Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia

By Dale Launderville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Tension versus Equilibrium:
Essential Countervailing Dynamics
within the Exercise of Royal Authority

The claim that particular political decisions had divine support could be verified only after the advice that was given had succeeded or failed. If oracular means were used to secure divine approval, the oracles of different prophets often contradicted one another. If traditional patterns of divine direction were invoked, the way in which these patterns were to be applied to current circumstances was often subject to competing interpretations. In Homeric Greece, biblical Israel, and OB Mesopotamia, the traditional pattern for legitimating royal authority communicated the belief that the king of the gods was the supreme decision maker over heaven and earth and that this king of the gods worked through earthly kings and other human authority figures to implement divine decisions. Yet kings, like prophets and diviners, were not able to persuade everyone that they were conduits of the divine will. Docility and obedience were not automatic responses to royal decrees. Protests against particular royal decrees could have been a sign of vitality in a community where strong disagreement between the ruler and the ruled demonstrated the latter’s attentiveness to justice. The diverse individuals and changing circumstances within a community demanded that the king listen carefully and consistently to the people if he wished his claim of being a just ruler to be more than an empty epithet. The king’s care for the people lay at the heart of the traditional pattern for legitimating royal authority. Such care was an ethical as well as a political obligation.

The care that the king extended to the people was emphasized in the rhetoric of the royal court. The king in Israel and Mesopotamia was frequently celebrated as the shepherd of the people who made great sacrifices in order to pro

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