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Book: Levantine Entanglements

Chapter: 10. Dynamics of Power and the Re-Invention of “Israel” in Persian Empire Judah

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.38448


This chapter explores the possibility that the concept of “Israel” in the biblical book of Deuteronomy expresses a vision of an informal type of social and political organization, and of the leadership of that organization as an informal political group. By informal, the chapter means a social formation not ruled by the Persian Empire, and an authority not integrated into Persian governmental structure. In short, it was a sub-imperial kind of polity, passing under the Persian empire's radar of attention, basing itself on a specifically religiously formulated kind of authority. That vision originated among Jewish elites in Persian Empire Judah. It was a vision of a society founded on religious scribalism, and at the base of its power system are the religious scribes and the book they produced. Importantly, however, this elite book is attentive to everyday life in local communities, and to everyday human needs, giving the impression of respecting and charting the value systems and the leadership of such communities. Accordingly, Deuteronomy creates a national identity, which is based on creative use and combinations of the imperial “generative grammar,” and local, traditional practices and ideas. It thus negotiates a specific format of interaction between elite and popular impulses—an interaction that is typical in cultural productions from the Levant. The result is an ideal, envisioned Israel with its own characteristics. Taking notice of the fact that religious and political power blend together in ancient political ideology and practice, the Israel of the biblical book appears as a political unit, although founded differently from what we know, for instance, of the Persian imperial ideology. The idea of informal authority-building has been adopted from Abner Cohen’s “re-invented communal relationships.”

Chapter Contributors

  • Kåre Berge ( - kberge) 'NLA University College'