How David got rich and became a king

There is a podcast interview with Erez Ben-Yosef (see the previous post) here. I listened to this and one thing that impressed me was the importance he gave to the recent discovery at one of the Timna mining sites of threads of cloth colored with purple dye. Such organic material usually does not survive for three thousand years.

An article about this is here.

The significance of this find for Ben-Yosef is that it is royal cloth. The purple dye derived from snails was used to signify royalty in ancient times. So it leads to the question of what, besides a palace, a throne, or a crown, might signify royalty. If you were a king of nomads, perhaps one of the early kings of Edom, you might live in a tent festooned with purple cloth, or you might wear purple garments.

Royal purple cloth scraps from King David’s era found in …

The assumption made by many that there could have been no royalty without cities and palaces is probably wrong.

Even kings who did have palaces often went into the field with their troops. So they would sometimes have lived in tents. King Saul, according to 1 Samuel 14:2, was camped under a tree. David operated from caves on occasion. Texts about the early Israelite monarchs may have been written down when kings, like Hezekiah, did live in palaces. Understandably, scribes may not have gone to the trouble to explain the nomadic reality of the earliest monarchs.

Ben-Yosef says that the stone structures found in some Canaanite cities taken over by the Israelites, such as Jerusalem, were likely appropriated by royal administrations that remained essentially nomadic. The monumental gates at Megiddo and Hazor that some claim prove Solomon’s building activity, may have actually come later under Ahab.

Thus, Ben-Yosef thinks the low chronology may be right about this. The scribes who produced the Biblical text omitted to give full information about the social settings of long dead kings.

For Ben-Yosef the findings at the Edomite mines show that nomadic kingdoms could still be highly organized and exert economic control over large areas.

In a fascinating paper, FROM BANDIT TO KING: DAVID’S TIME IN THE NEGEV AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF A TRIBAL ENTITY INTO A NATION STATE, John S. Holladay Jr. and Stanley Klassen flesh out what this might mean for David. (See here.)

They take into account the biblical text and what we now know about seaports, like Ashkelon, and the copper mines to the east. There were caravan routes linking the mines and the ports. A major one ran through the Beer Sheba valley and the little city of Tel Masos where we find signs of copper processing.

Holladay and Klassen argue that the size and wealth of Ashkelon cannot be accounted for with agricultural trade. There must have been a more valuable commodity passing though the ports. Copper is the logical candidate.

The story in 1 Samuel 30 tells us that David was a vassal of the king of Gath, but he and his men were not trusted to campaign against Saul. So they returned to their base at Ziklag to find it burned and David’s wives taken hostage. So the men chase down Amalekite raiders, find them drunk and vulnerable, and defeat them, capturing a rich horde of loot, and freeing David’s wives. Yet, 400 of the raiders escaped on camels. Later David distributes gifts of the plunder to clans in several locations in Judah and the Negev. These are the clans that soon acclaim David king at Hebron.

That David fell upon an enemy with hundreds of camels and that he collected enough wealth to set up a spoils system across a wide area points to his campaign against the rich caravans connected to the Tel Masos chiefdom, which may be the Amalekites of the Bible.

Thus there came about what Holladay and Klassen call “the transformation of a tribal entity into a nation state.”

The Bible, of course, is not interested in the economic or social reality behind this. It is interested in God and the community of Israel. So the kingship of David gets placed right after the death of Saul. The Bible is interested in God’s rejection of Saul and the election of David and his descendants. So the historical insight that David may have been a kind of desert Shiekh who consolidated a kingdom by gaining control over the copper trade has to be discovered by looking with a little imagination at the text and our new knowledge about the mines.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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