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?
Below is an excerpt of the beginning of the document:
NEIL GODFREY REVIEWS
Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
Originally posted on vridar.org
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
- 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).
the matter before
his city’s elders,
was seeking, seeking
“Let us not submit
to the house of Kishi …”
Met in assembly,
his city’s elders
“Let us submit
to the house of Kishi …”
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
to Gilgamesh: ..
“Let us not submit
to the house of Kishi
let us smite it with weapons.”
Gilgamesh and Aka, trans. Jacobsen (1987)
We are familiar with the biblical account of king Rehoboam (1 Kings 12) who was met with the demands of the people of the northern tribes of Israel to ease the tyrannous yoke Solomon had imposed upon them. As in the story of Gilgamesh, Malamat observed, Rehoboam sought the council of the elders (“elders” being more likely a rank or office like “senators” today than a person with nothing more distinctive than years of age) but they did not tell him what he wanted to hear. So he turned to another body (“the assembly”) who gave him permission to overrule the advice of the former council. (The full arguments of Malamat are beyond the scope of this article.)
Thus in 1 Kings 12 we find that a popular assembly from the northern tribes of Israel exercised the authority to secede from a larger kingdom; in an older Mesopotamian poem we learn of an assembly pronouncing the decision to fight off the yoke of a foreign king and appoint a local king (Gilgamesh) to carry out the necessary war.
We read of the same type of “democratic” assemblies functioning in the world of Homer’s Trojan War. The chief king, Agamemnon, was obliged to listen to the deliberations of the collective of warriors and take on board their judgments if he wanted to maintain their allegiance. In the second book of the Iliad the poet even shows us that the meanest of the low had the right to speak his mind, even severely criticising the king, in the assembly. Thersites is bullied and humiliated in the same assembly by aristocrats — and faulted for his physical appearance and squeaky voice by the poet — but only after he is allowed his say.
Even later in “classical” Greek times (especially fifth century BCE Athens) when more formal institutions were regulated to create a democratic state, we find significant differences from modern ideas of democracy: women and slaves had no political voice; certain offices were restricted to aristocrats or to property-holders. But we characterise classical Athens with the label “democracy”.
As we read in the abstract to “Democracy before Democracy?” by Yves Schlemiel,
Was democracy invented by the Greeks to replace the anarchy and imperial rule characteristic of earlier Near Eastern societies? Although what was explicitly borrowed from antiquity by modern political thinkers looks Athenian, there was democracy before the [Greek] polis. Egyptian and Mesopotamian politics relied on public debate and detailed voting procedure, countless assemblies convened at the thresholds of public buildings or city gates, disputed trials were submitted to superior courts, countervailing powers reminded leaders that justice was their responsibility. This was not full democracy but the Greek version was not perfect either….
International Political Science Review, 2000, v21, n2, pp. 99-120
Austendw goes on to argue that in the Bible the people of Israel “enter into a contract with Yahweh”. Correct. The people are given the choice and willingly, collectively, agree to do so. Of course the scenario at Sinai is not historical — unless we accept that God literally appeared on the mountain to speak to Moses and terrify the Israelites with meteorological and geological displays of his awesomeness. And even though the form and wording of some of the biblical laws appears to be in the form of Near Eastern contracts or treaties, it is nonetheless clear that in the story the people of Israel themselves, as a collective assembly, agree to the terms.
Later, Israelite assemblies will make similar decisions and reject or annul former obligations to submit to a particular king. In the period of the judges the people regularly decided to appoint an autocratic leader to lead them in war against their rulers from another ethnic group.
Russell Gmirkin’s argument is that the authors of the biblical narratives borrowed heavily from the motifs and ideals of Greek philosophical and political writings archived at the Great Library of Alexandria. Their narratives very often reflect the world of their Greek neighbours, especially as it was set out in Alexandria’s famous collections, and owe relatively little to the starkly different Near Eastern world of authoritarian kings. My discussion above has included reference to Gilgamesh stories so I will conclude by noting that M. L. West in The East Face of Helicon argues that influences of Gilgamesh stories are found in Greek epics, especially the works of Homer.