Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
FINANCE AND PUBLIC WORKS

I. Royal revenues and State revenues

LITTLE is known about the fiscal system of Israel or the resources at the disposal of the State. First of all, it must be admitted that there was no distinction between the king's revenues and those of the kingdom. A sovereign's wealth was the expression of his own power and of that of the kingdom he ruled (cf. 1 K 10: 23; 2 Ch 17: 5; 26: 8). The king bore all the expenses (the upkeep of the administration and the army, national defence and public works), but he also enjoyed absolute control of the entire revenue. Similarly, there was only a theoretical distinction between the national and religious treasuries (cf. 1 K 14: 26). The king might deposit in the sanctuary booty taken from the enemy (cf. Jos 6: 19) and his personal gifts ( 2 S 8: 11; 1 K 7: 51; 15: 15; 2 K 12: 19); his officials too were in charge of the offerings made by the people ( 2 K 12: 10f.; 22: 3-4); but to meet urgent demands he would draw on both the Temple and Palace treasuries ( 1 K 15: 18; 2 K 12: 19; 16: 8; 18: 15; cf. even Jg 9: 4).

The king had at his disposal the produce of the royal estate,1 the profits of his commercial and industrial enterprises,2 the import or transit taxes paid by the caravan merchants ( 1 K 10: 15), and the tribute of the vassal states. This last source was an abundant one under David ( 2 S 8: 2, 6) and under Solomon (according to 1 K 5: 1), but shrank as the external possessions were lost. Mesha king of Moab, before he shook off the yoke of Israel, paid a tribute in kind for which 2 K 3: 4 gives some fantastic figures: 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. According to 2 Ch 17: 11, the Philistines paid tribute to Josaphat, and the Arabs brought him in tribute or gifts 7,700 rams and 7,700 goats. The Ammonites paid tribute to Ozias, according to 2 Ch 26: 8.


2. 'Voluntary' or exceptional contributions

In addition there were the presents brought by foreign embassies. All the kings of the earth, it was said, wished to be received by Solomon, and each brought his gift ( 1 K 10: 24-25), but none surpassed the queen of Saba in

____________________
1
Cf. pp. 124-125.
2
Cf. p. 78.

-139-

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