Focus of Study: Social Structure and Political Organisation

Focus of Study: Social Structure and Political Organisation

Option C: Focus of Study- Social structure and political organisation, including:

Roles and Features of the Israelite kingship, the Davidic dynasty

For much of the history of the ancient Near East, including Israel, the structure of society was centred on the idea of the household, not only in terms of everyday life but in terms of how people actually understood society to be formed. A kingdom was understood to be one great household encompassing all its citizens, and this dictated how the kingdom was actually governed. The king was quite literally the father of this household, so as per the language of the household his royal retainers were his ‘sons’ (both biological and not) and ‘servants’. The same sort of networks built around kinship and the household made up the citizenry that formed the population of this great household. Not only royal dynasties themselves but the entire kingdom can be referred to as simply the House of the dynastic founder, hence the kingdom of Judah is also called the House of David.

Ancient Near Eastern kings had a special role in their kingdom’s own little world because they had a direct relationship with the national gods or, in the case of Israel, the one god, YHWH. YHWH was the patron of the king and so the king ruled only by the favour and decision of YHWH, just as YHWH, like any patron god in the ancient Near East, was ultimately the one who enabled the king’s successes, especially in war.

In the books of 1-2 Kings, descendants of David continued to rule Judah for hundreds of year after his death, up until the fall of the kingdom in 586 BC. David was so revered that he was used as the yardstick by which to judge the life of his descendants, primarily by the degree to which they replicated David’s righteousness in the eyes YHWH.

Source Description
Megan Bishop Moore, ‘Judah and the House of David’, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017)  Moore discusses the Davidic dynasty and its role in Judah.
1 Kings 12:20 The kingdom of Judah = House of David.
2 Samuel 7

YHWH confirms David’s dynasty.

1 Kings 15:11

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King Asa of Judah is judged positively because he was like David.

Roles of the Jerusalem temple and priests in opposition to Israel

In the ancient Near East, a temple was literally understood as a house for god to which it was dedicated; the Temple of Solomon (also called the First Temple) was no different, called a ‘house for the name of YHWH’ (1 Kings 5:5). Being located in Jerusalem, the temple and YHWH’s presence is closely tied to the ruling Davidic dynasty, which enjoyed a special relationship with the national god. There is a strong theme running through the books of Samuel and Kings that the temple in Jerusalem is to be the one and only sanctioned place of worship of YHWH and as a result there is an opposition to the existence of rival places of religious practice that would be associated with ‘pagan’ Canaanite gods like Baal and Asherah.

When Jeroboam broke the northern tribes of Israel away from the House of David, he recognised the danger of his people needing to go to the temple in Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices, so he constructed two new places of worship at Dan and Bethel, at the southern and northern ends of his new kingdom. So between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah there were two contrasting approaches to what might loosely be called ‘national religion’: in Judah, religious practice was very centralised, aimed only at the one temple in the royal capital, Jerusalem, giving a small cadre of priests control over affairs. In Israel by contrast, such practice was decentralised and outside the immediate oversight of the king. This centralisation seems to have been more an ideal than a reality for much of the First Temple’s history, as there is abundant Iron Age evidence even in Judah for religious practice, even temples (at Arad in the south and at Moza in Benjamin) outside of Jerusalem itself.

Source Descrption
Carol Meyers, ‘Temple, Jerusalem: Role in National Life’, in Anchor Bible Dictionaryvol. VI, pp. 350-369. pp. 360-364: A discussion of the symbolic and political role of the Jerusalem Temple.
1 Kings 12:26-29 Jeroboam builds the alternative religious centres to Jerusalem.

2 Kings 18:4

Look up any verse here.

King Hezekiah of Judah takes down the places of ‘pagan’ worship.

Roles and importance of prophets in Israelite society: Elijah, Amos, Elisha, Hosea 

Although prophets in ancient Israel could be multifaceted and none totally alike, at the core of being a prophet was conveying the authentic word of YHWH, whether to a specific group or person, especially the king, or to the people of Israel in general. The prophet acted as a conduit by which YHWH communicated with the earthly realm. In particular, prophets often conveyed YHWH’s displeasure at the conduct of his people and a call for their return.

This was very much the theme of the 9th century prophet Elijah’s life, in his criticism of the worship of the foreign god Baal within the royal house of the northern kingdom of Israel, as opposed to YHWH. This culminates in a dramatic contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal to see which god will perform a miracle. The pleading of Baal’s prophets produces no result, while YHWH responds immediately to Elijah’s request for a miracle. At the end of his life, Elijah hands his prophetic commission over to Elisha to continue as YHWH’s advocate.

Prophets could also focus on calling out social injustices. The 8th century prophet Amos repudiated the economic abuses he saw going on around him as the gap between rich and poor grew, in violation of protections written into the law found in the Torah. For Hosea, the theme of the people’s unfaithfulness to YHWH is related to the northern kingdom’s of Israel’s political actions, which showed a lack of faith in YHWH and loyalty to the covenant he had made with his people.

Source Description
Walter Houston, ‘Social Justice and the Prophets’, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017) 

Houston discusses this important theme in prophetic literature.

Herbert Huffmon, ‘What Was a Prophet?’, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017) 

Huffmon discusses what makes a prophet a prophet.

Amos 8:5 Amos speaks of price manipulation.

1 Kings 18

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Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel.

Roles of the bureaucracy, merchant class, workers, artisans 

Israel and Judah didn’t have what would be recognisable now as a full-time, professional government bureaucracy. Although a small group of men close to the king held titles, these were not offices in the modern sense to which someone was appointed on merit but rather roles that signified the person’s close personal or familial relationship with the king. For example, many of Solomon’s retainers had a connection to him because they had been close to his father David. In the system of districts he used to govern the country, some of his governors had married into the royal family.

Like the wider ancient Near East, agriculture, the production of food to subsist on, was the dominant concern of most if not all households in ancient Israel. Activities that today might be called a ‘profession’, ‘trade’ or ‘craft’ were practiced more part-time, from making pottery to presitigous objects like jewellery. The sorts of goods produced might be traded, given as gifts or even given as payment for renting land. The main context in which a person would do something like this full-time was when they were working in the service of the king, who would provide for them out of his own supplies. Solomon made extensive use of this forced labour or ‘corvĂ©e’. When Solomon is building the Temple in Jerusalem, a man named Hiram comes from Tyre to craft all the Temple’s bronze objects. As the king of Tyre was helping Solomon build the temple in exchange for food and land, Hiram would have been doing this work as royal service to the king of Tyre.



1 Kings 4:15

Ahimaaz, one of Solomon’s district governors, was married to Solomon’ daughter.

1 Kings 5:13-18

Solomon’s forced labour for making construction materials for the Temple

1 Kings 7

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Hiram comes and makes all the bronze objects for Solomon’s Temple.

Roles and status of women: royal and non-royal 

Like the ancient world in general, Israel was a patriarchal society, meaning men held a greater degree of power by default, especially the heads of households. Property and agricultural land that was used to feed the household was inherited first by any sons, and when women married they moved to live with their husband’s family. This made women’s lives generally dependant on what happened to the male members of their household, and an unmarried woman might have to become a servant in another household. Archaeology has revealed the kind of household activities that are likely to have been the domain of women, especially cooking, bread making, weaving and religious activities in a household shrine. Associating particular spheres of daily life with gender roles is, however, difficult to do definitively.

In the royal household, males inherited the throne and positions in the king’s immediate administration. As in the wider ancient Near East, royal marriage was a matter of political expediency, used for forging or strengthening contacts with foreign kingdoms or important local clans. Royal wives seem to have played a relatively important role the conduct of royal affairs judging by the fact that the mother of most kings of Judah is provided in the books of Kings, while Solomon’s mother Bathsheba was instrumental in making him the successor to his father David. One queen-mother, Athaliah, even seized the throne for a time after her son was assassinated.



Carol Meyers, ‘’What Can We Know about the Role of Women in Ancient Israel, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017)

Meyers discusses the archaeological evidence for women’s activities.

Elna Solvang, ‘Biblical Royal Mothers’, Bible Odyssey, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2017)

Solvang discusses the role of royal mothers.

1 Kings 17:12-13

An Israelite woman directly references her baking.

1 Kings 1

Bathsheba negotiates for Solomon to be heir to David’s throne.

2 Kings 11:1-3

Look up any verse here.

Athaliah seizes the throne of Judah, to become the only ancient Israelite queen ruling alone.

Nature and role of the army

Biblical texts provide minimal information about exactly how the military in Israel and Judah were structured, recruited and equipped, but some information can be gained or at least inferred from extra-biblical sources. Except in the case of David, who had a group of loyal foreign warriors that acted as his elite infantry, neither Israel nor Judah had what would be recognisable as a permanent, ‘professional’ army as we know today. Instead, the army was more likely made up of a militia of men conscripted from among the tribes who fought together in units based around their local clans. Serving for a time in the army, whether on campaign or manning isolated forts that dotted the landscape, was a way that someone could fulfil their obligations to the king, who was the commander-in-chief. In addition to these forts, like Arad in the south of Judah, archaeology provides other indications that military concerns were a constant. The Iron Age city of Megiddo is a good example as it was both fortified against attack and hosted what appear to be stables of a force of chariots, an important and popular type of unit for fighting in flat-open lowlands like the Jezreel valley surrounding Megiddo. At cities that are known to have been conquered, including Lachish and Jerusalem, evidence of combat appears in objects like arrowheads and slingstones.

Source Description

Brad Kelle, Ancient Israel at War: 853-586 BC (Osprey, 2007), pp. 20-22.

Kelle discusses the armies of Israel and Judah.

2 Samuel 15:18

David’s foreign elite infantry

2 Kings 1:9

The prophet Elijah encounters a unit of fifty men and their captain

1 Kings 10:26

Look up any verse here.

Solomon’s chariot cities

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