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Given such a cautionary acceptance of the data about the political dimension of Israel's life, we may conclude, not surprisingly, that Israel's political life was unexceptional and no doubt much like other political communities that shared its historical environment. Like every political community, ancient Israel had to devise institutions, policies, and practices that apportioned power, goods, and access in a manageable, practicable, sustainable way. And, as in every such community, those ways of managing were endlessly under review and sometimes under criticism and assault. We may identify three characteristic political issues that were subject to dispute and negotiation in that ancient community.

First, there is the long-term tension between centralized political authority -articulated in the Old Testament as monarchy - and local authority, reflecting a segmented social arrangement. This tension is evident in the tricky negotiations over monarchy in 1 Sam. 7-15, in the hard-nosed political dispute of 1 Kgs. 12: 1-19, and in the effective intervention of the "elders of the land" against the power of the state in the trial of Jeremiah in Jer. 26: 16-19.

Second, there is the endlessly problematic question of the distribution of goods between "haves" (now often identified as "urban elites") and "have-nots," the dis-advantaged and politically marginalized who likely were agrarian peasants. The monopolizing, marginalizing propensity of monarchy that reached its zenith of power and prestige under Solomon (962-922 bce) is to be understood as a comprehensive system of production, distribution, and consumption that featured an inordinate standard of extravagance (1 Kgs. 4: 20-8). It was matched by an extravagant temple complex that gave religious legitimation and sanction to economic disproportion (see 1 Kgs. 7: 14-22, 48-51), so that the temple featured a production of images (propaganda) that matched economic exploitation.

There runs through Israel's tradition a counter-theme concerning the advocacy of the excluded (to which we shall return below) that existed in tension with and in dissent from the self-aggrandizement of the urban monopoly with the king at its head (Wilson 1980). This counter-theme is voiced as vigorous advocacy for "widows, orphans, sojourners, and the poor" through economic provisions that seek to curb unfettered accumulation (Deut. 15: 1-18) (Jeffries 1992). That same dissent is articulated by the prophets who, while claiming theological legitimacy, are in fact voices of social advocacy in a political economy that must have resisted such advocacy (see Isa. 5: 8-10; Mic. 2: 1-4; Jer. 5: 27-9). The same accent continues in the exilic and post-exilic periods (see Isa. 61: 1-4; Zech. 7: 9-12; Dan. 4: 2 7).

Third, the small states of Israel and Judah, and latterly the surviving Judah after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, had the endless and eventually hopeless task of maintaining state autonomy in the face of imperial pressure and accommodating imperial requirements enough to escape occupation and destruction (Brueggemann 2000). These two small states were located in a particularly vulnerable place in the land bridge between Egypt and the great northern powers. In the Old Testament, this locus concerned especially the Assyrian Empire that first destroyed the Northern Kingdom (721 bce) and then threatened the Southern Kingdom of Judah (705-701 bce). In the state of Judah, Ahaz is condemned for having gone too far in appeasement of the Assyrian Tiglath-Pilezer III, so far as to compromise religious symbols (II Kgs. 16: 1-20). Conversely, his own son Hezekiah is championed as one who withstood the heavy pressure of the Assyrian Sennacherib, though in II Kgs. 18: 14-16 Hezekiah is also portrayed as a submissive appeaser of the Assyrians. In the end, the long juggling act failed as the Northern state fell to Assyria in 721 and the Southern state to Babylon in 587. The practical reality of relative impotence in the face of imperial pressure was a defining fact of life for leadership in both states over a long period.

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