Kings & Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership, & Sacred Text in Biblical Narrative

Kings & Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership, & Sacred Text in Biblical Narrative

Kings & Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership, & Sacred Text in Biblical Narrative

Kings & Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership, & Sacred Text in Biblical Narrative


This collection of essays examines the respective religious and social functions of kings and prophets as they are presented in the biblical narratives. Biblical kingship is easily shown to be a specific instance of an ancient and widespread institution--sacred monarchy--that was the pivot of most state organizations throughout antiquity; prophetic authority is described as a typical institution of ancient Hebrew society. The difference between monarchy and prophecy is radical, because the former implies a hereditary power and is upheld by its subjects who feed their kings with taxes, while the latter derives its authority from allegedly direct divine inspiration, and though it is also economically dependent it is not explicitly presented as being based upon systematic exploitation. Cristiano Grottanelli interprets the rise of prophecy as a consequence of a crisis of monarchical structures at the beginning of the Iron Age, and connects it to similar phenomena attested in ancient Greek texts derived from a similar crisis. Though monarchy finally won the day in the Ancient Mediterranean in a new imperial form, the new literatures in Greek and Hebrew consonantic and alphabetic scripts shaped nonmonarchic figures to which they attributed some of the functions previously pertaining to monarchy. These new literatures, produced by two cultures that were both highly literate and organized according to nonmonarchical principles, diverged radically in their development and final outcomes. In the Hebrew tradition, monolatry and an official canon of sacred writings were the final result; the prophetic principle was thus overcome by a new ideological construction, centered upon inspired scriptures rather than upon the impromptu performances of inspired persons. In using the prophetic principle against the monarchic, the canonical texts paradoxically shaped their own authority above that of living prophets.


In the portion of the Hebrew Bible describing the pre-exilic period the text presents three distinct social models. To each model there corresponds a precise typology of relations between power and techniques of the supernatural. These models are not perfectly consistent, either internally or in their application in various passages of the biblical text. These inconsistencies can be attributed to discrepancies among the sources and to the re-editing that occurred throughout the centuries of the formation of the texts. To complicate matters further, various redactional hands emphasized one or another point from time to time.

Nevertheless, the models are not merely the fruit of a modern reading. in fact, throughout the history of the redaction of these biblical texts, there perdures a fundamentally unitary and coherent attitude among the tradents and redactors precisely in the identification and description of the three models, each of which shapes a part of the narrative of the Hebrew Bible. in order to describe these models, as I will attempt to do, one cannot simply extract some coherent system from the texts, as seen from a modern point of view, however useful such an enterprise might be. the description must also identify with precision that which is formulated explicitly and coherently in the text, even if not in a fully systematic way.

I will call the first model "patriarchal." It is contained in the second part of the book of Genesis, and is the easiest model to describe, for it presents a somewhat simplified picture. It aims to gather and present in a coherent way the exploits of the mythic progenitors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order to establish the distinctive characteristics of Israel, the nation descended from Jacob, the last in this series, who also bore the name Israel. Given that the characteristics of the nation include its relations with neighboring peoples, these also appear in the exploits and are represented by eponymous ancestors or prototypical characters. the mothers of all these characters are important because they differentiate the heads of distinct lineages, above all in the case of the sons of Jacob. Though sons of the same father, they must be distinguished because from them spring different tribes.

This is the patriarchal framework: few personalities, family-based organization, and many relocations. the family-based organization is the only one that . . .

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