Volans from MURAT SAYGINER on Vimeo.
Yet this does not exhaust what we have to say about Israels monarchy. Two important points have still to be made. The first can be summarized briefly. We can say that in the biblical accounts “good” kings are always defeated by Israel’s enemies, and the “great” kings who win victories and extend their borders are always “bad.” “Good” means that they are just, that they do not abuse their power, and that they worship the true God of Israel. “Bad” means that they promote idolatry, reject God, and are also unjust and wicked. The presentation is so systematic that some modern historians suggest that the accounts were written by antimonarchists and partisans. (It is true that in Chronicles the presentation is much less clear-cut.) The astounding thing to me is that the texts were edited, published, and authorized by rab¬bis and representatives of the people (if one can say that) at a time when the kings in question were reigning. There must have been censorship and controls, and yet these did not prevent the writings from being circulated. Furthermore, the accounts were not merely preserved but were also regarded as divinely inspired. They were treated as a revelation of the God of Israel, who is thus presented as himself an enemy of royal power and the state. They were sacred texts. They were included in the body of inspired texts (there was as yet no canon). They were read in the synagogues (even though they must have seemed like antiroyalist propaganda to rulers like Ahab). They were commented upon as the Word of God in the presence of all the people. This is to me an astonishing fact which gives evidence of the dominant thinking of the Jewish people from the 8th to the 4th century B.C.
In addition, the same texts and all the prophetic books bring to light a politically very odd phenomenon, namely, that for every king there was a prophet. The prophet (e.g., in the case of David) was most often a severe critic of royal acts. He claimed to come from God and to carry a word from God. This Word was always in opposition to royal power. Naturally, the prophets were often expelled; they were obliged to flee; they were put in prison; they were threatened with death, etc. But this did not make any difference. Their judgment was regarded as the truth. And again their writings, usually in opposition to power, were preserved, were regarded as a revelation of God, and were listened to by the people. None of them came to the aid of a king; none was a royal counselor; none was “integrated.” The prophets were a counterforce, as we might put it today. This counterforce did not represent the people — it represented God. Even idolatrous kings found it very hard to deal with these representatives of God in whom the people believed. The prophets stated unceasingly that the kings were mistaken, that the policies they were pursuing would have such and such con¬sequences which had to be viewed as a divine judgment. Sometimes the kings appealed to others who also claimed to be speaking in God’s name and to be prophets. There was thus a battle of prophets. But the accounts preserved under Isaiah and Jeremiah show that each time the true prophets prevailed against the false. Here again we find the same strange phenomenon as before. None of the false prophecies that were favorable to the kings has been preserved in the holy scriptures. The struggles of the true prophets have been preserved, however, and the fact that logically the royal authority ought to have suppressed them shows that we have in their declarations the Word of God. As I see it, these facts manifest in an astounding way the constancy of an antiroyalist if not an antistatist sentiment.
We are not yet done. We have to add two further factors. Toward the end of the 4th century B.C. we come across an astonishing book which is usually called Ecclesiastes (or Qohelet). This book seriously challenges political power.5 It is supposedly the work of Solomon, the great king, the most wealthy and the most powerful. But from the very first Solo¬mon learns that political power is vanity and a pursuit of wind. He has obtained all that royal power can give. He has built palaces and promoted the arts. But none of that amounts to anything. Nor is that the only criticism of politi¬cal power. In 3:16 we are told that “in the place established to judge among humans, wickedness is always established, and in the place established to proclaim justice, there is wickedness.” The author also sees the evil that there is in what we would now call bureaucracy (a child of hierarchy). “If you see in a province the poor oppressed and the violation of law and of justice, do not be surprised, for the person who is in charge is watched by a higher, and above them there are yet higher ones.” And this text concludes ironically: “an advantage for the people is a king honored by the land” (5:8-9). But then there is a virulent attack on all domination: “A person lords it over a person to make him miserable” (8:9). Finally, irony again: “Do not curse the king, do not curse the rich in your bedchamber, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature will tell your words” (10:20). Thus the political power has spies every¬where, and even in your bedroom, do not say anything against it, if you want to go on living!