Tribe, Nation, and State

1. Patriarchal Society

The book of Genesis describes the structure of Hebrew society in the age of the patriarchs. The period corresponds to the Middle Bronze Age, i.e., from the nineteenth to the fifteenth centuries; the scene where the action took place is the ancient caravan route leading along the Fertile Crescent.1 Abraham and his clan have left their Aramaean tribe in Ur of the Chaldees in southern Babylonia and turned via Haran in the northeast to the land of Canaan. The Bible links this migration with the rise of monotheism (Genesis 11:26–32). The later generations ultimately move on to Egypt.

The Hebrews appear in Palestine as a pastoral society living by cattle breeding and by trading various commodities.2 They are seminomads, moving by donkey caravans from one pasture ground to the next but at the same time in the process of agricultural settlement.

Discoveries have furnished many parallels to the law and custom of the patriarchs in Akkadian, Hurrian, and Hittite texts and many a biblical passage has become clear by comparison with archaeological finds from Mari, Nuzu, or Ugarit.3 Occasionally reference can also be made to present-day Bedouin customs, though the social setting of the latter differs from that of the patriarchs.4

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are chiefs of a clan composed of different families. In theory all members of the clan are descendants of the chief and “brothers” of each other. In practice, however, there were various other persons attached to the group (e.g., Abraham’s nephew, Lot, Genesis 13:5), as well as covenanters or vassals (e.g., Genesis 14:14) and slaves. Abraham’s clan numbered 318 warriors, corresponding to a total of about two thousand souls. The clan of Jacob, on the other hand, comprised merely seventy males, a much smaller nucleus of direct descendants. On two occasions the group splits after having grown too large (Genesis 13:5–12; 36:6–7). This proves a tendency to limit the clan to a certain size.

Under conditions of seminomadism all the power with regard to both internal and external affairs is vested in the chief. He is responsible for any crime committed by a member of his clan against a stranger, unless he agrees to extradite the culprit or to punish him to the satisfaction of the plaintiff clan. Failure by the chief to do one of these gave rise to war against the whole clan; thus collective responsibility for the deed of the individual was put on the group as a whole. Genesis 31:25–35 is a case of theft, giving the aggrieved party the right to search the tents of the accused. Jacob agreed from the beginning to the extreme punishment, and thereby absolved the rest of the group from liability. Judges 20, on the other hand, represents the opposite behavior and illustrates the consequences of failing to satisfy the sense of justice.5

The wrong was committed against the clan rather than against the individual. As in present-day Bedouin society, the blood of a slain person had to be avenged by his kindred, so as to reestablish the balance of power.6 There existed also other forms of redemption designed to safeguard the demographic size of the group. Enslaved members must be freed (Leviticus 25:48) and childless widows were kept within the family through the rule of levirate. A similar idea underlies, perhaps, the ancient tendency of endogamy (Genesis 20:12; 24:1–8; 26:35; 28:1, 8).7

Property seems to have been vested in the chief, especially where realty was limited to rights of pasture, water, and burial, which are usually in common ownership. Movables, on the other hand, must have become private property even at this early stage of society. After the settlement and the division of realty among the different households, various remnants of the ancient community of land still remained in force. The redemption prescribed in Leviticus 25:25 and Numbers 36:7 is an example of such a revival of family rights whenever there arose a danger that property would be alienated. The same idea expressed itself in Naboth’s refusal to part with his heritage, which King Ahab wanted to purchase (1 Kings 21).8

The chief of the clan fulfilled all public functions. He acted as priest of the God of the fathers, as leader in time of war and migration, as judge of his flock, and as their representative before other groups. He had absolute power over his followers and could even put them to death (Genesis 19:8; 31:31; 38:24; 42:37) or sell them into slavery (Exodus 21:7). It is only after the centralization of justice that the rebellious son could not be punished by his father and was committed for trial before the elders (Deuteronomy 21:19).9

The appointment of his successor was likewise in the absolute discretion of the chief. His decision was given in the form of a blessing upon the elected son. The office usually devolved upon the firstborn. If, however, he was not considered worthy, he could be replaced by his brother, who was “acknowledged” for this purpose by the father (Genesis 25:5; 27; 48:5, 19; 49:4).10 The right of succession included the power over all members of the clan, even over the dead chief’s wives and concubines (compare Genesis 35:22; 49:4).11

A wife who failed to bear children could provide her husband with a servant as substitute (Genesis 16:2; 21:9–13; 30:3, 9). This custom was in accordance with Babylonian practice. Several cases of adoption, illustrated in the story of Genesis, can also be traced to Nuzian models.12

Another form of artificial relationship was covenanting. Since patriarchal society was based mainly on blood and kinship ties, there sometimes arose the need for the creation of a legal, as distinct from natural, brotherhood. The ceremony consisted of various elements, symbolizing the divine sanction for the promises, the blessing to be bestowed on the faithful, and the curses to be inflicted on the transgressor. Similar to the custom of Mari, an animal was cut into pieces to signify the punishment in case of breach of the agreement.13

As already mentioned, the patriarch represented the clan toward foreigners, and sometimes sat together with other chiefs in intertribal justice (Genesis 31:37). This forum was called “the elders” of the tribe, even though some of its members may have succeeded to office long before old age. Their exact powers within the general assembly of the tribe were not yet defined.14

2. The Settlement

The transformation of the Hebrew tribes into the nation of Israel is the subject matter of the four later books of the Pentateuch. By a series of miracles, God liberated the people from the slavery of Egypt. The Exodus must have taken place in the thirteenth century and its experience, together with the leadership of Moses, left a decisive impression on Hebrew society. The promulgation of the law by the covenant, uniting the people with God and with each other, established the new community on a religious as well as a national basis. The tradition of kinship and of common descent was still preserved, even though foreign elements joined the new nation (Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4).15

The tabernacle of the congregation formed the center of the various tribes, clans, and households, who were all bound by a common allegiance to the overlord God. The centralized cult and law and their belief that they were a chosen nation were strong factors in the unification of the people and their preparation for the holy war of conquest. There exist, indeed, various similarities both in the religious community of the tribes of Israel and in the amphictyony of the Greek cities. Both were political unions founded on a common cultic tradition and based on a central sanctuary.16

One of the most important factors of unity was the “Common Law” of the community as laid down in the decalogue and the other codes. The tribal system having been integrated into the national framework, there was no longer room for family justice or vitae necisque postestas by the chief. The rebellious son or the adulterous daughter was henceforth committed for trial before the local court (Deuteronomy 21:19; 22:21) and the firstborn could not be disinherited without regard to the rules of succession (Deuteronomy 21:16).17 A murderer, on the other hand, was still extradited to the kinsman of the victim, who was to avenge the blood after the official judgment had been passed (Exodus 21:12; Numbers 35:9–33; Deuteronomy 19:1–13).

A charismatic leader, such as Moses, Joshua, or one of the judges, took the place of the tribal chieftains in all respects—religious, legal, and military. Instead of the ancient family priesthood there appeared the national clergy of the Levites, controlled by a high priest of Aaronitic descent.18 The community was represented by the “elders of Israel,” who were organized as a national institution besides the leader (Exodus 3:18; 4:29; 12:21; 24:1).19 Moreover, the confederacy of the tribes of Israel acquired the character of a military organization. Each tribe was to contribute troops for the holy war under the leadership of its chiefs.20

As usual, Israelite society did not develop in one direction only, but the process of development took place in various cycles. Many generations were to pass before the national organization replaced the tribal structure. The period of the judges, following the earlier tendency toward centralization, appears as a reaction in the direction of particularism.21 Meanwhile the conquest had brought the different tribes of Israel into contact with the native population of Palestine, part of which joined the religious community of the invaders. The change from a seminomadic, pastoral society to a territorial, sedentary one may have been another factor contributing to separatism. Moreover, the settlement among the Canaanites often prevented relations between various parts of Israel and operated in favor of a process of assimilation and cantonization.

On the other hand, the idea of the confederation of Israel, the common tradition and law, as well as the constant aggression from outside, encouraged national unity. Some of the tribal judges managed to lead the whole people, or at least its majority, so that they could be compared with the head of a state.22 Being in the first instance military commanders who fought for the justice of their people, they then became administrative chieftains and judges in the proper sense. Their leadership was based on the assumption of divine inspiration, this being of special importance for the administration of the ordeal and the making of law.23

The need for a unified military command of the whole nation arose particularly after the attacks by the neighboring states. From the west came the Philistines, while the eastern border was invaded by Aram, Ammon, Moab, Midian, and Edom. Even in Palestine itself, a strong counterattack by the Canaanites took place in the Plain of Jezreel about the middle of the twelfth century. During these wars the enemy was organized under a king, while Israel still kept to the tribal confederation. There was little hope for success unless a commander in chief directed the defense against the attackers. Israel’s administration, developing from strategic needs, preserved for a long time the character of a military organization.24

3. Kingship

During the end of the period of the judges a tendency was felt toward extending the office for lifetime and connecting with it functions of judicial and political administration. While the first kings were still elected by a divine calling to save Israel from her enemy, their office became more and more of an institution. Thus the king built up an army and a service of officials, he organized the religious worship and administered justice.25

The first attempt at establishing the monarchy in Israel was made during the leadership of Gideon in the defensive war against the Midianites (twelfth–eleventh century). He had united the tribal forces of a considerable part of Israel and liberated his people from the nomadic bands. Being offered a hereditary kingship, Gideon motivated his refusal by reference to the divine kingship over Israel (Judges 8:22–23).26 Neither he nor his son Jotham were willing to abolish the tribal concept of equality, but another son of his, Abimelech, tried to establish a city-state in Shechem according to the Canaanite system (Judges 9).

Since the conflicts with the Canaanite neighbors and with the eastern invaders were always of a temporary nature, they did not form a real challenge to Israelite particularism during the period of the judges. However, between 1180 and 1080 B.C.E. the Philistines had established themselves along the western coast and finally captured the greater part of the Hebrew territory including the central sanctuary of Shiloh. The confederacy of the tribes was thus robbed of its shrine and the only factor contributing to unity was the judicial office of Samuel (1 Samuel 4–7).

The resistance to the Philistine rule called for a national leadership, which was to abolish the vassalage of the various clans and tribes. A worthy candidate for the chief command was Saul, who had formerly led his tribe against the Ammonite attackers. Elected by divine inspiration to save his people, he was formally declared king of all Israel, thereby proclaiming the revolt against the Philistine yoke.

The introduction of the monarchy met, however, with the opposition of theocratic circles carrying on the tradition of the judges. Kingship was felt to be modeled on Canaanite forms and its prerogatives may, indeed, have been taken over from the surround ing city-states (compare Deuteronomy 17:14; 1 Samuel 8:5, 20).27

The passage of Deuteronomy 17 does not consider the innovation to be an offense against divine kingship, as expressed, for instance, in the warnings of Samuel in 1 Samuel 8. However, both passages stress the desire of the people and a somewhat unwilling confirmation on the part of God. The divine choice of Deuteronomy corresponds to the role of the prophets in the election of the kings. Deuteronomy, moreover, emphasizes the limitations placed upon the king rather than his powers: He could not be of foreign descent nor could he develop close relations with the royal court of Egypt and other states. He was to submit to the rule of the law and to remain close to his brethren. 1 Samuel 8, on the other hand, is part of an antimonarchical speech and gives a list of the royal privileges: The king might conscript the young men for war service, public works, and attendance at the royal court, while women could be called for service in his kitchen. He could also impose various taxes, requisition slaves and animals for the royal household, and give fiefs to his favorites.

In spite of the charismatic origin of Israelite kingship, it did not, originally, confer divine status upon the leader. The king was thought to be appointed and even adopted by God; he mediated between God and the people and represented them before each other. But there did not exist in Israel the idea of the “divine king” whose main function was to be head of the ritual. The Hebrew king, as well as the judge, was called upon to fulfil a political task, in the course of which he also took upon himself the religious functions.28

Though commissioned by God to administer justice (2 Samuel 14:17; 1 Kings 3:9), Israelite kings were not, at least in theory, to act as legislators. Deuteronomy 17:18–19, as mentioned above, emphasized their submission to priestly law. The stories of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21) and of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11–12) were vivid illustrations of the rule of law, to be taken into consideration even by royalty.

On the other hand, in the fictitious case of the woman of Tekoa (2 Samuel 14:4–11), King David assumed the right of pardoning an offender against the decision of the local judges. This seems to be a remnant of the tribal vitae necisque postestas. Such a privilege made the king to a certain extent fons iustitiae, but the absence of any further mention pointed to its exceptional character.29

Hebrew kingship was based on two covenants that defined the duties of the crown toward God and toward the people. The king’s relationship to the divinity was conceived as that of a vassal toward his overlord. He was installed in the office by divine election, on condition that he remain loyal to God and keep his laws (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 132:12). Whenever the king transgressed the terms of this covenant, he could be criticized by priests and prophets. Should he pay no heed to the warning, the prophet might even choose another king, whom he thought more suitable. God would then be assumed to have rejected the unworthy ruler and to have elected a better one in his place.

The other covenant defined the king’s obligations toward the nation and fulfilled the function of a modern constitution (2 Samuel 3:21; 5:3; 2 Chronicles 23:3). The various conditions were probably recited at the accession to the throne (Judges 9:15; 1 Samuel 10:25 referring to 8:11). Psalms 72 and 101, which list the royal responsibilities, could be examples of such proclamations.30 The final popular blessing of “long live the king” (1 Samuel 10:24; 2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Kings 1:25, 34; 2 Kings 11:12) expressed his recognition by the people. By acclaiming the king, they furnished the democratic legitimation of his rule, even though he might be chosen beforehand by divine inspiration or decision.31

The introduction of the monarchy did not bring about the abolition of the former democratic institution. The temple of Jerusalem carried on the amphictyonic tradition of the tribes of Israel. So did the prophets, who emphasized the kingdom of God and the obligations of the temporal king toward the people. The assembly did not, probably, give only formal assent to the elected king but took an active part in the decision.

The elders of Judah or of Israel functioned on various occasions beside the king and they represented the people at his nomination (compare 1 Kings 12:12; 2 Kings 11:17).32 Even as late as the reign of the last kings of Judah, the people were said to have made the appointment (2 Kings 14:21; 21:24; 23:30), though their decisions could be made only among the descendants of the Davidic house.33

As customary in the surrounding states, Hebrew kingship was linked to the dynastic system. While every judge had been called by God, there was no need for a corresponding election of every single king, provided that he belonged to the elected dynasty. Deuteronomy 17:20 speaks of the reign of the king and his sons; so does Judges 8:22, mentioning the offer of the crown to Gideon. Saul would have been succeeded by his son Jonathan but for the breakdown of sovereignty after the defeat by the Philistines.34 Nevertheless, Saul’s younger son, Ishba’al, inherited the greater part of the kingdom (2 Samuel 2:8–9), and David took his place only after a long civil war. The house of David reigned over the state of Judah for more than four hundred years.

Even in the state of Israel, the royal office, in theory, devolved from father to son, though this rule was often broken by revolutions. The title to the crown was acquired according to the law of inheritance, and a younger son became a candidate where the firstborn did not survive; in the absence of sons, a brother or uncle succeeded to the office. Freedom of testation, originating from tribal society, remained in force in the royal family. A king, accordingly, could appoint the worthiest of his sons to follow him to the throne.35

4. Royal Administration

Hebrew kingship, as already mentioned, was subject to the rule of law and bound to respect the ancient equality of the people. In contrast to the Egyptian system of royal ownership,36 the law of Israel attributed ownership of the land to God alone. The king could not, therefore, claim any private property except by law or custom.

Among the constitutional rights of the crown, it is true, the possibility of confiscating private lands and of giving them to the king’s servants was mentioned (1 Samuel 8:14). This privilege must, however, have been qualified, as shown by the story of Naboth’s vineyard. Ahab, on this occasion could not take the property until the owner was found guilty of blasphemy and lèse majesté (1 Kings 21:6, 15; compare Exodus 22:27; 2 Samuel 19:21).37 In practice the kings of Israel and Judah did not always respect the rights of private property. Ezekiel 45:7–8; 46:18, therefore, dedicated part of his program to the solution of this problem.

Moreover, there was no clear distinction between royal and public property; the king was contractor for public works and all surpluses belonged to him. Besides the estate of the corn, there existed the treasure of the temple and the property acquired therewith. However, the king, being trustee of this treasure (compare 2 Kings 12), could dispose of it at his discretion (1 Kings 15:18; 2 Kings 16:8; 18:15). The royal estate usually provided also the daily sacrifices and the king appointed or dismissed the high priest (2 Samuel 8:17; 20:25; 1 Kings 2:27; 2 Chronicles 31:3; Ezekiel 45:16–17). The temple, originally, had the character of a royal chapel, the land having been acquired by the king and the building having been erected by his command.38

On his accession to the throne, the king took all his predecessor’s property, though sometimes he returned it ex gratia to the latter’s heirs (2 Samuel 9:7; 16:4; 19:30). According to most ancient tribal concepts, the wives and concubines of the predecessor were part of the estate and devolved upon the monarch in power. Taking the former king’s wives, thus, became a sign of assuming command (2 Samuel 3:7; 12:8; 16:21; 1 Kings 2:22).39

Public works were carried out and the royal household was maintained by slaves or by freemen coerced into forced labor (1 Samuel 8:11–12). The king could exempt a favorite family from service by making its members “freemen” (1 Samuel 17:25). The system was used for the maintenance of the king’s highways (compare Numbers 20:17) and for various building projects (1 Kings 9:15–25; 11:28; 15:22). The demand grew with the ambition of the crown and was the cause of rebellion (1 Kings 12).40

For the upkeep of the royal household and of the standing army, the king levied taxes in kind on agricultural production (1 Samuel 8:15–17).41 Various jar stamps illustrating these payments have been discovered.42 With the growth of commerce, taxes were imposed in gold and silver to meet the ordinary and extraordinary needs of the crown (Deuteronomy 17:17; 2 Kings 15:19–20). King Jehoiakim even instituted a capital levy graduated “according to the assessment of everyone,” which points to quite an advanced technique (2 Kings 23:35).

The royal revenue was probably one of the main aims of the civil service created by the kings, as shown by the lists of officials during the reigns of David (2 Samuel 8:15–18; 20:23–26) and Solomon (1 Kings 4). According to 1 Chronicles 26:29–32, the Levites were appointed to civil as well as religious offices, “for all the work of God and for the service of the king.” The classification pointed to the existence of a distinction between religious and secular affairs at the lower levels of the administration. The same distinction appeared in the dual chairmanship of the central court instituted by Jehoshaphat and given to the chief priest or to the ruler of the house of Judah respectively (2 Chronicles 19:11).43

The royal administration included the organization of the clergy as well as the civil service. Occupying the role of the ancient tribal chief, the king was ex officio master of the cult (1 Samuel 13:9; 2 Samuel 6:13–21; 24:25; 1 Kings 3:4, 15; 8:5, 62–64; 9:25).44 Hence the clergy were considered to be part of the civil service, appointed and dismissed by the king (1 Kings 2:27, 35).45

On important occasions, the king was supposed to consult the elders of the people whose opinion had also been given at his nomination. Both David and Solomon had elders in their palaces who apparently advised them on state affairs (2 Samuel 12:17; 1 Kings 12:6). Consultation with this body of elders took place also under Absalom (2 Samuel 17:4), Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:6), and Ahab (1 Kings 20:7), while Solomon and Josiah convened the elders at extraordinary religious occasions (1 Kings 8:1; 2 Kings 23:1). Finally, mention should be made of Zedekiah’s complaint, though made toward the princes and not the elders, about the punishment of Jeremiah: “Behold he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you” (Jeremiah 38:5).46

Political power, it is true, was vested in the king only, but wisdom required him to seek the counsel of the representatives of the people.

5. Local Government

During the settlement in the land of Canaan, the tribes and clans of Israel gradually lost their kinship ties and developed a new local structure. The ancient tribal assembly assumed a territorial character and became the assembly of all householders, though often both organizations remained identical (compare Jeremiah 3:14). The free burghers of a town formed the local ‘edah, discussed all public affairs, and functioned as a court of justice. This form of “primitive democracy” has been found to be similar to the Babylonian puḫrum, the Athenian ekklesia, and the Roman comitia, and may indeed be assumed to have existed in many other societies.47

The local assembly functioned as a court of criminal justice (Numbers 35:12), out of which developed in the course of time the court of the local elders. In the Aramaic papyri, the local community hears declarations of divorce and may be assumed also to have had judicial functions in such cases (compare Proverbs 5:14; Ezekiel 16:40).48

Another term used with this connotation is the people of the gate, who were present whenever important business was transacted (Genesis 23:10; Ruth 4:2, 11). Similar to the Akkadian usage, this term became a synonym of the court in general; the place before the gate formed the natural locality for the administration of justice (Deuteronomy 17:8; Amos 5:16; Zechariah 8:16).49 A practical example for a trial by the people is that of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26).

By the time of Deuteronomy, it seems, judicial functions had already been transferred from the local assembly to the “elders of the town.” Administering justice in cases of murder, insubordination of a son, and domestic strife (Deuteronomy 19:12; 21:3, 20; 22:15; 25:7; compare Joshua 20:4; Ruth 4:2), they were also responsible for the religious and political allegiance of the town.

Especially during the period of the judges, the local elders played an important role in the political life of the tribes (1 Samuel 11:3; Joshua 9:11; Judges 8:6, 14; 9:46; 11:5). But even under the monarchy they could be asked to fulfil such a function (1 Kings 21:8; 2 Kings 10:1).50 Again, the position of the local elders in Israel is similar to that of their counterparts in other societies. Besides the usual title of zeqenim, they were also called ‘anashim, beʿalim (masters), or sheliṭim (rulers) of the city.

The two capitals, Jerusalem and Samaria, were governed also by royal officials who functioned above or beside the local representatives.51 The royal council may be assumed to have been identical with the elders of the capital.

There is no indication of the powers given to the local authorities, such as the right of taxation and legislation. Local defense, including the maintenance of the walls and the organization of guard duty, must, however, have been among their responsibilities (Psalm 127:1; Song of Solomon 3:3; 5:7).

In the absence of a centralized state system, postexilic Jewry, again, stressed the local government to meet the needs of the community. Besides the local judges appointed by the chief (compare Ezra 7:25), each town had its own elders. They were charged by Ezra with police duties in matters of mixed marriages (Ezra 10:14), as probably in other religious affairs.

The local population used to meet on market days and on Sabbath in the synagogue to discuss common affairs as well as to pray. Again, the “primitive democracy” turned in the course of time into a system of local government by archontes, as mentioned, for instance, in the books of Sirach and Judith.

6. The Synagogue

The new settlement around Jerusalem, following the declaration of Cyrus in 538 B.C.E., was organized on the basis of self-government under Persian rule. While political power was vested in the governor of Judaea, who was sometimes Jewish, the community of returned exiles was led by the high priest. The latter was probably chosen by the priests and his election confirmed by the governor.52

Owing to the intervention of Jewish notables in the Persian capital, the spiritual head of the community was invested with certain powers specified in a royal edict. An example for the type of privileges granted by the king is given in Ezra 7:12–26, which includes the following provision: “And you Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province beyond the river, all such as know the laws of your God; and those who do not know them, you shall teach. Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed upon him, whether for death or for banishment (beating?) or for confiscation of goods or for imprisonment.”

This declaration was in line with the policy of the Persian emperors, according to which conquered peoples retained their own legal systems in addition to that of their ruler. Some of the laws promulgated by Darius were based on the Code of Hammurabi, and his legislation for Egypt was a restatement of the old native rules.53 For the same reason, the Jews of Egypt were instructed by Darius II to keep the Passover.54

Besides the principle that the native law should apply to the settlers, provision was also made for judicial autonomy, including the right to impose the common forms of punishment. The second alternative penalty sheroshi represented either banishment or beating;55 the other three penalties mentioned in the edict given to Ezra were not known in earlier Jewish law.

After the head of the community (in Ezra 6:7, called peḥah like the governor of the province) came “the elders” (compare 5:5, 9; 6:7–8, 14), or “the officials and the elders” (10:8). Accordingly, the Jews of Yeb, in their petition concerning the destruction of the local temple, wrote “to Johanan the high priest and his colleagues, the priests who are in Jerusalem, and to Ostanes, the brother of Anani, and the nobles of the Jews.”56

The law concerning foreign women was proclaimed in a public assembly of “all the men of Judah and Benjamin” (Ezra 10:8). The covenant was signed on behalf of the people by eighty-three officers, Levites, and priests, followed by the chiefs of the people (heads of the laity households), as preserved in the list of Nehemiah 10.57

Similar assemblies were convened whenever the need arose, especially to promulgate religious regulations. It is perhaps from these assemblies that the Great Synagogue, mentioned at the beginning of Mishnah ‘Avoth, developed. When the number of participants became too large, the assembly of representatives, the gerusie or the synedrion, took its place.58


1. For the history of the patriarchal period see, among other things, Max Weber, Ancient Judaism, ed. and trans. Hans H. Gerth and D. Martindale (Glencoe: Free Press, 1952); Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1926–40); Roland de Vaux, Revue Biblique 53 (1946): 321ff.; Roland de Vaux, Revue Biblique 55 (1948): 321ff.; Roland de Vaux, Revue Biblique 56 (1949): 5ff.; Jacqueline Pirenne, Archives d’Histoire du Droit Oriental 4 (1949): 51–62; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, trans. John McHugh (London: Darton, 1961); G. Earnest Wright, ed., The Bible and the Ancient Near East (Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1961). Compare C. Sanchez del Rio, Temis (Zaragoza: Revista de la Universidad, 1958): 75.

2. Cyrus H. Gordon, “Abraham and the Merchants of Ur,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 17 (1958): 28–31; W. F. Albright, “Abraham the Hebrew,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 163 (1961): 36–54; but see Ephraim A. Speiser, “The Verb SHR in Genesis and Early Hebrew Movements,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 164 (1961): 23–28.

3. Georges Boyer, Archives Royales de Mari 8 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1958); Ephraim A. Speiser, “New Kirkuk Documents Relating to Family Laws,” Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 10 (1930): 1–74; Robert H. Pfeiffer and Ephraim A. Speiser, “One Hundred New Selected Nuzi Texts,” Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 16 (1936): 57–130; Jean Nougayrol, Palais Royal d’Ugarit 3 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1955). Compare the papers of Cyrus H. Gordon, George E. Mendenhall, Ephraim A. Speiser, Albrecht Goetze, William F. Albright, Manifred R. Lehman, Abraham Malamat and others, in Biblical Archaeologist; Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research; Journal of Near Eastern Studies; Journal of the American Oriental Society; Ephraim A. Speiser, “Garments Made White” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it (Jerusalem: Bialik, 1950), 3:60; Abraham Malamat, “Management” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it 4:559; and J. C. L. Gibson, “Light from Mari on the Patriarchs,” Journal of Semitic Studies 7 (1962): 44ff.

4. Compare de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 15; Raphael Patai, Family, Love and the Bible (London: Macgibbon and Kee, 1960).

5. David Daube, Studies in Biblical Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947), 202ff.; Ze’ev W. Falk, “Collective Responsibility, in the Bible and the Aggada” (in Hebrew), Tarbiz 30 (1961): 16ff.; compare Pedersen, Israel, 1–2:29ff. and p. 67.

6. Compare Pedersen, Israel, 1–2:378ff.; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 26ff.; see also Godfrey R. Driver and John C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws (Oxford: Clarendon, 1952–55), 1:317, 501; Ephraim Neufeld, The Hittite Laws (London: Luzac, 1951), 129; Daube, Studies in Biblical Law, 39ff.; Chaim Z. Hirschberg, “Blood Vengeance” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it, 2:392; Klaus Koch, “Der Spruch, ‘Sein Blut bleibe auf seinem Haupt’ und die israelitische Auffassung vom vergossenen Blut,” Vetus Testamentum 12 (1962): 396–416. For parallels in Greek law, see John W. Jones, The Law and Legal Theory of the Greeks (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956), 251–52.

7. Compare David R. Mace, Hebrew Marriage (London: Epworth, 1953), 20ff.; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 26; Patai, Family, 23ff.; Ze’ev W. Falk, “Endogamy in Israel” (in Hebrew), Tarbiz 32 (1963): 19–34. See also Pirenne, Archives d’Histoire du Droit Oriental 4 (1949): 51; and pp. 129–31.

8. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, 40–41; C. Sanchez del Rio, Guia y esquemas para una Introducci—n al estudio del Derecho hebreo (Zaragoza: Revista de la Universidad, 1957–58), 52ff.; Abraham Malamat, “Mari and the Bible,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 82 (1962): 149. Compare pp. 84–85. For comparison with other legal systems see Paul Vinogradoff, Outlines of Historical Jurisprudence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1920), 321ff.

9. Compare ana ittishu A1–12; Codex Hammurabi 168–69; Driver and Miles, Babylonian Laws, 1:348–49; J. Klima, Journal of Juristic Papyrology 4 (1950): 275–88; Pirenne, Archives d’histoire du Droit Oriental 4 (1949): 51; Reuven Yaron, “Review of Ze’ev W. Falk’s, ‘Marriage and Divorce, Reforms in the Family Law of German-French Jewry,'” Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 30 (1962): 243–51 (vitae necisque potestas); and p. 165, below.

10. Compare Codex Hammurabi 170; Ze’ev W. Falk, “Testate Succession in Jewish Law,” Journal of Jewish Studies 12 (1961): 67–77; p. 171, below.

11. See pp. 153–54, below.

12. Compare pp. 166–67.

13. Compare p. 89.

14. See C. Umhau Wolf, “Traces of Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 6 (1947): 98–108; Robert Gordis, in Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1950), 369ff.; McKenzie, Analecta Biblica 10 (1959): 388ff.; J. P. M. van der Ploeg, “Les anciens dans l’Ancien Testament,” in Lex Tua Veritas: Festschrift für Hubert Junker ed. Heinrich Gross and Franz Mussner (Trier: Paulinus 1961), 175–91; see p. 37.

15. On this period in general, see Pirenne, Archives d’Histoire du Droit Oriental 4 (1949): 62–75; Albrecht Alt, Kleine Schriften zur Geschichte des Volkes Israel (Munich: Beck, 1953), 1:89ff.; George E. Mendenhall, “The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine,” Biblical Archaeologist 25 (1962): 11–20; compare Siegfried Herrmann, Theologische Literaturzeitung 87 (1962): 561–62; Samuel E. Loewenstamm, “The Exodus” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it, 3:754.

16. Compare Martin Noth, The History of Israel (New York: Harper, 1958), 85ff.; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 143–44; but see Harry M. Orlinsky, Oriens Antiquus 1 (1962), 11–20; compare Herrmann, Theologische Literaturzeitung 87 (1962): 561–62.

17. Compare Codex Hammurabi 168–69.

18. Compare de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 2:195ff.; Menachem Haran, “Priests” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it 4:14–39.

19. Compare p. 26, and Yehoshua M. Grintz, Zion 26 (1961): 74ff.

20. Compare George E. Mendenhall, “The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26,” Journal of Biblical Literature 77 (1958): 52–66.

21. On this period see Noth, History of Israel, 85ff.; Orlinsky, Oriens Antiquus 1 (1962): 11ff. On the judge, see de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 223ff.

22. See, for instance, Jan Dus, Archiv Orientální 31 (1963): 444–69.

23. Compare Weber, Ancient Judaism. On the term charisma in this context compare Orlinsky, Oriens Antiquus 1 (1962): 13.

24. Compare Pedersen, Israel, 3–4:33ff.; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 141ff.; Neufeld, “Emergence of a Royal-Urban Society,” 31–53, and compare Jacqueline Pirenne, Archives d’Histoire du Droit Oriental 5 (1950–51): 99–131. On the war of conquest see Samuel Yeivin, “Conquest of the Land” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it, 4:79–102.

25. On the transition from judges to kings, see Walter Beyerlin, “Das Königscharisma bei Saul,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 72 (1961): 186ff.; J. Alberto Soggin, “Charisma und Institution im Königtum,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 75 (1963): 54–65; on kingship in general, compare de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 145, 155, 174–76; Jacob Liver, “King” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it, 1:1092; Pedersen, Israel, 3–4:33ff; Jacqueline Pirenne, “Archives d’Histoire du Droit Oriental,” Revue Internationale des Droits de l’Antiquité 1 (1952): 33–86; 2 (1953): 109–49.

26. Compare Martin Buber, Königtum Gottes (Berlin: Schocken, 1936); Schmidt, “Das Königtum Baals,” Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 80 (1961): 29ff.; Karl H. Bernhardt, Vetus Testamentum Supplement 8 (1961): 114ff.

27. Isaac Mendelsohn, “Samuel’s Denuciation of Kingship in the Light of the Akkadian Documents from Ugarit,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 143 (1956): 17–22; Isaac Mendelsohn, “Authority and Law in Canaan-Israel,” Journal of the American Oriental Society Supplement 17 (1954): 25–33; compare André Caquot, “Remarques sur la ‘loi royale’ du Deuteronome (17:14–20),” Semitica 9 (1959): 21–33; Giorgio Buccellati, Bibbia et Oriente 1 (1959): 99ff.

28. Compare Bernhardt, Vetus Testamentum Supplement 8 (1961): 67–113.

29. Compare Yaron, “Review of Ze’ev W. Falk’s, ‘Marriage and Divorce,'” 243ff. See, however, Schapera, “The Sin of Cain,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 85 (1955): 33ff., who refers to the custom freeing fratricide from the death punishment.

30. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, 145, 155; Georg Fohrer, “Der Vertrag zwischen König und Volk in Israel,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 71 (1959): 1–22.

31. Martinus C. de Boer, “Vive Le Roi,” Vetus Testamentum 5 (1955): 225–31; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 3; J. Alberto Soggin, “Der Judäische ʿAM-HA’ Areṣ und das Königtum in Juda,” Vetus Testamentum 13 (1963): 187–95; Abraham Malamat, “Kingship and Council in Israel and Sumer: A Parallel,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 22 (1963): 247–53.

32. Malamat, “Kingship and Council,” 247–53; see pp. 36–37.

33. Compare Soggin, “Der Judäische ʿAM-HA’ Areṣ ,” 187–95.

34. Otherwise see Julian Morgenstern, “David and Jonathan,” Journal of Biblical Literature 78 (1959): 322–25; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 146.

35. Compare de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 149, 156–57.

36. Genesis 47:20; Erwin Seidl, Einführung in die ägyptische Rechtsgeschichte (Glückstadt: Augustin, 1939), 46.

37. Compare Samuel E. Loewenstamm, “Israel Exploration,” Qiryat Sefer 34 (1959): 49; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 191.

38. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, 215; Jacob Liver, “King” (in Hebrew), in Encyclopaedia Miqra’it, 4:1093.

39. Matitiahu Tsevath, “Marriage and Monarchical Legitmacy in Ugarit and Israel,” Journal of Semitic Studies 3 (1958): 237–43.

40. Isaac Mendelsohn, “On Corvée Labor in Ancient Canaan and Israel,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 167 (1962): 31–35.

41. On parallel tithes in Ugarit, see Mendelsohn, “On Corvée Labor,” 20.

42. Compare Maisler, Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 13 (1947): 105–14; Reuben Aharoni, Eretz Israel 6 (1960): 56–60.

43. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, 195ff., 205.

44. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, 174–75.

45. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, 2:239–40.

46. McKenzie, Studia Biblica et Orientalia (Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1959), 1:388–406; van der Ploeg, “Les anciens dans l’Ancien Testament,” 175–91; Malamat, “Kingship and Council in Israel and Sumer: A Parallel,” 247–53.

47. Ludwig Köhler, Hebrew Man (London: SCM, 1956), 143ff.; Wolf, “Traces of Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 6 (1947): 98–108; Gordis, Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume, 1: 369–88; McKenzie, Analecta Biblica 10 (1959): 388–406; Grintz, Zion 26 (1961): 74.

48. Falk, “Testate Succession,” 166; Reuven Yaron, Introduction to the Law of the Aramaic Papyri (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), 54.

49. Ephraim A. Speiser, “Coming and Going at the City Gate,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 144 (1956): 20–23; Geoffrey D. Evans, “‘Coming’ and ‘Going’ at the City Gate: A Discussion of Professor Speiser’s Paper,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 150 (1958): 28–33; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 235ff.

50. See Köhler, Hebrew Man, 143ff.; Wolf, “Traces of Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel,” 98–108; Gordis, in Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume, 1:369–88; McKenzie, Analecta Biblica 10 (1959): 388–406; Grintz, Zion 26 (1961): 74.

51. For Near-Eastern parallels, see de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 108, 212; Driver and Miles, Babylonian Laws, 1:493; Seidl, Einführung, 32.

52. On the relations between the governor and the high priest, see Josephus, Antiquities 11.7.1, 297–301, and on the institutions in general, see Jacqueline Pirenne, Revue Internationale des Droits de l’Antiquité 1 (1954): 195ff. On the supervision of priestly appointments in Egypt see Spiegelberg, Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 64 (1928): 604ff.

53. Compare Nathaniel J. Reich, “The Codification of the Egyptian Laws by Darius,” Mizraim 1 (1933): 180; Kraeling, The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 30.

54. Arthur E. Cowley, ed. and trans., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923), 60–65.

55. Ze’ev W. Falk, “Exodus 21:6,” Vetus Testamentum 9 (1959): 88.

56. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., 114.

57. On the terms elders, officers, nobles: Hans Zucker, Studien zur jüdischen Selbstverwaltung im Altertum (Berlin: Schocken, 1936), 22ff.

58. Compare George F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), 33ff., Sidney B. Hoenig, The Great Sanhedrin (Philadelphia: Dropsie College, 1953).