Daily Archives: 2017-04-04 13:43:21 UTC

Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel

Also he says that “Exodus to Joshua: depict the Elders and Assembly as “national democratic institutions . . . subordinate to . . . Moses and Joshua.”

Democratic? Really? From what does Gmirkin extrapolate any meaningful form of democratic process?

Austendw questioning a point made in relation to the post The Bible’s Assemblies and Offices Based on Greek Institutions?

James LaRoche has consolidated my posts on Russell Gmirkin’s book, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible,  into a single document and has kindly offered his work to anyone else interested.Review of Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible.zip
https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-K4Utar2XbFTVFoSk92Ql9zLXM

Below is an excerpt of the beginning of the document:

NEIL GODFREY REVIEWS
Russell Gmirkin’s
Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
Originally posted on vridar.org

Editor’s Notes
This is a compilation of articles posted from 10/16/2016 through 2/22/207:

  • Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  • The Pentateuch’s Debt to Greek Laws and Constitutions — A New Look
  • David, an Ideal Greek Hero — and Other Military Matters in Ancient Israel
  • Some Preliminaries before Resuming Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  • The Tribes of Israel Modeled on the Athenian and Ideal Greek Tribes?
  • The Bible’s Assemblies and Offices Based on Greek Institutions?
  • Similarities between Biblical and Greek Judicial Systems
  • The Inspiration for Israel’s Law of the Ideal King
    Bible’s Priests and Prophets – with Touches of Greek

Ancillary Articles:

  • Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible – Excerpt; Chapter I
  • The First Constitution, Bernard M. Levinson
  • The Bible — History or Story
  • Berossus and Genesis
  • The Genesis Creation Story and Its Third Century Hellenistic Source?

Minor editing omits some few sentences for the purpose of focused flow of the subject, and formatting without graphics and font colors.

I reply here with my own word in favour of Russell Gmikin’s portrayal.

It is a commonplace in the historical literature to acknowledge “democratic” processes evident in the surviving records of ancient Mesopotamian and pre-classical Greek civilisations, as well as in the tribal life of early European Germanic peoples and in traditional village life today across much of the world.

The term often historically indicates nothing more than that free men had a significant collective say in major community decisions such as waging war and in holding their kings accountable. That women and slaves were omitted would disqualify such a process from being a true democracy by today’s standards but that’s not the standard applied when historians speak of democratic processes in past civilisations.

Thus Thorkild Jacobsen explained at the outset of his article “Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotomia”,

We shall use “democracy” in its classical rather than in its modem sense as denoting a form of government in which internal sovereignty resides in a large proportion of the governed, namely in all free, adult, male citizens without distinction of fortune or class. That sovereignty resides in these citizens implies that major decisions—such as the decision to undertake a war—are made with their consent, that these citizens constitute the supreme judicial authority in the state, and also that rulers and magistrates obtain their positions with and ultimately derive their power from that same consent.

By “primitive democracy,” furthermore, we understand forms of government which, though they may be considered as falling within the definition of democracy just given, differ from the classical democracies by their more primitive character: the various functions of government are as yet little specialised, the power structure is loose, and the machinery for social co-ordination by means of power is as yet imperfectly developed.

Jacobsen, T. 1943. “Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotomia” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, volume 2, number 3, p. 159.

Prior to the days of absolute monarchs, even prior to the earliest historical inscriptions, we can infer from the myths of the Sumerians and Akkadians in which gods lived like humans that Sumerians and Akkadians once lived in “primitive democratic” societies.

The gods, to mention only one example, were pictured as clad in a characteristic tufted (sheepskin?) garment long after that material was no longer in use among men. In similar fashion must we explain the fact that the gods are organized politically along democratic lines, essentially different from the autocratic terrestrial states which we find in Mesopotamia in the historical periods. Thus in the domain of the gods we have a reflection of older forms, of the terrestrial Mesopotamian state as it was in pre-historic times.

The assembly which we find in the world of the gods rested on a broad democratic basis . . . . 

Jacobsen, p. 167

The “pre-historic” assembly of adult free males decided on issues such as war and peace and could grant autocratic power to one person for a limited period of time for the efficient execution of an assigned task.

In 1963 Abraham Malamat noticed striking similarities between a Sumerian Gilgamesh poem (though not the famous “epic of Gilgamesh”) and the account of the breaking away of the northern ten tribes of Israel from the Kingdom of Rehoboam (formerly the united Kingdom of Israel) in the Bible. This was published as “Kingship and Council in Israel and Sumer: a Parallel” also in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies (22, 4, 247-253).

Gilgamesh laid
the matter before
his city’s elders,

was seeking, seeking
for words:

“Let us not submit
to the house of Kishi …”

Met in assembly,
his city’s elders

answer gave
to Gilgamesh:

“Let us submit
to the house of Kishi …”

Trusting Inanna,

Gilgamesh,
lord of Kullab,

took not to heart
the words of his city’s elders. 

The second time Gilgamesh,
lord of Kullab,

laid the matter before
the lads of his city, …

Met in assembly
the lads of his city
answer gave
to Gilgamesh: ..

“Let us not submit
to the house of Kishi
let us smite it with weapons.”

Gilgamesh and Aka, trans. Jacobsen (1987)

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