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An expert and lucid demystification of the politics of the Hebrew Bible. In Gottwalds narrative I was able to follow the Israelite people from their pre-state origins described in Joshua and Judges, through the Davidic united kingdom of 1 and 2 Samuel, the period of separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah in Kings, and finally the long centuries of colonisation first by Neo-Babylonia and then the Persian, Selecid and Roman Empires. Throughout his thorough reconstruction of the politics of the ancient Israelites, Gottwald stays straight on the thin line between fidelity to the documentary source and a critical skepticism regarding the motivations and limitations of the people who edited the Bible. He does this by combining the expert knowledge of a theologian and Biblical scholar with the methods of ancient historiography. Though his conclusions are necessarily highly speculative, he identifies clearly what is most likely to have happened in the most important moments of ancient Israelite politics, insightfully blending together Biblical criticism, the scattered documentary records of Israel we have outside of the Bible from other kingdoms such as Egypt and Assyria, and the latest in archeological findings from Palestine. Particularly important is his new historical comparative approach that places Israelite politics in the context of the state system of the near East circa 1200-600 BCE, which had a crucial influence on the politics of the two kingdoms. The Israelite kingdoms emerge as somewhat minor, though important, political players in a region of fraught inter-imperial conflicts which managed to carve out their place, which even though it lasted no more than a few centuries, provides us important historical documentation in the form of the Bible.Of course the main difficulty in reading the Bible politically is the biases of those who edited and compiled it, who wrote in a period long after the destruction of independent Israel when the cult of Yahweh was becoming streamlined. Lacking a concern for historical fidelity, they impose on every event in the history of Israel the blessing or punishment of God. Gottwals cuts against the grain, substantiating an idea of Yahwism as a national cult that was not necessarily in contradiction with the worship of other gods of the Near Eastern pantheon, who under the impact of the secession of Israel from the united kingdom, the destruction of Israelite independence, became the one and only God of the Bible that probably reached its final form only about a century before Christ.If theres one complaint I have about the book, its the fact that Gottwalds framework is not always clear in the text. Though hes (apparently) a Marxist committed to a class understanding of Israel and ancient societies in general, the idea of class only appears sporadically throughout the book, mostly towards the end. This is especially evident in his account of state formation. Though he defines Israel as a tributary state, and is rightly scornful of any attempts to claim for it political or economic democracy in any form, it seems like hes not very clear about the economic basis of Israelite society. Of course any attempt to do this is confounded by the narrow attention of the Bible on kings and (occasionally) the wealthy, but I think that his account would have been strengthened by taking into account John Haldons definition of the tributary state and mode of production in addition to the socially sensitive but non-Marxist work of Michael Mann.

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