Jerusalem’s rise to power: 2 views

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is an extension of an earlier one, Jerusalem unearthed.

Israel Finkelstein describes Jerusalem’s rise to power in the seventh century b.c.e. as a result of integrating itself within the Assyrian imperial economy after the fall of Samaria. He writes of Jerusalem being the capital of a politically integrated kingdom of Judea.

Thomas L. Thompson likewise argues that Jerusalem rose to power with Assyria’s blessing. Jerusalem did not extend its influence to the north or any other Assyrian conquered areas, but to the southwest and south, the Shephelah and the Negev. Further, Judea was not a politically integrated kingdom or nation, but was dominated politically by city-state Jerusalem imposing its hegemony over other city states like Hebron.

Jerusalem’s population multiplied greatly at this time, and for the first time “acquired the character of a regional state capital. One must doubt Jerusalem’s capacity for such political aggrandizement at any earlier period.” (Thompson, p.410)

King :en:Sennacherib of :en:Assyria from http:...

Jerusalem’s growth

For background to this, see earlier post, Jerusalem unearthed.

Commercial rival Lachish had been destroyed, never to be rebuilt, and this opened up the possibility of more of the southern area’s resources to Jerusalem.

But the Assyrians had also, led by Sennacherib, diminished Jerusalem’s influence when they invaded parts of Judea.

Thompson suggests that given Samaria had been a longstanding enemy of Jerusalem, it is unlikely that refugees from Samaria would have sought refuge in Jerusalem. They would more likely have gone to allies in Phoenicia. Moreover, Jerusalem would have been drawn into “the direction of a hopeless confrontration with Assyria” had they accepted large numbers of Samarian refugees.

Here Finkelstein and Thompson part. Finkelstein sees Jerusalem’s population swelling primarily as a result of refugees from the northern kingdom rather than those of the Shephelah area. Finkelstein argues for cultural-historical affinities between the peoples of the northern and southern “kingdoms” but Thompson sees no archaeological evidence for these. Thompson sees the various geographical regions of Palestine as a hotch-potch of ethnic and cultural groups until the Persian era at the earliest.

The size of Jerusalem — a great city in the seventh century — time meant it could no longer be economically sustained “solely by the Jerusalem saddle and the Ayyalon Valley.” Thompson sees Jerusalem as a city-state compelled to secure itself by dominating the resources of neighbouring areas to the south and south west.

Comparing Ekron — a mirror to Jerusalem’s rise?

At the same time Ekron expanded its influence to dominate the coastal plain lands and cities. Ekron was able to do this as a result of cooperation with the Assyrian empire. Ekron served Assyria’s interests by establishing itself as a centre of a vassal state in Judaea.

Assyrian reorganization of Judea under Jerusalem

Assyria destroyed Lachish and other towns of the Shephelah and these were not resettled. “Rather, during the seventh-century, Judaea, and with it the Shephelah, was reorganized around a number of new fortified towns, apparently subject to Jerusalem . . . ” (Thompson, p.411)

According to Thompson, Jerusalem’s growth and expansion was that of an imperial city state over subject peoples and cities like Hebron. Unlike the erstwhile northern kingdom of Israel, Judea was not a politically integrated united kingdom. It maintained its hegemony as an imperial city state only.

Jerusalem expanded southward to the Judaean highlands, the Shephelah and perhaps the northern Negev. “It is unlikely, however, that the exercise of this warrant was carried out in opposition to the firmly established Assyrian authority in the region.” (Thompson, p.411)

Finkelstein concurs that Jerusalem benefitted from cooperation with Assyria, but sees Judea becoming an integrated kingdom, not merely an area under the hegemony of a newly giant city-state. “The question is, where did this wealth and apparent movement toward full state formation come from? The inescapable conclusion is that Judah suddenly cooperated with and even integrated itself into the economy of the Assyrian empire.” (Finkelstein, p. 246)

Where Finkelstein and Thompson part

Finkelstein’s interpretation of the evidence hinges on his belief that much of the biblical literature, in particular the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah beginning with the United Kingdom of David and Solomon, was the product of the pre-exilic Kingdom of Judah.

Thompson instead argues that the themes of the biblical literature find no basis of origin before the Persian period. The archaeological evidence is against the existence of a united kingdom of Israel or large-scale influx of a new ethnic-cultural-religious group dominating Palestine in the Iron Age. It is not until the Persian era that Palestine is united politically and religiously, and this with the migration of a new group of peoples at the behest of the Persian imperial authority.

Such a development [the creation of a Jerusalem led “nation-state”] came about only with the ideological and political changes of the Persian period, centered around the Persian supported construction of a temple dedicated to the transcendent elohe shamayim, identified with Yahweh, the long neglected traditional god of the former state of Israel, who, in his new capital at the center of the province of Yehud, might, like Ba’al Shamem of Aramaic texts, be best described as a Palestinian variant of the Neo-Babylonian divine Sin and of Persia’s Ahura Mazda. (Thompson, pp.411-2)

I think that both Thompson and Finkelstein would agree that history tells us as much or more about those who wrote it as it does about the past.

Finkelstein sees the biblical history being concocted by propagandists of King Josiah’s court to justify his presumed interest in expanding his kingdom north to incorporate Samaria. This history supposedly exaggerated events of the past to justify Josiah’s ambitions:

Yet it is clear that many of the characters described in the Deuteronomistic History — such as the pious Joshua, David, and Hezekiah and the apostate Ahaz and Manasseh — are portrayed as mirror images, both positive and negative, of Josiah. The Deuteronomistic History was not history writing in the modern sense. It was a composition simultaneously ideological and theological. (Finkelstein, p. 284)

Personally I don’t understand why such propagandists would create negative images of Josiah.

While agreeing that the biblical history was ideological and theological, Thompson sees the biblical history being concocted by propagandists among the the leaders of those deported by the Persians to settle in Palestine. This history was apparently inspired by themes of settlement among an indigenous population who did not welcome the newcomers, of a new state arising out of peoples migrating from Mesopotamia, and even from a (Persian created) political entity stretching from Euphrates to the Nile  — compare Genesis 15:18 and 1 Kings 4:24.

I consider this the more plausible explanation.


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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “Jerusalem’s rise to power: 2 views”

  1. You’ve convinced me! You have stated pursuasive arguments that the story of Josiah as given is fictional, especially the points that his religious policies (as told in the Bible story) would not have won over the Israelites, and that there is no likelihood that he took over any part of the Northern kingdom or that any large number of refugees from the North moved South.
    I used to believe Finkelsteins narrative because I thought it explained why the Bible incorporates stories told to glorify the house of Joseph, the traditions of Shechem, the good and bad tales told of Benjamin (sons of the South so the most Southern inhabitants of Israel), and of Saul, as well as the use of Israelite King lists to constuct genealogies and narratives of earlier history. You think these stories were obtained by Judaeans in Persian times and used to make a peudo history of “the children of Israel” ?

    1. Most of my points were Thompson’s et al, but I’m surprised no-one I’ve read has questioned the feasability of the argued religious policy of Josiah. Davies, Lemche and Thompson et al see the first time the sort of intellectual and cultural milieu that could give rise to the themes we read in the biblical literature, as well as the reality of a united “Israel” among unwelcoming indigenous populations, and with massive imperial support for a Temple and scribal elite, appears only from Persian and Hellenistic times. I hope to be discussing some of these in future posts. The arguments make sense to me, and their critics seem to miss the real issues.

  2. You might be interested in the comments I put on the free speach and rationalism board:
    Much of Genesis must have been written quite late. The story of Abraham in Egypt is a pre-enactment of the Exodus and must have been written after that book. The story of Joseph and his brothers, judging by its sentiments, was surely written by a Benjaminite, as a complete novel, showing Benjamin and Joseph as the favourites of Jacob. The original was probably written after the Babylonians took Jerusalem and before the return under Ezra, when the southern part of the province of Israel and much of Judah was ruled by the Babylonians through Benjamin. This would have been also when the stories of the flood, the tower of Babel and so on were written. Much of Genesis, and Judges and Samuel consists of layers of argument between Benjamin and Judah in the late Babylonian and early Persian Period about who are the true political heirs of Israel. In Genesis Bethel, Shechem, Shiloh, Gibeon, are given more importance than Jerusalem. Against this are the stories that the Gibeonites and Shechemites are not true Israelites, the nasty stories against Gibeon and Benjamin in Judges, and the revisions of the original stories of the Benjamite prophet and king Saul that blacken his name. The Genesis story of Joseph is then very slightly changed to make Judah a more important brother at the expense of Reuben. Deuteronomy must come later when Jerusalem is an important client state of the Persians, and Judah is seen as one of the children of Israel.
    Benjamin, meaning son of my right hand i.e son of the South, was the eponym of those who must have been at one time the most Southern of the Children of Israel so Judah as such was not included. In some traditions Benjamin,s power reaches as far as Jerusalem. When a kingdom of Judah is known to history it is not a part of the historically known kingdom of Israel.
    It seems to me transparent that the story of Joseph and his brothers is written to praise the house of Joseph and of his younger brother Benjamin. Many of the other stories of Genesis celebrate sites in Israel rather than Judah, Jacob associated with Shechem and Bethel, the earliest battles and holy sites being largely in the Benjaminite area. These stories are not likely to have been originally written by Judaeans.
    There are anti Benjamanite as well as pro Benjaminite stories throughout Judges and Samuel (Gibeah and Gibeon were said in the Saul story to be the centres of his power so the stories against the Gibeonites and the men of Gibeah were part of the reply to the tales of good king Saul).
    When is the argument between Judah and Benjamin most likely to be told in story and counterstory?
    There is no historical evidence that the stories of good king Josiah, or his discovery of an ancient book are actually true. When were such stories most likely to be told?
    I am not sure, but the periods following the end of the Davidic kingdom seem most likely to me.

  3. Thanks for the link to your other discussion. This is something I’d love to have more time to explore more fully. You are probably aware of Davies’ new book, “The Origins of Biblical Israel” in which he also discusses possibilities of the OT reflecting rivalry between Judah and Benjamin. I am less and less convinced of the JE hypothesis the more I see attempts to ‘prove’ it. I can’t recall the name or author of one attempt to write the entire ‘novel’ of (E?) alone and it only raised far more questions and anomalies than it may have thought it answered, at least in my mind. Whoever put together this JE did take different stories and meld them together, as we see in other nonbiblical works, too. But this is not the same as saying there were originally 2 different stories in their entirety.

    Hope to be able to catch up with this discussion on Freeratio when time permits.

  4. “Yet it is clear that many of the characters described in the Deuteronomistic History — such as the pious Joshua, David, and Hezekiah and the apostate Ahaz and Manasseh — are portrayed as mirror images, both positive and negative, of Josiah.

    Personally I don’t understand why such propagandists would create negative images of Josiah.”

    One of us has misunderstood Finkelstein. I took the negative image of Josiah to mean Ahaz and Manasseh were portrayed as anti-Josiahs not to portray the dark side of Josiah. If you also took it to mean anti-Josiah I’m not sure why you would find this to be against the propagandist purpose. Heroes need a villain, and a popular way of presenting villains has been as the mirror reverse of the hero.

    1. You may be right. I no longer recall what was on my mind when I wrote that.

      The F & S view that Josiah was the focal point of the historical writings and of some sort of national and religious revival strikes me as quite arbitrary. They cite precious little archaeological evidence for any of this and fail to address the counter view of Davies.

      One suspects they are creating the myth to fill a Jewish/Israeli identity void that came with the demise of the Davidic kingdom story.

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