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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Sacral-Royal Ideologies of the Monarchic State

The ability of a national ruler to exercise power over a large group of people—over kinship groups with which he has little or no connection—was facilitated by military successes, by favorable redistribution policies (2 Sam. 6.18–19 ), and by securing loyal subjects and staff through both those means. All these processes are related to or contingent upon an ideological component of royal rule. A king's power ultimately rested on and was legitimized by a series of symbolic acts, attitudes, icons, and structures connecting the king with the deity and human kingship with divine rule. Ancient Israel clearly shared in this fundamental aspect of the construction of kingship, both in its general features and in its specifically Near Eastern manifestations. The king in Israel was accepted because he was perceived as appointed by Yahweh; and Yahweh's character in turn was increasingly and richly expressed by the metaphor of divine kingship.

The conceptualization of the right of a king to rule over his subjects appears, for example, in the use of anointing as part of the ritual of accession to the throne. Anointing a king to office is a religious rather than a secular act throughout the ancient Near East, as elsewhere. Samuel pours oil on Saul's head, but Yahweh is attributed with anointing him ruler over Israel (1 Sam. 10.1 ). The elders make David king at Hebron by anointing him because Yahweh instructed that he thus be made ruler over Israel (2 Sam. 5.2–3; see also Ps. 89.20 ). And the priest Zadok anoints Solomon, with the prayer that Yahweh ordain his rule (1 Kings 1.35–39 ). Royal as well as priestly recipients of unction are designated “Yahweh's anointed” (for example, 1 Sam. 16.6 ), never “Israel's anointed.” The ceremony of anointing was a sign of divine election and legitimated the king's right to rule.

Another aspect of Near Eastern kingship ideology that finds its counterpart in ancient Israel also emphasizes the divine-human connection: the king is said to be the “son of Yahweh.” This appears in the adoption formula of 2 Samuel 7.14 , where God says of Solomon: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” In several psalms (Pss. 2.7; 89.26–27 ; and perhaps 110.3 ) the Israelite king, probably David, is presented as God's (firstborn) son. These texts are all difficult to date and may not come from the period of the early monarchy. Yet the wide occurrence of “son of god/goddess” as a royal title in the ancient Near East makes it likely that this familiar way of expressing divine sanction for a human ruler was part of the ideology accompanying the establishment of kingship in Israel. The use of son-of-god terminology, however, does not necessarily mean that the king himself was considered divine. Near Eastern sources vary in this respect, with Egyptian rulers claiming actual divinity but Semitic ones, Israel included, using the concept metaphorically to connote divine sanction for dynastic power.

These aspects of royal ideology are recovered mainly from Near Eastern and biblical texts. Yet the most important representations of royal-sacral ideology were communicated visually, through crowns (2 Sam. 1.10; 2 Kings 11.12; see also Ps. 132.17–18 ), scepters, garments, and thrones (2 Sam. 14.9; 1 Kings 2.12 ). These symbols of royal power are also accoutrements of divine rule in Near Eastern iconography; indeed, deities are signified in art by their distinctive headgear, clothing, and insignia of office. In Israel, with its aniconographic stance precluding images of God, the throne especially served as a visible sign of Yahweh. The many enthronement and other royal psalms conveyed the idea of Yahweh's royal power (Pss. 47.8; 89.14; 93.1 ; etc.), as did the references to God enthroned on cherubim (Pss. 80.1; 99.1; Isa. 37.16 ). The ark of Yahweh (or of the covenant, or of God) with the attached cherubim was conceptualized as Yahweh's throne (1 Sam. 4.4; 2 Sam. 6.2 ). Just as God ruled from a throne in a heavenly abode, so divine presence and power emanated from an earthly structure—a temple. The ark was placed within the Temple as the locus of Yahweh's unseen reality. The Temple building itself served many of the integrative functions of an emerging nation-state, and it was also the primary visual representation of the divine election and sanction of the king who built it and of his dynastic successors. Royal authority compelling people to act against individual or kinship group interests was powerfully legitimized as God's will as represented by God's earthly dwelling in the capital city.

The idea of constructing the Temple in Jerusalem probably originated with David. The various stages of temple building are well known from other ancient Near Eastern states, and David seems to have carried out most of them. The explanation of the DH about David's failure to complete the project—1 Kings 5.3 attributes it to his preoccupation with military operations—probably has validity. At the same time, the census attempted by David (2 Sam. 24 ), perhaps related to the need to secure revenues for construction projects, coincided with one of the era's periodic and deadly outbreaks of pestilential disease. Such a trauma, understood as a sign of divine disfavor, would have sufficed to keep David from temple building. Instead, he is said to have brought the major icon of the premonarchic era—the ark of Yahweh—to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6.17 ) and to have constructed the future Temple's altar on the very site where the Temple would stand (2 Sam. 24.25; 1 Chron. 22.1 ). Whatever David's role in initiating the process of building and dedicating a temple, it was Solomon who completed it.

If the ark was a national or Israelite symbol of divine presence, effective in communicating to the people of the realm that God favored the king and his bureaucracy, the Temple was essential for projecting that message internationally. Israelite forces achieved military dominance over neighboring states or areas; the legitimization of that political dominion was then made known through the Temple to the tribute-bearing envoys and other representatives of non-Israelite polities who came to Jerusalem. The newly established capital in Jerusalem could not effectively serve its diplomatic, imperialistic, and national functions without the visual sign of Yahweh's sanction of the monarchy.

The artistic and architectural features of the Solomonic Temple are known principally from 1 Kings 5–7 . According to that detailed description, the resplendent tripartite building and its accoutrements contained elements recognizable in the Phoenician, Egyptian, Canaanite, Aramean, and Neo-Hittite artistic vernacular of the Iron II period. Representatives of all the foreign peoples either dominated by the early monarchy or with which it had established at least parity, as well as Israelite pilgrims and tribal officials visiting Jerusalem, would see the Temple as a symbol of the Israelite god's presence and power. The Temple's architectural and artistic conventions thus formed a visual idiom meaningful to the widest audience.

Two gigantic pillars stood at the entrance to the Temple, each 23 or more cubits (over 10 meters [33 feet]) high and bearing the enigmatic names Jachin and Boaz. As freestanding columns, they flanked the building's forecourt (NRSV “vestibule”), just as pillars marked the monumental gateways of sacred precincts throughout the ancient Near East. Carved reliefs of such gateways show that the completion of a temple was marked by a grand procession and celebration, which brought the statue of the realm's chief god into the temple. The 1 Kings 8 account of bringing the ark into the Jerusalem Temple depicts just such a significant religio-political act: installing a deity into a new abode. The highly visible pillars—the only elaborately decorated elements in the otherwise stark and plain exterior of the Temple—thereafter communicated the legitimizing presence of Yahweh to all onlookers.

The interior of the Temple in Jerusalem, like most other such buildings in the ancient Near East, was not a place of public worship. Rather it was the dwelling place of God's unseen presence, entered regularly by just a few senior priestly officials. The size of the Temple building, considerably smaller than the adjacent palace in the royal-sacral precinct of Jerusalem, thus does not mean that it was simply a royal chapel nor that God's house was less important than the king's house. The palace complex was inhabited by scores of people and was the major government building; its interior space needs were considerably greater than that of a temple that was home to a single deity. Yet the Temple had important exterior space—courtyards for sacrificing and where pilgrims could gather. In addition, the Temple interior was flanked by an extensive, three-storied series of side chambers, all contained within the exterior walls of the building, that served as storage rooms for the valuable items of tribute acquired by David and Solomon (see 1 Kings 7.51 ), as well as for items received as offerings. Befitting its role as a national treasury, the building itself in architectural plan was fortresslike in its exterior appearance—looming high above its platform and surrounding courts. While its interior space was smaller than that of the palace complex, its main hall, lacking interior columns, was as large as such a space could be; and the building as a whole was larger than any other known sacral structure of its time in the Levant. Jerusalem thus became the core of a royal Zion theology heralding Yahweh's choice of the city as the seat of dynastic rule and concomitant divine presence.

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