We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

The Nation or People

Questions such as when and why Israel became a people, a large social entity such as a nation, involve numerous subsidiary issues. The key questions are twofold: What forces impelled nascent Israel to become a state? and, How should the early nation be understood? The first question has elicited numerous answers: conflict with other Syro-Palestinian societies, especially the Sea Peoples (otherwise known as the Philistines); demand for increased land because of successful agricultural technologies and increased population density; an increasingly stratified society due to economic success, which in turn required a new form of political organization; a more complex system of economic production and distribution, which necessitated some form of centralized administration; and a more ethnically diverse population, which called for integration through political and religious means. Though it is difficult to assess the relative importance of these factors, it seems clear that both external and internal factors contributed to the development of the Israelite state. Some Old Testament texts suggest that the monarchic state was an improper intrusion (e.g., 1 Samuel 8 ). Careful attention to the social world of early Iron Age Israel, however, suggests that the chiefdom and then the monarchic state were appropriate adaptive responses to the situation that these early Israelites confronted. The centralization of power personified by the king corresponded to other centripetal forces—especially economic ones—at work in the society. The study of Israel's earliest monarchic period now includes topics such as urbanization, militarization, bureaucratization, economic stratification, and the change (called “latifundization”) to a landholding system in which large estates, farmed by tenants while the owners often lived elsewhere, became more prevalent.

As to understanding the shape of the nation, a number of scholars would now claim that Saul ruled in the mode of a chieftain, whereas David ruled as king over a state. To use such language obviously suggests that a chief is different from a king and, more importantly, that the Israelite state developed quickly. The chief becomes necessary when complexities of various sorts (e.g., socio-economic stratification) require new forms of political leadership. The chiefdom rests on earlier forms of political organization, however, not on the centralized bureaucratic administration that was clearly present by the time of Solomon. The speed with which the transition from chief to king occurred in Israel was the result of numerous forces, among them the incredibly rapid acquisition of land and other economic resources by David, the development of trade routes on Israelite soil, and the need to integrate new populations into the pre-existing social system. David's military conquests required a state for proper administration of that which had been conquered. New administrative roles proliferated during the early years of the monarchy (see especially 1 Kings 4 ). The changes associated with the inception of monarchy proved formative for Israelite and Judahite society during the ensuing four centuries.

The social world of Israel changed significantly with the demise of the Judahite nation-state in 587 B.C.E. There were now numerous communities of those who worshiped the same God: some in Egypt, some in Mesopotamia, some on Cyprus, and, of course, some in Syria-Palestine. It would hardly be surprising for the social world of Machseiah, a mercenary living in Elephantine, to be markedly different from the social world of a priest (Ezekiel) living in exile in Mesopotamia. The situations were palpably different. Those in Elephantine consulted with authorities in Jerusalem about proper worship practices. However, those in Mesopotamian exile constituted a community which looked to itself for religious authority. That group possessed, as had earlier ones, priests, elders, and prophets, even a king in exile. And the elders continued to function there as had elders in urban contexts before the exile. No doubt, however, the means by which these various communities maintained their social and religious identities were similar, involving strategies of structural adaptation, like telling stories about heroes such as Esther, Daniel, and Joseph, all of whom flourished at foreign courts.

Exile became permanent for many, though some did return to territory in and around Jerusalem and attempt to recreate a community that stood in continuity with that of pre-monarchic times. Since the efforts of Zerubbabel and Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah are typically associated with the advent of the second temple and the inception of Judaism, respectively, one must say both that something momentous did occur in the land and yet that return to the land would never again be a requirement either for the existence of Judean/Jewish communities or for the worship of their God.

The social world of those who lived in Judea after 520 B.C.E. was the world which saw the formal composition of much in the Old Testament. The Pentateuch was edited, the prophetical books collected and edited, much historical literature written. The political fortunes of this area were not under the control of those who worshiped the God of ancient Israel, though some may have had positions of importance as regional officials in the Persian empire. The narrowly circumscribed territory of Judah included new settlements and a number of military installations. Those who returned to the land competed for land ownership with those who had not gone into exile. Various means were used to determine who held power in the Judean community of the second temple. For example, during the fifth century it became important to trace one's genealogy to someone who had been in exile. In addition, there arose a new level of local officials, the “heads” of the father's houses, which were themselves different from groupings of the same name in the pre-exilic era.

In sum, the social worlds of Israel changed in marked ways both geographically and temporally, with the transition from village agriculture to urban statehood, from exiled communities to restored regional remnant.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice