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34. Kingship in Israel

Discuss the history of the concept of kingship in Israel from the period of the judges to the reign of Solomon. Identify influences that may have played a role in shaping Israelite thought on the subject.

Summary: Kingship in Israel started with non-hereditary charismatic leaders (judges-samuel). Next was the nagīd (Saul) who was was also a type of a charismatic leader of a chiefdom but was also the first king; he developed an army and set up certain offices. Then was the "melek" (David) who established a hereditary dynasty. He established a full-blown kingdom by capturing territory and by setting up more royal offices. After David, his son, Solomon, ruled over Israel in a despotic manner; he had international ties.

Scholarship debate whether the Biblical texts are pro-monarchic or anti-monarchic. Some texts seem to support kingship while others condemn it. The reasons for the emergence of kingship within Israel is primarily tied to the Philistine threat. However, scholars have also suggested other anthropological reasons for the rise of kingship in Israel (e.g., population growth caused structured agricultural produce, etc.).

I. Leadership from Judges to Solomon

A.) The Judges (charismatic leaders): 13th-12th cent. BCE

• There was no king in Israel (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25)

• There was no central authority

• Judges were military leaders (not “judges” per se)

• Assumption in Judges is that Yahweh is leader, and He raises whomever he wishes to fight battles.

• Leadership was achieved not by heritage, but by charismatic personality (aka “spirit of Yahweh” camp upon…)

• Rule went from competent ruler to competent ruler, without regard to lineage

• local tribe leaders delivered Israel from neighboring enemies

• Othniel (nephew of Caleb); Ehud (killed Eglon); Deborah (and Barak)

• Gideon: at end of his life, people ask him to set up dynasty; he refuses, but his son Abimelech (“my father is king”=Is God or Gideon the “father”?) appoints himself king from Shechem; rule returns to judges after Abimelech (Judg 9)

• Jephthah: appointed judge b/c he’s good in military; he is otherwise illegitimate  child

B.) Samuel (just before the rise of the kingship)

• In 1 Samuel, Eli’s sons are supposed to follow their father’s rulership; so, there seems to be an attempt at at hereditary rule; but they die (but this was priestly in nature)

• Samuel’s sons too were appointed as judges; but people ask Samuel to bypass his sons and give them a king

(Assumption is that judge-rulership became hereditary)

C.) Saul ("nagīd" charismatic military leadership): 11th cent. BCE

• In the biblical traditions which relate to the introduction of kingship into Israel, Saul is anointed by Samuel as nagid over Israel (1 Sam 9:16; 10:1). The meaning of the noun nagid has proven to be particularly elusive and engendered a long yet inconclusive debate. 

• Saul is a continuation of the office of judge (Alt). Saul's kingship is more of a chiefdom which developed into statehood with David and Solomon (Frick). 

• Saul's capital at Gibeah. Saul establish standing army (1Sam 13.2). Appointed priestly office (1Sam 14.3, 18) for his staff (1Sam 21.9). This points to an administration with a small nucleus of state officials (Carol Myers). 

Discussion of "Nagīd":

•Alt (1966) concluded that it referred to one who was designated to be leader by Yahweh, wheras melek designated an office conferred by the people’s acclaim. 

•Richter’s extensive treatment (1965) concluded that the term underwent a complex development: it was originally a pre-monarchic title for a military leader and denoted a position quite distinct from melek. 

•Cross (CMHE, 220–21), following an earlier suggestion of Albright, appeals to the Aramaic Sefire inscriptions for his view that nagid means commander. He emphasizes continuity with the charismatic leadership of the judges, as opposed to the dynastic kingship of David and Solomon designated by the term melek. 

•Ishida (1977: 50) rejects the view that it was originally a title for the charismatic war leader in the pre-monarchic period. Instead he concludes that it denotes the “king designate” of Yahweh.

•Mettinger (1976: 151–84), who offers a thorough review of previous literature, suggests that it was originally a secular term for the “crown prince” designated by the reigning king; its theological use as a divine designation came later.

•Saul's failed leadership leads to the rejection of his kingship by Samuel and YHWH.

•Saul's son is not a successor as king; but, David does marry Michal (daughter of Saul), so it seems the kingship was hereditary already in Saul's time. Dynastic kingship was a basic tenet of ANE kingships, so Israel also probably had dynastic kingship from the start (Ishida; Buccellati).

D.) David (dynastic king "melek": centralized, hereditary, military leadership): late 11th cent. BCE - early 10th cent BCE

•Establishes hereditary kingship. Even David married Michal, daughter of Saul, in an effort to get in to the family of the king (i.e. Saul).

•Full-fledged kingdon, rising international power (Aram, Syria), hereditary kingship, royal cult (bring Ark of Covenant to Jerusalem; 2Sam 6). All this was a policy of centralization.

•Administration was more sophisticated than during Saul's reign. David appointed various officials: over the army, recorder, priests, over the Cherethites and Pelethites, secretary, over forced labor (2Sam 8:16-18; 20:23-26).

•Double set of military officials: over the army and of the Cherethites and Pelethites.  

•Davidic Covenant (2Sam 7): eternal decree of YHWH to David and his descendants that his throne will rule. Mount Zion has an eternal dwelling place for YHWH.

E.) Solomon (imperial despotism and cultic accomplishment; international relations): 10th cent. BCE

•Executes likely contenders for throne and their supporters (Adonijah, first-born of David; Joab, general of David, supporter of Adonijah; Shimei, of house of Saul; banishes Abiathar the high-priest).

•Exploits Israelites to built temple as the center of Israelite cultic worship! 

•Chief accomplishment was cultic: he built the temple!

•International connections: Queen of Sheba; temple for daughter of Pharoah; many foreign wives.

•Cult was syncretistic. Built temples for foreign gods; married foreign women.

•Solomon's policies cause split in kingdom.

II. Scholars Debate whether Israel was initially pro- or anti- monorchy

A.) During the Leadership of Judges

Anti: Gideon refuses to become king; only Yahweh is king (Judg 8:22-3). Israel is not like other nations with a central hereditary ruler––only God is king. Jotham's Fable (Jgs 9) is a anti-monarchic. Compares king (i.e. Abimelech) to a bramble tree. Abimelech is a murderous horrible king.

•Pro: The Dtr editing of Judges has been viewed as a pro-monarchic (particularly pro-Judahite/pro-Davidic) document. The refrain "there was no king in Israel" is a constant reminder that anarchy takes place when a good king is not in control. When there was disorder and political anarchy, the phrase “there was no king in Israel…” suggests a promonarchic perspective (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25)

B.) During the Rise of Saul's Kingship

•The important and complex narrative of 1 Sam 7-15 contains a mixture of pro- and anti-monarchic texts.  

•Anti: *1Sam 7.3-17: Samuel is a good judge; prays to YHWH, and YHWH "thunders" form heaven and destroys Philistines. 

*1Sam 8: People request king "like the other nations." God says the people rejected "me as king over them". King will exploit the people; other dangers of king listed.  

*10.17-27: Samuel rebukes people for requesting king despite the fact that YHWH led them out of Egypt. Samuel states that people "rejected God who saves them from their calamities."

*11.12-14: "Who is Saul that he should rule over us" is Israelite sentiment.

*12: Samuel rebukes people for requesting king like King Nahash of the Ammonites.

*(Anti-monarchic texts are taken to be late.)

•Pro:  *9.1-19: YHWH speaks to Samuel that he should anoint Saul as king who will save Israel from Philistines.

*10:1-16: Saul anointed as king.

*11.1-11, 15: Spirit of God comes upon Saul and he delivers Jabesh Gilead from Ammon. Saul is made king by people and Israelites rejoice. 

*(Pro-monarchic passages are usually seen as early.)

•Pro/Anti: 13-14: Saul has military success but disobeys priestly ordinances (unlawful sacrifice) and is reject by YHWH.

*Whether Israel was anti- or pro- monarchy affects the question of whether kingship was alien to Israel or not!

III. Origins of Israelite Kingship: 

A.) Kingship is alien to Israel

The notion that the monarchy was an institution alien to Israel arose from the combination of Alt’s thesis that kingship was the result of external, Philistine threat and interpretations of the biblical material as anti-monarchic (e.g., Westermann sees brothers’ response to Joseph’s dreams as anti-monarchic material, Gen 37). Kingship emerged because the clans of Israel was not able to deal with the threats of surrounding peoples, particularly the Philistines.

Albrecht Alt argued that Israelites were originally pastoral nomads (shasu?) who came to settle in the thinly populated hill country. However, Philistine dominance threatened Israelite growth. Saul’s kingship, then, was a defensive response to the Philistine threat. It was meant neither to be hereditary nor permanent.

The thesis of kingship as a defensive response to Philistine threat and the notion that (Saul’s) kingship was not to be permanent finds biblical support. The books of Judges and Samuel demonstrate that Philistine threat was a major concern during the time of the judges (Samson) and early monarchy (Saul, David). Gideon’s refusal of dynastic kingship (Judges 8.22-23), the abortive attempt at monarchy by Abimelech (Judg 9), and Jotham’s parable (9.7-15) may be interpreted as opposition to kingship and hence as a foreign notion to Israelite culture and nature.

B.) Kingship is NOT alien to Israel

The observation that pro-monarchic texts exist in the Bible weakens the textual basis for arguing the foreignness of monarchy to Israel.  Furthermore, extrabiblical models provide a counterbalance to the monologic depiction of the rise of Israelite kingship as a response to Philistine threat alone.

The date of Judges 8 & 9 has been brought to question.  They may not reflect an early anti-monarchic sentiment. On the other hand, Gideon names his son "Abimelech" which connotes that Gideon was a king; and Abimelech establishes himself as king, so kingship seems to have its root in the time of the judges! These passages can be read as anti-"bad" kingship (i.e. Saul's rulership), but pro-kingship in general; Judges 19 is clearly pro-kingship, but anti-Saul!

The important and complex narrative of 1 Sam 7-15 contains a mixture of pro- and anti-monarchic texts.  The pro-monarchic texts (9.1-19; 11.1-11, 15) are usually seen as early; and the anti-monarchic texts (7.3-17; 8; 10.17-27; 11.12-14; 12) as late.  In fact, 1 Sam 11.1-15 (his rallying the sons of Israel and the men of Judah in defense of Jabesh Gilead) is usually understood to preserve the most authentic account of Saul’s rise to kingship, which is a pro-monarchic passage. One might read anti-monarchic texts with T. Ishida as contemporaneous with pro-monarchic sentiment. Perhaps the pro-monarchic material was before the Exile (Joshiah's time) and the anti-monarchic material was exilic or post-exilic (Noth; Collins).

C. Other Factors that may have caused the rise of kingship:

1) Anthropological models have been used to challenge the assumption that the Philistine pressure alone was responsible for the monarch-response.  Hauer, Coote and Whitelam, and Otto underline the importance of a combination of internal and external pressures.  

As population grew, there was need for higher agricultural output, which made difficult by the nature of terrace and orchard cultivation. The solution was a move toward centralization: the concentration of labor and organization of resources for long-term investment.

Israel is located in the central highlands and was circumscribed by city-states (Philistine, Midian, and Amalek) (1Sam 8:5 "Appoint a king to lead us, such as the other nations have.")

2) The theory that Israel was originally an egalitarian society, in stark contrast to the stratified societies of Canaanite city states, originated with G. E. Mendenhall and N. Gottwald’s thesis that Israelites were Canaanite peasants who revolted against their masters and withdrew into the hill country away from the urban centers.  If the “peasant revolt” hypothesis of Israelite origin is true, monarchy would be an alien concept to the very essence of Israelite identity.  

However, as L. E. Stager has noted, there existed egalitarian villages outside of pre-monarchic Israel. These villages range from Ammon to Moab and even into Edom.  It seems that kingship in Israel arose almost simultaneously as in Edom, Moab, and Ammon.  There was considerable continuity between Israelite culture and its neighbors. 

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