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Period: United Monarchy

Summary

The Bible sees Philistine aggression as the reason for Israel's transition from a loose confederation of tribes to a nation with a king. The Philistines, armed with superior iron weapons and a more organized central government, posed a definite threat to the independence of the Israelite tribes. Nevertheless, the international situation may have played a greater role in the establishment of monarchy in Israel. At this time, the three great powers of the ancient Near East--Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon--were internally too weak to exert influence. This meant that lesser entities (Edom, Moab, Ammon, the Arameans, and Phoenicians) grew in power and influence. Israel was part of this regional development.

Saul (1020-1000 B.C.E.?) was chosen by Samuel to meet the Philistine threat and Israel's clamoring for a king. As a military figure, Saul functioned as a transition between the "judges" and the monarchy, initially successful but ultimately unable to avert the Philistine threat.

David (1000-961 B.C.E.) consolidated rule over both the northern and southern tribes with the nonaligned, centrally located city of Jerusalem as his capital, expanded Israel's boundaries to their greatest extent, brought the Ark of the Covenant (the central sacred object in the time of the judges) to Jerusalem and placed it in a tent shrine, founded a new administration, and established the Davidic Empire. His success developed into the belief that God would establish David's line forever and keep Jerusalem safe.

Solomon (961-922 B.C.E.), best known for his wealth and wisdom, reigned over Israel's "Golden Age." If David's task was to expand the empire, Solomon's was to hold it. This he did through massive building projects fortifying major cities such as Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, usually with the aid of forced labor--originally from foreign slaves but ultimately involving Israelites. He cemented a vast international network through alliances with rulers such as Hiram of Tyre and marriages to Edomite, Moabite, Ammonite, Sidonian, and Hittite royal daughters, including a daughter of pharaoh. Two revolts resulted in a loss of territory; a third was repelled. Solomon extended his father's administration by instituting twelve districts for the purpose of taxation. They did not correspond to the old tribal divisions. Solomon's greatest achievement was the construction of the temple, with the aid of Phoenician architects and craftsmen, to house the Ark of the Covenant; later, it became the only approved site for sacrifice and worship.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament