Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Edelman, Diana V., and Ehud Ben Zvi (eds.), Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE (Worlds of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean; Sheffield: Equinox, 2016). Pp. 296. Paperback. US$29.95. ISBN: 9781781792681.

The authors of these fifteen essays were asked to “explore the various ways in which types of political leadership were remembered and evaluated by readers (and hearers) of texts eventually included in the Hebrew Bible” (p. 1). Not all authors strictly observed that prescript. Lynette Mitchell discusses the political thought of Greek writers of the fifth and fourth centuries b.c.e., providing a valuable contribution to our understanding of the philosophical milieu in which the biblical authors likely wrote. Ann Fitzpatrick-McKinley's important article investigates not only leadership reflected in the book of Nehemiah, but also examples of leadership throughout the entire Achaemenid Empire.

Most of the authors stuck to the plan. In “Memory and Political Thought in the Late Persian/Early Hellenistic Yehud/Judah,” Ehud Ben Zvi suggests that Judean scholars analyzed various forms of governance through narrative. Biblical stories conveyed the inability of prophetic rule (i.e., Moses), of royal rule (e.g., David, Solomon), of judges (e.g., Abimelech), and of city assemblies (Judg 20:5; 1 Sam 23:11; 2 Sam 21:12) to bring people to Yhwh. Ben Zvi does not address the problem of the promulgation of a written Torah also failing, as Neh 13 reveals.

In “Memories of Judah's Past,” James Bos suggests that biblical literature was disseminated as propaganda through public readings at festivals (p. 29). Beyond the fictional scene in Neh 8, we do not know of any such public reading and, in fact, Nehemiah stresses that it had never been done before. Indeed, neither the descriptions of Sukkot in 1 Kgs 8 or in 2 Chr 7, nor those in Josephus and Philo, mention a Torah reading. Bos's simple assumption that public Torah readings “must have” occurred may not do justice to the problem.

In “Mystified Authority,” Kåre Berge also assumes that the biblical texts served as a legitimating device for leadership in post-exilic Yehud (p. 53). In my opinion, it was not the text that legitimated priestly authority, but rather that priestly authority legitimated the text. Ezra is provided with a priestly pedigree going back to Aaron in order to validate the Torah he reads.

In “Israel's King as Primus Inter Pares,” Reinhard Müller compares Deuteronomy's conception of kingship to the role of the king described in 1 Sam 8. In Deut 17 the king does nothing but study Torah, whereas in 1 Sam 8 the king is assumed to serve as both judge (v. 5) and military commander (vv. 11–12). Müller argues that Deuteronomy's author, writing in the Persian period, believes that Israel would have been better off had they never had a king and that the institution of kingship had failed.

Geoffrey Miller examines several images of theocracy in “The Kingdom of God in Samuel.” The Garden of Eden story presents God as a benevolent theocrat; outside the Garden is chaos, inside is civilization. This type of theocracy, where God himself is in charge, is the ideal form of government, and he who defies it should be cursed forever. The next best type of theocracy is one led by God's representative on earth, but even Moses, being human, transgresses. Aaron and the Golden Calf is another story of the danger that a theocratic ruler, with no check on his power, may lead his people into idolatry. Miller suggests that these stories warn against theocracy as a feasible form of governance.

Christophe Nihan investigates the image of David in the book of Ezekiel, pointing out that in chapters 4–24 it is entirely negative. The reestablishment of the dynasty from the stock of Jehoiachin will be brought about by Yhwh himself, the Davidic king is merely Yhwh's administrator. The image of the Davidic king improves slightly in the second section of the book (chs. 33–39), but even there this Davidic leader is not a Messiah figure and not a warrior; the only savior and redeemer is Yhwh. In the final section of the book (chs. 40–48), the Davidic nasi is simply the patron of the cult, with no other powers. Nihan suggests that Ezekiel imagines a classless society, with no social mobility, and no landed aristocracy, since the Nasi has no ability to reassign land.

Terje Stordalen looks at the image of the Judean elder through the book of Job chapters 29–30 and sees a traditional society, where there is no written law code. Tradition and authority are embodied informally in the leaders of patriarchal families.

In “At the Hands of Foreign Kings,” Thomas Bolin looks at biblical attitudes toward foreign rulers. Foreign rulers generally are Yhwh's tool, and if they overstep the bounds he establishes, then they are punished for their hubris. Bolin suggests that temple scribes would have viewed the Persian administration favorably, since imperial support was essential for the temple's continued existence. This does not account for Nehemiah's prayer in which it is clear that Persian rule is part of the punishment for sin that Yhwh exacts (Neh 9:36–7). In the Hellenistic book of Daniel, the Babylonian kings are sometimes viewed positively and at other times as laughingstocks, depending upon whether they recognize Yhwh as God.

Beate Ego investigates the connection between the rule of the foreign king and theology in the book of Esther, in particular the issues of proskynesis and Jews' ability to be part of a multicultural empire or if their obligation to their own customs keeps them irreparably separate. The well-known reversals in the book of Esther show the workings of the hidden God who has put the Jews under his protection. Ego suggests a location in the eastern diaspora, likely after the conquest of Alexander when Greek and Persian customs were in conflict.

Oswald compares the images of monarchy in Herodotus's discussion of the ideal form of government and in 1 Sam 8. Monarchy fails in both cases. Oswald finds Herodotus to be a “critical proponent of democracy,” and the author of 1 Sam 8, the deuteronomist, also to be a proponent of democracy in which judges and officers are in charge but “under the control of a popular assembly” chosen by lot, as in 1 Sam 10:17–27a. What is extraordinary, as Oswald points out (pp. 225–26), is the very existence of these discussions. The form of government is not divinely ordained, but something that is up for discussion.

In “Remembering Samson,” Diana V. Edelman asks about the associations between the Samson story in Judges and the story or cult of Herakles. Edelman asks if the many similarities between Samson and Herakles seen by church fathers in the Middle Ages was also acknowledged in the Hellenistic period (p. 232). It is entirely possible, as the many similarities Edelman notes between these two figures are quite startling.

Anne-Mareike Schol-Wetter compares Tolkien's Lord of the Rings to the stories in 1 Maccabees and Judith.[1] In Lord of the Rings, the evil Sauron only recognizes a threat when it is clad in military gear, not when it crawls peacefully under his nose. So also the Jews in both 1 Maccabees and Judith are threatened not only by military might (Judith) but by the seductive lure of assimilation (1 Maccabees). Both are stories of individuals rising to take matters into their own hands when the situation appears dire; both are models of resistance.

Each of these essays provides a worthwhile consideration of biblical ideals of political leadership. I realize only now, in the present political age, how important it would be for the king to study Torah every day.

Lisbeth S. Fried, University of Michigan

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 3 vols. (New York: Ballantine, 1965). reference