The Origins of the United Monarchy
gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au
Wed Feb 3 00:13:19 EST 1999
> It would seem then that you agree with me that there is, at least at the
> moment, no archaeological or epigraphic evidence to support a literal
> interpretation of the biblical narratives centred around the united
> monarchy. If this is the case, are you open to interpretations of the
> narratives that don't take a literal approach? (For example that they may
> represent a metaphorical approach to another era, such as the Maccabean
Firstly, I agree that the archaeological record is scant when it comes to settlements
in the 10th century BCE. For example, Judah appears to be very backward and
undeveloped, whilst Israel appears to be just getting into a groove of growth which
will take it on to a well developed political system. Thomas L. Thompson's work on
Israel from the archaeological and written sources deals with much of the occupation
of the territories in question during the relevent time. Finkelstein's work is also
However, I don't think the evidence for the United Monarchy over Israel and Judah
really has all that much to do with the archaeology. What I mean is that the United
Monarchy appears to have been more of a token political system - one which was more a
theoretical construct than an actual construct. It's a bit like me declaring a new
Republic of George Athas right here in Sydney, Australia. Now, I can organise my own
household to reflect this new republic, I can even convince my neighbours to follow me
and be part of it - but in actual fact, the Republic of George Athas is just a
theoretical construct which doesn't have all that much practical force. Now, with
David and Solomon, I think the case is similar, except that they had a little more
impact on things than I would have here in Sydney with my little Republic. It's not
surprising, then, that little tangible evidence for a United Monarchy has turned up.
Having said this, though, I think many of us underestimate the evidence of the
archaeology of Jerusalem (by that I mean the excavations in modern Silwan, on the
Ophel ridge). I think we often expect to find too much with "United Monarchy" stamped
on it, so when the evidence turns out to be less, we dismiss the United Monarchy as
purely and only a literary-theological concept of much later writers. I think items
such as the Stepped Stone structure and the nearby houses do not rule out a town of
Jerusalem in the 10th century. It does not appear to be a thriving metropolis, but it
doesn't need to be. For a primitive grouping of pastoralists-recently
cum-agriculturalists, a shift from a very spartan rural lifestyle to a fledgling urban
lifestyle would have been a significant shift. So much so, in fact, that it warranted
description in grandiose terms. For example, Solomon, it is boasted, received 666
talents per annum. Now, for a people such as primitive Judah, this was a phenomenal
amount, but in terms of real wealth, it is paltry. Compare it to Egypt or Babylon and
it pales in significance. Later writers, who by then were familiar with an urban
political system into which Judah had developed a few centuries later, had traditions
of Judah's golden age. Now, it is probable that the writers were actually much better
off than the people in the 10th century BCE, but since it was always remembered as a
golden age, they propogated it as such.
> [...] I can't see how you get to the "nevertheless" in this statement, if you
> accept that there is no evidence to come to that conclusion (as your
> initial statement here seems to imply).
It is because we don't need to find tangible archaeological evidence of a theoretical
structure. It's a bit like asking to find archaeological evidence to support the
theories of Sigmund Freud. You'll only find the evidence in literary form, not in
stone or pottery.
> >A bit like a five year old being
> >forced to wear a men's extra large jacket. You say, "We have only
> children's clothes
> >here - no evidence of adulthood."
> The analogy of course is not good. You have the knowledge from uniformity
> that children grow up to adulthood. There is nothing equivalent in what you
> are applying your analogy to.
I'm not sure I follow you. We know that Judah did eventually develop into a fully
fledged state in its own right. That is the equivalent: Judah (and Israel) did
eventually grow up into well developed states.
> >Or, "We have no evidence of statehood or Monarchy at
> >the time in question - only loosely connected tribes."
> We don't even have that.
You mean, there is absolutely no evidence of anyone in the hills of Palestine during
the 10th century BCE? The place was vacant? Not a roving soul? Not even a couple of
shepherds and their sheep?
> >But, if the Monarchy was an
> >artificial construct imposed on still developing tribes, there would be
> >evidence for it until much later. So in effect, we have a "United
> Monarchy" de jure,
> >but a "weak and fledgling political system bound to fail" de facto.
> (You'd be basing all this on evidence of a type you wouldn't use in other
Please explain - don't follow.
> >That of course, is if the United Monarchy existed. The problem is that the
> evidence is
> >silent. But silence of evidence does not mean evidence of silence.
> It does give scope for contemplating other alternatives, for there is no
> evidentially favoured position.
Of course. I'm just putting forward one of the alternatives.
Dept of Semitic Studies,
University of Sydney
- Email: gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au
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