Book: Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth - Second Centuries BCE
Chapter: Memory and Political Thought in Late Persian/Early Hellenistic Yehud/Judah: Some Observations
Political thought involving negotiating the various strengths and weaknesses of various political regimes was alive and well in this period, at least, among the literati, despite and perhaps even more because of the lack of an “independent” polity. To be sure, they did not carry out this endeavor through "treatises" but primarily through narratives and particularly narratives that shaped their overall social memory. Narrative memory became a kind of playground in which different political structures could and did demonstrate, from their viewpoint, their relative strengths and weaknesses. There were social mnemonic constrains within that playground. For instance, the Davidic/Solomonic time had to be (at least partially) lionized, because it was associated with the building of the temple. The monarchic period as a whole had to be vilified to explain the catastrophe of 586. The centrality of the divine instruction—as understood by the literati—had to be maintained since after all, this was a community that construed itself as a text-centered group. Necessary mechanisms to contain what was seen as a normal tendency for society and people to go astray over time (i.e., "social entropy") had to be constantly entertained, and memories of an utopian future to come, not only of the problematic past, had to play central roles too. At the same time, constrains were always negotiated and often had to inform and balance each other. This essay discusses ways in which studying the memories of the past and future held by the community contribute to our understanding of their political thought and leads to the conclusion that these memories suggest the addition of a complementary category for understanding the political thought of the community, that of what we may call, "guardianship."