Prophets and Markets Revisited
In Prophets and Markets: The Political Economy of Ancient Israel (P&M), published in 1983, I put forward and supported a rather startling proposition:
The writing prophets of the eighth-seventh centuries--Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Ezekiel--were not poor peasants or shepherds, hermits, or eccentrics outside the mainstream of Israelite life. Instead, they were educated members of the Establishment who quite possibly had begun their careers as cultic priests of the second (or prophetic) order. They succeeded in committing the rulers of Israel and Judah to welfarist reforms. With the support of the state's armed might they unleashed a "prophetic revolution." The ill-conceived policies severely damaged the economy and morale.
In revisiting this thesis I will focus on several questions that will occur to the historical economist.1 First, is it realistic to think of welfarist economic reforms in ancient societies generally and Israel in particular? Second, even if ancient societies could contemplate such reforms were they in a position to effectively implement them? Third, given the counterproductive nature of the prophets' economic ideas from a real world standpoint, why did the kings of Israel accept them as a basis for public policy?
Before turning to these questions, however, we should first recall the words of the prophets.
As portrayed by Amos and his successors the Israelite society of the eighthseventh centuries suffers terribly from severe oppression of the poor, injustice,