Stephen L. Cook-Carriers of the tradition

Cook locates the Sinai tradition’s social origins with two groups, the people of the land and the priests of the countryside, the Levites.

Historically, the Sinai tradition seems to have flowered when these groups brought influence to bear upon reforming kings.  Cook sees three instances of this.

The first of these was king Joash.  Joash was still only a child when a coalition put together by Jehoida, the priest, overthrew the Baal-worshiping queen Athaliah. We get an indication of those who took part in the coup and assasination of Athalian and Mattan, her priest, in 2 Kings 11:19.

“Jehoioda took the captains over hundreds, and the Carites, and the guard, and all the people of the land; and they brought down the king from the house of YHWH, and came by the way of the gate of the guard to the king’s house. He sat on the throne of the kings.”

Note the mention of “all the people of the land” (also v. 14).  Cook says this

“cannot be the entire rural population of Judah.  For one thing, common people and peasants are not politically active in advanced agrarian cultures like ancient Judah.  What is more, agrarian societies do not have a middle class like modern societies.  Since the group is politically active here and it comes from the ‘land,’ by process of elimination it must consist of successful, even wealthy, landowners” (pp. 45-47).

So the people of the land were a sort of rural aristocracy.  In 2 Kings, a better translation might be “landed people.” It is this group, according to Cook, who were one on the main carriers of the Sinai tradition.

There is good reason to think that later, at the time of Hezekiah’s reform, these people were represented by the prophet, Micah.  Micah comes from a small village. Much of the social injustice Micah cries out against is the royal seizure of land.  Although Hezekiah was not put into power by the people of the land, the king eventually heeded Micah.  A hundred years later, the “elders of the land” defend Jeremiah by recalling Micah and how he had influenced the king (Jeremiah 26:17-19).  Thus, the people of the land probably had some influence on Hezekiah’s reforms.

Besides the Joash and Hezekiah reform movements, there was finally the Josiah reform movement.  The people of the land put Josiah in power (2 Kings 21:24).  Although 2 Kings implies that Josiah’s reforms came as a result of the discovering of the Torah book in the Temple, 2 Chronicles has them starting before that.  If the people of the land contrived the crowning of Josiah as a child king, it seems likely they strongly influenced his policies from the beginning.

In the case of Hezekiah’s reforms you can make the strongest case for the influence of the village Levites.  Many of these Levites from the north were displaced around the time the Northern Kingdom fell.  They came south and Hezekiah received their their point of view and incorporated it into his reforms.  Among them were the Asaphite psalmists and followers of Hosea, the prophet.  There seem to be signs, both in the Psalms of Asaph and in Hosea, of someone adapting the text to fit a new situation in the south–under the reign of a king in Jerusalem.

These roots, with Micah as representing the tradition as it comes through the people of the land and Hosea representing the tradition as it comes through the Levites, influence the way Cook writes the rest of his book.

Cook says that there are other streams of tradition in the Hebrew Bible like the wisdom tradition and the traditions surrounding David and Zion, but that the Sinai tradition through Deuteronomy and the history edited from the point of view of Deuteronomy now have first place and give final shape to the Hebrew Bible.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Israel, Bible, Deuteronomy, Psalms and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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