favor. Scholars look toward other models for the organization of pre-monarchic Israel, such as the family/clan as the basic social and economic unit.[2]

[1] Martin Noth, Das System der zwölf Stämme Israels, BWANT 4,1 (Stuttgart, 1930).

[2] Norman K. Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1979).

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