I read Jacob L. Wright’s David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory to the end. Today I want to comment about something he does not talk about.
Wright’s theory is that Hebron remained the capital of Judah until after -722. I waited until I had finished the book to see if he dealt with a question that has been nagging me. He didn’t.
So here is the question: Why is there no mention of Hebron as capital or the shift from there to Jerusalem in the early prophets? Hosea, of course, is only concerned about the north. But Amos preached before -722. And Micah and Isaiah of Jerusalem lived through this time. None of these ever mention Hebron or the transition to Jerusalem.
Wright almost has to believe that post-exilic editors have worked over the prophets and removed references to Hebron as the seat of government and the transfer of the administration to Jerusalem. (None of the above mentioned prophets ever mention Hebron in any context.)
I just don’t buy that the true capital has been disremembered by these prophets, especially in Amos 6:1:
Woe to those who live in ease in Zion,
to those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.
They think of themselves as the elite class of the best nation.
The family of Israel looks to them for leadership (Amos 6:1 NET Bible).
Zion is Jerusalem for Amos (1:2). In 6:1 it is on a par with Samaria in the north as a place where elites dwell and where leadership is supposed to come from. So it sounds like Jerusalem was the capital in the time of Amos.
But just because Jerusalem was the capital in the 8th century doesn’t mean it was in the 9th or 10th. So I am considering Wright’s idea that David did not move the capital to Jerusalem.
He says that all we really know about the historical David is that he established the kingdom of Judah with its capital at Hebron. But I assume that behind his idea that Hebron remained the capital for a while is that Shoshenq I (biblical Shishak) of Egypt never mentioned Jerusalem in his Karnak relief.
A straightforward reading of that relief seems to show that the Egyptian army began by marching against Hebron and then, after mopping up Judah, went north against Benjamin and Gilead and finally west against the Jezreel valley strongholds.
The Bible’s account of how the kingdom split at a political convention at Shechem seems bound up with the post-Deuteronomy, post-Josiah theological slant on Israel’s history. This slant has great spiritual value. But it is often historically problematic.
Based on the geopolitical realities of the time, what really might have happened is that David and Solomon ruled from Hebron, although they may have been in Jerusalem often for religious and military reasons (I am adopting Avraham Faust’s view that the Large Stone Structure E. Mazar found is not a palace David built, but the Jebusite citadel.)
Shoshenq wanted to renew Egyptian control in the Levant. So after Solomon died, he invaded. He is the one who divided the kingdom by establishing Jeroboam as a puppet king in the north. Rehoboam may have fled to Jerusalem, which Shoshenq bypassed. However, like a Hezekiah later, Rehoboam was a caged bird there. Egypt controlled the roads. So Rehoboam eventually had to pay tribute.
When Egypt weakened again, it left the two separate and opposed kingdoms.
While I am speculating, let me say that “united kingdom” probably does not quite define the situation, at least while David was king. He was acclaimed king of Judah at Hebron and then installed separately in the north, probably with the support of Abner or Abner-like turncoats. So we really had twin kingdoms.
Solomon tried to make the twin kingdoms administratively one. The fact that Shoshenq had to take the north by force shows that this attempt succeeded on a military level. But after Solomon’s death, there was popular support for northern independence. Probably civil unrest or war broke out even before Shoshenq invaded.
Wright sees the attempt by Judah to annex northern territory in the wake of the Assyrian conquest of Samaria as the context for moving the capital to Jerusalem. According to the Bible, an earlier king of Judah had also looked north. King Asa seems to have annexed some territory. And, according to 2 Chronicles 15:9, he also took in many refugees from the north. Chronicles’ embellishment of Asa’s reign is hard to evaluate. But there could have been an occasion during his reign for officially moving the capital north.
An additional hint from Chronicles may be its departure from the usual way of acclaiming kings in the case of Ahaziah. Usually, when the accounts do not just say that such-and-such a king succeeded the previous one, they say that the elders, the people of Judah, or “people of the land” had a hand in acclaiming the king. But for Ahaziah, 2 Chronicles 22:1 says that the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” made him king. To me that just has the ring of truth, given that the “people of the land”, according to 2 Kings 11:17-20, played such a role in the overthrow of his mother and the installation of Joash.
In any case, it seems to me that there are both empirical and intuitive reasons to believe that the seat government in Judah had moved to Jerusalem well before -722.