politics and economy of the NK

2 Kings 4:ff

4 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”

But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

A paper that just came across today says that this passage hints at the clan estates that appear to have managed the olive and wine crops for Samaria and it’s export market.  It references the passage above as alluding to one of these estate landowners as the landlord coming to foreclose on the widow.
These clan leaders/chiefs would have been who the Omirides and their successors leaned on for taxes and military recruits.  The paper confirms their presence in the form of “state owned” pottery called hippo jars made by and for the monarchy to transport and house their oils and wines.  These jars are found extensively around Iron II NK and help confirm that the heart of the economy was oil and wine production.  And that it was probably based on the estate owners being high ranking members of each of the tribes.
So, to return to a previous point, Elijah’s dad may have been one of these estate owners.  He may or may not have been a “chieftain” in his own right, but certainly could have been.  But he also could have just been a fairly prosperous member of whatever tribe they belonged to who was well set up to support the main regional estate with his own operation, just as the husband of the unfortunate widow above was. BUT!  If he was participating in the country’s main economic product here are some things that are probably true about him (and Obidiah, though he’s connected to all this differently):
  1. He may very well have been in the same position the landlord in the story above was, i.e., he may have forced children into slavery for debt payment to protect his own interests.  That slavery would have been business as usual to all concerned.
  2. Obadiah, as you drew him up in the first account, may very well have to have had a hand in this kind of enforcement as a matter of routine administration of his role.
  3. The “32 Kings” we’ve been talking about may have been elders or the important relatives of elders of the equivalent tribal arrangement over in Damascus.
Another couple of tidbits from this paper: Jezreel was probably one of the most important locations in the country as it guarded the valley so much of this agriculture thrived in.  And a city we have not talked about at all that was important to all the Omirides and their successors was Dor – a purpose built port city begun by Ahab and continued on thru Jeroboam. It may have been sited somewhere near modern Tel Aviv.  It’s significance would  have been that it would have permitted independent shipment of goods without the need for the Phoenicians.
Separately from the paper above, I ran into this while digging around and just wanted to attach it as a reminder of the scope of what was going on in Ahab’s head while your drama is unfolding around him:

Between 900 and 750 BCE, biblical states such as Israel, Judah, Ammon and Moab developed centralized governments with increasingly professional bureaucracies. This is marked by the occurrence of large-scale public works projects, such as elaborate water-tunnels, the spread of standardized systems of weights and measures and an increase in the use of writing. The Iron II period marks the first time that the alphabet was widely used since its invention in Bronze Age Canaan.


Steve Abbott


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